How to Diagnose and Fix Recoil Anticipation & Flinching

Identifying & fixing recoil anticipation with this simple drill.

Some time ago, I took a friend of mine to the shooting range for her second range trip ever. I had the opportunity to take her to the range for the first time, and was fortunate enough to be able to bring her on her second trip. Like many new shooters, she was anticipating her shots and hitting low.

Anticipation is when a shooter pushes the down to counteract the gun’s recoil before the shot has actually been fired. This is very common amongst new handgun shooters. This anticipation results in low hits and is difficult to fix unless you’re paying attention to what’s going on. The more a shooter practices without addressing anticipation or flinching, the harder it is to fix.

Diagnosing anticipation and flinching

During this range trip, my friend started to show frustration for her low hits. So I had her drop the magazine, empty the gun, and pull the trigger again. Clear as day, her muzzle moved downwards in anticipation of the non-existent recoil. I asked her if she saw that and she hadn’t, so I had her do it again and to pay close attention to the front sight of her handgun. This time she saw it.

I had her dry fire the handgun a dozen or so times before loading up another magazine. Her next live fire rounds were much closer to the center of the target before.

Live fire drills to fix anticipation and flinching

If your handgun does not have a magazine disconnect, load one round into the handgun, drop the magazine, and fire two shots with a slow cadence. The first shot will obviously send a bullet down the range, but the second shot will be a dry fire shot. This immediate contrast between live fire and dry fire will help identify trigger control problems as well as illustrate potential issues with trigger control.

For both shots, don’t worry too much about the target other than ensuring all shots hit the backstop. Focus on your front sight and trigger control. Does the front sight jump around any? If so, slow down and focus more on a smooth trigger control for both shots. For the dry fire shot, the front sight should not move.

Dry fire

Dry fire practice is one of the most useful components of firearms training, especially when it comes to avoiding recoil anticipation as well as flinching. When dry firing, there is no recoil to worry about, so those bad habits go away quickly. The key is to dry fire like it is live fire. Maintain a firm grip so when there is recoil, the firm grip is there to reduce the recoil.

“Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” -Vince Lombardi Jr.

Practicing incorrectly will not fix shooting technique issues. So it is always important to self diagnose our technique. Simply videoing yourself while practicing is a great way to do this.

Laser training round

LaserLyte dry fire training tools are an excellent way to further diagnose shots. When pulling the trigger on a laser trainer, they dot will dance across the wall, showing shooting deficiencies.

However, just like with all training tools, don’t use it exclusively, or else it can cause bad habits by training shooters to look at the target, not the front sight. When used as an additional tool, not an exclusive tool, to dry fire practice, these laser trainers can be immensely useful. They certainly pay for themselves in live fire ammo very quickly!

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Brian Purkiss
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Brian Purkiss is a firearms instructor, competitive shooter, proponent for individual liberty and Second Amendment rights, and a web developer. He enjoys competing in and organizing Run and Gun Competitions, as well as shooting in USPSA, Outlaw matches, and 3 Gun.