I have shot more than my share of big and small bore pistol matches ranging from local IDPA to metallic silhouette to bulls eye disciplines. I have enjoyed every second of these efforts even during the times when my performance was in a "lull" because of some bad habit I had acquired.
Yes, even the best shooters develop bad habits. The human mind can at times cause you to change what you are doing successfully without a conscious thought to do so. It's not only amateurs that fight this problem, all of the pros fight developing bad habits as well. Those that win consistently are the ones who have learned to recognize that a bad habit is present and eliminate it quickly.
If the pros who shoot hundreds of rounds daily have this problem, what can we as hobby shooters, or people who just want to be able to shoot well enough to protect our families do about bad habits?
Most pistol shooting bad habits develop as a result of recoil and noise and the anticipation of these two things. The best way to prevent or eliminate bad habits is to remove those two things from your practice routine by using a 22lr pistol as one component of your training regimen.
What are the most common bad habits?
Without a doubt the worst, and most common, bad habit picked up by pistol shooters is what I call "the lunge". The symptoms of this habit can range anywhere from slightly dropping the muzzle of the pistol when the shot activates but doesn't fire, to actually dropping the muzzle as much as 6 inches.
You can just imagine how much a shooter can miss the target when afflicted with this disease. Yes, I call it a disease because it is detrimental to results and hard to completely eliminate, especially if the movement is subtle.
If you are missing with your pistol, have a friend insert a dummy round randomly into your magazine, then focus, and try to put every shot into the bulls eye. My bet is, when you get to the dummy that doesn't fire, the amount you move the muzzle will shock you. Whether you know it or not, at least some of this movement is occuring on all shots, and to the extent it is causing you to miss.
Check out the video below. You only need to watch the shooters last shot with a Glock 22 pistol. He has a misfire after shooting several shots and the muzzle of the pistol moves at least 2 inches downward.
When you are flinching this bad, your shots will be all over the target. He is actually doing this with every shot but just doesn't see it because the recoil of other shots that actually fired hid the flinch.
This is only because your brain is anticipating recoil and a loud noise and involuntarily reacts by flinching or lunging. Dipping the muzzle to counteract the recoil and / or jerking the trigger for the same reason is why you are missing.
So how do we correct these problems
I am certainly not a sports psychologist and therefore not qualified to make any statements on the proper way to overcome bad habits developed over time while conducting one's primary sport. But I can tell you what I do and it has always worked for me.
Knowing that anticipation of recoil and loud noise is the source of the problem, I just remove them by using a 22 lr pistol. Since most of my big bore pistol shooting is done with my Smith & Wesson M&P Pro 9mm, I use a S&W M&P 22 to help me get back to basics.
Both pistols are very similar are were designed that way I believe for this very purpose. No the trigger pull is not the same and there are some very minor differences in dimensions between the two pistols but they are close enough that I am sure practice with the 22 helps my shooting results.
I can tell you that having a 22 lr model matching your big bore pistol is much more cost effective and less of a pain than using conversion kits. No changeovers, and therefore, tuning efforts after the conversion kit is installed.
Even Glock has finally come out with a 22 lr version pistol to match their G19 because of the consumer feedback they have received over the years. You can get more information on this new release here. It will become available on 1/20/20 as of this writing. I believe you can pre-order directly from Glock.
In golf, involuntary movements when putting are referred to as "the yips". It can take a pro months to years to work his way out of the situation. I have worked myself out of jerking or flinching when shooting my pistol in one session. I did this by shooting my 22 lr for just one or two sessions.
If you are lunging, or moving the muzzle really bad, spend one whole session with your 22 lr. Focus on really shooting tight groups at around 7 yards. Make sure you are pressing the trigger straight back so as no to introduce movement of the muzzle. As your confidence returns, move the target out further. A good shooter with a good pistol can hit very small targets at 25 yards with a 22 pistol.
When you get to the point you do not move the muzzle on a random dummy round consistently, you are ready to alternate your big bore and small bore. Fire one mag with each. When you don't move the muzzle on randomly placed dummy round in your big bore, you are cured.........at least for now until your mind takes over again.
Other pros of training with a 22 lr pistol
Learn to shoot with weak hand. If you are serious about your training, whether for competition or self defense, learning to shoot accurately with your weak hand is a must. Developing the correct fundamentals is always easier with a 22 lr pistol than with a larger caliber.
Cost. When asked how he became such a great pistol shooter, Jerry Miculek once said "I am the first one to arrive at the range and the last one to leave". Translated, a lot of practice actually shooting is what will make you confident and therefore, good with your pistol. Even though ammo prices have come down recently, 9mm ammo can still cost around a quarter per shot. 22 lr ammo is 4 to 5 cents per shot allowing you to get a lot more practice in.
Can be used for tactical training. You don't have to just stand in front of a target to practice with the 22 lr. It can be used on all tactical ranges and stages and makes learning to move and shoot much easier.
Recoil. Many shooters worry that practice without recoil is no valuable for developing skill in pistol shooting and most of their shooting will be done with larger calibers. I would argue that eliminating the anticipation of recoil is what the true benefit is. The sound of the shot and the recoil from the pistol should surprise you on every shot. If that happens you can bet that the shot will be on target. Training without recoil is a plus for me.
Rapid fire. Some shooters believe that rapid fire practice with a rimfire pistol adds no value. I can understand this concern because the barrel bounce is not as erratic and therefore much easier to judge with a rimfire. My argument would be that is exactly why rapid fire practice with a rimfire works. The shooter develops memory of what good rapid fire looks like. Once transitioning to a larger caliber he will have to develop the skill to hold muzzle flip better but will know when shots should be fired and when they shouldn't be.
I have spent many years developing my skills in pistol shooting. The 22 lr cartridge has played a large role in this and I believe a beneficial one. Many will dismiss the cartridge as being effective for self defense or training. To each his own. I suggest that if you are serious about becoming competent with your pistol, you should give it a try.