My Continued Handgun Search – Part 2, by The Novice

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

Anti-Flinch Measures

A search of the internet revealed a number of suggestions for combating flinch. There were three that I decided to try first.

The first of these measures was more frequent and extensive dry firing. Over the course of the following days, I set out to rack and dry fire the PPQ at least 200 times. I hoped that this might help to dampen my flinch somewhat. It should also serve to gently break in the moving parts and further smooth out the trigger.

The second involved wearing both ear plugs and ear muffs during my next range session. This would reduce the impact of noise on my flinch.

The third involved a more relaxed stance. This should help me to receive the recoil more flexibly, thus reducing its shock.

P99 Versus PPQ

My next range session was dedicated to side by side testing of my Walther P99 AS versus the Walther PPQ 5″ Standard. I fired 10 round groups at successive targets offhand from 15 yards, according to the following pattern: P99, PPQ, PPQ, P99, P99, PPQ, PPQ, P99.

The anti-flinch measures seemed to moderate my flinch a little. I could consistently see the cartridge cases being ejected from the chamber, which was not the situation prior to implementing anti-flinch measures. However, I still had a long way to go in conquering my flinch, as will become obvious from the following information.

The PPQ handily beat the P99. With the P99 I was only able to place the shot within 2″ of the center of the target 22.5 percent of the time. With the PPQ, I was able to do this 55 percent of the time. The extra one inch of sight radius helped me a lot. It even seemed to help my bifocals focus more effectively on the front sight.

But neither the P99 nor the PPQ were any where close to measuring up to the SW22 chambered in .22LR. Using the SW22, I am typically able to place the shot within 2 inches of the center of the target from 15 yards about 90 percent of the time. The 55 percent I achieved with the PPQ just did not cut the mustard.

I know that many SurvivalBlog readers can shoot much more accurately than I can, regardless of which gun I am shooting. This is an honest account about how I shoot and the things I am doing to try to shoot better, warts and all.

Although this was not one of my better range days with either the P99 or PPQ, the side by side comparison was sufficient to make me seriously consider putting my beloved P99 on the market and replacing it with the PPQ.

9mm Versus .22LR

I must admit that my relatively better accuracy with the SW22 sometimes makes me wonder if I should just forget about 9mm and focus solely on .22LR After all, a hit with a .22LR is more effective than a miss with a 9mm. But then I remember that my functional accuracy with 9mm at home defense ranges is sufficient to give a high probability of hits at those ranges. And all other things being equal, a 9mm hit four inches from the center of mass is probably more effective than a .22LR hit two inches from the center of mass. So in the long run I am probably better served by improving my 9mm accuracy than by focusing solely on .22LR.

Firing from Rest

During my next range session, I fired from rest. I did better than when I was firing offhand, but was still hindered by flinch.

I tested six different types of ammo (more on that later). All of them seemed to function well in the PPQ.

For the sake of comparison, I also fired a number of rounds from my P99 from rest. The PPQ groups were better than the P99 groups, but not as significantly as when I was firing off hand.

The most interesting occurrence took place while I was firing the P99. A fired casing of Winchester USA Forged ammo became so jammed in the chamber that I had to field strip the gun and pry the casing out with the Craftsman four way pocket screwdriver that I carry. On a subsequent range session, I had a round of USA Forged ammo whose primer would not ignite in spite of several good primer strikes. So although I like USA Forged as an inexpensive range ammo, I do not see it as reliable enough for use in any critical situation.

The Friend Test

I concluded my PPQ testing by inviting a number of friends to join me at two different range sessions to share their impressions. For the sake of this article, I will pseudonymously identify those friends as “Cool Hand Luke”, “Welly”, “The Natural”, “Glock 17″, and “Annie Oakley.”

Luke noted that the magazines are easy to load, that recoil is manageable, and that the gun is a confidence builder. He had his best ever 9mm group from 10 yards.

Welly liked the trigger, the low recoil, the good feel in his hand, and the sights. He fired his SIG P320 for comparison purposes, and felt that the trigger, recoil and accuracy were similar between the two guns, but liked the way the Walther fit his hand a little better.

The Natural liked the minimal recoil and the feel of the gun in his hand. He also liked the way the sights naturally came on target as he raised the gun.

Glock 17 liked the trigger, the low recoil, and the smooth action.

Annie loved the trigger, the low recoil, and the choice of different sized back straps. She had one stove pipe with each of two different types of ammo. This problem seemed to be resolved by a firmer grip. This suggests that stove pipes may be an issue with this gun while shooting lighter loads with a more relaxed grip on the gun.

During one of these range sessions, I had my best ever off hand 15 yard group using a self defense caliber, so I was pretty happy too.

Ammo Used

During the course of our testing, my friends and I used the following ammos: Winchester USA Forged 115 grain FMJ, Winchester Whitebox 115 grain FMJ, Remington UMC 115 grain FMJ, Sellier and Bellot 115 grain FMJ, Perfecta 115 grain FMJ, Independence Aluminum 115 grain FMJ, Blazer Brass 115 grain FMJ, Federal Champion 115 grain FMJ, and some lightly-loaded reloads. The gun handled all of these ammo typees well, with the exceptions noted above.

Conclusion

My friends and I really like the Walther PPQ 5″ barrel standard 9mm model. It is an outstanding firearm that any of us would be happy to own.

After much internal struggle, I decided to keep my P99 and send the PPQ back to Walther rather than buying the PPQ and putting the P99 up for sale. Although the PPQ is more accurate in my hands than the P99, I love the decocker on the P99 as well as its handier size. If Walther offered a long slide version of the P99, I would buy it in a heartbeat. In the mean time, I decided to stick with my current P99 until further notice.

Possible Avenues of Future Research

Since my primary problem in shooting self defense calibers seems to be the flinch monster, I continue to look for strategies for defeating it. Here are some approaches that I have been considering.

  1. Shooting the SW22 a lot. Shooting the SW22 seems to improve my 9mm shooting more than shooting 9mm itself does. So one potential strategy for better 9mm shooting is to shoot my SW22 a lot.
  2. Using a laser training aid. A laser training aid would enable me to practice inside in all kinds of weather with minimal expense and no recoil.
  3. Trying a heavier 9mm handgun. In general, a heavier handgun will have less felt recoil than a lighter handgun in the same caliber. This may be why I have had some good groups using my son’s Beretta 92FS. But I have to admit that the P99 is much more pleasant to carry then a 92FS, so a heavier 9mm would not be my first choice.
  4. Trying a handgun in .380 ACP. The .380 ACP is a lighter load than the 9mm, so all other things being equal, it would tend to have less felt recoil than 9mm. The problem is that most .380 ACP firearms are “mouse guns”, which due to their small size, blow back design, and light weight do not absorb recoil as well as they might. Also, their short sight radius is not particularly conducive to practical accuracy. A recoil operated handgun in .380 ACP with a double stack magazine and a five inch barrel with a correspondingly long slide would seem to be ideal. Such a gun does not seem to exist. The closest I can find seems to be the Browning 1911-380, which fits all the aforementioned specifications except that its barrel is only four and a quarter inches long, and it has a single stack magazine. Maybe I should give it a try.
  5. Trying shooting .38 Special in a .357 Magnum revolver. This would give the recoil advantages both of a lighter load and of a heavier handgun. Also, there are .357 handguns available with longer barrels, which would give a better sight radius. This would allow me to practice with lighter loads, while giving the possibility of using heavier loads for self defense. The disadvantages would be lower capacity and longer reload times.

Perhaps in the comments to this article some SurvivalBlog readers can suggest other approaches that I should consider as I seek ways to reduce my flinch and increase my accuracy with self defense calibers.




20 Comments

  1. you can help eliminate flinching by having a friend preload a mixture of live rounds and dummy training rounds in a magazine and having you fire it. Anticipation is usually the reason folks flinch and not knowing when the weapon will fire or not helps tone it down.

  2. I would highly recommend the mantis x device. As an avid shooter it’s helped me improve my scores on the pistol range. I use it for new shooters to help them master the berettas difficult trigger pulls both double and single action or any pistol for that matter. You can use it for dry fire and live fire. Simple easy and effective. https://mantisx.com/

  3. If you are working on recoil, using the .22 is not going to help you. Stick with the 9, try that drill I linked you yesterday, and start around 7 yards.

    I am not sure what you mean by a more relaxed stance. You should be gripping the pistol so hard, that, in the beginning, your front sight is shaking. Practice that dry. You want to muscle the recoil and control it, rather than ride it. When you practice the strength of your grip, you are using muscles that you normally dont use.

    In time, your front sight will no longer shake. Watch some videos of Travis Haley and notice how little of recoil he is showing. Jerry Miculek has some great videos on pistol grip, too. There is also a video of a US Army pistol champion showing how and why to practice your grip strength dry.

    You like the .22 because it has little recoil. Try something large then the 9mm, and then go to the 9. It will feel more like the .22. Good luck.

    1. Might there be a difference between “relaxed stance” and “relaxed grip”?

      The biggest test of stance I’ve experienced is not recoil, but having a buddy rack the slide during dry-fire practice.

      I agree, to master the 9mm, learn to shoot a .357 magnum, or .45 acp accurately. Then, the 9mm will seem like a pussycat.

      Ball-and-dummy drills–YES!

      In overcoming flinch, I’d avoid long shot strings. One quick shot, focusing on accuracy at longer range, would be my suggestion. Once that is mastered, move on to multiple shots–preferably at multiple targets.

  4. get you some snap caps (dummy rounds). mix one or two in with your ammo as you load your magazines. do not watch where they go. do not always load them in the same spot.
    as you shoot through your drills you will come upon those dummy rounds and the change in the gun will be easy to see. I have had students who could not see what they were doing and I had to load only one live round to a mag of snap caps; thus telling them there were no live rounds. shooting is mostly mental. do not MAKE the shot happen, concentrate on proper trigger technique and watch your sights lift off the target when it goes boom. carry on.

  5. I started shooting IPSC a few years back just as my “age-induced far-sightedness” became really noticeable. The constant push to shoot faster and an inability to focus the front sight quickly was leading me into a bad habit of shooting when I didn’t have a clear front sight focus. This was not doing wonders for my accuracy, to say the least.
    My solution was safety glasses with the entire lens having a + power like reading glasses. They are available for cheap from many sources, including Amazon. I simply bought a selection and use the ones that seem to work best. I found that somewhere around half of the + power I normally need for reading glasses is about right. I can get my eyes to focus sharp on the target if need be but switching focus to the front sight is easy and fast. Just that little bit of help made a big difference.

  6. Practice is, as you have discovered, a vital component. It builds confidence as well as skill, and confidence is everything in a crisis. If you need to practice with a .22 for any reason (recoil or cheap ammo), the .22 should be as close to your ‘big’ gun as possible. I am old school: Colt-Browning. With a 1911 and a .22 conversion you are shooting the same gun all the time. The controls are the same. The trigger is the same. All your practice reinforces the ‘right’ habits. A 9mm 1911 is heavy enough to help with recoil if that is a problem. If you need more magazine capacity, you can get .22 units to fit a Browning Hi-power.

  7. The key to eliminating flinching is lots and lots of dry firing. Focus on the front sight and concentrate on keeping it in position as you squeeze the trigger. Do this every time you dry fire, and that habit will translate when you fire real ammo. I have a revolver equipped with a laser system that I dry fire at a laser target. If you shoot 100 “rounds” of dry fire (and do it properly) for every live round you fire, your pistol shooting will improve drastically!

  8. What Cbass said-

    you can help eliminate flinching by having a friend preload a mixture of live rounds and dummy training rounds in a magazine and having you fire it. Anticipation is usually the reason folks flinch and not knowing when the weapon will fire or not helps tone it down.

    Also, FWIW, I’ve trained guys that claimed to “dry fire 2 hours every day” that seemed to flinch/react a little nutty every time the weapon actually went boom…

    Dry firing has it’s place, more so for actual weapon MANIPULATION IMO, but nothing is the same as the act of converting money into sound – actual shooting LOL.

    To develop true skill at arms we need to devoting a lot of time, training and yes ammo to this. It’s NOT going to develop shooting only 500 rounds a year.

  9. I still occasionally dry fire while balancing a quarter on the front sight. This calms me down and slows me down and helps me concentrate on the front sight, (the quarter).
    Don’t forget to use snap caps. It’s easier on the working parts.

  10. Mentioning the “within 2 inches of center” at 15 yards is pretty good shooting, flinching or not. Considering that under stress the 50% rule applies. (Meaning that whatever/however big your shot placement size typically is during practice it will be at least 50% bigger under stress) I understand that aiming small means missing small but it reads like to me that your are unnecessarily beating yourself up a little to much. Just relax a bit, understand that flinching is a thing to work on and remember that most of the vital spots are within a 4 to 5 inch area (heart/lungs/spine) and a follow up shot to the ocular cavity area (bottom of nose to the eyebrows and to the left and right of the eyes) for a full stop to the threat.

  11. Novice, as an NRA handgun instructor and an IDPA Master, I would recommend that you find a qualified instructor and book a few private lessons. I think you’ll be amazed at the progress you can make that way. Trying to solve your problems on your own, even with good advice, can be difficult and even discouraging. Get some instruction from a pro and watch your shooting improve.

  12. One thing stands out to me, and I believe this is why you’re not getting the accuracy comparison between the Center Fire pistols v. the SW22. The SW22 is a fixed barrel blowback design. The barrel doesn’t move as the slide cycles back ejecting the spent casing and stripping and loading the next cartridge. Accuracy wise, no locked breech action is going to compare to a straight blowback action (unless you want to spend a mint and buy a Sig 210, probably the most accurate 9mm ever engineered). 9 mm Blowback doesn’t really work very well. .22, .25, .32, and .380 can be made in a blowback design, but in 9mm the pressures are too much for that type of action, unless it gets built up to take the pressure ( Hi-Points and Jiminez Arms have a 9mm blowback design, but they’re both bottom rung guns, both heavy, difficult to rack the slide due to the extra heavy duty recoil springs, and not noted for their aesthetic appeal).
    So not to rain on the parade, it’s equivalent to comparing apples and oranges due to the difference in the actions.

  13. They way to get my wife past the final flinch, after all other steps like safety, stance, grip, trigger wall etc. were learned was. At the range, load up every available magazine for the firearm.

    She chose the Walther Q5 and we both carry the PPQ sub compacts. So we have at least 14 magazines combined.

    I let her fire every magazine from our PPQsc’s in succession, over and over. Then I kept loading the magazines she had already fired and gave them back to her to fire. We kept doing this for about 2 cycles. Until we were hearing consecutive steel targets hit from the entire magazine.

    She put down about 400 rounds in that session. After that she was, as horsemen like to call it, bombproof. No more flinch and a heavy appetite to throw lead from that point on. The blast and recoil didn’t matter anymore. She was so used to it that she started hitting steel from 15 yards just as good as I could.

  14. My observation is that most people squeeze the pistol in the dominant hand and wrap the other around. A much better way is treating your hands like a vise. Push forward with the dominant hand (do not squeeze the gun in that hand) and pull back with the wrap around hand (think machinists vise instead of squeezing with your dominant hand). In this way you create isometric tension which is a huge help for recoil control. Also notice what happens to your sight picture if you actually do squeeze with your dominant hand… yup, the pistol rotates and moves off target… not good. The isometric tension also allows you to get back on target much more quickly than when not using it because you have a much more secure shooting platform.

    Most semi-auto shooters (pistol and rifle) are also unfamiliar with the concept of trigger reset. You can see the lack of trigger reset glaringly on display in most YouTube shooting videos. The concept of trigger reset is best learned in dry fire mode. Get a spouse or buddy to help. Put the pad of your finger right in the center of the trigger. If you are using a rifle be sure you have a nice C-shaped trigger finger that is not “dragging wood” meaning not touching the stock anywhere. Take the slack out of the trigger and gradually apply pressure for a surprise break. When that happens, keep the trigger all the way back. This is when your buddy helps out by racking the slide or working the semi-auto rifle bolt. This gets you ready for the trigger reset. Gradually and ever so slowly release the tension on the trigger and allow it to move forward until you hear and feel the click as the trigger resets. You are now ready for your next shot. The slack is already out of the trigger. Your finger is in exactly the same place as it was when you took the first shot. Gradually build pressure again to achieve the “surprise break”. Do this drill over and over again. In time it will become second nature and very quick. Your semi-auto handgun and semi-auto rifle shooting will improve in both accuracy and in shot to shot timing.

  15. Any decent pistol shooter will be able to pick up nearly any make/model of pistol and be reasonably accurate with it. The reason is that the fundamentals of shooting apply across all makes and models. Sure there are differences on safety location, trigger pull, etc., between different guns but that does not take away from the necessity to stress the fundamentals. You seem to obsess over one make of gun versus another makes you shoot better, or one brand of bullets makes you shoot better…..these are very minor factors compared to focusing on the fundamentals of shooting. Save the money your spending on buying different guns, bullets and gadgets that you think may help you shoot better and instead take a class or two from a quality instructor. This will be your best ROI and then makes and models will be simply personal preferences rather than the illusion of one brand making you a better or worse shooter.

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