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Pistol Recoil and How to Reduce It [Ultimate Guide]

Image of Bryan Hill, Founder of Pistol Wizard Bryan Hill / March 10 2021

An animation showing a pistol recoiling after firing, the slide going back.
Pistol recoil is unpleasant to deal with, but pistols wouldn't work without it. We'll cover how recoil works, how to reduce it without causing jams, and which pistol has the least recoil.

On This Page:

  1. Why Does a Pistol Recoil When it is Fired?
  2. Recoil Effects
  3. Does Pistol Recoil Affect Accuracy?
  4. How to Reduce Pistol Recoil?
  5. How to Control Pistol Recoil?
  6. Which Pistol Has The Least Recoil?

Why Does a Pistol Recoil When it is Fired?

When you fire a pistol, a bulletlaunches out of it. This makes an equal and opposite reaction in the pistol, like someone jumping off of a diving board.

What does this look like? Recoil drives the slideback:

Then the pistol uses the slide's return to reload itself.

Too little recoil and you get jams.
But too much recoil isn't good either. How do we change and minimize recoil to suit us?

Recoil Effects

  • Muzzle Rise is how much the muzzle climbs up per shot. The more muzzle rise, the more time it takes to get your sights back on target and ready to shoot. Too much muzzle rise, and the sights go completely off target, which can take even more time to correct.
  • Velocity (sharpness) is how fast and hard the recoil feels. Fast, sharp recoil is startling and unpleasant for most people. If it's too much, it becomes hard to practice or train with the pistol. It can also result in the muzzle dipping after each shot. Like muzzle rise, that adds time between accurate shots.
  • Energy is the overall force of recoil. It affects both muzzle rise and sharpness.
Two pistols can be the same weight and shoot the same ammo, but one can feel sharper and/or have more muzzle rise than the other. How is that? A pistol's bore axis affects muzzle rise, and its slide design affects sharpness.

Does Pistol Recoil Affect Accuracy?

Imagine you have two pistols, but one is loaded with stronger ammo, so it recoils more. Which pistol is more accurate?

Neither.

Without getting into details like barrel harmonics, pistols themselves are not more or less accurate for having more recoil. Why? The bullet leaves the barrel before muzzle rise even begins.

However, recoil has a psychological effect on the shooter. Every shooter on Earth has felt this: If a gun's recoil is outside your comfort zone, you may flinch in anticipation of the recoil, and that starts before the bullet leaves the barrel.

Recoil spoils your accuracy by throwing off your mental game. The more a pistol recoils, the more skill, effort, and time it takes to get back on target.

So in a vacuum, recoil doesn't affect a pistol's accuracy.
But in practice, it can affect the shooter's accuracy.

How to Reduce Pistol Recoil?

Improving your grip strength and technique is about 80% of managing recoil in a pistol.
The rest is in the pistol itself:
Upgrade Recoil Reduction Drawback
Recoil Buffer System 3-5% Costs $60-90.
May need tuning for reliability.
Tungsten Guide Rod 3-5% Costs $60-90.
Less comfortable carry.
Bull Barrel 3-5% Costs $250-325.
Slide Cuts, front (2 oz.) 3-5% Costs $100-200.
Slide Cuts, rear (2 oz.) 6-10% Costs $100-200.
Low-power Ammo 5-10% May cause jams. Defensive ammo less effective.
Heavy Frame 10-25% Less comfortable carry.
Ported Barrel 20-35% Aftermarket: Tuning for reliability.
Costs $150-300.
2-6% less power.
Compensator 25-50% Over 35% recoil reduction: Tuning for reliability.
Adds 0.75-2 inches of length.
Costs $60-350.

How to Control Pistol Recoil?

Grip technique, and to a point, grip strength, are the keys to controlling recoil. That is what can take you from shooting 1 accurate shot per second to 3-5 accurate shots per second. Upgrading your pistol is easy, but it can only take you so far. Learn How to Grip a Pistol The Right Way

Which Pistol Has The Least Recoil?

The Laugo Alien pistol is the clear winner, with its outstanding bore axis, fixed barrel, heavy weight, and light slide.

Sadly, the Laugo Alien costs $5,000. Not something for most people.

The CZ Shadow 2 is a great runner-up for home defense or competition, and costs much less:

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References

  1. Test: Slow Motion | DPM Triple Spring Mechanical Recoil Reduction System | Glock 17 C Gen 4 (2019)
  2. Reducing Recoil in a Glock with a Jentra Ultra Heavy Tungsten Guide Rod (2018)
  3. Polymer or Metal frame: Which is Better at Recoil and Controllability? (2018)
  4. How Compensators Help You Shoot Faster (2017)
  5. Compensated Handguns (2017)
  6. Pistol Recoil Reduction: Ports vs. Compensator (2015)
  7. Mag-na-port Gun Recoil Reduction- review and high speed comparisons with Jerry Miculek (2013)
  8. Real testing and feedback on Slide Lightening (2013)
  9. Tuning your Pistol for Faster Double Taps with Recoil Springs (2011)
  10. DPM Recoil Reduction System Test Result (2010)
  11. GAN'S ENTERPRISE CUSTOM 2011 WORK (2011)


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