How Much Recoil Does a Pistol Have?

Recoil is generated by the action of discharging a round from a firearm, a sensation many find unpleasant. The angry “snap” of a pistol in the hand can discourage a novice shooter. Even lifelong sport shooting enthusiasts who suffer from arthritis or weakness in the hands may find the high recoil generated by some pistols intimidating. No matter the experience level, a shooter should understand what causes the sensation of “high recoil” before overlooking a good firearm or abandoning the use of guns altogether. The firearms safety and training experts from Gun Safety Training Pros, your premier choice when you’re ready to take a firearms safety class, discuss what to expect when it comes to the amount of recoil associated with pistols.

Gun Size

Although it may seem counterintuitive, a big gun doesn’t necessarily mean a big recoil. A hefty steel revolver may look intimidating on the sales counter, especially placed next to a discreet 9mm semi-automatic pistol designed for concealed carry. But there’s a good chance the smaller pistol has a harsher recoil when fired because of its tiny size and low mass.


A round like the famous .44 Magnum is certainly powerful. It will release a great deal of kinetic energy into the weapon when fired. This energy presses against the gun as it drives the bullet down the barrel, moving the shooter’s hand and wrist with substantial force. All other things being equal, smaller calibers typically produce less force. You might assume this means a shooter should simply seek out a small-caliber pistol to reduce felt recoil. But this isn’t the only factor in the recoil equation.


A gun’s mechanism and form also work to increase or decrease recoil. For example, a semi-automatic pistol’s mechanism relies on the movement of the slide located on top of the gun. This component, often the heaviest part of a modern polymer pistol, slides backward to collect and load the next round into the chamber. The rapid shift of mass from front to back can amplify the “snappy” sensation directed right at the shooter’s wrist. If the weapon is too powerful for the shooter’s grip, at best, it will be uncomfortable to fire. At worst, a weak or tentative grip may prevent the slide from cycling in a crisp and complete manner, causing the weapon to jam and fail.

Conversely, old-fashioned revolvers put the bulk of the gun’s mass ahead of the shooter’s grip. The sturdy barrel and heavy cylinder loaded with ammunition resist the energy of firing and dampen the sensation of recoil. While the gun itself may be heavy and tiring to hold compared to a polymer semi-automatic, the actual recoil may feel much easier to manage, with less “snap” and a lower risk of a jam. 

Whether you’re new to handgun ownership or you’ve owned handguns for years, safety should always be your top priority. If you’d like to learn more about gun safety from experienced professionals by taking a high-quality online gun safety course, reach out to the experts at Gun Safety Training Pros. Contact us today at [email protected].

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