Flinching while you shoot is a very common phenomenon and it can definitely impact your performance and your enjoyment of the sport. Luckily there are some effective ways to minimize or eliminate the effects of this age-old reaction.
Flinching is definitely a thing, although it may be difficult for some to admit to. It can be hard sometimes to accept that you may not be in complete control of your mind and body, and that your shots may be suffering because of it.
This is of course an unintended physical and mental reaction to the noise and recoil of a shot and it often negatively affects accuracy as the muzzle moves off-target. A simple cause-&-effect. We all have a natural instinct to protect ourselves in the face of sudden stimuli and it’s this involuntary reflex action that causes the problems.
Types & Causes
Flinching is more common with newer shooters, but it can also affect experienced shooters who may not have put much time in with a gun for a while. Trust me when I say that most shooters have been there at one time or another.
There are basically two types of flinch – one physical and one mental. The physical reflex is an instinctive movement of your hands or body (often with closing the eyes) in anticipation of the muzzle blast and the recoil. It could include jerking the trigger, moving the muzzle or changing your grip or body position. Trying to over control the gun or tighten your grip at the time you shoot can also have the same effect. Another physical aspect that isn’t normally considered is our natural tendency to try and maintain our balance. This notion is deeply embedded in our subconscious and we can make inadvertent adjustments to our position without really thinking about it.
The mental flinch stems from the (often subconscious) anxiety that a shooter may have through their desire to hit their target, and a consequent lack of attention to shooting fundamentals. Essentially, you lose focus and then elements like grip, trigger pull and follow-through suffer for it. Anxiety/fear also play a part in the anticipation of the shot and resulting noise and impact.
It’s important to note that the more a gun kicks and the louder the blast, the more pronounced the flinch is likely to be. This can also be amplified with using more powerful rounds in a lighter gun.
Trying to differentiate exactly what the issue may be with a particular shooter can be tricky, and it can be further complicated when shooting under pressure or time limits.
How To Test For It
Convincing someone, including yourself, that a flinch may exist is a big part of the battle. One common way to approach this is to work with a partner (or qualified instructor) and have them observe your movements as you shoot to see where the issues may lie. Be sure to pay close attention to the eyes, trigger finger and the gun muzzle. Taking slow motion video can also help to identify the reactions.
You can also get a more definitive read with a simple, classic test. Ask your partner to close their eyes and act as if you are loading/chambering a round for them. In this case you won’t actually be loading the weapon. Ask them to shoot normally and observe the mechanics and movements involved. If a true flinch exists and they believe the gun to be loaded, it will be quite apparent.
What To Do About It
Once a shooter knows that he or she is flinching and wants to make the effort to correct it, there are several things that can be done. There are other techniques as well, but this covers the basics.
It’s an important first step for the person to understand recoil and the reasons for it. It’s a consistent, predictable part of the shooting process, and if mentally and physically prepared, it shouldn’t be as intimidating or off-putting as it seems. Recoil happens – and it’s a simply a matter of dealing with it.
Eye & Ear Protection
We all know that this element is a standard, but reducing the effect of blast noise and providing the shooter with a greater sense of comfort and safety can help to minimize involuntary reactions.
Proper Fit & Caliber
Always try to match the gun to an individual’s size, shooting experience and ability level.
Correct grip size, stock length and firearm weight will provide for greater overall control and ideally lead to better shooting results. Ensuring that the caliber suits the weapon used and that the scope is set to avoid any chance of bite are also key.
So we have a handle on recoil in general, we have our protective gear in-place and our gun and ammo check out. The next step is to ensure we’re actually firing properly. Some things to consider for offsetting recoil and maintaining muzzle control would include:
- A firm, even grip for handguns without applying too much tension
- A tight shoulder fit and correct cheek weld for long guns, along with proper placement and tension on the fore hand
- A correct stance to help maintain balance
- A stable, yet relaxed posture that will serve to absorb recoil without overly tensing the body
- Proper trigger control to avoid any jerky pulls
- A good follow-through technique
Dry Fire Practice
Dry fire drills with no live ammo can be a good way to build some calm and to develop muscle memory around the firing process. Without the distraction of the recoil and the bang, you can get in a good amount of repetitions that can help to work out that flinch response.
Flinching can be a frustrating experience for any shooter, but at least you can take positive steps to correct it once you’re aware of the reaction. The more you understand the underlying reasons for it, the better your plan-of-action can be.
Sign up for K-Var’s weekly newsletter and discounts here.