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How to Skillfully Manage Pistol Recoil

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What Is Handgun Recoil Management?

Simply stated the expression ‘recoil management’ refers to both the mechanical means, AND the individual shooter-technique of regulating the amount of physical movement produced by cartridge ignition and bullet travel through a gun. It is a product of bullet-launching, acceleration, and momentum.

Handgun recoil management may be regulated in two ways:

  • One way is through the mechanical design of the gun in concert with the use of various mechanical recoil-reduction devices.
  • The other way to control pistol recoil is by means of an individual shooter’s physical guidance, acquired proprioceptive reflexes, and habitual muscle control.

Now, between (1) a pistol’s physical design, itself, and (2) the addition of mechanical reduction devices in comparison to (3) an individual shooter’s preconditioned muscular reflexes, and his acquired proprioceptive habits, it is this author’s firm conviction that it is the shooter, himself, who should dominate this phenomenon.

Sound mechanical design and add-on recoil-reduction devices can help, but a savvy pistol shooter’s well-tuned set of personal recoil management habits is worth a whole lot more than any mechanical recoil management tool(s) might ever be!

What Is The Real Problem?

pistol recoil

Every time a pistol’s trigger is pulled the pistol is going to go into and through its recoil cycle. If a shooter does not know how, or is not accustomed to reacting properly to the persistently disruptive force and required redirection of that recoil then his aim is going to be thrown off, and fast accurate follow-up shots will be much more difficult to achieve.

What Is The Cold Hard Truth?

Handguns, all handguns, are lousy, inefficient, and anemic weapons that are inherently more difficult to use than (just about) any long arm ever could be. The essential value of any handgun is to be found in its convenient size, portability, and ease of both concealment and carry.

Beyond question: Additional skill, practice, and training are required in order for every handgun shooter to be able to perform (almost) as well with a pistol in hand as can be more naturally and easily done with a long gun.

What Should Every Serious Pistolero’s Real Goal Be?

A pistol shooter’s real goal should be to skillfully work with and manage a pistol through the entirety of its recoil cycle in order to: (1) Recapture the front sight picture as smoothly and quickly as possible; and, then, (2) return the pistol to its correct (handheld) firing position in order to repeat the same ACCURATE shot again, and again, and again with as little lost time and additional conscious effort as possible.

Shooting at an indoor range.

The ongoing (and repeated) process of increased recoil control is not magic, nor is it excessively difficult for a properly trained and acclimated pistol shooter to do.

Above and beyond the implementation of mechanical recoil-reduction devices, all it takes for a shooter to be able to achieve this sort of skill with a pistol is desire, experience, a little self-discipline, and well practiced proprioceptive reflexes.

(Typically, just when you think you can’t do it, violà, it’s suddenly there! That’s how things happened for me; and I’m sure this same training experience has happened, and will continue to happen, for other pistol shooters in the same way too!)

For Better Or Worse The Human Body’s Reflexes Can Be Trained To Conform To The Shooter’s Specific Will

Live fire training with your self-defense ‘caliber’ of choice is better than dry-firing; but either method can be used to train or precondition a shooter’s ‘muscular reactions’, and both methods work. Regardless of whether you’re live firing or dry-firing, ensure you’re doing it safely by following the effective training triad.

Herein lies the cure—the real method and technique of correcting recoil management, and flinching problems! A gizmo hanging on the end of your barrel, or drilling holes through your (combined) barrel and slide won’t really correct a gun-handling problem; but regular dry-firing practice, along with actually shooting 100-150 live-fire rounds each week definitely will.

Proper dry fire practice with an unloaded handgun or SIRT pistol can help improve recoil management.

(‘E Pluribus Unum’. A great many genuine handgun neophytes have vastly improved their pistol shooting skills, and achieved the goal of becoming a formidable pistolero by utilizing the routines of regular handgun range practice, and daily dry-firing.)

The caveat is that it is entirely possible for an aspiring pistol marksman to train his body in order to perform with, either, equal ease or equal difficulty.

In my experience, and always to my surprise, I have noticed that many pistol shooters have trained themselves in how to successfully handle a pistol while, at the same time, forcing themselves to hit the target by using either a more difficult, or a more stressful and ultimately more physically self-damaging, gun-handling technique.

On and off, throughout my long life, I’ve often watched pistol shooters use questionable, and/or more convoluted gun-handling techniques in order to hit their targets and, even on occasion, to actually win a particular handgun match.

