Recoil anticipation. Pre-ignition push. Heeling. It goes by lots of names.

If you want to improve your handgun shooting, at some point you’re going to run into the issue of flinching. There tends to be a lot of shame and self-denial involved with this problem, but every shooter deals with it at some point. So man up and admit that there’s at least a chance that you might not be an exception to the rule, and that you might have to address it at some point in your development as a shooter. Just to help you feel better, I’ve put a big ol’ picture of my dumb flinch face right at the top of the article. So, egos aside, let’s look at how to cure a flinch so we can start shooting better.

Defining Flinch

Once you’ve come to terms with the tragic truth that your shooting may at least occasionally be affected by flinching, the next step is to understand what exactly we mean by the term “flinch”, and why it’s detrimental to marksmanship:

Fixing the Flinch

Whether it’s a recoil anticipation or flinching after the shot, there are basically two avenues to approach curing a flinch problem: mental and physical. You can wage psychological warfare on yourself and try to trick or re-condition your brain’s response to the stimulii experienced when firing a gun, or you can attack the problem at its root and try mitigating those physical stimulii. There’s not really one catch-all solution, and most people find success with a blended approach. Since the Internets always love a good list, here are eight specific tips for curing your flinch.

Mental Solutions: Train your Brain

1. Acclimate to Recoil
One of the reasons we flinch is that our brains just aren’t accustomed to recoil and muzzle blast. Rapid fire can exacerbate this problem, and the increased noise and pressure from multiple shots in quick succession can easily throw you off and cause a flinch response to start creeping in. This automatic response usually fades as you get more rounds down range and practice more frequently. If you can’t shake it after a time, try moving up to just a couple of feet from the berm and run few strings of rapid fire into the dirt. Don’t worry about aiming, just watch the slide cycle and brass eject. Look at the gun from different angles as it fires. With this exercise, you’re basically removing the pressure of firing accurately and instead, your focus is on “getting used to” the sensations associated with firing the gun.

2. Good Habits Replace Bad Habits
It’s always easier to break a bad habit by replacing it with a good habit rather than trying to make yourself not do something. Like many people, when I personally struggle with flinching, it usually comes in the form of blinking just as the shot breaks, accompanied by a slight downward movement of the muzzle. I’ve found that the best way for me to overcome this is to give my eyes another job to do so that they can’t blink. It just so happens that front sight focus is key to accurate shooting, so before I pull the trigger, I decide that I must track the movement of the the front sight at all costs. Without fail, whenever I keep this in the forefront of my mind, the blinking disappears and with it, the unwanted muzzle movement.

3. Ball and Dummy Drill
The most well-known method for trying to cure a flinch is the ball and dummy drill. It’s a good diagnostic tool, but it has some limitations that are often overlooked, which I’ve demonstrated in the video below.

The Limits of the Ball and Dummy Drill:

Physical Solutions: Tame the Gun

4. Know the Basics
No amount of mental trickery will help you get over a flinch if you have poor fundamentals, especially grip and stance. If you have a low grip or loose grip, or if you’re not leaning into the gun enough, you’re just amplifying the effects of recoil, and that can make your flinch worse. If you’re unfamiliar with the fundamentals of handgun marksmanship, check out our post on How to Shoot Faster.

5. Dry Fire Practice
It could be that you don’t actually flinch that bad, but you’re exhibiting some of the same symptoms of flinching by lack of trigger control. Try lots of dry fire practice until you can consistently squeeze the trigger without moving the sights, especially if you have a long, heavy double action trigger.

IDPA target with low-left hits
The classic sign of recoil anticipation is hits drifting low and left (or low and right for left-handed shooters). If your targets look like this, there’s a good chance you’ve developed a flinch.


6. Handgun Choice
I usually don’t like to immediately jump to “buy a different gun” as the easy fix for most problems, but sometimes that really is the best approach. A self-defense pistol has to fit your hands, and you have to be able to control it during rapid fire. Don’t rule out stepping down to a smaller caliber if it allows you to shoot the gun quicker, more accurately, and flinch-free. As an alternative to completely ditching a problem gun, modifications to the grip can go a long way, such as the addition of grip tape for added traction, or a grip sleeve to soften sharp edges.

