When shooting, it is common for shooters both new and experienced to have issues with groups centering low and toward their support side (left for a right hand shooter and right for a left hand shooter). This is often caused by one or both of two things:
- Slapping the trigger
- Flinching in anticipation of the recoil
- Dry Practice. You can do it pretty much anywhere that having a firearm in your hands is acceptable. You don't load any ammunition. For some dry practice drills, dummy rounds are needed, but for most of them you don't even need those. The purpose of dry practice is to practice the motions of using a firearm perfectly without being distracted by live fire. It is also useful because you can do it in your own home. For safety, you need to be certain that you are completely unloaded and do not have ammunition on hand that you could accidentally load while practicing. You also need a target with a backstop capable of stopping a live round if somehow you still manage to get a live round in your firearm. I usually use an old body armor panel. You can buy expired panels for about $50. Other things like safes, brick walls, filled bookshelves, etc can work. Just know where a live round will go if one were to be fired and be prepared to take responsibility if it happens.
- Ball & Dummy Drill. This is a live fire drill where preferably somebody else loads magazines or revolver cylinders with some live rounds and some inert (dummy) rounds. If you don't have an assistant you can load multiple magazines differently and shuffle them or spin a revolver cylinder so that you still don't know what is up next, but it is easier with a partner. The purpose of the drill is primarily to diagnose and monitor flinching and to practice clearing a failure to fire malfunction. To a limited degree, it is also to cure flinching.
- Trigger Reset. Trigger reset is a technique that maximizes speed and efficiency while minimizing sight picture disruption while shooting. It can and should be practiced both with dry fire and live fire.
- To practice dry, you take a fully unloaded firearm without dummy rounds or a magazine. For semi-auto handguns, cock the action. For revolvers leave it in double action. Point in at your target, focus hard on the front sight while maintaining the best sight picture you can and slowly apply rearward pressure to the trigger. Keep focusing on the front sight, and watch for any drifting in the sight picture. If pulling the trigger is causing any disruption to the sight picture, stop and adjust your trigger finger until you find the position that you can pull the trigger from without disrupting the sight picture. This is usually the middle of the pad of the last segment on your trigger finger, but it can vary depending on the person and the firearm. Once you are able to pull the trigger all the way to the rear and trip the sear without disrupting the sight picture, hold the trigger to the rear. Make trapping the trigger to the rear a conscience part of the trigger pull. Since you are dry firing, you will need to re-cock the firearm at this point for semi-autos. For revolvers this is not necessary. Keep the trigger trapped to the rear while re-cocking. Point back in on the target and acquire the best sight picture you can. This is to simulate re-acquiring the sight picture after recoil. Now, slowly release the trigger until you hear and feel a click. This is the trigger resetting. Once you are comfortable with finding the trigger reset, you should practice releasing to trigger reset as you are re-acquiring the sight picture. Once you are at this point in a live fire situation you would make the conscious decision to either not fire and relax the trigger the rest of the way and remove your finger from the trigger, or pull the trigger again and fire. Since this is dry practice you will generally just keep repeating the firing cycle until you are done practicing.
- For live fire it is basically the same. The difference will be that the rounds fired will cycle the action for you so you don't need to re-cock in between shots. You still need to focus hard on the front sight while maintaining the sight picture as you pull the trigger to the rear, consciously trap to the rear before releasing to the reset position while re-acquiring the sight picture, and either firing again, or releasing your trigger finger the rest of the way and removing your finger from the trigger.
Once you have determined that you are flinching, drop back to dry fire for a bit. Practice several cycles of the trigger reset technique to remind your muscles not to flinch as the trigger breaks. Feel the sensation of the smooth trigger break with the trigger trapped to the rear and the sight picture undistributed while focusing hard on the front sight. Allow that sensation to be ingrained into you and mentally mark that sensation as what it feels like when it is done right.
Then load up a magazine with one dummy round followed by three or four live rounds so that the live rounds will be fired first. Fire them slowly and methodically using the trigger reset technique. For each shot, remind yourself what it should feel like and that there is no reason to flinch. When you get to the dummy round fire exactly the way you did for the previous shots as if you were expecting a live round even though you know it isn't. Again allow that feeling of breaking the trigger without flinching sink in.
Now go back to the ball and dummy drill. Take it nice and slow. You will feel a world of difference from the first time. For each fire cycle allow yourself the time to recall the feeling of doing it right. Then go back to your other training drills. With a bit a practice, you will feel the difference if a flinch starts creeping back even without the ball and dummy drills. Any time this happens during training or practice, stop and take the time to remind your muscles what a clean trigger break feels like and then resume your training. With time your muscles will remember what they are supposed to do, and shooting without flinching will be instinctual. Your muscle memory will have written over your natural born instincts, and be it at the range, in your home, on the streets, or at some distant battle field, you will be able to put metal on target as naturally as you blink your eyes.