Trigger Control V Recoil Anticipation

We often hear that dry fire is the way to go to become a better shooter, but it is not all that some people claim it to be…

Truth is that dry fire practice helps the shooter master trigger control and that is a very important element in shooting. However it does NOTHING to stop recoil anticipation. Recoil anticipation is without question the most common technical error for most shooters. It is a “subconscious action” that most shooters do not realize they are initiating.

Let me explain. Once your eyes see an acceptable sight picture, your conscious mind sends the signal to your finger to begin the trigger press process. Once you have shot the pistol a few times, your subconscious mind is aware of the process and has realized that at the exact moment of ignition, the gun will move. The subconscious mind knows the pistol will generate rearward energy (felt recoil) pushing the gun rearwards. This will push the gun up and push the sights off the target. So with the goal of assisting YOU the shooter, your subconscious mind sends a countering command / action to make your body (wrist generally) push down at the exact moment that the trigger is pressed. This inevitably pushes your shot low and left (for right handed shooters) or low and right for left handed shooters.

The easiest way to demonstrate this to students or have them check themselves for recoil anticipation is to mix some snap caps or dummy rounds into the magazine (without knowing exactly where) and shoot slow and accurate shots. The anticipation will be obvious to all around, if it’s a dummy round instead of a live one in the chamber. There are some tricks and techniques that a good instructor can help you with including multitasking the brain, or decreasing the lag time between shots etc. You would be surprised how much a couple of hours of professional coaching on this will help.

So back to the initial point: When you are in your home conducting dry fire exercises with your pistol, you are really just practicing trigger control and sight alignment… because on a subconscious level you know the gun isn’t actually going to recoil and as such you will not try to compensate for it.

Managing recoil is part physical and part mental. Physically we need good fundamentals such as grip, body position, weight distribution and sight picture. Mentally we need to convince our subconscious that we WANT the gun to recoil, that we DON’T want to fight it. Gun on target, press trigger with no additional body / muscle movement…and hey presto…bullet goes where you want it. In reality it does not matter where you aim the gun… it matters where the gun is pointed when it goes off!

What techniques do you use to help with recoil anticipation?


Great post @F.F.T.
Dry firing somehow helps to avoid anticipation. You need to learn how to focus on front sight or the target while pressing the trigger. Don’t think about the moment you are expecting big bum, don’t wait for the hammer to fall or striker to strike… it doesn’t matter when it happens…it eventually happens.
This is the way I’m fighting with my anticipation.
Sometimes when I forget about this and notice my shots are low, I always go with 1 mag of mixed live ammo and dummy rounds. Usually 50% of dummies show my anticipation. However after this drill all next shots are placed on right place !


my go to is to start my day with a 22lr pistol and fire enough rounds through the same capability drills I’ll travel with my carry arms until I’m pretty much mentally expecting the lack of serious recoil. Changing up to a training load I’ll do some rythmic groups of rounds, 10 rounds in 10 seconds at one round per second. Usually by this point I’m not worrying about flinch or recoil management, I’m focused on running the gun. If I start breaking, go back to the 22 and put my reptilian brain back to sleep. Otherwise carry on and get focused on the plan of the day.


FFT–great post.
I think it’s beyond debate that trigger control and sight alignment are the holy grail of accuracy, but to your point–the best way I’ve taught through it is the snap caps and slo mo video with my phone of the shooter so they can see beyond a doubt that they do flinch (some keep paddling down the river of denial when I tell them they’re flinching).
I teach them the importance of the surprise break–taking up slack and then squeezing so slow they are actually surprised when it fires.
While it’s not relevant for draw and shoot drills, it does help teach them the importance of properly pressing the trigger and minimizing movement.
Another instructor I know said the best way to teach students not to flinch is to have them load up a mag and fire it as fast as they can (no aiming necessary) to show them there’s nothing to be afraid of. I don’t think that works. At all. Not even a little. :slight_smile:


I agree @F.F.T! Dry fire is not the holy grail, but it is definitely an important piece that can be practiced in the comfort of your home any time you are able without expense. I like the idea of recording a shooter to catch the anticipation, but that can only be done live fire on a range. Without addressing both, there will always be a problem placing rounds accurately on target. And both have to be addressed. Trigger control can be addressed more easily and then work on recoil anticipation.

Thanks for your input!


Dry fire is what we have, right now. I thought it would be great, if I still lived in the country, so I could live fire to my heart’s content, then I realized ammo replenishment would be questionable and very expensive.


I will submit that while dryfire and sight alignment is a valuable tool there is the one component that everyone forgets.

Follow through

Insanely important in rifle but no less so in pistol. Quite often in dry fire we go click the hammer falls and immediately rack the slide or cock the hammer. Kind of the same bad lesson on a qual shoot where everyone is in a hurry to get back into the holster.

So for a pistol do you press the trigger let the hammer fall and keep the trigger back and reset the trigger while maintaining sight picture? Or are you teaching yourself bad habits and come off the trigger as soon as the hammer falls?

Recoil anticipation is a real thing but falls into that mind over matter area. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.





Used it as a training technique on the range many years ago. Only it was a revolver, and skipping a chamber or two in the cylinder… does indeed show a flinch and subconscious movement in anticipation of the recoil.

The first two shots missed, and the third was an empty chamber… and the revolver jumped. They asked what happened and I told them, it was an empty chamber and it jumped because they had done it.
The next round was not as bad a miss, and the fifth round was empty and again, the revolver jumped.

After a couple of times, the student went back and qualified on the revolver, which was the minimum that was required for certain postings. Not to be issued a firearm, but to be qualified in case of emergency they could be issued one for defense.


Not for everyone… I’m going to summarize my thoughts/personal experiences, as many may disagree…

I try to use a consistent steady trigger squeeze and want a “surprise break”. Also, practicing with 22lr helps me train the body to not always expect a big bang. Last, I find trying to “use the wall” hurts my efforts to reduce recoil anticipation and limit using that technique.

I’ll add that I find it easier to notice the flinch (and therefore train against it) with the longer, heavier trigger on DA revolvers. It also demonstrates the importance of where the trigger finger contacts the trigger.


I hated and then loved my DAO SIG P220 (45) for just those reasons. AND, appreciated the heck out of my Mantis X because I could easily practice dry firing DAO at will. The practice and immediate feedback logged into my application showed everything. (the only problem was having to get a pic rail for magazine mount of the Mantis as this DAO P220 is a dehorned SAS version)


I do as Claude Werner does. I dry fire with a DAO revolver.


Again I believe it is primarily a mental issue, so anything that gets you away from thinking or focusing on the recoil itself should help.

1 Like