My purpose for swinging by the outdoor store nearest to my home on Christmas Eve-Eve was twofold: attempt to locate a cowboy round that has, thus far, eluded me, and pick up a new recurve bow (despite my personal compound bow preference). The bow was an easy matter and I had one in hand in no time – although I’d be lying if I didn’t add I’d taken the circuitous route to that part of the store and had a pair of Browning sweats and a new pair of boots tucked under one arm. The ammo I didn’t find, no surprise there, but since I was there I decided to browse for a few minutes. I’m no fan of shopping and the opportunity to take a time out from the Christmas rush was welcome – and it involved guns, ammo, and gun-related gear, and that made me happy. So there I was, wandering the aisles, when I stumbled across what can only be described as the Girl Aisle. At one end were rows of holsters of designs I won’t get into here other than to say I’d never, ever use them, and at the other end was the subject of this post: a Caldwell Hidden Comfort Recoil Shield (under the name “for women shooters” was listed in slightly smaller print).
I spent a moment staring at the box before whipping out my cell phone to take a few pictures of it hanging from the metal prongs and then, of course, pulled one off the display. And so, without further ado (since I’ve already made this rather long), my thoughts on this particular style of recoil pad (for women shooters).
The Caldwell Hidden Comfort Recoil Shield (for women shooters) is 11.6” long and 8.9” wide at its widest point, and although those may sound like somewhat normal measurements for a recoil pad, it’s also 1.5” thick. The pad itself is made of foam and encased in a cotton blend sleeve with hook-and-loop closures. The company says it can easily be attached to the wearer’s bra strap without removing the shirt, and although that’s technically true, it’s also awkward. Of course, how easy it is to put on is beside the point. The real questions here are: does it work? And, is it a remotely reasonable tool for women?
Whether or not it works depends a bit on the particular shooter. Different shooters are able to tolerate different amounts of felt recoil and will react differently to the same gun loaded with the same rounds. Without getting into how felt recoil works or ways to manage it with the weight of the gun or heft of the load, let’s just say yes, a shooter can learn, and, yes, how you hold the gun matters. Many inexperienced shooters fail to mount the gun to their shoulder properly, and the resulting gap makes felt recoil feel worse than it really is. Other problems include pressing the shotgun to the wrong part of the shoulder, such as up against the sharp edge of the collarbone, or, when it’s technically in the right spot, holding the gun too loosely. The list goes on, and all these things contribute to a far more negative response to felt recoil.
My personal experience over the years includes more instances than I can count of men asking me to show their wives or girlfriends how to shoot, and every time it happens I do my best to tailor that first experience according to the particular woman’s needs. However, I have also seen, over the years, more men than I care to list handing their wives and girlfriends a 12-gauge shotgun and letting the chips – and recoil – fall where they may. Some of those guys do it with a smirk while others really don’t seem to realize what they’re doing and the long-term negative affect their thoughtless actions can have. But I digress. Back to the pad.
There’s a time and place for a shoulder recoil pad. If you’re going to be skeet shooting at length or getting range time in with a powerful gun in preparation for a large-game hunt – or if you have a shoulder injury or issue such as bursitis – you may benefit quite a bit from a pad. You can purchase shooting shirts from Beretta and Cabelas alike with leather sewn in place over the shoulder and shooting vests and jackets with pockets at the shoulder for gel inserts. These items have one thing in common: the padding is minimal.
On the aforementioned “for women shooters” pad, the foam is listed as 1.5” thick although it seems to vary between 1″ and 1.5″. That’s pretty thick. If you take a look at one of my personal preferences for those times when a pad might be needed – the Browning Reactar G2 Recoil Pad Shield Ambidextrous Insert, which is gel-filled – you find it’s just 1/3” thick and at that thickness it reduces felt recoil by about 49%. And it’s gel, not foam, so it conforms to the butt of your shotgun far more readily. When it comes to a recoil pad, more is not necessarily, well, more. In fact, it can be a problem.
Although there are women (many of whom referred to their shoulders as “ladylike” and “birdlike”) praising this particular recoil pad, and I am sure it does, indeed, do the job of providing padding and dispersing recoil over a larger area for some women, it is not ideal. Both its thickness and its location are hindrances to proper function. It’s so thick, in fact, it makes properly mounting the gun to your shoulder difficult. There’s also a problem keeping the pad in place; despite its being supposedly secured by strapping it to the bra strap there are many complaints of its habit of sliding and bunching. And then there’s the fact that it does, indeed, strap into place under the wearer’s bra strap: no, that is not a good idea, for too many reasons to get into here.
One of the things that bothers me most when hearing about the shotgun experiences of women who are not experienced shooters is the many stories of bruises. It bothers me because I can easily picture how those particular bruises occurred having seen them created on more than one occasion: she loosely positions the 12-gauge shotgun (frequently loaded with slugs or 00 buck) in the general vicinity of her shoulder with her boyfriend or husband standing right there but failing to properly coach her, and pulls the trigger. The shotgun delivers the expected blow to her collarbone because it wasn’t mounted properly, let alone held firmly enough in place, and, yes, there’s your bruise.
To sum up: this pad is too thick, too stiff, poorly positioned, and, frankly, takes advantage of women who don’t know better. One female skeet shooter summed up the solution just as I, myself, would: learn to use your gun. I won’t argue there aren’t times a good quality recoil pad is useful because of course they can be, but there’s that key phrase: good quality. And price does not equal quality, by the way. A thick foam object that hooks under your bra strap is not only not ideal, it’s ridiculous. Removing the ability to feel the shotgun when you mount it to your shoulder and making the fit of your clothing uncomfortable and awkward is not a good idea and will not help your marksmanship, either; it’s going to make it worse. And it’s going to be even worse for some women than others. If you’re considering purchasing this, or something like it, for your wife or girlfriend, don’t. Instead, take the time to teach her how to shoot. Proper form goes a long way. Also, it is never, ever funny to set someone up to experience the full impact of a shotgun or the massive recoil of a large-caliber handgun without proper instruction. But that’s a topic for another day.
Author’s note: I’m writing this knowing we are all aware there are times where the right recoil pad is a great tool and that bruising can occur for reasons other than improper form. However, not all recoil pads are created equal, and they aren’t meant to be used as a crutch. Also, there are Caldwell pads of the same style for women listed as 1/4″ thick with the same reviews as their thicker version saying they tend to bunch and slide, are too stiff to properly conform to the wearer’s shoulder, and hinder the ability to properly mount the shotgun to the shoulder.