Engaging a terrorist active shooter (TAS) is a significant step up in threat level from simple carry for self protection–especially if the shooter is armed with a long gun, has body armor, and is committed to giving his life for a cause. The risk of dying or being permanently maimed is far greater and yet most CCW holders I have spoken with say that they are willing to take on such a threat.
Will vs. Skill
I can remember during my years in law enforcement how different people responded to various life threatening or potentially violent situations. Many times I saw officers and others mill around when direct action was clearly needed. These were people who were capable in regards to training and performance and yet, when things got sticky, they hesitated.
In any given situation there will be moments when you have to make a choice that can affect your personal well-being in a negative way. It will not be your skill that makes your choice for you, it will be your will. Your will is what “gets you through the door” so to speak. Your skill, hopefully, helps you succeed and get back out again. Your will is made up of your conscious and subconscious mind and your self image. Your commitment to your values and your willingness to risk your life for them will be reflected by your decisions and actions.
The “Hunter” vs. the “Bunker” Mentality
When facing a threat, the bunker mentality reflects a desire to stay safe and protected. “I’m OK right here and if that bad guy comes, I am ready for him.” There are times when staying in a sheltered, protected spot makes sense. However, when people are being killed nearby and you have the tools, the opportunity, and the desire to protect society, then you will have to leave the bunker mindset.
Going after a terrorist active shooter requires a hunter mindset. The hunter mentality is proactive. It reflects a willingness to “go to the fight” instead of waiting for the fight to come to you. And this is where it gets sticky. When I talk about the hunter mindset, people invariably say to me, “I need more training.” I then ask, “What training do you need to have a hunter mindset?”
The hunter mindset is a life choice based on your values and priorities. You strengthen the mindset by defining your values and committing to them even at risk to your own life. Then you live them in your everyday life as part of who you are. In the end, how you respond will be a reflection of your value and priorities.
Maintaining the hunter mindset in the face of an armed threat will be a challenge. When things get hairy and you feel vulnerable, leaving cover and moving out into the open will feel like pushing against an invisible wall of gelatin. You have to force yourself to act and move through it.Remember, courage is doing what you have to do when you feel fear.
By making conscious decisions now of what you are going to do, living your values and then doing it when it counts, you can develop the hunter mindset. Decide now. Live your values in your everyday life. Stop posting on Facebook about your readiness to respond. Shut up and live it.
Guns and Gear
Guns and gear are where I find the majority of people focusing in regards to preparing for a possible active shooter situation. What gun? What caliber? Body armor? Holster? They spend endless time on an issue that is only a small component of the equation. There are many other things unrelated to your gun and gear that you should consider when preparing for a potential active shooter situation:
“Low profile” is the way to go in my opinion. Let the terrorist active shooter worry about getting shot to death suddenly and unexpectedly by a CCW holder. This is a form of terror I can endorse.
Have a first round hit mentality. Just because your gun holds 18 rounds does not mean that you will have 18 chances to get it done.
In terminal ballistics, placement, penetration, and permanent wound channel diameter matter. From any angle you can take the shot, you have to place it well and it has to go deep enough and do enough damage to stop the threat. Most ballistic gelatin tests are done at 10 feet. You may need to shoot at 50 yards or more. Is your selection capable of putting a man down for the count at extended ranges?
Are your sights and trigger adequate for making good hits rapidly at extended ranges?
Can you make head shots or hit other parts of the body if the TAS is wearing body armor?
Is your gun sighted in precisely for the ammo you are using? At what distance?
What testing have you personally done with your ammo and gun selection? Ever gone hunting with it for hogs or similar game? Reality can be a long way from controlled gelatin testing. Test your ammo yourself.
If you don’t have the courage to get close to the enemy, your gear doesn’t matter one bit.
If you carry for convenience and you have to face a bad guy with a long gun with your itty bitty pocket gun then I say “it sucks to be you.” Your choice to protect others means that you need gear that is up to the task.
Body armor to me is your strength of character that resists all attempts to intimidate you and allows you to function as the person you truly want to be. If you want to wear ceramic plates every day that is your choice.
The attacks of Paris, France, San Bernadino, California and elsewhere have galvanized the world, angered many and motivated some to start looking at their own vulnerability and preparation. The responses I hear from a wide variety of people are predictable but most of them have never taken the time to really look at the big picture before they start talking.
While active shooters are not a new phenomenon, the terrorist active shooter (TAS) in the U.S. may well be the next phase of an escalating worldwide strategy. It is important to recognize the differences between a TAS and what we have dealt with before.
