I was catching up with Larry Yatch (retired Team 3 SEAL) this week and we went down the rabbit hole on recoil management for pistols, carbines, and long guns.
Some great stuff came out of it that I want to share with you on the pistol side…
One of the goals that many shooters aspire to is being able to put fast, accurate double-taps on target. Definitions vary, but for most people, that’s getting one sight picture and putting 2 rounds on or incredibly near your point of aim in rapid succession (.1-.2 seconds between shots) without getting a second clear, crisp sight picture.
Go to any competitive shoot and you’ll see that, more often than not, people shooting fast double taps oftentimes end up with their 2 bullets 8-16” apart from each other…even if they’re only 10-15 feet from the target. This is bad for competition, but it’s incredibly dangerous in self-defense situations where you may have a limited number of rounds to stop immediate threats and where there may be innocent people. EVERY round fired must be accountable and effective.
In addition to speeding up the process of stopping a threat due to blood loss, 2 traumatic strikes to the body in quick succession can sometimes cause a psychological stop because of the inability of the brain to accurately process the pain signals it’s receiving from 2 different places. (Yes…this is an advanced, but core concept of TFT and is the basis for why double strikes in empty hands combatives are so important for stopping threats quickly.)
The ability to put 2, 3, or more fast & precise shots on target is, in large part, a function of managing the recoil of the gun…which you can do, even if you’re not a pipe fitter with forearms the size of hams.
First off, it’s important to understand that recoil is a really good thing for a semi-automatic and is what kicks out the spent round and chambers the next live round from the magazine. You’re not going to “control” it or eliminate it, but you can manage it.
That being said, recoil also causes physical trauma (however minor or major) to the body, mis-trains the mind to anticipate and try to control recoil, can move where the sights are pointing before the bullet leaves the muzzle, makes it harder to fire multiple precise shots quickly, and can even cause detached retinas from too much repeated high recoil from full power shotgun or high power rifle (not pistol) shooting.
Some of this can be controlled with muzzle breaks and recoil pads on rifles and shotguns, but on most pistols, the majority of the recoil management is done by the shooter.
And the easiest place to start is with your grip on the gun…
Larry and Beau are the guys who introduced me to the “vise” method of gripping pistols, as opposed to the “rope” method of gripping pistols. They cover this in depth in the Concealed Carry Masters DVD Course and I’m going to give you a quick primer on it right now.
One of the traditional schools of thought is that you should get as much “meat on metal” as possible to manage recoil. In essence, it means holding the grip like a rope with an emphasis on trying to put pressure inwards from front, back, and both sides. It’s the same grip that you’d use if you were climbing a rope that is the same size as your pistol grip.
I shot this way for years and it made the most sense of any technique that I’d heard of…up to the point when I talked with Larry about it.
But 2-3 years ago at SHOT Show, Larry told me that the “rope” grip works, but a slight modification would make a dramatic difference in minimizing the effects of recoil on my ability to shoot fast, aimed, follow-up shots.
Put another way, it’s a higher-leverage way of gripping the gun and you get better recoil management with less effort.
In short, what he had me do was start grabbing the pistol grip as if my hand were a table vise and could only exert force forwards and backwards with no concern over the sides.
Because the majority of the forces of recoil are trying to flip the muzzle upwards…not side to side.
When you grip the gun like this, all of the force that you’re exerting on the gun is in the same plane as the forces that the gun is going to try to exert on you. And you eliminate grip forces from the side that may push the muzzle to the side…before, during, or after the shot.
When you look at the bones of your fingers, you’ve got the bone that’s at the end of your finger, a knuckle, and then a second bone that’s closer to your palm. With the vise grip, you put the second bones of your middle, ring, and pinkie finger on the grip and pull straight back.
Depending on your hand and the gun you’re gripping, you’ll probably notice a gap on the side of the gun when you do this. That’s OK. The palm of your hand isn’t real good at absorbing sheer forces anyhow.
Next, we’ve got the support hand.
First off, you want to cock your support hand down as far as it will go WITHOUT PAIN. (I had an instructor once who was determined to make my wrist cock down as far as his did. I had a different range of motion than him and it was a painful and unnecessary experience.) As you cock your hand down, it will have the effect of moving the tip of your thumb forward.
I won’t get into detail here, but the reasons for doing this are important and are covered in detail in the Concealed Carry Masters DVD Course. Cocking your support hand down until it stops is like using a jig in carpentry…it makes it MUCH easier to quickly and precisely repeat the exact same performance multiple times in a row.
