This is the seventh in a series of simple exercises you can do to improve your trigger control. These exercises will help you become more aware of your trigger finger and better able to control its motions. No matter how fast you can draw or how dynamically you can move, you will not be prepared to defend yourself with a firearm until you can hit your target reliably. You cannot hit your target reliably until you develop good trigger control, and that’s what this series is about.
Trigger Awareness Exercise #7 is a live-fire drill, so you will need to get yourself to the range to practice. But first, let’s talk about what you’re going to be doing and why you’re doing it. Today’s lesson is about follow through.
What is follow through?
Simply put, follow through means that after your shot goes off, you will keep doing what you were doing before the shot went off. Before the shot went off, if you were doing things correctly, you were holding the gun firmly, and you were pressing the trigger while continuously realigning your sights. That means that immediately after the shot goes off, you will continue to hold the gun firmly, and you will continue to press the trigger as you continue realigning your sights.
When the gun fires, you experience recoil – that is, you can feel the gun jump in your hand. That’s the natural result of the bullet moving down the barrel at great speed, and it always moves your sights off target. To begin learning a good follow through, you must immediately drive the sights back on target before you allow your finger to move forward with the trigger. This forces your hands and muscles to remain prepared to take additional shots should they be needed. In many cases, it also dramatically improves accuracy even for a single shot.
Why does follow through matter?
Because it makes little intuitive sense, students often ask, “Why would continuing to hold the trigger back while we drive our sights back on target help with single-shot accuracy?” There are several reasons.
People often believe that the shot goes off instantly when they press the trigger. That’s not really true. As you press the trigger, a lot of things are happening inside the gun, mechanically speaking. The hammer or striker moves forward, hitting the primer. The primer ignites, which gets the powder burning. Expanding gases from the burning powder move the bullet down the barrel. The shooter will feel the beginning of that motion — the gases forcing the bullet forward — a brief split second before the bullet actually leaves the barrel. All of this activity means that the bullet does not leave the barrel instantly. It leaves almost instantly – and that “almost” is where follow through matters.
Not only that, but many shooters anticipate the shot firing at the end of the trigger press, and begin to relax their aim and grip even before the trigger has hit its break point. Essentially, these folks stop controlling the gun before they’ve even fired one shot! This isn’t unusual; it’s common, and it’s one of the many errors that sometimes fall under the loose heading of “flinch.” To find out if you’re doing this, and if you have access to a friend with a smartphone, have them take a brief video of your hands while you shoot. If you see your non-dominant hand relax or even fly off the gun just as recoil begins, it’s almost certainly because you’re one of these shooters with the habit of relaxing your hands briefly just as the shot begins to fire.
For all these reasons, a good follow-through helps your ability to get good hits, and definitely helps prepare you to take the next shot quickly.
Live fire on the range. Target at 5 to 7 yards. Just as you did in Exercise #6: Feel It On the Range, you should press the trigger very smoothly and very slowly. No – press it even slower than that. You should feel every tiny little mechanical adjustment inside the gun as the trigger travels, every bump, every quirk, every grain of grit. You should go slowly enough to feel everything that’s happening underneath your finger as the trigger moves.
Press the trigger straight back, very smoothly and very slowly, until the shot finally fires. Don’t make the gun fire, wham bam thank you kabammm! Nope. Just press the trigger until the gun does fire, all in its own good time.
Now, here’s the hard part: When the shot fires, continue to hold the trigger back, all the way to the rear, full back against the frame at its full limit of movement. Do not allow the trigger to come forward as it naturally will after shooting. Do not relax your control of the trigger. Do not suddenly flop your finger away from it, like it’s a slimy wet fish you just discovered lurking there. Nope! Maintain control of yourself and of your trigger finger. Hold that sucker back!
Of course, recoil happened when the shot went off, so maybe you lost your sight picture for a moment. That’s okay. Just keep holding the trigger all the way to the rear while you crisply snap your sights back onto target to get another good sight picture. (Don’t be slow about realigning the sights. Do it quickly!)
After you see your sights settle back on target so that you could take another shot if you wanted to, count one-Mississippi-two-Mississippi before you finally relax your trigger finger and allow the trigger to move forward. Do it deliberately, consciously, staying in full control of the trigger’s movement the entire time.
Did you feel the mechanics inside the gun “reset” the trigger when it came forward? On some guns, that’s a single sharp click. On others, it’s a series of bumps and grinds. Notice that point.
Important! After you finish this exaggerated follow through, take your finger off the trigger. Straighten it and put it high on the frame. After your finger is resting along the frame (not before!), bring the gun back to a comfortable pre-shooting position. Do not neglect this important step. We are practicing trigger awareness, which includes keeping complete control of your trigger finger at all times. So do your follow through, then put your finger high on the frame before you move the muzzle off target.
If you have an external, manual safety, put the safety on as your bring the gun back to your pre-shooting position. Take the safety off as you raise the gun to shoot. Do this every time, so you build the habit of taking the safety off as you bring the gun to the target, and so that you never bring the gun down without putting the safety on.
Were you surprised at how hard it was to keep holding the trigger back after the shot fired? Many people are. That’s because we tend to immediately stop controlling the trigger as soon as the shot goes off. Some people even stop controlling the gun itself at that point! But if we want to be able to fire multiple shots quickly and accurately, or even fire single shots as accurately as possible, we need to follow through by holding the trigger to the rear as we realign the sights. We must build the habit of always being prepared to take the next shot.
After we have realigned the sights with the target, then we can let the trigger move forward so we are ready to take the next shot. Maintaining control of the trigger at all times reduces unnecessary motion and wasted time between shots.
Repeat this exercise at least twenty times before moving on to the next one.
If you have a hard time remembering to put your finger into the index position high on the frame before you bring the gun off target, keep repeating the exercise until that part comes naturally. Always practice safe habits until they are habits!