Want to Be An Accurate Handgunner? Practice Good Trigger Management – Guns for Beginners

Good trigger management is one of the first things we work on with our students at The Range at Austin. 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 begins with using the correct finger position on the trigger face. We’ve found that means a deeper trigger finger position than 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 travels rearward.  Doing this effectively takes some time with your handgun spent learning your gun’s trigger pull and where these points are.

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 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 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 fires — 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 a higher hit percentage. 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 unapologetically to the world at large. He is the Director of Training at The Range at Austin. Learn more about his passion and what he does at therangeuastin.com.


  1. avatar Sam I Am says:

    We have seen many articles here about trigger management, recoil control, etc. For defensive purposes (as opposed to bullseye shooting at the range), what do we know about DGUs, and the importance of training on putting specific parts of the finger pad on a trigger? Or the issue of recoil for follow-up shots. Does muscle memory really “take over” when faced with an immediate deadly threat that requires using a gun in response?

    Or is it just the fact that I am not a “gun guy” if I have to ask these questions?

    1. avatar Cory C. says:

      That’s a good question that’s best answered with analogy. Let’s imagine that your whole life rests on a single drag race. If you lose the race, you will be murdered. You will have to run the race in your Mustang GT with a manual transmission. But here’s the crazy part: you don’t know when the race will happen. All you have been told is that one day you’ll be sitting at a stoplight and someone will blow a whistle. When the whistle blows, you’re have to get the revs up, drop the clutch, and row through the gears so that you get to the next stoplight faster than your opponent. Again, if you do it wrong, you will be executed at the finish line.

      Knowing this can happen to you at any time and that you only get one chance should make you see the need for training. But not just training such that you understand what you need to do in an academic sense. Rather, you need to transform the movements into muscle memory, damn near instinct.

      So what are the things you have to get right? You need to practice getting the revs up to the ideal spot in the event range, so you’ll need to know where to position your foot on the pedal, how far down to depress it, etc. Then you need to practice releasing the clutch pedal and engaging the clutch. Rev the engine too high or not high enough, transition off the clutch pedal too abruptly or too slowly, and you find yourself either spinning your wheels at the line or launching at too few RPMs, either of which will add seconds to the time it takes you to reach the other stoplight. But launching the car isn’t the whole game. You have to change gears, steer slightly, know when and how to back off the gas if you lose traction, etc.

      The only way you can ever feel you have a better than average chance at winning this death race is by practicing each step independently until you can do it in your sleep. Get your launch down perfect. Experiment. Find the ideal RPMs to rev to, find the best spot to shift at, etc. Then practice thousands and thousands of times. Then combine it all together and practice it as one continuous drill.

      Then one day when the time comes and you hear that whistle blow, instinct takes over, you go through the motions as you’ve committed them to memory, and you don’t have to water your time thinking.

      Now ask yourself, is any of the above at all different than a gun fight? Of course not.

      Therefore, the answer to your original question is, no, you don’t think about where your finger goes on the trigger or resetting the sear, etc. in a gunfight. You just practice so much that when it comes time to do those fancy things, they just happen naturally. At least, that’s the hope.

      1. avatar Cory C. says:

        I really hate the edit feature on this site. Sorry for the typos above. Freaking autocorrect.

      2. avatar Sam I Am says:

        I don’t think training is wasteful, but I question the necessity. Data seems to indicate (still looking for counter proof) that the great majority of DGUs are conducted by people with no training.

        Much of what I read about training is heralding the importance of “combat” style training, rather than learning the basics, becoming confident one can get 6-15 hits (with no misses) on a person sized target at about 20ft.

        If the simple majority of DGUs were conducted at 50ft or more, I would say marksmanship would be a prime consideration.

        In short, look at how many “schools” of firearm training exist. Think of the money funding the industry. Then think about whether the evidence of actual DGUs argues for more than point and shoot.

        Training to be prepared for anything is fine for those who want to do that. Emphasis on training for everything is a bit overblown, don’t you think?

  2. avatar MRL says:

    These articles and videos by Gonzales are extremely useful. Thanks for posting them.

  3. avatar ironicatbest says:

    Thank you, I’ve noticed that most of my sidearms have the blueing worn on the right side of the frame. I was thinking perhaps I should use more finger. ??? One reason I do not like double action” I can’t shoot them like I like to shoot them”. Once again, thankyou, you have confirmed my theory. I’m doing it wrong.

  4. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    This is, in my opinion, but the of the most effective parts of shooting a good group.
    We can adjust sights later if you are printing a great group but 3” out at 7 o’clock.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email