10 Steps To Stop Flinching When Shooting A Pistol

how to stop flinching when shooting a pistol

Our natural reaction as humans is to be in a state of calm and relaxation and to avoid situations that place us under stress. Firing a shot out of a pistol which is due to its design, close to our body, consciously or subconsciously creates a certain level of anxiety within us. Some people thrive on the adrenalin rush of the experience, while some experience a physical reaction.

Flinching can be described as a natural reaction against the combination of the loud noise of a gunshot and the subsequent recoil imparted by the pistol to the shooter’s hand.  

Everyone who has had the opportunity to fire a pistol at some stage in their lives has a story to tell. Some enjoyed the experience, while some have never been back. Flinching undoubtedly played a big part in the experience for those who decided to throw in the towel. Read on to see how flinching affects us mentally and physically and how to overcome its effects.  

Let’s assume that you are a shooting instructor and have been asked by a student to help them improve their pistol shooting scores. You suspect that flinching may be the problem.

What Is Flinching?

Flinching is a physical reaction caused when the person firing a gun has a “fright” reaction to the anticipated let off of the shot. In most cases, the involuntary response is not noticed by the shooter themselves, even if they are doing it. This unawareness by the shooter is because the reaction is masked by the gunshot sound and the recoil created when the shot is fired. 

Flinching can affect shooters participating in all shooting disciplines, with the causes always the same. This includes hunters, sport shooters, clay target shooters, target shooters, and of course, pistol shooters. 

10 Steps To Stop Flinching When Shooting A Pistol 1

Step 1: What Resources Will You Require?

The following resources will be required to assist the student effectively:

  • A Safe location to shoot
  • Appropriate Targets
  • Good ear and eye protection
  • A phone capable of recording a video
  • Your student and their pistol
  • Dummy rounds (optional)
  • Pistol Cleaning Kit

Step 2: Identify Common Mistakes

Let’s assume that all the safety protocols are in place and adhered to for the duration of the time spent on the shooting line.  You have selected a safe area for the shooting to take place, and your student is rearing to start.

Begin by explaining the process that will be followed to eliminate the actions that negatively affect the students shooting scores.       

This Process Must Include The Following:

  • Inspecting the weapon and ammunition for any obvious problems
  • Verify the fit of the firearm to the student
  • Verify the weapon’s point of aim by shooting the weapon
  • Analyzing the students shooting technique
  • Conducting two shooting exercises
  • Discuss your observation of the shooting exercises with the student
  • Finding a solution for specifically identified issues, e.g., flinching
  • Decide on a way forward with the student

Step 3: Physically Inspect The Weapon 

When diagnosing a shooting problem, always start by checking that there isn’t a problem with the weapon and ammunition itself. 

This is simply done by stripping the weapon down into its basic working parts, i.e., removing the magazine and slide.  Check the overall cleanliness of the gun, including the inside of the barrel. Have a look for any loose or broken parts in the frame, trigger assembly.

Lastly, check the weapon’s sights visually and feel if any sight components are loose. Many of the sights found on modern weapons are adjustable.  Some are even specifically designed to enable the replacement of the sight blades. This is great in terms of versatility and adjustment, but they could potentially work themselves loose under recoil. 

Loose pistol sights will negatively affect your ability to place shots accurately on target.

If all is in order, reassemble the weapon, cycle the action without loading the pistol, and dry fire the gun to check that everything functions well after assembly.

At this stage, double-check the desired sight picture with the student to make sure this is not contributing to the student’s inability to place the shots accurately. 

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Step 4: Check the Ammunition

Ammunition plays an important part in the ability to shoot the pistol accurately.

The condition of the box that the ammunition is presented in will often indicate the condition of the contents.

Firstly, verify that the ammunition is correct for the caliber of the pistol. Check that the condition of the ammunition is good, looking for signs of corrosion around the primer and case neck area. If corrosion is visible, safely discard the ammunition. 

Next, check that the ammo brand and that the bullet type and weights are the same. Mixing different types of ammunition will most likely result in inconsistent groups on the target.  Very few mixed bullet brands shoot to the same point of aim. 

Step 5: Check The Fit Of The Pistol

This is often very subjective. Most people won’t have a problem here if they’re of average build and have average-sized hands. Pistols by design need to be held in your hand or hands and fired by utilizing the index finger of your dominant hand. 

Now ask your student to hold the still unloaded pistol in the ready-to-shoot position, finger on the trigger, and aim at the target. 

Should the student struggle to hold the pistol in this position for at least a minute and starts fidgeting or even lowering the pistol, the gun is too heavy for that person. Ultimately the student will rush shots before the weight becomes a hindrance.  

Next, observe the grip looking at the position of the trigger finger. The trigger should sit comfortably on the first pad of the index finger. Should the pistol be too large and the student has to adjust the hold to stretch for the trigger, accurate shot placement will be difficult. If the finger protrudes too far over the trigger, the movement of pressing the trigger will most likely push the shot off the point of aim as the hand will have to pull the trigger instead of the finger. 

