What is Gun Recoil? And How to Take the Fear Out Of It

Anticipating gun recoil can cause all sorts of problems with your shooting effectiveness, and causes quite a bit of frustration overall for both new and experienced shooters alike. In fact, some people stop participating in the sport altogether due to their mental and physical stress over recoil issues. 

Whereas you’ll never completely stop the recoil of any gun, there are steps you can take to help mentally prepare yourself, find a more physically comfortable option, and control the overall felt recoil for a better all-around experience. 

In this article, we will cover what is a gun recoil, and how to get over it. Read On!

Gun Recoil Defined (and Why it Kicks)

The inner workings of your firearm are actually quite fascinating. WIthin mere fractions of a second, the pull of a trigger begins a series of events that leads to the controlled release of a projectile into a target. This requires an amazing amount of energy, all housed within a fairly lightweight, compact firearm. 

When you pull the trigger the hammer depresses the firing pin with enough force to ignite the primer at the end of the cartridge casing. This creates a small explosion and ignites the powder in the case, and since this is all housed in a small area, the energy of the ignition builds up an amazing amount of pressure. This pressure is seeking a way to escape, so it pushes the projectile (shot or bullet) through the barrel of the gun and out the front of the muzzle. 


The sudden release of pressure outwards causes the gun to move backward, and often slightly upwards as well. The larger the cartridge and charge, the harder the kickback will feel. 

Ways to Safely Prepare for Recoil

The force of recoil can be quite strong, and rather alarming for those not expecting it, and this can cause all sorts of problems – especially if the pain was part of the experience. Most recoil issues begin with inexperienced shooters, but even somebody comfortable with guns can begin to develop flinching, or anticipating kickback, when shooting high-caliber options or when handling a new weapon. 

Some of the issues that signal a problem is shutting your eyes upon firing, over bracing yourself and becoming ridged, moving back or upwards upon the pull of the trigger to offset the pressure (called flinching), lifting the barrel, moving the buttstock off your shoulder, shifting your stance and losing target, or leaning back. 

One of the best ways to combat this is to first recognize there is a problem developing. Consider the following to help you avoid issues or work to correct them with the following suggestions. 

The Learning Experience

Learning to shoot with somebody experienced and with a lower caliber option to help teacher stance and proper gun handling is the best way to avoid issues from the start. Many new shooters may simply be handed a gun and are not given the information and instruction needed to control kickback, creating ‘trust’ issues with the weapon. 

Work With a Lower Caliber Firearm

If you find yourself struggling or working to correct the fear factor, lower the caliber you are shooting and then work your way back up. Sometimes even the most avid shooter will find they have a flinch threshold that they struggle to work with. Gun enthusiasts often like to get their hands on the biggest caliber they can, but you have to ask yourself if this is practical, especially if you aren’t enjoying how it shoots. 

Have a Spotter

If you are struggling with anticipating and flinching no matter how much you physically and mentally prepare yourself, head out to a range that has an instructor on hand (most indoor ranges do) or ask a knowledgeable friend to observe you shooting, and help make corrections as they see. If possible, film yourself to visualize what you are doing to work on avoiding it. 

Dry Fire and Practice Proper Handling

Woman sport shooter with a .22 rifle

Proper gun handling and proper stance when firing takes some awareness until you build up muscle memory. You are less likely to hold your firearm in a position that won’t support kickback with consistent practice of drawing and aiming. The same goes for how you stand. Practice with dry firing techniques to help you find your stance, balance, and smooth trigger pull with an unloaded gun. This will help you fire more smoothly with live rounds, and also give you an awareness of when you might be “off-balance”. 

Wear Proper Ear Protection

Flinch can also occur due to sound. Some people are very sensitive to the high decibel level of a released round and will anticipate the actual noise of the bullet leaving the chamber – causing them to move their head or upper body. Using sound blocking protection made for shooting goes a long way towards muffling the sound and stopping this in its tracks. 

Measure Stock Length and Take Precautions With Padding

How the stock of a rifle or shotgun fits against your shoulder can make or break you when it comes to recoil. If the stock is ill-fitted (generally too long) you might be feeling the kickback at a higher degree. If you feel like this could be an issue, then a visit with a gun fitter or gunsmith might be in order. 

There are also ways to help offset the felt recoil with padding. Padded buttstocks or even special gel inserts in shooting vests and clothing can help create a much more comfortable shooting scenario. 

Ways to Practice

Recoil on handgun

Mentioned earlier is dry fire practicing, which is a great way to help build muscle memory, but it is lacking two things: target acquisition feedback and the feel of recoil.  Luckily, there are ways to practice both of these without having to run through case after case of ammunition.  

Laser Sight Systems

Laser sight systems can’t mimic recoil, but they can get you on target. This is a dry fire technique that utilizes a laser cartridge that fits in your own gun and works with the pull of your trigger. This can help you perfect your stance, grip, and pull of the trigger with the firearm you may be struggling with.  

Simulation Guns

Simulation guns generally referred to as sim guns, are real-life replicas that provide a removable CO2 cartridge that can mimic felt recoil. These allow you to essentially dry fire with a more realistic experience overall in virtual shooting ranges.

Semi-Automatic Gun Practice

The worst flinch often occurs in heavier hitting rifles and shotguns. Because of this, you might want to consider shooting with a semi-automatic option, preferably a tactical style option that is designed for comfort and quick-fire solutions. Much of the recoil is already being absorbed by the gun as the recoil is part of the reload. This can help you get comfortable shooting again so you can apply that confidence to your other firearm options on the gun range. 

Muzzle Device Solutions

You can also negate recoil at the source if you are willing to shell out for a muzzle brake or compensator. These are more or less specific to rifles, although you can also find some similar relief for a shotgun when you use certain chokes. Since much of your recoil is caused by escaping gasses, cartridges that have a higher charge will be amongst the strongest. Shotguns do not depend on a heavy charge and pressurized gasses, so it is more difficult to offset the kickback. 

Muzzle Brakes and Compensators

Compensator vs muzzle brake

Muzzle brakes and compensators are both screw-on devices that fit to the end of your muzzle. They are compact and lightweight, and are designed with specialized venting ports to control the release of gasses in a manner that works to cut recoil by as much as 50% or more, and help stabilize the barrel against flip or lift. Brakes are specific to recoil, while compensators are specific to barrel control, but both help with each in a very effective manner allowing them to be more or less interchangeable with one another to control felt recoil and muzzle flip.  

Shotgun Chokes

Some shotgun chokes provide venting as well and can work to provide increased stabilization and recoil reduction. As explained, the gasses aren’t pressurized in a shotgun as compared to a rifle, so reducing recoil in this manner isn’t quite as effective with a shotgun simply because the pressure is not the same. 

Wrapping It Up 

Gun recoil can create uncomfortable shooting scenarios, both physically and in your own mind. Anticipating and flinching away from this energy will make you a less accurate shooter and may have you struggling to get back on target. 

Luckily, with a little bit of awareness and work, you can help combat this issue and get back on track. Once you have recognized there is a problem, getting comfortable with your stance and trigger pull will be crucial to building back muscle memory and good shooting habits. From that step, you can begin to apply these skills to live firing. 

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