Using “Push-Pull” For Recoil Control

For those who dread the recoil of a 12-gauge shotgun, there’s a technique that can help.

posted on October 11, 2022
Push pull recoil control technique

Unlike the mythical pushmipullyu from “Dr. Doolittle,” the push/pull technique for shotguns is quite real and will help tame the felt recoil of a 12-gauge.

Over the course of this column, I’ve described myriad ways to mitigate a shotgun’s recoil, including increasing gun weight, installing a quality pad, ensuring proper fit and others. But, one that’s likely the easiest to perform, one of the most effective yet the least understood, is a shooting technique commonly called “push/pull.”

A brief internet search will reveal plenty of modern defensive-shotgun gurus preaching the push/pull’s value, and while it may be little known, it definitely isn’t new. More than 35 years ago, my godfather—a quail and big-game hunter of some repute—taught it to me, and he had been using it since he was a boy. He’s 85 at the time of this writing. 

Charlie says the push/pull technique—along with his outstanding eyesight and hand-eye coordination—is what allowed him to routinely take three or more quail on a single covey rise; it allowed fast, nearly seamless follow-up shots from his 20-gauge semi-automatic as he downed one bird and moved to the next with minimal disturbance to his swing. 

Defensive shotgunners can use the technique to even greater effect with heavy-recoiling 12-gauge shotguns. Here’s how it’s done:

With the strong-side hand (the trigger hand), pull the shotgun into the shoulder pocket just so it’s snug. The goal is to prevent the buttstock from moving in the pocket to keep recoil-induced momentum to a minimum. What you want to avoid is death-gripping the gun as if you were holding onto it for dear life. This is where the “pull” portion of the technique comes from.

The key, however, is in the support-hand grip. Instead of gripping the shotgun’s fore-end to pull the gun back into the shoulder pocket in unison with the strong hand, the support hand should firmly push the gun forward, toward the target. Basically, the two hands should fight each other as they figuratively try to stretch the gun’s receiver (sometimes described as “try to break the gun in half”). To try another analogy, think of it like shooting a bow: When drawing a bow, the grip hand actually pushes the bow out about as hard as the string hand pulls rearward; and when the bow is held back at full draw, both arms are holding equal tension. It should be the same with the shotgun. 

In this way, the forward hand pushes directly against the force of recoil, thereby canceling a part of it before it reaches the body. Meanwhile, the trigger hand makes sure the gun is secure to the cheek and shoulder while performing its trigger duties. 

While the technique seems so simple, the results are dramatic. Some people claim it can decrease felt-recoil by as much as 50 percent, although that’s tough to actually quantify. Certainly, it makes a noticeable difference. If you don’t believe me, go to the range with your shotgun of choice and try it yourself. Record yourself trying both techniques; you’ll feel and even see less muzzle rise and rearward push. This allows faster follow-up shots and makes the shotgun much more friendly to shoot in general. 

Keep in mind that the shooter does not need to hold the gun like this for long, as it is very taxing on the muscles. Rather, the fore-end hand should push forward only in the microseconds before the shot. Once the technique is learned, practice will allow mastery of it, at which time there will be little reason to return to any other shotgun shooting technique whether hunting, target shooting or practicing for home-defense.


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