Ways to Lower Perceived Recoil of a Handgun

A firearm’s recoil is simply Newtonian physics in action: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And the recoil of a firearm is the physical reaction to an explosion in its chamber and a speeding bullet and expanding gasses pushing that bullet escaping from the muzzle. The firearm is then driven backward and makes contact with another object—your hand or shoulder—which then serves as a fulcrum, causing the muzzle to rise.

The perceived recoil of handgun is different from that of a long gun. While you’ll definitely feel the kick of a 12-guage pump-action shotgun in your shoulder, because a handgun is held out and away from your body, recoil is primarily perceived in your hands in the form of muzzle flip. If you take the time to aim properly and squeeze off a well-controlled first shot, muzzle flip shouldn’t affect the accuracy of that shot. However, it plays a major role in making accurate follow-up shots because, when the muzzle flips up, your sights move off your target and your sight picture needs to be realigned to put your second shot on target. The more muzzle flip a handgun delivers, the more you need to concentrate on reacquiring your target for your next shot.

But not all handguns deliver the same amount of perceived recoil (aka muzzle flip). The mechanical properties of the handgun in question, as well as its caliber and type of ammunition it fires, also play significant roles. There are also things a shooter can do to minimize perceived recoil, which we’ll cover later. But first let’s start with the physical attributes of a handgun that can contribute to—or minimize—its perceived recoil.


A semiautomatic handgun will have less perceived recoil than a handgun of the same caliber and similar size and weight with a different type of action. For example, a semiautomatic .40 caliber handgun with a four-inch slide should have less recoil than a .40 caliber revolver with a four-inch barrel. The reason is that the semiauto uses some of its recoil to cycle the action. This means not all the recoil makes it back into your hands; some of the force is being used to push the slide back and chamber the next round. With a revolver, which doesn’t use any recoil to spin the cylinder, you feel all the recoil impulse pushing the gun straight back into your hands with only the weight of the gun itself to dampen the force.


A heavier handgun will have less muzzle flip than a lighter handgun that’s the same general size, action, and caliber. With a heavier gun, there is simply more weight (mass, actually) for recoil to flip, especially if a good portion percentage of the gun’s weight is in front of the shooter’s hand out toward the muzzle. A longer, heavier barrel will require more energy to push it back and upward than a shorter, lighter barrel. This is especially noticeable when you’re used to shooting, say, a standard four-inch-barrel semiautomatic handgun and then you fire a subcompact semiauto for the first time. The shorter-barreled, lighter-weight subcompact will be much “snappier” in comparison and require more effort to keep sights on target for follow-up shots.

Adding weight toward the muzzle in the form of a weapon-mounted light can help reduce muzzle flip. There are several good reasons to add a weapon-mounted light, but simply to add weight probably isn’t one of them. If you have a legitimate reason to add a weapon-mounted light, and are looking to lessen your handgun’s muzzle flip, then a light might be worth trying. Just make sure you practice and train with your handgun the way it will be outfitted when you put it into use so you are comfortable and confident with it.


The bore axis of a handgun is the distance between the centerline of the barrel’s bore, extending all the way down the slide, to the center of the curve on the backside of the grip. In layman’s terms, it’s how high up on the handgun your hand is positioned when holding it.

The role bore axis plays in how a pistol shoots comes down to simple physics. With a lower bore axis, a handgun sits lower in your hand (in other words your hand is positioned higher on the gun); with a higher bore axis, it sits higher, meaning more of the slide’s area and mass is located above your hand. With less of the handgun located above your hand, most of the recoil drives straight back into your hand, resulting in less muzzle flip. With more handgun above your hand, your hand acts as a fulcrum, resulting in more muzzle flip.
The Daniel H9 is an excellent example of a low-bore-axis handgun. It was engineered that way to be accurate and easy to shoot—especially when firing follow-up shots—making the H9 a great choice for seasoned veterans and new shooters alike. While training and practice are critical for any shooter of any experience level, a handgun with a lower bore axis could help a new shooter put more shots on target sooner and build confidence faster. Even the world’s finest handgun isn’t much use if you don’t have the ability and confidence to put shots on target.


