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« All guns are always loaded | Main | Now that you’ve bought your first firearm, what do you do with it? »

September 21, 2003

Flinch or the phobic reaction to recoil

This is a Tip on Flinch by Matt Burkett as noted in the links and copyright below.

Matt is a professional competitive shooter and instructor. He is a helluva nice guy and I consider him my friend. I've purchased training from him and had beers with him. I HIGHLY recommend his training services if you are interested in getting better in the action shooting sports. He gives his phone number at the end of this "tip" and he will answer your questions and be glad to talk to you.

This tip is appropriate for shooters of all skills.

- Marc - Lay Lines

Flinch or the phobic reaction to recoil
By Matt Burkett ©
Flinch is the subconscious reaction to the noise/recoil/fit of a firearm. Notice that I said subconscious. It is any uncontrollable action prior to the gun going off. Understand that it is nothing to be embarrassed about. It is something that can be overcome much like any phobia. The conscious part of the equation is the fear of the gun firing. The worst flinch I have seen was a guy shooting a .300 Winchester Magnum. He would close his eyes about two seconds before he pulled the trigger! That definitely didn’t help him hit the target. In fact, he didn’t even come near it.

Now flinch is different than recoil control. Recoil control or “timing the firearm” as I call it, happens as the gun is firing. There is only a few hundredths of a second difference but the difference in the effects on your shooting are incredible.

If you have never seen how the sights lift in recoil, you have been closing your eyes. IE flinching. Another thing to check for is to work on group shooting. If your shooting a 4” group off hand at 15 yards your most likely not flinching. If that group opens up with several flyers, you may be having an issue. If you can’t keep them on the target you are having a real problem.

Lets take a look at the different things that contribute to flinch and see if we can help you with some drills to work through this problem.

Face it, loud noises scare us and cause a reaction. Its not normal for people to have an explosion happen in front of their face and not jump, blink, or have their muscles uncontrollable contract. We need to train, focusing on overcoming the body’s physical and psychological reaction to the noise.
How do we go about doing that? Well let’s start with a gun that doesn’t make as much noise or even an air pistol. Learn some of the basics of shooting on a firearm, such as trigger control and sight alignment, without the distractions of the loud bang. Another thing that will significantly help will be double plugging. Using good ear plugs and a big set of ear muffs. This will help shut out the sound as it enters either the skull or the ear canal. You may want to also add a hat as this will reduce the amount of impact from the blast to the head.
Try shooting a few round safely with your eyes closed. (obviously after having checked your impact area and lined the gun up with the target) Feel what is bothering you. Is it the noise, recoil, blast??
Accepting the noise is one of the biggest things to learn. When the gun goes off focus on relaxing as much as possible. Use just enough grip strength to keep the gun from flying out of your hands. Start with a .22 rim fire and work your way up, learning to relax into the noise of each subsequent caliber.

The rule with learning to handle recoil is to start small with a gun that fits you and work your way up.
The main technique that will help you handle recoil and your flinch is proper grip and stance. The less the gun pushes you around, the less chance your going to react to the recoil. What is the gun doing in recoil? Most likely you don’t know because your eyes are closed.
Another thing that will help reduce recoil is to change your loads and reduce the weight of the recoil spring. Try working with “target” loads or reduced power loads. Focus on seeing as much as you can while the gun is going off.

Pain caused by sharp spots on the gun can cause a flinch. Several of my students have gotten rid of their flinch just by making the gun fit their hand better. Grip your gun up tightly with your hand until your knuckes and fingers change color. Now, feel the gun, whats bothering you? Let the gun go and look at the palm of your hand and fingers. Where are the marks? These are related to the spots on the gun that you will need to have a gunsmith modify for you. Getting rid of the sharp spots and edges, and you will be surprised at how much nicer it will be to shoot the gun.
If you can’t hang on to the gun, you won’t be able to shoot it well. Make sure that you have a good purchase on the gun. If your hands are slipping around, it will make it more difficult to shoot. Add skate board tape, checkering or rubber grips so that you can get a better grip.


Forcing your way to learn to shoot through a flinch. Set a target at 10 or 15 feet. Have someone check your stance and grip by standing off to the side and cycling the empty gun while your aiming it at the target. Now load the gun and shoot the magazine off as fast as you can forcing your eyes open and learning to relax into the gun and recoil. The more you tighten up your shoulders, neck, etc the worse it is.

A true surprise shot. Get into your shooting stance and have someone else pull the trigger for you. Try this both with you eyes open and closed. RELAX and see how much an incredible difference in recoil there is. The gun just flips and comes back to center.

Good luck with breaking your flinch. If you have any questions are additional idea's or suggestions, please contact me by either email or by phone at (480) 949-1553

May be reproduced as long as a link to is included.

©MattBurkett 2003

Posted by LayLines