firing handgun

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This is the part that novice shooters are scared of. If you can get over that, you can be a good shooter.

Hey, shooters — it’s great to be back! Big thanks to all of you who helped with our Holidays for Heroes program. As usual, it was a great success. A special thank-you to the Charlotte Lady Shooters. I may have that a little off, but you all know who you are.

As usual, Bill and Mitzie from Arcadia really went the extra mile. Thanks a million, folks. Bill, being a race car fan, will remember that’s what Jeff Gordon jokingly said when NASCAR handed him his check for winning that million-dollar race of champions. God bless you both for the extra effort you put forth.

Those of you who have read my columns for the last 9 years or so will notice a difference in format. I’ve had some restrictions placed on my subject matter. I don’t like it, but I’ll give it a try and see how things work out. I really appreciate all the calls and emails showing your overwhelming support for my stuff, which was real-world and aligned with sometimes debatable topics. Hey, isn’t that what real journalism and editorials should be about anyway?

As an instructor, I have found over the years that without a doubt one of the most difficult skills to teach a new shooter — or worse, an experienced one with bad habits — is controlling trigger pull. A beginning shooter is already nervous, and even with careful guidance and instruction trigger control is usually a problem area.

Most novices are worried about the bang and the smoke and the fire and whether the recoil will knock them over or hurt their hands. As a result, they push the gun forward and dip it downwards, causing a low hit or no hit at all.

A small caliber gun (way easier to start with a .22 than a .44 Mag), careful verbal and handling instruction, and, above all, praise and encouragement when even small progress is made will usually get the new shooter on his or her first steps toward mastery of trigger pull. It takes time and patience.

The student must become relaxed and comfortable with the trigger pull before she can even begin to master the art of trigger control.

Now, every trigger is at least a little different. Glock may say that all their 9mm guns have the same exact trigger that breaks at 5.5 pounds. There might not be a lot of difference from gun to gun, but there will be some. It may not show up in the actual weight of pull, but there will be a smidge of roughness or a very slight catch somewhere in the length of the trigger pull.

This is an area where you can usually tell whether a gun is cheap or well-made. Triggers with slight catches, rough spots or uneven pulls are a trademark of manufacturing compromises, compared to the smooth and steady feel of a quality firearm.

There are, of course, different types of triggers. There are double-action triggers that have a long, heavy pull. In the case of most revolvers, this heavy pull is in fact the safety on the gun. In double-action mode, you’ll have somewhere around 9 pounds of pull required to discharge the gun. It would be pretty hard to accidentally apply that much effort unless you really intended to do it.

On the other hand, with the hammer pulled back in single-action mode, you could very easily accidentally fire many guns — the pull is so light you practically just breathe on it and it will go bang. So Safety Rule Two applies: Keep your finger off the trigger!

Some of your semi-auto pistols also have gone to double-action trigger pull as the only safety on the gun. Again, it’s adequate — just keep your finger off the trigger until it’s time to make the gun go bang.

A lot of your modern polymer guns from Glock, Sig, Smith & Wesson, Beretta and others have a good bit of what I call “take up slack” — the extra travel from the time your finger contacts the trigger until you reach the break point where any further movement fires the gun. On a Glock, there’s about a half-inch of free travel.

To avoid the accuracy problems of a long pull, I teach what is called staging. As soon as the gun is in a position where it could be discharged safely, the trigger finger takes up and eliminates that extra slack. Then final aim is taken and the shot is made. It makes the final trigger pull shorter, faster and smoother, and will make the shot more accurate.

Now a lot of your semi-autos, like the 1911s built by just about anybody, don’t have this slack. My Kimber 45 Ultra-Carry has virtually none. You don’t want your finger on that trigger until its boom time or you stand a real good chance of an A.D., or accidental discharge. Gotta know your gun.

Trigger reset is another feature that most good semi-autos have, and probably three-quarters of the shooters who own one have never even heard of it. Next time you fire your Glock, Sig, Smith or whatever, hold the trigger buried (in the pulled-back position). Now, very slowly let the trigger back while you feel and listen for an audible and mechanically felt click. Guess what: The gun is now ready to fire again, with no further movement of the trigger forward. If you have never done it before it’s quite a revelation.

Remember to position your finger so the trigger rests about halfway between the tip and the first joint. What you’re trying to do is get a straight-back pull, and this position will keep you from turning the gun one way or the other in most cases.

One of the essential ways to improve your trigger skills is by dry-firing the gun. There is one iron-clad rule for dry-firing: There must be no ammo anywhere near you. Practice your trigger pull and sight picture as often as is humanly possible. You can use the door knob, the wall socket or whatever floats your boat.

You have to be honest with yourself. When the gun went click, did you stay on target or did you push the gun? With most guns, use snap caps. Snap caps have a cushion in the center to protect your striker. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not an issue — I shoot a Glock and you can’t wear one out.

As you practice and improve, you will realize that trigger control and pull is a steady but also gentle and intimate motion in which you must become one with the gun. The more you do it correctly, the more skilled a shooter you will become under any conditions.

Finally, if you get stuck with a trigger that is really a nightmare on Elm Street, sometimes a good gunsmith like Fred Wolf at J&J can help.

Well, that’s about a thousand words on trigger control, and I have barely scratched the surface of what a good shooter needs to know. That’s what classes are for, so get some good instruction — you’ll be amazed at what it can for your accuracy.

Safe shooting.

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, or 941-979-5008.

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, or 941-979-5008.


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