Good trigger management is one of the first things I work on with my students. It’s a fundamental part of shooting that will lead you to better control over your handgun and, ultimately, more accurate shots. It’s also a skill that’s well within every shooter’s ability to learn and improve as long as they understand the why, first.
Good trigger management means learning the feel and function of your gun’s trigger and using good technique to eliminate as much gun/sight movement as possible when you fire your gun.
It’s all built on two fundamentals of effectively using your handgun; using what we call the crush grip and performing effective trigger management for a smooth, controlled pull.
Everything starts with the proper grip and you can read more about the crush grip here. In short it means holding the gun both firmly and very still during the process of pulling your trigger, absorbing recoil, and getting back on target quickly and effectively.
Good trigger management also means using the correct finger position on the trigger face. We’ve found that means a deeper trigger finger position than you may have been taught.
We have our students place the trigger on the lower third portion of the trigger finger’s first segment, close to the first finger joint (but keep the joint itself off the trigger). We’ve found that deeper position give shooters more power during the trigger pull, resulting in less sight movement (assuming a good crush grip) and more accurate shots.
Once you have the proper grip and positioning down, the next step trigger management.
Three stages of trigger movement
The first stage is taking out any slop or free play in your gun’s trigger. That’s the “loose” movement the trigger has when you begin to depress it, before you feel any tension or resistance.
The second stage is taking up the slack or the tension you feel as the trigger moves rearward. Doing this effectively takes some time with your handgun spent learning your gun’s trigger pull and where these points are. A good amount of dry fire practice will help with that
The goal in stage too is to take out the tensioned slack so the trigger is resting on the sear wall…just before it “breaks” and the gun fires.
The third stage is the final squeeze. That’s where the student moves past the break point and the the gun fires.
It may sound more complicated that it is, but we’ve found our students pick up the concept fairly quickly when they understand the process and learn the feel of their particular trigger. Isolating the trigger pull into these stages allows the student to “feel” their trigger and eventually master it.
A common response I hear when students think about the stages and work on them a while is, “I never knew my trigger could do that!” I’m not surprised, with many of the techniques that are taught these days. The secret is to understand how your trigger works and learn how it progresses from initial pull to firing. These are seemingly insignificant details that most shooters either ignore or don’t know exist.
Learn to work the “2”
The most common trigger pull error we see happens in stage two. The student fails to properly work the second stage, taking up the tensioned slack before the trigger “breaks.” We call this error “no two.” The student moves directly from stage one to stage three without really working the second stage and managing the process.
They may depress the trigger and take out the slop, then hurry through to firing the gun. They haven’t learned that there’s still plenty of trigger travel left and how to effectively manage that for the most accuracy. At normal shooting speeds, rushing through the “2” can cause significant gun/sight movement — what I call gross movement — and off-target shots.
When the student learns to effectively manage the “2” — the tension up to the point the trigger “breaks” — the trigger breaks more genuinely and cleanly. Combined with a firm crush grip, that means subtle errors are hardly noticeable. That results in more sustainable, accurate shots and follow-ups.
As a homework assignment I ask students to dry fire at home. This is something anyone can do (just be sure to remove your handgun’s magazine and double-check the chamber to ensure it’s clear). Through dry firing, any shooter can learn their gun’s trigger, knowing exactly where the tension starts and where the break point is.
The results of practice and better trigger management are more awareness and control over trigger movement…which ultimately leads to higher hit percentages. That’s the ultimate goal for any shooting student.
Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent weapons and tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned to the world at large. He is the president of Trident Concepts in Austin, Texas.
Great article for the New firearms owner and a reminder to the rest of us. Like many in the community I’ve been pressing the trigger for so long it’s old hat, but still it never hurts to go over the basics.
Jeff, great article. Parallels my experience training shooters. I always preached sight alignment and trigger control. It should have been trigger control will assist your sight alignment. Of course, a good trigger helps. A lot. In my experience single action triggers were the easiest to teach (manual of arms not so much), striker fired not hard but again (manual of arms.) The hardest were DA/SA autos and pure DA pistols/revolvers. With the DA/SA I had the trigger and manual of arms. With DA only pistol/revolver it was the trigger that was most difficult for new shooters to master.
As others have already stated, good article!
As a visual bonus to this if one is able to, add in one of those chamber lasers when dry fire practicing. It helps one see where their shot would (most likely) be at. Yes, it doesn’t simulate recoil and only live fire practice will provide that. I went with a cheap $30 option. No software or fancy targets. I just aim at small objects in the room (picture on the wall, light switch across the room, door handle, etc) while watching TV to get some trigger time & visual feedback from it. Some of the best money I’ve spent during the ‘Rona.
