Sight alignment and trigger squeeze/pull are the two most essential pieces of marksmanship. It’s imperative that when firing a shot that these two items be mastered. However, there’s a lot of bad information put out on how to properly squeeze a trigger, so we wanted to discuss what works best for us. Below are a few critical tips on how to improve your trigger pull.
How to Improve Your Trigger Pull
While there are a lot of fundamentals to basic marksmanship, proper trigger pull and sight alignment tend to have the most significant effect on your overall accuracy. Stance, adequate grip, and recoil management will help. However, they are not key functions in ensuring proper shot placement. Because of this, you must perfect an appropriate squeeze of trigger if you want to become an accurate shooter. The good news is, it’s not a complicated thing to learn, and with some simple practice, you can dramatically improve your trigger pull and overall accuracy.
In general, the same information is put out about trigger squeeze…. “slowly pull the trigger to the rear until it releases, it should be a surprise when the round goes off.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard this going through basic training and even later on when going through the Special Forces Qualification Course. It wasn’t until I got into Sniper school and follow on shooting schools that I finally learned how to properly squeeze a trigger.
Let me start off by saying it’s not really a squeeze. I think that might be the worst way possible to describe the manipulation of a trigger. In reality, the manipulation can be a slow push to the rear or even a slap. Yes, I said slap. Remember when you were taught to never slap the trigger? Guess what, it’s actually a great way to manipulate the trigger, but I will get into more of that later.
Proper Finger Placement
How and where you place your finger on the trigger is important. You should place the meaty part of your index finger, between the end of your finger and the first knuckle on the trigger. This placement is crucial because too far in one direction or the other can cause you to start pushing or pulling rounds.
How to Bend your Finger
This may sound weird, but how your finger bends when pulling the trigger is important. Fingers have a tendency to curl when they pull because of the multiple knuckles. While this is great for gripping, it’s terrible for trigger pull. You will want to bend your finger in a manner where only the second knuckle is bent, and your finger makes a 90-degree angle. This will help your finger to pull directly back, rather than pull to one side or the other. If you ever see your rounds grouping to the left of the target, it means that your finger is curling too much and is forcing the barrel of the gun to the left.
How to Train Your Trigger Pull
While going to the range and shooting thousands of rounds is fun, it’s costly and doesn’t always make you a better shooter. There are several drills you can use to help train your finger pull directly to the rear.
Rubber Band Drill
The first drill is the rubber band drill. For this, you need a basic rubber band. Place the rubber band around your thumb of your non-firing hand and then use your trigger finger to pull the rubber band to the rear, while focusing on maintaining that 90-degree angle and pulling the finger/rubber band directly backward. If you want to get real specific, draw a line on a piece of paper and ensure the rubber band doesn’t move to the left or to the right of that line when you pull it back.
The second drill is the pencil drill. For this drill simply hold a pencil in your non-firing hand and practice pulling the pencil directly to the rear.
Dry firing is another excellent way to train your trigger pull. For this drill, put up a good paper target on the wall and practice dry firing over and over and over and over, and you get the idea.
If you want to up your dry fire game, have a friend place a spent casing on the end of your pistol. The casing shouldn’t fall off when you squeeze the trigger.
Train the Slack
When you’re training your trigger pull, you will want to learn how to take the slack out of your trigger. This is important when you get into other areas of marksmanship. For this, you’re merely finding your trigger’s travel distance before it engages the trigger sear, thus causing the gun to fire. One way to train this is to simply place your finger on the trigger and pull it back until it stops at the trigger sere. If the gun actually fires, you’ve gone too far. Practice taking out the slack quickly and accurately. This way, when you go to firing the weapon, you only have to get your finger past the minor distance of the trigger sere.
Squeeze the trigger, pull the trigger, compress the trigger. All of these are terms we often hear with trigger manipulation. How you manipulate the trigger determines if you’ll hit the target. So, while it may seem an easy task, it is an important one to become good at. Otherwise, you might not be the one coming out on top in a firefight.
Isolate your Trigger finger
This may sound a bit odd, it’s not like you can literally isolate your trigger finger. We’re not saying cut the thing off, but focus on your finger, and move it like it’s the only part of your hand. This helps keep you from having your sight picture/sight alignment interrupted. You shouldn’t forget about grip but think of your finger as a fixated piece to your pistol. Your finger and trigger are one, and the only thing moving is the finger-trigger piece, not your entire hand.
Jerking the Trigger
Jerking the trigger is a bad idea, and when you jerk the trigger, you also jerk the gun to the left or right—depending on which hand you’re firing with. You can practice not anticipating the shot and jerking the trigger with ball and dummy round drills.
