Review of the Remington SuperCell Recoil Pads
Synchronizor

Remington 870 Supercell Recoil Pad

Remington 870 Supercell Recoil Pad

Shortly after buying my 870, I began searching for a replacement for its horrendous factory recoil pad, and took a chance on the most inexpensive pre-fit pad I found. As it turned out, that $20 turned out to be the best money I’ve spent on my 870 to date.

Recoil, What is it?

Shotguns, especially the heavier gauges (10 & 12ga mostly, though some 16 & 20ga loads can kick in certain guns) are notorious for their recoil; and every manufacturer of shotgun parts and accessories claims to have some cure for it. But what is recoil, how does it work, and what factors affect its magnitude? Well, it’s really not that complicated.

Chamber Pressure

Chamber Pressure

Simply put, when the powder in a firearm’s chamber burns, the pressure created pushes in all directions. At the same time it pushes the payload (bullet, shot, slug, musket ball, etc.) forward through the barrel, it also pushes the gun in the opposite direction. The Law of Conservation of Momentum dictates that the momentum (mass times velocity) of the payload will be opposite in direction and equal in magnitude to the momentum of the gun; so the rearward velocity of the gun can be determined based on its mass, and the mass and muzzle velocity of the projectile. Free recoil energy – the amount of energy that a shooter’s body has to soak up when the gun fires – is the kinetic energy of the gun when it’s moving at this velocity; calculated using the classical kinetic energy formula: KE = .5*Mass*Velocity^2.

Recoil energy can get enormous in a large-gauge shotgun, where the mass of the projectiles can exceed those of the legendary .50 BMG cartridge – without the benefit of a 30-pound gun or gas pressures high enough to make muzzle brakes effective. In a locked-breech shotgun like the 870, there isn’t even the cycling of an automatic action to use up some of the energy.

Here are some examples: If I configure my 12ga 870 for turkey hunting, it weighs around 7 pounds. Shooting 1.5 ounces of shot at 1260 feet per second (a typical 2.75” turkey load), that gun will be knocked back into my shoulder with about 41 foot-pounds of recoil energy (assuming typical values for added payload weight in buffering, wads, gas, powder residue, etc.). If instead I’m shooting a heavier 3” shell with 1 7/8 ounces of shot at 1200 feet per second, the recoil energy jumps to about 55 foot-pounds. If my 870 was a SuperMag and I had it loaded with a 3.5”, 2.25 oz, 1150 fps super magnum shell, the gun would come flying back at me with more than 70 foot-pounds of recoil energy. For comparison, that’s almost 18 times the recoil energy of a 7-pound rifle shooting a 62-grain .223 Remington round (might want to check your math on that one, Uncle Joe…) and represents more kinetic energy than an actual bullet fired from a typical .25 ACP handgun.

Dealing with Recoil

You can do whatever you want to a shotgun, but if the firearm mass, payload mass, and/or payload velocity doesn’t change, there will still be the same quantity of free recoil energy present when the gun goes off. So how does one deal with it? Well, there’s another simple physics equation that comes into play here: energy equals force times distance. If it takes a certain amount of force over a certain distance to dissipate a certain amount of energy, the same amount of energy can be absorbed with half the force if you apply it over twice the distance. There are a number of highly-priced, spring-loaded stocks intended to attenuate the recoil using this principle, but they tend to be some combination of expensive, uncomfortable, difficult to control, and/or unreliable. Besides, a shooter can achieve much the same effect by simply allowing their shoulder to “roll with the punch” as the gun fires, which is why shooting a shotgun from a bench rest (without weighing or clamping it in place) is often less comfortable than shooting the same gun and load unassisted from a standing or kneeling position. When you’re standing or kneeling on your own, your body is better prepared to move with the kick and absorb the recoil impulse over a longer distance.

The only problem with attenuating the recoil energy through shoulder movement is that nearly all of the rearward force is focused into the single contact point between the gun’s buttstock and the shoulder, creating a pressure point. This is where a good recoil pad comes in. By employing the same E = F*D concept mentioned above, as well as spreading the point of contact over a larger area, a softer recoil pad will compress and form to the shoulder, distributing the transmission of force over a larger area, a longer time period, and a greater distance. Compressibility can be taken too far though; a pad that is too soft will simply squash itself very early on in the recoil event, and provide negligible cushioning for the remainder because it cannot compress any further.

My Search for the Perfect Recoil Pad

The recoil pad that my synthetic 870 stock came from the factory with wasn’t much of an improvement over the hard plastic buttplate on the old Ithaca model 37 shotgun I shot as a youngster. A hard hunk of rubber with roughly the durometer of a car tire, it felt like I was being hit in the shoulder with a rubber mallet – better than a sledgehammer I suppose, but still far from ideal. The first time I went shooting with it, I fired two 3” magnum turkey loads and my shoulder remained sore for days. That one session was enough to convince me to seek out an upgrade.

