How Guns Work: Short Recoil Operation

Short recoil operation, especially the design fathered by firearms genius John Moses Browning, is a widely used method of firearms operation. It’s used with virtually all pistol calibers, including my favorite, .45 ACP.

As with most firearm operation methods, there are variants to the short recoil design. The one covered in greatest detail in this post is the J.M. Browning “tilting barrel,” as featured in the Colt M1911 design. With this style of short recoil operated pistols, the barrel features either a swinging link or a linkless cam located on the underside of the barrel, on the end where the bullet enters. Also on that end are grooves (generally two), that wrap around the barrel (some designs feature complete grooves, others on only the upper half of the barrel). These are called “locking lugs.”

The locking lugs on the barrel connect it to the pistol bolt (simply put, it’s the part of the firearm’s internals that holds the cartridge in place during firing). When the gunpowder ignites and the expansion of the gases force the bullet forward through the barrel, the barrel and bolt both travel a short distance backward. The barrel then tilts slightly and unlocks from the bolt. The bolt and slide continue to travel backwards. This force ejects the empty casing (generally with the aid of the pistol’s extractor) and compresses the recoil spring. The recoil spring then extends, forcing the bolt and slide forward and back into firing position. As they move forward, the bolt strips a round from the magazine and into the breech of the barrel. This action also locks the barrel back onto the bolt and into firing position.

A bit more complex than the blowback operation I covered earlier, no? What do you think of it?

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