You sight down the barrel at a target only 12 feet away.
You know you must make the shot, or risk losing big time.
You slowly squeeze the trigger, intent on hitting the target.
You blink at the discharge, ride the recoil and look at the target… still there, still pristine. It stands there mocking you.
Your pals laugh at the bet you just lost, and you wonder, “How in the world did I miss that thing at 12 feet?”
I’ll tell you how. You flinched. You anticipated the recoil and dipped that barrel down to offset its effect.
You shot the floor…
What’s Going On Here?
Odds are that the very first time you shot a hand gun that you hit the target fairly close to your point of aim. If you had someone helping you out with the basics, you had a decent sight picture, stance and basic control. What you did not have was the experience of recoil. I’ll also bet that your aim worsened as the session wore on. As you became more familiar with the rapid succession of events involved in firing a gun, your confidence was tempered by the fear of recoil. Each action you took to increase your proficiency and strengthen your technique was met with an annoying action & reaction. In order to control your environment, you automatically tried to control the recoil. The result was a dipping muzzle, and wandering impact points.
Here is the basic sequence of events that plays out during the shot. The shooter will:
- ID the target. For instance, a paper target stuck to a backer at 15 feet.
- Align his sights with the center of the target.
- Take the weapon off “safe” and move his trigger finger from the outside of the guard to the trigger itself.
- Verify sight placement.
- Slowly squeeze (or “pull”) the trigger.
- Maintain constant pressure until the weapon discharges.
- Follow through with the squeeze completely and ride out the recoil.
The time between the initiation of the squeeze and the discharge can vary depending on the skill of the shooter and the mechanics of the weapon. It is during this time that the natural function of thinking about the next step or event will tempt a shooter to push down against the soon-to-rise muzzle. It is a natural reaction to the expectation of steel rising up to meet facial features.
There are a few ways to train against this. Some shooters put themselves into a frame of mind to desire the recoil, to want it and to like it. For them, it is a reward for a well placed shot. It doesn’t scare them anymore – it becomes part of the joy of performing well. This frame of mind has to be developed through practice, through altered expectations. Any exercise that conditions the mind to a desired outcome requires a special discipline. Avoiding the harsh meeting of gun and face goes against this. Ultimately, though, the shooter needs to progress in this direction far enough to at least view the event in a neutral fashion. Diving in face first with a smile is one way.
A second method has proven to be successful for the recoil-adverse, and provides some secondary benefits. It is called “dry firing”.
Dry Fire Training
The dry fire is a shot sequence like the one described above, but with no ammunition in the weapon. The hammer falls on an empty chamber, and there is no discharge and no recoil.
I’ll stop here to spell out a warning. You must verify that the weapon is unloaded before you begin the practice. Make a conscious effort to remove all ammunition from the chamber, magazine and the room in which you are training. Limit yourself to one magazine, and clear it. I would check each item at least twice, and if someone is with you, have them check the weapon’s chamber, magazine and the room as well. Do NOT even think about training without completing these steps first. They are not preparatory – they are part of the training. Without safety in mind, a shooter has no business handling a firearm.
Remember these two rules and you’ll do better than most yahoos.
- Every firearm IS LOADED, even when it isn’t. Treat them all as dangerous devices.
- Don’t ever point it at anything or anyone except for the target.
If you can’t remember the traditional rules for safety, these two will keep you out of most problems.
Steps to establishing a safe dry fire training environment.
- Clear the room and practice position of distracting items
- Lay out the handgun and its single magazine on the counter, table, mat etc. before you
- Lock the slide open, and check the chamber is empty from the breech, NOT the muzzle
- After verifying the chamber is empty, work the slide full travel a couple times and lock it open, then lay the weapon down
- Verify the single magazine is empty, and that there are no others in the room
- (A good practice is to have a gutted magazine for practice, and colored in some way to make it distinctive)
- Go through the routine again, or have a second person perform these steps
Once these important safety training and operating steps are completed, you may begin.
The obvious differences between dry and live fire practice is the solitary click as the hammer falls on an empty chamber, and the lack of recoil. This creates a different environment allowing for some retraining of expectations.
When the trigger breaks and the hammer falls, keep your eye open. Work to keep the front sight on the target. Try not to blink, and follow all the usual steady hold techniques. You goal is to minimize the barrel movement with each “click”. If your flinch is severe, this will take some time. Eventually, the only movement you will experience is that which comes with breathing, fatigue, errant thoughts, etc…. As you practice in this manner, you will reinforce in your mind that new pattern of “squeeze, click, breath”. With no recoil, the flinch will diminish.
This new experience will override your flinch at the range by sheer force or regularity. Dry fire practice sequences can outnumber live fire if you want them to. At home, you can practice dry firing all you want. It will establish new habits, and help build a desire to ignore the recoil as a danger or inconvenience.
Aside from reinforcing your stance, and firing methods and techniques, dry firing saves you cash. Ammunition isn’t cheap, and range time costs a few bucks as well. Practicing at home is free in every sense of the word. No ammo, range fees, gas, drive time, replacement targets or after-shoot pizzas. Well, some pizza delivered to the house isn’t really a bad idea. Because of its inherent convenience, you can practice this way every day, as long as you like. Just remember to practice the safety rules along with the firing techniques.