The “typical” active shooter scenario involves a lone gunman intent on revenge for whatever slights or misdeeds that he feels justifies killing people. Our response is to go after the shooter ASAP and usually they kill themselves at the first sign of armed response.
The Terrorist Active Shooter
The terrorist active shooter, on the other hand, is ideologically driven. He sees himself as a martyr for a cause greater than himself. His purpose is to fulfill a mission and create terror in the hearts of the enemy. He will most likely not kill himself right off when the good guys show up and will more than likely do his best to kill as many people as he can, which includes all who come after him.
He may be working in concert with others. I can envision him coming at you with a long gun, full magazine, and body armor, not caring whether he lives or dies as long as he takes you with him. He will have trained and prepared himself for the mission for weeks, months, or even years ahead of time. He will have been coached, mentored, and encouraged in his path to martyrdom and the great beyond.
Are You Prepared?
Are you prepared to stop a terrorist active shooter if you witness or are a victim of an attack? Before ever considering engaging such a deadly threat, you need to consider your own values and preparedness. Below are several questions to help you gauge your mindset and ability to engage an active terrorist shooter:
What do you believe in and stand for?
What are you willing to risk your life, and if necessary, die for?
Do you feel you have a duty to protect others or just yourself and your family?
Do you carry a concealed weapon everyday or just occasionally?
Are you willing to confront an active shooter?
Would you enter a room with only your concealed weapon if a terrorist were inside actively shooting people you did not know?
What kind of weapon do you carry? How did you make your weapon choice?
How much ammo do you carry besides what is in your weapon?
Do you feel that the concealed weapon and ammo you currently carry is adequate to the task of dealing with an armed terrorist?
Do you train regularly to maintain and improve your shooting skills?
The Unfortunate Reality
In taking on the terrorist active shooter, it is impossible for the police to be everywhere at once. There is a deadly void between the start of an incident and the arrival of LE first responders. If people are being killed and law enforcement is not there, it is unacceptable to me to run, hide, or wait for police if I have the means to do something about it.
The Need for CCW First Responders
The threat of terrorists to our country and our communities is a growing problem and one that we can no longer ignore. Short of having armed guards or law enforcement in every possible place where a terrorist might show up, CCW holders remain the only viable option we have to protect our space. What’s more, they are going to do it whether government officials or LE want them to or not. The right of self-protection cannot be ignored or slighted.
Courage does not come with a uniform, it resides in the individual. You do not have to be a cop, military spec ops, or have secret mall ninja training to make a difference. I applaud anyone who is willing to be proactive and risk their life to protect others.
Law enforcement and government agencies need to treat CCW holders as a valuable, volunteer resource and actively work with them as part of an overall response plan–rather than treating them as a necessary evil. This is going to take a change in attitude, or if necessary, leadership, to get a meaningful, coordinated response plan going and not just give it lip service.
An active, coordinated response to a TAS incident is vital to protecting the public. Government and LE are part of the response plan. CCW holders are also a factor in the response and I recommend that they be included as a necessary part of any response strategy. They will most likely be the “first responders” to a TAS incident in areas where CCW or open carry is legal.
This article was originally published on policeone.com.
Since 1986, the Glock handgun has enjoyed great success with a wide variety of people. Over the years, however, some individuals have complained that the Glock points high, is hard to shoot in the .40 caliber Glock 22 and 23 models, and can be a bit slippery in the hand while shooting.
After many years of shooting 1911-style handguns, the Glock grip takes some getting reacquainted with when I first pick it up. It’s also a bit slippery and I find myself really making sure my left hand sticks to it when I am shooting the .40 caliber defense loads at high speed, particularly the 155-grain and 180-grain loads.
I finally decided that I was going to do something about those issues and selected a few of my Glocks (17, 19, 23, and 35) to have some work done.I wasn’t looking for anything too radical: I wanted better sights than the plastic stock sights, a better texture on the grip, and a smooth, reliable trigger. While the guns I selected are mainly ‘school guns’ that I use to teach students, they also needed to be suitable as home, vehicle defense, and carry guns.
Enter, Taran Tactical Innovations
To get this work done, I turned to Taran Butler ofTaran Tactical Innovations. A world-class shooter and shop owner, Taran is no stranger to the Glock and has done a great deal of shooting as well as gunsmithing with them. I told Taran what I had in mind and we agreed: two of the guns were to be set up for mainly CCW and the other two would be teaching guns that could also serve as competition handguns.
