As most of us are adults who no doubt have jobs, bills, and a family life that all demand large chunks of our available time every week, training can be tough to squeeze into daily life. What if I told you there was a way you could spend five minutes that would absolutely improve your shooting ability? Would you think I’m nuts or would you be interested? What if I told you that you could train in 5 minutes if you focused on the right things? What if I told you that it would help improve your follow through, your trigger press, and it would reduce your flinch if you have one from noise or recoil anticipation? You may already know the answer to what this technique is, but if you don’t…read on, friends!
Training and Learned Behavior
We’ve all heard about how important both repetition of tasks and the visualization of success is when trying to improve upon a skill, right? If you haven’t, the premise is simple. By repeating a task slowly and correctly you reinforce your “muscle memory” by teaching your brain that a specific sequence of muscular tasks will produce an expected result. This is how you develop a flinch guys. Your brain is smarter than you are! If you repeatedly fire a rifle that goes boom and rocks against your shoulder your brain builds that into your mental template for the sequence of events listed for firing a rifle. You learn to expect the recoil and the noise and that will often manifest in a flinch.
It’s normal. Even really experienced people will develop a flinch, you really can’t help it. Understanding why and how the flinch appears is important. Some people try to anticipate the recoil and will slap the trigger in an effort to prepare for the recoil and make it happen when you expect it. Others, myself included, are noise sensitive. I know for a fact because I catch myself all the time at public ranges, particularly with muzzle brakes in the next lane, the noise startles me. Understanding whether you are anticipating recoil, noise sensitive, or both, is important to correcting the response.
Reprogramming Your Brain
Just as you can teach your brain to anticipate recoil or be startled by loud noise just by firing rifles, you can correct the problems in what your body makes happen by altering the expectations programmed into your head. What am I talking about here? Dry Firing! By dry firing your rifle you can repeat the muscular sequence of events required to fire a rifle properly while avoiding the negative behavior programming that comes from the recoil and the noise. I can prove to you this works by asking you to just pay attention to how you react as you dry fire. The first few times you do it, you’re likely to flinch as the trigger breaks and the firing pin snaps forward. As you continue, and your brain learns what to expect, the flinch will go away.
How long this takes and how many repetitions depends on each individual person and just how much “programming” you’ve done through live fire. I promise you though, this does work! It has many benefits. In addition to properly programming your brain for how to perform a proper trigger press, keep your eyes open, watch the position of the reticle, etc. there are other tangible effects. You are not going to lose the sensitivity and precision you build up in your trigger finger. You reinforce the proper chain of events so when you do shoot live, you aren’t already flinching or slapping at the trigger. It’s also quick and easy to set up in your own home or yard.
Dry Firing For 5 Minutes
When dry firing, safety is absolutely critical! Make sure there is no live ammunition in the rifle, and I strongly suggest that any dry firing be done in the complete absence of live ammunition in the room. When you have verified, by visually and physically checking that the rifle is unloaded, set it up on the floor of the living room. I look through my backyard window at a small 1″ pasted target dot I put on the far end of my backyard’s fence. Focus the scope, check for parallax, do everything you would do for live fire. Focus on the reticle and concentrate on keeping it dead nuts in the center of the target as you perform your trigger squeeze. Allow the firing pin to drop, hold the trigger rearward, and be honest about any movement or flinch that you saw.
Now do it again! Then again, and again. Eventually you will smooth out any flinch that was present as your body learns not to expect noise or recoil as you pull the trigger. That’s the goal. Work on your breathing. Work on any deficiency in your technique and apply the fundamentals of marksmanship properly every time. The goal here is not to do this fast, but to do it precisely and correctly every time to build that proper “muscle memory” and really reprogram your head for what you want it to do and what you want it to expect when you go shooting.
Minimize the Damage During Live Fire
As I said, your brain is smarter than you are. As you fire live, you will start to build up sensitivity to whatever startles you as an individual again. There are ways to minimize that damage and preserve your hard work. For starters, try to spend at least as much time, if not more, on dry fire as you do during live fire. The advantage here is while you may have to do all 30 minutes of live fire in the same place, you can break up the same 30 minutes of dry fire into 5 minute sessions. Be honest with yourself with regard to what startles you. As I said, I know and fully acknowledge that I am very noise sensitive. So when I do live fire shooting, I double up on hearing protection. I use Surefire plugs and muffs if I’m in the presence of other rifles. If I’m shooting solo I still use plugs, but I also try to shoot suppressed to cut down on noise. Why? I’m noise sensitive, that’s why. If you find yourself anticipating recoil, consider a muzzle brake, or a suppressor to cut down on what startles you!
The key advantage to dry fire is in the flexibility. If you spend 30 minutes a week on live fire, you can do 5 minutes a day of dry fire and still be ahead of the curve on mental programming. By being honest about what causes startle reactions in your own body you can address the sources of the startle response in live fire. Use a muzzle brake or suppressor. Double up on hearing protection. Whatever it takes to minimize what your body reacts to in a negative way. In doing so you will need even less dry fire to stay ahead since you’ve minimized the damage being done to the proper chain of events you’ve programmed into your head!