Gunfight Essential: Trigger Control

A slight twist during a trigger-pull can cause a significant…

A slight twist during a trigger-pull can cause a significant miss on the target.

I’m not going to mince words here…trigger control is weapon control. When firing a gun, everything we do is directed towards keeping the muzzle aligned with the desired point-of-impact. It’s called accuracy, regardless of whether we are in combat or competition and shooting pistol, revolver, shotgun or rifle, everything we do comes down to accuracy—all else is supplemental. What you are asking the hands and body to do when shooting a gun is depress (defined as “applying pressure to a breaking point”) the trigger straight to the rear without interrupting the muzzle/target alignment. It sounds simple enough, but it’s very hard to do, especially with a handgun. Look at what 1/8 of an inch of muzzle movement can mean to your point of impact: at 5 yards, you miss by 4.5 inches; 7 yards, you miss by 6.25 inches; and 10 yards, you miss by 8.88 inches.

If the muzzle is moved even slightly, you will miss the vital areas of the body in combat. It is generally accepted that the most vital area of the body is the center high chest, an area about 8 inches in diameter on an “average” size adult male, smaller if a side shot is required. If you are aiming for the center of this region at 15 feet and move the muzzle 1/8 of an inch when you shoot, you will be striking your attacker at his outer edge. At 21 feet you will miss it entirely and at 30 feet you may possibly miss the attacker completely.

Handguns Vs. Long Guns
The handgun is the hardest of firearms to master. The long gun has four points of contact with the body; the forward grip, the rear grip (shooting hand), the stock to shoulder and cheek contact or “weld,” all of which help stabilize the gun. The forward grip can also aid in keeping the gun on target even if the shooting hand is “smashing” the trigger. The handgun has one and a half points of contact; the shooting hand and whatever portion of the support hand one can wrap around the gun. Using a grip that maximizes this amount of contact is critical, since trying to suspend a handgun with no support while holding it still and depressing the trigger—all without moving the muzzle—is a tall order. Like all physical endeavors, some do it better than others due to natural ability. I, for one, struggle with it and must practice constantly in order to maintain any level of skill.

If we take a moment to look at our hand, how it opens and closes while it performs any number of functions, we come to understand that it is a sympathetic mechanism with four fingers opposing a thumb, a characteristic that makes us unique in the animal kingdom. Think about how many times a day you open and close your hand as you turn a door knob, grab the steering wheel, shake hands, or pick up an object and you will come to understand the number of practiced repetitions that go into the use of the hand. Then we pick up a gun and ask it to function in a way totally contradictory. The index finger must move independently of the rest of the hand, regardless of the number of repetitions contrary to this. Is it any wonder why many shooters squeeze their whole hand when trying to press the trigger? The phenomenon of anticipating recoil or “pre-ignition push” exists as an explosion at the end of our hands is not normal, but this is a new-shooter phenomenon, as once we realize that recoil does not cause cancer nor will the gun leap from our hands, it then becomes a function of trying to “un-do” what we “do” on a regular basis.

Controlling the Trigger
You are driving down a road and enter a section of twists and turns. In order to control your vehicle along the required path, you place your hands at “ten and two” and turn the wheel as needed to make the necessary adjustment. This is done by feel, reinforced by years of practice via visual queue. True control requires felt contact and in order to guide anything, and isn’t that what we are trying to do with a gun’s trigger—guide it to the rear and then back again?

Some advocate that releasing the trigger completely, regaining trigger contact and then depressing it allows the shooter to shoot any gun equally well. This does appear to work for some, especially those that shoot tens of thousands of rounds a year, but it has been my experience that those who have limited time and practice ammo do not use this technique well. In addition, how many of us are going to need a “battlefield pick-up” in a personal defense situation? It is more likely that the fight will start and finish with the gun that you have in your hand. With this in mind, I am an advocate of trigger “reset,” which means that once the gun is fired, the shooter allows the trigger to travel back only far enough for the firing mechanism to set up for the next shot. On semi-autopistols like the 1911 and Glock, this distance is around 0.25 of an inch. If we are trying to eliminate a convulsive grip, less movement of the trigger finger is a good thing. Remember, the more the trigger finger moves, the more likely the sympathetic action of the rest of the hand will come into play.

Trigger Actions
The short travel distance of the 1911, Glock and other short stroke semi-autos is one of the reasons for their popularity and why people tend to master these guns faster than others. The independent movement of the trigger finger is less, meaning a convulsive grip is less likely. As the trigger stroke becomes longer, this independent movement becomes more difficult. For DA/SA guns like the Beretta 92F or Sig Sauer, many advocate depressing the trigger as the gun is driven towards the target. The forward motion of the hands and arms combined with the rearward travel of the trigger merges as the gun stops on target and the shot is fired. This technique works very well but should only be used for a committed shot. Attention must be given to make sure that every time the shooter deploys their gun that they are not applying pressure to the trigger.

For double-action-only weapons, like DA revolvers and some semi-autos that require a long trigger stroke for each shot, it is critical that the action be smooth with “glitches” in the action eliminated and “stacking” kept to a minimum. Such things will make a shooter want to press harder to get through them making a convulsive grip of the entire hand more likely. A smooth trigger is not necessarily the same as a light trigger, as a trigger with less pull weight can have glitches in them that can foul a smooth depression.

Most Important
The most important aspect of trigger control is concentration—full focus on what the shooter is doing. This is accomplished during practice, as focus on the trigger will be impossible in the middle of a fight. Trigger control must be something that is done without conscious thought in order for it to be used under the duress of a life or death struggle. Proper training and continual practice is the key—training to learn how to properly control the trigger and continual practice to keep a very perishable skill sharp. Fortunately, trigger control can be kept sharp via dry fire training, but live fire will be necessary too as recoil control is also a factor for successful combative shooting.

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