Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Managing Shotgun Recoil

Lots of people have a shotgun for their home-defense gun, and there's reasons for that: a shotgun loaded with buckshot can deliver the kind of energy you get from a magnum rifle in a short, fairly light package.

A shotgun is also fairly versatile. You can load one with light birdshot (often referred to as field loads) and take rabbits and birds; heavier steel shot ammo is legal and effective for waterfowl; and (especially if your scattergun has sights) you can load with slugs that can kill any animal in the Americas (and most anything else for that matter) and easily reach out to a hundred yards or more. All of these things could be important in a real bug-out or long-term situation.

The most common shotgun people think of for home defense or hunting is the 12 gauge.

Good Points:
  • Power, as noted above.
  • Ammo of various types is available almost anywhere, with shell lengths from 2 3/4" to 3 1/2".
  • Ammunition versatility, as noted above. 

The Tradeoffs:
  • A 12-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot or slugs has serious recoil, and that's with standard ammo; the magnum stuff can be brutal.
  • It does not have the same range as a rifle, no matter how well some slugs work.
  • Like a rifle, some loads will pose serious overpenetration hazards for home defense.

For most people, the better choice for a home-defense shotgun would be 20 gauge: it's not as powerful, and there aren't as many choices in ammo, but it has less recoil and anyone hit with a 20-gauge load of buckshot won't care that it's not as powerful as a 12. 

But say you want to go with 12 gauge, perhaps because of versatility and power reasons, or maybe that's all you've got. There are three ways to tame the recoil a bit with buckshot or slugs.

1) Put a really good recoil pad on it

Such as something like this.They're made to fit particular stocks, so you need to find the one that matches your gun, remove the original pad, and screw this one on. 

They also make slip-on pads that will fit almost anything.  A good pad makes a real difference.

2) Add weight to the gun
This can be the old method of drilling a deep hole under the buttplate and filling it with lead shot, or it can be a factory-made recoil reducer which are generally some type of sealed metal capsule full of something heavy, like mercury, that has to be mounted in the stock (sound familiar?).

There are also stocks specifically made to help absorb recoil (read a review of the Knoxx system here). They're not cheap, and they only fit specific shotguns, but they work.

3) Ammo choice
Several companies make low-recoil or reduced-recoil ammunition. These either use fewer buckshot pellets, or use the standard number loaded to a lower velocity. For instance, Winchester Super X 00 buckshot in a 2 3/4" shell uses the standard 9 pellets and has a velocity of 1325 feet per second; the Ranger low recoil in the same size has a velocity of 1145; this makes a real difference in recoil. 

Now compare that to their 3" magnum buckshot, which has 15 pellets and a velocity of 1210; less velocity than the standard, but the weight of six more pellets means a real step up in recoil (see 'brutal', above).

Just as with as buckshot, some companies make low- or reduced-recoil slug loads.  Picking Winchester again, their 2 3/4" Super X throws a 1 oz. lead slug at 1600 feet per second; the Ranger low recoil uses the same slug at 1200 fps.  Newton's laws of motion will not be denied, the energy to push that weight to the higher velocity makes one helluva equal and opposite reaction.

There's a lot more we could go into on shotgun ammo, but I think this covers the basics.

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