Flinching is every shooter’s bugaboo. You think you are getting to be a good shooter, and suddenly every shot starts going many inches lower than it is supposed to. You try to overcome it, and fail, which makes you tense up and flinch even more. Your enjoyable shooting session becomes an embarrassing spectacle. You think, “I’ll NEVER be able to shoot well again!”
Flinching is bad because it destroys your accuracy. For defensive shooting, flinching can also destroy your confidence. “How,” you think, “can I ever shoot to save my life if I can’t even shoot well on the range?”
What is flinching?
Flinching is an involuntary motion that accompanies a normal trigger press. Generally it causes shots to hit much lower than you want them to, but sometimes inconsistencies in other directions occur.
If you are surprised by a pin-prick, the sudden pain would make you flinch. That kind of flinch is a natural reaction to something unpleasant. If you anticipate being pricked with that pin because someone is jabbing it toward you a second time, you will almost certainly flinch when the pin is thrust toward your arm, even before it touches you. That kind of anticipatory flinch is just as natural.
So, flinching is wincing or drawing back, involuntarily, from some real or anticipated unpleasantness.
A flinch has nothing to do with being a timid or bold shooter. In fact, brand new shooters who have been given proper instruction and plenty of time to familiarize themselves with a firearm in dry-fire mode may be timid but they almost never flinch with their first shot, because they have not experienced anything unpleasant about shooting. Indeed, most first shots are extremely well placed. But after a while, a flinch sometimes develops, as a shooter anticipates the sound or recoil of a shot.
Many very experienced shooters, who are anything but timid, experience periods of flinching.
How can you banish a flinch?
For flinching, like hiccups, there are a thousand supposed cures. Nothing is foolproof — you’ll have to try one after another until you find what works for you. And what works at today’s practice session might not work for you next month.
1. The number one cause of flinching, I’m convinced, is hearing the “bang” as the gun goes off. It is natural to jump a bit when presented with a sudden, loud noise. To counteract this, wear superb hearing protection. Wear in-the-ear foam plugs together with excellent hearing protectors (electronic ones, if possible).
2. If you are tired, you will be much more susceptible to flinching. If you’ve had a long practice session that started out OK and is degenerating, it might be better to end it rather than struggle to cure a fatigue-flinch with even more exhausting practice.
3. Consciously changing your grip can have a beneficial effect. There’s a particularly good technique called the Ayoob Wedge developed by the legendary firearms instructor Massad Ayoob. It works wonderfully well to finish a flinch. (See sidebar for details.)
4. You can’t get the best, flinch-fighting grip if your gun has ill-fitting grips. Poorly-fitting grips allow the gun to move in your hand from shot to shot, playing havoc with accuracy and possibly even causing momentary discomfort that your body tries to avoid by flinching.
5. Watch the front sight. I mean, be really sure your eyes are open when the gun goes off! If necessary, have someone look at you from the side to see if you blink when the shot is fired. If so, and if concentrating on keeping your eyes open doesn’t work, try opening your mouth wide when you shoot. This is said to inhibit blinking in many people. You may look ridiculous, but nobody is downrange to see you.
6. Switch to a different gun for a while. Try a .22LR revolver or semi-auto for a while, if you have been shooting a .45. If the .22 is making you flinch, try suprising it with a few rounds of .38 caliber. Switching guns forces you to concentrate on the basics, which is always good for what ails you, shooting-wise.
7. If you can’t switch guns, try changing your ammo to target loads instead of full power defense rounds, or try rounds with less muzzle flash.
8. Dry fire. If you want to be extreme, forego ammo altogether! Use plastic practice rounds or empty brass and dry fire until you can do so repeatedly with a perfect sight picture.
9. Switch from strong hand shooting to weak hand shooting for a while.
10. Send me a lot of money. Lots and lots. Then stay off the range until I can get on a plane, come to visit you, and we can go to the range and work on your flinch together. (This one is virtually foolproof, because by the time I get there, the enforced time away from the range will probably have fixed the flinch!)
Flinching comes and goes. When you have it, you should concentrate on trying to reduce it, but if the drills suggested here don’t work, stop the practice session and wait for another time — don’t keep on shooting or you will just reinforce the bad habit and make it worse.
Don’t let a flinch destroy your confidence. An inaccuracy of a few inches that would be devastating in a pistol competition may hardly matter in a defensive situation. If your defensive shots go into the abdomen rather than the chest they are still going to be pretty effective.
SIDEBAR: The Ayoob Wedge 1. Grasp the gun normally in your strong hand. 2. With the weak hand, extend the index finger straight, and wrap the other fingers of that hand around the strong hand under the trigger guard as if your index finger didn't exist. 3. Be sure the middle joint of the middle finger of the weak hand is under the trigger guard. 4. Bend the index finger and WEDGE it against the trigger guard and middle finger. This will not feel comfortable at first (but should not actually hurt). It works with any stance. This technique locks the gun in place, preventing any side to side movement, and forcing the gun muzzle up slightly, which prevents muzzle dip and helps to COMBAT FLINCH!