TAMING THE TIGER – Some innovative ways to reduce 12-gauge recoil

I am a big fan of the 12-gauge shotgun. Although I am not a waterfowler, upland game hunter or turkey trotter, nor do I hunt deer with a rifled slug shotgun, I enjoy run-and-gun meets, 3-gun matches and shotgun steel matches. I also believe that the 12-gauge is the ultimate arbiter of just about any defensive argument from 0 to 25 meters, and especially so in a home-defense scenario.

The Mesa Tactical LEO Adjustable Hydraulic Recoil Buffer Stock

The Mesa Tactical LEO Adjustable Hydraulic Recoil Buffer Stock (on a Mossberg 590A1 Mariner) is a big favorite of law enforcement officers throughout the United States, as demonstrated by this LEO firearms trainer.

Most 12-gauge pump shotguns are reasonably priced, easy to figure out and get on target, fairly simple to take down and maintain in a functional state of readiness, and are usually one-shot-and-done weapons, if you can point the business end in the right direction.


That being said, my love for the 12 gauge only goes so far. The downsides to a prolonged range trip with a 0.73-gauge smoothbore scattergun are the marks, black-and-blues and welts that this experience will typically leave on your body.

With most home-D shotguns capable of firing both 2 ¾-inch and 3-inch shotshells, dumping a few boxes of the 3-inchers in 00 buck or slugs downrange have convinced many a potential zombie shotgunner to mutter a surprising WTH! under his breath, put the weapon back in its travel case, and bury it in the dark depths of the gun vault, never to be seen or heard from again.

One of my initial 12-gauge experiences was just like this. I made the mistake of putting a low-cost, collapsible, M-4-type plastic stock on my Mossberg 500 because it looked badass when I took it out of the bag at the range, not realizing that an unfortunate “double negative” was about to be perpetrated upon me. Being the “real man” that I was at the time, I went right to the good stuff: a box of 3-inch, high-velocity shotshells from Winchester that pushed a 1-ounce rifled slug along at 1,800 fps. The revelation was about to begin.

After adjusting the length of pull on the collapsible stock to ensure a tight check weld and a clear sight picture, I racked one of the Winchester slugs into the Mossy’s chamber, pointed the barrel toward my target, released the tang safety and let her rip. Following a tremendous flash and boom that rivaled just about anything that I had shot to date (with the exception of a 50-caliber BMG), the next sensation was a huge jolt to my right shoulder, a slap to my unprotected cheek and then searing pain to both areas WTH, indeed!

This couldn’t be right. Determined to repeat this process at least 19 more times with the four boxes of 3-inch slugs and 00 buck that I had brought to the range that day, I learned a valuable lesson that was reinforced when I got home and took a look at the physical damage done to my body and the unseen damage done to my psyche. This 12-gauge had given me a good, ol’ Bronx beat-down, complete with some fist-sized bruises on my shoulder and forearm, plus a nice cut on my cheek. Yet, I was determined to ascertain how and why I had received this beating and planned to somehow tame this 12-gauge tiger if, indeed, it was at all possible to do so.

Well, 15 or so years later, I have finally figured things out. I’m a little bit wiser, and with the recent introduction of some cool aftermarket accessory items for some popular 12 gauges like the Remington 870 series and the Mossberg 500/590, I am here to tell you that it [is], indeed, possible to tame this ferocious 12-gauge tiger. Let’s take a closer look at how this can be accomplished.


One of the first things that the aspiring 12-gauge shotgunner can do to alleviate the pain of full-power-load recoil is to add some sort of enhanced cushioned butt pad to the back end of the stock. Whether it’s a factory wooden stock, synthetic flavor or any of the aftermarket tactical stocks, there’s usually some type of Limbsaver add-on, screw-in or slip-on recoil pad that will work to lessen the welts and the pain. These come in three styles: slip on, precision fit and grind-to-fit. With prices in the $35 to $45 range, this is a simple, affordable and usually easy solution for the mechanically challenged.

Going somewhat along this route, I purchased a pair of Choate Machine & Tool Mark V Pistol Grip fiberglass-filled synthetic stocks for two of my Mossbergs a few years back. This Mark V features a very comfortable cross-hatch pattern buttpad that’s at least an inch thick, and when combined with the comfy pistol grip, it really does help reduce welts and felt recoil with buckshot and slug loads. It also offers an adjustable length of pull to fit most users that can be changed from 13 to 14 inches in ½-inch increments by adding or removing two plastic shims that snap right into place.

