At its core, shooting a gun is a mechanical act that requires the gun to be pointed at a target, and the trigger to be squeezed to the rear without moving the gun. If you think about it, shooting really is a simple process.
Over time, people far smarter than I have developed core ‘fundamentals' of shooting. When applied, these strategies help control human error, and shoot more consistently and accurately. Instructors and shooters constantly argue over which of the fundamentals are most important.
All marksmanship fundamentals are important. After all, if they weren't important they wouldn't be called fundamentals. But in my opinion, proper grip and trigger squeeze are most critical. These two fundamentals are interwoven and must be present to shoot any firearm well.
First and foremost, a solid grip allows you to control the recoil of the gun and keep the muzzle on the target. Without this, you can't effectively put rapid follow-up shots on target. Next, a proper grip sets up the alignment of your firearm with your body's natural point of aim or kinesthetic alignment. This alignment is what helps in defensive, ‘point' or ‘target-focused' shooting.
But there is an aspect of grip that is important and often goes overlooked. The size of your gun effects your grip and drives how the gun sits in your hand. This relationship ultimately determines where your finger falls on the trigger. And your finger being placed properly on the trigger is a major component of proper trigger squeeze. This is why I have a hard time completely separating grip and trigger squeeze.
Trigger Squeeze is the Achilles heel of Many Shooters
By definition, proper trigger squeeze is the act of pulling the trigger until the shot breaks, without moving the gun off target. But I would go one step further and add, it also includes what your finger does after the shot breaks.
In theory, it should be simple to squeeze a trigger about an inch, without moving the gun. But like so many things in life, what is theoretically simple becomes more difficult in practice. Why? We have to look at how our hands primarily function. Almost exclusively, when we squeeze our hands or grip something, four of our fingers simultaneously grip together, while our thumb grips in the opposite direction. It is hard to think of a time where we grip something using only one finger and keep all the other parts of the hand motionless. But this is exactly what we are attempting to do when we squeeze the trigger.
We want to keep our hand still, isolating movement only to our trigger finger. Because this is not something we routinely do, it requires repetition to perfect. Practice is great for building the muscle memory, but what about the muscle itself? Hand strength directly affects your ability to squeeze the trigger. Shooters of all levels can benefit from building the muscles in their hands.
Improve that Trigger Squeeze
Strong hands help in two ways. Of course, if our hand and forearm muscles are strong we can squeeze the trigger with less effort. And strong hands, combined with a solid grip will lessen the likelihood that the shooter will tighten up their grip as they squeeze the trigger. All of this translates into a steady gun that does not move while the trigger is squeezed.
If you want to program a smooth trigger squeeze, you can not do it without actually pulling the trigger. This could be done on the range, firing thousands and thousands of rounds. But through dry fire, you can perfect your trigger squeeze without spending a dime on ammo.
Think of this: perform 50 good dry fire trigger squeeze reps each day, for a month. At the end of that month, you would have gone through 1,500 trigger squeezes. Extrapolate this over several months and you can see how much practice you're missing out on.
Now for the Placement of Your Finger on the Trigger
Don't overlook the physics of pulling the trigger and where your finger should be placed for an optimal squeeze. When you properly achieve your grip, the trigger should come into contact about halfway between the tip of that index finger and the first joint. For the biologically inclined, midway along the distal phalanges of your index finger. In addition to proper trigger finger placement, you should be able to manipulate the magazine release, safety if equipped, and slide stop.
Improper trigger finger placement will cause problems, let me explain why.
If your finger falls too far in on the trigger, (more towards the base of the finger) squeezing the trigger will naturally cause the gun to pull toward your dominant side. Conversely, not enough trigger finger will inherently push the gun away from your dominant side. It is simply due to the angle at with the finger is applying pressure. Next time you grip your handgun, check where your finger contacts the trigger. If it's not ideal, you're just making the shooting process a little harder.
Everyone's hands are different sizes and their fingers different lengths. Match that to different gun dimensions and it provides for many different combinations. But take a look at your firearm. The distance between the backstrap and the trigger will determine where your finger naturally wants to rest on that trigger. So don't try and disrupt the natural alignment of the gun in your hand in order to make your trigger finger fall correctly on the trigger. Many manufacturers provide adjustable backstraps to increase or reduce this distance.
After the Shot
What you do with that trigger finger after the shot breaks matters. Next time you're on the range have someone watch what your trigger finger does after the shot. Or better yet, record a video of few shots. Does your finger fly off the trigger immediately after the shot? It shouldn't.
Work on keeping your trigger finger in constant contact with the trigger while your shooting. This eliminates a condition called ‘slapping' the trigger where your finger comes off the trigger then comes back into contact for the next shot. Slapping the trigger introduces movement and makes it difficult to shoot consistently.
Along the same lines, if you keep your finger on the trigger, you will be in a position to squeeze again when the trigger ‘resets.' The reset of a trigger is where the action has cycled and the trigger can be pulled again. To find the reset point on your gun, first, unload your firearm and ensure there is not a round in the chamber. Squeeze the trigger all the way to the rear and hold it there. Rack your slide and allow it to cycle forward. Slowly let the trigger out until you hear a click. This is your triggers reset point. At this point, you could squeeze the trigger again and fire a shot. Why let the trigger out any further and induce more movement to the process?
I know there is a lot to think about when you are trying to perfect your fundamentals. But keep it simple, and start out at home with an unloaded firearm. Minimize the variables and try to remember that firing the firearm is just as simple as pointing the gun at something, and not moving it off that target while you squeeze the trigger.
How have you corrected some of your marksmanship fundamentals? Let us know, in the comments below.