For example: While I’ve watched, different pistol shooters have won different shooting matches by using either a: ‘Weaver’, ‘Modified Weaver’, ‘Isosceles’, ‘Modified Isosceles’, ‘Chapman’, ‘Reverse Chapman’ or, ‘Improved Reverse Chapman’ (‘Fist-Fire’) pistol presentation. (Are ya dizzy enough, yet!)

I’ve watched pistol competitors actually win shooting matches with an index finger incorrectly placed upon the front of the trigger guard. (Is there no shame!) To my mind this is just more proof-positive that all different sorts of pistol marksmen can use all different sorts of aiming techniques in order to hit their targets.

Any or all of these pistol-handling techniques can be made to work; and, in their general application, none of these methods are absolutely positively ‘wrong’. They’re just different; and, by degree, some will work better or more easily than others.

Which raises the intriguing question: What does your body want to do? God and nature gave every pistol shooter five gripping fingers on each hand. My suggestion? Use as many of those fingers to hold onto your pistol as you possibly can.

Learning how to grip a pistol.

Why? Because, while it is not necessary to hold a pistol in some sort of viselike ‘death grip’, it is important for people to remember to use ALL of their available fingers in order to properly hold onto a pistol.

Handgun users who either point their index fingers at the target, or splay a little finger (pinky) off a pistol’s grip need to appreciate just how much of their grip strength is removed by the simple elimination of only one available finger from their grasp.—It’s a lot!

The practical reality is that some pistol presentations work more easily than others, are less physically fatiguing to use; and, over time, can actually do far less cumulative physical damage to the: tendons, ligaments, and fine bones in the hands, wrists, and forearms of someone who is a heavily practiced and, consequently, highly skilled pistol shooter.

Because the body’s ‘muscle memory’ is involved, training with a ‘soft’ recoiling centerfire pistol, like a 9 x 19mm, or (I think) like a 45 ACP, is more useful than training with a 22 caliber rimfire pistol.

BOTH a competitive pistol shooter, and a serious self-defense combatant must know how to skillfully manage rapidly repeated shots along with the disruptive and recurring recoil which such shots always create.

In today’s modern world increased, and frequently repeated, handgun firepower is important; and skillfully applied recoil management techniques are increasingly vital for every handgun shooter to learn how to do.

Simply having a handgun with a large magazine capacity means next-to-nothing, at all, if a shooter is unable to rapidly fire off accurately placed shots into a nice and tight 6-7 inch wide central area on the target, and this sort of skillful marksmanship has to be done at any distance out to (I would suggest) 18 to 20 yards.

Unquestionably, semiautomatic pistols are the better choice for a modern self-defense pistolero to use; and, as time marches on, yesterday’s (Wild West) revolvers are being relegated to both secondary, or peripheral, self-defense roles.

None of which is meant to imply that revolvers do not have, both, a useful and proper place in every pistolero’s personal arsenal because, for a fact, they do!

For example: I always carry a ‘heavy caliber’ revolver when I’m out and about in the woods. I very much prefer for my beautiful, exceedingly gentle, and persistently too lightly practiced wife to carry a snub-nosed (357 Magnum) revolver—albeit, one which I have made a concerted effort to teach her how to skillfully manage and employ with deadly effect!

Ruger SP101 with Hogue Monogrip

Here it is!  A Ruger SP101 with a soft rubber Hogue Monogrip, a very useful 3” barrel, a practical exposed hammer spur, and a polished action job by famed Pennsylvania gunsmith Chuck Lutz.  

Pros And Cons Of Managing Recoil With A Revolver


(I’m not looking to ‘rile any feathers’ here; but, like it or not, a revolver is always safer to carry and use around children and the family—Always! Enough said, OK.)

The Pros

A revolver is safer for novice or only lightly practiced shooters to use.

(During those times when I’ve worked as a range safety officer I always preferred to see a revolver, rather than a semiautomatic pistol, on the firing line.)

A revolver is considerably less complicated to manipulate.

A revolver cannot be ‘limp wristed’ by either a new, infrequent, or only casually practiced pistol shooter; and THIS can be ‘good news’.

A revolver is, unquestionably, safer to use for everyday carry.

Why? Because a revolver is far less likely for even a novice pistol carrier (or a younger family member who might get into mommy’s pocketbook) to fumble around with and, thereby, negligently discharge.

Primarily because of their higher mechanical reliability, more certain trigger pulls, and relative simplicity to operate, this author continues to agree with Jim Cirillo’s frequently published opinion that smaller revolvers make the best reloads, and/or ‘secondary’ or backup handguns.

The Cons

Many revolvers have a differently styled, more rounded, and consequently more difficult-to-grasp grip on them than most semiautomatic pistols do.