There are a number of aftermarket recoil pads on the market that offer the typical manufacturer claims and guarantees (tip: when a claim is made that takes the form of “up to X improvement or more!”, it actually means: “Something may or may not change some amount; we won’t promise anything, but if there is a change, we’re pretty sure that it won’t be a negative one”). I found many of these aftermarket pads to be less than ideal in various ways. Those utilizing “gel-insert” materials (If that term makes you think of shoe liners, you’re pretty close) were clearly too soft for the forces involved, and their mushiness would have made the gun difficult to hold steady against my shoulder. Others get closer to the proper balance of firmness and compressibility, but had surface materials that were even more tacky or gummy than my factory pad, which was already prone to hanging up on clothing when I tried to shoulder the gun. Also, many aftermarket pads are not model-specific, and either fit poorly or require fitting work. Finally, prices for aftermarket recoil pads tended to start at $35-40, and often rose to $50 or more (U.S. currency & pricing). That’s a lot to pay for an aftermarket piece of rubber that may or may not get the job done, especially with the limited amount of money I can afford to spend on my hobbies.

The SuperCell Pad:

Factory pad on the left, SuperCell on the right

Factory pad on the left, SuperCell on the right

Finally, I found the Remington SuperCell recoil pad. Manufactured by Remington, for Remington shotguns, it featured excellent reviews and, best of all, a price tag of just $20 on Amazon.com (meaning free shipping). I decided to give it a try, and placed an order for a SuperCell pad for synthetic-stocked shotguns (part # F301519).

Slight misfitting of pad at top (above) and bottom (below) of stock

Slight misfitting of pad at top (above) and bottom (below) of stock

Taking it out of the packaging, I could tell immediately that this pad was a step above the others I had looked at in sporting goods stores. There were no gel inserts, fancy layer arrangements, springs, pistons, or any other mumbo-jumbo. The SuperCell pad was a no-nonsense foam cushion with two holes for mounting screws and a rigid base shaped to fit into the butt of the stock. The surface featured a low-friction finish tastefully embellished with the Remington “R” on the butt and “Remington” on each side (these markings seem to vary between different SuperCell pads). Two new mounting screws were included in the package, which had wider heads than the screws for the factory pad, presumably to prevent tear-through with the different material (the wider heads also helped to retain the screws in the pad when it was removed). Out of curiosity, I threw both pads on my scale. Including the screws (since each pad used a different set), the SuperCell weighed 2.6 ounces, slightly lighter than the 3.4 ounces of the original rubber pad, but not by enough to appreciably alter the gun’s handling or performance. The old and new pads are essentially the same thickness, so length of pull didn’t change either.

Installation was very straightforward. Ensure the gun is clear (obviously), remove the old recoil pad with a Phillips screwdriver (a #1 or #2 size should be fine, no need for something fancy), insert the new screws into the SuperCell pad, install the SuperCell pad, and it’s done. The instructions suggest using water or oil to make it easier to insert the screwdriver into the small screw holes, but I didn’t find this to be necessary with my tools. Finding the head of the screw – recessed as it was into the soft foam of the pad – sometimes took a bit of fishing around with the screwdriver, but this wasn’t a major deal. Once on, the pad wasn’t a perfect fit with the stock. It was just a hair narrower than the stock in the middle, and sat a little high on the end of the stock, extending slightly past the comb on top and sitting just above the heel on the bottom. These misalignments were extremely small however, on the order of a few hundredths of an inch at the most, and had no effect whatsoever on the pad’s function (or even its aesthetics, unless one looked very closely).

Shouldering the gun after installation, the new pad felt great. The smooth surface slid across clothing without grabbing or sticking, but still stayed firmly in the pocket of my shoulder when I assumed a shooting stance. The pad obviously had more give than the hard rubber one it replaced, but it was still firm enough to keep the butt of the gun solidly in place against my shoulder. Even before firing the gun, I was already impressed by how the feel had improved.

Then I went shooting. I was floored by the difference the new pad made. With everything from light target shells to heavy 3” turkey loads and slugs, the gun just…behaved. There was no physics-defying disappearance of recoil, obviously. The energy and velocities involved were the same, and those heavy turkey loads rolled my shoulder back just as much as they had before; but the SuperCell pad transmitted the force as a firm push rather than a sharp jolt, and that made a world of difference.