The guns I received back from TTI were exactly what I was looking for.
Two styles of grip texturing were applied to the grips. For the Glock 35 and Glock 17, a full wraparound stippling was used to completely texture the grip area and a portion of the dust cover on the left side for the support hand thumb. For the 19 and 23, texturing was done on only the front strap and back strap since full stippling can be a bit aggressive on shirt fabric.
A part of the optimization that is a bit controversial for some is the optional removal of material from the underside of the trigger guard where it meets the front strap. The purpose of this, along with a slight re-contouring of the back strap, is to effectively make the Glock point more naturally in the hand.
The TTI frame contouring definitely improved the feel and pointability of my Glocks. It made the pistols easier to point, easier to shoot, easier to hold onto, and easier to hit targets. I’m sure Glock will void the warranty if you do this particular modification but I am not concerned about warranty issues with my Glocks.
The sights are designed with a slightly narrower notch in the rear along with a slightly thinner front sight with a high visibility fiber optic dot. The rear sight features serrations in the back to cut down glare and a steep scallop in the front to assist racking the slide with one hand.
All triggers were polished and tuned and several extra springs were sent along so that I could make the CCW triggers a bit heavier if I chose.
The teaching/competition triggers were superb–probably the best Glock triggers I’ve ever felt and much more reliable than the aftermarket kits I’ve tried out over the years. In fact, even world champion shooter Robert Vogel shoots with a TTI trigger in his Glock.
Along with the modifications to my guns, Taran also sent along some extended base pads kits. These magazine kits come in a variety of colors and increase capacity by 4 to 6 rounds in 9mm and 3 to 5 rounds in .40 caliber.
After rigorously testing all four optimized Glocks, I cannot see myself shooting any Glock in the future without having TTI do its magic on the gun.
These guns all feel great in my hand; the stippling eliminates the hands slipping on the gun during recoil and the stippling on the front and back strap definitely increases friction without wearing on clothing. The triggers feel magical and the sights are superb. The base pads were absolutely reliable and I could not get them to malfunction.
It’s nice to get a package done on a gun that is exactly what you want and not a bunch of price increasing fluff that doesn’t matter. Taran Tactical Innovations is the real deal and I highly recommend them if you are contemplating upgrading your Glock.
This article was originally published on policeone.com.
Firearms trainers have long been studying the best ways to increase shooting proficiency in gunfight situations. Through my own experiences as a law enforcement officer and from colleagues in law enforcement who have been in gunfights, I have gained some crucial insights into gunfighting skills.
I have heard and read after-action reports of gunfights with a wide variety of responses about the encounters. Such responses range from “I don’t remember my sights or aiming or trigger or anything” to “I can recall seeing my sight clearly on his chest at close range and pressing controlled shots into him.”
One of the key things I’ve observed in my studies on the subject is the ability of high performers to focus on the execution of a skill even in a rapidly evolving situation while others are so caught up in the moment that they can’t focus successfully.
Situational Awareness vs. Task Focus
During a gunfight you must stay on top of the situation as it unfolds, perceiving and orienting rapidly, and then responding to and hitting the threat as soon as possible. This requires a very rapid mental shift from a general situational awareness to a specific focus on the task of delivering fight-stopping hits.
As a trainer I pay very close attention to a student’s ability to transition back and forth between situational awareness and task focus. One of the keys to successfully training a high level of task focus lies in environments that simulate the conditions that you will operate in. This necessitates putting the operator under stress and pressure until they acclimate to the conditions and are able to operate in a state of relative calm–making critical decisions under stress and executing shooting skills with speed and precision.
Practice, Practice, Practice
An operator in a shooting situation must be able to focus on the various aspects of the reactive shooting cycle so that he or she can make rapid, precise shots in very short time intervals–not just throw bullets in the general direction of the threat.
In the training we conduct at TPC, we seek to help students focus on the mental aspects of “control under pressure,” as well as the technical aspects of shooting. Here are some of the questions we ask to help students develop the proper focus:
What did you see (and recall) on the gun in relation to the target?
What sort of sight picture did you have (or did you use point shooting)?
What did you feel while manipulating the trigger?
What shooting grip and platform did you use?
What did you recall after the event in terms of tasks performed?
We then put students in situations again and again until they can recall many more things in far greater detail.
I’ve found that this approach can help a shooter become far more competent in their shooting skills in deadly force events, as well as sharpen their skill at recalling the entire situation far more accurately.
This article was originally posted on policeone.com.
There are a few different philosophies about shooting stance and technique in gunfight training. One is the idea that “there is no stance in a gunfight; you are running, moving, ducking, avoiding, etc. and you won’t be able to assume one.” Another common philosophy is to “do whatever comes natural to you” since there won’t be any time to get into a particular position.
When an idea or belief jeopardizes safety or puts individuals at risk, I feel I have a duty to comment. This is one of those situations.
The Science of Reactive Shooting
When driving your vehicle, whether on road or off, high speed or not, the suspension of your car matters. Similarly, how your tires interact with the road surface to create friction is also important. We recognize from our personal experiences and from the experience of others that suspension and tires matter.
In shooting, your platform is your suspension and your grip is the tires on your car. If you wish to be an efficient shooter, then you need to learn more about driving your gun.
There are three major forces at work when shooting: gravity, momentum, and recoil. Gravity is a constant. Regardless of whether you are standing still, running, dodging, ducking or weaving , gravity is working on you–no matter how stressful the situation. When you are moving, up, down, forward, backwards and/or sideways, momentum comes into play. Recoil energy comes into play when firing the weapon.
How you interact with these three forces will determine how efficient you will be and, ultimately, how well you can shoot–in a gunfight or otherwise.Learning how to gunfight means starting with the basics and working from there. If you can’t shoot well when standing still, then things aren’t likely to improve when you “go dynamic.”
Stance and Platform
A stance is simply a position. Standing, kneeling, prone, sitting, squatting, or whatever you do all qualify. Take that position and start moving and it becomes a platform.
A skilled hand-to-hand fighter can punch, kick, throw, or manipulate an opponent from almost any position he finds himself in. While it may seem that he has no stance when things are fast and furious, a closer examination shows that he is using his position, leverage, momentum and balance and putting his center of gravity to good use to control his delivery of attack.
Similarly, a skilled shooter learns to use position, center of gravity, and specificity of effort to hit precisely and rapidly under all conditions and positions. Adapt this to the gunfight environment and you have a very capable fighter.
Stance Determines Center of Gravity
It’s not about where you put your feet; it’s where you put your balance and center of gravity and how you manage recoil energy. If you are not effectively able to manage this energy, you will not shoot well.
Like your car, the better the suspension and the tires, the better performance you will have. Being able to avoid attack, rapidly counterattack, change positions, or simply deliver good hits fast all require a proper suspension.
Racing cars and reactive shooting both require a higher level of knowledge, skill, training, and experience in order to be successful. The shooting platform is not a basic skill. It is an integral part of any lethal force encounter involving a firearm. Understanding and using it efficiently is an essential part of lethal force training.
This article was originally posted on policeone.com.
Over the past 30 years I have watched the ebb and flow of competition shooting and other competitive events in police training environments. From Police Pistol Competition, to IPSC and IDPA, and now 3-gun competitions, competitive shooting has begun to become an item of interest for law enforcement. Even the NRA has jumped on the bandwagon, coming up with their version of 3-gun competition.
For years, law enforcement in general has avoided competition, repeating the mantra of “competition will get you killed.” We are now starting to see a resurgence of interest among our younger generation of police officers who view competition as a way to put their skills to the test. I believe it is time to bring this controversial issue up and look at it objectively.
Why Do We Compete?
How many of you competed as you were growing up or are currently engaged in competitive sports? This can range from friendly informal contests or organized activities. Why did/do you compete? What’s in it for you? What value do you perceive in engaging in it?
For most, competition instills confidence and strengthens the ability to perform under pressure. Deep down, I think all of us are curious to see how good we really are or how good we can get if we really go for it. I think almost everyone who trains on a serious level would like to be able to prove their skills in the arena.
Why Don’t We Shoot Competitively?
While competition is a basic component of sports and most physical activities, it does not have as much acceptance in the world of shooting. The most often cited reasons are as follows:
Lack of Tactics
Most of the organized matches in IPSC and 3 Gun are tactically illiterate. IPSC is particularly guilty of this one. Once a martial sport, it has degenerated into a “game” environment where “shoot em where you see em” is the order of the day. The use of cover or realistic fighting strategies is basically given up in order to maximize speed of engagement and get a faster time and a higher score.
The above reason is the most often cited reason why many believe that competition will get you killed. If you get used to standing out in the open, standing in doorways, or only shooting targets twice, then you are not truly ready for a gunfight and what it may require.