Consequently, these revolvers are more of a challenge for most people to shoot straight! As many shooters already know, revolvers have an annoying tendency to ‘throw’ shots off center, and down into the lower half of the target—A curious brain/hand coordination problem that can require additional training, and a few imaginative insights into what’s actually going on in order to be overcome.

The necessity to (somewhat) more tightly grip a revolver is frequently exacerbated by a typically heavyweight, long-throw trigger pull, and the much longer trigger reset that many revolvers produce.

As far as this pistol shooter is concerned: The advice to very tightly squeeze a pistol almost literally ‘to death’ in order to remain accurate and maintain a proper firing grip is, for the most part, as impractical as it is unnecessary. If you want to do ‘great’ pistol shooting, take all of the excess tension out of your hands.

Myths! They always seem to die hard; and, just like a disease, they’re too often transferred from the unwitting to the unknowing, and frequent repetition makes them appear to be true! I’m presently too old to squeeze any handgun THAT hard; and, yet, I’m still able to quite easily blow the center out of a target at 10-12 yards’ distance, and in only a few seconds’ time too!

(Once, I actually had an unusually observant firing line officer ask me how I’m able to do it! Frankly, I found this man to be annoying. He overlooked nothing, and he really knew how to watch someone shoot. I’m certain that he’d done a lot of it, too.)

My own pistol-handling recommendation would be to simply stiffen and lock the wrist(s) and, then, hold a handgun (any handgun) with a firm, but not an unduly over-torqued grip. On anything other than a fast draw, or a quick shot from ‘retention’, a two-handed hold is preferred.

Curiously, knowing how to perceptively grip a pistol and intuitively direct your gunfire can go a very long way towards successfully managing pistol recoil. In fact the whole process becomes almost autonomic! (It’s the same old story: First you have to have the problem before you can start to work on discovering the best solution.)

It’s true that a revolver has to be gripped more tightly, and with greater applied (sideways) effort than a semi-auto pistol; but, unlike shooting a revolver, there is far less sideways pressure on a semiautomatic’s frame than there is on the sides of many revolvers.

In other words, it takes ‘more muscle’ to skillfully manage a typical revolver than it does to handle most semi-auto pistols. Furthermore, and in my opinion, the curved backstrap on many revolvers contributes to the necessity to more firmly hold onto one of these less than easily held handguns.

Double-action revolvers frequently have an undesirably heavier, and a much longer trigger pull. (That rebound spring is right there, resisting rearward motion throughout the entire length of the trigger’s pull.)

Most double-action revolvers also have a longer, and a much heavier trigger reset as well. (Anyone who’s spent a lot of time shooting either a single-action revolver, a 1911 pattern pistol, or a striker-fired Glock is not going to become easily attuned to a typical double-action revolver’s long, hard, trigger reset.)

It is consequently more difficult for most double-action revolver shooters to successfully manage a revolver’s front sight and, thereby, continue to maintain accuracy between repetitive shots.

Double-action revolver shooters have a pronounced tendency to ‘drop’ the muzzle on either the shot, itself, or at the moment that the sear ‘breaks’. (‘Preignition’, or ‘post-ignition’ flinch) Dropping a revolver’s muzzle can also occur during a repeated string of rapid-fire shots.

(If I’ve watched one combat pistol shooter ‘pepper’ shots into the 4 to 8 o’clock portion of a target then I’ve watched a thousand do exactly the same thing; and this remark is particularly true of double-action revolver shooters—Most pistol shooters have simply never learned, and do not know how to skillfully use a double-action revolver!)

In my experience as a remedial firearms instructor, I have learned that the VAST MAJORITY of pistol shooters do NOT know how to skillfully or effectively use a revolver’s typical, 10 to 13 lb, long-throw, long-reset, double-action trigger mechanism.

It is, in fact, because of a revolver’s more difficult learning curve that so very many new pistol shooters will, so very quickly, gravitate to more complicated to manage and less safe, but much easier to use, semiautomatic pistols.

(As far as I’m concerned this ‘reverse learning curve’ is akin to ‘putting the cart before the horse’; and I believe that I, myself, am a better pistol shooter today for having first started out with (Ready?) a 1967 Colt Python revolver—Which, later on, I very stupidly sold!)

Then again, I’ve trained many women with comparatively weak wrists and only modest arm strength in how to successfully manage firing a double-action revolver, and consistently hit the target. It all comes down to the extent and quality of instruction that a new pistol shooter receives. Either good training, or more training can make all the difference in learning how to control both pistol recoil, and flinching.

