The number one cause of missed shots on the hunting range is flinching. I have seen many hunting seasons come and go, shot many elk and deer, and led hunters to several hundred more. I have helped many hunters recognize and then overcome their flinch, with the result that they become deadly accurate shots both in the range and on the field.
Do you think you don’t have a shudder? If so, you are wrong. Each shooter possesses his own flinch. Poor shooters allow their flinch to possess them. Good shooters keep theirs under lock and key.
Here’s the thing; the human body and brain are not made to have an explosion go off right in front of them, or to be slapped on the shoulder and cheek, without reacting. When those things happen over and over again (as a result of some action of yours, like pulling a trigger), your body and brain learn to avoid the concussion and hit by closing your eyes, scrunching up your face, tensing your muscles, and pushing your shoulder against anticipated recoil. All of these actions/reactions negatively affect accuracy.
I remember a 16-year-old who had drawn one of the best moose labels on this green earth. He felt that he was a pretty good shot, but that his rifle was inconsistent. I took it shooting and immediately saw a shudder. I mentioned it to him and he respectfully told me that he was pretty sure he didn’t flinch. So I told him to shoot another group very carefully, and that he would drop one round into the stock of his Browning for each shot so he wouldn’t have to break his position. After the first shot I faked it and did not load a cartridge. He settled in, took a breath, and executed one of the most classic, massive shudders I’ve ever seen. The rifle didn’t fire, but it pushed everything out of position with the shudder of him. He slowly turned to look at me, his eyes as big as silver dollars. It was the first time he had met the flinch from him. With careful training, he mastered it and went on to harvest an absolutely magnificent old bull elk.
know your flinch
If you have a missing problem, the first step to fixing it is recognizing what you’re doing wrong. Ask a friend to help you and load (or not) your firearm. Ask him to trick you in about 50 percent of the shots, mixing them up and keeping them unpredictable. You will know very quickly if you are flinching. When you No If he flinches, his eyes will remain open, the weapon and his body will remain completely still, and his crosshairs will remain locked on target during and after the click. (By the way, any bolt-action rifle is safe to dry-fire, as long as it’s not a rimfire.)
If you find symptoms of a wince (twitching, eyes closed, pulling the trigger, pushing your shoulder forward), let me introduce you to your own wince. Here’s how to tame that little goblin and put him in chains and behind bars.
arresting your flinch
The first step in controlling your shivering is talking to your mind and body. This may sound silly, but when you consider the fact that firing a gun won’t actually harm your body or brain, then it will be easier to remain still and calm during the Big Bang. cast it is Fact: Kickback can hit you in the shoulder and cheek, but it won’t actually hurt you*. Neither will the noise, as long as you wear hearing protection. No injury will occur. None. Let your brain and body in on this hitherto unrevealed information.
Next is dry fire practice. Learn (or relearn) how to pull the trigger. Do this with your rifle empty and in a super stable position, like upside down or on a shooting bench. Use a shooting bag or bipod for support. Establish a solid position, relax and release any muscular tension in your body. Take a couple of deep breaths, then pull that trigger slowly. So slowly that it surprises you when it breaks. Keep your body relaxed, eyes open, and watch the sight through the snap. They must not move.
Here are a couple of little pro techniques that will help you establish a stable position and execute a proper squeeze. Use a buttstock: place a small shooting bag or rolled up sock under the stock, held and adjusted with your left hand (right for left-handed shooters). Now, train your trigger finger to use the correct form: instead of crooking your finger like someone sexy waving you into the bedroom, make a right angle with your trigger finger as shown in the photo below. Place the first pad of that finger on the trigger and press it straight toward the stock, keeping your finger in its right angle position. That way you won’t be twisting the rifle out of position while pressing. Lastly, not “Flick the Booger”. In gentler terms, don’t immediately remove your trigger finger once it breaks. Hold the trigger for at least half a second after the snap.
Once you’ve mastered proper trigger pull, you should practice dry-fire extensively, starting with solid positions like prone, then transitioning to sitting, kneeling, and standing. Always look at your crosshairs, they will tell you if you are executing a good trigger pull or not. Simply put, they need to constantly stay on target throughout the click. Without exceptions.
The legendary WDM “Karamojo” Bell, one of the greatest hunters of the 19th century.the century, stated that he believes that dry-fire practice is undoubtedly the best way to become a better shooter. I agree. When I’m practicing for a high-profile hunt, I try to dry-fire several hundred times a day in the weeks leading up to the hunt.
Now, it’s time to add live fire. But not every time, keep guessing by having a friend load (warm or not) his rifle one cartridge at a time. He closes his eyes so you won’t know if he’s loading the gun or not. Then take a proper shot, just like you did when you practiced with dry fire. Your brain will always think the rifle is going to fire, but the occasional click of the empty chamber will keep you aware and honest. Slowly, as you master your shudder more completely, remove the hot item or not. If you start having problems, go back to the dry fire practice and the hot or not practice. Sometimes it takes constant training to keep the shudder under lock and key.
mental and physiological strength
I’ve seen great shooters melt under pressure like ice cream in a scorching sun. Most commonly, this happens when an unexpectedly large game animal turns up out of the blue. Honestly, I’d be lying if I said it had never happened to me. I remember once a group of big male mules jumped right under my feet. I was quick to make a proper mess of things and missed the top dollar twice at relatively close range. I finally came to my senses, took several deep breaths and shot the male dead. It was a good learning experience.
The best way I know of to avoid such a meltdown is to practice a lot of game shooting – predators and small game are great for this. Second, visualize events involving large animals and photograph them perfectly. Olympic athletes use visualization for training purposes; it is a proven technique for training the mind. The key is to “see” those events unfold: the game showing up, you getting into position and pulling the trigger, and a well-placed shot hitting the animal. In theory, your brain isn’t really good at deciphering between visualization and reality, so visualization helps make you good at dealing with the pressure of an intense opportunity. Just make sure you “feel” the pressure and then accept it appropriately (take a nice calm shot) during your visualizations.
Physiologically, the best thing you can do to calm your nerves when the pressure is on is to breathe. Dr. David Grossman, an expert in high-stress training for military Special Forces and law enforcement, teaches a breathing technique that actually helps calm nerves, lower heart rate, and control adrenal response. Practice this technique ahead of time and it will come in handy if you start to fall apart during a high-pressure encounter.
Inhale counting constantly: 1, 2, 3, 4.
Hold the position for a steady count of four.
Exhale while counting to four.
Repeat as needed.
You’ll be amazed at how well this breathing technique will calm your frazzled nerves. Use it any time your wife is about to have a baby, or someone scares you with a clown mask, or when you need to do a high-profile shot.
Hearing and shudder protection
I have added this information for two reasons; First, because shooting without hearing protection can add a significant recoil factor. Some experts claim that 60 percent of a shooter’s flinch response comes from the sound produced by a gunshot. The second reason I always advocate hearing protection is to prevent hearing loss. Many old shooters and hunters I know are nearly deaf, mainly because in the past hearing protection was uncommon, and they were even sometimes ostracized. Don’t make that mistake: wear good hearing protection. You’ll shoot better and be better able to hear a bull moose bugle or a turkey gobble during your golden years.
*Author’s note: Shooting an ill-adjusted rifle with the scope too close can injure you. The scope’s eyepiece lens will make a small circular incision in your unsuspecting eyebrow or nose as it absorbs most of the recoil. Make sure your rifle fits you properly and that the eye relief on your scope is properly adjusted to suit your physique.