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Facing my demons: how I cured an event-induced flinch.

Facing my demons: how I cured an event-induced flinch.

I used to love shooting steel. The plates dropping, the loud “clang” from a Steel Challenge target – no matter what the venue, reactive metal targets are just addicting. This addiction, I discovered, can be broken – even if you don’t want to!

A number of years back I was shooting a Steel Challenge-type match. On one stage I was watching someone else shoot when a piece of bullet jacket bounced back from the steel plate, sneaked around my safety glasses, and caught the corner of my eye. (Mine was not the only injury that day – my buddy Hunter Dan suffered a leg cut from shrapnel, and another fellow caught a piece on his cheek.)

My physical damage was minor – lots of blood, though no permanent damage – but the psychological impact was greater than I could have imagined. You see, I’m somewhat paranoid about my eyesight to begin with; always have been. I don’t like the thought of anything heading straight for my eyeball, let alone touching it. (In the old days, when glaucoma exams meant a little pressure gauge touching the cornea, having my eyes checked was absolute agony.)

This close call with the jagged piece of copper left me more than a little skittish around steel targets. Ever since then, regardless of size or distance of the target, shooting a steel plate causes me to blink just as the sear releases. (The problem never occurs on paper targets, only steel.) I can’t help it, and I shouldn’t have to point out that it makes hitting the target more than a little challenging!

Early last year I resolved to cure this affliction. I’m lucky to have a range on my own property, and last year I acquired a self-resetting, half sized Pepper Popper. Whenever I go out to shoot, I make it a point to do so on that target first. I shoot it repeatedly, and with every shot I consciously force my eyes to remain open.

The first few times I tried this were pathetic; no matter how hard I concentrated, my eyelids always won by doing what they’re designed to do – protect my eyes. As time went on, and the round count increased, it became easier to keep them open, though I still have to do it consciously as opposed to subconsciously. (The latter will only occur when my mind has been retrained to accept the idea that shooting a steel target is perfectly safe, and that nothing will happen to my precious eyesight. I’m still working on it.)

I could have just ignored the whole issue and simply avoided shooting steel targets, but a) it’s not practical – they show up in the most unexpected places, and b) it’s not very much fun. Instead I decided to address the issue, and I’m hoping to be in shape to finally shoot a steel match again this summer.

Whether sports, music, or martial arts, if all you ever do is practice stuff that you’ve already mastered you’ll never make progress. When you go to the range, work on those things that you don’t do well. By facing your demons with your eyes open and brain engaged, you can eventually conquer them.

-=[ Grant ]=-

  • Posted by Grant Cunningham
  • On March 8, 2009

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