AR Pistol Recoil Compared vs. AR-15 and standard handguns

I am a big fan of AR pistols. Whenever a new one comes in at the gun store, I have to try it out.

A standard AR pistol will have about 3 foot-pounds while a basic rifle in 5.56 will have 3.5 foot-pounds of recoil. An AR-9 pistol will have about 2 foot-pounds of recoil. AR pistols have similar recoil to an AR-15.

If you want to know about recoil, you also probably want to know about the handling, accuracy, and power of an AR pistol.  Trust me, there’s more.

How Much Does an AR Pistol Recoil?

When it comes to recoil, there are three big factors to be worked together in an equation: the weight of the gun, the weight of the bullet, and the velocity of the bullet as it exits the barrel. With those three things, a guy good with math can calculate the generated recoil of the gun.

I calculated the recoil in popular models of AR pistols in common calibers.

AR pistol velocity and recoil chart

350 legend AR-1516-inch barrel124 grains @2250 fps7.5 ft/lbs. recoil
350 legend AR pistol10.5-inch barrel124 grains @2050 fps8 ft/lbs. recoil
5.56 AR-1516-inch barrel55 grains @3100 fps3.5 ft/lbs. recoil
5.56 AR Pistol10.5-inch barrel55 grains @ 2800 fps3.1 ft/lbs. recoil
AR-9 Rifle16-inch barrel124 grains @ 1300fps1.7 ft/lbs. recoil
AR-9 Pistol10.5-inch barrel124 grains @1250 fps2 ft/lbs. recoil

The recoil is the unused energy that has passed through the firearm.  If you could look at a shooter with an energy wave visual, you would see a little wave of energy transferring from the chamber, traveling back through the gun, and transferring into the shooter. 

There are two kinds of recoil, well technically three.  There is calculated recoil. That’s figured by crunching numbers, not actually measuring it. calculated recoil doesn’t take into account the different actions which can affect the recoil, such as adding a muzzle brake or gas ports.

 Then we have actual recoil.  The actual recoil is the recoil as it is measured, from your firearm.  We may calculate the recoil of a 223, but an AR-15 will have less recoil than calculated because the semi-auto action reduces the recoil a bit. Unfortunately, it’s impractical to measure actual recoil most of the time.

That leaves us with the important one, perceived recoil.  Perceived recoil has a lot to do with not just the raw force of recoil, but to how well it dispersed through your body. Lower pressure cartridges have a lower perceived recoil because the speed at which the energy moves is slower, making it more of a push than a slap.

The fit of the gun also makes it perceived to recoilless.  a gun that’s comfortable to hold will be more comfortable while recoiling too. With AR pistols, there’s not a lot of adjustment to be done that will affect the perceived recoil, other than adding a quality muzzle brake.

Do AR Pistols Recoil more than Regular Pistols?

No, not at all for comparable bullets. Compare the recoil of a Glock 17 and a Glock 20 with the AR Pistols.  The base recoil of a Glock 17 (9mm) is between 5- and 6.5-foot-pounds of energy. that’s the recoil you will feel on the last round. With a full magazine, the additional weight will mitigate it some.

The base recoil of a Glock 20, (10MM AUTO) is between 8.5- and 13.8-foot-pounds. That tells me there’s a lot of energy in a full power 10mm load. Honestly, I didn’t think it kicked that hard.  Anyway, the recoil of these pistols is a bit higher than most of the numbers for AR pistols.

Most Glocks weigh 1.5 to 2 pounds unloaded. Most AR Pistols weigh around 6 pounds unloaded. That there is a big difference.  Take the 5.56 in the above table for example.  The rifle weighs similar to the AR pistol, but the bullet comes out slower (less barrel length to fully but powder and convert it into kinetic energy of the bullet) so it has less total energy being released in the gun.

It equals out to slightly less recoil with a 5.56 AR pistol than with an AR-15. The recoil will vary depending on the specific setup of your AR pistol, including barrel length and overall weight.

Glock vs. AR Pistol Recoil Chart

350 legend AR pistol8 ft/lbs. recoil
5.56 AR pistol3.1 ft/lbs. recoil
9mm AR pistol2 ft/lbs. recoil
Glock 17 (9mm)5.1 ft/lbs. recoil
Glock 20 (10mm)13.7 ft/lbs. recoil

Are AR Pistols Hard to Control?

An AR pistol is much easier to control than a standard pistol, if it has an arm brace, as most of them do.  The arm brace works great as a short compact stock when shouldered.  That’s really why the AR pistols are popular. They are easy to control when used that way.

