Jul 10, 2015

The “F” Word

If you shoot a firearm, it happens to all of us at one time or another. Sometimes so imperceptible you hardly notice it. Other times, it is like a 50,000 volt Taser hitting you out of the blue and giving you a seizure-like response. “It” is… I can hardly say it, the dreaded, “FLINCH!” While it is different for everyone, it can probably best be defined as an involuntary muscle reaction when a shooter makes the move to pull the trigger. A short circuit between the brain and trigger finger that causes all sorts of involuntary reactions.

In shooting we call it a flinch, archers call it target panic, golfers call it the “yips.” Ever see a baseball player who can’t execute a simple throw without tossing the ball 20 rows into the stands? Yup, same deal. I don’t think there are any real experts on this, because when I developed my shooting “flinch” I did a lot of research for an answer and couldn’t find much. As a “layperson,” after years of dealing with it, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are several types of shooting flinches. Primarily they are induced by recoil, visual issues, and competition.

The recoil flinch is self explanatory. Your brain is anticipating the recoil of the gun and as you pull the trigger you jerk and/or “flinch.” You can sometimes see a shooter actually begin to pull their face away from the gun and grimace in anticipation as they try to accentuate the trigger pull sequence.

The visual flinch seems to occur more in something like sporting clays where you have various types of backgrounds; sometimes wooded and vegetated. In this case, your eyes cannot reconcile what they are seeing well enough for your brain to go along with the “pull signal” the trigger finger is trying to send. That causes a loss of fluid coordination and a “flinch” can happen.

The last type is more insidious. I call it the competition flinch. It usually starts on easy targets or targets you have a long time to look at. Competitively, you need to break those targets to win, you want it bad, and your brain knows that. As you begin to make your move, your brain subconsciously reconciles the fact that if you don’t pull the trigger, you can’t miss the target. So your subconscious brain is now in a “shooting not to miss mode.” Consciously, you are still actively trying to shoot the target, but the signal you need from your subconscious brain to trigger the natural electrical synapse needed to activate the proper coordination and muscular reaction gets confused or is not sent. The result can be anywhere from a shooter trying to pull the trigger numerous times before it goes off, to the previously mentioned, and sometimes significant, involuntary muscular and coordination reaction that causes the shot to miss the mark, at times, widely.

Now that we’ve defined the flinch, my next column will deal with how do we fix, or, live with it.