Sustain and Improve Your Handgun Skills

This article is the first of a multipart series that will give the reader the tools to hone their shooting skills for the rest of their shooting lives.

Absolute number one: muzzle position in relation to the target. Absolute number two: trigger movement.

 

Readers and students often ask me to recommend ways they can stay sharp with their previously learned skills. The easy answer, of course, is to practice, practice, practice.

 

In reality that is not the answer they are looking for. They want the specifics of when, how, and why the drills they do will benefit them. They want to sustain their previously learned techniques and improve through self analysis. This segment is the first of a multipart series that will give the reader the tools to hone their shooting skills for the rest of their shooting lives.

Assuming the reader knows how to run the gun and use a holster, the rest of this article will focus on a drill that forms the foundation of successfully shooting a handgun regardless of the skill or ability of the shooter. I recommend this drill to any shooter not performing at the expected level because it brings the shooter back to the two things necessary to hit the target: stabilizing the muzzle on the target and moving the trigger without affecting the stability of the muzzle.

 

At the time, military marksmanship was taught at the basic level with eight or more steps that had to be synchronized with one another to deliver an accurate shot.

 

The Wall Drill started as a no-name dry fire drill back in the 1970s. I was trying to simplify the process of shot delivery to the most basic formula.

I had been taught a variety of dry fire drills previously in the military but they all had too many steps for me to concentrate on them all at one time. These drills were confusing since at the time I had no idea as to which step was more important than the other. About the same time I was working in the field of adult education and how adults process information both in peaceful and stressful conditions. The general consensus was that the average human could cognitively process around five to seven separate actions under ideal circumstances. Under the pressure of stress, either real or imagined the cognitive processing diminished to one or two bits of information.

At the time, military marksmanship was taught at the basic level with eight or more steps that had to be synchronized with one another to deliver an accurate shot. The problem was obvious in that there was too much information to process at once and therefore confusion was imminent. Frustrated with my less than satisfactory performance, I set out to find the real answer to successful marksmanship.

The first part was to separate the must-do parts of accurate shot delivery from those that weren’t absolutely essential. What I finally came up with was the two things absolutely necessary to hit a target. Everything else could and often would complement these two things in successful shooting, but weren’t absolutely necessary to hit the intended location.

Absolute number one is muzzle position in relation to the target. I reasoned that if the muzzle was pointing at the target (with a very slight offset to accommodate gravity) when the bullet exited, I would without a doubt hit the target. I refer to this as muzzle management.

Absolute number two is trigger movement. I discovered that all but the most accomplished shooters move the muzzle in relation to the target as they operate the trigger to discharge the gun. Even when trying to move the trigger without affecting the muzzle, it was almost impossible to do consistently.

I was fascinated that something so simple was so difficult to do.

Just as you discipline a child in order to correct unacceptable behavior, I determined that the trigger finger had to learn discipline in trigger movement to correct unacceptable movement of the muzzle on the target. Hence the phrase trigger finger discipline was added to muzzle management as the two key absolutes to accurate shot delivery.

Tactical Training: Trigger manipulation can be as fast as you want it to be as long as it doesn’t seriously affect the position of the muzzle on the target.

Trigger manipulation can be as fast as you want it to be as long as it doesn’t seriously affect the position of the muzzle on the target.

Armed with these discoveries my dry fire practice became more satisfying and my live fire results were improving noticeably—but not to where I felt they could be. I felt that I could improve the process of shot delivery if I looked at what human components played the biggest parts of the equation. Since I was not as consistent with my trigger finger as I thought that I could be, I studied how the hands and fingers operate together and separately.

I discovered that when the index finger moved, it was natural for the other fingers to move also. This caused the muzzle to move away from the intended area on the target. This discovery and my understanding of how adults learn changed forever how we view trigger movement.

For as long as I could remember, the word squeeze had been the predominant word to describe trigger operation. When you learned the word squeeze early in life, it was a physical action done with the whole hand. Think about the last thing you squeezed. I’ll wager that more than the index finger was involved in that act. So if I suggest that you should squeeze the trigger to fire a shot, your mind and body automatically default to previously learned information and compress the whole hand to discharge the shot. When this happens, the muzzle is moved away from its intended location and we achieve disappointing results.

For that reason alone, my staff and I rarely use the word “squeeze” in relation to trigger operation. We start with press, pull, operate or manipulate.

 

While I was studying how the hands could be conditioned to achieve better shooting performance, it became apparent that the eyes guide the hands to the target and are essential to stabilizing the gun on the target.

 

There are a few other factors involved that you might discover while performing your dry drills such as changing pressures with either hand as the trigger is being operated, or perhaps freezing the trigger finger due to gripping the gun too tight in the web of the firing hand. The objective is to support the gun with one or two hands, hold it as still as the circumstances permit, and operate the trigger until discharge occurs. Conventional training usually infers that the shooter should slowly squeeze the trigger to fire the gun. Let me suggest that trigger manipulation can be as fast as you want it to be as long as it doesn’t seriously affect the position of the muzzle on the target.

While I was studying how the hands could be conditioned to achieve better shooting performance, it became apparent that the eyes guide the hands to the target and are essential to stabilizing the gun on the target. Through simple eye-hand coordination (the ability to point your finger where you are looking), you can put the muzzle of the gun somewhere on the target by looking at it and pointing at it. This comes with the caveat that the gun needs to fit your hands similar to the shoes on your feet: Not too big and not too small but with some flexibility in size to suit the desires of the individual.