Step 6: Verify The Point Of Aim Of The Pistol

Now that you and the student are satisfied that no problems exist with the pistol, ammunition, how the weapon is held, it’s time to shoot.  Given that the student has indicated that accurate shot placement is a problem, I suggest either you or another competent shooter fires a few rounds at a target to verify the pistol’s point of aim. 

If all checks out, the pistol’s accuracy has been verified, so that is not the reason for poor shot placement.  

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Step 7: Let The Student Fire The Pistol

Allow the student a few warming-up shots while observing the student’s stance, pistol, grip on the gun, eyes, trigger pull and follow-through, and general reaction to each shot. This is the point at which a tendency for the student to flinch would show itself. Shots consistently landing below the point of aim or scattered are a tell-tale sign of flinching.

You’re looking for obvious factors like the stance that should be stable and relaxed, leaning slightly forward. Trigger control depends on how the student holds the pistol and follows through after the shot to avoid rushing the shot. 

Should the student be rushing the shots, as if trying to get the exercise over with, closing their eyes, or dipping the muzzle when firing the shot, the odds are good that a flinch is at play.

Step 8: How Do You Prove If They’re Flinching Or Not

The following exercise has been used with great success as an aid to identify a flinch. 

This exercise makes it difficult for the shooter to predict if a live round will be fired or if the trigger pull will result in a dry fire. For the unloaded, dry-fired shot, the effect of the recoil and the noise generated by an actual shot is taken out of the equation. It will expose any erratic movement made by the student and pistol at the time of the expected shot. 

How: Ask the student for their pistol without them being able to see it. ‘Load’ the pistol mixing live and dummy rounds (if available) or randomly leaving the chamber unloaded if dummy rounds are not available.  Be sure to simulate the loading process realistically without the shooter knowing if the pistol is loaded with a live round in the chamber or not. Ask the student to take a shot while you observe. After the shot, repeat the loading exercise and shoot again. 

As the instructor, you’ll be looking for signs of a flinch. Repeat the exercise for at least ten shots or until the signs of a flinch are noticed. This could be after the very first dry-fired shot. 

Recording the exercise for the shooter to view themselves later is be a good idea as this will assist in pointing out the problem areas.

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Step 9: Unpack The Individual Factors Causing A Flinch

Flinching is well documented as a combination of physical and mental in response to a stimulus. In shooting sports, we fire weapons. Weapons generate both loud noise and recoil when a shot is fired. Most people are not excessively bothered by either of these factors, but many are.

The primary response to the gun firing is fear, insecurity, or a distinct feeling of discomfort with the immediate situation. 

The reaction from the shooter to counter the muzzle blast is to subconsciously anticipate the upcoming recoil and noise and counter this with a forward pushing motion. Sometimes this is very subtle, other times even taking a step forward. The result is firstly a forward and downward dipping of the pistol’s muzzle, resulting in a shot below the initial point of aim.  The shot would also mostly be rushed to get the job over and done with, resulting in a loss of focus on the sights and merely shooting into the direction of the target.

Closing of the eyes by the shooter is another common reaction that forms part of the flinch reaction. Probably more so than the other reactions. As you can imagine, relying on muscle memory to hit the target when your eyes are closed is hardly conducive to accurate shot placement!

Lastly, address the follow-through after the shot. During the follow-through, bring the sights back onto the target again once the recoil has subsided and only lower the weapon after that. The effect that this has is to create a measure of continuity to a point after the shot has been fired. That means that the shot theoretically won’t be rushed, as you know that there is one more step to be completed after the shot is fired.  The follow-through is relevant to all disciplines of shooting.  

Step 10: What To Do To Cure Flinching

Making the person aware of the problem and getting their buy-in to resolve it is half the battle already won. 

Video recording the shooting exercise is an excellent way of pointing out what happens during the flinching process.  

Quite simply, the flinching reaction is caused by noise and recoil generated by pulling the trigger.

  • Good ear protection is essential. Wearing ear protection such as foam earplugs and over these regular earmuffs creates an effective barrier against the sound of the shot. 
  • Good eye protection is a must when shooting. Not only does this protect your eyes against debris, but it also creates a physical and mental barrier between your eyes and the weapon.
  • Conscious trigger control, along with subtle reminders to squeeze and not jerk the trigger, places a sense of control back into the shooting process.
  • A proper steady stance with a conscious effort not to fight the recoil will limit instability during the firing process.
  • Proper follow-through after the shot creates a sense of continuity after the shot. This takes the focus away from the shot itself rather than it becoming all-consuming.
  • The student has to aim at a point on the target using the pistol’s sight and do so consistently with every shot. 

If you combine all of the above steps and practice regularly, it is possible to eliminate flinch. It can be done while having fun at the same time.   


Flinching when shooting a pistol is a common response. It is caused by a subconscious reaction to counter the shot’s loud bang and the recoil generated when firing. Pistols by design are compact and, as such, bring the sound of the shot and the recoil nearer to your primary sensory receptors, namely your eyes and ears. Your mind builds up a defense against the impending gunshot, which plays itself out as a flinch. Unfortunately, a flinch reduces our ability to accurately place the shots on target, which causes the shooter frustration. 

Fortunately, there are simple and effective ways to remedy a flinch. Practice makes perfect!   

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