Today I begin a series of simple exercises you can do to improve your trigger control. This series 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 good trigger control starts with simple awareness.
You must do these exercises very, very slowly. Maybe even slower than that. Yes, I know you need to shoot fast to save your life. And I’m not going to insult you by chanting overused slogans at you, but I will point out that the best – indeed, the only – way to be sure we are doing things correctly when we’re moving fast is to start by learning how to do them slowly.
Put another way, when you teach a teenager how to drive, you don’t start out on the interstate highway. You start at a snail’s pace within a controlled environment such as an empty parking lot. (And also, you use the invisible brake under your foot on the passenger’s side of the car … a lot … but that’s another story.)
For those who are already experienced shooters, the slowness of these exercises may feel a little strange. Again, the purpose is to slow you down enough to help you become completely aware of sensations you don’t usually register. As an experienced shooter, you may find it harder to do these activities correctly than a new shooter might. You already have an ingrained habit for how you manipulate the trigger, and it’s probably much faster than any of the exercises require. That’s good, but you still need to slow waaaay down for these things. When you go slowly, you will receive full value from the diagnostics and experience the accuracy benefits of later drills.
Exercise #1: Feel the Trigger
Start with an empty firearm. Practice this skill only inside your safe dry fire routine. Check the gun properly (by sight and feel) to be sure it is really empty, then choose a safe direction – one that includes a backstop that would definitely stop a bullet.
Point the empty firearm at your chosen aimpoint, then close your eyes so you can focus on what your finger feels.
Press the trigger as slowly as you can.
Your goal is to produce at least 30 seconds of continuous, slowly increasing pressure before you feel the trigger reach its break point. When you reach the break point, you will feel the trigger “click” to indicate that if the gun were loaded, it would have fired. How slowly can you make that happen?
Take your finger off the trigger and put it along the frame. Reset the action (rack the slide). Now repeat the same agonizingly slow trigger press. Remember, taking 30 seconds or more is the goal for now. Slowly increase the pressure on the trigger until it reaches the break point and clicks to indicate the shot would have fired.
Put your finger on the frame and reset the gun to do it again. This time, while you very slowly increase your pressure on the trigger, think about the sensations you feel under your trigger finger. Is the trigger stiff and hard to move (“heavy”) or is it easy to move (“light”)? How far will your finger travel before the trigger reaches the break point? Before it reaches the break point, will your finger move the trigger just a little to the rear (“short”) or will it need to move a long way (“long”)? When the trigger does reach the break point, can you feel any other things happening mechanically inside the gun?
Reset and repeat. This time, pay attention to any changes you feel as the trigger moves. Does the trigger seem light at first, and then get heavier as it reaches the break point (“stacking”)? Can you feel any other changes in the trigger weight? Do you feel any bumping or grinding sensations (“grittiness”) or is the trigger movement smooth?
If you have a double-action firearm with an external hammer, try watching the motion of the hammer a few times while you do this exercise. Can you make the hammer move at the same speed all the way back, with absolutely no change in momentum?
If you have a double-action/single-action gun, repeat the above exercise with each type of trigger press. How are they the same? How are they different? When it’s set up to fire in single action, can you press the trigger as slowly and as smoothly as you press it in double action?
Watch this blog for the next exercise in the series.