Top Menu

How To Overcome Anticipation To Shoot Better

There are some things you can do to get rid of anticipation and tighten up those groups.

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.

Using ‘dummy rounds' like these snap caps from A-Zoom are a tremendous tool in identifying recoil anticipation.

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.

Placing an object on your slide during dry-fire is a technique you can use to identify anticipation. If you don't have an empty casing, how about improvising. A golf tee works great!

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.

The over-anticipation of recoil can have shooters expecting a massive, jack-hammer like recoil!

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.

Training Aid:

Mantis X on a Glock27

The MantisX Firearms Training System Provides a wealth of accurate, usable information to help you diagnose and correct your shooting 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.

, , , , ,

11 Responses to How To Overcome Anticipation To Shoot Better

  1. Ben December 7, 2017 at 3:07 pm #

    Those are some great tips. In the LEO academy I attended and with my students, a helpful thing to remember is to not pause the trigger press. I teach them to quickly take the slack out of the trigger after a reset and come right to the point where the resistance increases. This is where the true trigger press starts. While the shot will never be perfect and you can continue to line up the sights as you press, the key is to not STOP the press. I tell myself in my head, “Press, press, press, press…”. That way the trigger mechanics are smooth and the anticipation doesn’t result in jerking the trigger like they’re using a staple gun. As mentioned, dry fire practice is huge as well. If you do more dry fire practice than actual live fire, your brain has more examples of the gun NOT recoiling as opposed to it kicking back and creating that anxiety.

    • Matthew Maruster December 7, 2017 at 3:55 pm #

      Thanks Ben. Also good point! It’s amazing how much better folks can shoot when they don’t overthink things and just simplify the entire process.

  2. Ammon Guinn December 8, 2017 at 2:39 pm #

    Fantastic advice……..I always wondered why my aims and actual target were lower than my expectations and this helps explain why. My wife just acquired a hand gun and registration for public carry. I’m needing to take her to a range and adjust, not just her anticipation, but also my own as well! Thanks!!

    • Matthew Maruster December 8, 2017 at 2:48 pm #

      Thank you Mr. Guinn! Try some dry fire and see if you notice the anticipation now that you know what you’re looking for. Let me know how your range day goes. Have a great time with the wife!

  3. Paul May 19, 2020 at 9:20 pm #

    Thank you for this article. I’m getting insanely frustrated. I’ve shot gun my whole life but for some reason I can’t seem to group a handgun worth a damn and I’m all over the place so I can’t seem to narrow it down to a single problem. This makes sense. Keep up the good work.

  4. Milt Lietzke May 20, 2020 at 9:46 pm #

    These are all good tips. Here is one that i use regularly when I practice dry fire. It is easier with a dao trigger, but it should be practiced with the gun you will be carrying. Unload and safety check your handgun. Then go into a room where you will not be distracted. Hang a white piece of paper with a 1/4″ black dot on the wall and aim at the dot from about a foot away. Practice dry fire this way and watch your site picture for muzzle movement. Keep doing this until your muzzle movement becomes imperceptible and your trigger pull becomes smooth. You should not even notice when the trigger breaks. I have found this technique to be very helpful in overcoming the anticipation of recoil or even anticipating the trigger break. It has helped me tremendously. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on electronic gadgets although, if you can afford them, they do have their place.

    • Milt Lietzke May 21, 2020 at 8:37 pm #

      BTW, I also use this right before i change my carry gun. I have four handguns in my CCW rotation. Every handgun has slight to significant differences in the way the trigger feels. The take-up is different, the wall is different and the break is different. There is no substitute for practice and training. I also include tactical reloads in my dry fire practice and training, but that is yet another subject.

  5. DJ May 21, 2020 at 7:36 pm #

    I do a lot of dry fire. The thing that made my dry firing improved the most was when I bought a laser boresight for my 9 mm pistol.
    I spend a few minutes every couple of days with this device that was not that Expensive on Amazon. This has made a huge difference in my dry fire practice. Best of all it made a tremendous amount of difference on the firing range. Weather on shooting both hands strong hand or we can . I get instant feedback with this device.

  6. Dan F May 26, 2020 at 3:52 pm #

    Good advice here. Recoil anticipation is also due to the loud noise and human startle response. I found that extra hearing protection, such as earplugs and muffs, will greatly reduce the perceived noise. We feel, see and hear the round going off, so any sensory reduction during shooting will help with anticipation. Hope this helps.

  7. Jeff K May 27, 2020 at 6:53 am #

    Zoom caps are fantastic. When training and running drills I “booby trap” my mags with the dummy rounds. I then run my drills and when I get a type 1 malfunction I can see if I am anticipating the shot and I get to practice a malfunction clearance.

  8. Kurt May 27, 2020 at 8:23 pm #

    I use the dummy round technique, except for it I use a revolver and I just put in fired rounds. I close my eyes as I randomly load the cylinder with fired and unfired rounds, spinning it around between rounds. I don’t open my eyes until the cylinder is closed.

Leave a Reply

All comments are moderated to ensure compliance with our community guidelines