Everyone has a discomfort threshold. For some, a .243 produces discomfort and for others, a 460 Weatherby is a bit too much. Fact is, everyone has a discomfort threshold.

When your discomfort threshold is exceeded just once or twice, you will develop The Flinch. This is an involuntary reaction that your brain produces to the shot and causes you to tighten your grip on the rifle, close your eyes and brace your body into the rifle. It is caused by a combination of things and the main culprit is hearing discomfort. This is followed by the physical discomfort of the rifle being accelerated into the shoulder and other more tender body parts.

Here is a simple test to determine if you have The Flinch.

Go to a shooting range, or suitable area for shooting, with a helper. Let the helper load, or pretend to load the rifle while you turn your back. Wear earmuffs so that you cannot hear the loading operation. You now know that the rifle may be unloaded. But it may also be loaded...... Take careful aim at a target and pay more attention to the sights or scope crosshair than you would normally do. The helper should watch the muzzle of the rifle carefully if he has given you an unloaded rifle.

Break the shot and, if the rifle was loaded, check the result on the target and then let the helper do his thing while you do not watch. If you break a shot on an empty chamber and the crosshair or front sight jumps as a result of a movement from you, you have The Flinch. If you did not see the sights jump but your helper did, you closed your eyes at the break of the trigger and this is classified as a Bad Flinch. You should not be shooting at animals, it is irresponsible in your condition.

No amount of money you spend on a better rifle, bigger scope, rebarreling, glassbedding or appointments with a shrink, will remove or improve The Flinch. You will shoot fliers for the rest of your life unless you take steps to get rid of The Flinch.

How to get rid of The Flinch

There is only one way to get rid of The Flinch. You must convince your brain, through training, that shooting does not hurt. This is easily accomplished by dry firing the rifle while paying minute attention to the sights to watch for movement as the shot breaks. Always wear hearing protection, even when dry firing. You can dry fire practice on your own as it is a bit embarrassing to be seen jumping about when the rifle only goes click at the shot. As soon as you can do ten consecutive dry fires with a rock steady sight picture, get your helper to load ........ or not load........ the rifle. If you get caught out, go back to dry firing until you can do ten in a row, rock steady. Keep repeating the process until you are immune from The Flinch. 

Sometimes immunity does not happen and, if you retest yourself periodically, The Flinch has returned. It is usually as a result of your brain calling you a liar because of the nosebleed and busted knuckles every time you fire the loaded rifle. The brain also says: "You can't fool me. The last time you did this, I could not hear for an hour." Jokes aside, it may not be quite so severe an action. Even a light or medium caliber rifle can pinch a cheek bone or aggravate an old injury. With small framed shooters, it is vital that the rifle fits properly. Sometimes the discomfort threshold is just not there and unfortunately all rifles are noisy and that remains the biggest culprit.

Reducing Actual Recoil and Perceived Recoil.

It is common sense to make any rifle as comfortable as possible to fire. There are a number of steps that can be taken to improve the comfort level of any rifle. In order of money spent for comfort gained, here is what to do.

• Wear hearing protection.
There are lightweight, slim line earmuffs available and some even have electronic hearing enhancement that will enable you to hear normally, but shuts out a gunshot. Earplugs with valves that will cut out a gunshot are also available. These items can be bought for a fraction of the price of the hearing aid you will need later if you do not protect your hearing now. Most hunting is done in winter and earmuffs also keep the ears warm and the cap secured to your head in windy conditions.

• Fit a Recoil Brake 
This is a low cost item and there are many advantages. Felt recoil is reduced by 40% to 50% so scopes and stocks take less punch and last longer. In many cases the accuracy of the rifle is improved, although this does not always happen. A brake, properly fitted, will never reduce accuracy. The strike of the bullet can usually be seen through the scope with up to a 30-06 rifle fitted with a 6 power scope. There is instant recognition of how good or bad the shot was. The muzzle is protected from accidental damage and the loss of accuracy a damaged crown will produce.

• Fit a good recoil pad.
Buy the best quality pad you can. Fitting cost of a low quality pad is the same price and labour as fitting of a good pad and you will save money in the long run by spending a bit more on the pad.

• Have your rifle fitted to you by an experienced stockmaker.
This can often be done by altering the existing stock if removal of wood is required for a more comfortable fit. If material has to be added, you have to decide between pretty and functional. Adding to an existing stock is seldom pretty and if you cannot live with that, you have to restock the rifle.

• If you reload, load for less recoil.
This does not mean you have to load down, although it is an option. Loading for less recoil can be done by using lighter, faster bullets and faster burning powder. Do not sacrifice accuracy or performance here. Use a faster burning powder if the choice is between two powders giving the same accuracy and speed. Use lighter bullets only if you will get the desired terminal ballistics given the game to be hunted.

The Flinch is a major cause of missed shots and wounded animals and should be taken seriously. It can and does afflict all shooters at some stage in their shooting lives and there is no shame to it. Recognise it for what it is, deal with it swiftly, and you will get so much more out of your shooting. After all, we should relax and enjoy our hunting, not grimace and bear it.

To your success,

Gerard Schultz