Shotgun Recoil Chart

Gauge, Length & Ounce Shot with Muzzle VelocityWeight of FirearmRecoil Energy (ft. lbs.)
.410, 2.5" - 1/2 oz / 1200 fps5.57.1
.410, 3" - 11/16 oz / 1135 fps5.510.5
28 Gauge, 2.75" - 3/4 oz / 1200 fps6.012.8
20 Gauge, 2.75" - 7/8 oz / 1200 fps6.516.1
20 Gauge, 2.75" - 1 oz / 1220 fps6.521.0
20 Gauge, 2.75" - 1 1/8 oz / 1175 fps6.525.0
20 Gauge, 3" - 1 1/4 oz / 1185 fps6.531.0
16 Gauge, 2.75" - 1 oz / 1220 fps7.021.5
16 Gauge, 2.75" - 1 1/8 oz / 1200 fps7.027.6
12 Gauge, 2.75" - 1 oz / 1180 fps7.517.3
12 Gauge, 2.75" - 1 1/8 oz / 1200 fps7.523.0
12 Gauge, 2.75" - 1 1/4 oz / 1330 fps7.532.0
12 Gauge, 2.75" - 1 1/2 oz / 1260 fps7.545.0
12 Gauge, 3" - 1 5/8 oz / 1280 fps7.552.0
12 Gauge, 3" - 1 7/8 oz / 1210 fps8.7554.0
10 Gauge, 3.5" - 2 1/4 oz / 1210 fps10.562.9

Table of Expected Shotgun Recoil

Sir Isaac Newton was a clever fellow, but in spite of popular opinion he did not actually invent gravity. But we’ve got to give Newton credit where it’s due. He did come up with the third law of motion. It states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Recoil: It’s the Law

Newton’s third law explains the phenomenon of recoil, or “kick.” When you fire a shotgun, it is going to jerk backward with the same force as everything that comes out of its barrel: propellant gasses, wad, shot/slug. This means that not all shells deliver the same amount of recoil, nor do all shotguns. It is possible to measure a shell’s recoil with the help of this unwieldy formula:

(mshotvshot + mwadvwad + 4,700 * mpowder) 2/64.348* mgun

Basically, this equation takes into account the mass and velocity of the shot and wad, the mass of the propellant, and the mass of the gun. Plug in the right numbers, and you can calculate recoil energy. We measure recoil energy in foot pounds. That’s the same unit we use to measure muzzle energy.

Let’s compare a weak 12 Gauge load with a powerful one, but we’ll keep things simpler by omitting wad weights and approximating propellant charge weights.

A Shotgun Recoil Example


Here is a nice 12 Gauge shell with ⅞ oz of shot and a 1,200 fps muzzle velocity. If we were to fire it out of a 7 lb Winchester Model 101 Field, it would generate 13.9 ft lbs recoil energy. Now, check out this 12 Gauge shell with a 1 oz slug and 1,560 fps muzzle velocity. When fired from the same Model 101 Field, it’s going to generate 27.0 ft lbs recoil energy. As you might have guessed, the more powerful load with the bigger projectile weight is going to have a lot more kick to it. In general, recoil energy greater than 15 ft lbs is when shooting starts to get uncomfortable.

Role of Shotgun Weight

The weight of your shotgun plays a big role in just how much recoil you will be subjected to when firing. It’s a proportional relationship: the heavier the gun, the lesser the recoil. That’s part of the reason why a pistol chambered for 25 ACP can fit in your sock. At the same time, a Barrett M82 has to weigh about 30 lbs. The M82’s bullet is 14 times heavier, so it would tear you to shreds if you fired it out of a derringer.

It’s no different for a shotgun. If you’re firing a powerful shell, a heavier gun will help to mitigate its recoil. This is something you especially want to bear in mind if you keep a shotgun for home defense. A Mossberg 590 Nightstick, which weighs only 5.25 lbs, is going to deliver more recoil than a 7.5 lb Mossberg 500 Combo Field/Security when you fire the same shell in either. Recoil can throw off your aim, so when rapid fire comes in to play a beefier shotgun will help you to stay on point.

What Do You Feel?

Recoil energy is objective, but just how much recoil you’re going to perceive is pretty much subjective. If you’ve got a good recoil pad and muzzle brake, the butt of your shotgun is not going to jar your shoulder as violently. If you’ve got a semi-automatic shotgun, its ability to spread out recoil over time is going to make firing it feel gentler than a pump action or side-by-side. They require that their shooter absorb a greater amount of recoil energy. Some shells also have hinged wads, which collapse during ignition to reduce felt recoil. It’s good to do the math, but math alone can’t tell you exactly how much recoil you’re looking forward to. That’s something you learn in practice.

What is Recoil Velocity?

shotgun at the range

There’s another element involved when it comes to recoil. While recoil energy describes how hard the kick is going to be, recoil velocity describes how abrupt that kick is going to feel. Recoil velocity is a product of gun weight, projectile weight, and muzzle velocity, and it’s measured in feet per second. A recoil velocity of over 10 fps is about the point at which shooting starts to get uncomfortable.

To summarize, if you want to fire a shotgun comfortably over an extended period of time, like during trap, or more rapidly without losing too much accuracy, as you would for home defense, then you want to bear recoil in mind. Even if you hope to fire your shotgun only once while you’re out deer hunting, you don’t want that sole shot to hurt your shoulder. There’s just no need for it!

The following is a table of shotshell recoil energies. The data approximate, as we’re estimating each hypothetical load’s propellant weight.