Monday, May 18, 2009

Learn to Shoot, Break the Flinch

© 2009 Albert A Rasch
"Gun Control is Having a Good Sight Picture"
Col. CB Winders

One thing I have noticed on my frequent rounds of the shooting range, is the vast numbers of people that never leave the comfort of the bench, whose rifles never leave the sandbags, and whose skill level never increases. I am tempted to ask, "By the way, how many rounds does it take to sight in that rifle?"

The best thing I ever did, was to play a brutal round of paintball, and shoot several hundred rounds of twenty-two ammunition offhand at a spinner one afternoon many years ago. We'll get into that in just a moment.

My travails all started with a Colombian Mauser converted by the Israelis to 7.62 x 52 NATO (308 Winchester).

It was the first real rifle I ever bought at Navy Arms out in Ridgefield NJ. "Get your steel butt plate here, military stock design, guaranteed to jar your teeth loose."

But it has an FN action!

In those days I didn’t even break 145 lbs; I was light, but by golly I was fast. That same day, I bought several boxes of Musgrave ammo from the huge stack on the floor. Great stuff that ammo. Made in the Republic of South Africa, the rounds have heavy for caliber bullets of course. I noticed that when you load those long round nosed soft-points they barely fit in the magazine. Cycling the bolt, it flawlessly picks up a cartridge and feeds it into the chamber where the bullets are then pushed up close to or into the rifling. When you pull that trigger, it's like getting kicked by a mule. With shoes.

So, needless to say I also learned to flinch. The anticipation was almost as bad. I even flinched subconsciously when I pulled the trigger of my airgun. As I got older I knew I was a flincher but didn’t know how to overcome it. I could will myself to stillness 80 percent of the time, but the other 20, I either pulled the trigger, or momentarily closed my eyes.

One fine weekend, I was at a paintball tournament, and we were going through CO2 cartridges like mad, with paintballs flying like mayflies at a hatch. For one reason or another I realized that I wasn’t flinching when I pulled the trigger. I paused in wonder, and immediately got hit by about eight paint balls. In those days you only had orange so I looked, well, orange.

After deliberation, I figured that I was mentally occupied with the game at hand, and did not anticipate the recoil because first of all there was so little to contend with, and secondly I was focused on the target or targets. I went home to experiment. I bought a couple of bricks of 22LR, an extra magazine for the Ruger 10/22, and a spinner target with a one inch target. My Ruger has a Volquartsen trigger assembly that I bought through Brownells and is the only modification I have made to it.

I set it all up with a good backstop at 25 yards.

I stood there shooting round after round. One eye open, both eyes open, different presentation angles, and different start positions. At first I concentrated on not flinching. Good sight picture, breathe control, and squeeze that trigger. Then I just relaxed. I was comfortable. As the afternoon wore on, I was shooting without really thinking, I was becoming instinctive in my targeting. I could focus on the target; the surroundings, the wind, and everything else became extraneous to me. The sighting became automatic and the spinner clanged with monotonous regularity. 99% on target. I moved out to fifty yards. The interesting thing was that once again the spinner never really stopped moving. 95% on target. Now I was cocky. Out to a hundred yards. At that distance I might have hit it 3 or 4 out of ten times. That’s offhand, at a one inch target, with a scope set at 1.5X. Not bad with a factory barrel Ruger10/22.

I went straight for my Weatherby 30/06. I really like my Weatherby, with its oiled walnut stock, and its Leupold scope. With 180 grain Swift A-Frames, and me doing my part, it will keep five rounds inside an inch and a half at a hundred meters. That’s more than good enough for me. I’m told that it will do minute of angle with 150’s but I prefer heavier bullets for hunting. In this case though, and in the name of economy, I used some budget 150’s for practice. I burned a hundred round of PMC ammo, (with a half dozen cleanings in between), mostly offhand, at a variety of targets and ranges. Now I can confidently state that if I decide to shoot at something with a properly sighted rifle, I will hit it where I aim. The flinch is gone.

When it was time to teach my wife to shoot with her S&W 908, I bought a case of ammo, and three extra magazines. When we went to the range, I brought my bull barreled Mark II, two magazines, a brick of .22 ammo, and the Smith and Wesson. We fired the Ruger until she was warmed up and comfortable shooting. Cristal is an old hand with the Mark II, having one of her own before I even met her. Anything that comes within her sights is apt to be ventilated, so I would think twice before challenging her to a gunfight.

The S&W is a nicely made compact 9mm. I am not a fan of the 9mm and my personal self defense gun is a Colt 1911 in 45 auto. But she needed a compact firearm with good capacity, and the 908 fit the bill. At the range, I filled up the four mags, and told her to point it down range and fire one round every two to three seconds until the slide locked. Drop the empty magazine, put another one in, and do it again; and again, until she went through all four magazines. By the third magazine she was in control of the weapon, and by the end of the session later that day, my thumb was raw from shoving 9mm rounds into the mags, and she was making two inch holes in the cardboard backing of the targets at 21 feet, just because she could.

(Update: As much as Cristal loves the S&W, I should have bought her a shorty 1911 instead. Something has gone wrong with the Smith. The slide refuses to budge. The weapon does not have a round in the chamber, thankfully, and the only clue I have is that the extractor is not flush with the slide. What happened previous to the slide locking up is unknown. My darling loaned it to my father in law, and that is how it came back…

I am going to remove the grips tonight and see if I can garner any more information. I downloaded the manual from the S&W website, maybe there are some clues in there.)

