How to shoot more comfortably and accurately

There's no escaping the impact of recoil and its influence on your ability to shoot comfortably and accurately. All guns produce recoil, or kick as it's often called, and no shooter is completely immune to its effects. For some, though, recoil—even just the fear of it-all but paralyzes them, rendering them incapable of shooting any firearm well.

Although the amount of recoil on any given firearm can actually be measured (we won't get into the complicated formula here, though), it's what shooters feel, and think they feel, that's really at issue. By understanding both your voluntary and involuntary responses to recoil, however, any potential problems can be overcome.

Involuntary responses, otherwise known as flinching, are obviously the most difficult to control. Often, shooters will subconsciously anticipate pain from recoil, leading them to lift their heads from the stock, hunch their shoulders, close their eyes or jerk the trigger instead of squeezing it. However they react, the results are the same: a reduced ability to shoot accurately.

So how do you reduce or control such flinching? Attempting to overcome it mentally with grit and dogged determination is a common approach, but that is among the worst tactics a shooter can use. More often than not, it only exacerbates the problem and the shooter winds up with a lifelong habit that can't be broken. There are several remedies, however, that can help overcome flinching, whether used individually or in tandem with each other.

Gun fit, for starters, is an oft-ignored contributing factor to recoil problems. Guns are manufactured to fit the average man, but we're all built a little differently, whether we're talking height, weight, body strength or arm length. These factors, among others, have to be considered when establishing correct fit, so recoil-sensitive shooters should make their first stop a visit to the local gunsmith for a proper fitting. A little taken off or added to the stock length, height or width can make a significant difference.

Gun style should also be considered. Semi-automatic rifles and shotguns are known for their ability to slow or absorb recoil and, all other factors being equal, they're universally accepted as being less punishing on the shooter. On the flip side, the design of lever-action rifles often contributes to recoil.

A gun's weight also influences recoil, with heavier guns imparting less of a kick (though having to carry a heavier gun around is the trade-off). Longer barrels also help reduce the effects of recoil, both physically and psychologically, due to less muzzle blast. Cartridge selection can also be important. In short, know your recoil tolerance and select a cartridge that will do the job while allowing you to shoot comfortably.

There are also many aftermarket products designed to reduce recoil for both shotguns and rifles. First and foremost are butt pads, such as Pachmayr's famous Decelerator. Well-designed butt pads can have a marked effect on recoil and are relatively inexpensive.

At the other end of your rig, muzzle brakes can also help. These barrel modifications, or barrel extensions, are designed to direct the energy from the blast out the muzzle instead of back toward the shooter. Though they result in increased muzzle blast, and may slightly affect your rifle's balance, their ability to reduce recoil is significant and undeniable.

Finally, don't try to ignore the coming kick. Instead, accept that it's about to happen, allow a small part of your conscious thought to deal with it, then refocus on your shooting stance, sight picture and control of the trigger. And don't hit the switch until you've established the correct focus.

Recoil is inevitable, but it doesn't have to be crippling. By admitting to the problem (if you indeed have one) and taking action to reduce its effects, you're sure to become a better shooter in the long run.

Tips:

  • Get your gun properly fitted
  • Switch to a shotgun or semi-automatic rifle
  • Try a heavier gun
  • Try a longer barrel
  • Switch to a lighter cartridge
  • Install a butt pad and/or muzzle rake
  • Anticipate the kick, but don't dwell on it