Recoil Anticipation

Recoil Anticipation

This is a discussion on Recoil Anticipation within the Defensive Carry & Tactical Training forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; Recoil Anticipation When it comes down to the fundamentals of marksmanship, people make such a big deal about the four secrets, as if all you ...

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  1. #1
    Senior Member Array Sweatnbullets's Avatar
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    Recoil Anticipation

    Recoil Anticipation


    When it comes down to the fundamentals of marksmanship, people make such a big deal about the four secrets, as if all you need to do is follow them and all will be good in your world. I am not saying the sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, and follow through are not important, I am just saying that these are relatively easy to teach and are seldom the real cause of poor shooting.

    From my experience as a student and instructor recoil anticipation is the number one cause of poor shooting. Some will say that recoil anticipation is part of trigger control. I absolutely disagree! Recoil anticipation has very little to do with pressing the trigger straight to the rear, while not disrupting the sigh alignment or sight picture. Recoil anticipation is the natural desire to “counter act” an unnatural explosion in the hands that causes muzzle flip. It is the natural desire to control muzzle flip that leads to recoil anticipation. Since it is unnatural to have an explosion in your hand, it is natural to try to counter act the energy attached to that explosion.

    When you anticipate the recoil during live fire it is almost impossible to see with the naked eye. Recoil anticipation can only be diagnosed with dry fire. But it often does not manifest itself unless the shooter knows that the explosion is going to happen. This is where an instructor can prove very valuable. Drills such as “ball and dummy” can show the shooter exactly what anticipating looks like and feels like. As soon as they see the muzzle dip right before the round was suppose to be fire, they understand why their shots are consistently low and to the left (for righties) and low and to the right (for lefties.)

    Once the recoil anticipation is diagnosed, now comes the hard part of getting rid of it.

    Most of us know that it is “the surprise break” that allows us to eliminate recoil anticipation. The surprise break is the concept of the shot breaking at a time period that is very much a surprise to you. Since it is a surprise, there is no anticipation of the recoil. Some get past this very quickly and some people do not. The difficulty of getting past it can be attached to many outside influences. For me, I suffered an electrical explosion in my hands as a very young child. The trauma attached to this event left me recoil sensitive due to an actual and very painful explosion in my hands. I was left alone to try to figure out how to erase the reminder of that traumatic experience. Many instructors tried and many failed. In dry practice, I was steady as a rock, but as soon as I thought I was going to get another explosion in my hand the anticipation would come back. Actual trauma can have long lasting psychological effects.

    Here is what was taught to me by one of the very best diagnosticians in the field that finally led to me getting over this problem.

    Run the ball and dummy drill to diagnose the problem and let the student see the problem. Explain what they are doing (hey, it is natural) and why they are doing it (to counteract the muzzle flip.)

    Explain the surprise break.

    Have them show you ten “perfect” dry presses. If the muzzle dips once, have them start over. Let them rest or relax if they need to. But I need to see ten perfect dry presses in a row.

    Here is where I deviate from what is commonly done. Many instructors will have the student point in and get the perfect sight alignment/sight picture, all while the instructor is pressing the trigger. While this does work on many people, it did not work on me. I prefer to use a trade secret that actually teaches the thinking behind the trigger work. Having the instructor press the trigger without the instructor telling you what he is doing and thinking is not near as good as the student pressing the trigger while following the instructor commands and understanding the thought process. It is the thought process that allows the recoil sensitive shooter to understand the absolute importance of the surprise break.

    Here is how the drill goes.

    The shooter is told to follow the instructor’s commands to the letter

    Shooter points in with hard focus on the front sight, with a perfect sight alignment and a perfect sight picture

    Shooter is told to begin applying a small amount of “straight to the rear” pressure on the trigger…..but don’t let the gun fire! Hard focus on the front sight and slightly more pressure……but don’t let the gun fire! A little more pressure……but don’t let the gun fire! Hard focus…..perfect sight picture…..a little more pressure……but don’t let the gun fire. A little more pressure ……but don’t let the gun fire BANG!

    Now that is the definitive surprise break!


    The student did not even want the shot to break and it did. This usually leads to a perfect hit instead of the “same old low and to the left.” This is the teaching of the thought process behind the surprise break. If you are extremely recoil sensitive it becomes a mental game to convince yourself that the explosion is not going to happen.

    I know that it comes as a surprise to all of my PSP students when this teaching is done at the start of every PSP course. We run a “one hole drill” then we talk about recoil anticipation and the thinking behind the trigger work. We then run the “one hole drill” dry for “ten perfect presses.” We then load up and shoot the one hole drill again. In this very short lesson I usually see a 50% improvement in the student’s marksmanship ability. The recoil sensitive students usually improve as much as 80%.

    The next step is to take this concept into the “compressed surprise break.” For me, this teaching is what changed my shooting skill sets exponentially. I had to find a way past my trauma, to get to the levels that I needed to be at

    When I am looking for that “one perfect shot” this teaching (from ten years ago) comes right back to the forefront. I hear the instructor in my head like a Drill Sergeant, telling me exactly what to do, telling me exactly what I should be thinking about, reminding me that if I anticipate that recoil ……I will surely miss the mark.

    I hope this helps somebody as much as it helped me.


  2. #2
    Senior Member Array Phillep Harding's Avatar
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    I suspect that "recoil anticipation" is more "muzzle blast anticipation", but most people have this idea that "only a wuss is scared of a little noise".