(Let’s be clear: I’m not referring to so-called double-action semiautomatic triggers like H&K’s ‘LEM’, or SIG’s ‘DAK’ or ‘SRT’ trigger mechanisms. These lightweight, minimal movement designs have proven themselves to be demonstrably easy to use. I’m talking about conventionally designed, heavyweight (10lb +), double-action trigger pulls, with a long reset.)

Pros And Cons Of Managing Recoil With A Semiautomatic Pistol

Person holding Glock 19

Semiautomatic pistol shooting allows a shooter to rely more on his easier-to-do, straight-line: hand, wrist, and arm reflexes in order to more skillfully and accurately manage a semi-auto pistol. Compared to shooting a revolver, there’s much less of a tendency to either drop the muzzle; or, upon ignition, torque the gun towards the tips of the fingers of the grasping hand.

(This is a curious reality of handgun shooting that almost never gets discussed, or adequately thought about.)

The Pros

Facile trigger manipulation is a great help in shooting any pistol straight. Semiautomatic pistols have shorter, lighter weight, trigger pulls in both single-action, and in the aforementioned (lightweight) double-action designs, as well.

Consequently, it is much easier to ‘tap’ a single-action semi-auto pistol’s trigger backwards and in a straight line than it is to attempt to ‘press’ and, then, maintain (heavier) pressure on a revolver’s trigger throughout its complete firing cycle.

Unlike shooting a revolver there is much less of a tendency for a semi-auto pistol shooter to incidentally ‘torque’ a semiautomatic pistol’s frame inside of either a hesitant, or an increasingly fatigued firing grip.

Unless someone is another ‘Jerry Miculek’, it is much easier for most pistol shooters to successfully manage a semiautomatic pistol than it is to correctly work the trigger, fire, and follow-through while using a double-action revolver.

The Cons

I’ve been around guns and shooting, now, for more than 65 years. During this time I’ve seen a lot of people do a lot of incredibly thoughtless, incorrect (or just plain stupid) things with guns, and especially with handguns.

Because of the inherent danger that’s involved, I’ve got to say this: Human stupidity is, most often, an amazing event! Until you see it actually taking place, right there, in front of your eyes, it is very difficult to appreciate the mindless confusion and high risk that’s involved!

(A handgun, firing line, safety violation I particularly dislike is the one where a perplexed shooter will turn the muzzle of his malfunctioning semiautomatic pistol sideways, and point it down the firing line while he works on trying to solve an unexpected malfunction.)

As a class, semiautomatic pistols are considerably more difficult to safely: handle, maintain, manipulate, carry, and use; and additional personal handling skills and meticulous safety habits ARE REQUIRED in order to live safely with a semiautomatic pistol, day, after day, after day.

Personally, I take firearm safety very seriously! I’ve been grazed by misspent bullets on three different occasions. (Talk about having a Guardian Angel, huh!)

Why did these things happen? Well I’d have to say there were any number of incidental reasons, but: impatience, impulse, a clear violation of, at least, one of the four (actually five) basic gun safety rules, and (what I have always thought is) an amazing lack of regard for someone else’s well-being, all, figured prominently in each event. (So did somebody’s semiautomatic pistol.)

I spend—and I have always spent—way too much time around guns; and I am personally convinced that, “The day you forget, or the day you put your guard down, is the same day that someone is going to wind up getting shot!”.

Yes, I know of a number of careless firearms’ accidents which occurred to typical ‘everyday people’ whom I once knew. The reality is that there are no ‘free rides’ through life; and, contrary to typical internet gun forum logic, nobody’s gun safety is actually located ‘between his ears’, or just in front of his index finger’s distal joint.

(Any pistol user who is not telekinetic, nor possessed of some sort of magic trigger finger, really truly cannot allow himself to think outside of the several basic firearm safety rules.)

All semiautomatic pistols require more ‘due diligence’ in order to be safely lived with everyday. Know what else? Accidents are going to happen! Why? Because THAT is life! Some of these accidents will be safety related, and others will be functional, operational, or just plain stupid in nature. (I’ve seen all of them happen!)

With one of today’s enormously popular, striker-fired, polymer frame semiautomatics—and, especially, with one that has a severely modified, Browning-style, barrel lockup—the modern gun-handling phenomenon of semiautomatic pistol ‘limp wristing’ has now become all too prevalent.

The actual problem, itself, is most often much more subtly introduced; and, believe me, it happens fast and can be a real ‘bear’ for an R.S.O. [Range Safety Officer] to have to figure out.

