How to Fix Anticipating the Recoil

By CTD Suzanne published on in Basics 101, Firearms, Handguns, Shooting Techniques

Every new or inexperienced female shooter I take to the gun range, even before picking up a gun asks, “How badly is it going to kick?” As soon as they ask, I know there is a high probability that hitting where they aim is going to be problematic. If you have prematurely psyched yourself up that the gun is going to hurt, you have the tendency flinch when you pull the trigger. We call this anticipating the recoil. Anticipating the recoil will negatively affect accuracy.

As a side note, I have never had a man ask me this question; I am pretty sure it has something to do with the same reasons you guys never ask for directions. Just to let you know, flinching or anticipating recoil—the technical term is heeling—is an extremely normal and incredibly common issue, even for experienced shooters. One of the reasons why we flinch is our subconscious reaction to the mechanical actions of the gun when pulling the trigger.

Anticipating the gun’s recoil, may cause you to push the gun forward, break your wrist up or down, or tighten your grip on the gun. I have even seen people close both eyes! You may not even be aware you are doing these things. To get an unofficial assessment, you can print out our free shooting diagnostic targets to analyze the problems you are having hitting bullseye. Another way to determine if you are flinching is an instructor favorite—the Ball and Dummy drill.

Picture taken from behind a woman shooting a handgun.

Anticipating the recoil is an extremely normal and incredibly common issue—even for experienced shooters. Photo courtesy Brent Danley

Ball and Dummy Drill

Have an experienced shooting partner load your pistol’s magazine or revolver’s cylinder with both dummy rounds or snap caps and live ammunition randomly. When performing the Ball and Dummy Drill, do not concern yourself with speed, but instead focus on proper grip, stance and in particular your sight alignment and trigger control. If you are having issues with heeling, you will see the gun go off target when you hit the dummy round. Have your friend take note of where they inserted the snap caps. Have your friend confirm the fail to fire was a snap cap instead of a malfunction in the gun.

I’m sure you are saying, “That’s great, Suzanne, but how do I fix it?” Regardless if you are a new, seasoned, male or female shooter, try these five tips to overcome anticipating the recoil of your gun.

1. Relax

Guns are not something to be afraid of; however, I completely understand a new shooter’s hesitation the first time at the gun range. Humans tend to fear the unknown, particularly in situations in which they feel they have no control. When we get afraid, our bodies respond involuntarily and put us in fight or flight mode. Our heart beats quicker, our breathing becomes shallow and our muscles tense up in preparation for having to flee a particular situation. This reaction has the potential to turn anyone into a horrible marksman. If you work yourself up at the gun range, it is important to relax and breathe normally. Make sure you or the new shooter you are with is 100 percent comfortable with the golden rules of firearm safety, take time to get used to the noise, or try shooting at an outdoor range inside of an inside range where the environment may be louder. Shooting is supposed to be fun, so shake off the nerves and take some slow deep breaths. For more pointers on how to beat nerves, read, “It’s Okay to be Nervous.”

2. Proper Stance

Though you might have the inclination to lean away from the gun before you pull the trigger, this incorrect stance will not help your body favorably respond to the gun’s recoil. In fact, to aid in being able to handle the recoil better, you need to lean into the gun. Leaning into the gun, with a correct center of balance means your entire frame will absorb the recoil. For a good, basic, stance, start by directly facing the target. Place your feel about shoulder width apart, relax your knees slightly, bring your arms up in front of you, and then lean forward. This should help. To learn more about proper stance read, “Managing Recoil with the Correct Stance.

3. Take the Pressure Off

Next time you are at the gun range, switch your focus from accuracy to form. Instead of shooting at a traditional bullseye target, put up a blank piece of paper or paper plate. Birchwood Casey’s IPSC targets and Champion’s FBI Q targets have no rings. This takes the pressure off. Don’t worry about your shooting groups, or how close you hit inside the bullseye ring. Mastering the fundamentals—grip, stance, trigger control, and sight alignment—and becoming familiar with your handgun comes first. After you have these down and feel comfortable with shooting and operating your gun, then you can practice for accuracy. If you need a little cheerleading, read “Discouraged? Stop Comparing Yourself!