7. Noise Reduction
If you don’t have enough hearing protection, you’re almost guaranteed to develop a flinch — I’ve noticed this especially with indoor ranges, which can be extremely loud. Make sure your ear protection has a good seal, and you can always double up and use both earplugs and muffs simulataneously. You might be surprised at how much that can help.

8. Stay Loose
There’s a fine balance between controlling the firearm and resisting the recoil. You can’t physically stop recoil from happening, and if you get tense and flex every muscle in your body from trying to do it anyway, you won’t shoot straight. Establish a good grip and just let the recoil happen. Concentrate on recovery and follow-through instead of preventing recoil from moving the gun.

These eight solutions are just some of the quickest and easiest ways to alleviate problems caused by flinching or recoil anticipation. In the long run, it will take regular, intentional practice in order to remove any flinching at all. And even then, if you ever switch to a smaller gun or larger caliber, or when you make small changes to your grip or technique, you may start struggling with some kind of flinch response all over again. The key is to resist the temptation for this normal human reflex be a source of embarrassment and discouragement. Be willing to admit when it’s an issue, and take aggressive steps in your training to overcome it and move on.


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45 Responses to “Goodbye Low and Left: 8 Ways to Cure a Flinch”

  1. Kristian Lewis

    Alyssa Codd

    Reply
  2. John Olds

    I believe number 8 should be "Stay Loose" rather than "Stay Lose".

    Reply
  3. Gunslinger Hobbs

    For everyone looking to improve their beginning. Put your egos aside, folks!

    Reply
  4. Gary Hart

    #6 Makes all the difference, at least to me. Glock 19: flinch. MilSpec 1911: No flinch.

    Reply
  5. LG Chris

    Thanks… spellchecker can't fix stupid.

    Reply
  6. Kevin Gross

    ball and dummy for me and a metric butt ton of dry fire. Hold drill works good to….

    Reply
  7. Kevin Gross

    Oh yea shoot a blank piece of paper to train front sight focus guess tomb stones kind of do that.

    Reply
  8. John Olds

    No problem and it isn't stupid. I think we train ourselves to be dependent on the tool and it comes back to bite us. Spell check can't tell the difference. "Auto-guess" on a cell phone is worse. The article was great and and on target, pun intended.

    Reply
  9. Modern Gunner

    Excellent tips! From a fellow firearms writer/editor/blinker!

    Reply
  10. Modern Gunner

    Thanks from* …apparently I shoot better than edit today.

    Reply
  11. Robert L Lapp

    Excellent info here, thanks!

    Reply
  12. Heidi At Lucky Gunner

    Thanks guys, I checked out your "Using Competition to Up Your Practice Game" series — lots of good stuff there as well!

    Reply
  13. G.i. Jones

    I disagree with #8 unless you are training for sport, life and death your body goes into "fight/flight" mode, tunnel vision sets in. I practice locking my grip in place as if I'm stressed a bit. It works for me. I also shoot better when I don't over think the shot. Shooting competitions can help build on confidence that may allow you to shoot loose in a do or die situation. I do agree with Hobbs too. Put egos aside and accept any and all input. Take what works for you and utilize it and expand on it giving others tips and tricks.

    Reply
  14. G.i. Jones

    Another good tip I can give is learn to shoot with both eyes open. Find out if your left or right eyed dominate and work on shooting both eyes open. You're also more aware of your surroundings in case there are other bad guys about.

    Reply
  15. Modern Gunner

    Thanks for reading! We're just getting started, but we're having a blast getting things going.

    Reply
  16. LG Chris

    By "stay loose" I mean don't tense every muscle in your body in an effort to physically prevent the gun from recoiling. You can have a firm grip without locking your elbows, shoulders, neck, etc.

    Reply
  17. Robert R. McBride

    Shoot more, shoot more often.

    Reply
  18. Roberto Potes

    Not much to do but to burn lots and lots of ammo

    Reply
  19. Edward Homer

    Good tips, and the films were also very helpful, thanks Ed

    Reply
  20. Rusty Morgan

    Excellent article, lots of useful information, thanks and keep em coming!

