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Tips for Reducing Shotgun Recoil

Shotgun recoil from turkey loads is just downright unpleasant, especially for kids, but there are some remedies to help reduce the shoulder thump and still deliver a lethal dose of shot pellets downrange

Tips for Reducing Shotgun Recoil
To successfully tame the recoil monster of a turkey hunting shotgun for a young or new shooter, start with a 20-gauge coupled with the lightest, effective turkey load available. (Lynn Burkhead photo)

A day on the shooting range sighting-in and finding the best combination of a choke and turkey shotshell load isn't one of life's most enjoyable experiences.

And I'm a middle-aged hunter with a couple of decades of spring gobbler-getting with a Remington 870 12-gauge under my belt.

But that doesn't mean I'm numb to the should-pounding thump – and the subsequent grimace – that comes after you release a firing pin into the 209 primer of a 3-inch high-brass modern turkey load, sending a 1 ¾–ounce load of Federal Premium 3rd Degree's #5, #6 and #7 pellets downrange at 1,250 feet per second.

Or the 1 5/8-ounce load of Federal Premium Heavyweight #7 turkey shot downrange at 1,300 feet per second.

Or the ... well, I think you get the picture; there are many excellent turkey loads on the market.

The bottom line is shooting turkey loads is a challenge, especially if you're without a recoil-reducing shooting rest, a must-have tool that makes sighting-in a turkey shotgun a reasonable proposition for an adult.

So how does one go about taking this idea – the turkey shotgun recoil monster, if you will – and toning things down into something manageable for a youngster, small people in general, or novice hunter heading to the springtime woods for the first time?

Here are a few ideas aimed at doing just that:

First, consider the gun you're letting the rookie turkey hunter shoot. While the task of raising three kids has certainly made me aware of the high costs of getting a child into hunting, if at all possible, don't make the mistake I made by starting them off with a single-shot 20-gauge (let's not even think about a 12-gauge shotgun yet for a new shooter), a scattergun that didn’t offer the slightest recoil-dampening features.

Simms Shotgun Rifle
Using a shooting stick, such as this Primos Trigger Stick with the 2-Point Gun Rest added, helps hold the shotgun in shooting position and helps reduce recoil. (Jeff Phillips photo)

Why did I choose such a gun? Simple; it was the most cost effective one on the market and I needed three of them.

But if I could do it all over again, I'd scrape and save some extra pennies to at least get a youth model pump shotgun with a good recoil-absorbing butt pad, maybe even a semi-automatic youth model shotgun that tames recoil even more.


And at the very least, I would have added something like a Sims Vibration Laboratory / LimbSaver shotgun recoil pad in an effort to tame recoil.

Second, after securing a shotgun with recoil-managing features, my advice is to let the child, or rookie hunter, practice shooting with shotshells other than heavy turkey loads.

Instead, opt to fine tune shooting mechanics, work on the various components of safe gun handling, teach how to aim downrange at a turkey, how to load and unload the shotgun, etc., while doing so with something like a sporting-clays load or a dove-quail field load.

There's still going to be a thump, but not nearly as much as there will be with the heavy-duty turkey load.

Third, once you've gotten your young or rookie shooter familiar with the gun and shooting it safely and effectively, I will add that I don't believe in lying to a first-timer, so I'd then allow them to fire a turkey load or two under carefully managed circumstances.

Those circumstances will start with finding the lightest turkey load, something that will require some effort on the adult mentor's part to locate a solid performing shell (perhaps a high-brass pheasant load).

Primo 2-Point Trigger Stick
Using a shooting stick, such as this Primos Trigger Stick with the 2-Point Gun Rest added, helps hold the shotgun in shooting position and helps reduce recoil. (Jeff Phillips photo)

Fourth, when shooting the chosen load on the shooting range, by all means, employ the use of a recoil-reducing shooting rest to help tame the shoulder thump. It will help take some of the punch out of the shell being fired while still giving the accurate impression that a turkey load is a few steps above a clays or field load.

Fifth, after successfully shooting some high-brass loads from a shooting rest, introduce a 2-point gun-rest tripod, which also can be used in the field and is highly recommended. These nifty devices bring several benefits to the turkey-hunting table. When setup properly, they lift the burden of having to hold the shotgun in shooting position at all times. These tripods are light, easy to pack and quick to deploy once you learn how they work. And, best of all, they will help reduce some recoil.

Sixth, keep in mind when a youngster or new shooter is actually out in the field, odds are, they'll hardly even notice the gun going off when Mr. Johnny Longbeard comes strutting in to your setup. All we're trying to do here on the range is to familiarize them with what will be going on when the turkey hunting shotgun is shouldered and fired downrange, the old practice-makes-perfect idea.

And finally, work to make the shooting experience as enjoyable as possible. Fire a shotshell at a target and then do something else. Employ a little competition on the range ("Hey there, I bet I can get more pellets in the turkey's vital zone than you can!"). In other words, don’t make a big deal out of high-recoil turkey loads.

The bottom line in all of this is that it takes some careful forethought and maybe a little extra planning to introduce a youngster or new hunter to the joys of spring turkey hunting.

Especially when it comes to taming the turkey shotgun recoil monster, one that can be strong enough to dampen the enthusiasm of the hunt if not outright extinguish the flame of desire burning inside.

Manage things just right, however, and odds are you'll have a new spring turkey hunter hooked on the sport for life.

One that grins big and remembers the sights and sounds of a strutting longbeard waltzing into shotgun range, not the painful thump when the trigger is pulled.

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