4. Dry Fire

Dry firing is the act of training with your handgun without using live ammunition. You may dry fire at home using snap caps or dummy rounds. Snap caps do not contain powder or a projectile and allow you to fire your gun without damaging it. Your gun will function similar when using snap caps as it does with live ammunition, except the action will not cycle. Snap caps also do not produce a muzzle blast or sound. Dry fire practice is excellent for perfecting your trigger technique. Practice at least four times a week for 20 to 30 minutes each time to develop the proper muscle memory and work on the foundations of shooting. For more details on dry fire practice, read “What to do When the Ammo has Gone: Dry Fire Drills.”

5. Practice

You know what they say about learning to ride a bike. Well, the shooting sports are not like that. It is a learned skill; one you can lose. Without regular practice, training, discipline and dedication your shooting skills can weaken by 20 percent in just one week. The more familiar, confident and comfortable you are with your gun, the better shooter you will be.

I also encourage you to get proper training; take classes or attend a workshop. The more practice you get, the more you will be able to overcome anticipation and anxiety.

How do you overcome the anticipation of recoil? Share your successful tips in the comment section.

Do you have more questions? The following blog posts focus on women new to the shooting sports

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Comments (6)

  • G$

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    I have a decent trick for this; at least it has served me well. Mentally create a loud, startling moment in your mind just before you shoot. So, inhale, tense up, and whisper “BANG” to yourself just before you squeeze the trigger. Pretend as if, when you say “Bang”, the gun has fired. Allow it to startle you. Imagine jumping 10 feet off the ground in reaction. Then easily but quickly exhale while pulling the trigger. The idea is to make the actual trigger pull anti-climactic. So it should be inhale-whisper “BANG!”, exhale and squeeze almost immediately following the word bang.

    Above all, you need be sure you are on target the whole time. When you whisper bang, don’t jerk the trigger, just allow yourself to feel tension. Be aware of where you are pointing, but just use your imagination to create a scary event before you fire, and then exhale and squeeze the trigger before your brain realizes the “BANG” was not real. Does this make sense? Hope so.

    Reply

  • Charles

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    I trained myself well using the penny trick during dry fire training. Balance a penny on the front sight and squeeze the trigger. If it falls you jerked. The idea is to not let it fall off.

    Reply

  • Ryan

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    I like to add 4 rounds to my 44 mag revolver, 3 grouped together, 1 chamber empty, 1 by itself, and the final chamber empty. I then roll the cylinder hard. I then hit record on my phone and take a video. You can then look at your empty shot as compared to a point in the background to see if you flinched. You can use the trick above with snap caps and a friend as well, but seeing the video for yourself is extremely helpful.

    Reply

  • Jarhead 80

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    Any one have info and or experience with the Russian made Tulammo particular in .45 FMJ rounds. Does the Teflon coated steel rounds have any adverse effects on the barrel other than what copper coated rounds do?

    Reply

    • Some Guy

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      Jarhead 80. I have shot plenty of tul in 9mm .40S&W and .223. I have only ever had one malfunction with this ammo which I am fairly certain was the result of a short stroke which led to the failure to eject in my 9mm glock. I was also having an off day that day and may have limp wristed it causing the malfunction. In my opinion it is perfectly good ammo for target practice on the cheap, but be forewarned! It is very dirty ammo and you will most certainly want to clean it with a solvent ASAP after target practice.

      Reply

  • Jarhead80

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    Some Guy: thanks for info on Tulammo. I have a thing about Russian made ammo. Prefer to use USA .My Glock guru in Tucson frowns on Tul but thinks the Russian Golden Bear or Silver Bear is less problematic. I bought 500 rds of Silver Bear and will try that out shortly. Been using Amscor FMJ and Winchester Target with no problems in my G36. I clean after each range date I suppose its because I am expecting my old D.I.to show up to inspect the piece.

    Reply

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