“There ain’t nothing to this. Just haul back on that trigger and it goes bang.” Well, that’s the way it works — kinda, sorta. The way you pull the trigger plays a very big role in putting the bullet on target (or not).
As an instructor, I watch a typical student starting to shoot I’m like a judge at the dog show watching my yellow Labrador Zeva in the ring. I watch to see the shooter’s good features and what I need to change or correct. Almost always, execution of the trigger pull leaves a lot of room for improvement.
The shooter knows this thing in his hand is about to explode in a blast of fire and recoil and typically will tend to push or dip the gun when the trigger is pulled (or more likely yanked). Now if I’m 3 feet away from the target and I tip the barrel an inch up or down, I probably won’t even hit a 12-inch circle. It’s easy to see what will happen out at 10 or 15 yards — it’s just simple geometry.
How should you pull your trigger? With a very gentle, steady, controlled effort. Harsh, violent, abrupt or jerky will not work. Try to imagine the bullet you’re shooting costs $200. At that price, you really want to enjoy it, so take your time and go slow and easy. The object is to make it go bang but not lose your sight alignment by moving the gun. You really shouldn’t know when the gun discharges; it should be a surprise.
Your finger should contact the trigger on the meaty part about midway between the tip and the first joint. A straight back pull is the goal. A twisting or uneven pull will tend to affect your windage, causing you to miss left or right of the target. The push or jerk will affect your elevation, and you’ll miss high or low.
One of the best ways to cure your bad trigger pull tendencies is through dry fire practice with a double-checked empty gun at home. If you’re concerned about firing pin or striker damage, use snap caps available at any gun store. This drill is one where honesty with yourself is important. Get your stance, grip, sight picture on your target, then gently pull the trigger. When you hear that click, where is that front sight post? Did it move? Tell the truth now, because you’re only lying to yourself.
Another good trigger drill involves having a friend load your gun at the range. He simply slips a dud or dummy cartridge in your revolver or semi-auto magazine. When you pull the trigger — not knowing when it’s coming up — the truth is very evident. Did you pull the trigger smoothly, with little movement of the gun, or did it look like you were trying to chuck your piece downrange?
We’re all guilty of it some of the time. The last time it happened to me was with a cap and ball antique pistol. I don’t like those things anyway — all that fire and smoke and a ball the size of a big lollipop are kind of scary. Well, everyone watching had a good laugh at my expense, because it failed to ignite. All we got was a little puff and pop, but it really looked like I was trying to throw the whole thing at the target. I must have shoved it a foot at least.
Different guns, of course, have different triggers. Most revolvers can be fired single or double action. When you cock the hammer back and pull the trigger, one thing happens — the hammer or striker is released — hence single action. Single action trigger pull is very light, only a pound or two, and this is very easily done even by a novice with little movement of the gun.
Double action is, of course, when you pull the trigger and it cocks the hammer and releases it, accomplishing two things. This is much harder, maybe 8 or 9 pounds of pull on a stock gun. On most revolvers, this is the only safety. It’s tricky to accidentally pull a trigger this hard, though some people manage to do it.
When you’re shooting in double-action mode, pull the trigger slow and steady with a gentle finesse so you don’t lose that all-important sight alignment. With a quality piece, you can hear and feel the two distinct clicks as the hammer goes to half-cock and full-cock before it releases. If it sounds as if I’m talking about handling a pocket watch rather than a handgun, good. That’s the way to get to mastery of this beast and not jerk or snatch on the trigger.
Semi-auto triggers are much different. If you shoot a single action like my 1911, the trigger release will be short and crisp with little or no slack. This is one of the reasons combat shooters love a 1911. My Kimber breaks at exactly 3 pounds, but some come in higher and some can be adjusted to your personal taste. Don’t fall too in love with an extremely light pull, as this can lead to premature or accidental discharges — or even misfires.
Most polymer-framed guns like Glocks have a long trigger pull with lots of slack before you get to the stock breaking point at about 5 or 6 pounds. What I recommend with these is called “staging the trigger.” Take up the slack til you feel that point of resistance, then get your perfect slight alignment, slowly exhale, squeeze the trigger just a touch harder and bang. This controlled release equals accuracy.
After a semi-auto is fired (unless it’s the last shot), the gun goes to trigger reset. It’s much more pronounced on some guns than others. Guns like Glocks, Berettas, Sigs and Springfield XDs have a trigger reset that can be used to great advantage once mastered. After you fire, don’t release the trigger — hold it back. If you’re dry firing the gun, manually rack the slide to cycle the gun but don’t release the trigger. Let the trigger back very slowly and you will feel and hear a slight click as the trigger resets.
Now you’re ready to fire again. You don’t need to take the trigger back to its original start position. This offers two advantages: First, you can eliminate the staging time. Second, the following pulls will be short, making accuracy much easier. Once reset firing has been learned, you can polish or hone your trigger skills and be able to put rounds on target much faster and more accurately.
Billy Carl is an NRA-certified firearms instructor and is available for individual instruction in firearms safety and concealed carry classes. Contact him at 941-769-0767 or through J&J One Stop Gun Shop at 2324 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte.