It’s a cliche as old as saying “it’s as old as”. A new shooter grouping low and left and someone tells them to stop flinching, stop anticipating recoil. Well, I’m here to tell you to keep flinching. Why wouldn’t you anticipate recoil? Just change when. There are two different flinches when it comes to shooting pistols. I’ll tell you how to turn a hoe flinch into a housewife flinch.
Both flinches exist for the same reason. The difference is one is a novice flinch, and one is a trained flinch. Trained mostly in timing. The novice flinches before firing pin impacts primer, the trained shooter after. Both shooters are trying to mitigate recoil to achieve less muzzle rise and faster follow up shots. Both are mitigating recoil. One is just doing it without sacrificing accuracy.
The novice seeks to control the weapon, they want to lecture it, command it to obey. The trained are in a conversation with the weapon, they are in a back and forth dialogue. The novice tells the weapon when to fire and where the muzzle needs to go for the next shot at the same time. This drives the weapon off target. The trained shooter pulls the trigger, let’s the weapon fire, and THEN gives a reply to its recoil. They tell the weapon when to fire, let the weapon say where the bullet and muzzle will recoil to, and then guide the conversation to settling back on target as the slide drives another round home.
Training this takes time and ammo. Subconsciously learning to apply the “flinch” after the shot breaks while also focusing on sight tracking and trigger control for follow up shots is not easy. Spears don’t recoil, firing a bow without earplugs doesn’t hurt your ears, throwing a rock has no muzzle flash. All of our ancient ranged combat never taught us to contain explosions in our hands to send projectiles accurately down range one after the other in rapid succession. So forgive yourself if you don’t get the timing down for a while. You’ll get there.
Another way to think about this is by thinking about old flintlocks, where flint and steel were your primer and powder burned much slower than modern propellants. From trigger pull to firing wasn’t as quick as it is now. There was a distinctive click of the hammer falling home, then the shot. You had to maintain aim after pulling the trigger longer back then. The conversation took a little more time. The concepts are the same. Maintain aim through the shot and THEN give the weapon a recoil mitigating impulse.
Like accuracy, consistency is key to this technique. Even doing the wrong flinch, consistently, with Kentucky windage can result in good groupings on target. This is wrong for two reasons. First, it doesn’t help you bridge the personal integrity gap. There is a gap between what you know you should be doing and what you actually are doing. “Excellence is a habit”-Aristotle. Second, as distance increases Kentucky windage becomes harder along with applying better fundamentals like trigger control. With a proper foundation of fundamentals, only better fundamentals need be applied.
Attaining this consistency means understanding myelination, the process of “muscle memory”. Break the shot, watch the slide recoil/watch the dot rise, see where it lands when the action finishes cycling, and drive it back to target for follow up shots. But pay extra attention to where it lands and give yourself feedback. Hardwiring of good neural pathways requires you to be conscious of small details happening quickly while you’re shooting. Right on target, dead center is best, that’s some John Wick shit. A little off center but still in the kill zone(acceptable sight picture), that’s good. Somewhere a little outside the zone, like the C box on an IPSC torso, I’ll take but I ain’t happy. Anything outside this should be thought of as failure, no-go, whatever terminology you use. Remind yourself to NOT remember how the neurons fired that time, focus on the acceptable runs instead. With a good understanding of grip, trigger control, and acceptable sight picture this should take minimal time to make into muscle memory.
With enough repetition, especially with the same weapon, you can become like a professional boxer or veteran street cop. You see the body language and instinctively start blocking and countering the incoming right hook that hasn’t even been thrown yet or your hand is already on your gun as they start to grip theirs. It’s possible to get to a point where you subconsciously know where this recoil is gonna go and you’re giving correct response inputs, without thinking, to have it end where you want. With you and yours still alive, getting to see the sunrise tomorrow. It just takes dedicated training.
Author – Seth Lewis served as a reconnaissance infantryman in the 82nd Airborne with two deployments to Iraq as well as 18 months in Afghanistan doing High Threat Protection for the Department of State. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics and uscurrently working as a security contractor for DHS and a firearms instructor.