Needless to say, in a self-defense situation, you don’t want to experience any sort of user-induced FTF (failure-to-feed), or FTE (failure-to-eject) mishap when the next shot you need to fire could be for your life! Knowing how to correctly handle your semi-auto pistol while it’s going through its recoil cycle COULD actually save your life!

I used full ‘Browning-pattern’ semiautomatic pistols with a tight mechanical lockup in them for more than 30 years before today’s ever so popular, polymer frame, ’striker-fired’, semi-autos came along, and do you know what? The modern pistol shooting phenomenon of ‘limp wristing’ did NOT exist! Prior to, about, 1989 I never saw a single incident of so-called ‘limp wristing’ on any pistol firing line that I was ever on—not even once!

How To Do It Right

First, you have to lose your existing mental concept of thinking horizontally about the pistol’s sights, and/or attempting to manage the muzzle from side-to-side. Instead, learn how to allow your hand(s) to horizontally manage the pistol for you by means of using both a proper firing-grip along with properly preconditioned proprioceptive reflexes!

Why? Because it’s a fact that the human brain can only concentrate on exactly one thing at a time. Your attention can be divided, but your concentration cannot.

Instead, of trying to think (or visualize) in both the vertical and horizontal planes, try to concentrate solely on managing the more important pistol aiming dimension of proper vertical sight alignment in conjunction with an acquired personal awareness of DELIBERATELY CONTROLLED, up and down, muzzle ‘bounce’.

In order to do this well a savvy pistol shooter is going to have to learn how to work with a LOWER HOLD on the target’s ‘COM’ (Center-Of-Mass), in conjunction with an ELEVATED FRONT SIGHT PICTURE.

(THIS is a large part of acquiring the ‘key to recoil management success’, and it applies to both revolvers and semiautomatics!)

Like so many other things in life, every pistol shooter who is ambitious to succeed and ‘hit the mark’ must learn how to NOT BE AFRAID of the gun, or the loud noise that it usually makes, or the way that it moves (which is, hopefully, strictly) up, down, and slightly straight backwards whenever it is fired.

A skillful pistol shooter is someone who has learned that, just like a good lover, handgun recoil CAN BE TRUSTED and is actually a shooter’s ‘best friend’—I don’t want to stretch anyone’s imagination; but it is completely true that after firing off 10’s of 1,000’s of pistol bullets, I myself, am unable to work effectively with a pistol unless the physical phenomena of carefully ‘managed recoil’ is actually taking place!

(Within reason the degree, or extent, of recoil does not matter; but the phenomenon of mechanical recoil, still, has to be present in order for me, or any other experienced pistol shooter, to correctly manage the muzzle.)

For a fact—for a fact—in a self-defense pistol gunfight recoil is, beyond doubt, a pistol shooter’s best friend! Perhaps the following anecdote will help to get the right idea across:

I once had a Senior Firearms Instructor say to me, “You’re amazing!” “I’ve been on military firing lines for more than 30 years; and, until today, I’ve never seen anyone do what you are doing!” “The faster you shoot that pistol, the straighter you shoot that pistol!“Would you, please, tell me ‘Why’ that is?”

Well, the man embarrassed me; and I had to stop to think for a moment. I finally decided to ‘fess up’; and I said to him,

I’m not as young as I used to be.” “I no longer have the upper body strength, nor the finely honed reflexes that I once did.” “At the same time, though, I’m very used to the experience of having a pistol going off in my hands.” “So, what I do is to allow the gun’s recoil to help hold up the pistol and steady the front sight for me between shoots.

He just looked at me for a while before commenting, “Humph, one thing’s for sure: Whatever you’re doing works!” “In your day, you must have been one heck of a gunman!

The only bullets that count are the ones that hit the mark; and, with a pistol, those bullets have to remain as close together as possible and repeatedly hit the mark.

small pistol shot grouping

In order to be able to consistently hit the center of a target at distances greater than, say, 7 1/2 yards, the first thing a pistolero has to do is to establish an imperative vertical sightline between the center of the target and THE TOP of his pistol’s front sight. Then (and only then) does everything come down to the acquired ‘fine honing’ of his proprioceptive reflexes!

This is a very important note, OK! ‘Why’? Because it is at, about, 6 to 7 yards that most pistol shooters’ eyes need to switch from an aiming focus that concentrates, largely, on the target itself—à la Jim Cirillo’s recommended pistol aiming technique which only a few CQB pistol shooters seem to actually understand—to the more commonly taught, and more frequently practiced conventional front sight focus.

At very close range a skilled combat pistolero should attempt to focus on seeing a very clear image of the entire target, and the front sight should be slightly blurred. So, what actually aims the pistol? That would be your well practiced and thoroughly preconditioned proprioceptive reflexes.