With IDPA, the gear has been limited to what would be “reasonable” to carry in a defensive situation. But now we have match imposed limits on how the gun can be carried, how you will reload the firearm, and other artificial restraints that limit the creative imagination of the shooter to “solve” the problems presented. The scoring of the targets imposes a dramatic time penalty for anything falling outside an arbitrary 8” circle and the shooting slows down to an unrealistic speed that is not reflected in the speed of actual engagements.
Taking a look at modern competitive equipment, we see guns and gear costing thousands of dollars. With the exception of production or stock gun classes, most of the other classes require guns that will cost beyond the $1,500 price point. If you are shooting a modern 3-gun carbine, that can set you back more than $2,500 with the optic often costing more than the carbine itself.
Bring into play goofy holsters, weapons that need constant attention to work reliably, and extremely light trigger pulls and we see that over specialization has become the order of the day.
Making the Case for Competitive Shooting
Will competition get you killed? Maybe. Will sitting on your ass doing nothing between qualifications get you killed? Maybe. Will competitive shooters outperform those who don’t compete in a tactical environment? When it comes to shooting, you betcha!
No one will argue that a race car driver driving a specialized vehicle at speeds in excess of 160 mph will probably still outperform you in a street car. A skilled MMA fighter with some tactical street sense will outperform the average Joe in a hands-on street fight as well.
Yet, because it challenges our egos, we tend to put blinders on when a competitive shooter absolutely dominates a tactical situation. He gets hits on target before his peers can even mount a weapon. He moves from position to position better, has better weapons handling and safety, and can process information and make decisions at a higher rate of speed than just about anybody else around him.
The reason for this elevated performance is that the competitive shooter has trained under far greater stress and pressure than you can put on yourself in training by yourself. He has mastered his emotions, his equipment, and has a driving will to prevail that will come into play when he enters a fight. This is why I use competition as a part of our training model.
The Right Way to Compete
I am not blind to the faults of competition shooting. I realize that there is a chance of being infected with a “gamer” mentality and seeing it all as a video game with you in it. However, believing you are the best, or even proficient, without having to go out and prove it once in awhile represents a dangerous level of complacency.
As many shooters have already found out, it is a humbling experience when you compete in your first match and do not do nearly as well as you believed you would. This is a powerful learning experience that will help you to recognize your weaknesses and be completely honest with yourself.
Going into a competition with the attitude that you are going to learn about yourself and how to better perform under pressure is incredibly valuable. I have learned a great deal about myself through competing and I know for a fact that competitive shooting has helped me to stay calm and confident in tactical situations.
This article was originally published on policeone.com.
Many firearm trainers view range training as marginally effective for gunfight training and conditioning. However, if you bring the proper emotional perspective, train at the real speed of the gunfight, and learn to shoot under pressure and emotional duress, you will be amazed at how well you can and will do in a gunfight. I know because I have had many of my students over the years report successful encounters to me. They all report a similar thing…
“Ron, it was just like we did in training.”
When you train at a higher level and you realize that you can perform there, you get a huge boost in both confidence and performance. It is not a lowest-common-denominator world on the street when it comes to performance. Fractions of a second count and you should be working to make the most of the time you have to work with.
While range training is only part of preparing for a real-world gunfight scenario, here are seven tips to help you bring the gunfight to the range:
Practice with the emotional intensity of a real encounter. You are FIGHTING, not just shooting. Psychological toughness/dominance is a mindset that must be exercised in order to develop it. As part of your training, visualize what you are doing as an actual encounter. Mindset is everything and it starts before you get to the range.
Practice in the apparel and with the gear that you normally wear. What you wear will change the way you access your gun and shoot. Know what you can and can’t do with certain items of clothing or equipment on. Get in low positions, lie on the ground, and get in awkward positions around cover. Make sure you can access your gun and magazines from each of these positions. If it doesn’t work the way you want, change it around until it does.
Practice in different temperatures, light conditions, and with different targets. Shooting in good weather or daylight is nice. Shooting in whatever weather or light conditions is present is part of the psychological toughening process. Practice reloads without using your eyes to do it; if it is dark outside, or you need to see what’s going on, you may not be able to see what your hands are doing.
Practice speed with precision. Safely pay attention to trigger finger and muzzle. Get an electronic timer — they don’t lie — to get accurate time measurement as you work toward cutting your times down. Work from both a ready position and from the holster.
Train the entire visual field, from point shooting, to soft focus, to hard focus. Targets at different distances have different visual requirements.
