A smaller gun means less recoil...right?

Mar 17 2021

Written by: Johnathon Miller, Shoot Smart Instructor.

A common request we hear at the range is: “I want a small gun for less recoil.” This is a perfectly reasonable idea on the surface. Who wouldn’t want a gun, especially their first gun, to be easy to shoot and have low recoil? The problem is that a small gun does not guarantee low recoil. In fact, when all other variables are equal, a smaller gun will have more and harsher recoil. This fact is rooted in the basics of physics.

We have all probably heard Newton’s laws of motion when we were in school, though we may have never given them much thought when that particular class was over. Newton’s third law states that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” How does that relate to our original desire for a low recoil gun? When the bullet is propelled out of our gun, the same amount of momentum transferred to the bullet is transferred to our gun, just in the opposite direction. That results in the gun moving back towards us. That is the recoil or “kick.” If we are shooting the same type of ammunition in each gun, say a 9x19 cartridge, then it doesn’t matter if the gun is small or big; the same amount of momentum will be transferred to the gun.

What does all that mean for our hypothetical customer buying their first gun? If a gun has more mass, meaning heavier, then that amount of momentum is going to result in less acceleration or movement in the gun: meaning, less recoil or “kick.” In short, a larger handgun will generally have less felt recoil.

So, what do we offer to our hypothetical customer looking for that low recoil gun? Since each person has different needs, we encourage them to learn a modern grip technique and then try shooting several different guns, not limiting themselves to the smallest. Most customers are surprised by how well they handle a larger firearm compared to a smaller one. At the end of the day, find the firearm that best fits your hand, your budget and shoots the best for you.

Written by: Johnathon Miller, Shoot Smart Instructor.
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