After about 7 yards, though, exactly the opposite sight picture should begin to occur: The front sight should start to become crystal clear; and the target, itself, should begin to fade and be ever so slightly blurry.

Ultimately, great combat pistol shooting comes down to a repeated sequence of: Look and fire, look and fire, followed by as small a straight-line bounce-back as possible.

It’s always: Look, fire, bounce, and manage. Look, fire, bounce, and manage. While, at the same time, allowing your preconditioning proprioceptive reflexes (your ‘muscle memory’) to precisely control the front sight and vertical muzzle lift, along with the (actually) autonomic front sight ‘pulldown’ for you.

(This is what is meant by ‘front sight reacquisition time’, as well as the correct method of ‘front sight recapture’!)

One of the ‘secrets’ to great combat pistol shooting is to never allow a pistol’s recoil impulse to run away on you! Pistol recoil must always continue to be consistently controlled, continually worked with, and managed throughout the entire process of repetitive firing.

(THIS is what learning how to develop and maintain your proprioceptive reflexes is really all about!)

Never allow your vision to either suddenly, or nervously ‘open up’ and go ‘wide-eyed’ on you. Remember what ‘Benjamin Martin’ said to his two young sons in the blockbuster Hollywood movie ‘The Patriot: “Aim small, miss small!

(What do I prefer to do with my own pistol’s front sight? Well, if the distance is right and I have the time, I prefer to take a hold on the ‘dimple’ at the base of the target’s throat—In other words I use a high center-chest hold from which I’m able to move the top of my front sight either up to the face, or down to the pelvic girdle. It all depends upon what I see as my pistol’s muzzle is moving through recoil.)

Now, for the rest of your pistol shooting career always remember that effective self-defense with a handgun most often requires the firing of more than just one shot; AND every shot fired should, ideally, be placed as close to your other shots as possible.

Here’s another not particularly well-known ‘little secret’ of great combat pistol shooting that most skilled pistol shooters (myself included) usually expend hundreds, if not thousands, of cartridges in order to learn:

One of the best ways to successfully manage either a single fast shot, or a string of rapidly fired shots is to


In other words, part of the process of learning how to make pistol recoil ‘your friend’ —and NOT continuing to attempt to either ‘master’ or fight it—involves simply letting that front sight bounce, and NOT attempting to acquire, or reacquire a classically perfect front sight picture.





Learning How To Cooperate With Pistol Recoil And, Thereafter, Being Kind To Your Body

Believe it or not modern pistol shooting stances, grips, and presentation techniques have not yet stabilized, and are still in an ongoing state of change, progressive development, and flux.

So far the modern, CQB, self-defense, pistol shooting community has gone through a wide variety of changes; some of which include (overall) pistol presentations like the: ‘Weaver’, ‘Modified Weaver’, ‘Isosceles’, ‘Modified Isosceles’, ‘Chapman’, and ‘Reverse Chapman’ (or ‘FistFire’) methods of handgun presentation3. (They’re really not just ‘stances’, OK!)

(As used herein, the term ‘handgun presentation’ is all-inclusive and includes: (1) The method in which the pistol is held by the grasping hand or hands, including finger placement upon the frame. (2) The manner in which the pistol is pointed toward the target. (3) The way in which the wrists are locked forward. (4) How the forearm and elbow of each individual arm is held. (5) How the body is turned around its vertical centerline, and (6) how the shooter’s feet are placed. )

For those who might wonder how I know; well, quite frankly, pistol shooting has been both my interest and hobby since I was a young boy. In my own quiet way I was there, watching, and waiting to see what would happen after each and every new pistol shooting change came along.

Back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s I watched and waited, as Jeff Cooper’s group of Big Bear pistol shooters changed modern American combat pistol shooting into what (I thought) it should have been all along.

I mean, what, with Wild Bill Hickok having used what was essentially a two-handed hold on his pistol during his famous pistol shootout with Davis Tutt back in July of 1865, and all of the one-handed, AND two-handed combat pistol work done by British Captain Wm. E. Fairbairn while he served with the constantly embattled Shanghai Municipal Police during the first several decades of the 1900’s!

From the late 1970’s through the late 1990’s, I continued to watch and wait as Rob Leatham, Brian Enos, and D.R. Middlebrooks (I thought brilliantly) changed the ‘Modified Weaver’, ‘Modified Isosceles’, ‘Chapman’, (and other) pistol presentations into what I am now firmly convinced is the most useful, pragmatic, and practical method of combat pistol presentation discovered so far: The ‘Reverse Chapman’ presentation, or as D.R. Middlebrooks has continued to develop, popularize, and improve it, the ‘Fist-Fire’ pistol presentation and grip.

