Two absolute truths that are not
Lower bore line reduces recoil… This is an old one and I suspect that it comes from the “smallbore world” where a new series of 22 pistols were introduced in the 1970s and quickly replaced the Hi-Standards and S&W M41 of the day. The lower bore line distributed felt recoil straight back into the shooter’s hand which made it easier to get back on target faster – not by a wide margin, but enough to matter. These days almost all competitive small bore pistols shooters are using pistols with a low bore line and for good reason.
This principle was immediately adopted in the center-fire world and is still used as a marketing tool; “this pistol has a lower bore line and therefore it shoots flatter” giving the potential customer the perception that this is a good thing. Some people even claim that a lower bore-line reduces recoil, which of course, is nonsense. For the same reason, when the police HRT Unit bought the P226 (around 1990) it was deemed a very poor decision as we all knew that this pistol was all but impossible to shoot. We also knew that shooting a pistol with a DA trigger was impossible. From 84 till 89 I shot my Gold Cup 45 in competition. I won Team Gold Europeans in 85 (6h overall), 11th overall at the World Shoot in 86 and best European by a wide margin – and finally Bronze medal at the Europeans in 87. The pistol had a full-length slide, a 6’’ Wilson barrel and a long compensator (how much it “compensated” is questionable – 4,5 grs of N310 does not generate much gas…). The gun shot incredibly smooth. Recoil was very light, predictable and it never felt sluggish. Still, in our wisdom and belief in the lower bore line magic, my shooting buddy (The Magnificent Baker man) built us two new pistols designed to give us a huge advantage in the upcoming Europeans. Slides were cut to commander length, a comp with an integrated cone was threaded onto a 5’’ match barre, beavertails were custom-made to bring the shooter’s hand as high as possible and the frame was similarly modified. In fact, we managed to get the grip so high, that we had to round off the outer, lower edges of the slides to prevent cuts in our hands. A lighter slide with less moving mass and the lowest possible (on a 1911) bore line; this was perfect!
However, it was not. Sure enough, the recoil came straight back in the hand and we had little perceived vertical lift, but the recoil sensation was very sharp, and it became difficult to track the sights. Instead of tracking straight up and down like on my old pistol, the front sight would snap up and to the side. Shooting the pistol with one hand made everything even worse and I had to muscle the pistol to maintain some degree of control.
We both came to the same conclusion and both pistols were sold off with a substantial financial loss.
If you are interested, there are plenty of articles on the web where “bore heights” on various pistols are listed. Apparently the bore-line on a P320 is higher that on a P226 – and so on.
We went back to shooting “normal configuration” 1911s or Springfield Armory P9 – and that was the end of that, I thought.
Around 2005 I took over distribution of Sig Sauer pistols for Norway and Denmark. Sales were very low and nobody seriously considered these pistols competition worthy. However, timing was good as Sig started to make “factory custom pistols”.
I decided to design a reasonably priced competition pistols based on a heavy steel frame P226, with a good trigger and a set of our own sights. These pistols were great! Extremely reliable and easy to shoot – which should have been impossible as the P226 has a “high” bore line!
Sig Sauer P226, 1911 and Phoenix Redback.
What turned out was that the P226 was very forgiving. Sights tracked predictably and it was easy to maintain visual control. Several major matches were won with this pistol and it was clearly a winner.
My records show that we sold more than 400 Capsicum Sigs over a 4-year period, which is not bad.
To come up with some kind of conclusion, it would be: Lower bore axis does not reduce felt recoil. It might, if fact, make it worse. The recoil obviously remains the same and it has to go somewhere. With a higher bore axis this transfers into sights that move more predictably “up and down”, where a lower bore line makes the sights move more to the side and in a less predictable manner. Shoot a Glock and you’ll see what I mean. Those who shoots Glocks well are usually strong individuals who muscle the gun to maintain control and that is certainly not for everybody.
Lower is not necessarily better. If that were true, it would be better to shoot a Glock than a P320 and it’s not and it would be horrible to shoot a 1911, which it’s not.
A lighter slide reduces recoil…
This one pops up from time to time and it’s just not true. A lighter slide will (all things equal) gives the shooter a snappier recoil sensation, which may be ok, if you are shooting soft Steel Challenge loads.
For anything PF 130 and higher you need slide mass to make the gun controllable and sights to track predictably. Personally, I want as much as I can get, without making the gun feel sluggish. Where that limit is depends on the load, recoil spring and barrel fit and weight.
And no! – a lighter gun does not automatically make you shoot faster transitions; there is really no need to worry that you are going to “over-shoot” the next target because you forgot to drill holes in your slide. However, sights you can track really help.
Some pistols do take this too far: The P226 X-Six is extremely soft shooting, but so sluggish in recoil that the sights never track predictably and it takes forever to get back on target. (The spring-loaded guide rod does not help either). The same goes for the X-Five to a lesser degree, where the 4,5’’ X-Short is just perfect.
Barrel fit is a major factor in this context and is often overlooked. If a barrel is fitted correctly, it will remain longer in a locked position and therefore the result is lower slide velocity. Therefore, the felt recoil may be vastly different in otherwise identical pistols. Change your load before you make cuts in your slide. Generally, a heavier bullet results in a softer, slower recoil sensation, whereas a lighter bullet does the opposite. If you are only shooting factory 9mm ammo in your pistol, do not lighten your slide.