Cycle your training. Change what you do and how you do it: distance, targets, time, and positions.
Make it count. Track performance on everything — draws, reloads, movement, distance, scores, time — as you compete in a meaningful way. Put your phone on a tripod and film yourself shooting. You can spot many things that can be improved with it.
This article was originally published on policeone.com.
One of the first skills to degrade under stress is trigger control. This vital skill is composed of two parts: mental control and physical manipulation. On the mental side, control of emotions comes into play. On the physical side, learning how to manipulate the trigger correctly allows us to stay in control, whether we are in a match or fighting for our lives.
No matter how you choose to manipulate the trigger, the number one thing you must learn to do is isolate the action of your trigger finger. This requires both mental control and physical manipulation. Two things make this difficult:
You must deal with noise and recoil at the end of the trigger press. This leads to anticipation of recoil and noise and a subsequent flinching response while manipulating the trigger.
The faster you go, the greater your tendency to move other fingers while you manipulate the trigger.
Before a shooter can precisely isolate the trigger, he or she must feel in control of the shooting grip and confident that the gun will not slip in the hand while it is recoiling. Only then will the shooter be able to relax, isolate the tension, and focus on the manipulation of the trigger at higher speeds. The shooting grip is “alive” in that it will respond to inputs from the brain and the firearm. The key is to build awareness in processing what is really going on and how to make it work for you.
Isolation, Balance, and Acclimation
In order to effectively isolate the trigger, you must have control of the handgun and establish proper balance. An effective grip allows the hands and the handgun to move as a unit, without slipping, through the recoil cycle. Proper balance allows the body to relax and compensate for the effects of recoil without tensing up or moving. The proper balance for shooting is with the center of gravity slightly forward.
Proper control of both grip and balance allows the shooter to acclimate to recoil and muzzle rise and start to relax mentally and physically. In doing so, the brain is reprogrammed not to become alarmed when the gun is fired.
Further acclimation can occur in relation to noise and muzzle blast if you let yourself shoot the gun below eye level at a safe backstop. Just look at the backstop and shoot. Then look at the gun and shoot without blinking. As you learn to relax, isolate tension, and let recoil happen, your capacity to isolate the trigger will increase.
Excessive/violent muzzle rise and a loss of friction between the hand and the handgun will invariably result in tightening your grip as you press the trigger. This results in muzzle movement and a change in point of impact. Whatever type of shooting stance or grip you are currently doing, staying consistent on grip pressure will lead to better shooting performance.
Trigger Control Exercises
Here are some tips and exercises that will help you become a more consistent shooter:
With either your empty firearm or a blue gun, establish your shooting grip and, while holding the grip firmly, have another person hold the firearm behind the muzzle with one hand and give a tug on your support hand with the other hand using approximately 20 pounds of force to see if it comes loose. The goal is to create enough pressure and friction to keep the support hand firmly connected to the gun.
After completing the first exercise, establish again your shooting grip. Without changing grip tension, dry fire the handgun. Hold the grip pressure the same before, during and for three seconds after you have finished pressing the trigger. Repeat a minimum of 25 times.
Once you develop a feel for keeping constant grip pressure, do it with live fire, paying particular attention to keeping grip tension the same as you finish trigger press and after the shot is fired.
These simple exercises, done correctly, will result in a much more educated trigger press which will increase your precision at speed and distance.
This article was originally published on policeone.com.
We’ve all been there. Just as you’re ready to break the shot, you yank the trigger and shove the gun forward. The shot misses and you mutter a bit under your breath… and prepare for the next shot.
What just happened is commonly known as flinching. This is a very frustrating experience for many shooters who cannot seem to overcome this response. But what is flinch? Why do we flinch? And, most importantly, how can we keep ourselves from flinching?
Flinching is an unintended mental and physical response to a negative stimulus (i.e. recoil and muzzle blast) that results in a displacement of the shot from its intended point of impact. There are several different root causes of flinch that we need to explore in order to better understand the mechanism of flinch.
One of the underlying reasons why we flinch is the human reaction of avoiding things that are unpleasant. Human beings naturally seek pleasure and try to avoid pain or unpleasantness. While the pastime of shooting is a pleasant one for most people who shoot, the physical report and recoil are not something that most people are accustomed to. The louder the report or the harder the recoil, the greater the tendency to flinch.