Any pistol shooter who truly wants to do a better job of controlling his pistol’s recoil and, thereby, guiding his shots ‘home’ would do very well, indeed, to work on improving his: grip, type of gun hold, arm and elbow position, and stance because THIS is where real recoil control actually comes from—Not from any sort of pistol add-on or shooting device, but from the shooter himself!

Pistol recoil reduction devices

Do any of these recoil-reduction gizmos actually work? Well, yes, in fact they do; but mechanical options like: muzzle ports, combination slide and barrel ports, muzzle compensators, heavy tungsten guide rods, barrel weights, and those ridiculous (and I think exceedingly dangerous) lightweight pistol triggers that are around today should always be considered to be ancillary, and NOT primary recoil-reduction devices.

(It should, also, be mentioned that the extent of perceptible recoil-reduction ranges ‘all over the map’ and is even somewhat dependent upon pistol caliber, barrel length, and the rate-of-fire.)

Is personal skill like this more important than simply modifying or hanging one of these mechanical gizmos on your pistol? Can a proper (or an improved) individual pistol presentation really help a pistolero to do a better job of managing his pistol’s recoil?

Well, I’ve got more than a half century of pistol shooting and gun-handling experience that say yes! The individual shooter’s personal skill and practiced technique is always worth more than any gadget that might be fastened to his gun. Here, take a look at this target; it’s one of countless others that I’ve collected over the years:

This target was rapid-fired with a muzzle-ported Glock Model 19 from a distance of 12 yards away. The time? Something less than three seconds.

Here’s the pistol I used: (A 3rd gen. Glock Model 19 RTF2 that’s fitted with an extended and muzzle-ported Bar-Sto Precision barrel, a ‘3.5 lb Ghost connector (in my opinion, the best), and one of my own modified trigger bars—It’s a nice smooth-shooting pistol that I frequently carry and practice with all of the time!

Glock 19 with bar-sto precision barrel

Now, is pistol shooting skill like this important, or will ‘shooting too soon’ get you sent to prison for the rest of your life? OK, I’ll only offer this: In CQB pistol gunfighting every effort should be made to avoid being placed at a distinct spatial disadvantage and/or ambushed.

(We’ll talk more about these things in a future article.)

The closer an opponent is allowed to approach before you are emotionally, psychologically, and tactically ready to defend yourself then the more likely that opponent is going to be in succeeding to damage you BEFORE you are fully and correctly ready to address his rapidly approaching attack!

(This is called slipping inside of a self-defense event’s timing sequence, or ‘action envelope’; and, please believe me, it works!)

Genuinely competent CQB pistol gunfighting requires a lot more than merely being alert to one’s surroundings. An adept CQB pistolero needs to be ready and able to effectively engage his opponent BEFORE that opponent is equally ready to effectively engage him!

Look, a CQB pistol gunfighting is one thing; but a CQB ambush with either a pistol or a knife is entirely another: You might be able to survive the former attack—a comparatively close-quarters pistol gunfight; but you will, more than likely, not survive the latter—an ‘in your face’ up close and personal ambush!

Perhaps happily this pivotal, ‘hard’ reality of CQB pistol gunfighting is regularly displayed on televised police programs, as well as on police video cam recordings almost every night; but, curiously, very few viewers seem to notice that many police officers actually draw their pistols well in advance of closing with a perceived threat.

The real world actuality is that in a CQB pistol gunfight life expectancy is measured in, not seconds, but milliseconds of time! Anyone who truly wants to survive an incoming violent attack needs to do exactly the same thing that the police are seen doing on television almost every night.

Staying alive in a fast-action CQB pistol (or knife) fight is NOT a matter of being absolutely utterly ‘courtroom correct’. Instead, it is a practical and straightforward matter of doing everything you possibly can in order to avoid being ambushed, losing your reaction time, or taking a potentially fatal hit.

You’ve got to be able to keep an opponent AWAY from you, and you’ve also got to be ready to effectively engage that opponent BEFORE he’s quite ready to do exactly the same thing to you! (Simply stated: Be prepared; or, as one of my own trainers used to say, “Always expect the worst that can happen, and you’ll seldom be caught by surprise!”)

The necessary skill to handle a pistol well, effectively control recoil, and shoot straight at realistic engagement distances—distances that are far beyond the FBI’s thoroughly erroneous, but notoriously overly well publicized, 3 x 3 x 3 confrontational parameters—is absolutely vital to every pistolero’s continued survival and ongoing success.