Slapping the Trigger
If you’ve been shooting a while, or even if you just started, you might have heard never slap the trigger. Unfortunately, this is a very debatable topic. Also, trigger reset is only realistic for qualifications, not fight or flight mode. So, if you’re training, focusing on trigger reset (slowly pressing the trigger to the rear and then releasing it until you hear the audible click) is an easy task. But, let’s think about that for a second. What happens when you’re in fight or flight mode? Do you think you’ll feel or hear the click? No, you won’t. Also, something to keep in mind, slowly pulling the trigger to the rear and then releasing without moving your finger from the trigger actually requires fine motor skills, which you’re bound to lose when you fear for your life. So, ask yourself, how will you perform when it comes to life or death?
As far as the brain and muscle memory are concerned, you have to practice something thousands and thousands of times until it becomes a subconscious act, sometimes it can even take tens of thousands of times. Slapping the trigger is the body’s natural reaction, not trigger reset. When it comes down to it, removing your finger is not the concern. Instead, shooters should focus on keeping their finger in motion, which helps with something known as the death grip, the grip where your knuckles turn white.
However, trigger slapping comes with both the good and bad, depending on the shooter. Trigger reset is great for the novice shooter who is learning trigger control. It typically leads to a tighter shooting group. However, for the more advanced shooter, with self-awareness, it is quicker and easier (although your shooting group will most likely be a bit wider). If you can slap the trigger without moving the muzzle of your pistol, it is then that slapping the trigger is both quick and effective. However, if you’re a new shooter and have yet to grasp the fundamentals and have issues controlling your muzzle, slapping the trigger can hold adverse outcomes to shot placement. This is why we practice because if you needed to fire a weapon in self-defense, you wouldn’t have time to think, “slow steady pull, release to click.” You’ll revert to your body’s natural response, which is slapping.
Single Action vs. Double Action
In general, single-action triggers tend to be lighter and have less travel distance than a double-action trigger. This means, in general, pulling the trigger on a double-action trigger is going to be more difficult and harder to perfect than on a single action pistol. However, many people prefer a heavier trigger pull found on double-action pistols, especially for concealed carry.
A single-action trigger essentially means that when you squeeze the trigger one thing happens… the hammer falls (or firing mechanism releases), striking the firing pin thus causing the round to fire. In a single-action pistol, the hammer or firing mechanism with not reset unless done so with the cycling of the pistol (in a semi-automatic version) or from another prep such as racking the slide or pulling back the hammer. Some examples of single-action pistols are Glocks (17, 19, 43, etc.), M&P 2.0, 1911, etc.
In a double-action pistol, the squeeze of the trigger also sets the firing mechanism, usually a hammer. This was very common in older revolvers where the squeeze of the trigger would cause the hammer to move backward until it released and struck the firing pin. Examples of a double-action trigger would be the SIG Sauer P226, Kimber K6s, or Smith and Wesson MP Body Guard.
Once you have the above down, don’t stop there. Now you need to get it into muscle memory. The last thing you want to do is find yourself in a situation of self-defense and not have muscle memory. This is why we practice. And practice can be found through dry fire. Not only are you building up muscle memory, but you’re also seeing how well you’ve learned the fundamental of marksmanship without spending a ton of money on rounds.
If you haven’t heard it yet, once you get into shooting, you’ll hear this phrase often, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” But, if you’re slow but fail to have a proper trigger pull, a good grip, you anticipate the shot, don’t have sight alignment and sight picture or don’t have your breath under control, it won’t matter, your shot placement will suffer. You have to keep the fundamentals as a part of your shooting techniques, and then you can work on speeding up your shots.
Like trigger pull, grip will also help with your shot placement. If you don’t have a firm grip (but not too firm), you’ll find yourself “limp wristing” it. When this happens, your shots won’t land where you intended, or there’s a chance your weapon won’t fire at all.
Anticipating the Shot
Don’t close your eyes…okay this may seem like some odd advice, but it happens. Usually, it’s because you’re anticipating the shot. Your pistol may not have a lot of recoil, but when we expect the shot, we flinch, and when we flinch we close our eyes. When this happens, we lose control of our gun, and our shot ends up anywhere but the target. This occurs even 5m away. So, yes, flinching, even at close range can be detrimental to shot placement. Now, imagine you’re 25m from the target? It won’t make your chances of hitting the mark any better. Again, you can work on not anticipating your shot through ball and dummy drills.
Holding one’s breath might not be something you think about either until you’re in the moment, but just like closing your eyes, this one happens too. You have to find a balance in your breath, yes, but holding your breath until your lungs feel like they’re about to burst is not the answer. You should have steady breath control. And you should pull the trigger at a natural pause. Don’t hold your breath for a minute trying to get on target. You don’t need to pass out before you get the shot off.
We won’t get too much into this one right now, at it deserves its own blog. But, know how you stand will also alter shot placement, this is because stance helps with balance and absorbing the recoil. Think of it like getting pushed. If you’re just standing straight up, feet together and someone comes up and pushes you, you’re more likely to fall down than if you had a wider base, leaning slightly forward with a slight bend in your knees. The same goes for shooting. If you don’t have a proper shooting stance, you’ll find yourself rocking back, and your shot placement will suffer from it. Don’t be like the people who fall down from a single shot—it can be avoided with a solid stance.