I ’ve tried to demystify the shooting “stance” and explain the modern high, thumbs-forward grip in previous columns. Hopefully, you had the chance to experiment and put these skills into practice. And now, it seems to make sense to talk about trigger press.
The most common guns are striker fired, so I’m basing this off of that trigger type. Even so, you will likely see how this applies to any trigger.
Some call it “trigger squeeze”; others call it “trigger press.” Regardless of the term you prefer, it is trigger control and can be defined as “applying steady pressure to the trigger directly rearward in such a fashion so as to not disturb the sight alignment or sight picture before and while the round fires.”
NO ONE HAS EVER WON A GUNFIGHT BY BEING THE FIRST TO HOLSTER THEIR FIREARM.
Some trainers insist that students use their trigger finger a specific way. Some will tell you to use the tip of your finger, while others will tell you to use the pad of your finger. They might say, “Don’t let your trigger finger rub the side of the gun,” or “Be sure to have a 90-degree bend at the second knuckle.”
The fact is, different triggers have different weights, and everyone has different strength in their hands and fingers.
I suggest you reread the definition of trigger press. The best advice: Use whatever part of your finger in a way that allows you to press the trigger without disturbing the sights on the gun you are shooting. You might find that you shoot better; in fact, you’ll likely shoot many guns better!
Now that we’ve gotten past the inevitable question of what part of your finger to use, let’s get down to business. Go get your semi-auto handgun, make sure it’s unloaded … now, check it again. For dry-fire drills, it’s best to make sure all ammo is out of the room.
Next, rack the slide. Hold your gun in your lap so you can see the weak side of your firearm. With your finger on the trigger, slowly press back until you feel resistance. The area from when you first touch the trigger until you feel the resistance is sometimes called “pre-travel” or “slack.” I refer to it as the latter.
Now, if you came through the slack and the gun dry-fired, reset and rack the slide. You need to start again. Watch your trigger finger as it comes through the slack, and stop when it gets to the resistance. I call this resistance the “pressure wall.”
You should be able to come through the slack and stop at the pressure wall without the gun dry-firing. Practice until you can get to the point where you can jump from the finger alongside the frame to the pressure wall quickly and positively. Watch your finger sometimes so you can visualize the movement; at other times, close your eyes so you can “feel” what’s going on.
About the pressure wall: Until you press through the pressure wall, the gun will not go off. Do the slack takeout process again. When you come to the pressure wall, apply steady pressure straight back until the gun dry-fires. Note how much pressure you felt before the gun dry-fired or the trigger broke.
Do it again and watch it, then close your eyes and feel it. Rack the slide and repeat several times. Always go quickly to the pressure wall and then pause to press through it. This is how you become intimate with the way your trigger moves to make successful shots.
You now know how much slack you have in your trigger before you come to the pressure wall and how much pressure it takes on the trigger until the gun goes off. Now, let’s add a two-handed grip. Again, verify—visually and physically—that the gun is empty. Try this …
Using a high, thumbs-forward grip and pointing the gun in a safe direction, bring it up to your line of sight and close your eyes. Bring the trigger finger to meet the trigger, take the slack out, feel the pressure wall and then, smooth press. You should feel and visualize every bit of movement. Pay attention to every detail— from finger contact with the trigger to coming through the slack in the first stage to the pressure wall and then the amount of pressure you need until gun goes off. How much pressure does it take to begin moving the trigger rearward? Are there any hitches or sticky or gravelly movements? Can you tell at what point the trigger is about to break?
Now, we’ll add sight alignment. This is best done standing with an unloaded gun and facing a blank wall—not aiming at any target. Obtain your proper grip, line up your sights, and keep your eyes on them. Press through your trigger. When the gun dry-fired, did the trigger press cause the sights to move?
Do it again. This time, come through the slack to the pressure wall. From there, press your trigger finger straight back rearward. I imagine I’m pressing straight back to my chin. You need to do whatever it takes to keep from influencing or moving the gun to keep the sights in alignment while the shot breaks.
If you experience any movement or disturbance in the sights, you should change your trigger finger placement and/or change your grip pressure. Remember, one size does not fit all. Depending on the gun and your strength, you might have to adjust your grip to change your trigger finger placement. As a trainer using a variety of guns, I, myself, sometimes forget to change to meet a specific gun’s needs. But after a few shots, it comes back to me.
TO THE RANGE
Once you can successfully press your trigger without disturbing the sights, you should head to the range. Nothing changes just because it’s live fire!
Use a target such as a sheet of notebook paper at a reasonable distance of 10 feet. Use the center of the sheet as your aiming point. The white background will make it easy to see the sights. As you present the gun and the muzzle orients to the target, you should come through the slack in the trigger (remember—the firearm won’t go off until you come through the pressure wall). At full arm extension with good light alignment, centered in the paper, you should be applying pressure at the pressure wall. If you do it like you did at home during dry-fire, the shot should be close to centered.
As for follow-up shots, I don’t teach to pin the trigger (which is, after the shot, returning the trigger only to the point in which it resets, then pressing). After the shot breaks and you’re in recoil, let your trigger finger fully go forward quickly and return to the pressure wall as the gun is settling back.
Begin the press again in the center of your target. In the beginning, your finger might actually hit the inside front of the trigger guard. Don’t worry! Eventually the trigger finger will learn its path and not travel nearly as far. Fast reset, fast return to the pressure wall and then slow down enough to press the trigger so as not to disturb the sights.
Finally, follow through. So many times I see students’ guns back in the holsters before I’ve even completed my follow-through. I don’t understand the rush. No one has ever won a gunfight by being the first to holster their firearm. Maybe they don’t understand the importance of follow-through, especially when making follow-up shots.
“Follow-through” means maintaining all the fundamentals through the break of the round. You should be retaining the sights through the break of the round during recoil, then coming back to the sight picture and returning to the pressure wall to make a follow-up shot, if needed. If not, when you come off the sights, come off the trigger and return to your holster. YOU decide whether or not to make the next shot.
If, in practice, you come through that pressure wall and crank off a second round that you didn’t plan on, it’s okay. You were already in the process of shooting, and you’re sure of your target, backstop and beyond. The range is the place to learn new things. Make your mistakes here.
You might have heard the saying, “Beware the man with one gun; he probably knows how to use it.”
That’s what this training is about: becoming intimate with your gun to best utilize it. And remember, if you start shooting poorly, anticipating, or just losing your skill, empty the gun and return to dry-fire until you can consistently press the trigger again. Then, reload and remind yourself that nothing changes just because the gun has bullets in it.
YOU run the gun; it doesn’t run YOU!
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.