A video of me happily shooting 3” magnum slugs with the SuperCell pad while visiting my parents and younger brother can be found here:

My petite, mid-50s mother even shot several of these 3” max-dram slugs that afternoon; and had no trouble dealing with the recoil (probably about 35-40 ft-lbf with those loads); despite the fact that the stock’s length of pull was sized to fit my frame, and with her much smaller stature, she was forced to adopt a rather poor shooting stance in order to steady the gun.

What Makes it Tick?

So what makes these pads work so well? Remington’s marketing for them goes on at length about its “complex matrix of millions of SuperCells” and how the “advanced polymer construction harnesses and releases energy over a much longer time period”; all more-or-less accurate, and admittedly standard fare for a company trying to make their new product sound high-tech and fancy. Personally though, I think all that techno-buzzword marketing is kind of missing the point of Remington’s accomplishment. The truth is, there’s nothing all that groundbreaking about how the SuperCell pad is constructed or how it functions, it’s just a polyurethane foam pad with a nice, non-grabbing surface. But that simplicity is what makes it impressive. Over a decade of extensive testing and development, Remington took this simple concept and made it work by fine-tuning the material until it had the perfect balance of firmness and compressibility. Simple, elegant designs usually take a lot of work to get right, but once they’re achieved, the simplicity pays off. This is the case for the SuperCell. 10 years of development delivered a design that is both superbly-effective and inexpensive to manufacture; resulting in a product that outperforms its competitors for less than half the price to the consumer. Win-win.

Frames from high-speed video footage of SuperCell testing

Frames from high-speed video footage of SuperCell testing

In the battle against shotgun recoil, other companies have been trying to reinvent the wheel with all manner of wacky ideas like spring-loaded stocks, gel pads, sliding weights, drilling holes in barrels, etc. Remington was smart enough to realize that the wheel didn’t need to be reinvented, there was nothing wrong with the concept; it just had to be done right. A marketing department would call that boring. As an engineer, I call that brilliant. In a way, the design of the SuperCell pad has a little of the same magic that made the model 870 so tremendously successful, it’s a simple solution done right.

Close-up of SuperCell foam structure

Close-up of SuperCell foam structure

Final Thoughts

The answer to the inevitable question is yes, I would highly recommend this product to the owner of any compatible firearm. The SuperCell performs wonderfully and offers that performance at an exceptional value. When combined with a properly-fitting stock and good shooting technique, this $20 upgrade should be all that most able-bodied gun owners need to shoot comfortable and effectively. As it stands now, the single major point of concern is the issue of fit. Although the stock-pad misalignments in my case were negligible, others may not be so lucky. There are a lot of different stock styles out there for Remington firearms, and only a handful of different SuperCell pads have been released so far. Wood stocks seem to be especially notorious for not matching up with a SuperCell pad; only one pad is currently offered for wood shotgun stocks. Newer stocks seem to match the pads better, but there are some exceptions. Bottom line; before you buy, do your homework to make sure you’re ordering the right pad, and that it’ll fit satisfactorily. Firsthand advice from other users that have your same stock would be ideal; as Remington’s customer service department has been known to be unreliable on this subject (it seems their compatibility information is based on mounting hole spacing, which doesn’t say anything about the actual profile of the stock).

Improper fit of SuperCell pad on a wood 870 stock

Improper fit of SuperCell pad on a wood 870 stock

The good news is that the situation seems be improving. Remington is apparently equipping more firearms and stocks with SuperCell pads right out of the factory these days. Also, their 2012 parts documentation lists eight varieties of SuperCell pads, compared to the four listed on the packaging when I purchased my pad, and only one in Remington’s 2008 parts list. Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come, and not just sloppy documentation.

Even better, how about a line of grind-to-fit SuperCell pads, Remington? Mount the pad of SuperCell foam on a rigid base plate (polyamide or polyoxymethylene, perhaps) that the customer can drill for screw holes and file to fit any rifle or shotgun they want. LimbSaver seems to be doing very well offering a range of recoil pads along these lines, and their products are around twice the cost of a SuperCell.

-Synchronizor

Recommended Products

Remington 870 Supercell Recoil Pad

Remington 870 Supercell Recoil Pad

You can get Remington 870 Supercell Recoil Pad on Brownells

Notes:

For those interested, a basic overview of recoil equations can found at http://www.jbmballistics.com/ballistics/topics/recoil.shtml

A more in-depth derivation and examination of the model can be found at:
http://www.saami.org/PubResources/GunRecoilFormulae.pdf

Remington’s parts price list includes part numbers and descriptions for all SuperCell pads, and can be downloaded along with other resources from their parts information page:
http://www.remington.com/pages/support/parts-information.aspx

A video featuring slow-motion footage of the recoil impulse acting on my shoulder (taken from the slug-shooting video above):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMq3-i6v6s4