  3. #3
    Member Array beaker's Avatar
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    i have a really bad issue with recoil anticipation. there are days i do great and completely decimate the center of my target. and then there are days where the target has several little holes all below and to the right of the target (i'm lefty) i've done a few google searches with very little help. but i will definitely try this one out. i'm going to foreword this to a buddy of mine with whom i go shooting who has the same issue if you don't mind.

    just kinda sucks i can't actually try it out till i can get back to the states. or if i find someone here who has guns and goes shooting regularly.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Array Sweatnbullets's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phillep Harding View Post
    I suspect that "recoil anticipation" is more "muzzle blast anticipation", but most people have this idea that "only a wuss is scared of a little noise".
    I disagree.

    It is not the sound, it is the recoil, the resulting muzzle flip, and the natural desire to counter act the energy of the muzzle flip.

    It has nothing to do with being a wimp, it is not about flinching from a loud sound. It is about anticipating the recoil.

    I am going to have to estimate that at least 60% of "the student of the handgun" have a varying degree of a recoil anticipation problem when they first show up in my courses.

    Many students do not even know they have this problem.......until you begin to fix it.

    I recently had a good friend inside of one of my courses. I will not use names. Solid military service. I am running the "one hole drill" and see that he is shooting 6-8 inches low. "This gun always shoots low" is what he tells me. So I say "let me see it" and I shoot it and it is dead on the money. I run the ball and dummy drill on him and we see the dip. We then ran the drill as explained......dead bang!

    I just look at him and asked him "you know what you need to do, right?" and he answered "yes!" And that was it for the rest of the course. It took maybe two minutes and that gun never shot low again.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Array Sweatnbullets's Avatar
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    but i will definitely try this one out. i'm going to foreword this to a buddy of mine with whom i go shooting who has the same issue if you don't mind.
    By all means pass it on to anyone that you think that it might help. You would be amazed on how many pistol shooters have a recoil anticipation problem. Inside of people that train it runs around 60%, to some degree or another.

    This is a very common problem.....as a matter of fact, IMHO it is the most common of handgun marksmanship problems.

  6. #6
    Member Array TapRackBang's Avatar
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    I would have to agree that is is the most common problem.

    I do the drill where they aim and I squeeze the trigger then we work on the suprise break, I think the instructor sqeezing helps with thier confidence as they usually drill the center of the target, I use it only as a visual example that they can hit where they aim. I then work on the suprise break. I usually tell them to focus and the sights and start squeezing the trigger. I have them whisper squeeze, squeeze, squeeze until the firearm discharges.It usually works but can take acouple of tries. I also coax them to relax as they are shooting...But I do like the idea, I'll try it and see if I get any quicker results.
    "Arms in the hands of individual citizens may be used at individual discretion..in private self defense." John Adams

  7. #7
    Senior Member Array dsee11789's Avatar
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    The first thing I do when I'm helping someone who is a poor shot is "load" the gun for them and not actually chamber a round. Then I will have them shoot and they always are anticipating recoil and flinching. Once they see this they understand themselves what the problem is.
    Exodus 22:2 "If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed"

  8. #8
    Senior Member Array Sweatnbullets's Avatar
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    Ball and Dummy drill as the instructor.

    We do not have the time to load snap caps in our students guns. If you nead to diagnose a recoil anticipation problem, that means that we have to quickly set up a failure to fire (or act like we are.) Ask for the students gun. Turn so the student can not see what you are doing, remove the magazine, clear the chamber(or act like you are), and reinsert the magazine.

    This leaves the student not knowing if the gun is going to go bang or not. If it does not go bang and the muzzle dips......you know what you have. If you set it up to go bang watch for the hit. If it is the typical "low and left or low and right" set up another.

    Recoil anticipation can come and go if the shooter knows if the gun is going to go bang or not. You have to fool the student.

    Warning! This should always be done on a "one on one" basis while the other students are concentrating on their own little world. The ball and dummy drill should never be used in a manner that can lead to public humilation. The shooter just has something that he/she needs to work through.....he/she does not need to work through it while everyone is sitting their watching them. It is much easier to build the shooter up without the public ridicule.......that tears the shooter down.

    Always assure the shooter that it is perfectly normal to want to counteract the energy from the recoil. They are not wimps, they just need to trust that they can control the recoil without counteracting it.

  9. #9
    Ex Member Array Doodle's Avatar
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    Great discussion, in my opinion classic recoil anticipation (barring a traumatic event like the op's) is caused by shooting too big of a calaber too early in a persons firearm experience. I had this issue when my first center fire pistol was a berreta cougar 45 in 1998. I was a crackshot with my colt 22 and my black powder revolver, but when i got that 45 (with one of the heaviest trigger pulls ever) anytime i tried to shoot quickly at all rounds ended up in the dirt. If i had 10 seconds to get through the trigger pull the gun was accurate as could be but thats just not tactically feasable. I never worked out the issues with that pistol before i got rid of it. The solution for me was many many many smaller caliber (mostly 22) rounds down range before i stepped back up to the 45 and bigger. Just out of curiocity any one own any of the current stoeger cougers? Hows the trigger. Mine was once measured at greater than 16 pounds single action trigger pull, I'm sure it could have been smithed but i was just a kid and got rid of it early in my Navy days (another story involving an ex wife...booo.)

  10. #10
    Distinguished Member Array claude clay's Avatar
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    something else to try is--point the empty gun and quickly squeeze your hand, especially your ring and pinky finger...your a lefty so the muzzle went down and to the right. try a bit of a stronger grip to start and maintain that grip as the gun fires and ( like in golf) the follow through. simply said: start strong, and stay strong. good luck.
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