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Which Pistol is Right for You? Part 4 – The Slide and Recoil

This is the last in a series of articles discussing factors to consider in choosing a pistol. Previous articles covered the grip, magazine release, and trigger. This time we will discuss two subjects that are related: the slide and recoil of the gun.

When a gun is fired, of course there is recoil (Newton’s Third Law: “…equal and opposite reaction,” etc.). When comparing a revolver and a semiautomatic, the big difference is that a revolver’s cylinder and frame transfer more recoil into your hand, whereas a semi auto absorbs some recoil to cycle the slide before transferring the remainder to your hand (felt recoil). But there are several factors in both types that affect the felt recoil.

Revolvers and semiautos both have more or less recoil due to: caliber, gun weight, and height of barrel centerline above your hand. In addition, semiautos are affected by slide weight and recoil spring tension.


This goes back to the age-old argument I mentioned at the start of the series: “Which caliber is best?” My answer: I don’t care. If you get hit by any of them, it’s going to hurt. That being said, generally, the larger the caliber the more recoil generated when the round goes off, at least at the back of the bullet. But here is where it gets a little squirrely.

Gun Weight

Before you get to felt recoil, the recoil at the back of the round needs to transfer through the firearm to get to your hand. The more mass the gun has, the more recoil it’s going to take to get it moving. For the same caliber, a heavier gun will have less felt recoil than a light one. So, if you are carrying a small, light .45, it’s going to kick the crap out of your hand vs. shooting a 1911. Or, as a matter of fact, with any other round except maybe a .22. The big difference is you have to hold all that mass up with a heavier gun, and may get shaky in the process.

Height of Barrel Centerline

For the same set of conditions, a gun with a higher barrel above your hand will also have more felt recoil. This is due to the gun trying to rotate upward in your hand because of lever action. In this case, your wrist will also be taking a beating. Look for a gun that has a good, low ergonomic fit with your hand close to the barrel centerline.

Slide Weight

Slide weight is similar to gun weight, in that the heavier it is, the more energy it will absorb to cycle the gun. Once that is done, the rest of the energy has to transfer through the frame to get to your hand.

Recoil Spring Tension

Lastly, the recoil spring is another energy absorber, but be careful here. A strong spring may help absorb more energy, but don’t get one that is so strong you can’t rack the slide. That’s going to be a personal choice given your size and strength, but I have seen people literally drop a gun trying to rack the slide. That’s a definite way to create some new dance moves.

My hope in writing this series of articles has been to help people of the gun-buying public, especially those with less experience, have the best chance to get a gun they will find a joy to shoot on the first go-around. I have seen too many people who struggled with firearms and ended up unhappy with a particular choice. I have also seen people who bought a gun for the wrong reasons, such as getting the largest caliber possible. The bottom line is that when you hold your gun, it should be like shaking hands with your best friend. Never mind what anyone else tells you (including sales people). If it feels good in your hand, you’re most of the way there. Then, pay attention to the rest of the factors in these articles, and you will be pretty close to the mark with your purchase.

Happy Shooting!

--Jon Boyd

Raven One-Five 2IC

Copyright Jon Boyd, 2015

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