I own two over-under field shotguns. These are light guns optimized for carrying on long walks hunting birds. But a lighter gun means heavier recoil. I like to take my field guns trap shooting, but it can be painful to shoot more than a few rounds with 12-gauge or even 20-gauge loads.
Competitive shooters with customized guns and release triggers laugh at the idea of using field guns for sporting clays. “If you want less recoil you have to add more weight to the gun,” they insist. Adding weight is certainly one way to dampen recoil. But I’m a practical guy and I don’t want to turn my light field guns into heavy competition guns.
Fortunately there are other ways to control recoil:
- Fit. This is the primary factor affecting the shooting experience of a bird gun. If the gun doesn’t fit the shooter then the shooter won’t be able to maintain a correct shooting posture: Cheek “welded” to the stock, butt snugly in the shoulder pocket, and dominant eye aligned with the front sight bead. If you can’t lock the gun against your cheek and shoulder then the recoil of every shot will slap you (often leaving visible bruises). If your eye isn’t aligned with the sight then you will probably miss the target. (The shooter’s eye serves as the rear sight on a bird gun. It doesn’t take much sight movement to change the point of impact at 20-40 yards!)
- Action. A semiautomatic action will absorb a significant amount of recoil. Of course that doesn’t help if you’re talking about making a bolt or break action easier to shoot.
- Dampers. You can dissipate recoil energy using damping mechanisms. Almost every gun comes with a rudimentary damper in the form of a rubber recoil butt pad. Here I review some more advanced dampers.
Edwards Recoil Reducers are light cylinders containing a spring-buffered counterweight that absorbs and even redirects (depending on installation angle) recoil. I got one delivered from Brownells for $60. It looks and feels like a rugged device. Edwards has been making these for over forty years and backs each reducer with a lifetime warranty.
Installation in a wooden stock can be a bit of a project. Take the recoil pad off of any shotgun and you’ll discover a lot of empty space in the stock. Before you can properly install the reducer you probably need to fill that space with some combination of dowels or other wood trimmed for a tight fit. Then with a 7/8″ forstner bit you can carefully drill out a hole as high and parallel to the gun’s barrel as possible. Push the recoil reducer into the hole, make sure it’s snug, and screw the recoil pad back on to hold it in place.
After installing the Edwards Recoil Reducer in one of my guns I took it right back to the trap field — still sore from shooting four rounds two days earlier. The recoil reduction was immediately obvious. I’m still working on a recoil gauge to quantify peak forces, but to me it felt like close to half of the recoil was gone. Even after four more rounds with the gun I would have been comfortable continuing to shoot.
Graco’s GraCoil is a butt plate that contains an adjustable piston that compresses up to 5/16″ to absorb recoil. Compression damping is also what a good recoil pad is supposed to do, but pads aren’t adjustable and they can’t get too mushy before they impact handling. The GraCoil spring can be tightened just enough that it doesn’t move under the pressure of your shooting stance, but then immediately starts to compress to absorb the recoil of a shot.
GraCoil plates also include a mechanism to enable significant adjustment to the position of the butt pad. This allows for significant improvements in the fit of a shotgun (which, as noted above, is an essential feature!). I opted to buy the GraCoil Model GC15-LP which also includes a length-of-pull adjustment.
The GraCoil needs to be ground to fit a particular stock, something I didn’t feel like attempting. Total cost of the GC15LP with factory installation is $375. MPC Sports will sell and install the same unit for $325. I went with the latter vendor. I carefully reviewed the proposed work with their gunsmith over Email and then mailed my stock to their shop in Atlanta. The completed piece was back in my hands just a week after they received it.
After tweaking the tension on the piston and getting the butt pad in just the right place shooting with the GraCoil is so easy and natural I really could break clays all day long.