If you try and hold it with two hands like you might a Glock or 1911, you will find a conundrum; it doesn’t work well. I mean, it works but it’s different. It’s kinda weird and awkward. More like it’s just heavy. And they are. The Ruger AR pistols are all around 6 pounds.

That’s over twice what my full-size 10mm pistol weighs.  That weight is what makes them more useful.  The idea and primary purpose of an AR pistol, besides complying with bogus regulations, is to serve as a close-quarter defensive firearm.

The weight serves to reduce recoil, which allows you to keep the sights more on target when shooting. You need to be able to keep it on target while emptying a 30-round magazine.  the less the gun recoils, the sooner you can get the sights back on target and get off the next shot.

The addition of a red dot or laser sight w9uld make the job of aiming to go a lot faster.  Traditional sights on an AR pistol can be tough to use precisely at a distance. that’s because the AR pistols have a short sight radius.  The further apart the sights, the more precisely you can align them. Or get a red dot.

Are AR Pistols More powerful than Regular Pistols?

Yes, they are, Generally.  We touched on how barrel length affects energy.  Most semi-auto pistols have a barrel length of under 5 inches.  Meanwhile, most AR pistols have a barrel length of 10.5 inches. Take for example a 9mm handgun.

A regular, full-size 9mm handgun with a standard 4.5-inch barrel will shoot with about 333 ft/lbs. of energy at the muzzle. AR pistols are commonly designed in more powerful cartridges than regular semi-auto pistols. Here, let me make another chart.

AR pistol 5.5655 grains at 2800 fps957 ft/lbs. energy
AR pistol 350 legend124 grains at 2050 fps1157 ft/lbs. energy
AR-9 9mm pistol124 grains at 1250 fps430 ft/lbs. energy
9mm Glock 17124 grains at 1100 fps333 ft/lbs. energy

How Far are AR Pistols Good to?

The approximate standard for the maximum effective distance of an AR pistol is 100 yards.  It’s a debated topic and like so many things, there’s no one perfect answer.  If you want to put holes in a target, it’s less of a mechanical issue and more about how good of a shot you are.

I recently watched Jerry Miculek shoot his 9m revolver 900 yards and burst a small water balloon on his second shot. Most folks would say his pistol has a max effective range of 50 yards. Jerry didn’t agree. The vast majority of shooters will never shoot to the potential of their gun. Some do.

If your definition of effective is say, the ability to kill a deer with one shot, you should not consider any AR pistol for distances over 100 yards, no matter the caliber.  An AR pistol in 5.56 should not be used to hunt deer-sized game at any distance.  It won’t work well.

The velocity that you get with the 5.56/223 in a 10.5-inch barrel is about 2700 fps.  That’s putting it in its bottom threshold for any effectiveness against a deer or human target.  The reason being, it’s such a light bullet, that it needs the high velocity to ensure an incapacitating wound.

With a regular AR15, that’s about the power left at 150 yards, which is considered about the max effective range by every authority, By the time it gets down to 2500fps, there is very little effectiveness left at all left in the round.

With an AR pistol in 5.56/223, you have about 50 yards where you can still experience some desired bullet fragmentation. (See my article on 5.56/223 Fragmentation here)

If you are using a bullet better suited to the shorter barrels, like the 350 Legend (my favorite), the 7.62×39, or the 300 Blackout, you can have another 50 yards of practical power, out to about 100 yards.  with an AR-9 in anything under 10mm AUTO, you really should keep it to 50 yards, for power’s sake.

The 10mm Auto, though not very common in an AR-9, is a fantastic option in the AR-9 platform that gives you the most power and max effective range you’re gonna get in the AR-9 system.  With real hot loads and proper hollow points, 100 yards might be doable in a 10.5-inch barrel, as long as you wait for a perfect shot opportunity.

If you want to know about the recoil of common hunting rifles from 17hmr to 300 Winchester Mag, I wrote another article about that here.

Jordan Buck

Jordan Buck is an outdoor writer, a man of faith, and a family man. He grew up hunting, fishing, and trapping. Jordan has taught marksmanship, woodsmanship, and self-defense classes. He has earned black belts in four martial arts and is a certified Krav Maga instructor. He also runs his own Gun Blog and YouTube Channel. Jordan enjoys giving his time and resources to help others and has spent 15 years volunteering in a boy's mentoring program He is and will always be an American Patriot. MOLON LABE

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