If your attacker is comfortable to effectively engage you at, or within 7 1/2 yards distance (and most are) then you have to be both comfortable and competent to engage him at 10 to 12 yards.

Why? Because in the lightning fast world of CQB pistol gunfighting your continued well-being and survival are going to depend on it!

I would know, too. I’m a hard-won 76 years old, and I’ve been doing these things and working with pistols, now, for more than half a century. All of which makes me either very lucky or, possibly, maybe even genuinely competent at handling things like guns.

In subsequent issues of Tactical Hyve we’re going to discuss more of the important ‘life lessons’ about interpersonal mortal combat. Things like how to more rapidly place precise shot groups onto a target by doing simple little things like adjusting your: hand grip, hand pressure, finger position, trigger control, and overall presentation of your pistol to the target. Some of these lessons are as easy to learn as they are effective to use.

(I know I won’t, ever, be going back to any of the old ways of handling and using a pistol!)

Watch Tactical Hyve’s upcoming articles for further discussions of how to be kind to yourself with a handgun, and considerably improve your accuracy and hit ratios, all, at the same time!

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About the author

John Grayman

John Grayman is a lifelong shooter, and multi- certified firearms instructor with more than 50 years of varied shooting and training experience. He is a competent pistolsmith, with a personal specialty in the repair and modification of both Glock pistols, and AR-15 rifles and carbines. John’s firearm skills include several decades of handloading experience with both metallic cartridge and shotshell manufacture and reloading.

3 thoughts on “How to Skillfully Manage Pistol Recoil”

  1. Thanks for explaining that effective self-defense usually requires more than one shot, and the shots should ideally be as closely grouped as possible. I’ve been thinking about buying a pistol to give me peace of mind about my safety, but I want to make sure I have the proper knowledge and training to use it effectively. I’m glad I read your article because you provided some great tips to keep in mind as I look for a pistol training class to go to.

  2. Daphne, May I suggest that BEFORE you go for a pistol training class, (Which is a very good idea!) you should learn the following five rules by heart. Then, after you have memorized them, it will be necessary to carefully inculcate each of these five rules into your everyday gun handling habits and routines.

    Why? Because, in and of themselves, these five gun safety rules have little or no pragmatic value of their own. Instead they are purely intellectual axioms; and, when it comes to handling guns, it is NOT what you know about guns that keeps you safe. Ultimately, it is your routine—everyday and all of the time—gun handling HABITS that actually protect you and others from harm.

    Here are The Five Basic Firearm Safety Rules which I would encourage you to learn BEFORE you start that first class:

    1. The gun is ALWAYS loaded! (This rule is indicative of a proper mental attitude or precautionary state-of-mind, and not necessarily of an actual physical fact.)

    2. Never allow the muzzle to point at—or, even, so much as sweep across—ANYTHING you are unwilling to see destroyed!

    3. Never put your finger inside the trigger guard until AFTER you have made a conscious decision to fire!

    4. CLEARLY identify your target, the target’s backstop, and what is beyond!

    5. Finally, the frequently unstated fifth rule: NEVER ‘play’ with a gun—Never! (For anyone who does not understand what ‘playing with a gun’ actually means, all I’m going to say is that it could be any sort of nonchalant gun handling; but, you WILL know it when you see it, OK!)

    There are also several other ancillary gun safety and handling rules that go along with the paramount first five rules; they are,

    6. At the firing range: All unholstering, unpacking, and/or loading and unloading of firearms is to be done ONLY under direct supervision as well as on command. (If there isn’t a designated range safety officer present then, for everybody’s safety, APPOINT one!)

    7. When on the firing line: NEVER point the muzzle of your gun anywhere except downrange at the targets.

    8. NEVER, for any reason, (like a mechanical stoppage, jam, or misfire) turn the gun’s muzzle toward either side of the firing line. Always keep that muzzle pointed at the target(s) instead.

    9. Every active shooter should promptly obey ALL issued range safety commands. Remember to: immediately stop firing, keep the muzzle pointed, downrange; and, if you’ve got a problem, signal for assistance with your support hand.

    10. Generally speaking, it is NOT a good idea to handle ammunition, and/or load magazines while others are downrange tending to the targets.

    A working prior knowledge of these top ten firearm safety and gun handling rules should put you in good stead for your first time at the range. Good luck to you!

  3. Another way to practice at home is to remove all ammo and clear the chamber. Place a quarter near the front sight if your gun has a flat top slide. If you can’t keep the quarter from falling you’re flinching. It’s just as much about trigger jerk as it is about recoil anticipation. Great writing John Grayman !!


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