When you put your support hand onto your firing hand, the main thing that you’re concerned about is pressure on your shooting hand, towards the body. You don’t need to squeeze the support hand around the shooting hand to keep someone from twisting it out of your hands…you just want to pull straight back to manage recoil.
I hold my support hand still, without squeezing or moving, and pull back with my support side shoulder to apply pressure to my shooting hand and the grip of the pistol as I’m pushing forward with my shooting hand.
Next, we want to engage as much of the body as possible in absorbing the recoil of the gun. David and I covered this in Tactical Firearms Training Secrets, but here’s a quick overview…
Imagine, for a second, that you’ve got a great grip, but a loose wrist. When you shoot, the gun recoil is going to cause rotation around the wrist.
If you’ve got a great grip and your wrist is tight, recoil is going to cause rotation around the elbow.
Next is the shoulder.
After the shoulder is a critical one…the core. You don’t notice this as much with small caliber pistols, but it’s evident on select fire and high velocity rifles…if your core isn’t packed, locked, and engaged, you’re going to pivot at the waist and the muzzle will creep up. Pack, lock, and engage the core with a slight forward tilt, and it’ll transfer the point of rotation to the knees/feet.
Put your support foot forward, shooting foot back, add a slight bend and flex at the knees, and now the recoil will cause rotation around the forward foot and the rear foot acts as a break.
One thing to keep in mind is that every additional joint that you lock adds more meat/mass to the equation and the more mass the recoil has to act on, the less of an effect it will have.
Put these all together and you don’t have to have the strength of a metal worker to keep your muzzle relatively flat during and between shots.
Here’s a trick to keep in mind…
The longer the muzzle of the pistol you’re shooting, the more time the bullet has to impart recoil forces on the gun. It varies from shooter to shooter, and gun to gun, but I’ve found that when I’m shooting full power loads, a shorter barrel is easier to get on target again for a second shot than a longer, heavier barrel. What this translates to for me (your mileage may vary) is that I can shoot multiple shots faster with subcompacts than the full size equivalent.
Now some people need the extra weight of a longer, heavier gun to shoot comfortably…Sometimes that discomfort is due to bad form, but in a lot of cases, it’s due to injuries, arthritis, or other medical conditions. In those cases, comfort trumps the ability to speed up precision 2nd shots.
It also takes a slightly different flexing of the hand if your pinkie finger hangs off of the end of the grip.
Keep in mind when you’re watching shooters on TV that top pro competition shooters use light loads and light springs until there is almost no muzzle flip, whatsoever. But to the extent that I can, I like to use the same gear in competition that I’d use in a defensive situation.
Next is grip & forearm strength.
In some cases, grip & forearm strength can cover for bad form. In all cases, grip & forearm strength enhances good form, but if you have a choice between grip & forearm strength and good form, pick good form. BUT, when you get your technique down and want to improve your grip and forearm strength, here are some quick tips…
Here are a couple of shooting specific grip and forearm drills that I do…
- When I’m doing pullups or pull downs, isometric hangs, or carrying buckets, I keep my index finger straight.This is because of 2 things. First, I want to isolate moving my index finger from moving the rest of my fingers so that I can grip the gun isometrically while pressing straight back with my index finger.Second, the further away from the axis of rotation that I can apply force on the grip, the more effective it will be. In other words, if I apply force in the opposite direction that the pistol is rotating due to recoil, very close to the slide, it won’t be as effective as the exact same amount of force applied at the bottom of the grip.
That means that, even though the pinkie finger is weaker than the ring or middle finger, it’s in the best position to stop muzzle flip from recoil.If you’re shooting one handed, the most important fingers, for managing muzzle flip, in order, are the pinkie, ring, and middle fingers.
Several times a week, I take a broom, staff, or hammer, hold it in my hand in an icepick grip (sticking out the pinkie side instead of sticking out the thumb side) with my arm hanging straight down, and the end of the stick/hammer pointed backwards and wave it up and down. This strengthens the ulna/pinkie side of the forearm, which is the part of the forearm that is most engaged in managing muzzle flip.
And here’s what it looks like when you put it all together. (starting at 22 seconds in)
Questions? Comments? Ask away by commenting below and I’ll get them answered :) Also, let me know if you want me to cover recoil management for carbines and long guns.