Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Working on the shooting skills...


Today I got a chance at some range time, and thought I might discuss working on basic shooting schools. In this case, flinching and failure drills.

Dr Helen posted about a gun-bloggers get together. (It sounded like a great time had by all!) In her posting she mentioned an issue with flinching, and that started me thinking.

Flinch, or what might also be called 'anticipating the shot' is a problem where accuracy is concerned. In bad cases, it can can throw shots right off the target. With long arm or pistol, it can happen to anyone. It occurs when the shooter becomes conscious of the recoil, and reacts to it before it even happens. Rather than letting the weapon recoil naturally, the shooter pushes into it, throwing off the round before it ever leaves the barrel.

In it's very worst incarnation, a shooter can actually be scared of the recoil, and 'flinch' can be massive. While most every shooter can physically handle most any small arm within reason, a horrendous flinch, once learned, can be seriously difficult to get rid of. It may be one of the most common reasons new shooters, who started out with too large a weapon and poor training, give up the sport.

New shooters should usually start with small caliber weapons, so skills can be worked on without having to deal with recoil. The classic for this role is the trusty old .22. Cheap, quiet, accurate, and with almost no recoil at all, it's the traditional way for new shooters to learn.

Highly experienced shooters often return to the .22 for target, plinking, and solid skills practice. Some shooters never leave it behind in the first place!

Here is a short video demonstrating the offending act. The pistol is a large, heavy, magnum, often found at the source of flinching. Notice the muzzle drop as the hammer falls on an empty chamber.... that is flinch.

I'm happy to say... I did that on purpose. I worked through most of my 'flinch' issues long ago. That said, even the slightest bit is harmful to precise shooting.

The video itself shows a useful way of working on shooting skills. Just the same as all major athletes review video of themselves, there is something very helpful in seeing ourselves in action. A watchful coach on hand can point out problems and solutions, but actually seeing yourself is priceless.

There are a number of ways to train away a flinch. Classic among them is simple dry firing. With an unloaded weapon, and no ammunition in the room, preferably by yourself, and with a safe bullet absorbent wall... (get the idea that safety is important?), now choose a small point on the wall at comfortable height. Aim at that point, practicing squeezing the trigger. Ideally, the sights should not waver as the striker/hammer impacts. Pictures are good, but just a tiny piece of tape will suit fine.

This is particularly dramatic over a distance of twenty feet or so, with a laser on the weapon. Watching that red dot dance can be very instructive! Do this kind of dry fire practice daily if possible. Even ten minutes a day of trigger and sight practice can prove very effective.

Now, some methods of flinch training on the range are the subject here.
So... lets see a couple that work.

First, and a classic, is to load a revolver with the occasional empty chamber.
Either have a partner do so, where you can't see, or do so yourself and spin the cylinder. Coming up on an empty chamber unexpectedly can reveal a flinch dramatically to the shooter.


In this video, played at slow motion, watching carefully at the muzzle will show some flinch as the empty chambers come under the hammer....

Again, instructive by itself, doubly educational with a video of yourself to watch.
Honesty insists.... I was not trying to show a flinch that time... what you see is real.

Now, naturally this won't work with an autoloader. Not really.
Sure, for maybe one at a time, with someone else loading for you and handing you the weapon. It can help, but it's certainly slow and not much fun

More preferential, and more effective, is to purchase some action testing plastic dummy rounds for the weapon. These are inexpensive, and quite safe. They can also be known as 'snap caps', but those are more likely to be mechanical in nature with a spring loaded mechanism to reduce firing pin impact.
Action proving dummy rounds are solid plastic, cheap, and will function through a magazine just like a loaded factory round. They can be ordered for most all common pistol, and most rifle, calibers.



Placing these intermittently in a loaded magazine will serve the same function as empty chambers in a revolver. At certain times the pistol will go 'click' instead of bang. If flinch is an issue, it will become apparent at that time. Again, video helps tremendously.

Using these dummy rounds in a magazine also allows another skill to be practiced at the same time.... the 'failure drill'.

What happens when your autoloader fails to fire as expected? All click, no bang... and that can be a sinking feeling. It need not be that big an issue if the failure drill is practiced. Also called a 'Tap and Rack', the magazine is given a smack to make sure it's seated and the offending round is racked out of the chamber, a new one being stripped in when the slid is released.

Here it is in action.... and no laughing please.... I'm trying to be helpful here...

Whatever method is chosen, flinch is certainly possible to overcome.
If these methods don't help, a good shooting coach will know many more.
No matter what... never give up!


Lin said...

Nicely done .. You're a good instructor. Reminds of of what my favourite aviation writer once said. ."If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea”

Teach them to love the art of shooting, and they'll respect the gun and what you offer.

Who is..... Carteach0? said...

I'm not a 'shooting instructor', although I have done my share.
Just willing to share the pitfalls I have stumbled across...

The Hermit said...

Good instruction. You ought to get the NRA certification.

Who is..... Carteach0? said...

Hermit.... I have looked into the classes for instructor certification... and willing to take them.

Time is an issue. I already take college courses pretty steadily, and teach days, and monthly night courses as well in the tech school.
Just not much time left for another course for me right now.

In time...

Little Joe said...

Excellent shooting tips. I know from experience that this type of practice really works too.

When I first started shooting big caliber handguns (I hunted with large, heavy caliber revolvers for years when I was younger.) I noticed that when I praticed at the range, at 50 yards, not matter how steady I held the gun and no matter how slowly I pulled the trigger, I would always hit about 6 inches low and left of where I aimed.

An old timer was watching me shoot one day and pretty much told me what you said in this post and he also took the time to teach me what you mention here to correct the problem.

Withing a couple of months of following his advice, my handgun shooting accuracy improved dramatically.

I was shooting a Ruger .44 magnum at the time with some hot reloads and 300 grain JHP bullets. The dry fire practice with dummy rounds made a big difference. It really helped me get rid of the flinch, develop much better trigger control and develop that muscle memory that every shooter needs if they intend to hit what they shoot at.

Along with the dryfire practice, I also started reloading .44 special with a 180 grain bullet for practice at the range. I'd shoot about 24 rounds with the light ammo, 6 rounds with my hot, heavy ammo and then plink with a .22 for about 50 rounds.

The difference this made in my shooting was unbelievable to me at the time. To tell the truth I thought the old timer was full of bull when he first told me what was wrong with my shooting. Thankfully I was not as hard-headed as most young men and I tried what he told me.

The type of practice and dry fire exercise you suggest really works great. I would highly recommend it to anyone that wants to improve their handgun skills and accuracy.

Very good post and very good advice.

Who is..... Carteach0? said...

Thanks Little Joe!