A recent online post reminded me of something that I’ve sort of taken for granted. However, it wasn’t long ago that a discussion with a world-class shooter challenged and ultimately changed my understanding of the topic myself.
The Falsehood We've Been Teaching About Trigger Reset
Frequently trigger reset is talked about in the firearms and firearms training communities. Reviewers often refer to it as an important metric when discussing the quality of a trigger on a particular gun and use words like “tactile,” “audible,” and “short reset.” Many would say a desirable trait for any firearm’s trigger is a trigger having a short reset.
In the training community, trigger reset has been taught for many years in countless shooting courses as part of proper trigger control. For example, it was part of the law enforcement academy's 80-hour handgun training I attended many years ago. We were instructed to take up the slack in the trigger to the wall and then slowly and carefully press through the wall, gradually adding more and more pressure until we were surprised by the gun's firing.
Next, instructors said we should “pin the trigger to the rear,” hold it there until the gun cycled, and then slowly and carefully release the trigger until we heard and/or felt the “click” of the trigger resetting. I even remember one fellow trainee that was shooting a 1st-generation M&P 9mm pistol. He complained about how the reset was hard to recognize.
This method is the same many of you reading this heard in training classes you have attended. Instructors said it is important for accurate shooting, so we listened.
On the speed side of the equation, instructors said that only releasing the trigger to the reset point was quicker and more efficient. That seemed logical to me, so I believed and echoed back to my students this same doctrine for several years.
My Own Trigger Freeze Frustration
Fast forward a few years, and as I was continually working at becoming a better shooter, getting faster AND more accurate, I started running into some roadblocks. Occasionally, when shooting quickly, I would experience something that is known as “trigger freeze.” Trigger freeze is often associated with being too tense in the firing hand and trigger finger. It’s similar to when golfers experience a “yip” for those of you that play “the Game.” In an effort to go faster, the trigger finger just gets…stuck.
The trigger freeze that I would have was actually related to getting more tense when trying to go fast. I trained my trigger finger to release the trigger only out to the reset point. But the additional tension would cause my finger to not travel quite far enough forward, failing to reset the trigger even though I THOUGHT I had.
I would attempt to press the trigger again, only to find that the gun failed to fire, and I’d quickly realize what occurred and race to reset the trigger. I can’t imagine many of those shots fired in that rushed state were very accurate or precise.
This trigger freeze frustrated me greatly, and to this day, I occasionally experience it when I least expect it. Old habits (of releasing the trigger just to the reset point) die hard!
This issue led me to discover that releasing the trigger a little more than needed was beneficial in ensuring the finger resets the trigger fully at all times.
But What About Trigger Speed?
The question from some shooters then becomes, “Isn’t releasing the trigger more than is necessary slower and less efficient?”
You would think so, but the reality is that the human finger can move VERY QUICKLY. I’m not saying it’s a RESULT of the technique, but since I started working on preventing trigger freeze, my fastest split times have gotten much faster. On my Grayguns-built P320 X-Five Legion pistol, I can get down to 0.12 split times and have occasionally eeked out a 0.11 when the stars align.
That’s about as fast as any human can shoot with a striker-fired gun, and it’s certainly quicker than is required for practical purposes.
Also, in observing some of the world’s best shooters for a minute or two, you’ll quickly see that most of them release the trigger even to the point of coming off the trigger when they are shooting quickly. If anything, they come off the trigger more when shooting fast than when they are resetting for slower, more precise shots. Thus, it becomes quickly apparent that resetting more than is necessary does not restrict one’s ability to shoot fast.
When Trigger Reset Becomes More Important Than it Should
We have discussed that allowing our trigger finger to come off the trigger can help avoid problems with trigger freeze. Now let’s talk about how being overly focused on trigger reset can lead to accuracy problems.
The process of firing a good shot with a handgun is:
-grip the gun firmly in a manner that minimizes movement
-aim the gun at the target
-and press the trigger without taking the gun off target (sight management).
Rob Leatham explained this simple methodology in this video that you can watch below:
When trying to determine when to finish pressing the trigger and fire a shot, the decision point should be to visually recognize the gun is aimed. We should see and recognize that we have achieved the degree of aiming required for a particular shot. In other words, the sight picture is what tells us it’s time to send it.
A common issue I’ve seen with numerous shooters in my years of training occurs when they have a bad trigger pinning habit. The shooter fires a shot, they pin the trigger, the gun cycles, and the sights come back down on target, and then they gradually let out the trigger until they get the “click” of the reset. It’s almost as if the act of resetting the trigger is what becomes the cue for them to fire the next shot…NOT a properly managed sight picture as it should be.