To fit the gun to the hand of the shooter, center the grip of the gun in the web of the shooting hand between the thumb and index finger. Place the index finger along the side of the frame of the gun, just above the trigger guard, parallel to the barrel. This positions the gun so that anything the shooter points the finger at, the muzzle points to the same location.

The second part of the test is the reach of the trigger finger. Without adjusting the position of the gun in the web of the hand, the trigger finger must have full contact across the face of the trigger. If the trigger finger won’t reach across the face of the trigger, the gun in its present configuration is too big for the shooter. If the trigger finger reaches across the trigger and contacts the frame during the trigger manipulation prior to firing, the gun is too small.

In either case, a change in grip composition or configuration on the gun or a simple trigger change may give a more appropriate fit of the gun to the shooter’s hand.

 

Without follow through we really don’t know where the gun was pointing when the bullet left the muzzle.

 

Another interesting phenomenon that I discovered with myself initially and later found to be common among shooters in general is that their visual concentration tends to leave the sights and transition to the target in proportion to the rearward movement of the trigger. This causes a lack of follow through and the false perception of increasing gun movement as the trigger is moved to discharge. This creates a whole set of problems on its own.

Without follow through we really don’t know where the gun was pointing when the bullet left the muzzle. The increased perception of movement causes reluctance to fire the shot, which foils the whole shot delivery plan and induces the gun to discharge at a precise point in time by jerking the trigger. This moves the muzzle off of the target and often the result of this type of visual behavior is to hit lower than anticipated on the target, particularly at distance. As the eye transitions focus to the target the gun must be lowered slightly to clear the way for our central vision to see the target.

After it dawned on me that most shooters allow their eye focus to drift away from the sights to any number of planes up to and including the target, I realized that the eyes had to be conditioned to stay on the gun until the firing sequence is complete.

Here is where the Wall Drill was conceived. I had shot the Dime/washer Drill which aids in trigger movement without moving the rest of the gun. (The Dime/washer Drill involves placing a dime or a washer on top of the barrel near the muzzle of the unloaded gun and operating the trigger smoothly enough to release the hammer without disturbing the dime/washer.) I had also shot the Pencil Drill where we placed tape on both ends of a pencil to increase the diameter to fit the bore of the pistol and dry fired at a target a few inches away to improve the consistency of our groups.

Tactical Training: Try to move the handgun from the holster to the target and back to the holster using only the dominant hand. This exercise in itself is important from a safety perspective as well as determining if the handgun being used actually fits the shooter’s hand.

Try to move the handgun from the holster to the target and back to the holster using only the dominant hand. This exercise in itself is important from a safety perspective as well as determining if the handgun being used actually fits the shooter’s hand.

The Wall Drill is similar to these drills but differs in its simplification of the shot delivery process and the conditioning of the eyes, hands and brain to work in concert rather than as three separate entities.

Essentially the Wall Drill is conducted with the shooter and an UNLOADED and double checked gun in the shooting position of their choice with the muzzle just out of contact with an unmarked vertical surface. A wall is the most likely surface to use for this drill, hence the Wall Drill.

With the muzzle as close to a blank wall as possible without touching , focus on the front sight through the rear sight using the sight picture that you are most comfortable with. Operate the trigger to dry fire with an awareness of what happens to the relationship of the sights as the trigger releases the hammer or striker. The goal is to consistently trigger the gun with no change in the relationship of the sights.

In reality, it is highly likely at first that the sights will exhibit some “bounce” on each stroke of the trigger. It is then up to the shooter to self-analyze and change grip pressures as well as finger positions to attenuate the movement of the sights until the final goal of no movement of the front sight in relation to the rear sight is achieved.

 

The Wall Drill continues to evolve as a training and diagnostic tool for underperforming shooters.

 

By being able to trigger the gun with no change in the relationship of the sights, without loosing visual contact with the sights through the whole process, the shooter has learned what has to be seen and felt in order to deliver a good shot.

The wall makes the eye stay on the sights because they have no place to go. The sights are used to guide the muzzle to the target. When there is no change to the relationship of the sights due to proper trigger manipulation, the muzzle is on target through the release of the shot and the likelihood of hitting the target is 100 percent!

The Wall Drill continues to evolve as a training and diagnostic tool for underperforming shooters. It can be used with everything from Air Soft guns to long guns. It allows the shooter to see and feel what is necessary to achieve a good shot. In its advanced uses, the Wall Drill is used to fire shots as a conditioned or semi-conditioned response requiring no conscious thought to fire a shot at the highest level of accuracy.

The next installment of the series is a means to verify and validate the affects of the Wall Drill in live fire.

Simple Is Good!

 

About the Author

 

 

George Harris, Director of the SIG SAUER® Academy

George Harris

 

George Harris has spent over 30 years in the field of adult education with more than 17 years at the SIG SAUER® Academy. He has focused his efforts in the arenas of small arms, small arms training and combat skill development. George has evolved from an infantry soldier, small arms repair technician, and drill instructor to become the coach and firing member of the internationally recognized United States Army Reserve Combat Marksmanship Team.

 

As a competitive shooter, George has the coveted distinction of being Distinguished with both the service pistol and the service rifle. As director of the SIG SAUER® Academy, George is committed to the safe and successful use of firearms by armed professionals and responsible citizens alike through using the SIG Principle of Training: Simple Is Good!

 

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