low recoil ammo on a wooden table
Newer 1.75” shotshells are not the only option for light-kicking shotshells. Phil Bourjaily

With Aguila’s short, cute, low-noise, low-recoil Minishells becoming a surprise hit, a lot of people are discovering that shooting is more fun when you don’t get kicked. People who shoot Minishells don’t come home from the range with a sore neck, a headache, a bruised cheek or a raw shoulder. As much fun as they are, Minishells have their drawbacks.

They won’t cycle in many pumps nor any semiautomatics. Their 5/8 ounce payload limits their effective range. Federal’s new Shorty Shotshells contain almost an ounce of shot so they have more reach, but they, too, won’t function in many pumps and semiautos.

federal and minishell ammunition
(Top) Aguila was the first company to introduce 1.75” shotshells to the masses. In January, Federal made a splash with its new 1.75” Shorty Shotshell loads, available in 12 gauge loaded with slugs, #4 Buck, or # 8 shot. Federal Ammunition and Aguila Ammunition

Fortunately, there are several 2-3/4-inch low-recoil target loads on the market that will work in all pumps and cycle in many semiautos. However, beware you may have to look a little harder and pay a little more than you’re used to if you usually buy your target loads at Big Box stores and/or in 100 round packs.

Typically, those contain 1-1/8 oz. of shot that move at 1200 fps and deliver a hefty kick about like a .30-06 rifle round.

Downsized loads truly can be an instance where less is more. Here’s why it’s worth the extra trouble and expense to find them:

Recoil Fatigue Shortens Practice Sessions

In the field, or in a home defense situation, you won’t even feel a few shots from a hard-kicking load. Practice is different.

There are only so many shots you can take in practice before you lose focus. The harder you get kicked, the sooner you reach the point of mental and physical burnout.

Recoil Builds Bad Habits

Your body isn’t stupid. It doesn’t like getting hurt, and it will try to protect you from the source of pain. That’s why some people pull their heads away from the stock and snatch the gun off their shoulder when they pull the trigger.

In extreme cases some shut both eyes or take a step back. Once you build those bad habits, they are hard to unlearn. I don’t care how big and strong you are, this could happen to you, too.

Recoil Can Lead to Injury

It takes a lot of shooting to do damage to yourself beyond bruises and a little swelling, but it’s possible to do permanent damage to yourself. If get so deeply hooked on shotgun shooting to fire many thousands of rounds a year, you risk bursitis and orthopedic problems from a steady diet of heavy loads as you age.

federal aguila low recoil shotgun shells
An assortment of 12 gauge low recoil ammunition and target loads. Phil Bourjaily

Defensive Use

If keep a shotgun for home defense and you have to use it, being able to easily and comfortably handle the recoil under stress can become extremely important, especially if you have to fire more than one shot on target.

Switching to low-recoil loads in you home defense shotgun doesn’t really mean you’re sacrificing necessary power. A 12-gauge 2-3/4 hunting shell loaded with 00 Buck is designed to kill a deer at 50 yards or so—you don’t need all that power when you’re talking about in-home distances to be reliably effective.

Cutting the Kick

Recoil and kick are almost, but not quite, the same thing. Recoil is a function of ejecta (shot payload plus powder plus wad) weight and muzzle velocity divided by gun weight. “Kick” is more subjective.

For instance, a soft recoil pad doesn’t change how much a gun recoils, but its padding effect makes the gun kick you less.

The same is true with gas semiuatomatics, which generate the same recoil as any other gun of the same weight, but because they spread recoil out over a longer duration as recoil energy is stored and released in moving parts of the gun, they kick noticeably less. Gun fit and balance play a part in how much a gun kicks as well.

Low-Recoil Shotshell Recommendations

Convinced that you should lighten up? I hope so.

Here are some full-size low-recoil shells to try. All of them will break clay targets at reasonable ranges. I have listed each load’s recoil in foot/pounds. By comparison, 1 1/8 ounce, 1200 fps ammunition generates 21.6 ft/lbs of recoil in a 7 ½ pound gun, as determined by a recoil calculator Minishells, the softest kicking ammo around, generate just 8.7 ft/lbs of recoil. The loads listed here all lie in between those two extremes, recoil-wise.

Winchester Low Recoil Low Noise

winchester low recoil noise ammo
Winchester’s Low Recoil, Low Noise shells in 12 and 20 gauge are a great option for high volume, light kicking shotshells. Winchester Ammunition

Kent Elite Low Recoil/Training

Kent Elite Low Recoil/Training rounds
These Elite Low Recoil/Training rounds from Kent were developed specifically for recoil-sensitive shooters as well as high-volume and new shooters. They use a custom blended propellant to soften recoil while maintaining standard target-gload velocities. They are loaded with Kent’s proprietary Diamond Shot. Kent Ammunition

Fiocchi Low Recoil Lite Training Loads

Fiocchi Low Recoil Lite Training Loads
Fiocchi’s target trainer ammo was developed for shooters looking for a high performing training round without the recoil. They’re perfect for new shooters, shooters of smaller stature, or anyone intimidated by full power loads. Fiocchi Ammunition

Clever Ammunition Mirage Competition

clever mirage low recoil ammo
Clever’s Mirage shells are loaded with top quality components and are well known on trap ranges all over the world. They are made for trap, skeet, American trap, double trap, and sporting clays. Clever Ammunition

Rio Target Low Recoil

rio target low recoil ammo
Rio’s target loads have a reputation for performance and the company recently expanded the line to include Target Load Low Recoil loads with a distinctive transparent hull and a blue wad. The distinctive blue wad allows shooters to easily follow the trajectory of their shot and adjust accordingly. Rio Ammunition

Federal Top Gun TG12EL

Federal Top Gun TG12EL ammo
Federal’s Top Gun target loads are consistent and hard-hitting and loaded with high quality lead shot to produce even patterns. • 12 gauge, 7/8 ounce 8 shot, 1200 fps, Federal Ammunition


Low recoil ammunition used to be harder to find, so I started reloading to make my own. Shotshell reloading isn’t difficult.

A single-stage reloader like a MEC 600 Jr Mark V costs about $240 and loads a box of shells in 12-15 minutes.

If you don’t want to invest that much at the start, you can spend less than $100 on a perfectly serviceable LEE LOAD-ALL II, but if you decide to reload a higher volume of shells, you’ll have to upgrade eventually.

You can find lots of load recipes published by powder manufacturers like Hodgdon and Alliant for 7/8 and even ¾ ounce 12 gauge loads and you can find ¾ ounce 20 gauge recipes, too.

Reloaders who focus on light loads save more than those who stick with standard 1 1/8 ounce loads, because shot is the biggest expense of making your own ammunition so if you load your own low-recoil stuff, both your shoulder and your pocketbook will thank you.

For our Basic Guide to Reloading Shotshells, go here.