The Sixth Habit of Highly Effective Shooters

Trigger Control

Trigger finger placement

Trigger control needs to be maintained throughout the firing sequence and this can be especially difficult with a pistol. The two main reasons pistols are harder to shoot than rifles are the shorter sight radius and the trigger to weapon weight ratio. Any time your trigger weight is more than the weight of the weapon, you’ve got your work cut out for you. This is why “race guns” are heavy with light triggers and the guns most of us shoot are the opposite. So what works for someone with a competition gun shooting paper targets, may not work down-range with your issued sidearm.

Another thing you must keep in mind is that not all hands, fingers or firearms are built the same so you can’t expect the same grips or finger placement to work for everyone. The most important thing is being able to pull the trigger while maintaining correct sight alignment. In the end it doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you get it done and can do it quickly and consistently. Anyone who tells you something different is likely more concerned with doing it their way than putting effective fire down-range.

One thing that I learned years ago was that you need apply consistent pressure to the trigger until the shot breaks. This seemed to work most of the time, but there were times when my wobble would get bigger and my shot would break outside of center mass. I realized the problem was the rule I was following; that I had to keep pulling the trigger. I relate it to driving a car that suddenly spins out of control. Would you keep your foot on the gas and hope for the best or would you let off the gas until you regained control of your car? When you’re shooting, you need to think of your trigger like the gas pedal of your car; if it’s getting out of control, let off the gas!

Factors Affecting Trigger Control

Effective trigger control starts with establishing a good grip. I’m not going to rehash The Second Habit of Effective Shooters, so please go back and read that before you continue. If you don’t have time, here’s the Readers Digest version: Get high up on the tang with your firing arm straight behind the gun to control recoil, and then wrap your fingers around the grip.  Wherever your finger hits the trigger is the best place for you to put your finger on the trigger of that gun! With the gun comfortably in your hand you’re going to have much better recoil management and better trigger control. Shooting is all about being relaxed and you can’t be relaxed when your hand is contorted around the gun in an effort to put the tip of your finger where it works for someone else. Finally, make sure you press the trigger straight to the rear so you don’t pull your shots. If what you’re doing now works, then don’t change it. But if it’s not, give this a try. Remember, use what works, not what I or anyone else tells you..

Of course you want your grip to be as high up on the grip as possible, but have you ever thought about where your finger is vertically along the face of the trigger? The trigger is a lever, just like any other and you need to adjust your finger up or down on the lever to achieve a mechanical advantage. Lowering your finger just a little bit may give you just enough leverage to achieve a smooth pull without disturbing the sights.

To fire an effective shot, the pressure on the trigger needs to be smooth and even. This does not mean slow! You can pull the trigger as fast as you want as long as it’s smooth. Smooth is fast, but slow is just…slow. Speed in shooting comes from getting the gun out of the holster, mounted and your sights aligned on target quickly. If you work on doing these things fast, you can use the extra time for sight refinement and smooth trigger manipulation. I see a lot of guys on the range that take their time getting their gun on target and then start mashing the trigger in an attempt to “shoot fast.” Remember to make up time anywhere else than your trigger squeeze!

Slapping the Trigger Like it Owes You Money

Since we’re on the topic of triggers, let’s stay there…Your trigger finger should never leave the face of the trigger during the shooting sequence. I put my finger on the trigger as soon as I can safely do so after identifying my target and the decision to shoot has been made. Normally this is right after my gun is out of the holster and rotated to point at my target. If I need to shoot from the hip I’m ready, if not I’ll continue up to fully mount the weapon. My finger will begin moving as soon as my eyes see what they need to see to take the shot. I don’t pull the trigger with my finger; I pull it with my eyes (feel free to send witty comments). As soon as the shot breaks I pause with the trigger to the rear, normally as the muzzle is coming up. I then let the trigger out only until I feel the sear reset. By this time my muzzle has settled and I have pressure back on the trigger ready to shoot again if needed. This is my follow through, which I will cover further in the final article in the series. It is only after I have decided I no longer need to deliver exceptional customer service that I take my finger off the trigger.

I hope these shooting tips help make you a better shooter, but like I said in the beginning, I can’t teach you how to shoot. You need to invest the time in dry-fire training and getting out to the range and learn the skills no article can provide. Has this or one of my other articles helped make you a better shooter? Please leave your comments below.

Checkout my book, How to Shoot Like a Navy SEAL for the complete guide to combat marksmanship fundamentals.

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19 Responses to “The Sixth Habit of Highly Effective Shooters”

  1. jumpthestackOctober 13, 2011 at 13:40 #

    Cognitive dissonance, not dissidence. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

    Nice article; I especially like the tip about keeping your second joint of the trigger finger pointed at the target.

    • ChrisOctober 15, 2011 at 08:37 #

      Thanks for the spell-check! I’m a terrible speller and shouldn’t have trusted myself with that spelling. Glad you like the article, would like to hear if the knuckle trick works for you.

  2. Eric S.October 15, 2011 at 04:42 #

    We carry the Glock 21 at work and some of the smaller Deputies really have a hard time with its size. Next time I’m at the range I’m going to check out some of the trigger placement to see if anyone is “breaking the rules”. I’d be interested to see if any of them use their “own” trigger placement.

