There are a number of ways to lessen the effects of felt recoil and make shoot days better sport, advises Michael Yardley

A bad experience with felt recoil can knock confidence and put new shots off entirely. In our Ladies Supplement, Michael Yardley advises female guns on the art of managing recoil while shooting, as knowing the causes and how to mitigate it makes for a happy shot.

For more on ladies shooting, top lady shots consider whether 12- or 20-bore is best. Read 12- or 20-bore: what is the best bore size for women?


Many women who shoot have issues with recoil. They can be more conscious of it and, frankly, more nervous of it than men. A bad early experience can be really damaging. Where might one begin? Perhaps by noting that the right clothing, effectively padded at the shoulder, and good ear and eye protection will promote initial confidence. It is also critical to diagnose eye dominance correctly. Some women are mis-advised and it may impact on felt recoil and much else. Too often, women have been incorrectly told to change shoulders (it can be sound advice on rare occasions). As one hugely experienced instructor told me recently, “It may work to a degree but closing an eye would have allowed them to advance more rapidly.”

Because of issues like this, it is vital to get first-class instruction. It is important to sort out your vision, learn to mount a gun consistently well and stand in a good position that maximises control and minimises recoil. Failure to achieve these basics will prevent progress. Two simple tips: first, try to keep your back straight but relaxed with your ‘nose over toes’ – front shoulder, front front hip and front foot in a straight, vertical line – as you address the bird. Secondly, if you are having difficulty mounting the gun, try starting with the stock under the armpit and gently squeezed between the rib cage and upper arm (the Churchill method – useful for those with mounting issues, though muzzles must be kept higher than he originally suggested).

Recoil while shooting

Gun stock pattern and fit is critical.

Now, we might consider gun and cartridge choice. Historically, very light guns of small bore were advised for women. Often, this only aggravated recoil problems and made learning to shoot more difficult. It is significant that women were quite rare in the shooting field until comparatively recently. This meant there was a limited pool of experience in dealing with their issues objectively. Much has changed for the better in the past 10 or 20 years. Most shooting schools have introduced a lot of women to the sport. For example, Holland & Holland now has its well-established Green and Silver Feathers courses and my local ground, Fennes, has made teaching women a specialty. Happily, it is a growth area.

Does the 12-, 20- or 28-bore give least recoil? The answer is that all may work well if properly set up and matched to the right cartridge, but women of normal build should avoid heavy guns or very light ones (as they should avoid punchy, high-payload cartridges). With regard to gun weight, anything much over 7½lb is too heavy for most women not in training; anything under 6¼lb is probably going to recoil too much and fly about like a wand. Most would favour 12-bores for clay shooting and 12- or 20-bores for field use. The aesthetics of 20s are usually pleasing, too, even in machine-made guns, and the cartridges are widely available and not too expensive (the main disadvantage with a 28).


Barrel length is an important consideration. The modern standard for men is 30in with 12- or 20-bores but women may also consider 28in as it reduces frontal weight – frequently an issue when women start shooting (it is also helpful to work on upper and core body strength). Longer barrels tend to help with recoil and second shot recovery. Short barrels, 26in or 25in, are, in my experience, an impediment. This is not to say 28in is the right length for all women – on the contrary, 30in are probably preferable if they can be handled easily – 30in is usually right for a 20- or 28-bore, too; with a 12, a lot depends on how the gun is made. Some have thicker, heavier barrels than others, with these (often multichoked) guns, 28in may be the best choice. One other point: there is something of a fad for barrels with tighter bore diameters at the moment (as there was once for the opposite – back-boring). My experience is that those who are recoil sensitive may do better with the enlarged bores, which seem to reduce felt recoil.

Gun stock pattern and fit is also critical when considering recoil. I recently designed a woman’s stock for a well-known maker. It was shorter and higher than a stock intended for the average male user and it had a smaller grip and a comb that was higher but not too thick. Women tend to be shorter than men with smaller heads and hands, and shorter limbs. Hence the need for a shorter, higher stock (usually about 1in less LOP and 1⁄4in-1⁄2in more height). However, women may have longer necks and the distance from their cheekbone to the centre of the eye orbit is typically significantly less – hence a higher stock is usually required, and, possibly a Monte Carlo-style comb. Grip and fore-end need to be effective shapes, too, offering good purchase for a smaller hand.

Recoil while shooting

Keep cartridge payload down and try several brands.

I have modified many stocks for women by adding an additional inset comb piece. A temporary addition to determine the correct height may be made with card strips and tape or rubber comb raisers. This in effect creates the Monte Carlo pattern that also accommodates longer necks. Other issues are the angle of the comb. It should not be too steep (nearly parallel designs are usually to be favoured) and the shape of the butt sole (which should promote good contact with the shoulder/shoulder pocket, and must effectively spread recoil). Most women will do better with a less prominent toe (though some toe is required for effective support and recoil control). I have never found women do well with extremes of cast. It can increase recoil effects but bringing out the toe a little is often advisable.

