Gun Digest

Is There A Secret To Top-Notch Trigger Control?

Trigger Control is the foundation upon which all other skills are built. Is there a way to ensure a precision press each and every time?

What Are The Difficulties In Learning Trigger Control:

Instructors have been preaching it for years, and in my 2013 book, Handgun Training for Personal Protection, I called it “the secret.” The single, most important skill you must master with a handgun is the ability to operate the trigger—make the handgun fire—without disturbing the sight picture.

Many would consider this an excellent example of aligning the sights and pulling the trigger. However, for defensive purposes, this is mostly an example of shooting too slow.
Many would consider this an excellent example of aligning the sights and pulling the trigger. However, for defensive purposes, this is mostly an example of shooting too slow.

As simple as it sounds, this single task is the most difficult part of becoming proficient with a defensive handgun. It’s the foundation that must be laid before any other skills can be built. Anything you build on a foundation that’s not up to par is doomed; at some point, you’ll add something to this—less-than-ideal—foundation, which will cause it to collapse. It might be stress, unique positions, low light or a host of other circumstances through which you must perform.

Sight alignment and trigger control are indeed the secrets to shooting. Of course, there are other things like stance, grip and breathing that influence marksmanship, but in the end, it all comes back to your ability to press the trigger without disturbing the alignment of the sights.

The Simplicity Of Sight Alignment

However, the problem is that many instructors and most shooters believe that this is a 50/50 function; they think you must concentrate equally on the sights and the trigger in order to get your hits. This notion of equality is the primary reason so many defensive handgun shooters have trouble becoming proficient. Sure, in the beginning when you’re just learning to shoot a defensive handgun you must balance the concentration you devote to these two physical activities. Typically, it takes only a little bit of time on the range until you understand the concept; after that, the trigger is what should be getting damn near all of your attention.

Consider this: I, or any other reasonably qualified instructor, can teach you what proper sight alignment is in less than five minutes. In fact, if you can read, you can learn it yourself. Hell, easier than reading, all you really need to do is look at a picture to understand what proper sight alignment looks like. Then, for the rest of your life you should easily be able to demonstrate proper sight alignment on demand and without fail.

The Complexity Of Trigger Control

Teaching someone how to pull a trigger isn’t as simple. Considering that I’ve been pulling handgun triggers for half a century and still mess it up should be evidence enough to prove that you can never really learn to pull a trigger as well as you can learn to line up sights. In 1999, I won the West Virginia National Guard State Pistol Match. That would seem to suggest that I know how to pull a trigger. The problem is that knowing how to pull a trigger and pulling a trigger correctly every time is not the same thing. In fact, during that match, I made numerous trigger-pulling mistakes, which is why my score wasn’t perfect.

It’s all about pulling the trigger, because when it comes to shooting a defensive handgun, pulling a trigger correctly is the hardest thing to learn.

Here’s the thing, in only a few words or with a simple diagram, sight alignment is simplified. You cannot do the same when it comes to pulling a trigger. The words to perfectly describe it have never been assembled, and no diagram can effectively convey the lesson. Pulling a trigger correctly is something learned by feel, and the only way to learn to feel it is to do a hell of a lot of it.
Pull? Press? Neither.

Some instructors will chastise others for using the term “pull” when it comes to describing the action of manipulating a trigger to make a handgun go bang. They’ll insist the word “press” is the proper term. Do you really think that either of these words simplifies the description of the action to the point it makes the stroke easier to learn? No. Maybe “manipulate” is a better word than pull or press, because manipulate doesn’t seem to describe a physical action that might be strong enough to negatively impact sight alignment.

I really don’t think the word that’s used matters; it’s pretty obvious what needs to happen. The trigger must be moved far enough to the rear, to make the pistol fire fast enough, to solve the problem, without disturbing the sight picture. There are all sorts of reasons this is difficult. Recoil anticipation, target panic, grip intensification, improper finger positioning and available time are just a few of the things that result in bad trigger pulls. I’ve been pulling handgun triggers for a long time, and, on occasion, all of these things cause me problems.

Why? Because I don’t practice pulling triggers enough. Let’s use a free throw in basketball as an analogy. If you practice it enough, you can become very good at it, but no matter how much you practice it you’ll never become perfect. Just consider professional basketball players, the best in the business are only 90 percent successful. The late Tom Amberry holds the Guinness world record; he made 2,750 free throws in a row. He was 71 when he did it so we must assume he practiced a lot. However, he didn’t practice enough to make number 2,571!

The Secret To Trigger Control

So, if the secret to shooting is sight alignment and trigger control, what’s the secret to the secret? It’s learning to pull the trigger, and the only way you can learn to pull a trigger is to pull a trigger. It cannot be learned by reading, watching or osmosis.

This target is an almost ideal representation of what good sight alignment and trigger pulling looks like with regard to defensive shooting; it exemplifies a good balance of speed and accuracy.

Dry practice or dry-fire is a fantastic way to do this, because it costs a lot less than actual shooting. But you don’t have to practice pulling the trigger while the sights are on the target to get better at pulling the trigger; you can improve your ability to pull a trigger correctly by pulling the trigger lots of times. The more you do it, the better you’ll get.

However, you must be prepared for failure; no matter how good you get a pulling a trigger you will at some point pull one incorrectly. Practice is how you get to the point where the good pulls far outweigh the bad ones.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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