Recoil What Is It, and Why Is It So Scary!?
Recoil is the backward momentum of a gun that occurs when it is fired. When you pull the trigger of a gun, it causes the ammunition to fire. When the primer in the round of ammunition is hit by the firing pin of your gun, it ignites the propellant which burns very quickly and creates very high pressure. The gases and pressure launch or propel the bullet forward down the barrel and out the muzzle of the gun. When the gun is fired equal and opposite energy is created. This means there is an energy that goes the opposite way of the bullet, which is straight back along the slide and frame of the gun, which is held in your hand! That is recoil, and of course, we can feel it but it also causes the barrel of the gun to rise.
Understanding what is happening and learning how to manage recoil is very important. The goal, if you will, is to allow the energy to do its thing but work to keep the muzzle of your gun on target. When watching a shooter that manages recoil extremely well it looks as if the gun barely moves and the muzzle barely moves off-target. But watching a shooter that is not as skilled in managing recoil, or shooting a caliber too large for their physical capabilities, you can see the muzzle of the gun, and sometimes the entire gun, rise as much as 12 inches off target making it difficult to stay on target.
How Do You Manage Recoil
The general rule of thumb is the larger the caliber, the larger the felt recoil is. When you go up in ammunition size the size and weight of the bullet and the amount of combustible material required inside the cartridge of ammunition increases. The more combustible material, the larger the equal and opposite force created, thus a larger felt recoil.
Personally, I would recommend 9mm for self-defense purposes. I find that with a full understanding of how to effectively manage recoil, most women can handle the recoil they generate. However, there are numerous factors that may make a .380 caliber gun a better choice. If you find that this is true for you, the use of defensive ammunition (not a standard, practice round) would be highly recommended. With all of that said, any gun is better than no gun. If a .22 caliber gun is what you can effectively and confidently manage, then use it and again, carry with defensive ammunition.
The proper grip is key to managing recoil. Your dominant hand should be as high up on the backstrap as possible. If your gun has a “Beaver Tail”, the curved lip at the top of the grip, you want the web of your hand pressed up tightly against it, as high as it can go. Your hand can’t be directly behind the barrel on a semi-automatic because the slide of the gun must be able to reciprocate to expel the spent casing and draw up a new round of ammunition from the magazine. When you think about that opposite energy created, it is going straight behind the bullet. Having your hand as close as possible to being in line with it allows you to counter it and control the gun. If your grip is too low the energy continues backward unhindered causing the muzzle of the gun to rise upward.
Your non-dominant hand should be firmly planted on the side of the grip so the entire grip surface area is covered with your hand. Its fingers wrapped around the fingers of your dominant hand as high up as it can be under the trigger guard. Your grip should be firm! Not white-knuckling firm, but very firm.
Naturally, having a solid platform to deal with the recoil can make a big difference. There are a number of shooting stances and certainly, there are some strong opinions vouching for each! There are, however, some very important aspects of any shooting stance that are necessary for accuracy, speed, safety, and managing recoil. You want to be stable, balanced, and nimble.
You will want to lean slightly forward and with your knees slightly bent. Doing so puts you in a good position to absorb and counter the recoil. Read about common shooting stances in my article Shooting Stance for Women.
You run the gun, it doesn’t run you!
When shooting, the gun is going to move so you need to come to terms with the fact that it will. The key is to manage it. Minimize the movement with the goal of getting the muzzle of your gun back on target immediately. Remember, one shot on an attacker is likely not going to be enough.
I think the key is to think of if it this way: You must manage your gun and do not allow the gun to manage you. You are in control of it, not the other way around. Keep this mindset and the more you shoot your gun, the more capable and comfortable you will be managing the recoil.
What Happens If You Cannot Manage Your Recoil
If you allow the muzzle and gun to rise significantly you lose precious time and to fire again you also have to start your entire sighting process all over again. When you try too hard to keep the muzzle still during recoil you tend to overcorrect and the muzzle will go downward producing the same consequences.
Why does that even matter?
If you are in a self-defense situation where you need to fire your gun at an attacker, time is critical. It may take multiple shots to immobilize your attacker. You must be ready and able to take a shot then get back on target and be ready to take another shot in an instant. What if the attacker is running toward you? What if there are multiple attackers?
Want to Practice at Home?
There is a great dry-fire tool made by the company Cool Fire that produces recoil without the use of live ammunition. It’s ingenious! They have created a co2 training tool that attaches to your gun giving you lifelike recoil to train with. Honestly, nothing has helped me to learn to “run my gun and not be run by it” as this training tool has. It raised my confidence and skills significantly to get more out of my live-fire training and practice at the range. With each pull of the trigger, the CO2 provided recoil helps add to your dry fire experience and skills building.