I believe that one of the primary reasons people flinch is associated with maintaining balance. As an experiment, try this: brace yourself and have someone lightly push against you. As they continue to push and you try to maintain balance, have them stop suddenly without giving you warning. Invariably, you will push forward to resist the push. This is an anticipation response of the body to maintain equilibrium.
After you have fired a powerful handgun a few times, there is a strong tendency to anticipate as it is about to discharge. Typically, the shooter will shove forward as they are manipulating the trigger. If this occurs prior to the gun discharging, it can move the shot quite a bit.
Why We Flinch
When shooting firearms rapidly, experienced shooters develop a compensating shove just after the gun discharges. Colonel Jeff Cooper describes this as “post ignition push.” Champion shooter Rob Leatham describes the difference between this and ordinary flinch by dividing it into two categories: pre-ignition flinch and post-ignition flinch.
Pre-ignition flinch is flinching at the same time that the trigger is pressed. This will move the gun off line quite a bit and will affect the shot dramatically. Post-ignition push (or flinch) occurs after the firearm has discharged. This can either move the gun fractionally or move the impact point of the bullet slightly (typically down) if it occurs too soon during the recoil cycle.
Flinching is a learned response. Watch a beginner shoot a firearm, particularly a handgun, (other than a .22 rimfire), for the first time and the first shots are generally very good. As the session goes on, you will generally see the beginner begin to flinch in anticipation of the shot to come.
I prefer Colonel Cooper’s description of post-ignition push as it is not really a true stress-induced flinch but rather a natural compensating effect of the body to maintain equilibrium; this will happen automatically provided you let recoil happen and don’t fight it. Anticipating recoil and shoving as you are compressing the trigger is the flinch response.
If you have ever watched tapes of Ed McGivern shooting his wheelgun at high speeds, you will see him stumble forward at the end of the series. This was his way of putting his center of gravity forward into the gun while shooting to maintain control.
The third reason for why we flinch is associated with the buildup of mental stress while trying to hit a target. Mentally, we are trying to concentrate on placing the shot where we want it to hit. If the target is small, we slowly begin pulling the trigger. The anticipation builds as the trigger is depressed. The point where the hammer is just getting ready to drop is where most people lose control and flinch in anticipation of the shot.
There is a powerful urge to jerk the trigger so that we don’t have to deal with the stress of the moment. This release of tension manifests itself in a general discharge of muscle and mental energy that activates more muscle groups rather than a more isolated, controlled release of energy. This results in yanking the trigger and pushing the gun off line at the critical moment when the hammer drops.
The last reason why we flinch is associated with trying to control the firearm at the moment when it discharges. A grip that is too loose and relaxed can be the culprit here. Typically, a shooter will convulsively tighten his/her grip in an attempt to control muzzle flip as they are pressing the trigger. I have also seen shooters trying to control the flip too much by attempting to drive the gun back as they are pressing the trigger rather than after the shot has been fired. Either way, the result is the same.
Flinching is made worse when we add other factors such as time stress or physical danger into the equation. Start factoring in tight time limits, the stress of qualification, competition, or actual gunfight conditions and the flinch becomes much more pronounced.
The Flinch Response
The flinch response is manifested in several different ways. The first is pushing the upper body forward to compensate for the shove from recoil. This is a balancing/compensation response.
More subtle flinches involve wristing the gun up or down, blinking at the report, losing focus of the front sight, and squeezing all the fingers of one or both hands at the moment of firing. These are more avoidance/controlling types flinch in anticipation of noise and recoil or to relieve the stress of the moment and just get it over with. Jerking the trigger and pushing the gun sideways is typical of the stress response. We see the sights momentarily on the spot we want to hit and we yank the trigger trying to get the shot off while the sight picture is still there.
These flinches occur either separately or, more commonly, in conjunction with each other. It is very common to see a shooter jerk the trigger and learn forward from the waist, resulting in a classic down and left hit for a right-handed shooter with a handgun.
In general, the harder the firearm kicks or the louder the muzzle blast, the more pronounced the flinch. Also, the faster you try to shoot, the more you tend to flinch. A person’s mental makeup and personality tend to play a big part in how well they handle recoil and noise. Some people are naturally more sensitive to recoil and noise than others. Experience with firearms and gradually building up a mental/physical tolerance will help lessen the effect of noise and recoil.
Now that we have looked at some of the reasons why we flinch, let’s discuss ways of reducing flinch. The first step is to accept the fact that you have a flinch. Don’t let pride get in the way of performance.Flinching is not a weakness of character!