It’s no wonder why some shooters struggle to diagnose why they’re missing!
They think they are doing everything right.
Good grip, sight alignment, sight picture, nice smooth trigger press, but wait!…the reset is the cue to press the trigger! However, at that moment, they are actually disregarding their sight management, and they are missing the brief moment in time when the sights are no longer appropriately aimed. Why?
It is because they’re putting all of their attention into resetting and pressing the trigger.
A Correct Reset Is Performed As the Gun Recoils, Prepping the Trigger For the Next Shot
Contrast That With An Incorrect Reset Where The Shooter Pins The Trigger And Only Resets In Anticipation For The Next Shot
How the Trigger Reset Turns Into a “Snatch”
Shot Anticipation is when our brains recognize the moment we’re about to fire a shot just before it happens. The anxiety of WANTING to make the gun go BANG at a specific moment leads to us tensing up the firing hand, wrist, and fingers leading to what I call a “snatch.” A snatch actually means “to make sudden effort to seize [or grab] something, as with the hand.” (Dictionary.com, accessed 7/22/2021)
In this context, I like to think of it as us trying to grab that sliver of a moment in time when we think everything is perfect.
So we snatch at the trigger and try to fire the round in that perfect moment. But, unfortunately, this sudden effort causes our hands to tense up, resulting in the gun moving off-target.
There goes our accuracy.
When we pin the trigger and “ride the reset,” We make the problem worse. The reason is that everything else about the shot process is ready for the next shot:
-the gun has cycled
-the next round is in the chamber
-the sights are back on target
Then comes this moment of realization of “Oh! I’m ready to go again.”
“Except I’m not!”
“I’m waiting on my trigger finger!”
In our race to quickly get the trigger reset, we jump off the trigger and right back on it again with complete disregard of the fact that in the time it takes us to do that, the gun moves off-target, and we snatch our way back through the trigger trying to catch up with WHAT WE SAW.
This is the wrong way to shoot. We want to have EVERYTHING ready for the next shot as soon as possible, including the trigger. If you find yourself pinning the trigger to the rear and getting behind in the shot process, a great way of thinking about it is, “How quickly can I get back ON the trigger for my next shot?!” We should reset the trigger during recoil, as soon as we have fired and called the shot.
The emphasis is not on resetting the trigger, but simply on doing everything we can to get the gun back on target, trigger ready to go, WAITING FOR THE SIGHTS to tell us it’s time to go again.
How Can We Break the Habit of “Riding the Reset”
One of the best ways to break the habit of pinning and resetting the trigger is by working with a good instructor who can watch for it and point it out to us when we’re doing it. One technique I’ve used with shooters is to place my finger inside the trigger guard together with theirs and press the trigger for them.
I can properly demonstrate what resetting the trigger during recoil feels like. Their goal is to make sure their finger stays in contact with mine the whole time.
Another technique is to do some good deliberate live-fire practice where we put all of our mental focus into getting off the trigger and back on the trigger as quickly as possible while the gun is recoiling. In special circumstances like this, it is acceptable to disregard other shooting fundamentals (such as aiming) while you concentrate on moving the trigger finger properly.
Another thing you can do if you are careful, you can turn your body a little toward your dominant side and hold the gun a little lower while you keep it safely pointed away from body parts and toward the berm. Then, from the side, watch yourself press and properly reset the trigger. Some people are more visual than others, and seeing it first-hand in real-time can be a difference-maker in overcoming bad habits.
In dry fire practice, you can do something similar and practice pressing the trigger, and then as soon as you start to cycle the slide, you release the trigger and get back on it again by the time the slide has come back forward, all while watching the process.
Occasionally filming yourself from the side where the camera can see your trigger finger is another great way to keep yourself honest. I find this method is an excellent check to see if we’re resetting the trigger properly. If we see that we’re still a little sluggish on the trigger reset, spend a magazine or so worth of ammo doing some practice where a quick reset to the trigger is our sole focus.
Using this technique means it is appropriate to disregard the sight picture. And it doesn’t even require us to fire at a target as long as we’re being safe and ensuring all rounds impact the range backstop.
If you feel the need to think about your trigger control and reset, a more important thing to think about is this: “How quickly can I get back ON the trigger for my next shot?!”
Good luck in learning (or relearning) to properly reset the trigger. Please share in the comments below if this is something you’ve struggled with and any suggestions you may have to overcome it!
Also, this is just the tip of the iceberg of information presented in the new Shooting Fundamentals Course. The course will challenge some commonly taught principles and present methods to help you not only shoot better but understand HOW to shoot better.