Having discussed how firearms are the great equalizer, enabling a 90 pound grandmother to defend herself against a 250 pound home invader, I thought it would be proper to discuss which guns are best for those sensitive to recoil.

Sensitivity to recoil affects many people, and can be the result of injury, old age, small physical size, or just a dislike of recoil itself. I personally tend to enjoy recoil, at least for the first couple dozen shots fired at the range, but I do understand why some people dislike it. With that understanding, I’ll first address the factors which determine the recoil felt when a gun is fired, means of reducing the recoil felt by the shooter, and guns best suited to those sensitive to recoil.

How Recoil is Determined
Recoil is an expression of Newton’s third law of motion, which is often paraphrased as “for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In other words, the bullet/shot and hot gases go forward, and the gun goes backwards. Various factors pertaining to the gun and bullet/shot determine not only the actual recoil energy that the shooter must absorb, but also subjective amount of recoil the shooter feels that they have experienced. I won’t get into the physics behind these facts for the sake of brevity, however this is basic high school physics. These factors which determine recoil are:

  1. The mass of the gun – All things being equal, a heavier gun will have softer recoil.
  2. The mass of the projectile – All things being equal, a lighter bullet/shot will have softer recoil.
  3. The speed of the projectile – All other things being equal, a faster bullet will have heavier recoil, and the recoil will feel subjectively ‘sharper’, since the recoil happens more quickly.

Means of reducing recoil:
Recoil that the shooter feels can be reduced in quite a few ways.  These are:

  1. Use a lighter bullet, traveling at a higher speed – A lighter-than-normal weight bullet traveling at higher-than-normal speeds can carry the same amount of kinetic energy as a “normal” bullet, but will have less recoil.  Taken to extremes, bullets that are too light and too fast won’t penetrate well.  However, when this principle is applied within reason, a reduction in recoil can achieved, without a reduction in bullet effectiveness.
  2. Use a heavier gun – When firing the same ammunition, a heavier gun will have less recoil.  Selecting a heavier gun is one option, as are some specially designed lead inserts that can fit into lighter guns to increase their weight.  Even keeping the magazine full of ammunition when firing will make a difference.
  3. Use a muzzle brake, muzzle compensator, or ported barrel – each of these features redirect some of the hot gases from the burning of gunpowder in order to reduce recoil and/or the tendency of the gun’s muzzle to rise upwards when fired (called muzzle climb).  By diverting some of the hot gases in a direction other than straight out the barrel, they reduce recoil, and have a trivial to non-existent effect upon the bullet’s performance
  4. Use a gas operated gun – Semiautomatic guns, which use some of the hot gases from the burning gun powder to eject the spent cartridge and load a fresh one, will feel as though they recoil softer.  In reality, they recoil just about as hard as other guns, however the recoil is spread out over a longer period of time, making it feel softer to the shooter.
  5. Have a recoil reducing pad installed (on a shotgun or rifle) – A recoil reducing pad is made of a somewhat flexible rubber or foam substance, and fits over the butt of the longgun, where it touches the user’s shoulder.  This softer pad will slow down the transfer of energy to the shooter’s shoulder, making the recoil feel softer.  This is a standard feature on many shotguns and rifles nowadays.
  6. Use low recoil ammunition – This approach is a trade off between the effectiveness of the ammunition and its recoil, as physics demands.  That does not mean that this ammunition is ineffective, but rather that as a matter of physics it cannot be as effective as standard ammunition.  That said, reduced recoil ammunition can be a great choice for those who are too sensitive to recoil to use ordinary ammunition.

Guns for Those Sensitive to Recoil
For those sensitive to recoil and looking for a gun, I would recommend a heavier, small caliber handgun loaded with high velocity ammunition.  An example of such a gun would be the Springfield XD 9 Tactical.  9mm ammunition does not recoil too severely, and is effective for self defense.  The XD-9 Tactical weighs enough to help reduce the recoil further, especially when the 16 round magazine is full.
It is difficult for me to recommend a shotgun for those who are sensitive to recoil, do to the fact that even a comparatively low recoiling shotgun will have much more recoil than an average handgun, but I can say that a gas operated shotgun with a ported barrel, and low recoil ammunition, would be a good choice.
For a low recoiling rifle, one chambered for 5.56mm or .223 caliber would be recommended.  A muzzle compensator can also help reduce recoil, providing that your area doesn’t ban this as an “assault weapon.”

Hopefully this will help those sensitive to recoil to select the right gun.  I would also like to point out that, baring a physical reason for recoil sensitivity, many people who dislike recoil can come to tolerate or even enjoy it with enough experience.  Before you buy a gun specifically because you believe it will recoil softly, go to you local gun range or store and try a few guns to see which feels best.