It will take a couple of hours for you to get used to the feel of it and get over that weird adrenalin kick that you get when you first start shooting that causes you to shake while trying to shoot.
So you get used to the feel of the proper technique, your body starts getting less shaky while you’re shooting and all the while you’re improving rapidly. But just as quickly as you improved, the improvement stops. You’ve reached a stage where you’re shooting more competently than a pure beginner but you’re still a long way from being a good shot. There are many ways that people will try to progress from here, but if you have someone to give you good advice, the next step you can take is to start dry firing.
Dry firing: cocking the hammer of an unloaded handgun and squeezing the trigger, trying to keep the sights perfectly on target while pretending to fire a real shot. Dry firing is a great tool:
- It’s free
- It confirms if your technique is working for you
- It counteracts the psychological effects of recoil anticipation. You’re training your brain not to expect a massive recoil effect every time you squeeze the trigger.
The last point is as important as it is complicated. When you first start to use dry fire training, you will notice yourself flinching even while firing your unloaded gun. Your brain has been conditioned already to expect recoil and tries to counteract it. The more you dry fire, the more you confuse your brain as to what it expects to happen when you squeeze the trigger. So if you fire a lot more dry fire than live ammo, your brain should stop expecting large recoil when you squeeze the trigger. And it definitely works to a certain degree. Your shooting will improve by doing this simple drill. But you will plateau again when really you shouldn’t.
If you shoot 10 dry fire shots for every one real shot, then surely your brain should be expecting a dry fire shot every time you squeeze the trigger. Unfortunately for us, it’s not that simple. If it were, we would all be told to dry fire until we became perfect? So what happens? When we first start to dry fire, there are some immediate improvements in our accuracy. After a few weeks we stop seeing that visible flinching movement when we squeeze the trigger like we did when we started dry firing. So why then am I shooting perfect dry fire shots just before a live range session and then still anticipating recoil while on the live range? Well your brain is very smart. It becomes used to the idea that you are shooting an unloaded gun sometimes and a loaded gun at other times, and it reacts accordingly. So you can shoot perfectly when there are no rounds in the gun and then it all goes to hell when you are shooting for real. So then arrives another evolution in training that seeks to overcome dry firing shortfalls.
I’m assuming some beginners are reading this, so I will describe what snap caps are below. Even if you already use them it might be good to break down what’s happening to understand the psychology of why they’re better than dry fire training. Snap caps are inert rounds, the same size and shape of the live rounds that you shoot. Here’s how they work: they are loaded in to the magazine, ideally by someone else so you don’t know where they are positioned amongst the order of live rounds. So you load this magazine of live rounds plus a snap cap into your handgun and you shoot your practice. Every time you shoot, the recoil system of the gun loads a new round into the chamber, eventually loading the snap cap unbeknownst to you. When you squeeze the trigger on the snap cap, not knowing that the gun won’t explode, you are able to see the subconscious reactions that occur when you squeeze the trigger. The recoil anticipation reactions are usually invisible to the shooter because they happen so quickly before the gun recoils. Usually a flinching type movement will happen to between 0.02 to 0.12 seconds before the actual shot. The shooter never notices recoil anticipation because it was completely hidden by the explosive movement of the gun so close to the movement.
Snap caps work great for one main reason; they bring awareness of the problem. Most people are convinced that when shoot they are way off their aiming point that it’s the result of some sort of technique problem. This is until they see their own subconscious reactions by using snap caps; without the masking movement of the gun exploding at nearly the same moment.
So you might think that snap caps are a good solution to the dry firing problem, problem solved! But actually snap caps are very limited in their application to real shooting practice, especially competitive shooting practices. This is due to a number of reasons:
You can only know how you did on that particular shot. If the snap cap is the 7th round in the magazine, you don’t know if you flinched on the first 6 rounds so you have no idea of the scale of the problem. You don’t have feedback on every round fired, just that particular 7th round.
The practice stops as soon as you hit the snap cap. If you’re practising a quick fire with multiple magazine changes and the snap cap is the second round you shoot, then that practice is over. If your training partner puts the snap cap in the last magazine loaded, your brain adapts to know it is only being tested on that particular magazine.
But, that said, you will learn a lot by adding snap caps into your training.
Laser training (I’m not recommending this btw):
There are a few variations of laser training on offer. Essentially, there is no difference between dry firing and laser training, except that some may find the laser training more engaging than dry firing. It suffers from the same problem as dry firing; eventually your brain starts to realize the difference between when you’re playing with a toy and when you’re shooting live rounds. But you could also argue that laser training actually encourages bad shooting technique; If you’re looking to see where the laser is hitting, your eye’s focal point is on the target, not on the front sight as it should be.
Metal targets are actually a very useful training aid. The ping off the metal target serves to give an immediate feedback much like AimSteady does. The main problem is that metal targets are not available at most ranges because they have an inherent safety danger because of metal splash back. The other problem is that it is hard to be progressive in your training with metal plates, you would have to have a number of different size metal plates available to you as you want to progress which usually is, if not impossible, logistically awkward.
Overall, a combination of these will at least help you to diagnose at least that you have a problem, from there it is another step to improve on it. When you want to improve something, first you have to be able to measure it. Aimsteady is designed to record the users movement of every shot they fire so you can track your progress over time, but crucially it gives you the feedback you need to improve from very mistake.