Triggered: Mastering the Trigger Press

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Accuracy is easy, they say. Simply master trigger control and you’re golden. The press should be smooth and consistent; the break should surprise you. Moderate your breathing. Grip the gun so hard your knuckles turn white; grip the gun only as hard as you must to maintain control. Press the trigger slowly; squeeze it quickly. Wear a Spiderman suit and hang from the firing-lane rafters, then it’ll all come to you naturally. There is a landslide of trigger-related advice out there, and only some of it is useful (or true). If you are working to become a proficient shooter — and you would not be reading this if you weren’t — trigger control is a skill you must hone. And to hone it, you must be persistent, patient and practical.

Foundational Skills

Even with as diverse as different types of triggers can be, the techniques for properly running them don’t change. No one would argue that there’s no difference between the triggers on a Glock and a 1911, but the skills to run them properly are basically identical.

Even with as diverse as different types of triggers can be, the techniques for properly running them don’t change. No one would argue that there’s no difference between the triggers on a Glock and a 1911, but the skills to run them properly are basically identical.

We all have shooting goals. Mine is to be able to run any gun’s trigger beautifully the moment I pick it up. (If you don’t believe it can be done, you clearly haven’t met Massad Ayoob or Gail Pepin.) Yours might be to run your carry gun well and continue improving for years to come. Regardless of your end goals, you must focus on building a strong foundation. And guess what? The trigger is a significant portion of that foundation.

Your sights come before your trigger press because failure to properly align your sights means your shot will not land where you need it to. To align your sights, put the front-sight post in the notch of the rear sights. There should be equal space on both sides of the front sight, and the top needs to be at the same height as the rear sights. The goal is to maintain point of aim and a good sight picture as you press the trigger. This means holding the gun steady and not allowing it to jerk, dip or twist as you fire. It is, of course, impossible to hold a gun perfectly still, so just do your best.

Mechanics

The mechanics of a well-executed trigger press are straightforward in description but require a bit of work in reality. Your goal as a shooter is to move the trigger rearward smoothly and steadily without disturbing the gun — or your point of aim. Ray Chapman, the first-ever IPSC World Champion, used to say, “It’s simple; it’s just not easy,” regarding pulling triggers.

Let’s break it down Barney-style. Finger placement is the first factor that comes to mind for most shooters. Current prevailing advice is to place the pad of your finger — not the tip or the first joint — on the face of the trigger, but what works for one does not work for all. Yes, you should try to place the pad of your finger on the trigger, but if you find you’re more precise with slightly different placement, go for it. Everyone is different, and it would benefit instructors to keep that in mind.

As for the press itself, it must be smooth. It must be uninterrupted. Some shooters find it helpful to think of the trigger pull a certain way — whether as a press, roll or pull — as they perform it. Others, such as myself, find overthinking the action results in what I can only describe as a hot mess. If keeping a phrase in mind as you master your trigger is beneficial, do it; if keeping your mind clear helps, do that.

Maintaining contact with the trigger is another vital aspect of trigger control. Do not allow your finger to lose contact with the trigger. Do not slap or jerk the trigger. Maintain contact throughout the pull and immediately after, the latter of which is a concept known as “follow-through.” After the shot breaks, some shooters make the mistake of instantly releasing the trigger, which reliably results in a negative outcome. Pull the trigger rearward until the sear releases and the shot fires, then wait a beat before allowing the trigger to move forward and reset. With a semi-automatic handgun, such as a Glock, the reset is the point at which you can choose to cease forward movement of the trigger. When you feel the “click” of the reset, stop. At that juncture, you can fire again. This is often referred to as “catching the link” and is popular but not necessarily ideal from a self-defense standpoint.

Do not allow your finger to lose contact with the trigger. Do not slap or jerk the trigger. Maintain contact throughout the pull and immediately after.

Your other option is to allow the trigger to move all the way forward, past the reset, while maintaining finger contact with it. I’ll reiterate that: Do not lift your finger from the trigger. Seasoned defensive shooters and skilled instructors, such as Massad Ayoob, tend to teach this method because complete cessation of movement is easier to feel while under the extreme stress of an adrenaline dump than the infinitesimal “click” of halting at the reset. If you are training for self-defense — which we all should be doing — consider honing trigger control using this method.

A word on grip: Take care to grip the handgun firmly with both hands. Inter-limb coordination and sympathetic response come into play when holding a firearm; what one hand does, the other tends to mimic. According to a scientific study published by the journal PLOS ONE on Jan. 6, 2017, “following an unexpected perturbation to one limb (ipsilateral), a reflex response is often observed in the opposite limb (contralateral); this response, referred to as a crossed reflex, is likely mediated by commissural interneurons that directly connect muscles of opposing limbs.”1 This applies to hands and legs and means your grip should be equal and consistent. A sudden squeeze as you press the trigger — an “unexpected perturbation,” as far as your gun is concerned — will throw off your shot; uneven pressure will pull the gun off target as well. Grip firmly and take care not to alter your grip as you fire. It should already be as close to ideal as possible before the trigger moves one iota.

Dry Fire

Yes, you must dry-fire. Dry-firing is an invaluable means to an end and, perhaps best of all, requires no ammunition, saving you money. All you need is a safe practice space and a handful of minutes a day.

