Easily Triggered

In our Basic Pistol classes, we teach students about shooting fundamentals…aiming, breathing, etc. One of the topics in this category is Trigger Control…being able to control the squeezing of the trigger during shooting so the shot pattern on the target is grouped and not scattered all over the place.

However, because we are indoors in a classroom setting with limited time, we can only teach with the aid of laser-fired training guns at the highest overview level. To train on trigger control for real and for a more detail understanding, students need live-fire training at a range.

The four main areas of trigger control, snatching, pushing, heeling and jerking.

Shooting at the range is supposed to be enjoyable, not discouraging, so the students get the desire to come back and want to shoot some more. The easiest way to make shooting enjoyable for first time shooters is for them to experience “wins”…hitting the target. I’ve seen some new shooters initially stand 25 feet away from the target and get discouraged when they don’t have a tight shot grouping if they hit the target at all. Twenty-five feet is too far away for new shooters learning how to shoot. Get closer. Start off by standing only five feet from the target. At five feet everyone hits the target, and new shooters begin getting the confidence they are doing things right. Then as they gain more confidence in their gun handling, back up to further distances. If the students’ ultimate goal is to have a gun for self-defense, most attacks happen at 7 yards or less (21 feet or less), so that is the distance they should be practicing. Shooting from distances greater than that are merely honing their marksmanship skills, not necessarily preparing them for the real world of self-defense. So new shooters should not back up to more than fifteen feet.

Distance from target is the easiest fix for students to have an enjoyable and memorable visit to the range. And it requires no skill. Where the real skill comes in, is to be able to “read” the shots of your target. Shot placement on targets tells a story of the shooter’s mechanics when squeezing the trigger.

Snatching is using too much finger on the trigger. In this example, the trigger finger is in the middle of the second joint.

Shot placement is identified using a “clock” analogy…an analog clock, not a digital clock. So, if the shot pattern is straight up from the bullseye, we say the shots are at “twelve o’clock”.  Shot patterns to the right are said to be at the “three o’clock” position.

The key to learning and controlling the shot pattern is the core of the entire topic of shooting fundamentals. There are four major incorrect techniques or actions shooters use which cause their shot patterns to hit anywhere but the bullseye. These four actions are called “snatching”, “pushing”, “heeling” and “jerking”.

These actions will be explained from the point of view of a right-handed shooter. For southpaws, simply flip the explanation.

Pushing is using the very tip of the finger to squeeze the trigger. In this example, the trigger finger is touching the trigger all the way at the end of the finger, near the fingernail.

Snatching. This action causes the shot pattern to be to the right of the bullseye, or the three o’clock position. It is generally caused by having too much finger on the trigger. When the trigger is squeezed, too much finger on the trigger causes the gun’s front sight and the muzzle to shift to the right. If the gun’s trigger pull weight is light, as is usually found with striker fired pistols, the shooter should have the front pad of their index finger on the trigger. This is the fingerprint area of the index finger. “Too much finger” means the shooter moved their finger back and had their index finger’s first joint on the trigger rather than the index finger’s pad. The reason the muzzle shifts to the right is because at the joint is where the fingers begin to have muscle control. There are very little useable muscles in the pad of the finger. The muscles in the first joint are what causes the index finger to begin bending. As such, with new shooters anticipating the recoil, these muscles can yank the trigger rather than squeeze the trigger, causing the muzzle to shift to the right.

Pushing. This action is the opposite of snatching. In this case, the shot pattern is off to the left, often the nine o’clock position. This generally occurs when the shooter has too little finger on the trigger, causing the front sight and muzzle to shift to the left. An example here is when the shooter has their index finger on the trigger close to the fingernail, rather than center in the finger pad. This easily happens when the shooter switches guns during your range visit. Shooters start off with a striker-fired gun with a lighter trigger pull, then switch to a double-action hammer fired gun with a heavier trigger pull, but without compensating by moving their finger to use the first joint. In essence, the shooter is still using the pad of their index finger.

Heeling is pushing the grip of the gun with the heel of the hand, forcing the muzzle up.

Heeling. This action causes the shot pattern to be high on the target. This generally occurs because the shooter is anticipating the recoil. Since the recoil will cause the muzzle to rise, the shooter is anticipating that rise and thus driving the heel of their palm forward to compensate for the anticipated muzzle rise. The fix is to have a friend load a magazine with a mix of live and dummy rounds. When a dummy round is fired, the shooter will not get the recoil and be better able to see if they are heeling the gun.

Jerking is anticipating the recoil and jerking the trigger, which pushes the muzzle down.

Jerking. This action is causes shot patterns to be low on the target. Instead of gently squeezing the trigger, the shooter quickly jerks the trigger. Doing this causes the trigger to be pulled down slightly, causing the front sight and muzzle to drop down. The fix it is to place the index finger pad on the trigger and squeeze the trigger consistently throughout the trigger’s travel path, not quickly jerking the trigger backwards.

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