I have been teaching Marines, LEO's, and civilians the fundamentals of marksmanship for over a decade now. There is one fundamental error, more than any other that plagues all of them, and affects their ability to shoot well.
That error is simply the anticipation of recoil.
This anticipation shows up as a movement of the gun right before the shot is fired. The movement is a result of the shooter ‘bracing' for the inevitable recoil.
What happens is the shooter quickly tightens the grip and pushes forward to counteract the rearward recoil. The resulting shot is usually low but extreme anticipation can cause a miss anywhere on the target.
New shooters are especially prone to do this. But they are certainly not alone in committing this fundamental sin. I have found a common thread in new shooters who anticipate recoil, and it starts in the beginning.
The First Shots:
I find that the new shooter who anticipates recoil, nearly always started out shooting a large caliber gun. Something like a shotgun or a .357 revolver. And on top of that, they did so without first learning proper fundamentals.
The improper stance or grip does nothing to mitigate the inherent recoil from the larger caliber gun. The initial experience is negative and produces a scar. From then on, the shooter believes the way to shoot any gun is to anticipate and prepare for that massive kick.
Fixing the Problem:
First, you must admit you have a problem, because you may not even realize you are moving before the shot. A coach or someone who knows what to look for can point it out to you.
But if you are alone, all is not lost. A great technique you can use is to load dummy rounds into the magazine. Having someone else randomly mix them into the magazine without you knowing is even better.
What will happen is that the gun will fail to fire on the dummy round. You won't know when this is going to happen. When the trigger breaks (the action that fires the shot), the gun doesn't actually fire but you will still move the gun while bracing for recoil. Because the recoil never comes, the movements are quite obvious and often times dramatic.
This extra movement is a dead giveaway that you have a problem. This extra movement causes your sights to go off your intended point of aim.
Dry Fire Drill:
It's no secret that dry fire is one of the keys to becoming a good shooter. So it makes sense that this is where to begin fixing a problem like anticipation. In the Marine Corps, we learned how to hit a man-sized target at 500 yards using iron-sights on our M16. So eliminating any anticipation is important in hitting the target.
The dry-fire technique we used was to balance a quarter on top of the compensator, then aim in and squeeze the trigger. The goal is obviously to keep the quarter balanced. It isn't very difficult but if the quarter falls, it can indicate a few problems.
The anticipation of recoil or a sloppy trigger finger will move the muzzle and cause the quarter to fall. You can apply the same concept to your handgun by balancing something like a spent brass casing on the front edge of your slide. Then go through your dry-fire routine.
Work on your skills until your firearm stays rock-solid and the casing doesn't fall off the slide. This is a major tool in building proper fundamentals.
Get The Grip Right:
Much of the fear of recoil can be attributed to the gun moving in the shooter's hands. The improper grip causes the shooter to worry about losing control of the gun. Here is a simple way to know if you have a solid grip:
If you have to re-adjust your grip between shots, you have a poor grip. The ‘thumbs-forward' grip is ideal for recoil management and a strong grip. I give some tips on how to establish a good grip in this article.
Once the shooter feels that they are in control over the gun and its recoil, recoil is less terrifying.
‘Un-Learning' the over-response to recoil:
This is what I usually have to do with new shooters who come to my classes with a negative prior experience with guns because they first shot a shotgun that bruised their shoulder.
Regardless of which gun they bring to the class, I have them shoot a .22LR semi-auto. The gun has a super-light recoil and is easy to manage. Combining this with a proper grip and after a few magazines, and their attitude and confidence grows as they soon become ready to grab their 9mm.
Important to mention:
It is also important to identify the effect your gear has on your performance. For example, double-action firearms are great but don't come without their own set of problems for some people.
For example, for a new shooter the heavy trigger pull can make it difficult to squeeze the trigger without moving the gun. Not only this, but the long trigger pull makes it seem like an eternity before the shot breaks. This gives the shooter time to anticipate when the shot is going to break, and they brace for it.
A Couple Mental Tips:
Sometimes fixing a bad habit comes down to some mental training. In addition to some of the other tips, try this:
When you are conducting slow fire, let yourself be surprised by the shot break. Don't try to guess where in the trigger squeeze it is going to break. If you are truly surprised, it is hard to anticipate when it will occur.
A mental trick that I have personally used, especially at very long range shots is to repeat something over and over in my mind. I usually say something like ‘front sight, front sight' over and over. This keeps my mind from focusing on the shot break and more on my fundamentals.
Using a training aid like the MantisX is a sure way to identify and fix a problem like recoil anticipation. Check out all that this training device can do.
Have you struggled with anticipation of recoil? What techniques have you used to overcome the issue?
Stay safe and keep training.