Assessing Pistol Recoil Energy

Reader John remains curious about how to compare recoil with gauges and such, but just shooting the guns is the real answer. And Reader Ronald likes having the reasons for our grades explained.


Re “Firing Line,” July 2022

Todd: Finally cycled through my gun subscriptions and read the July 2022 Issue. Surprised to see my tirade about recoil. Read the SAAMI article, and it is indeed a way to measure Free Recoil Energy (FRE). If I just had access to all those stats so I could plug them in and calculate the FRE for different ammo in each of my four 9mm pistols. Maybe some math guy could build a table for each possible handgun pistol load. But that would not be usable because of the variety of variables in the pistol — grip size, barrel length, etc. But a simple pressure pad device (if someone makes one) could be connected to a wifi device that transmits the data to a cell phone. Then when you test any pistol for range data you could add that information.

As I read the rest of the article, I noticed that there was mention of recoil in each of the published tests. But here’s the thing. You shoot lots of guns and you are accustomed to years of recoil. And so are those people like competitors, who shoot a lot. But next time you are at the range, find a person is new to the shooting sports. And include women, kids, and old folk. Ask what their opinion is for the pistol being tested. There are a lot of new shooters who may feel differently than you do about FRE.

And finally, you suggest that I get a 5.7mm pistol. I’ve been shooting 9mm for many years, and during those years when ammo went on sale I bought the cheapest 9mm FMJ that was on sale. I think the last Herters 115 FMJ ammo I bought was $9.99 for a box of 50. Today at Cabelas, American Eagle is $21 for 50 rounds. And the 5.7x28mm is $48 for 50. I don’t have a problem with my SA XDm 9mm’s FRE. But I do with the same ammo in the SCCY 9mm CTX.

Okay, another tirade. But I need to ask. With your connections in the industry, have you asked if such a pad with the capability to measure FRE and transmit it to a phone app exists? As simple as the solution should be, if the device was less than $40, I’d buy one so I could test my guns, and if the FRE was available, it could impact my next pistol purchase.  — John

Hey John: I understand the appeal of having a number to compare pistol recoil, but there isn’t any substitute for the felt recoil assessment of shooting a certain gun side by side with another similar model using the same ammo. Grip design, gun weight, weight distribution, and other factors all contribute to how recoil is experienced by the shooter. That’s the subjective element of felt recoil we report in every test. — Todd Woodard

Greetings to you, Todd. I have subscribed for several years and have made purchases based upon your evaluations. Haven’t been disappointed with any of them. One addition that I believe would be a benefit to handgun evaluations is to always include the grip angle. Grip angle alone can be a deal breaker for me and probably many others also. And if you’re up for another comment on the 380 ACP downgrade, I’ll add a thought. I always appreciate your grading, even if I may not see it the same, but as long as you give the reason or reasons for a downgrade, we have the information needed to make a choice. Hold your course and keep up the good work! — Ronald

Reader Request

Top of the morning! I’m a longtime subscriber since the mid-1990s and have enjoyed your magazine along the way, through political gun bans and your coverage in the vast improvements in weapons, ammo, and accessories. As an older guy, I enjoy a vast range of long-gun military firearms and would greatly appreciate your effort to cover and test these types of firearms at least two times per year. Many of us still enjoy trading, buying, and selling these types of rifles because there is such enjoyment in shooting, cleaning, and owning these weapons, plus so many of your new and younger subscribers need the exposure to these weapons so the interest and knowledge is passed to them from us seasoned old timers, as was the case for many of us. Keep of the good work, and hopefully my request is recognized and placed into action. — Martin

Hey Martin: I agree that there’s interest in older guns, and our last coverage of the segment was in the December 2021 issue, “Springfield Armory Rifles Old and New: Which to Collect?” I might agree to two a year, but by including older handguns as well. Thanks for the expression of interest. — tw

Re “Firing Line,” November 2021

Top, the 450 Marlin’s belt is noticeably longer than the belt on the 458 Winchester Magnum cartridge, bottom.

Dear Todd, a very good friend of mine passed along the November 2021 issue of Gun Tests to me, and I’d like to pass along one comment about the longer belt of the 450 Marlin. I agree with all the comments you stated in the issue, but I believe the most important reason for the longer belt is to prevent the round from being chambered in smaller-bore belted magnum rifles that have large chambers, e.g., 375 H&H Magnum, 300 Winchester Magnum, and probably most of the Weatherby cartridges. Needless to say, trying to get a .458-caliber slug through a smaller bore would be disastrous for both the rifle and probably the shooter. It took me a while to get used to the looks of the longer belt, but I still very much like my 1895 Marlin lever action chambered in 450 Marlin. Thank you for your time. — John

Hey John: Thanks for the insights. — tw

Re “Testing the 30 Super Carry Vs. 380 ACP and 9mm Pistols,” July 2022

Todd: A couple years ago, I bought a S&W 380 EZ for my girlfriend because she has small hands and is 76 years old. When she and I took it out to run a few through it, I was as impressed as she was, as well. An old friend of mine had bought the same pistol for his 32-year-old daughter, a commissioned Air Force officer, and raved about it, He also bought the 9mm EZ version for himself, and I did as well. So, reading all the hype and glowing accolades about the newest wonder gun in 30 Super Carry, I thought it would be great to have a slightly smaller caliber, lighter-weight bullet, higher-capacity semi-automatic to carry.

Silly me, though, I “assumed” the smaller caliber, lighter bullet, less recoil would come in a reduced-size package. It didn’t. Same identical size as the S&W 9mm EZ. Identical. Not more concealable. Am I sorry about buying it? Not really, but disappointed. It should have been a new pistol, not one based on the full-size 9mm EZ with a smaller barrel diameter. The 30 SC does not have the two-sided manual safeties, so it is narrower by a half inch, but still, it should come in a half-size pistol based on its reduced recoil. I’m keeping it, but I wish they’d have engineered something in-between-size instead of same as a Colt 1911. — Bill

Hey Bill: I sense that you are indeed sorry about buying the 30 SC EZ from Smith & Wesson. I do understand why S&W would use an existing platform to chamber the new cartridge — very little development costs to see if the 30 SC will catch on. — tw


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