To mitigate the effects of recoil further, I usually advise using a modern polymer recoil pad at least 1in thick (the old, hard, rubber pads looked elegant but are much less efficient). I am especially fond of those made by Kick-Eez but there are several other good makes. Manufacturers may now offer improved recoil pads as a standard fitting (though there may still be a need for stock shortening, and comb raising, for the average woman even if these are fitted to a new gun). If retro-fitting a pad or making a stock for a woman the ‘footprint’ of the butt sole should be kept fairly wide to spread the recoil.

As far as over-and-unders are concerned, I have a prejudice against lightweight models built with alloy actions. These are designed for walking-up game under Continental or US conditions and are, in my experience, not well suited to women’s clay or game shooting here. Ideal field guns in my experience would be standard 28in and 30in, base grade, Beretta, Browning and Miroku 20-bores with suitably modified stocks. I also like the Guerini and Rizzini guns for women. Sad to say, but I would probably not advise a side-by-side these days – they tend to be more difficult to control than stack-barrelled guns and are less forgiving of visual issues. As for 12-bores, with most mass-manufactured guns my call would be for game-ribbed 28in barrels with or without multichokes (the game-ribbed, fixed-choke guns tend to be a little lighter forward).

Recoil while shooting

The angle of the comb is key.

We have not said much about cartridges, my advice for game shooting would be to keep the payload down to 1oz (28g) or an 11/16th (30g) driven at mid velocities. Try out several brands. You will often notice differences in felt recoil between different makes with apparently similar specifications. For clay training and teaching, no one needs more than 24gm in a 12-bore (21gm and 24gm work well in a 20).

Finally, what about all the anti-recoil gizmos? Hundreds have been marketed. Muzzle brakes and barrel porting were once in fashion. Mercury and mechanical ‘recoil’ reducers may still be seen. You may also encounter hydraulic, sprung or pneumatic shock absorbers, and padded or rubberised cheek pieces (quite common on old guns). Some of these have little real effect, some are better proven (the Isis system has a lot of fans amongst competition shots). I am not generally an advocate of gizmos; a well-chosen, well-fitted gun and sound basic technique will sort most women’s recoil issues. The modern polymer pads work well, as noted, and similar material may be slipped into shooting clothing (Beretta and Musto both offer it) or worn at the shoulder in a strapped carrier. Gas-operated semi-automatic shotguns can dramatically reduce recoil. Available in all bore sizes, they may be admirably suitable for female shots but are not normally welcome on a driven shoot.


Recoil is the motion of a gun in the opposite direction to its projectile/s. Factors, apart from the physique of the shooter, that need to be taken into consideration include gun weight, muzzle velocity, operating pressure, projectile mass and bore size. Recoil has two phases. The first, called primary recoil, begins as the main charge ignites on firing creating a lot of high pressure in a limited space. The inertia of the stationary wad and shot is overcome and they are pushed down the barrel against forces of friction and air resistance. Secondary recoil comes after the ejecta (wad, shot, burnt powder residue, etc) exit the muzzles and there is a release of gas, which has the tendency to push the gun back like a rocket being launched.

There is also upwards rotation during recoil because the bore axis is above the shoulder line. It may cause the comb to come into sudden contact with the zygomatic arch (cheekbone). And there is the possibility that the butt may slip at the shoulder (especially if it is poorly shaped or wrongly surfaced). Consequently, and especially when considering female shooters, it makes sense to do every-thing possible to prevent or reduce these effects. It is sensible to minimise the incline of the stock comb if possible and make sure it relieves the face in recoil (which may require tapering/re-shaping of the comb). Women often have higher cheekbones than men, so these considerations become critical.


Some women who have been advised to shoot with both eyes open may, unknown to themselves, be affected by a pull from the eye opposite the rib constantly or occasionally. This can be hard for any but the most experienced instructor-gunfitter to spot. It can have the effect of changing the angle at which the comb impacts the cheek in recoil – leading to discomfort. Closing or dimming one eye as you take the shot may be a simple cure. But not all women are able to close or wink one eye easily; they may need a physical obstruction to the vision of the eye opposite the rib. There are many ways to do it; my preference is a small, carefully positioned spot on the shooting glasses. If positioned well, this will only come into effect as the gun is raised to the bird and will allow for the benefits of binocular vision until the gun is fully mounted.

Michael Yardley is a Fellow of the Association of Professional Shooting Instructors