    Reply
  21. Bonnie Crayton

    Use critical instructor, practice correct technique. Don,t just waste lead.

    Reply
  22. Edward Edwards

    I know I have to work on this I am trying thank mike

    Reply
  23. Harry Cordell

    Thankyou I needed to hear that.ive been discouraged lately.and by the way thanks for having ammo when it was tough to get.email nt wking Harry in Kansas City

    Reply
  24. Doreen Louw

    Thank you

    Reply
  25. Adam Nichols

    some of us dont have a d0m eye lol

    Reply
  26. Rick Gore

    I have shot guns for over 40 years, in the military, competing, pistol and rifle teams, instructor and have carried a gun in work since I was 17. Over the years have seen lots of bad habits. The one thing that I think improves shooting, accuracy and control is Dry Firing and Trigger reset. Not understanding trigger reset is a big problem, but when you practice it and understand it, your shooting skills increase dramatically. I explained this in a video if you are not familiar with the term.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SvStfWZoTo&list=UUsgkhimI0MthrMZo-F2zrTQ

    Reply
  27. H Philip Banan

    Excellent-Thanks!!

    Reply
  28. Don L Justice

    Dry firing is hard on your gun.

    Reply
  29. Tom Courtney

    That's what snap-caps are for.

    Reply
  30. Tom Courtney

    EVERYBODY has a dominant eye. Line up your sights with both eyes open, then close one eye at a time. The eye that remains lined up, is the dominant.

    Reply
  31. Adam Nichols

    Tom Courtney actually a small % dont. it switches for me each time I try with no clear victor.

    Reply
  32. Adam Nichols

    Tom Courtney If I shoot with both eyes open it ends up in the middle of the two generally. lol

    Reply
  33. Tom Courtney

    Adam Nichols Interesting, have never ran into that. All that I have worked with have a dominant. Something to watch for!

    Reply
  34. Adam Nichols

    Tom Courtney I hear its rare and I hear you can cure it by wearing a patch. but in archery for example, I look through the peep sight with both eyes open and i cant tell which one is which when looking at the pins,. so i have to close one to line up and then open the other. its annoying lol.

    Reply
  35. Sandy Tomchik

    I've had this problem since day 1 several decades ago, except I consistently shoot high and to the right. My wife is a newly converted firearms advocate and I'd like some meaningful advice for both of us. Suggestions, flames or advice are welcome. We're not overly sensitive types.

    Reply
  36. Douglas Moore

    Good advice. Especially 1, 2, 4, 5 & 8. I know they're all good but those are the ones that helped me the most. Your mileage may vary. ;)

    Reply
  37. Michael Timura

    Isn't most low left shots from milking the grip when squeezing the trigger?

    Reply
  38. Tom Cole

    Good advice lots of good advice.

    Reply
  39. Marie Berryhill Thigpen

    Thank you……. I can't wait to work on this problem! !!! Awesome teacher!!!

    Reply
  40. Steven McVey

    As Tom said above, Snap-Caps. Nothing replaces dry fire practice, it shows all your mistakes, and in the dry fire you can get used to where your reset is at on each of your handguns. There are so many little things to learn and pay attention to, but these two help you and the improvement is dramatic at the range. If you have not done dry fire practice, to help while learning to look at the front sight, do it everyday for 1 week for just 10 to 15 minutes a day as that is about the time limit for concentrated practice and then do live fire, you will amaze yourself and your self confidence will go through the roof. Good shooting everyone.

    Reply
  41. Mary Caldwell

    I am shooting high left and am left handed.

    Reply
  42. Michael Bonner

    that's good info. since returning home from Afghanistan I have developed a bad reaction to the noise and recoil so it has damaged my aim ..will try to practice it on my next range run ..thanks

    Reply
  43. Steven Drew

    Don L Justice Not as hard as missing is the shooter in a life or death situation. Understanding that RIMFIREs and old Exposed hammer shotguns firing pins and chambers can be damaged- I have been dry firing THOUSANDS of different center fire arms for 35 plus years and have NEVER seen a good quality arm damaged by dry-firing.

    .

    Reply

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