Without a doubt, the greatest foe of our shooting enjoyment is the old demon recoil.
Recoil and the resulting "kick" are the root of all evil in our shooting habits, whether we flinch, jerk triggers or stop our gun swing as we try to compensate for getting hammered when the gun goes boom. (And going "boom" is what we want, remember?)
Recoil is the greatest obstacle of novice and first-time shooters even getting introduced to the sport. Ask any new shooter as they line up to try the shotgun, and the thing they are most worried about is getting kicked.
Back in the alleged good ol' days, it was common practice to hand a kid an ill-fitting shotgun and laugh when it kicked him like an army mule. I would like to say this practice has gone by the wayside, but I still hear about it and see it on various embarrassing videos. There are legions of shooters who will carry bad habits to the grave, most of which are associated with recoil. The point is, shooting a shotgun should be fun, and that means we need to do all we can to control recoil.
There are basically three ways to reduce recoil in a shotgun. (These methods will, in general, work for reducing recoil in rifles as well.)
The first one is to simply increase the weight of the gun. A heavier shotgun absorbs more of the recoil than a light one. This is why field guns used for hunting are often lighter than competition shotguns for trap or sporting clays: You will carry the field gun more than you will shoot it, which is just the opposite of a competition gun.
Next, you can shoot lighter loads with less velocity. Reducing the amount of powder and lead in the shell will help greatly with recoil. (Newton's Third Law of Motion, opposite and equal reactions, remember?)
Last, you can insert some form of compensation between the gun and your shoulder: a recoil pad, a compressible device in the stock or a gas-operated action in the shotgun that disperses some of the gases expelled from the fired shell and lessens recoil.
Gas-operated actions on shotguns can take several forms, but all of them use some type of piston that by the pressure of the fired round moves the action of the weapon. In this way the action is opened, the bolt moves back, the empty is extracted and the new round is placed in the chamber.
Boom, Boom, Boom.
The watershed year for gas-operated shotguns was definitely 1963, which is when Remington introduced the Model 1100. The 1100 followed the Remington Model 58 and 858 and replaced them as it became the first successful (and reliable) auto-loading, gas-driven shotgun. Soon after coming onto the scene, the 1100 became the darling of trap shooters, skeet shooters and hunters as well.
Much of what made the 1100 so successful was that its gas-driven action took some of the sting out of shooting, and it could run different kinds of ammo such as 2 3/4-inch and 3-inch in the Magnum models (a foreshadowing of the appearance of the VersaMax years later).
The 1100 bleeds off some of the gasses from the fired shell and uses part of them to work the action, but any auto-loader gas gun does that. The real genius in the 1100 action is that it is basically a gas-powered 870 pump gun.
The ports that bleed off excess gas are found near the front of the forearm. The gas from the fired round used to work the action moves the action sleeve, which connects to the bolt carrier and ejects the empty casing. A new shell is released from the magazine, this trips the carrier release, the action spring in the stock pushes the bolt forward, and the bolt grabs the new round and pushes it into the chamber.
No doubt you have heard more about a gun inventor from Utah named John Moses Browning than you have about Danish gun maker Christer Sjörgren. In 1903, though, both unveiled what would become iconic recoil-operated shotgun actions. Browning gave us the Automatic 5 with what became known as the long recoil system. Sjörgren's shotgun harnessed the force of inertia and used it to move the bolt backwards as it pushed against a spring. This motion ejects the fired shell and loads a fresh round as the bolt returns to battery.
The inertia gun was born, but the idea lay largely dormant until it was resurrected by Benelli in the late 1960s. Benelli embraced the inertia system and incorporated it in its line of semiautomatic shotguns, including its iconic Super Black Eagle. It should come as no surprise that other companies owned by Beretta, Franchi and Stoeger also offer inertia shotguns.
So here is the deal on inertia shotguns. Most have fewer moving parts than the gas-operated guns, there are no pistons and chambers to capture and route the expelled gases, and with fewer parts these guns are almost always lighter. The inertia gun uses the force of the gas to move the action of the gun rearward; it doesn't vent any of it off to lessen recoil. Inertia guns are generally considered less finicky, easier to clean and will operate under severe conditions.
The downside is they are also known to kick harder than gas-operated shotguns.
So how do we handle the old demon recoil in inertia guns?
The folks at Benelli knew long ago they would have to deal with the recoil associated with inertia guns. Benelli currently employs two systems for recoil control in semiautos. Wood-stocked shotguns use the "Progressive Comfort" system, while synthetic-stocked shotguns have the "ComforTech" technology.
The Progressive Comfort system incorporates three sets of patented interlocking flexible buffers that absorb recoil at different stages, dependent on the strength of the shot shell's load. Looking at the inside of a Benelli Ethos shotgun stock, you can see the polymer system that includes three sets of fingers or leaves. Each set has a different elasticity, and the load used determines which sets of fingers are utilized for maximum recoil reduction. The first set of fingers is very flexible for light loads, the second set a bit stiffer for field loads and the third set is optimized for heavy magnum loads.
ComforTech systems on Benelli synthetic-stocked guns, like the company's flagship Super Black Eagle 3 shotgun, deal with recoil in a different manner. The stock is divided by 24 synthetic, recoil-absorbing chevrons. The chevrons are arranged diagonally from the heel of the buttstock to a point just behind the pistol grip. The stock is designed so the exterior shell flexes outward to further dampen recoil. Together with the ComforTech Plus recoil pad, this design spreads the peak force of recoil over a longer period of time.
Remember that the "kick" you feel when shooting a shotgun, known as felt recoil, is subjective. How much you think a shotgun kicks may not be the same for me or your shooting buddy.
And that means how much a recoil pad or a certain stock design helps with demon recoil may be like saying who the prettiest girl was in your senior class: Everyone may not agree.
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.