Firearms
Fix the Flinch [FIREARMS]

Fix the Flinch [FIREARMS]

Disclaimer

This blog post and other content on this website DOES NOT constitute or form an instructor-student relationship between the author (me) and the reader (you). Online education can only supplement in-person formal instruction, it cannot replace it. It is your responsibility to understand the firearm laws in your area and to follow the Firearms Safety Rules.

Shot Anticipation

Shot anticipation (flinching) is the natural reaction most people have when they pull the trigger of a firearm. It is the involuntary “dipping” of the muzzle just before the shot breaks. In my experience, it is the most common reason people miss the target.

During live fire, shot anticipation is difficult to detect, due to the violent recoil of the firearm that occurs milliseconds after the anticipation. Shot anticipation can sometimes be misdiagnosed as poor trigger control. However, after having a new shooter perform a few iterations of dry-fire with no sight disturbance, the low hits on target will persist during live fire.

This is because shot anticipation is psychological, not mechanical.

Over the years, I have noticed that shot anticipation is learned and typically only occurs with someone who is familiar with when their trigger “breaks”. By trigger break, I am referring to the point in the trigger press at which point the gun is fired. If I were to hand a gun with an unfamiliar trigger pull to a new shooter, and had them obtain a proper sight picture at a target, then told them to SLOWLY press the trigger to the rear while maintaining that sight picture, it is very unlikely they would anticipate the shot because they are unfamiliar when that shot is going to occur. 

You have probably heard someone say that the shot should surprise you. The reason this is taught is to mitigate shot anticipation. However, it does not take many shots with a particular firearm before you can predict just where in the trigger pull the gun fires. Once you know this point (consciously or subconsciously) you begin to prepare for the inevitable explosion and loud noise that will occur three feet from your face. 

 

Recoil Desensitization

I believe that there are times when telling a new shooter that the shot should surprise them is effective; however, there are many times when you need to know how to fire a gun at the moment you need it fired and not some mysterious period after you begin pressing the trigger. 

Imagine if someone only ever learned to “let the shot surprise them” and they needed to use that firearm in a defensive scenario. Now, I don’t think anyone would slowly press their trigger such that the shot would surprise them in a defensive scenario. So why train them this way if there are better options?

Therefore, I like to advocate for desensitizing shooters to recoil.

Some have suggested that dry-fire can help with shot anticipation, but I disagree entirely. Dry-fire is great for drilling the fundamentals and mechanics of firearms manipulation; however, it does not address the psychological component of shot anticipation.

The most effective means, as far as I am aware, for fixing shot anticipation is to not let the student know whether the gun is going to go bang or go click. This is accomplished using a “Ball and Dummy” drill.

Ball and Dummy Drill

What it is

A Ball and Dummy drill utilizes dummy rounds or “snap-caps”. Snap-caps are inert bullet shaped training aids that load into the magazine and feed into the firearm just like ordinary cartridges. However, dummy rounds have no propellant and will not fire like a real cartridge when struck by the firing pin. The “Ball” in Ball and Dummy refers to the live cartridge. Ball is an esoteric gun term for a full-metal-jacket bullet. However, I like to think of it as Ball standing for Ballistic. As in, Ballistic round (live round) and Dummy round.

Ball and Dummy drills can be an exceptionally effective means for diagnosing shot anticipation. It can also be used for malfunction drills. 

Dry Fire Dummy Round
Ball and Dummy Drill For Hybrid Dry Fire Training

Diagnostic Phase

The drill involves loading dummy rounds into the magazine along with live ammunition. It may be obvious at this point, but this drill must be done in a live fire training environment. This is not a dry-fire drill. 

Before introducing a live round, the partner (Loader) should ensure that the shooter can press the trigger without disturbing the sights. This has to be done in a way that the shooter thinks there is a possibility of a live round being fed. Otherwise, it’s just dry-fire from a mental perspective for the shooter. 