After a lot of swapping around with more-expensive stocks, I still have a Mark V P/G stock employed on one of my Mossberg 590s. The reason is due to its sheer simplicity and reliability, in addition to providing a comfortable cheek weld for my hi-vis, fiber-optic front bead sight and the aforementioned thick synthetic buttpad for flinch-free shooting, even with full-power loads.

I spoke with Fred Choate, the president of the company that bears his family name. He shared an interesting “recoil reduction” story from a few years back that makes sense here for this article.

Choate was manufacturing an inertia recoil stock for a famous European shotgun manufacturer as a prime sub-contractor. Choate learned that when shooting light loads, the pistol grip stocks were not allowing the inertia recoil process to function, while the standard-grip shotgun stocks had no such issues. After conducting some slow-motion videos of the two stocks firing the same shotshell ammo, it was determined that the operator’s enhanced grip and the cushioning system of the P/G stock was having an unwanted “dampening” effect on the inertial recoil process, compromising its operation due to the reduction of both felt and actual recoil. The standard stock did not suffer from this problem, since it didn’t dampen or absorb recoil as much.

Interesting stuff, but there’s no doubt in my mind, based on shooting thousands of 12-gauge shotshell rounds at competitive matches and at the range, that a pistol-grip stock with a heavy Limbsaver-type cushioned buttpad is superior to most standard wooden or bare-bones synthetic factory stocks.

Choate also makes a “youth model” version of this same Mark V pistol grip stock ($78) that offers a shorter, 11 ¾-inch length of pull. It’s just the ticket if you are wearing heavy clothing or body armor or simply want to shorten the overall length of your weapon to better navigate the doors and hallways of your house.

Advanced Tactical International (ATI) manufactures a wide variety of rifle and shotgun stocks. One that will certainly help you tame the 12-gauge tiger in your weapon is its Talon Tactical shotgun stock. Because I have four Mossberg 500/590 series combat shotguns, I decided to field test one of these on my 500 Stainless Steel Mariner. The installation was fairly straightforward and took a total of about 10 minutes with no special tools required.

The Talon Tactical features a six-position, M4-type collapsible stock, a user-installed, 6-degree drop tube to help line up the sight picture with your front bead sight, plus all the necessary attachment hardware to fit it on a variety of Mossberg, Remington and Winchester shotguns (be sure to check the application chart before you order one). The heart of the recoil taming operating system is the nonslip, removable Scorpion Razorback Recoil Pad and the Scorpion Recoil Pistol Grip. Both of these components are manufactured from a flexible and sure-grip textured material that remains so, even in extreme temperature swings.

Unlike the rigid plastic grips and butt stocks employed on many competitive products, the Scorpion grip and butt pad’s flex somewhat absorb felt recoil and impact. This reduces the challenge of reacquiring the target by minimizing muzzle lift and any flinching or “yipps” experienced by shooters intimidated by the roar and punch of the typical 12-gauge tiger. This synthetic material is not affected by chemicals and doesn’t feature any of the moving parts used in spring- and piston-type recoil suppression systems. Priced at $99, this is an affordable step in the right direction, but it might not be the ultimate solution for all shooters.

Recoil absorption is critical on any 12-gauge shotgun, and this relative newbie has one of the best pads made. Its proprietary Inflex design is also employed on Winchester’s SXP Defender and SX3 and Browning’s Maxus and X-Bolt weapons platforms. Felt recoil is reduced by rib structures set inside the pad that help direct and channel the recoil impulse, moving the comb down and away from your cheek.

While sending 3-inch magnum buckshot loads downrange will still deliver a noticeable jolt to your shoulder, many of the 2 ¾-inch loads that I used for the test were relatively painless. These included Winchester’s Xpert 1 1/8-ounce BBs, PDX-12 reduced-recoil home defense loads and Super-X 1-ounce rifle slugs, as well as Hornady’s Critical Defense 00 buck and #4 Varmint Express VersaTite wad shotshells. Dropping it down to 1 1/8-ounce #7.5 and #8 birdshot loads was actually a pleasant experience, and cycling off a few 25-round boxes while doing quick mag dumps was no problem and left no permanent marks or bruises to my shooting shoulder or other extremities.

Yet another very simple and cost-effective way to lessen the real-world felt recoil in your 12 gauge is to feed special “reduced recoil” rounds in your favorite shotty.

While most folks won’t get a terminal case of 12-gauge tiger bite when using 2¾-inch birdshot loads (even the 1 1/8-ounce shot/3-dram variety), as you graduate to more potent BBs, buckshot and slugs, the tiger will start to show its fangs and leave some marks.