(Updated Update: After carefully inspecting it from every angle, I took an unbreakable grip on the SOB, grabbed the slide with the other hand, and pulled the two apart. It wasn't easy, but they did. I stripped the gun down, but I couldn't find where it was binding, or what was holding it in place. Now it seems to be working fine, but this S&W 908 will be forever suspect.)

When it came time to teach the kids, I was ready. I bought us all matching Daisy Red Ryder BB Guns! A couple dozen pop cans strewn about the yard constituted our targets. After a short but very serious lecture and demonstration on gun safety, we proceeded to ventilate as many cans as possible. Several thousand BBs later, everyone was making the cans dance all across the yard.

Then it was to the bench with the Ruger 10/22. Once again the focus was on safety and overall gun control. Proper gun handling, sight picture, breathe control, and squeezing the trigger, was the order of the day. The key was a relaxed but purposeful attitude and a controlled discharge of the weapon. Both the boys did an excellent job of it.

After several weeks of shooting the Ruger, I pulled out the old 308 and another Ruger, a 77/22 in 22 Hornet. The 308 went to the older one, while the younger was assigned the Hornet.

By now I had pseudo-sporterized the old Mauser. Gone was the steel butt plate, replaced with a proper pad. The stock had been reshaped to more pleasing lines (sorta…), and a sling installed. I left the original iron sights on it. They are rugged and accurate enough for the kind of hunting I do. A box of 150gr pointed soft points rounded out the ensemble.

We headed out back to our shooting range and set up at the fifty yard line. I had a bag of soda cans with me to liven the exercise up. The boys stapled the cardboard target backers up, while I set up a few cans on stumps. Back at the bench Blake took up position first. I asked him to fire one fouling shot at the target and then we would continue. He had no problem, hitting within an inch of his point of aim. I then changed it up a bit, I asked him to shoot at the bottom of two cans that were stacked one upon the other. What he didn’t know is that I had put two full cans there. When he pulled the trigger, the impact and subsequent disintegration of the hollow pointed 45gr bullet, not only blew the bottom can to smithereens, but also ruptured and exploded the top one. I can’t think of a better display of the destructive power of a firearm.

That demonstration drives home the lethality of any high speed projectile. The same can be done with a milk jug filled with water to which some red dye has been added.

Properly awed I set the two down to business. Both of them put a dozen rounds of 22 Hornet down range without any issues. Again we concentrated on proper form, target acquisition, sight picture, and trigger control.

By the time we ready for the Mauser, I was concerned that the switch from the Hornet to the .308 would be dramatic. I was wrong. The boys, other than remarking that it “kicked a little more,” continued to put round after round down the range, hitting their assigned targets with monotonous regularity. Both were shooting offhand and doing a much better job of it than I ever did. Just to be sure, I occasionally mixed in a spent round while helping them load their rifles. Not once was there any noticeable flinch, twitch, or extraneous movement on their part.

The lesson here is to use a firearm that you know you can control and that you are not afraid of! Any rimfire is a good choice along with a brick of ammo. Proper form and safe gun handling habits are easily reinforced by using the relatively quiet and basically recoilless guns to solidify them. A move to a mid level gun that a good physical fit for the shooter is also important. From there its just a matter of regular practice to stay fit and on target.

Speaking of practice don't forget to gt into a routine of using a dry-fire regimen at home to keep those muscles in shape, and the eyes keen. Make your self a set of snap-caps like the ones we made in the Snap-Caps Chronicles Project. These will help you hone your technique at home.

There is one other thing that I do each and every time before I go out. The day before, I take out the Ruger 10/22 and shoot several magazines in all the field positions, sitting, kneeling, and mostly offhand. I have never shot a single head of game without a rest, but the confidence of being able to do so makes me a better hunter.

Albert A Rasch
The Hunt Continues...


Lweson said...

My springfield xd 45 locked up that way...the slide would not budge, so I googled a solution for it. Apparently when you put it together after cleaning you better make sure the guide rod is centered or it will bind up. The solution was brute forced the slide to realign the guide rod correctly. Your 908 may have done the same.

James A. Zachary Jr. said...

Good article and good advice.

Albert A Rasch said...


Maybe that is what it was... I mean it took a hell of a push-pull as you said brute force, to get them in motion.

Thanks Partner!


Whit Spurzon said...

Another excellent post. Thanks for taking the time to share it with us.

lralph said...

Great post, I need to hit the range and overcome my flinch once and for all.


Josh said...

Great post. Now I want to go shooting. I haven't taken my 10/22 out in ages...

flea said...

LOVE my Ruger 10/22, everyone should have one!

steveo_uk said...

I shot my first Ruger 10/20 last weekend, it was a lot of fun and yes i want one !

EcoRover said...

Unfortunately, as the Army found in all their studies from WWII on, many adult men will develop a flinch when shooting a field-weight 30/06 class rifle--a major reason of course for the 223/5.56. In my experience, a great majority of elk hunters overgun themselves with 300 or 338 mag class rifles, bottom line they can't hit a bull in the ass with a snowshovel. I've killed most of my elk with a 308 Win and more than a few with 25/06 and 257 Roberts--and I can comfortably shoot a couple of boxes of practice ammo before hunting season.