Many years ago – before I became an instructor – I took my wife to the range with me to get her familiar with a new gun I had recently purchased – a Smith and Weston .357 Magnum. The model I purchased had a fairly short barrel – 2 1/2 inches long.
I preceded to load the gun with the Magnum cartridges, and fired off a few rounds. I glanced at my wife, and she had a look of horror on her face! She had never been around (or heard) a gun with that much power. She noted that, because of the short barrel, fire was belching from the gun after each shot.
There was no way she was going to fire that gun!
This was not good, as at the time, this was the only handgun we owned. If bad guys entered our home, she would be hesitant to use it to defend herself and our kids. Hesitation can lead to bad outcomes once a real threat has been identified.
We loaded the gun with .38 Special cartridges (a much less powerful ammunition). Her first few shots were incredibly inaccurate. She was literally closing her eyes, jerking the trigger and was clamped down on the grips for dear life. The proverbial broad-side of a barn would have been quite safe!
We did a number of things to address her flinching and reluctance to use the gun. In fact, this gun is now one of her favorites!
What causes flinching? Quite simply, it is the anticipation of the recoil and the report – the big boom! Firing a gun accurately is probably two-thirds mental and one-third physical. Knowing what to do and understanding what to expect are key.
So how do you fix flinching? Relax! I read a saying online somewhere along the lines of, “Embrace The Recoil“. The idea being that it’s going to happen, so work with it.
A great drill you can do alone to get yourself acclimated to the recoil and report is to take some shots (almost) without aiming. It requires that you already understand the proper way to grip your gun. A poor grip will amplify the recoil of your gun (perhaps we’ll discuss proper grip in another post).
Set up a target that is further away from you than you’d normally practice with. Make it 20 or 25 yards away.
Take your standard, relaxed grip and stance. Raise the gun up to eye level, pointed in the direction of the target. With both eyes open – just looking over the top of the barrel in the direction of the target, and with NO ADDITIONAL aiming (no sight alignment or sight picture), smoothly pull the trigger.
Hitting the target is irrelevant. The drill is to get you used to firing the gun in a relaxed manner with both eyes open.
Repeat this drill until you can pull the trigger and fire the gun without closing your eyes – even a little bit.
Then, move the target in 5 yards closer, and repeat the drill. You still don’t care if you’ve hit the target. You’re just getting used to the target being a bit closer.
Finally, line up your shots and aim for the target – acquiring your sight alignment and sight picture. You should see a marked improvement!
If you’re still having some flinching, you can do a drill that requires some additional equipment and the help of a friend.
Purchase some “snap caps”. These are inert rounds that you can buy at most gun stores or ranges. No powder at all, just pieces of metal the same size as whatever caliber round you’re shooting.
Without you looking, have your friend load your magazine or cylinder with a mixture of live rounds interspersed with snap caps.
Set up your target at your normal practice distance, and start taking single shots. Have your friend watch your gun’s muzzle. When you get to a snap cap, if you are still flinching, it will show up very clearly with muzzle movement.
You will usually be able to tell if the flinch was caused by over gripping, trigger slapping or closing your eyes. You’ll also realize that there was no need to flinch – the gun didn’t even fire! This reinforces in your mind the concept of smooth trigger squeezing, and relaxed grip and stance.
Try them both – they really work!