Article Curing a Flinch

By MinervaDoe, Oct 4, 2016 | Updated: Oct 4, 2016 | | |
  1. MinervaDoe
    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.

    flinch 1.jpg

    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.

    flinch 2.jpg

    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.

    flinch 3.jpg

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    About Author

    Minervadoe lives in San Jose, CA and has had a variety of hobbies throughout his life. In college, I played rugby and rock climbed. I used to bicycle 200 miles a week and have easily have ridden over 100,000 miles. I practiced aikido intensively and I conservatively estimate over 4,600 hours of training. I've been shooting since 1964 and been reloading since 1974.

    I've worked in Silicon Valley since the mid 80s as a Product Manager and Project Manager and recently retrained myself as a web designer.

Recent User Reviews

    "Curing a flinch"
    All good ways of curing dreaded flinch but the best way IMHO is called "ball and dummy" Load dummy or empty brass in mag or cylinder at random. Doesn't take long for the shooter to figure out how to manipulate the trigger so the muzzle doesn't move for the dummy rounds. If you can control the trigger for a dummy you can control the trigger for for a live round. Proper dry fire helps in the fix the flinch area too. But not as fast as "ball and dummy."

    Shooting air pistols is good for sight picture training.
    "Back 2 School!"
    Great Article, I now have a whole set of "flinch reduction" techniques to add to my repertoire. I like to start off shooting the big hand cannons and move down to the low recoil stuff, progressively. I pretty much have it covered now, with a 460 Rowland all the way down to a Ruger 22/45 Lite! Guess I should get a pellet pistol now ;)
  3. Themarinedoc
    Articles like this keep us grounded. It's fun to do the scenarios, practice our rapid access from our CC holster, whether it be IWB or OWB. And it's necessary to practice these regularly. In other words, practical training for practical pistol shooting or defensive shooting. But, in my opinion, we still need to practice our basics. A lot gets lost in our rapid fire exercises, and, just like hitting golf balls on the driving range, we tend to ignore the slice or hook that costs us any good score we had up to that point in an actual game, and admire our beautiful drives down the middle, as we ignore the shot or two outside our target area; the bullet that in an actual situation that goes downrange, possibly injuring or killing an innocent. My favorite is the "one hole drill" from 7 yards. No time limit, with every shot centered and after one magazine you should be able to see only one hole. Demonstrates our weaknesses and our strengths.


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  1. greengiant
    Great article and very true. I personally use .22 caliber, never used the pellet gun. However, it sounds interesting and believe I just might try it. For the benefits of those who haven't had the opportunity of learning Japanese "ichi, ni, ichi, ni" translates into English as "1,2, 1,2".
      MinervaDoe likes this.
  2. Bonedoc
    Very good article. Over the years I've found that women can flinch for different reasons than we 'old rugged men'... fear. I know, everyone watchs a women pull the trigger on a .357 while turning her head and closing her eyes but I'm talking about a subtle variation of rumor caused fear (and BTW, who starts anyone with a .357, like the pellet gun or low velocity .22 for beginners who are a bit timid).

    I've trained a lot of beginners and many have been women. I also ask them before we even pick up a firearm 'what they expect'. I was surprised to hear many say they were afraid they'd drop the gun or that it would "jump up and hit them in the face." Yeah, really. Guns carry a lot of myths with them including the one where they walk down the street by themselves.

    So I decided to develop a routine with women shooters (men don't seem to have that fear - and if you do research on spatial recognition and the sexes you will find that women's is different than men's) where they hold the firearm at "almost" arms length, slightly bent elbows BUT WITH THEIR HEAD canted off to the most flexible side. I order them to keep their eyes wide open and watch the handgun when they pull the trigger. I will have other women in the class stand behind the line but on the opposite side of the shooters cant so they can see as well. When the trigger is pulled and all the women see the very limited length of recoil travel they are relieved of that fear of a broken nose, etc... we do this a few times for each shooter. I've seen flinches completely disappear when this myth reducing exercise is added at the beginning of a shooter's experience. It does not cure a 'trigger' pull mechanics error which is not really a flinch.

    Thanks for a good article Minervadoe.
  3. jdnan
    Very helpful. I had disc replacement surgery a little over a year ago and I noticed that my flinch had returned when I could start shooting again. My flinch seems to be more likely to occur with my semiauto guns for some, unknown reason. What has helped me the most was shooting my Ruger GP100 in double action very methodically. It didn't matter whether I was shooting 158 grain magnums or .38 special, no flinch with my revolver.
  4. crzteacher
    Great advice. Snap caps for my G34 work well.
  5. Beendare
    In archery they call it target panic.....and if you shoot long enough, you will get it. Its the same with pistol shooting though a little different nomenclature, "Flinch". Our brain gets conditioned to expecting the recoil of the shot. So it makes unconscious jumps; squeezing our whole hand instead of just our trigger finger and other minor anticipations that are accuracy killers. Dryfire and dead round drills are your friend....good article.
  6. Zulu19
    Good article!
  7. HipsterSkumm
    Just like Danny Aiello told Leon in "The Professional" "It's good to train, but don't over do it."
  8. Broeder350
    Very nice article!!

    I use a gas blowback bb gun for the same reason. plus side is i can do malfunction training. It's a reallife copy of a Glock, fits the X300 in a safariland standard holster, so i can pick my training in the garage. These pistols are very light up top so when you have a flich, or an unbalance in your hands/grip (mostlikely thumb or pinky) or triggeraction, you will notice.

    Other tip that we use in trainingsituations; let your buddy prep your magazine/cilinder. It adds extra surprise. I can imagine me "secretly" peeking at that cilinder going "where's the other one".
      RACHIGER and MinervaDoe like this.
  9. Defender77
    Thank you for this article!
    1. Borg Warner
      Another piece of advice is to never fire ammunition in a gun that is too powerful for the size and weight of the gun.

      Smith and Wesson now specializes in making guns like this with airweight scandium J-frame 357's and N-frame 44 magnums. Most people end up firing 38 and 44 specials in these guns but continue to carry the guns with full magnum loads which is, IMO, a recipe for disaster.
  10. BlueBacker
    I have a SIRT pistol and the software you run through a laptop. I should use it more, it really can be helpful for the same reasons.
      Crunch 55 likes this.
    1. MinervaDoe
      That is an awesome tool. Thanks for adding that. This link helped me to understand what SIRT is
      BengalBacker likes this.