For initial diagnosis, load the magazine such that the dummy rounds feed only after a few live rounds (3-5 live rounds and then a dummy round). This is to ensure that the shooter’s brain has shifted from dry-fire response to live-fire response. 

Each time the shooter gets a “click”, they should smack the bottom of the magazine, cycle the slide, aim in, and attempt to fire (tap, rack, bang). The shooter should not know when the dummy round will feed, but their partner should and should be counting and aware of when to observe the front sight post for movement. 

When the dummy round eventually loads, the partner should watch the front sight post and notice if it “dips” down. If this dipping occurs here, but was not occurring previously during warm up, the shooter just anticipated the shot. 

Diagnostic Phase Example Loadout

  • Dry Fire just to warm up and ensure overall good mechanics and no sight disturbance due to trigger control issues.
  • Dummy – sight dip
  • Dummy – sight dip
  • Dummy – sight dip
  • Coach them
  • Dummy – less dip
  • Dummy – no dip (Brain has transitioned to dry-fire response)
  • Dummy – no dip
  • Dummy no dip
  • BALL
  • Dummy – Bad dip (Brain has transitioned to live fire response)
  • Coach them
  • Etc.

Progression

Optimally, you would have a friend or a coach loading your magazines in a manner that would gradually and systematically adjust the ratio of Ball to Dummy. 

If you are the “Loader” for this drill, start off by only giving them dummy rounds until there is consistently no front sight dip. Then load a live round towards the bottom of the next magazine. If they have not been disturbing the sights and have been obtaining a solid sight picture, the bullet should impact in the X. It is crucial that the following shot after the live round be a dummy round.

For this portion, the magazine loadout should be the opposite of the diagnostic phase. I.e. (3-5 dummy rounds and then a live round).

Progression Example Loadout

  • Dummy – Dip
  • Coach them
  • Dummy – less dip
  • Dummy – no dip (Brain has relaxed back into dry-fire response)
  • Dummy – no dip
  • BALL
  • Dummy – dip
  • Coach them
  • Dummy – less dip
  • Dummy – no dip
  • Dummy – no dip
  • Dummy – no dip
  • BALL 
  • BALL 
  • Dummy – dip
  • Coach them
  • Etc.

Ratio Shift

Initially, the Loader should introduce a live round on a rare occasion, but towards the end of the training session, the drill should consist mostly of live rounds with only a few dummy rounds. This shift in ratio will vary shooter to shooter and will have to be adjusted up or down as the drill progresses. As the drill prowesses, you may notice them missing the target or their front sight dipping often, if so, use more dummy rounds with fewer live rounds as needed.

A Note On Recoil Mangagement

No matter how good your grip is, there will always be a need to drive your sights back down on target to shoot accurate and fast. Yes, having a stellar grip minimizes the amount of muzzle flip that occurs, but you still have to recruit fast twitch muscle fibers in order to drive your sights back on target. Optimally, the timeline of events would be as follows:

  1. Prep trigger
  2. Press trigger until shot breaks
  3. Shot breaks
  4. You drive your sights back on target
However, sometimes step 4 can gradually inch its way closer and closer to step 3 until the following occurs:
  1. Prep trigger 
  2. Press trigger until shot breaks
  3. You drive your sights down (shot anticipation)
  4. Shot breaks
Notice how 3 and 4 are inverted, meaning that your sights are moving milliseconds before the shot breaks. The key is to be able to manage recoil only AFTER the shot breaks, because if it occurs before, it is called shot anticipation. 

What does this mean?

Ball and Dummy drills are not just a drill you perform once. This drill is for the novice and the expert. For the novice, it teaches them to not flinch before the shot. For experts, it teaches them not to switch steps 3 and 4.

Training

I encourage you to go shooting, preferably with a buddy, and incorporate this drill into your range time. Share this post with them ahead of time so the two of you can coach each other. Below are some inexpensive Training Aids you can use:

Affiliate Disclosure

We receive a small commission if you purchase using the product links at no extra cost to you. 

Until next time...

Train To A Higher Standard!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.