If you shoot, it is only natural to develop a flinch. We all know somebody who just wanted to shoot the biggest baddest handgun they could get hold of way before they were ready, and now, they have a nasty flinch. You know the guy, when he makes fun of your fifty cent piece sized hole that you made because you’re shooting a nine millimeter, you want to ask him if he is shooting a shotgun.
My wife hardly shoots handguns at all. When she does, she fires until she feels a flinch coming on, and then she switches to .22, or calls it a day. I’ve seen her hit a gallon jug with a J Frame at one hundred yards (and she hardly shoots at all). What’s the trick? I encourage her to quit shooting before she starts to flinch.
Back when I got my first center fire target pistols (S&W 686 and a Hi Power GP competition) I started to see the effect that flinching was having on my groups, and my lifelong quest to tame my overreaction to a gun going bang began.
A lot of you are going to find the things that I’m talking about to be very basic, and then they are. But, sometimes, it is good to go back to the basics. Now, my repertoire of techniques includes quite a useful toolkit for taming a flinch, including, but not limited to: snapping, shooting a revolver with a spent cartridge or two in the cylinder, shooting a .22 target pistol, and shooting a pellet gun in my garage.
The importance of snapping cannot be emphasized enough. Ensuring the firearm is unloaded and pointed in a safe direction while you repeat the activity of pulling the trigger as smoothly as you possibly can develops muscle memory, which is very useful later during live fire exercises.
When I was first getting into handguns, my flinch became obvious, and whenever it crept back into a shooting session, it was time to pull my Ruger Mark II Bull Barrel out of my range bag. Between the bull barrel and the mild kicking .22 cartridge, I could usually coax the flinch to go away in the same range session. Early on, I’d usually put a box of ammunition through the Ruger. But, later on, maybe all I’d need would be a couple of magazines to ensure that the flinch was gone for the day.
With my 686 revolver, whenever I spotted myself flinching, I’d use the old tried and true technique of putting a spent cartridge in a cylinder while the other five cylinders had live rounds. Nothing is more telling than dropping the hammer on that empty cartridge and seeing the gun bob up and down because of my own jerky trigger work. When I really need to settle myself down, I’ll do this and on each shot (up until I find the empty, or empties) I’ll just imagine that I am snapping on a live target. Five out of six times the gun goes bang, and my groupings improve.
It’s okay to go slow. Too often, I see people banging away like they are trying to simulate combat. I can assure you, if you’ve got the cleanest target at the range, nobody is going to kid you for shooting too slow.
Somewhere along the way, I was talking to a guy who was some sort of champion pistol shooter or other. Nice guy, I didn’t get the name or the details. But, what I did get surprised me. The guy spent a lot of time practicing with pellet guns. One of the guns that he recommended appealed to me, and has been in my rotation ever since. The Crossman 2300s has a Lothar Walther rifled steel barrel and is Co2 powered. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I get about eighty rounds out of one Co2 cartridge (yes, I am that cheap). But, I was also surprised to see how accurate this gun was. Within the confines of my garage, I use minuscule pellet gun targets, and have no trouble putting the pellets where they are supposed to go.
I use a .22 caliber rifle trap backed by some plywood to shoot into. Early on, I shot into a tote filled with phone books, but I found that to be kind of messy and I felt the heavy gauge trap to be a big improvement. Lately, my son has shown more interest in basketball than shooting. I think it is a great thing that he has his own interests, but having a pellet gun trap in my garage has given me a convenient way to have a few father son sessions where I can lay the foundation for firing a handgun. When he finally did want to go the range, it was a pretty typical testosterone laced request to go shoot our Mini 14, but I was able to piggyback his first handgun training sessions into that trip to the range. That’s where the pellet gun training paid off. He had the mechanics down, and as I switched him from the .22 up to the .38, all I had to do was watch for a flinch (which was much simpler than trying to work out his stance, sight picture, and trigger problems all at the same time).
Again, the idea of investing some of your trigger time with some low recoil, or no recoil training seems pretty basic. I remember when I had been a brown belt in aikido for about a year and a half, and was being encouraged to train for my black belt. At long last, I was invited to attend one of the coveted black belt seminars. I thought I’d be allowed to unlock the secret black arts of ju jitsu, or get some clever tips on how to really do some bone crushing wrist locks. But, no. We went back to the basics and spent the first hour working on foot work while my instructor counted off ichi, ni, ichi, ni over and over. The convenience of going out in my garage and plinking away at my pellet gun trap is complimented by eighty rounds of no flinch trigger time which prepares me for my next 10mm or .357 outing. If you don’t already, I would encourage you to take up the hobby as a beneficial, affordable, and inexpensive way to improve your muscle memory.