Here are some of the loads I have successfully employed in training to defend the homestead and await the dreaded zombie apocalypse. These leave the operator no worse for wear due to decreased recoil while maintaining the ability to keep the muzzle on target for quick follow-up shots, if necessary: Hornady TAP Reduced Recoil 00 Buck (eight 00 pellets in a VersaTite Wad, 2 ¾-inch shotshell @ 1,100 fps); Federal Premium Law Enforcement Tactical Load #LE133-00 (eight 00 pellets in a FliteControl Wad, 2¾-inch shotshell @ 1,145 fps); Remington Managed Recoil Buckshot Load #RL12BK00 (eight 00 pellets in a contained plastic wad, 2 ¾-inch shotshell @ 1,200 fps); and Winchester Supreme Elite reduced-recoil slug/buckshot Load #S12PDX1 (three 00 pellets and one 1-ounce rifled slug, 2 ¾-inch shotshell @ 1,150 fps).

All four loads really do work as advertised, and I would try this easy step first as the low-cost, no-hardware solution to getting your 12-gauge recoil tamed somewhat. As the antithesis to this recommendation: If you are adverse to your 12 gauge’s current level of recoil, it would make sense to avoid any of the 3-inch buckshot, BB or rifled slug shotshells, or 2¾-inch versions that are labeled as “magnum” loads with either increased (max) drams of powder and/or additional pellets of buckshot (i.e., Remington and Winchester offer magnum 00 buck loads in 2 ¾-inch length loaded with 12 00 pellets versus the usual nine).


Yet another method to control a 12 gauge’s nasty bite is to develop some type of recoil system that takes the hit and absorbs the motion, flexing back into shape like a big spring—or, in this case, two springs. The Knoxx BLACKHAWK! SpecOps II stock was recently introduced this past winter to replace the earlier Gen 1 models that, based on field research and customer feedback, need some minimal-but-requisite product design tweaks.

The BLACKHAWK! Knoxx SpecOps Stock Gen II offers shooters longer shooting times with its dual recoil-compensation systems (one in the handle and another in the stock tube), which, according to factory tests, help to reduce harsh recoil by up to 85 percent. An ergonomic pistol grip with customizable, interchangeable rubber grip inserts gives shooters the confidence to make the shot when missing is not an option. Made from lightweight polymer and alloy materials, the unique stock design cuts muzzle rise and reduces target reacquisition time to quickly get shooters back on target.

The Knoxx SpecOps Stock Gen II shotgun stock is as versatile as it is comfortable. The rapid-adjust, seven-position stock covers a wide length-of-pull range from 12 to 15 inches and is designed to fit all shooters. To further increase the functionality, an integrated ambidextrous single-point sling plate and quick-detach sling swivel have been added. This shotgun stock is perfect for law enforcement, military, hunters and sport shooters and is further enhanced with the addition of a 1-inch-thick Limbsaver butt pad.

SpecOps II stocks are available in four models, fitting the Remington 870 family of 12 gauges and the extended tribe of Mossberg 12 gauges (500, 535, 590, 835 and 88), with each available in two different colors, specifically black and Next G1 camo.

I was able to get a sample SpecOps II stock in basic black for testing and evaluation and mounted it on one of my Mossberg 590SPs. The reduction in felt recoil, which I couldn’t really measure quantitatively, seemed to be at least 50 percent better than using a standard factory stock when shooting a variety of different slug, buckshot, BB and birdshot loads.

My only gripe with the SpecOps stock is the installation process: Be very sure to read the instructions at least twice and do not touch the action lever that comes delivered with the unit in the stock grip prior to installation. Doing so will only cause some elevated levels of frustration and a mandatory call to customer service to rectify the problem, and I am guilty as charged! With an MSRP of only $135 for the basic black version and $159 for the Next G1 camo flavor, the SpecOps II recoil-reducing stock seems to get the job done just fine.

The original Gen1 SpecOps stock with the five-position buttstock and no Limbsaver pad aft was prone to some nasty “cheek slaps” by novice operators. The SpecOps II does not seem to share this similar problem and helped tame the tiger during my extended range trips.


One of the most effective tools that I have added to date for reducing felt and actual recoil on any of my 12-gauge shotguns is the Mesa Tactical Telescoping Stock Adapter Kit with the optional Enidine hydraulic recoil buffer. Words cannot describe the pleasant experience of shooting full power loads using the Mesa recoil-reducing stock, and I wasn’t the only one who went ga-ga over this break-through product. I had at least 15 unsuspecting participants at the public range and at my local PD training range shoot my Mossy 590A1 and 590SP armed with the aforementioned setup, with a wide array of shooters from young teenagers, small-framed women, average Joes and big, husky folks. The look on each operator’s face told the story, and the most frequently used word to describe this experience was “Wow!”

