Recoil Management… or How Not To Shoot a .500 Wyoming

Posted: October 14, 2013 in Self Defense, Shooting
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
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It gives ya a wallop of a headache, let me tell ya…. While that is not me in the picture I certainly feel for her. Thankfully, there were no cameras around to document my hammer kiss.

Inspired by a close encounter of the forehead kind with a .500 Wyoming, I recently embarked on a search for a better way. Other people of similar (or less) size to myself are capable of shooting large calibers, so there must be something they know that I need to learn. Come to find out, there is much more to recoil management than just leaning forward. Being of small frame and shooting a .40 S&W, I learned that particular lesson early on. To my consternation, I now realize by halting my recoil management education on that one technique I lost years of potential development to poor control and frustration. I essentially learned addition and remained ignorant of subtraction, multiplication and division. Leaning forward is good, but it’s only the first step. There are many other skills one will benefit from learning.

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*Disclaimer: What follows is a description of new techniques that I have found to benefit me and improve my shooting and recoil management. Every person is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all method of shooting. I encourage you to explore all the well-known techniques and experiment with modifications and find the method that works well for you. 

Isosceles Stance

behind-the-line-weaver-stance

Over the years, I developed an aggressive stance similar to a Modified Weaver. I stand with my feet apart, the strong-side leg back, support shoulder angled toward the target and strong-arm straight. Basically, I’d take a boxing stance. This stance fully depends on maintaining isometric tension between arms to keep the firearm steady. I frequently defended this stance (to those kindly suggesting I try the Isosceles stance) by claiming it was the most comfortable for me. In this stance, I feel stable, aggressive and confident. It invokes feelings akin to a boxer entering the ring. However, after researching and testing other stances (and giving them an honest go) I realized my favorite stance gave me the least recoil control. I simply do not have the upper body strength to make the Weaver effective for me. So while the stance feels good to me, it actually has a negative effect on my accuracy, time, and felt recoil.

behind-the-line-isosceles-stance

Previously, I had noticed many competitive and highly trained shooters utilizing the Isosceles stance but I had dismissed it as a personal choice and irrelevant to me. The Isosceles is identified by the shooter facing the target square on, bending the knees, extending the arms straight out and locking the elbows, forming an isosceles triangle. Once I gave it an honest attempt though, I quickly realized why so many shooters use it. The Isosceles utilizes the strengths of my body (the skeletal structure) while minimizing a dependence on the weak points of my body (my upper body muscles). The perceived recoil was dramatically less when I tried this stance and the firearm jumped significantly less as well. The Isosceles is a strong, simple stance.

Strong Grip

Right gripWhen it comes to grip strength, I need to make a confession. I am guilty of playing the “I’m too weak” card. In my own mind, I excused my weak grip by saying I “just don’t have the strength.” Well, like so many things in life, once you stop the excuses and actually try it, you find you can do it. I discovered I have more strength than I thought and I gained a lot of recoil control. However, as was pointed out on multiple forums and videos, it is possible to grip too much. If you squeeze too hard with your shooting hand you can pull the gun off target. I had to concentrate to make sure I maintained a higher pressure with the support hand and less with the strong hand (many recommend a 70: 30 ratio). Consciously gripping the firearm tighter most certainly improved my recoil control.

Angled Support Hand or Fist-Fire Grip

Another trick I found works well for me is to utilize a downward 45 degree angle on my support hand. This locks your wrist and stabilizes your shooting frame which provides a much more stable foundation and greatly enhances recoil management. While it feels awkward at first, I am quickly getting accustomed to it and find it helps me greatly. This video by Grand Master and World Champion Shannon Smith is a great demonstration.

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Elbows out

elbowout

This next technique I picked up from watching YouTube videos, as well as observing multiple shooters I highly respect. I noticed they all directed their elbows out instead of down as they shoot. I found I handled the recoil much better by mimicking this style. Directing the elbows out allowed the gun to recoil straight back instead of up, which in turn kept the sights closer to the target. Instead of losing the sight picture completely, the sights looked like they were dancing on target.

Push Out

pushoutTo bring all of this together and truly make it all work, I found I needed to do one last thing: push the gun out. Whereas, I naturally just hold the gun in front of me with my arms extended, making an effort to push the gun out in front takes up the slack in my arms, rolls the shoulders forward, and firms up the isosceles triangle. Pushing forward tightens up the whole frame and brings all the techniques listed above into one cohesive whole. Not only did I notice a dramatic difference once I applied this technique, but I also found I had to consciously push forward after each shot as my body wanted to return to the relaxed, natural state of rest.

