The 187th Shotgun Recoil Discussion

Why only one-hundred and eighty-seven? Certainly, there have been many more discussions and articles then that, and when you try to add in the annual marketing reinventions we are all, collectively, out of fingers and toes. Yet, we love to talk about it even though physics have not changed in any substantial way in recent history. We don't like physics, apparently, and we don't like the idea that shotguns fit other people differently than they fit us, either. No matter how hot or cold a room gets, it is still room temperature and we all don't share the same idea of the most comfortable temperature. If we don't all agree on temperature, what hope is there of some universal agreement on a personal, subjective impression like recoil. Slim to none, of course, and Slim just left town.

While we claim to hate and revile recoil, we don't want to fix it by doing the obvious either. Recoil helps nothing, it improves the shooting of no one, but we resist the obvious ways to control recoil: add gun mass, reduce shell payload, reduce muzzle velocity. These three components affect recoil more than most things, assuming good gun fit, but we don't like to use them. It is too boorish, too common-sense, too obvious to offer any intrigue. Yet, as far as a 12 gauge shotshell itself, it isn't going to change its basic attributes just by firing it out of a different gun. We like to think it would, or could, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and a shotgun shell is just a shotgun shell.

Adding mass to a shotgun, or any gun, works supremely well. The absolute heaviest shotgun you can manage to shoulder and hit with and is sure-fire way to reduce to recoil to sublime levels of comfort. Problem is, most of us hate and revile heavy guns even more than we hate recoil. We just had our dove opener, so there was enough variety in guns and people on the dove field to yet again discuss the eternal mysteries of the recoil event.

The softest shooting gun on the dove field is no longer in production in its original form. It is my eight-three year old father's first year of production Browning Gold twenty gauge. It is heavy, for a twenty gauge, is gas-operated, and has had the benefit of a recoil pad added along with the requisite trigger job. Though my Dad uses a number of different shotguns for the sake of variety, that Gold 20 is the one that invariably gets the call, not solely due its lack of recoil, but because it fits Dad so perfectly. Reducing payload and velocity comes easy with a 20 gauge without much conscious thought, as a 7/8 oz. target load is standard fare and the preferred dove load (for us, anyway) is 1 oz. of #7-1/2 at 1220 fps. With 7/8 oz. loads, you feel nothing. A click, a clay pigeon breaks, almost eerie as there is just the slightest hint that the action is working. The current production model, the Browning Silver, is the same action. Not as soft shooting, though, only because Browning did what many asked them to: lower the weight.

Among the several guns used during the first two days was my older Browning Double Auto “Twentyweight” 12 gauge. All factory, no recoil pad. It is an interesting and fun gun: . Its favorite dove medicine is B & P F2 Mach 1 oz. 1300 fps loads, just about the limit of what this version of the DA was designed for as far as continued use. A commercial failure, its lower recoil per pound of gun weight is essentially true. While the shoulder pressure is soft, you can feel resonance from the action, a wiggly type of vibration that lets you know it is there.

Although recoil is described as one general thing, it rarely is. Skin pressure felt in your shoulder pocket is one thing, the most desirable type, but face slap, upper-cuts, and so forth is far more invasive: the reason that gun fit remains the primary felt recoil component beyond the basics of physics. Raising a red mark near the top of shoulder might well be attributed to recoil, for example, but it is more likely a gun fit issue.

Certainly, there are differences easily traced to shotgun actions, but they aren't what you might think. In this area, sporting clays remains popular as entertainment with the underlying goal of keeping in tune for the hunting season. More often than you might think, it is the light and responsive hunting O/U that goes to clay courses until the recoil forces a change. Nothing jolts you more than a fixed breech gun. One friend, a lefty, went to a Comfortech Benelli M2 to get away from the O/U recoil. Dave finds it a pleasure for sporting clays, fine for dove, but too way to heavy for pheasants. Though hardly a monstrously heavy 12 gauge at about 7-1/4 pounds, it is too heavy in his view for chasing wild pheasants. He's more right than wrong, as far as I'm concerned, as a 7 lb. gun (my Vinci is an example) is about the limit for a full day of walking around. All shotguns get heavier when actually being used of course, as only fully loaded weight is what is relevant. Heavier guns naturally do work, are used, I've used them, but we don't have to use them so for the most part, we just don't.

Back to the action types. Yes, gas-operated guns tend to shoot softer, but there are limits. One of the softest-shooting guns I have is an older Browning B-80 with a steel receiver, actually made by Beretta. Yes, it is gas, but it also weighs in at 8 lbs. 2 oz. unloaded. Though it has taken its fair share of wild pheasants, it hasn't seen the pheasant fields for many years and likely won't ever again. If it isn't the most fun available, why bother? I have no answer for that.

There are relentless barrages of things that offer no practical advantage. That means forcing cone work, over-boring (a.k.a. back-boring), and porting. There is no shareable data that shows it does anything significant. The same goes for “low-recoil” propellants, wads, and hulls. The placebo effect is alive and well and we all like to think that physics vanishes in concert with new ads. It doesn't, and though pet rocks sold well for a time there are more responsive pets around. Like a goldfish, for example.
Truth be known, a 1-1/8 oz. payload can take anything that is hunted with a shotgun in North American competently and cleanly. Assuming proper choke selection and proper shot size and material, within range. It is certainly no secret to 28 gauge, 20 gauge, and 16 gauge aficionados over the last century. More is more, but within range one works as well as the other if you swing your barrel in the right direction. Naturally, we control the range we hunt at and no one forces us to pull the trigger against our will.

So, yes, unfortunately or amusingly as the case may be, the recoil event that we love to obsess about is all firmly grounded in basic physics and common sense. There is good reason you won't find shareable data or patents on recoil-reducing gimmicks hooked to pressure transducers. They are, in large measure, gimmicks that cannot withstand the threshold of very basic scrutiny. So, with combined doses of healthy skepticism and a generous sense of humor, we are all bound to enjoy the annual introduction of physic-defying and logic-defying marvels we can have for a price. It is a lot like the “self-cleaning actions” that come with manuals bristling with pages on how to clean them. All guns need a moderate amount of elbow grease to properly maintain, something no gun comes equipped with.

There are of course things that really do work, based on science. The Evo-Shield recoil shirt works, see . Hydraulics work as well, as in Soft-Touch stocks,and Ken Rucker's “Bump-Buster” system. But, sometimes we aren't nearly as serious about reducing recoil as we might claim to be.

Matching payload, velocity, gun mass, and gun fit to our personal preferences and applications works well. You can't spend a lot of money on it, it isn't for sale. Physics and ergonomics remain free for all of us to consider.


Copyright 2011 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.

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