For those who do not know, a flinch is something that happens when you try to pull the trigger. It can take two distinct forms. The first is a jerk or snatch that pulls the gun off target at the instant of firing. The second is an inability to pull the trigger and can vary between a momentary hesitation and not being able to pull it at all. To the person shooting it feels at first as if there is a problem with the gun and the shooter will complain that the trigger is “seizing up”. It often takes quite some time before the affected shooter can actually believe that he cannot pull the trigger. Many have the opinion that the cause of flinching is recoil and I often see this stated as a fact. There is no doubt that recoil induced flinching does exist and, for a small percentage of shooters, reducing recoil will cure the flinch. In my estimation however, recoil is a factor in less than 10% of all cases.
The primary cause can be summed up as “fear of failure”, which includes sub sections such as not seeing the target, pressure to shoot a score and loss of confidence. This opinion is based on having studied a large number of shooters with a flinch over the last 25+ years. I fitted my first release trigger for a customer more than 20 years ago. The release trigger is another subject though and I do not propose to cover that here, other than to comment on the fact that it is one way to overcome a flinch.
My point is that adding a recoil-reducing device or shooting lighter loads will not cure a flinch for most shooters. Short term you may find that it disappears but this is only because you have something else to think about. Once you are used to the new bit of kit your mind will return to focusing on the shooting and the flinch will return.
Fear of failure is brought on by a number of external factors, the most common of which is vision. Many shooters will shoot confidently and quickly without any problem and then suddenly flinch on a target for no obvious reason. Close observation will reveal that there was a momentary hesitation before the shooter reacted to the initial appearance of the target. The most usual cause is that the shooter did not see the target leave and this is the sequence of events that follows: Shooter calls for target; shooter fails to see the target leave the trap house; shooter hesitates and then sees the target some distance away from where he expected it to be; shooter makes a sudden wild swing after the target, catches it up and tries to pull the trigger; shooter’s brain is not happy with the visual input from the eye and believes that the result of the shot is likely to be a miss; the neural pathway to the finger is blocked and a flinch results.
The interesting thing here is that the brain seems able to both process the fire command and block it simultaneously when a “pull” trigger is involved but not when the trigger is a “release”. The only clue is that to pull a trigger requires a distinct muscular response but the release trigger is already set and firing requires relaxation of the same muscles. This must be either easier to achieve or quicker and therefore the brain is unable to block that command in time. I have seen shooters flinch using a release trigger but most of the time they seem to get it to go off without problem.
Not seeing the target leave is most often the result of not looking in the right place. Too many shooters pay scant attention to the targets of others and consequently fail to notice exactly where they should be looking to guarantee good sight of every target. Others begin well enough but, due to lack of discipline, allow their eyes to wander and find themselves looking at the gun when they should be looking in the area the target will appear.
Poor stock fit, especially too low a comb height, is another reason why some shooters have poor target acquisition skills.
Pressure to get a score is another major factor in the fear of failure mindset. I have known many shooters who have no flinch problem whatsoever whilst shooting practice but as soon as they look like building a good score in competition up pops the flinch.
Some shooters will flinch on one shooting ground but not on another. Perhaps the background is not as easy to see the targets against on one particular ground. The struggle to see the target leave causes a loss of confidence, which builds throughout the shoot. We have all struggled through a line and come off knowing that on two or three targets we were lucky because they broke even though we did not see them clearly. Perhaps your record on this ground has not been good and so you have it in mind that “I never shoot well here”. Negative thoughts lead to poor performance and your confidence is down before you even call for the first target. It is very easy to see that you are setting the groundwork for a flinch.
There is a danger that you can carry this with you to another shoot where you normally have no problem. If you struggle with the targets and experience problems it is very easy to damage confidence so that you approach the next shoot in the same frame of mind, no matter where it is. Shooting in winter with bad visibility and wind-affected targets can also be the start of lost confidence. In this situation it is probably best to take a break and let your confidence recover, as continuing may set a pattern from which you will find it impossible to come back.
The solution for any kind of flinch is to first accept that you have the problem. Identify the cause and take remedial action. Poor vision can be corrected with shooting glasses. If your vision is suspect, get an eye test, get glasses that you can shoot in and learn to do it. Don’t pussyfoot around whinging that you can’t get used to shooting with corrective glasses because that just takes practice like anything else. Trust me on this. If your vision problem is down to stock fit get it sorted. Today there is no excuse for anyone to use a stock that doesn’t fit him or her. Comb adjusters have been around since the late eighties and are hardly new anymore. If your stock is too low get the comb made adjustable and lift it up.
Low confidence and poor visual technique can be improved with the assistance of a good instructor. Find one, book a lesson and please listen to what you are told. It amazes me how many shooters pay for a lesson and then revert back to their old habits because it feels more comfortable. If you are going to take a lesson it is normally because you felt you are doing something wrong, so don’t be so arrogant as to assume that you know better than the guy giving you the lesson.
If you suspect that recoil may be your problem – and if you are getting hurt it probably is – do something about it. There is no point at all shooting a gun that hurts you. Change your cartridges, add some weight, fit a recoil reducer, whatever it takes to tame the recoil.
Flinching is a hard problem to overcome but it is not without cure. Identify the most likely cause and you are halfway towards beating it.