Friday, August 21, 2009

Dealing with Flinch... one method (Repost)

(This re-post is the result of a recent range session. I was helping a new shooter with some minor issues, and I recalled writing this over a year ago. Perhaps it will help someone......)


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!


Conservative Scalawag said...

Good post, this is actually something I am still contending with when shooting revolvers.

Old NFO said...

Excellent post and the ONLY cure is trigger time! :-)

Anonymous said...

Alternatively, you can always use training aids.

In Liberty,

Anonymous said...

Maybe my old eyes need recalibrating, but, on the second video, I saw "flinch" on only the first dud fire. The other two dud fires looked fine (to me).

And you're right. The best cures for flinch are range time live fire, dud fire and dry fire. I used to teach other soldiers how to best shoot their M16s using a variety of non-electronic training aids.

One dry fire aid that I didn't see mentioned above (will it work with pistols?) was that a coin was balanced on the top of the rifle barrel. The object was to try to keep it there through steadiness, open non-firing hand (remember, this is a rifle), and trigger squeeze (not jerk).

B Woodman

Xavier said...

Nice reminder sir...... This is a very good training aid.

I prefer the A-Zoom snap caps, but it's good to see that the platic ones will chamber as well.

Lawyer said...

Thanks for the great post. Since we became a one-vehicle household, I've had less opportunity to head out to the range. Over the last month, I've been able to go once a week. With the lack of practice, I picked up an awful flinch, but am on my way to getting it under control again.

Anonymous said...

I kept doing dry fire drills when I first bought a k31. I'd chamber a spent cartridge, and dryfire on the used primer. When I first started shooting I'd sometime remove my head from the rifle all together.. helped wonders.

Anonymous said...

I (slightly) differ with OldNFO about trigger time. While it is true that PROPER practice will aid in reducing the tendency to flinch, sometimes the forcing of the will only REINFORCES the bad habit. (e.g. DON'T think about the color purple.) When you're at the range and are getting tired, frustrated, flinching, etc., the best option may be to quit for the day and put some time for mental space between the stress and another practice session. It generally takes time to develop a flinch and it's unlikely that it will be cured overnight either.