Lessons Learned…

A new stance, a polished grip and an updated mental checklist and suddenly shooting a .45 ACP is fun. I’m not sure I want a repeat attempt at that .500 Wyoming quite yet (It took 50+ plus rounds to work out the flinch from the last time) but I’m definitely warming up to the larger calibers. However, next time I try any caliber larger than standard handgun calibers, I’m definitely locking my elbows… Lesson learned on that one. In fact, many lessons learned. I suppose I should be grateful for the new scar on my forehead. It pushed me to step outside familiar territory, correct poor habits and adopt better ones. Not only that, but polishing up my shooting technique also made a day at the range much more enjoyable.

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http://www.gunnuts.net/2013/07/03/leaning-forward-vs-the-tactical-turtle/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJrA7wMXuuQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0QUqhC6c_w

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4a-bFZQPvpI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69Pmc8wtAhc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9c_TrV7qSE

http://booksbikesboomsticks.blogspot.com/2013/07/speaking-of-recoil-control.html

http://www.chuckhawks.com/recoil_management.htm

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Comments
  1. Tommy Harper says:

    Good Girl!!!!! Great blog! Some of us, me included,have to learn the hard way sometimes. Keep passing the knowledge forward!!

  2. MamaLiberty says:

    I use and teach the “Fist-Fire” method. http://www.tacticalshooting.com/what-is-fist-fire/ Recoil is only one of the issues for good control, of course. One of the most important parts of the Fist Fire method is to raise the off side elbow so the wrist is firm and steadies the grip. This gives far better control and seriously decreases muzzle flip, especially for those of us with less than Olympic upper body strength. Using this method, I can shoot my .45 ACP even more easily, with less perceived recoil, than the .38sp revolver it replaced. The 9mm I’ve carried for years now has even less perceived recoil.

    I discourage the “locked elbows” in any stance. How long can you hyperextend your arms and hold them steady? In this hyperextension, your muscles will tire rapidly and, eventually begin to tremble. Now consider how this will play out in a self defense situation where your adrenalin is pumping and your muscles are already screaming.

    I’ve had lots of fun shooting larger, powerful guns, but just the sight of a box of .357m rounds sends tingles through my hands remembering the pain… 🙂 I’ll pass.

    • Excellent input, as always MamaLiberty.

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I wondered about locking the elbows, not just for muscle fatigue, but also because I found my elbows hurting after just a few rounds. It does seem to help me control recoil but I’m thinking it’s not worth it.

      On a side note, I have found myself flinching badly ever since I shot that .500. What do you recommend to cure a flinch? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

      Thanks,
      Ruth

      • MamaLiberty says:

        Oh me… 🙂 I get this question quite often in intermediate classes. The best solution is not to attempt to shoot guns that powerful. If it hurts you to shoot it… and improved technique doesn’t change that much, you just can’t win if you continue to abuse yourself that way.

        As for the flinch, that’s merely the anticipation of pain. (For novices, it can be simply the fear of the loud noise.) Once it becomes part of your response, it will take a little time to retrain, but it’s not difficult. First, practice only with a gun you can reliably and comfortably control. Have someone else load your magazine or cyliner with randon rounds of regular ammunition and snap caps. Shoot normally, but slowly. (With a semi-automatic, you’ll have to rack the slide to eject the snap cap, of course) Analyze your response when the snap cap comes under the hammer. Once your muscle memory is satisfied that you are not going to be hurt when the gun fires, the flinch will be eliminated completely.

      • Thanks! I only shot the 500 once and I’m surprised how much that one experience affected me. I’m now flinching when I shoot my XD-9 that I’ve carried for a year with no previous problems. I hope to get some range time in early tomorrow morning and try out the snap cap method. Hopefully I will make good progress on curing that flinch.

        Thanks again!

      • Thank you for your wonderful advice. It helped a lot! I’m still flinching a bit (even when shooting .22s :/ ) but I am doing better. I hope to get some more practice in this week. I’ll keep working with the snap caps and going slowly.

        Thanks!
        Ruth

      • MamaLiberty says:

        Oh, and this all applies to ANY gun that causes pain to fire. I forgot to mention all of the little guns that are so nasty to shoot… in any caliber.

        Someone may truly believe the “no pain, no gain” thing in other areas, but pain is absolutely not your friend if you want to train regularly and reliably to shoot well.

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