Every new or inexperienced female shooter I take to the gun range, even before picking up a firearm 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 to 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 use shooting diagnostic targets to analyze the problems you are having hitting the bullseye. Another way to determine if you are flinching is an instructor favorite — the Ball and Dummy drill.
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 failure to fire was a snap cap instead of a malfunction in the gun.
I’m sure you are saying, “That’s great, 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.
Tip #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.
Tip #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 feet about shoulder-width apart, relax your knees slightly, bring your arms up in front of you, and then lean forward. This should help.
Tip #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 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.
Tip #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 similarly 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.
Tip #5: Practice
You know what they say about learning to ride a bike. Well, 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.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in June of 2021. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.