The University of Texas Studies Shotgun Recoil

By Randy Wakeman

The invariable questions about shotgun recoil and �felt recoil� are relentless. They are the subject of animated discussions, quasi-comparisons and spectacular marketing campaigns every year. (Not to mention a number of Guns and shooting Online articles. -Ed.) We get all kinds of recoil appraisals from �not that bad,� �it didn�t bother me� and my buddy�s gun is softer shooting than mine (or the reverse). Just like the most comfortable type of chair, shoes, or the car with the best ride, there will never be a clear answer. It doesn�t stop us asking the same questions, though, or hoping for a new branch of physics. There are a few things that have been measured, studied and documented. It may not be what we want to hear, but a lot is known about shotgun recoil.

The shotgun �recoil event� was recently studied at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Texas at Austin. The duration of shotgun recoil was found be very, very short: about ten milliseconds. That�s 1/100th of a second. It is a far, far faster pulse that most of us might realize. That 1/100th of a second that fascinates us is roughly equivalent to two flaps of a honey bee�s wing. One frame of 30 fps (full motion) video is 3.33 times as long as the recoil pulse. A human takes ten times as long to react as our recoil pulse; the blink of a human eye is thirty to forty times as long as the recoil pulse at 300-400 ms. So, the recoil we muse about doesn�t just happen in the blink of an eye, it happens 35 or 40 times quicker than it takes a human eye to blink. More directly put, recoil happens so fast we cannot possibly react to it directly, nor can the human body equipped to measure it with any precision. It happens far, far too fast for our senses to appreciate in progress.

Due to the speed of recoil pulse, as measured at the University of Texas, the notion that things like powder type, shotshell wad type, back-boring and barrel porting having any difference that can be readily felt is without much basis. At the NDIA International Infantry and Joint Services Small Arms Systems Symposium (May 19-22, 2008) the subject of felt recoil was boiled to the most accurate description I�m familiar with of in this subjective area: that being that it is related to peak pressure on the skin; human skin that stops the rearward motion of the firearm.

If you want a comfortable gun, get the heaviest gun you can handle. Sometimes, we carp too much about the joy to carry and forget to balance that with the entire picture. Nothing will make a six pound shotgun as pleasant to shoot as a nine pound gun. We can take a look at skeet, especially the fast-shooting sport of International Skeet, and see that nine pound guns are the norm. Those heavy guns are favored to control recoil.

There are things that help, of course. Good recoil pads, for instance, make sense. When it comes right down to it, a Yugo is not going to ride like a Cadillac and a lightweight gun will not be as comfortable as a heavier, more substantial piece.

Back to Shotgun Information

Copyright 2009 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.