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The trigger control fallacy

By Mike Rayburn
Adjunct Instructor, Smith & Wesson Academy

Thousands of articles and reams of paper have been wasted on the fallacy of trigger control and how allegedly important it is to shooting skills. Numerous “shooting gurus” have gone on record as stating that trigger control is the number one problem when it comes to shooting a handgun.

That’s a bunch of hogwash! Trigger control may be important to target shooting skills, but not to the type of shooting we do as law enforcement officers. As police officers we are combat shooters, or at least we better be. If your department is still one, of unfortunately many, that still practices target shooting skills for combat on the street, then maybe trigger control is a concern of yours. But even then, it’s not the number one problem when it comes to shooting a handgun.

The leading problem is anticipating the recoil of the firearm, resulting in a pre-ignition push, or PIP. Just before the ignition of the powder in the bullet, you push the gun with your hand. The most common of these is to push the front of the gun downward. Your brain is saying, “OK, here it comes, get ready for that loud bang,” and you push the gun downward at the same time you pull the trigger rearward.

A number of firearms instructors have misdiagnosed this problem as poor trigger control, stating that the shooter “is not properly controlling the even, smooth pull of the trigger”. So, what usually follows is command to, “Place the middle of the first pad of your index finger on the trigger and slowly squeeze the trigger rearward until the round goes off. When it does, it should be a surprise to you.”

First off, you are sending lethal projectiles down range. Your gun should never go off as a “surprise to you.” Each and every shot should be controlled and expected.

Secondly, do you really think that during an all-out fight for your life, you’re going to be concerned with how much finger, first pad or not, is going to be on that trigger? Of course not! You’re going to stick your finger in the trigger guard and pull that trigger as fast and as hard as you can to get some lead on this bad guy who’s trying to take your life. It’s as simple as that.

Another PIP problem that is often misdiagnosed as a trigger control issue is what is commonly called “heeling the firearm.” Instead of pushing the nose of the gun downward, you push it upward. Basically, you’re pushing with the heel of your hand and the front of the handgun gets pushed up. Once again, your brain is subconsciously saying; “OK get ready for that big bang”, and you heel the gun, anticipating recoil.

The last PIP problem is to push the gun to one side or the other. Most shooters will push the gun to their off side. This is because that’s where the least amount of energy is being exerted on the gun during the gripping process. Most right-handed shooters will push the gun to their left and most left-handed shooters will push the gun to their right.

So, if it’s not trigger control, and we’re not going to give stupid commands like “slowly squeeze your trigger until the round goes off and it’s a surprise to you,” how do we correct this PIP problem?

First, you have to recognize that the PIP problem is all in your head, nowhere else. You’ve subconsciously developed this “flinch” which results in the gun being pushed off target. You have to tell yourself, and be convinced, that you’re not going to do it. If you have to, just before you pull the trigger, tell yourself repeatedly that you’re not going to anticipate the recoil of the firearm: “I’m not going to do it, I’m not going to do it.” You have to believe that as long as you’re holding the gun properly and pointing it in the right direction, you’re not going to get hurt by the recoil, no matter how big of a bang the gun makes.

Convincing yourself mentally is one thing, but having it transferred to your hand is another. To reinforce what’s going on in your brain, you should perform what’s called the “ball & dummy drill.” Take three or four magazines and stagger live rounds with plastic dummy rounds. Mix them up, placing one live, one dummy, two live, one dummy, and so forth. Now mix the magazines up so you don’t know which ones are loaded which way.

Once you’ve done this, head out to the range and place a magazine in your gun. Begin firing one round at a time. When you get to the dummy round, if you have a PIP problem, you’ll see the gun dip, or heeled up, or pushed off to one side or the other. If this occurs, practice that mental rehearsal of telling yourself that you’re not going to anticipate the recoil. Continue the ball and dummy drill until you’ve conquered your PIP problem.

Stay away from all the hype from these so-called “shooting gurus” and stick with the facts, which show that the number one problem with most shooters is anticipating the recoil of the firearm, not trigger control. Understand that during a gunfight, you’ll just stick your finger in the trigger guard and pull that trigger as fast and as hard as you can until you’ve eliminated the threat.

Stop worrying about the recoil of the firearm and you’ll be a great shooter.

About the author
Michael T. Rayburn is a 29-year veteran of Law Enforcement and is currently an adjunct instructor at the Smith & Wesson Academy. He is the author of three books, Advanced Vehicle Stop Tactics, Advanced Patrol Tactics, and Basic Gunfighting 101. His video, “Instinctive Point Shooting with Mike Rayburn” is a top seller in the law enforcement and combat shooting communities. Mike can be reached at

Calibre Press Street Survival
Calibre Press Street Survival
The Calibre Press Street Survival Newsline is a weekly training e-newsletter provided free to sworn law enforcement professionals. Published by, the Newsline first launched in 1995 and has distributed nearly 1,000 custom-written training articles over the 12 years.