Hello, my name is Julie Golob, and I flinch.
That’s right…I’m a professional competition shooter, a seven-division practical shooting ladies champion with over 50 world and national titles. How could I possibly flinch when I shoot?
Every now and again, though, you’ll see me flinch. It can happen when I am shooting cold, with no practice. It can happen when I know I will experience significant recoil. It can happen when I feel pressure to perform. My eyes may close just as I break the shot, but training, discipline, knowledge of my firearm and recoil control techniques result in a minor discrepancy of hits on the target… or a quick follow-up shot.
Flinching is a natural defense mechanism that plagues many shooters, and yes, even seasoned ones. A flinch is a natural human reaction, defined as a quick, nervous movement of the face or body as an instinctive reaction to surprise, fear, or pain.
When you shoot a firearm, there is literally an explosion happening inches in front of your face. It’s completely natural to slam your eyelids shut, tense up, and…flinch.
Whether it is the novice shooter with a white-knuckled grip on the handgun, desperate to control the flash, bang and recoil; or the experienced target shooter whose microscopic flinch leads to a less than perfect 10x bull’s-eye, we have all done it.
Even though the flinch is most often an obstacle for new shooters to overcome, regardless of level of experience, a flinch can become a dark and shameful affliction. We cloak it in terms like jerking the trigger or anticipating the shot. It’s often one of the primary causes for a miss. Whether it’s slight or drastic, flinching is a nasty habit that’s hard to break. But break it you can. Here are a few quick steps you can take to address recoil:
Oftentimes it’s the combination of noise and recoil that causes a shooter to flinch, so simply doubling up on hearing protection, both earplugs and muffs, can eliminate the noise factor and help cure flinch. Additionally, reducing sound and recoil by shooting a small caliber can help break the flinch cycle.
Live and Dry Practice.
This is a two-step approach. Dry practice or dry fire, without any ammunition anywhere around you, helps you learn what you need to see and feel as you slowly engage the trigger. Dry fire provides an excellent opportunity to become intimately familiar with how your trigger travels as you press it, all while keeping your sight picture steady. (I like to suggest imagining your finger dragging through really thick peanut butter as you press the trigger until the shot breaks.
Dry fire helps you learn what you need to feel, but live fire puts it to the test. In my experience as a firearms instructor and a shooter, flinching doesn’t usually occur on the first shot. It happens on the second, third, and fourth shots because the mind now knows what to expect. The flinch reaction is almost automatic, and the larger the caliber, generally the more significant the flinch. That’s not to say that a shooter can’t flinch with a .22 long rifle, but the more powerful the ammunition, the greater the risk.
The cure lies in the area of focus. In dry fire we learn familiarity of how the trigger should feel during a smooth squeeze. This combined with an intense focus on sight picture during live fire can quickly solve the problem for experienced shooters. They become so in tune with what’s happening in their sight picture that they can prevent the flinch before or as it happens.
Ball and Dummy.
The classic ball-and-dummy range drill specifically addresses issues with trigger control and the dreaded flinch. The drill involves a partner and both snap caps (or an empty chamber) and live ammo. The shooter begins the session with dry fire. Once smooth trigger control is consistently achieved, they bench the firearm and step aside. The partner steps up to discreetly load either a live round or a snap cap (or leave the chamber empty). The shooter goes back to the bench and prepares to take the shot, focusing on sights and smooth trigger. Rinse and repeat.
Flinching becomes apparent in both dry and live fire. In dry fire, the front of the gun drops as the shooter engages the trigger. It’s apparent to both a coach/partner and the shooter as they see the front sight dip. In live fire, the results are most often seen on the target. Telltale low and left hits on the target for right-handed shooters, low and right for left handed shooters or clean misses indicate flinching problems.
Another useful tool to help shooters connect the dots between what they see and feel during a shot is a laser. Like how a cat is drawn to chasing that red or green dot on a wall, the laser draws us in to a new level of focus. When a shooter who flinches watches the laser and sees that drastic movement exhibited in the path of the laser, it becomes a self-teaching moment. The laser becomes a new game of how steady the shooter can keep the laser before breaking the shot.
Flinching happens. Knowing that you can flinch, and accepting it, is the first step in overcoming it.