How to break the habit of dipping the front sight

There was a question today in a group that I’m part of where the shooter asked for tips on how to keep from dipping his front sight as he shoots.

There were several suggestions, including the thought that it might be that he was pushing the gun down too quickly to see where he hit.

There are a couple of things going on here and a few ways to fix it depending on how you’re doing your dry fire.

It could be either a lookie-loo as was suggested or it could be anticipation/flinch.  We’re going to look at both.

A lookie-loo is when you look downrange too quickly instead of getting a follow-up sight picture.  It usually causes the arm and grip of the gun to drop faster than the muzzle and for groups to string vertically, but let’s look at both options.

The lookie-loo is incredibly common.  It can cause your groups to drop, but it will usually cause them to be a little high.

I’m going to share a very simplified model that I use to describe what’s going on in the brain based on what we know about the brain today.

Shooting causes the release of a ton of neurotransmitters, and hitting what you aimed at feels really good because of that.

When the brain figures out a relationship between action and reward, it begins to want the reward with less and less delay.

So, once the brain associates feeling good with seeing that you hit where you aimed, it naturally wants to get feedback as quickly as possible.

That means getting the sights out of the way so you can see where you hit on the target.

Usually, this happens by lowering the arm and inertia causes the grip of the gun to drop quicker than the muzzle and it causes a group that strings high.

Here’s the problem…

In a rush to get the sights out of the way to see the target, the brain keeps lowering the sights sooner and sooner, until it’s lowering the sights AS the shooter takes the shot.

Visual processing takes time, so what we’re seeing actually happened earlier…sometimes .10 seconds or more earlier.

In addition, if you think about shifting your focus from your front sight to the target, we should be aware of our eye focusing on every distance in-between…but we’re not.  It turns out that the visual cortex stops sending images to the rest of the brain while focus is shifting and the eyes are re-coordinating and stabilizing.  It’s quite literally, a period of blindness that lasts .10 seconds or more that’s called saccadic suppression.

Instead of being aware of the transition, we see an instant switch from focus on the front sight to focus on the target and don’t see the .1 seconds when we lower the gun in relation to when the shot was fired.  If we disturb sight alignment during that .1 seconds, we don’t see it and our brain will swear that the sights stayed on the target the entire time.

The way that you fix this is to shoot at a speed that allows you to be disciplined about getting a follow-up sight picture before looking at your target to see where you hit.

This is vital for live fire, dry fire, and especially when training with a laser or a projectile that’s moving slow enough that you can watch it fly from your muzzle to the target…like airsoft, paintball, or sim rounds.

One trick that I was taught by Matt Seibert from Insight Firearms Training is to use appliance paint, a paint marker, or specially made sight paint to put a tiny dot on the front sight, right above the factory dot.  The dot should be about 1mm in diameter.

This is small enough that you won’t see it if you’re focused on your target…even if you’re aware of your front sight and can see the factory dot.

But, if the dot is clear, it’s great feedback to let you know that you really are focused on the front sight and not just aware of it.

You want to know where that tiny dot was when the shot fired, follow it in recoil (if possible), and reacquire the dot before shifting focus downrange.

Very early on, it can be valuable to keep the trigger pressed to the rear during recoil, but as soon as possible you want to reset the trigger during recoil so that you can release the next shot the instant that your sights come back into alignment.

The next question is whether or not your dry fire will carry over to live fire.

It definitely can, but most people do dry fire in such a way that has limited value for live fire.

Several years ago, I had the following conversation with another instructor who’s school was running 140+ classes per month.

Larry: Do you rack your slide when you dry fire?

Me: Yes.

Larry: Do you think that dry fire helps you do better at live fire?

Me: Yes.

Larry:  Do you rack your slide between shots when you do live fire?

Me: No.  Of course not.

Larry:  Is there anything that you’re doing that is causing everything that you’re doing in dry fire to carry over to live fire except for racking the slide?  In other words, how does your brain know that everything else that you’re doing in dry fire is important, but that racking the slide should be ignored.

Me:  *the sound of crickets and gears grinding in my head*

Larry:  The fact is, most people end up creating 1 neural pathway for dry fire and a second neural pathway for live fire.  When they get to the range, their brain starts executing the dry fire script but quickly switches over to the live fire script.  People see their old problems come back and blame dry fire but it’s really just HOW they did their dry fire.

-end story-

This highlights the point that sometimes dry fire can be incredibly helpful for live fire performance and sometimes it may only have limited value.

Dry fire is equally good at hardwiring ineffective technique as it is hardwiring effective technique.  That’s why properly structured and guided dry fire training programs are so valuable…they help shooters avoid training scars that they may not even know to look out for.

What if it’s a flinch?

Flinch doesn’t normally create a low tight group…it normally creates a low pie shaped group.  If your flinch disturbs your accuracy and precision, you probably want to address it.

Flinch is an emotionally charged, conditioned response to the brain perceiving recoil as a bad thing that needs to be controlled rather than a beneficial event that should be managed and harnessed.

I use relaxation and distraction techniques with shooters on the range to help them immediately overcome any emotionally charged associations they have with recoil, but there are a couple of things you can do on your own…

  1. Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself before you shoot.
  2. Don’t care about where you hit…just care about keeping the sights aligned as you press the trigger.
  3. Don’t care when you flinch. Be emotionally dead about it.  Be excited when you press the trigger while keeping the sights properly aligned and you see evidence on the target.
  4. Try counting backwards from 10-1 or 20-1 out loud as you’re pressing the trigger. Sometimes, this is too stressful, but other times it can let a shooter be more mechanical about the process and immediately shoot without flinching.
  5. Spend some time shooting a pistol with a lighter/shorter/crisper trigger and then work your way back to the gun that was causing problems.
  6. Go back to basics. Start with dry fire, then a very low recoiling platform that uses CO2 or green gas, then a .22, and work your way back up to your “normal” caliber/load.  When you have 5-10 or 20 shots without flinching, move up.  Any time you flinch, DO NOT CARE ABOUT IT but drop down to a lower recoiling platform.
  7. Avoid the traditional ball-n-dummy drill where you load up a magazine with a majority of live rounds and some dummy rounds. This is a “gotcha!” drill that creates emotionally charged memories every time you screw up.  You want to be emotionally dead when you screw up and emotionally charged when you succeed.  This is a really big deal.  For more on this and a smarter way to do ball-n-dummy drills check out: https://dryfiretrainingcards.com/blog/avoid-this-dummy-drill-how-to-turn-it-into-a-smart-drill/

If you’ve got more questions on this, let me know.

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