The next step is learning to hold still and accept recoil without reacting to it. This is a learned response. Once you have assumed your stance and grip on the firearm you must learn to let recoil happen! What this means is that before you touch the trigger, you must be both physically and mentally prepared to accept recoil.
It is crucial to shooting accurately to learn to hold both body and mind still while you press the trigger and let your body absorb the recoil. In order to do this you must learn to relax. Trying to excessively tense your body only makes recoil harsher and exaggerates the flinch. You must learn to grip the handgun without tensing the rest of your body.
As an experiment, stand with your hands extended out in front of you as if holding a handgun and tense every muscle in your body except your face and neck. Now have someone start tapping your hands with a closed fist. It will jar you right down to your toes. Now relax your shoulders, stomach, and legs while the person is tapping you. If done correctly, the feeling should be greatly reduced. What you are doing is letting your body absorb the recoil. You have turned a harsh, jarring punch into more of a push. You need to have just enough tension in your grip and stance so that the gun returns on target to the same point after recoil.
Another important skill you need is the ability to keep the same amount of tension in the body before, during, and after the shot. As you become more experienced in this, you will learn to isolate the tension and relax those areas not needed to maintain the shooting platform or control the firearm.
Much has been said about achieving a surprise break on the trigger. This involves letting the moment the gun goes off be a surprise to the shooter. However I suspect that, like me, most experienced shooters know EXACTLY when their gun is going to go off. I can feel the sear engagement about to break–there is no surprise break for me. I have simply learned to hold still and LET RECOIL HAPPEN. This is an exercise in mental discipline and relaxation.
Proper Grip and Stance
Improper grip and stance can exaggerate the effects of recoil and induce flinch. Getting the grip too low on the grip of the handgun accentuates muzzle flip by increasing the leverage the handgun has working against the shooter’s hand in recoil. Your dominant hand should be as high on the back of the gun as possible to decrease the amount of leverage that recoil has to work against you.
Another simple way to improve your grip is to put skateboard tape on the grip of your pistol to create more friction. This makes it easier to maintain control of the handgun and allows you to be more relaxed in the grip without allowing the firearms to slip during the recoil cycle.
Proper stance will also improve your ability to accept the recoil. Standing too upright or leaning away from the gun to compensate for the weight of the firearm increases the tendency to shove the firearm forward as you press the trigger to prevent loss of balance. If your center of equilibrium is neutral, rather than slightly forward, you will invariably start to shove forward with your body as you press the trigger. This, believe it or not, is one of the classic flinches. It is the body trying to maintain equilibrium.
To correct this problem, move your center of gravity forward by leaning your whole body forward from your ankles. A little bit goes a long way. Once you have had a chance to shoot the gun and not feel like it is driving you back, then you will reduce this type of flinch response.
As a side note, with the current trend towards smaller and lighter handguns I have noticed an increase in flinching among students shooting these firearms. It is helpful to recognize that weight is not a bad thing if it is kept in a range that allows for controllability along with ease of carry.
Mindset and Training
Since the flinch response starts in the mind, one of the key elements in overcoming flinch is to use visualization. To do this, spend five minutes imagining yourself shooting the handgun while holding it still. See and feel yourself holding your handgun with a firm handshake grip while relaxing the rest of your body and your mind at the critical moment the shot breaks.
There are several drills that I use when teaching students that help them learn to control flinch. The first is the classic “ball and dummy” drill. This involves having someone else load the firearm with either live ammo or blank. The student’s job is to learn to let the gun go off without anticipating recoil.
It is important to understand that this drill by itself is not enough to help the student control flinch. It identifies that there is a flinch and can help mitigate it somewhat. However, when the student knows that there is a live round in the chamber there must be additional training to help them develop the discipline to accept recoil without flinching unduly.
No shooter is immune from flinch. What helps is to understand the underlying factors that contribute to flinch and work to mitigate them. Everyone has their own level of tolerance to recoil and noise. Find a load that is comfortable for you to shoot and that fulfills the requirements you have in mind and stick with it. Keep the weight of the gun in mind. Lighter is not necessarily better if you are sensitive to recoil. If you want to go up in power, remember that the more powerful the load, or the lighter the gun, the more the tendency to flinch.
The more knowledge you have of the underlying mechanisms of flinch, the more you will be able to understand and deal with unwanted flinch responses. Overcoming flinch and loss of focus is a journey, not a destination. Everyone is subject to flinch at times depending on what they are shooting and the stress they are under. The key is to become aware of flinch and then take steps to reduce it.