Throwback Thursday: How To Stop Anticipating Recoil

man firing usp pistol at target in indoor shooting range

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.

Woman Shooting Handgun

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.

Shooting from a pistol. Reloading the gun. The man is aiming at the target. Shooting range recoil

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.

woman shooting handgun at range recoil

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.

A man is practicing shoot gun recoil

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.

Man holding gun aiming pistol in hand ready to shoot. The criminal robber or gangster thief concept

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.

A hand of man practicing firing using a Glock gun model at the shooting range.  Fire glock hand gun.

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.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (19)

  1. @SGT. DAVIS: That grip which you disparage is called the “thumbs forward” grip and has been a standard and preferred way to grip a pistol for many, many years now. Practically all trainers are teaching it, since it is a solid grip that greatly reduces muzzle flip and allows for rapid follow-up shots. Go to a USPSA or IDPA shoot and see how many shooters are NOT using that same grip. I’ll wager there will be very few. I’ve shot well over 30,000 rounds using that same grip and have not had any issue whatsoever with my injuring my thumbs, slide lock, or causing a malfunction. I even use it with my revolvers, and have never burned a thumb or received any other injury. Until such time you try the thumbs forward grip yourself, you might consider withholding criticism of it. It makes you look uninformed.

  2. The photo of the pissy looking chick with a Glock… I’m sure she’s mad because A: she’s wewring a Canadian Tuxedo. B: She’s got a Glock in her hands. Aside from that WTF is that grip she’s trying to hold…?! Who told her that was okay?! Her support and strong hand thumbs would drag a** on the slide not to mention the slide lock issues that would come with that… Guess it’s a good way to introduce malfunctions… train on… 🤦🏼‍♂️

  3. Many years ago, when I was young and had a shiny new Colt Gold Cup .45 ACP pistol, for which I had even made some reloads, I was shooting very poorly with it. I went shooting with an older coworker who happened to be an NRA certified firearms instructor, as well as some other older guys at work who most definitely knew how to shoot well. I asked one of the older guys, a crack pistol shot, to shoot my Gold Cup with my ammo and see if the problem was my gun, or maybe my ammo. He printed the sort of neat, tight groups one might expect from a target pistol. Then, my instructor friend asked me to hand him my pistol while he loaded it for me. He secretly gave it back to me with an empty chamber, and I “fired” it at the target. To my amazement, I flinched, badly, even though the hammer came down on an empty chamber. I never forgot that lesson. He then taught me better ways to grip the weapon, and to this day, I do not flinch from recoil, either shooting a handgun or a rifle (although a PAST recoil shield helps with the long guns!) Anticipating recoil is something we should never dismiss or take for granted. Great article, thank you!

    1. John A,
      Similar to your experience, a buddy of mine and I used to load magazines for each other with one or more snap caps in them. It forced the shooter to slow down and make each shot deliberate without flinching, lest you endure the laughing and ridicule from your shooting partner. It took a little time, but significantly improved our shooting. ~Dave

  4. I am and have been a pistol instructor, active duty competitor, classified IDPA, Precision Bullseye, Distinguished pistol shot. successful training starts with 2 stages of dryfire before supervised live fire, basically: stage 1, dryfire at a blank wall until you see the front sight has no movement on the snap; stage 2, put a black dot on the wall, dry fire on that as your target. calling the shot for good sight alignment/picture. step 3, ball-n-dummy rimfire revolver. the .22LR revolver is the best live fire training tool know to man. load all cylinders with different counts of live and spent ammo. sometimes only 1 live round, spin the cylinder and close. watch your student break the shot, centered, on a 2’x2′ blank piece of paper set up at 10yd. simply firing into a berm or the ground will give you no feedback. the blank paper will show you stringing, arching, wobble, incorrect sight alignment, etc. assess, coach, correct for the various problems. I’ve had personnel unable to qualify initially but with my basic methodology, I’ve never had a single failure. and some have also gone on to become CMP Distinguished.

  5. A next step up from dry fire practice is targetless live fire. Just aim at the same general spot on the naked backstop and fire away. Accuracy is taken completely out of the equation (there isn’t even a target to see where you hit!), and you practice entirely for proper grip, stance, form, and follow-through. I got this idea after test-firing a lot of cleaning and repair jobs to check function, and noticing a marked improvement in my shooting sessions at home.

  6. I am an experienced shooter and have fired countless rounds down range (hundred thousand +?). I have shot in competetion and attended some of the worlds finest shooting schools. I STILL flinch and anticipate recoil nearly every time I shoot (at the beginning). I quickly settle down (few shots) but now I just own it and go with it. I always attempt to warm up prior to shooting and that involves firing off a few rounds to get rid of the “jitters”. I certainly am not afraid of shooting nor recoil–I think it is adrenaline?

  7. All of these tips are good ideas. I would add one more. I emphasize follow-through (trigger reset). Shooters who press/pull the trigger and release it quickly are anticipating the recoil. I watch for this when instructing others. I tell them to hold the trigger back for a moment before releasing it. This delay keeps the pistol steady at the moment of firing and has the shooter thinking about something other than anticipated recoil.

  8. Beside dry fire,fire less rounds more frequently over time.With a 44Magnum,firing 6 rounds every week over an entire summer really improved my accuracy.
    Also the NRA has a diagnostic sheet explaining what your target pattern means re your defective techniques

  9. 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 show up to inspect the piece.

  10. 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?

    1. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

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