What brings the telescoping LEO stock to a new level of capability is the addition of Enidine’s hydraulic Recoil Buffer, which replaces the standard receiver extension tube normally used with AR-15-style telescoping stock assemblies. The new Recoil Buffer is manufactured for Mesa Tactical by Enidine Incorporated.

Enidine has been the leading manufacturer of recoil absorption devices for stationary, mobile and personal weapons for more than 40 years. According to both the Mesa Tactical and Enidine folks I spoke with, the hydraulic Recoil Buffer reduces felt recoil by more than 70 percent, finally making the 12-gauge tactical shotgun comfortable for all shooters with most loads. The Recoil Buffer is also available by itself for those customers who want to upgrade previously purchased Mesa Tactical Stock Kits.

The LEO telescoping stock is a five-position buttstock that allows fast length of pull adjustment to adapt to the size of the operator, the use of body armor and/or heavy tactical clothing. A critical linchpin of the Mesa Tactical’s stock is an adapter that is made from aircraft-aluminum investment casting that is CNC machined before being anodized with a Type III Class 2 Mil-Spec finish. To meet the divergent requirements of professional operators, Mesa offers three lines of telescoping stock systems: high-tube, low-tube and LEO. The LEO adapter, manufactured for both the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500/590 family of shotguns are their most popular models. They feature a lowered stock elevation that allows the use of iron sights or the factory front bead sight.

The aforementioned aluminum adapter bolts to the rear of your shotgun’s receiver with the included mounting hardware and requires no permanent alterations to the weapon. It accepts the M4 SOPMOD buttstock (included in the kit) or any aftermarket stock that fits a Mil-Spec (1.14-inch O.D.) buffer tube. A standard Hogue overmolded rubber pistol grip with palm swells and finger grooves bolts solidly to the receiver adapter to reduce recoil shock and gives the shooter better control.

The basic LEO model positions the buttstock low enough to permit use of the original shotgun bead or iron sights, in addition to rail-mounted optics. The five-position stock offers length of pull adjustments from 11 ¾ to 15 ¼ inches in five locking presets and includes one push-button sling swivel that fits sockets on either side of the receiver adapter.

The bottom line is that this excellent recoil-reducing stock gives you outstanding control to ensure fast, accurate follow-up shots without losing your sight picture and virtually eliminates muzzle flip. The best street price I found on the Internet was Brownells at $277.99…and it’s worth it!


In the game of recoil reduction, you frequently get what you pay for, and that was certainly the case here. If none of these singular solutions tames the snarl of your personal 12-gauge tiger, maybe a “combination plan” will do the trick.

When I tried running reduced recoil loads through both the BLACKHAWK! SpecOps II and Mesa Tactical LEO hydraulic Recoil Buffer stocks, the results were even more dramatic than advertised, with the sensation that you were shooting an AR-15 and not a 12 gauge. This should prove to be a true paradigm shift for all those 12-gauge naysayers still out there. Be advised: The tiger has finally been tamed!


Advanced Technology International, USA

(800) 925-2522



Choate Machine & Tool

(800) 972-6390




(360) 427-6031




(800) 694-5263



Mesa Tactical

(949) 642-3337



Story and photos by John N. Raguso

4 thoughts on “TAMING THE TIGER – Some innovative ways to reduce 12-gauge recoil

  1. Thank you for this comprehensive and informative article. My personal experience was to stop and place the shotgun in the back of the vault. Bought a 20 gauge Mossberg and found it fine, but I have always wanted to find the answer to this recoil problem for the 12 gauge-you have given me a path to follow. Thanks again.

  2. Okay, I am going to follow your advice here. First time 12 gauge owner, need shorter LOP and to reduce recoil so wife and kid can train with this too. Some questions to confirm; No difference between these accessories fitting the 590 or the 590a1? I want the 590a1 as it is a bit heavier and will reduce the recoil even more. But going for 6 shot/18.5 barrel.

    I would have a gunsmith put this together for me because I don’t want to mess it up. Which of the 590A1 (if they are compatible with your ultimate solution) models is best in your opinion? The tri-rail? The blackwater? Something else. I am still trying to decide which one to get. I plan to buy a good quality forend light, and thinking ghost rings are fine. Which sling/forelight also would you recommend? Sorry to ask so many questions, but you seem to have written an article with my dilemma in mind! Thanks for any insight!

  3. Great article. I can vouch from personal experience that Mesa Tactical’s adaptor with the hydraulic recoil buffer works great & reduces the felt recoil significantly!

    One note though, the buffer is now supplied by CROSSHAIR.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *