There are a great many small errors that can make even the most ambitious young shooter ultimately shy away from learning how to shoot properly. In my case, I tend to literally rest my cheek on the cheek rest on the butt of the rifle.
This is not generally an issue with the AR15 or other lighter carbines, though with other firearms such as my M1 Garand, my old Mauser eight millimeters, (including the ones I have rebuilt in different calibers since) the seven millimeter magnum and other of the “heavier” rounds, it can lead to discomfort.
In my case, it generally results in a sore, though rarely (never yet) bruised cheek on my part. Since the sore nature of my cheek has never prevented me from eating my game, or prevented me from pursuing my target, I have just lived with it.
Learning how to breathe properly is necessary, but it is as much a matter of practice as anything else. Leaning the eye too close to the scope is a common issue, but one I would hope the shooter would not have to repeat too many times before learning to avoid this problem.
Learning how to hold and handle … including shooting the firearm should be one of the first things taught in any common sense gun safety course. Hot brass being ejected, getting the skin between the thumb and pointer finger caught in a slide action and other similar issues again, should be addressed before the firearm is ever discharged for the first time.
Even when all of these issues have been addressed, the most common problem with shooters I have worked with, has been proper breathing techniques and flinching.
Flinching will inevitably result in the firearm being pulled completely off target, often resulting in the target being missed completely. Flinching, unlike all of the other issues addressed herein, is also very much a natural physical response to a known event that will result in an explosion.
It is a natural self-defense mechanism and thus, much more difficult to overcome than many of the other areas of concern for new (and even some experienced) shooters.
When I was just getting old enough to begin owning my own firearms … a common thing for kids around ten or eleven when and where I grew up, I never even recognized the fact that I was flinching. In fact, if you would have asked me at the time, I would have vehemently denied ever flinching.
Why I was a good enough shot that I had never yet lost a groundhog (which is a surprisingly difficult challenge, and one that people who are familiar with groundhog hunting will no doubt challenge) and I had even taken two squirrels or ducks or once even two turkeys with a single shot from my .22 magnum rifle … though granted, the second turkey had only been severely wounded and I had to finish the job with my knife.
My brother still claims to be the first among us to kill more than one critter with a single shot, and I let him believe that, but I know it was me who did it first. There was absolutely no way that anyone could have convinced me that I was flinching.
Granted, I was not as good a shot with the larger caliber weapons yet, but that was to be expected since I was not as familiar with them … or so I had led myself to believe. It was actually one of my brothers who showed me just how much I had been flinching … and exactly why I was not becoming more proficient when I was shooting … especially the larger caliber weapons.
Like most families back in the mountains, we had our own reloading equipment with everything we needed for virtually any caliber of weapon or ammunition readily available in that day and age. The only thing we did not reload was the rim fire brass for the twenty-two and one other oddball caliber that I cannot remember, but which my dad favored for varmints, though we still collected all of the rim fire brass to sell as scrap.
Never let a good thing go to waste, especially when all the work involved included nothing more than reaching down to pick up a spent casing.
My brother and I were particularly inclined towards reloading rounds for our shotguns. I never cared much for hunting with my shotgun, and to this day remain less than proficient with this weapon, but my brother and I were quite fond of peppering each other with bird shot out at about eighty or a hundred yards.
It may not be politically correct to admit to such a feat these days, but it was part of growing up when and where we did and just the way things were. On one such occasion we were loading rounds for each other with all manner of shot, just having fun as best as I can recall. My brother loaded up one particularly heavy round and I grinned, never letting him know how much it had hurt my shoulder.
The next round I jacked into the chamber, I prepared for more of the same and was horrified when only the primer went off … and the end of the shotgun barrel was maybe four inches off target … though my brother would claim it was six … I had flinched severely. Blackpowder firearms are another great means for testing whether or not someone is flinching consistently.
Loading a musket or black powder rifle with nothing more than a firing cap or primer will quickly reveal whether or not someone is flinching. Granted, it is a little more difficult to disguise and conceal during the loading process, but a day or three out on the range with a trusted friend … preferably one who may hack on you personally, but will never do so in front of other people … just in case you do discover that you are flinching, will generally be enough to teach even the most timid of people not to flinch.
The shotgun remains my favorite tool for teaching people not to flinch, alternating between heavy rounds, light rounds and nothing but primers with the shells loaded randomly from a container of shells I have loaded specifically for just such a purpose.
While I will be able to feel the difference, even between the light loads and the compressed loads, the person who will be shooting them will not. A few days out on the shooting range with a good friend will generally shame the person … in a good natured way, to cease and desist with any and all flinching while shooting.
DISCLAIMER: The same principles can be utilized with semi-automatic rifles, though an actual bullet should never be used, neither should any round with an insufficient powder charge to drive the bullet completely through the barrel. A round lodged in a barrel can easily result in an explosive discharge or malfunction of the firearm.
This is exactly why I only conduct such testing and teaching with shotguns and black powder rounds with no actual bullets or shot in place. Any and all testing, teaching and training should only be conducted under very controlled circumstances and only with properly trained personnel, safety equipment and all appropriate safety measures fully in place.