A handgun with a longer, larger grip, will typically have less perceived muzzle flip than a similar handgun with a shorter, smaller grip. This is because the larger grip gives you more surface area to for a more secure purchase, which helps control muzzle flip. A textured grip that provides friction and reduces slippage in your hand also helps reduce muzzle flip.


In general, you can expect to feel more perceived recoil from a larger caliber handgun than a smaller caliber. But this is not always true because ammunition, which we’ll cover next, also plays a big role. But—again, in general—expect a .40 caliber semiautomatic handgun to deliver more recoil than a semiautomatic handgun of similar size and weight chambered in .22 caliber.


Rounds loaded to higher pressures for greater velocity will deliver more recoil than lower-pressure rounds that fire a slower moving projectile. Bullet weight and shape can also play a role because larger, broader, heavier bullets typically travel at slower speeds than lighter-weight projectiles. The slower and heavier the bullet, the less recoil you can typically expect. So, just because a .45 semiauto handgun is a larger caliber than a .40 caliber handgun, it won’t necessarily have more perceived recoil. A .40 caliber round is typically loaded to a higher pressure and fires a smaller projectile than a .45, so its velocity can produce more perceived recoil than a .45 firing a heavier, slower-moving bullet.

No matter how well a handgun is engineered and manufactured to minimize recoil, how you—the shooter—hold and fire the gun greatly influences how much perceived muzzle flip you’ll experience. So, when you’re training and practicing with your handgun, concentrate on the following:

No matter how well a handgun is engineered and manufactured to minimize recoil, how you—the shooter—hold and fire the gun greatly influences how much perceived muzzle flip you’ll experience. So, when you’re training and practicing with your handgun, concentrate on the following:


A fundamentally sound firing stance goes a long way toward controlling muzzle flip and putting shots on target. There isn’t one perfect for everyone, so practice basic stances and adopt the one or two that suit you best. No matter which stance you use, you’ll want to have your weight behind the handgun so recoil is absorbed and muzzle flip will be minimized.

Posture plays a key role, too. If you’re leaning back and your weight isn’t balanced, you’re paving the way for more muzzle flip before you’ve even fired a round. Figure out which stance and posture work best for you and then practice them. Repeatedly. Until they’re second nature.


If you jerk the trigger back, you’re amplifying muzzle flip and practically flipping the muzzle up yourself—without any help from recoil. Jerking the trigger also has a negative effect on your grip because, if you’re paying too much attention to the trigger, you’re likely not paying enough attention to your support hand’s grip. As the grip in your support hand breaks down, you have less control of the gun.

Practice a smooth, clean trigger pull. It’s actually more of a press than a pull, but smooth and steady are key if you hope to make an accurate shot.


Perfect your fundamental handgun grip and practice maintaining a firm (but not too firm) grip that provides maximum control and accuracy. If you’re holding on too loosely, muzzle flip will be amplified. If you hold on too tightly, it could adversely affect your accuracy. Again, practice makes perfect.


This is the one common denominator in any training if you want it to be effective and become second nature. If perceived recoil/muzzle flip is an issue, learn your handgun, understand it, and train repeatedly until you’ve got it under control and it’s no longer an issue.

If your handgun of choice simply has too much muzzle flip to handle no matter what you try, it may be time to try a different model. Because a handgun you’re not confident or proficient with can be more of a hindrance than a help—especially in a self-defense or home-protection scenario.

Did we mention that the Daniel H9 was designed and engineered with a low bore axis and superb ergonomics to minimize perceived recoil/muzzle flip?

By dialing in the right physical attributes of a handgun and repeatedly practicing and training with that gun, overcoming perceived recoil and associated muzzle flip is imminently doable, which should make your shooting experience that much more enjoyable. Once you get to the point where you’re no longer thinking about it, putting follow-up shots consistently and quickly on target should become almost automatic.