When I was a kid, gun people would describe the .45 ACP as having a kick “like a mule.” That myth probably arose from WWII and Viet Nam era basic military training wherein recruits may have had a few rounds of familiarization fire rather than a full pistol training and qualification. Instructors, desiring not to be shot would order the recruit to squeeze the grip as hard as possible. The results were the myth of a hard kicking pistol. Today, the 1911 .45 is everywhere and known for gentle recoil with standard ammunition. The point is, attitudes and expectations about recoil can be self-fulfilling or at least self-deceptive.
The force coming out of a firearm’s muzzle is the same force pushing back against the stock or grips. Mr. Newton taught us that. When a man is wearing sufficient body armor to stop penetration from a round, the impact of the round will not move him. Even a rifle round cannot relocate the human body. Shotgun blasts do not make bodies fly through the air. If the force of impact cannot move a person one inch, the force of recoil cannot move a person one inch. So why does it happen? Balance. When a massive tree is professionally fallen it is not knocked over by force, it is simply imbalanced to the point of falling. A giant Sequoia is not going to be shoved over by the force of three men. Balance changes everything.
If you stand perfectly straight when firing you may rock back on your heels particularly during rapid fire. If you lean slightly rearward when firing (many do) you may actually take a small step back when you fire. If, however, you move your shoulder carriage slightly forward of the hips, you won’t move at all. Feet need to be at a normal standing width or slightly wider. That handles the backward motion of recoil. That’s it. Now let’s talk about the upward motion or “The Starsky and Hutch Phenomenon.”
When the weapon is fired it wants to expel energy in all directions. The nature of a firearm barrel is that energy is forced in two directions, generally speaking: front and back. The front is good because it gives our bullet velocity. The stance we discussed above prevents rearward movement, leaving the handgun to attempt upward movement. When the shoulder carriage is forward the upward movement can only occur with the hands and arms. The arms can be taken out of the equation by allowing a natural break at the elbows. Locked arms can pivot from the shoulder, natural arms can only pivot at the elbow. The result is a slight rise at the muzzle that will not take the front sight off the target because the weight of the arms, hands and handgun counter almost all of the recoil with service caliber rounds. It will move with full service rounds but good natural posture will automatically return the sight to the point of aim (you still need constant fanatical sighting but you get the idea). The final piece to handling recoil is to keep the legs natural not locked. Locking the legs restricts blood flow but more to the point, moves balance from the ankles (swaying in the wind) to the knees and hips (solid platform). Don’t lock your joints when shooting. The natural bend in the arms with a light grip and an unlocked, natural leg position will all but wipeout the rise from recoil. Recoil is like a reality television, it can bother you only as much as you are willing to tolerate it.
Natural body alignment is related to recoil recovery but that’ll have to wait for another time. You can read more about the fundamentals of marksmanship in The Perfect Pistol Shot. The new defensive handgun book, Practics Holistic Handgun is coming this Spring. Interested readers can sign up for advanced notification at www.practicsusa.com