"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Recoil and Flinching

Recoil is the backward momentum of a gun when it is discharged. In technical terms, the recoil caused by the gun exactly balances the forward momentum of the projectile, according to Newton's third law. In most small arms, the momentum is transferred to the ground through the body of the shooter - Wikipedia

On Sunday, I took my Knight Disc Rifle to unload into a creek bank. I’d been delaying the inevitability of disassembling and cleaning that mother for a while. Hey, it’d only had that charge crammed down its barrel since October – figured it was time.

I hefted the rifle up, put my finger on the trigger, tried to squeeze off the round, and flinched as if I’d suffered a Grand Mal seizure. If anyone had been paying attention, it would have been embarrassing, though only slightly more so than forgetting to disengage the safety.

What’s wrong with me? I’ve always prided myself on my shooting acumen – and things probably aren’t as bad I make them, but something is definitely askew. I’d noticed this yip affliction at other points over the last year.

Back in December I took friends of mine on a Stuffed Animal Safari. Armed with an AR-15 and a MAADI, we slung serious lead into toy animals, creating quite the fuzzy mess. At the end of the first 30-round gasser with the AR, I suffered a serious tremor on the 31st pull of the trigger. And this was with a .223.

Deer hunting in North Carolina, the doe was a chip shot with my .300 Win Mag – the very rifle I’ve been hunting with since I was 16 and has slain numerous beasts. I settled the crosshairs behind her shoulder and was taking the tension out of the trigger when I flinched as if reacting to someone trying to flick my ear. I caught myself before firing an errant shot, but this alerted me to a serious defect. I took a deep breath and ended up making a perfect shot.

It’s not just the flinching. The paper targets have shown my three-shot groups are spreading out. The crosshairs dance a little more than in the past. But the flinching has been the most distressing. Something serious has occurred that needs to be addressed immediately.

Why do I tell you this? So you know your hero is fallible? (Keep in mind, though, that I am man enough to admit all of this.)

No, it’s more selfish than your peace of mind. It’s the belief in Socrates’ philosophy that an unexamined life is not worth living.

The genesis of this problem rests, more than likely, with my increased employment of 3 ½ magnums. Two duck seasons ago I shifted to the 3 ½ inch magnum full-time. I started out OK; ended this last year wondering if these loads were packed with rock salt. I was flat whiffing the fowl. But duck hunting being duck hunting, there was a lot of muzzle music.

Came to realize, I was bracing for the recoil. My cheek was coming off the comb. The shotgun was resting below my shoulder as the bruises around my armpit would reveal. My form distorted completely. Ugly, ugly.

What I can’t compute is how I possibly became so tender-shouldered and recoil sensitive. I have fired Big Kickers most of my life with little concern or blow to my abilities. I bring you back to my .300. Or the .44 Mag pistols I’ve toted since before I had a driver’s license. .45-70’s and 50 caliber muzzleloaders. Nothing big like the elephant guns, but packed with enough “Whump!” that I shouldn’t be flinching to the point I look like I’d been zapped in the neck with a stun gun.

Rewind ten years. I did much more shooting with rimfires. I took them with me when I zeroed my deer rifles - partly for fun, partly to warm up for the serious guns. I shot a lot of small game back then. I hunted more, too.

In the last couple of years, time has been at a premium. Cash flow ebbed to a trickle prohibiting the purchase of additional ammo. And I've been headstrong with hubris, believing, like the wise Allen Iverson's and Charlie Sheen's of the world, that I was too good for practice.

As a result, everything about my shooting mechanics, from squeezing the trigger to breathing and preparing for the recoil has disintegrated out of sync. My previous devotion to MOA groups evaporated, too, when “good enough” substituted for the painstaking range time I once invested to accuracy.

So to sum up, I’ve shot a lot more 3 ½’s in the last two years than I have any other round. At the same time, I’ve cut out practice with easy-to-shoot cartridges. It’s like replacing a balanced diet with fast food. Bad habits and lethargy lead to sloppiness.

I plan on correcting this whole issue. One, I’m easing off the 3 ½’s come duck season. Any advantages, real or perceived, over the standard 3-inch loads aren’t worth a quack if the pattern is not finding the bird because I’ve degenerated into practically shooting from the hip. The majority of the waterfowl we kill around here anyways are decoying teal, woodies, and mottled ducks - maybe save the 3 ½ inchers for sea duck or diver hunting when shots are generally further and the birds tougher.

Two, I need to get back to shooting more and shooting healthy. I own a bevy of different rimfires dying for attention in my safe. They are fun to shoot, anyhow, and the cost per round is significantly lower than the big game calibers. They really do keep you in tune with shooting mechanics.

Being a cool, collected marksman requires as much practice and discipline as any other skill. I have been there before; I hope to get there again. But as with any major lifestyle change, the trick is in sticking with it.



Downeast Duck Hunter said...

I'm impressed with your willingness to put this on the line and tackle it head on...

Are you using a pump or semiautomatic for a shotgun?

I ask because I'd rather shoot 300 rounds of 3.5" shells through my Xtrema2 than 25 with my Nova.

However, you like I use heavy hitters. I swing a .338 Remington Ultra Mag for big game, use a 7 mm mag and .44 mag for deer, and when muzzleloading a .50 caliber.

I've never been a serious bench shooter for the lack of time, but I'll be curious to follow up on your efforts to get back to basics.

Enjoy the spent brass on the journey,


Ian Nance said...

Pumps....autos take some of the pain out, for sure.