May induce eye sprinting. Shooter immediately looks over the sights as the shot breaks to see the laser or bullet impact instead of managing recoil to bring the sights back on target.
One good thing about dry firing with a laser in the chamber is there can not be a live round in there also. There is also a snap cap with no rim so it won’t be ejected. I’ve never seen anyone address either of these when talking about dry fire practice.
No, words of wisdom. I had a class years ago. Four students. Three were doing okay. The other couldn’t hit a Pepper Popper at seven yards with his SIG P 226. I mean not once. Now it was obvious this guy lived under a weight pile. He was getting frustrated. So was I. No amount of coaching made a difference. This guy couldn’t hit his foot if I tied the muzzle to his foot with his boot laces. I retired the other three shooters and made him dry fire for at least 15 minutes. I could tell he thought I was full of shit. I then had him load two rounds, decock and come to low ready. On the beep he scored two center mass hits. Repeat. Again. And again. Over and over. When I called. Cease fire I asked, “You didn’t like your friends watching you dry fire, did you?” Him, “No.” Me, “What do you think now? Like hitting or missing better?” Him, “Hitting.” Me, “I’ve been doing this a long time. I might know what I’m talking about. Shooters up!” He did fine the rest of the day. Dry fire is good practice. I do it every day.
Each type of pistol is different.
I learned that going from a well-tuned $2k 1911 to a Glock 19 that finger placement must be adjusted. Took six months to change muscle memory. I’m kinda slow on the uptake. It’s easier going back and forth to 1911 style now.
That’s why Jerry always tries to shoot as many as he can. It teaches you to adjust and breaks you from getting too locked into one setup.
The three amigos: (starts at 9 min.)
Also, don’t forget to yell “bang!” when dry firing.
Once you’ve mastered stages one, two and three, holding the pistol absolutely steady whilst breaking the shot is humanly impossible. (I’m talking about the pistol not moving even a tenth of a millimeter before the shot breaks).
Yes you can hit center mass at 15 yards by just doing stages 1,2, and 3, but how about hitting a 3″x3″ ‘post -it’ note ten out of ten times at 15 yards.
This is indeed possible if you practice the ‘approach method’ usually taught for rifles. If you learn to break the shot AS the sight/red dot moves across the target- you can hit that ‘post-it’ note 10 times out of 10, at 15 yards……. Just saying……try it before y’all blast me out…..
I’ve been shooting since age 4 , trigger control is the key to hitting the target, sight alignment, steady position, match grade barrels, match bullets, seating depths just touching the lands,all goes to hell if you yank the trigger. When I used to shoot competitively my dry fire trigger time was about 100 to 1 for every actual shot fired.
The opening pic reminds me of why I won’t do R.O. duty at our gun club during public hours anymore … TWO holes in the firing line roof ,and the Sheriff having to show up to remove the jackass from the property. Only once have we had a N.D. on one of the comp ranges during a match, and that was equipment related. The number of new gun owners out there that just put it in a drawer truly scares me.
Movement of the trigger after taking up the slack is called creep. It’s generally considered a design defect.
If I had a pistol with noticeable creep I’d have it fixed, or sell it and buy something with a decent trigger.
People pay money to someone for this? LMAO.
There’s a sucker born every day. Aim, squeeze,
shoot,practice. There it is in 4 words that didn’t cost any one so much as a penny. Lol
Bore sight laser or even just a cheap little laser pointer taped to the pistol is a good aid for first-timers. It’s not just for aiming or dry fire practice it’s an aid for learning overall weapon control. Pistols being so small and short a small movement of the hand means the point of impact moving a very long ways. Most people who’ve never done it, including some not-so-first-timers, are pretty amazed at all the stuff they’re muzzle sweeping just handling the thing.
Simulate draw, aim, fire, reload, fire again, then reholster. That dot will be flying all over the place, including their own legs or feet no matter what carry method they use.
Can be pretty eye opening.
^ To add: You almost can’t not sweep something during that whole process, just make sure it’s not something important.
Do it at home and take note of what and where things/people/pets are in the other rooms. Unless you get lucky and just happen to hit a wall stud or two a miss or ND can go sailing from room to room. Interior walls are nothing but drywall without anything between, not even insulation in most common houses. The only place you might find insulation is around a master bedroom for sound privacy and not even there in most run of the mill cookie cutter tract built type houses.
Just more reasons trigger discipline for handling and trigger control for the shot are so important.