Firearms training: Control the trigger, control the fight!

You can’t win if you can’t hit

One of the first skills to degrade under stress is trigger control. One of the biggest problem facing shooters is learning how to control and manipulate the trigger under tight time limits and stress, both in qualification courses and on the street.

Trigger control is composed of two parts—mental control and physical manipulation. On the mental side, control of emotions and arousal comes into play. On the physical side, learning how to manipulate the trigger correctly keeps us in control at higher rates of shooting speed.

The arousal level necessary for fast precise shooting is a lot lower than that needed for most physical confrontations. I refer to this type of arousal as “calm or cold aggression.” You are definitely determined, confident and focused; you just need to stay a lot calmer while doing so. This involves a lot of specific training to develop this mindset and is beyond the scope of this article.

Trigger Manipulation Concepts
No matter how you choose to manipulate the trigger, the number one thing you must learn to do is to isolate the action of the trigger finger. This is part mental control and part physical manipulation.

Two things make this difficult.

1.) The shooter must deal with noise and recoil at the end of the trigger press. This leads to anticipation of recoil and noise and a subsequent flinching response while manipulating the trigger.
2.) The faster you go, the greater your tendency to move other fingers while you manipulate the trigger.

In order to deal with the first problem, I was taught the concept of “surprise break” when I was learning how to shoot. The theory is that you keep adding pressure to the trigger until the firearm discharged and you didn’t know the exact moment the shot would break. This was supposed to help with the anticipation problem. The difficulty with the theory is that in a very short time, the shooter knows pretty much when the gun is going to go off and starts to react to the anticipated recoil at the moment they are finishing the press.

I have moved away from the “surprise break” concept in favor of teaching my students to learn to accept recoil. The outcome is the same, not disturbing the sight alignment and sight picture, but the methodology is different.

Trigger Isolation
I have devoted a great deal of time to study and research on how to teach high level defensive shooting for those wishing to pursue higher levels of excellence. The Skills Hierarchy© is one of the new concepts to come out of this research.

Before you can precisely isolate the trigger, the shooter has to have a feeling in the mind that they are in control of the shooting grip and the gun will not slip in the hand while it is recoiling. Also in the mind is the feeling that the recoil cycle is smooth without a violent flip of the slide. Only then will the shooter be able to relax, isolate excessive tension, and be able to focus precisely on the manipulation of the trigger at higher speeds. The shooting grip is “alive” in that it will respond to inputs from the brain and the firearm. The key is to build awareness and skill in processing what is really going on and how to make it work for you.

We just finished a couple of instructor schools with some advanced instructors from the US Border Patrol and FLETC at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, NM. During the courses, we explored the Skills Hierarchy on a variety of levels with different topics and specifically explored trigger control and manipulation.

What was amazing to me was the amount and speed of learning when things are done at the correct level of the hierarchy in the correct sequence of training. Bad habits that had been built over many years were corrected and students remarked on how much more they had learned about their shooting that they did not realize they did not know.

These were not basic instructors with only a few years on the job. They were advanced level trainers.

Most instructors use ball and dummy drills to show the student their flinch and help them become aware of it. What I have found is that while ball and dummy drills may help identify flinch, they do not of themselves correct flinch. The student’s mind must be reprogrammed with a different way of thinking, believing and dealing with recoil and noise.

Simply put, these reactions are tied to the survival reflexes. When you KNOW you have a live round in the chamber you must be able to deal psychologically with the effects of noise, recoil and muzzle blast on a level that allows you to still isolate the trigger.

Getting Started
In order to better isolate the trigger, you must first have control of the handgun as well as proper balance. A proper grip allows the hands and the handgun to move as a unit, without slipping, through the recoil cycle. Proper balance allows the body to relax and compensate for the effects of recoil without tensing up or moving. The proper balance for shooting is with the center of gravity slightly forward.

Proper control of both the grip and balance allows the shooter to acclimate to recoil and muzzle rise and start to relax mentally and physically. In doing so, the brain is reprogrammed not to become alarmed when the gun is fired.

Further acclimation can occur in relation to noise and muzzle blast if you let yourself shoot the gun below eye level at a safe backstop. Just look at the backstop and shoot. Then look at the gun and shoot without blinking. George Harris from the SIG SAUER Academy will have the student look at the gun from each side while shooting it to help them acclimate. George and I have similar thoughts when it comes to teaching acclimation before teaching other components of marksmanship.

As the shooter learns to relax, isolate tension and let recoil happen, the capacity to isolate the trigger will increase.

Excessive/violent muzzle rise and a loss of friction between the hand and the handgun will invariable result in tightening the grip as you press the trigger. This results in muzzle movement and a change in point of impact. Whatever type of shooting stance or grip you are currently doing, staying consistent on grip pressure will lead to much more shooting success.

Here are some tips that will help you become a more consistent shooter.

Exercise #1
With either your empty firearm or a blue gun, establish your shooting grip and, while holding the grip firmly, have another person hold the firearm behind the muzzle with one hand and give a tug on your support hand with the other hand using approximately 20 lbs. of force to see if it comes loose. The goal is to create enough pressure and friction to keep the support hand firmly connected to the gun.

Exercise #2
After completing exercise 1, establish your shooting grip. Without changing grip tension, dry fire the handgun. Hold the grip pressure the same before, during and for three seconds after you have finished pressing the trigger. Repeat a minimum of 25 times.

Exercise #3
Once you develop a feel for keeping constant grip pressure, do it with live fire, paying particular attention to keeping grip tension the same as you finish trigger press and after the shot is fired.

These simple exercises, done correctly, will result in a much more educated trigger press which will increase your precision at speed and distance.

Try them out and let me know how it works for you!

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