    • ChrisOctober 15, 2011 at 08:46 #

      People with smaller hands can really benefit from lowering their finger on the face of the trigger. Unfortunately, as you know, sometimes you have to make some compromises when you don’t get to choose your gun. Use whatever works.

      • Daniel CasherMarch 13, 2014 at 20:25 #

        I have been practicing with my Glock 42, which is a 380 recently. This gun fits my hand better than my G19, my Sig P938, and my Charter Arms 44spl Bulldog, although all of them are comfortable. On the G19, I have had the grip modified, but I still love the feel of the G42. It is also very light and comfortable to carry. Your tip above about lowering my finger on the trigger has been good advice to me. I can let my finger “feather” right along the inside bottom of the trigger guard and keep the front sight on target and still get a smooth, straight pull. Thank you.

        • SnowmanMarch 17, 2014 at 13:53 #

          Glad the tips helped! -Chris

  3. Rich WOctober 18, 2011 at 16:30 #

    Absolutely love your blog! You effectively put into words what I’ve been trying to learn on my own for years! Thank you, and keep’em coming!

    • ChrisOctober 20, 2011 at 18:41 #

      Thanks for the support Rich!

  4. Walter E Beverly III NRA Inst.February 18, 2013 at 14:52 #

    I hate the word “pulling” when refering to the trigger. When I teach my classes, I use the word compress the trigger. I’ll tell you why. If you take your hand and just ry to “squeeze” the trigger, you will find the entire hand has a tendency to also squeeze. The focus is then placed on the trigger rather than ‘squeezing”. What do you think?

    • ChrisFebruary 18, 2013 at 20:48 #

      Walter -

      I think if your students put their rounds where they want them to go by not saying the word “squeeze”, then stick with it. I’m a fan of using whatever works. I could care less if my students “squeeze” the trigger with their butt-cheeks as long as they can put effective fire down-range.
      As far as the whole hand squeezing when the finger squeezes the trigger (aka milking); I’ve found it effective to have shooters with this problem grip the gun harder and then “compress” the trigger. If their hand is already squeezing as hard as it can, it can’t squeeze any harder when your finger moves.
      Anyway, great point and thanks for your comment!
      Cheers – Chris S.

      • Walter E Beverly III NRA Inst.February 19, 2013 at 12:39 #

        Chris, thanks for your support. I have found too many students who “squeeze” the trigger wind up putitng the rounds usually on the right side of the target. Putting other errors aside, I usualy start them out with this solution and it seems to make a difference.
        Cheers back at ya,
        Walter

  5. Paula BAugust 4, 2013 at 06:12 #

    I find this part of fundamental shooting most difficult to teach my students. Far too many “advise” to use the tip of one’s finger to pull back the trigger and the results down range ALWAYS go down and to the left. I found this article particularly helpful in allowing for personal adjustment. Heck, it has even helped me comfortably fire my .38 special! I have small hands to deal with a nasty “heavy” trigger, but I just love my revolver and would not give it up. You’ve intrigued me to investigate more of your articles to see what else I may absorb to better improve my own (and students) skills. Thanks!

  6. Jeff ZanoodaOctober 15, 2013 at 12:21 #

    When a front-wheel drive car begins to spin out of control, letting off the gas only makes things worse.

    • ChrisOctober 16, 2013 at 06:50 #

      Jeff, Growing up in the snow and 3 professional driving schools I’ve been through, I’ve not found this to be true, but if it works for you – go for it. Since this about shooting and not driving, hopefully you didn’t miss the lesson of the article.

  7. Kendra Middleton WilliamsFebruary 18, 2014 at 08:57 #

    How much dry practice should I be doing every day to improve my trigger control? It seems to an average person that I do well at hitting center mass at 25 feet consistently. However, I received a good dressing down from my friend and instructor the other day about how it’s not good enough and it’s actually pretty poor shooting. I get about half-and-half between the 7 and 8 rings and the 9 and 10 rings. I want to be able to safely carry my gun in public. He says I am absolutely not there. I also noticed that when he shoots and people of his caliber shoot their hands are steady as a surgeons. Whereas I am very shaky! What advice would you offer me about my shaky hands that tend to shove my rounds to the left of the 10 ring?

    • SnowmanFebruary 20, 2014 at 19:01 #

      How much you train depends on how good you want to be, easy as that. The answer is up to you.

      Make sure you’re breathing when you shoot and don’t worry about the shaking. Concentrate on sight refinement the whole time you smoothly press back on the trigger.

      As for pushing to the left, if you are a right-handed shooter, you’re likely squeezing your whole hand when you squeeze the trigger. Concentrate on just moving your finger. Do grip strength exercises.

      Happy training – Snowman

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    [...] holding trigger to the rear throughout [...]

  2. Firearm Training: Making Your Weak-Strong | Center Mass Group - January 17, 2012

    [...] habits of marksmanship (body position/stance, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, breathing, trigger control, and follow through) I recommend you read Chris’ eight separate articles (one on the concepts as [...]

  3. The Fourth Habit of Highly Effective Shooters: Sight Picture | Center Mass Group - April 3, 2013

    [...] control:  Think about it; the only reason you need to control the trigger is so you don’t disturb the sights.  If the gun was in a vise, you could slap that trigger till [...]

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