Mistakes and Considerations in Trigger Control

Mistakes and Considerations in Trigger Control


Both new and some experienced shooters experience the challenges of controlling the trigger for good hits and must continually practice the fundamentals. I believe that trigger control is one of the, if not THE, most important of the eight fundamentals for effective shooting. While the focus is on the very important trigger control, we must recognize that all the fundamentals are interwoven and influence trigger manipulation and accuracy on target.  There are many types of trigger control mistakes and some use different terms to define the same mistake, but the emphasis should be on overcoming them rather than on the terminology. So here are seven of the many trigger control mistakes I have identified and want to share my definitions and considerations with you, so you can avoid some of my and my students’ mistakes. Hope it helps or at least serves as a starting point for you.

I have identified seven trigger control mistakes:

  1. Jerking
  2. Flinching
  3. Milking
  4. Heeling
  5. Thumbing
  6. Pushing
  7. Holding Too Long

Here are my definitions and thoughts about each of these problems.

Jerking

Jerking the trigger at the last second is a mental and physical issue, but primarily a mental one. Shooters must understand the necessity for mentally focusing on their trigger press and train the jerk or slapping motion out of their mechanics. If shooters are consistently shooting to the lower left (as a right-handed shooter), they are probably quickly yanking the trigger back and, perhaps, not even realizing it. A jerk comes from the attempt to fire the shot quickly at a specific point in time that coincides with when the gun becomes immediately positioned on the target. I learned for myself that my eye was usually focused on the target and not on the front sight. Some call this “Timing” the shot. At that instantaneous point in time when the shooter sees the sights on the target, they quickly and suddenly yank on the trigger with the trigger finger so as to hurriedly and immediately fire the shot. The shooter jerks the trigger if he presses the trigger the instant he has a perfect sight alignment. However, this quick reaction or slap usually results in the movement and compression of the rest of the fingers of the dominant hand on the grip and/or the muscles in the hand and wrist to move the muzzle off the target just before the bullet exits the muzzle. Believe me I know all about this problem. Sometimes for me, my anticipation and anxiousness are the genuine culprits for my jerk mistake. I have improved, but must continually discipline my mind to overcome my jerk by mentally concentrating and focusing on the trigger press fundamentals and having a slow, smooth, and deliberate trigger press with minimal movement of my other fingers and hand, while focusing on only the front sight. Sounds easy, but a challenge for me.

Flinching

Flinching is more of a physical response to a shot being fired where the shooter perceives the bang to be unpleasant and possibly dangerous. Flinching is stimulated by the loud noise and movement of a dangerous weapon near the face and head. We know that firing a gun will make a loud noise and there will be recoil. So, it also is a mental issue because we are thinking about and anticipating the recoil and loud noise. Anticipating the upcoming recoil with the loud bang causes our premature reaction to the sound and results in a flinch. With right-handed shooters rounds usually impact high to the right or left. Also, if your shots are hitting all over the target in a wide group, you might be anticipating the recoil and flinching. I actually have had some new shooter students that close their eyes while pressing the trigger and simultaneously shove the gun away from their face and head. Most did not even realize they shoved the gun at the last second before the shot. Of course, this movement often results in moving the gun’s muzzle off target and affects accuracy. Sometimes a flinch is confused with a jerk. The result of a flinch is usually a shot farther from the desired target hit than a trigger jerk, but both do not achieve the desired target hit. I have observed students with a flinch even missing the entire target, as well as having widely-dispersed hits. I must remind myself to physically maintain control of the gun at all times, grip the gun firmly, continue to follow through after my shot, not anticipate the noise and recoil, and be comfortable with the sound of the gun. I have found that putting a lot of rounds down range through practice helps me to overcome my flinch, to accept that I am in control of the gun, and to understand that the movement and noise are not related to my safe shooting practices. I do not fear the gun and noise and so have no reason to flinch.

Snap Caps and Dummy Rounds to Ovecome Trigger Control Mistakes

Most recognize the benefits of dry fire practice at home with snap caps or dummy rounds. In addition to cushioning the firing pin and preventing wear and damage to it, they have other advantages, like practicing handling malfunctions and stoppages, loading and unloading, proper grip, and helping your trigger control technique.

Here is a very helpful technique using snap caps to identify and overcome flinches and other mistakes. I have found that I can verify trigger mistakes (especially the flinch) by students by loading one of their magazines randomly with snap caps or dummy rounds mixed between regular rounds. So they do not know if the round they will be firing is a real round or a snap cap/dummy. Often a flinch is masked by the recoil of the gun itself, so shooters do not know nor recognize they are flinching. Several students have very emphatically said to me that they are not flinching, but I knew better. By mixing the rounds, it will be very evident to the shooter that they are definitely flinching. When they press the trigger and the dummy round does not fire and they cause movement, they will then have strong, positive feedback that they are indeed anticipating the noise and recoil and are flinching.

Milking

Milking the trigger is a common trigger control mistake. Milking means that your grip fingers are also contracting as your index trigger finger contracts to press the trigger. Of course, just your trigger finger should move and it should move straight back, smoothly, continuously, without interruption, and non-intermittently (not stop-and-go.) Milking is extra movement that affects accuracy. Fundamentally then, only the trigger finger should move when pressing the trigger. That movement should be straight back, rather than sideways or up or down. The trigger finger should be isolated from the other fingers of your shooting hand and your index trigger finger should be the only finger that moves. Shooters must recognize that when you grab or press something with one hand and fingers, especially while under stress, your opposite hand and fingers may want to unintentionally mirror that movement with a sympathetic response. Studies have shown some inadvertently fire their gun while doing something with their non-gun hand or fingers. Be careful! So shooters must focus on using the trigger finger independently by itself so as to minimize extraneous movement, while maintaining a constant, consistent grip on the gun with the rest of the hand. Practice develops the muscle memory.

Click here for the last 4 Mistakes and Considerations on Trigger Control.

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  • Sir TuberKopf

    Great article.

    If your range allows cameras. Tape or bolt an old or cheap digital camera to a 4 to 6 foot stick, turn it on video, and clamp it to the shooting bench with the camera suspended down range, so it can film your pistol and face. Watch the video when you get home. On a computer you can likely watch in slow motion.

    I have two adult size .177 air pistols, one of them is awesome, an ancient Daisy 777 with adjustable 2 stage trigger, fully adjustable sights, it can put pellets through the same hole at 30 feet. With little noise and no recoil, they can help you catch bad habits. I can easily watch a pellet out of the Daisy that’s a little lower in velocity than my Crossman, go down range. I have to admit it’s tough to keep my eyes open and try to watch a bullet hit a target let alone be cognizant of trigger pull, when I’m shooting a .45! Don’t feel like a woose, bringing that old air pistol to the range. They really are great training tools.

    Dry fire exercises, search this site, they’ve had a couple good articles. Nice job USACarry.

  • coyote-hunter

    If you handload load up a few brass with just a bullet no primer, load a couple magazines and then mix them up or have someone else do it, when at range you’ll really see the results when you flinch, jerk, etc…used this method to train myself trigger control for sihlouette shooting…can be embarrassing too!

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