When dry firing, continue following the four golden gun rules, including knowing your target and what is beyond it. This means you don’t aim at the cat or the wall thinly separating you from a family member. Consider setting up an area for training in your garage or shed. I use the basement, which I understand isn’t an option for everyone, but the backstop in your practice space must be unquestionably capable of stopping a bullet. When a below-ground-level wall backed by dirt is unavailable, many shooters use layers of body armor plates or rows of heavy books.

Complete cessation of movement is easier to feel while under the extreme stress of an adrenaline dump than the infinitesimal ‘click’ of halting at the reset.

Do not practice when you’re distracted. When dry-firing, begin the session by reminding yourself mentally or verbally that you’re going to do dry-fire practice. Mentality matters. Remove all live ammunition from your space. Unload your gun and verify visually and physically, using your fingers to check the chamber to confirm what your eyes see. Check again. If you are using dummy rounds, consider using only brands made in neon oranges or crimson reds so they contrast vividly with live ammunition. Dummy rounds facilitate the practice of various functions you otherwise cannot work on during dry fire.

The “Coin Drill” is a solid choice for building the foundation of your trigger press. To do it, simply balance a coin on the front sight of your gun and leave it in place as you aim and press the trigger. The goal is to keep the coin from falling. Empty brass can be substituted for a coin, and if you cannot balance the object on your front sight, balance it directly behind the sight. This drill can be done on guns with flat or rounded slides. I’ve done it with a variety of handguns and, although some are more challenging than others, they’ll all work.

Dry fire will not damage modern centerfire pistols. If you have a rimfire or an older model, use snap caps to protect the firing pin and chamber.

1911s Versus Glocks

In order to spend some focused time on different triggers in a training environment, I took Lynn Givens’ Rangemaster class, “Trip Your Trigger.” During the class, I split my time between a Gen 5 Glock 19 and a Ruger SR1911 Lightweight Commander. The two guns are representative of popular firearms on the market and, as much as I’d love to cover others, there was and is only a finite amount of time.

Givens’ class is geared toward beginners and starts by having students step to the firing line, turn their previously verified empty guns to one side and watch their fingers press the triggers. Although it’s meant to give students a better grasp of the mechanics of the trigger press, this is a tactic I’ve used on countless guns to watch the triggers move. On some 1911s, I’ve seen triggers jiggle as they’re pressed and found accuracy improves when I find the exact finger placement needed for a truly uninterrupted trigger press (sometimes the interruption isn’t your fault; it’s a subpar trigger). The greatest 1911 trigger I’ve used was on a custom Nighthawk. No shift, no hesitation, just a crisp break and short reset. Glock triggers may not shift up and down, but they do have a curved blade that might create some finger-placement confusion. Visual exercises can be useful for understanding perfect placement.

Shooter errors were and are just that: shooter errors. My fault, not the gun’s.

At the end of Trip Your Trigger, each student runs through close-range drills, such as shooting playing cards turned so the thin edge faces the shooter or firing five shots into the spade on the face of a playing card with time restrictions. These drills are designed to place some pressure on the shooter as he or she performs the trigger skills Givens taught. Shooter errors were and are just that: shooter errors. My fault, not the gun’s (though in this case, the drills went quite well).

So Which Is Better?

Using my Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge, I found the Ruger SR1911 Lightweight Commander had a pull weight of 4 pounds, 5 ounces, and the Gen 5 Glock 19 had a pull weight of 6 pounds, 1 ounce. Some guns, such as the Remington RM380, which has a double-action-only trigger, have a lengthy, steeper 10-pound pull with stacking ahead of the break. There are many gun owners who claim 1911s have easy triggers, just as there are those who despise factory Glock triggers. “Easy,” however, is a subjective word. Take it from me: Not all 1911 triggers are the same. Glock triggers differ from Shield triggers, and there is no “easy.” There is only different. As part of my job, I constantly pull the triggers of various guns and can attest to the incredible variety of triggers on the market. Try not to see one as easy or another as difficult. They’re simply different.

Do I have a preference? Yes: I’m a sucker for a beautifully made 1911 trigger. However, I spent my early years running Glocks, I hunt with revolvers, and there’s that whole it’s-my-job deal for testing guns. It takes time to nail down a fantastic trigger press — time and consistency. If you routinely shoot an assortment of handguns, you’ll need to learn all those triggers, which takes significant time.

Remember, handgun skills are perishable, so if you slack off, your trigger control will suffer noticeably. Dry-fire. Practice. Be patient. The moment will arrive when it all comes together and you enjoy the fusion of accuracy and precision. Take a beat to revel in it, then do it again.

Endnotes

(1) Gervasio, S.; Voigt, M.; Kersting, U.G.; Farina, D.; Sinkjaer, T.; & Mrachacz-Kersting, N. (2017) “Sensory Feedback in Intralimb Coordination: Contralateral Afferent Contribution to the Short-Latency Crossed Response During Human Walking.” Retrieved from PLOS.org.

Sources

Ruger: Ruger.com
Glock: US.Glock.com
Nighthawk: NighthawkCustom.com
Lyman: LymanProducts.com
Remington: Remington.com

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