The Neglected Fundamental: Trigger Control
One of the 2 most important steps to “Perfect Shooting.”
You are at your local range working on a specific part of your skill set and see the other shooters happily making noise and empty cases, but seldom putting their shots into any kind of group on the target. You observe more closely and see inconsistent hold of the firearm, and note the yanking on the trigger. Does this sound familiar? It is seen regularly when I visit the range, teach a course or do a qualification. Trigger control is the most important of the shooting fundamentals, and is neglected usually through ignorance, also known as lack of knowledge and how to apply said knowledge.
In recent concealed carry classes I observed new shooters and even experienced (according to them) shooters missing at 10-12 feet. In each case the person failed to apply correct trigger control. Some factors were; too big or too small of a firearm, which leads to incorrect trigger finger placement. Trying to shoot to fast, even though they are counseled to “shoot good, not fast”. Repeatedly I remind them to slow down the trigger press to avoid pulling the gun off target. A straight to the rear movement of the trigger, without disturbing the aligned sights is what some find hard to accomplish. If the handgun is too small, too much finger across the face of the trigger is the problem. If the handgun is too large, not enough finger contact is often observed. Other posts have discussed gun fit and trigger reach, so I won’t spend a lot of time on that here.
If fundamentals are learned, practiced and put into use, you will be a more successful shooter. I had two women in last Saturday’s concealed carry class who said to me they had never shot a handgun before. I replied that was wonderful, as they had no bad habits to break! They followed the given instruction and both hit the middle of the tar
get with their first shot. It shook up a few of the men in the class, who did not shoot as well.
In a recent Armored Car Guard qualification, my teaching partner and I re-emphasized the need for good trigger control and follow through; which is trapping the trigger to the rear as the firearm recoils and then allowing the trigger to move forward just far enough to re-set before pressing for the following shot. We had issues with guns too large for the hand of the shooter, which often lead to low or off-center shots.
I have noted, as have many others including the late Jeff Cooper, that traditional double action semi-autos often cause a low or missed shot on the first trigger p
ress. I find that the user of that handgun usually thumb cocks the exposed hammer, bypassing the heavier double action trigger weight. When required to fire it the way they actually carry it, the first shot is a miss. They have never practiced doing the heavier pull. One example from that group was a young man who had a Glock, which has a rather short trigger press which is always the same, and an H&K USP traditional double/single action. His first shots from the H&K were nearly always misses. His score reflected that fact. When he switched to his Glock, he shot a perfect score. Another young man had the H&K P2000, also configured for double/single action (DA/SA). His first shots were often off the paper completely. I tried his trigger and found it to be around 14 pounds of gritty, dragging effort to get a shot off. It needs some attention from a gunsmith. On the other hand, one of the older men had a traditional DA/SA and paid more attention to the instruction and fired a career best qualification score. He applied the fundamental of trigger control.
In nearly every course I have attended as a student, fundamentals are reviewed before further instruction is given. The United States Marine Corps taught recruits the value of trigger control through what is known as the mentoring drill. The shooter aligns the sights, holds the firearm in position, focuses on maintaining the sight picture, and the instructor then places his hand over the shooters hand, trigger finger over trigger finger, and presses the trigger, allowing the shooter to feel the correct way to move straight to the rear, and reset the trigger. I first saw it with John Farnam, shortly thereafter learned it again in a course taught by John Helms of LAPD SIS squad and Larry Mudgett who was the L
APD SWAT instructor. When I began as a Defensive Handgun Instructor at Front Sight in Nevada, the trigger mentoring drill was used with all shooters. It works very well. I use it regularly to assist shooters who may understand intellectually, but have trouble applying the technique physically. I use it in NRA Instructor courses as well.
In trying to catch up with my reading, I found an article by Dave Spaulding in Guns and Weapons for Law Enforcement magazine. He is writing a review in the September 2008 issue about the SIG P250 modular semi-auto. In discussing the trigger, he notes this is a hammer-fired, double action only (DAO) system, with a long, consistent trigger manipulation required to release the hammer. He says that some steer clear of such a system as it does slow down the shooter a bit. Then he quotes George Harris, director of SIG SAUER Academy, who thinks DAO trigger actions may be a blessing in disguise for the moderately trained shooter. “Many people try to shoot faster than their ability to do so. Of course, this results in misses at a time when they might not be able to afford a miss.” Harris adds, “By having a longer trigger, this will require the shooter to slow down and concentrate on their shooting, which in the end will result in more hits.
Any trigger action can be dealt with via proper training….”. I might add practice also helps shooters deal with the trigger. If the DA/SA or DAO trigge
r systems are your choice, be sure to get the training and practice to operate them successfully. In addition to the trigger, if that handgun has de-cocking levers, practice using them. Decide IN ADVANCE how you will place the decocker. In the last qualification we had another person forget that he had the decocker in the down/safe position, drew his han
dgun in a timed fire sequence and couldn’t get it to go off. Embarrassed? Oh, yes! Spooked? Even more so! He realized he could have been the loser if it happened on the street. Lesson learned: practice and do it the same way EVERY TIME! You will revert to your lowest level of training under deadly threat. Practice the correct way now and consistently so you will win and prevail. Fundamentals win in sports and in fights. Be sure you apply them so you go home today.