Posted by Al Voth on 2022 Jul 5th
Fighting The Flinch
Editor's Note: "Fighting the Flinch" was published on March 27th, 2016. This is an updated version of the original article.
Bizarrely, I look forward to the occasional rare misfire when shooting firearms. Also helpful are those brain farts every shooter has when we line up on a target and squeeze the trigger on an empty rifle. It doesn't matter how it happens because a gun that goes click when you fully expect it to go boom is one of the most valuable events in a shooter's year. No, you won't hit your target with a misfire or an empty gun, but what you've experienced is priceless in what it teaches. The catch is you must be paying attention to learn the lesson. And the lesson an unexpectedly empty gun teaches you is whether you have a flinch.
When that rifle delivers an unexpected "click," we need to do an instant replay in our heads and ask ourselves what the crosshair did at the moment of the click. Did it remain solidly on target? If you can answer in the affirmative, you've likely just established you don't have a flinching problem. However, if that crosshair took a sudden dive just as the firing pin dropped, it means your muscles tensed in anticipation of the shot, and you have a flinch.
What's a flinch? One dictionary says it means to withdraw or shrink away from something, as if from pain. It also means to tense the muscles involuntarily in anticipation of discomfort. That's a great description of what happens when a shooter flinches. After all, an explosion happens just in front of the face, a loud noise assaults the ears, and we get punched in the shoulder. It's no wonder shooters flinch. What's impressive is that we can condition ourselves not to.
Most shooters will develop a flinch at some point in their careers. If you shoot only occasionally, that unfamiliarity will contribute to flinching. If you shoot a lot, the constant pounding will take its toll and make you more prone to flinching. It's a no-win situation. You can only evaluate yourself regularly and admit to yourself that you have a flinch, then seek corrective action.
If you're not sure whether a flinch is living inside your head, it's easy to self-diagnose. You only need your firearm, some ammo, and a few dummy rounds.
Any handloader can make up dummy rounds to help diagnose a flinch.
You can have a friend load the magazine of your rifle with a dummy in the mix, or you can tumble a mixture in your pocket and load your firearm without looking. The only requirement is not knowing whether a live cartridge or an inert one is under the firing pin. Additionally, when dealing with rifles and trying to diagnose a flinch, you should not shoot from a fixed rest. The stability of a shooting bench or bipod will work to mask a flinch, and that's counter-productive.
So, from a prone or kneeling position, with no artificial support, take your best shot and simply pay attention to what the sight does when the firing pin drops on a missing primer. If you have a flinch, the sight will drop as your muscles tense in anticipation of the discomfort of a shot. If shooting with a friend, he can watch your muzzle, too, as a sudden dip in its position is a dead give-away that you're flinching.
Doubling up on hearing protection will help prevent flinching.
Curing a flinch isn't necessarily hard, but just like any rehabilitation, it takes time and a multi-pronged approach. It would be best if you started with improving your hearing protection because part of a flinch comes from the noise of a gunshot. Double up on hearing protection by using plugs and muffs, especially if your rifle has a muzzle brake. After that, get rid of the recoil. That's done by improving your gun's recoil management. MDT chassis add some weight, which always helps. But their design also yields a more straight-back recoil path, and their adjust-to-fit buttstock helps too. And if nothing else works, go to a smaller caliber and/or lighter loads. If they are legal where you live, nothing works better than a suppressor, as they serve to cut both recoil and noise.
However, cutting recoil and noise are the easy fixes; like always, the hardest part is fixing what goes on between our ears. There are no easy cures here, just time, repetition, and focus. One exercise for rifle shooters is to shoot from a kneeling position and have someone else pull the trigger. Just assume a solid shooting position, get a good sight picture, and hold it while a buddy reaches over and gently squeezes the trigger. If you don't know when the gun will discharge, you can't flinch. I've seen people shoot better this way than when they have control of the trigger. Simple dry-fire can do wonders for training past flinching.
More: How To Become a Pro Shooter Without Ammunition
Having someone else pull the trigger for the shooter can help diagnose and cure flinching.
I've used self-talk to help control flinching, and it's something you may want to try. Years ago, when a flinch threatened to ruin my shooting, I silently repeated the phrase "It's not loaded" repeatedly before every shot. That's a trick I still use whenever I have to shoot a nasty recoiling gun, and it's just an example of the focus we sometimes need to bring to our shooting. You see, just being aware that we have the potential to flinch at every shot we take should be enough to increase our focus on that shot and help us deliver it cleanly and accurately. Admitting to yourself that you have the potential to involuntarily tense your muscles in anticipation of a shot will go a long way to solving a flinching problem. The remainder is training the subconscious through gentle repetition.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Al Voth calls himself a "student of the gun." Retired from a 35-year career in law enforcement, including nine years on an Emergency Response Team, he now works as an editor, freelance writer, and photographer and keeps active as a consultant in the field he most recently left behind forensic firearm examination. He is a court-qualified expert in that forensic discipline, having worked in that capacity in three countries. These days, when he's not working, you'll likely find him hunting varmints and predators (the 4-legged variety).