There’s no getting around the laws of physics. An 8-lb. rifle chambered in .300 Win. Mag. produces roughly 27 lbs. of recoil energy, or eight times that of a .223 Remington of the same weight. While there are a few tricks shooters can pull to ease the pain of recoil, like adding a quality recoil pad, customizing gun fit, installing a muzzlebrake or adding weight to the gun, shooting big guns has little to do with size or strength. Rather, it’s got everything to do with proper shooting technique.
For proof of this, go to Youtube and search “women 3 gun.” You’ll see many examples of petite women owning 12-gauge shotguns that often recoil as much as the biggest rifles. They can do this because they’ve learned how to use their body weight, balance and dexterity to control the gun. Follow these five pointers, then practice with smaller calibers, working your way up until you can handle any firearm under the sun.
1. Proper gun fit:
It’s difficult to control a gun you can’t get your mitts around it. Small kids (age means nothing, only their size) should not be expected to shoot full-sized guns well, while adults do themselves no favors trying to shooting guns that are too small. Fortunately, many gun companies now offer models in compact stock dimensions; many handgun makers offer interchangeable grip modules to alter grip size. Take advantage of them. Keep in mind, however, that for recoil mitigation, it’s better to have a slightly longer-stocked gun than one that’s too short. But the fact is, with proper technique, most shooters can adapt to most guns.
2. Find your optimum stance:
The value of a balanced athletic stance cannot be overstressed in shooting big guns. While some tactical rifle shooting schools teach “squaring up” to the target with the feet shoulder-width apart and equidistant to the target, this stance was only recently adopted for military and law enforcement personnel who shoot light recoiling AR-15 rifles and who wear body armor.
Conversely, sport shooters should position their body in the best way to absorb recoil and control the firearm. This begins with the feet.
Imagine the typical boxer’s stance. A boxer must lunge forward to throw most of his weight behind a punch, but he also must be able to move his head and shoulders backwards without falling over as he gets hit. Therefore boxers’ stances are shoulder-width apart, but very staggered (one foot more forward than the other) so the rear foot can drive the body forward while posting against sudden rearward shifts in weight. The key is to find a comfortable stance that allows you to lean forward at the waist while remaining perfectly balanced.
To find your optimal stance, get into a ready position then have a friend firmly shove your shoulder forward then backward. Any weakness in your stance will quickly be exposed, and your feet will go where they need to stay on balance.
3. Get a solid grip and cheek weld:
Whether shooting a shotgun, rifle or a handgun, a major key to reducing recoil is to get as much skin (hands, face, and shoulder) on the gun as possible to spread out the recoil impulse among them. For a shotgun or rifle use your trigger hand to pull the gun’s buttstock firmly into the shoulder pocket. Extend the fore-end hand as far toward the end of the stock as is comfortable. The farther you can place it toward the muzzle, the more leverage you’ll have during recoil. You only want a slight bend at the elbow; you should grip it tight enough to minimize upward movement, or flipping, of the barrel during recoil.
Next, flatten your cheek on the comb of the stock, as far forward as is comfortable without your nose touching the thumb of your trigger hand. For scoped guns, allow at least 3 inches between the brow and scope. Weld your cheek onto the stock firmly so that no air is between your cheek and the stock’s comb. If it’s impossible to do so and aim the gun correctly, consider altering the comb’s height with stock shims or comb raising accessories.
4. Be aggressive:
Novice shooters often lean back as they aim and prepare for its recoil. But to minimize kick, it’s best to lean into the gun aggressively by bending forward slightly at the waist and keeping most of your weight on your front foot. Think of it like when you’re in the ocean in waist-high water, and a wave is about to crash into you. If you lean back, it will likely sweep you away. But if you lean your torso and head into it, it will hit you and pass you by. For some reason it is tough for beginners to learn to lean into handgun and long-guns, but this is perhaps the most important way to minimize recoil and control even the hardest-kicking guns. Own the gun—don’t let it own you.
5. Roll with the recoil:
When two forces collide, something’s got to give, and it usually isn’t the one made of steel. “Roll with the punches” is a boxer’s way to minimize the power of an opponent’s punch by moving backward with the punch to lessen its impact. The bigger the gun, the more you should be prepared to roll with its kick. While you should lean forward to slow the initial force of recoil, give with it by letting it twist your shoulder and torso around laterally so that the recoil’s energy dissipates more gradually. Then return the shoulder into shooting position as if your torso were a spring. In this way, even small people can boss big guns.
Shooting a gun from a benchrest negates most of the techniques listed above. Rather than acting like a coil, the body stays stationary as the gun rockets back into the shoulder and cheek, thereby rocking your world. Sometimes shooters must shoot from a benchrest to zero the firearm, but to minimize recoil and maximize fun, shoot standing up.