Flinch: The Rifle-Shooter’s Nemesis

Have you ever wondered why bullet holes are all over the target; or, worse, why you had a good sight-picture but the animal was poorly hit and escaped wounded?

The first thing to check is your rifle and sighting system. Look for loose sights or scope. Any sights, including the scope, even if not sighted in, should put the bullet holes in a group on or near the target. Try having a friend shoot the rifle to see if the results are different.

Check your ammunition to see if it was hand-loaded properly. Or it could simply be that your rifle doesn’t shoot that particular brand, bullet type or weight very well. Some rifles are more particular than others regarding ammunition. If none of these checks result in better grouping on-target, then the problem is most likely the shooter (you).

One definition for flinch is “to recoil from something unpleasant or difficult.”

That is exactly what happens when a shooter has always been or has become “recoil shy.” Often, without realizing, the shooter has become afraid of the kick of the gun. This fear is quite often the result of poor training in how to hold a gun, or (also very common) it may be that the gun does not fit the shooter. Or this fear is frequently the result of early, unpleasant shooting experiences that have been retained at a subconscious level.

Common flinch actions include jerking the trigger, closing the eyes or jerking the head and cheek away from the buttstock – any of which will result in the gun being pulled slightly off the point of aim. Everything happens so quickly that the shooter does not realize that any of these actions have taken place. Consequently, it is usually blamed on equipment.

One method of confirming a flinch is to have someone watch you shoot at a target. That person will probably be able to see you flinch by standing close to you and watching what your face and head do as you squeeze the trigger.

A never-fail method to check for a flinch is to have your companion prepare the rifle for you and hand it to you, ready to shoot. The companion will close the bolt on an empty chamber (not loaded), or load a shell into the chamber. Either way, you will not know the status of the gun. So when you squeeze the trigger on an empty chamber, you will flinch because you anticipate the gun firing. This may need to be done a few times to demonstrate that flinching is causing your problem with accuracy.

A flinch is not easy to lose, but a couple of methods will get you past your poor shooting.

The first method is to dry-fire your empty centre-fire rifle (check first, every time, to be sure your gun is unloaded). You can use Snap-Caps if you wish, but a centre-fire can be dry-fired without harm. Do not dry-fire a rimfire, as the firing pin hits the edge of the chamber and will damage it quickly.

A second effective method to stop a flinch is to practice shooting with a rimfire (because it’s inexpensive) where you focus on trigger and breath control with every shot.

These practices will help you lose the flinch.

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