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.