We have been promoting the concept of surgical marksmanship and face shooting as a remedy for the prolific active shooters of our modern age.  But the biggest impediment to that seems to be a lack of marksmanship skill on the part of many American shooters.  So in the spirit of making “US” deadlier against “THEM” I plan a series on the various aspects of firing the accurate shot.  We have already discussed the issue of sights, iron or red dots, and how to use them best.  Now to the trigger.

American shooters are afraid of their triggers, or at best, do not understand how to use them properly.  Since their first day as fledgling pistoleros they have been beaten over brow by R. Lee Ermey imitators to not touch the trigger.  That is of course an important thing, but only as important as not stomping on the gas pedal when parking.  Just as one must in fact give the race car gas to make it run, so must we work the trigger to make the pistol fire. Sadly, few instructors understand marksmanship themselves and default to lowest common denominator instruction of either ON or OFF trigger designed for uninterested dumb kids who’d rather be drinking beer or watching porn.  Harsh? Yes, I suppose it is, but I am nearing that age when harshness and exasperation begins to become a part of one’s soul…specially toward those who refuse to listen or to learn the simplest things.

And shooting well is in fact easier than many make it out to be.

The trigger is to be understood, and operated with grace and skill rather than feared and avoided until the last moment.  The fear of the trigger comes, I suppose, from a parochial adherence and overstating of Cooper’s Rule Two:  Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.  Not a bad idea except for the sights thing (which we will discuss another time), but the new instructor always wants to add his own mark to the fire hydrant and many have added – “and you have made a definite conscious decision to shoot”.  And that one is followed by, “and then touching the trigger only at the last possible moment lest the lawyers and hall monitors come and take away Christmas”.

All of this contributes to late contact with the trigger and then feeling the pressure to fire that shot “right now” since the window to do so is closing.  Then the inevitable trigger “mash”, or forced trigger crunch takes place, steering the pistol off target and the shot directed god-knows-where.  And the  dreaded “court proof triggers” that the under achiever instructors always recommend exacerbate the problem even more.

The frustrated student then thinks – since his sights were perfectly aligned when he fired, that the zero must be off…or that the ammo is insufficiently accurate…or as I have seen many times before…blaming how the pistol sits in his hand. When the real issue is he was failing to work the trigger properly.

The trigger can be touched, staged, and broken. There is more to it than “On or Off and nothing else”. The gunmen of past ages knew this.  There are four stages to operating the trigger: Off Trigger, Touching Trigger, Staging Trigger, and Breaking Trigger.

The default, when there is nothing else at hand, is finger off the trigger and along the frame.  I suggest the tip of the finger touching the front edge of the ejection port. 

When approaching a specific danger, or pointing in on a specific threat/adversary, it is not only advisable but desirable to touch the finger with the trigger.  Not yet staging, nor breaking, but touching. One does not threaten an adversary at gunpoint with the finger off the trigger.  Why not?  Because whatever you threatened that would do, it is clear that you do not mean it.  In my time in police work, working plenty of dangerous assignments, I never took a suspect at gunpoint with my finger off the trigger…and that includes SIGs and Berettas (on single action), as well as Glocks.  Finger was always touching, and if I knew they were armed, staged.

The more you mean it, and the closer you are to sending the shot, you stage the trigger.  That means that you are pressing through the first part of trigger movement, the take-up or pre-travel.  Some shooters that learned on 1911 pistols favor triggers with little to no pre-travel, but I like a definite first stage on my triggers.

For the accurate shot you do not move from finger off to breaking the shot.  You touch, you stage, and you break. It happens quickly too…but still in that order for proactive accurate shooting.  In reactive shooting at close range were you may not even be noticing the sights, a less refined way to work the trigger is acceptable, but not when in a proactive situation requiring accuracy. 

Staging the trigger is simply taking up the slack…the first light part of the trigger before you reach what some shooters call, “the wall”.  One can stage, and release back to off trigger all day long, 10,000 times without the pistol firing.  No gunman should fear his trigger.

Breaking the trigger is another area where many get it wrong.  This is that “surprise” business that firearms instructor kept yelling about on the range without any additional explanation.  And you, standing on the range with your ear protection on, holding your pistol, wondering what the surprise was?

After the first part of the trigger is pressed, the first stage, or the “take-up”, also called pre-travel, the shooter will meet more firm resistance.  I have heard it described as “reaching the wall”.  This is the last part of the trigger break.  A properly set up trigger will require a set amount of weight to break through.  Too much weight and the force being exerted will likely steer the pistol off target at the moment of ignition.  Too light a weight and the trigger will be unsafe for anything but ceremonial use.   

On my personal Glock pistols, the triggers are of a two stage variety, meaning they have a bit of pre-travel at the beginning, but come smoothly to the point of break.  Then they break cleanly at 4 pounds.  Not heavy nor light, they are predictable, manageable, and repeatable.

A crisp and predictable trigger facilitates the “surprise”. Specifically this means that you are not anticipating the shot.  We are still hard wired like our Paleolithic ancestors and it is unnatural to have a small explosion in your extended hand.  And so there is a tendency in all of us to flinch slightly when the shot is fired.  We overcome this with a mental trick.  When setting up the shot, at the point that you have reached the “wall” and are about to break the trigger, mentally focus hard on the sights (or dot), at the same time you are focusing visually on the sights (or dot).  This way the apprehension of the forthcoming shot will be overcome. 

This process will go very far to insure that the shot you fired will reach the specific target you aimed it at.  After the shot has been fired, hold the trigger back on recoil.  Don’t attempt to over grip the pistol to fight recoil.  Let the weapon recoil.  As the pistol comes back on target from the recoil cycle, begin resetting the trigger.  This means to maintain contact with the trigger and release the pressure on it to the point where it resets and is ready for another shot.  Reset to the “wall” not any farther.  By the time the pistol has recovered from recoil, and the sights or dot visually reacquired, your trigger should have been reset.  You are now ready to repeat the process.

Since I began this article I have taught two classes and a week has passed.  During that week we heard about three active shooter/terror events in the USA.  We live in a time of war and being armed is not sufficient.  Being armed and skilled is what is called for.

Train hard and stay dangerous.