Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Trigger Control: More important than you think

More attention should be given to one of the most essential shooting skills… trigger control. I've come to realize that trigger control is not well understood by many. In an article on a gun forum, for example, the author stated that trigger control was not at all important. According to the author, police gunfights occur at such close ranges that worrying about trigger control is unnecessary.

My thoughts: If you don't properly control the trigger, the muzzle will go off target and you will miss. TRIGGER CONTROL IS WEAPON CONTROL! On the street, when an officer draws a gun and shoots, it's to defend their own life, not an innocent citizen. They place themselves between the criminals and the citizens. Thus, they must be able to shoot well enough to save their own lives. If not, they may be killed; it's as simple as that. For decades now, we have known the hit ratio for cops is between 17 and 23%...maybe lack of trigger control is a culprit here?

Get a Grip

The history of gun fighting has shown that the person who gets the first solid hit (a vital area of the body) usually wins, which is why many hate the long, double-action trigger standard on many service-grade guns. The hand is a sympathetic organism; what one finger does, the rest will do, which makes it difficult to isolate the trigger finger. The most common mistake shooters make is squeezing the whole hand instead of just the trigger finger, which is why competitors like short-trigger actions. Me too!

The "dipping" caused by whole hand convulsion, is often attributed to anticipating recoil or "pre-ignition push," which I believe is true for new shooters. However, once it's realized they can control the gun's recoil, I believe experienced shooters shoot to 7 o'clock (right hand) or 5 o'clock (left hand) because they're trying to fight how their hand wants to function, i.e. the whole hand squeezing as one unit.

Example: Consider how many times a day you've turned a door knob, grabbed the steering wheel, shook someone’s hand or picked up a glass…hundreds, maybe thousands of times? Then, imagine trying to press the trigger on a handgun without squeezing together the rest of your fingers. I once called this "milking the grip" on a TV shooting show and was ridiculed on the Internet.  I was referring to the whole hand downward squeeze as if milking the teat on a cow. I also received a bunch of mail from people who told me they knew exactly what I meant because it was “verbally/visually descriptive”. If you squeeze the whole hand (a convulsive grip), the gun's muzzle dips off target and will cause a miss.  Its that simple, but I feel as if it is my responsibility to give the internet idiots something to harp about…so you are welcome!

One method I was taught to correct this was called a "committed shot" in the early 1990s. Today it's called "slack out," and it's a method of depressing or prepping the trigger as the gun travels to the target so that when it stops, the shot is fired. The forward movement stabilizes the gun while pressing the trigger, and it works. Instructors teaching this say it should be used only when you're "committed to shooting" (thus the original name), and you can stop at any time by releasing the trigger.  When using a long trigger pistol like the Beretta 92 it is a real asset.

However, I always wondered if we're anchoring a skill in which a shooter will slack out the trigger and fire a shot every time they extend their gun? When being taught this technique, shooters under take hundreds of repetitions to become familiar with it and I've seen negligent shots fired in training when using slack out. Also, doesn't slack out violate a cardinal rule of gun safety, "Never place your finger inside the trigger guard until the sights are on target and you're ready to fire?” 

Please understand that I'm not bashing the slack-out method. I'm merely offering a few thoughts so you can determine if what you're teaching/learning is potentially problematic. Its called “critical thought” and every student of the combative arts should undertake it. If nothing else, it would be wise to include shoot/no shoot training to combat negligent sympathetic discharges.

It has been my observation in FATS training and on the street that police officers seek the trigger during times of high stress, so teaching them to seek and apply pressure to the trigger seems unnecessary to me. I have my students apply pressure once the gun is on target, and this method has worked both on the range and on the street.  As long DA triggers become less and less popular, slack out has aso become less popular. These days, there seems to be two methods of trigger control:  shoot to reset and catching the link. Shooting to resent as the shooter let the trigger out no further than is required to set up the next shot, while catching the link allows the shooter to lift their hand all he way off the trigger and then re-apply pressure to the trigger face to the moment of reset and the apply “controlled” pressure.  Some call this “trigger slapping” but it really isn’t as the pressure applied to the trigger is not out of control.

I have seen shooters use both methods quite well…but I have also FAR MORE shooters “spank” the hell out of the trigger. Missing the whole target as close as 15 feet!  In my classes, if I have a shooter come all the way off the trigger but are hitting, I leave them alone as they obviously have the technique down pat. That said, I am a member of the minimal trigger crowd and teach my students to shoot to reset knowing they will not be able to do it when shooting fast.  What this technique does accomplish, however, is keeping the shooter in contact with the trigger face so they don’t spank the trigger and take the muzzle off target.  My thought is if I can get the trigger finger to move minimally, the shooter is less likely to open and close the remaining fingers, which will help keep the muzzle on target. Those shooters that can come all the way of the rigger and then re-apply pressure without moving the est of their fingers are a rare breed and I am not one of them.

Hitting to win the fight

Handguns are not efficient fight stoppers regardless of caliber. Cops and armed citizens carry them because they're portable, not because they're effective. Handguns are distance weapons that can be carried continuously, drawn quickly and used with reasonable effectiveness if we do our part and place the shots well. It was once said, "It's not important that you hit something; it's important that you hit something important." Violation of vital organs is key to incapacitation, but no small weapon can be counted on to incapacitate quickly every time. The human body is easy to kill, but it's difficult to stop quickly, and handguns are terrible at this. The areas most likely to bring about rapid incapacitation are:

•The high chest: This area is about eight inches in diameter , provided the attacker is facing you…half this if they are bladed) and contains the heart, major blood vessels, spinal column, etc.

•The brain vault: A brain hit will bring about rapid incapacitation, but it's well armored under the skull and is normally in a constant state of motion. Unless you are very close, head shots with a pistol are difficult.  That said, at close range the head might very well be THE TARGET to shoot for!
Both of the vital organs in these two zones are about the size of a 3 x 5 card, which is why I shoot a lot of 3 x 5 cards in my classes! Hitting a vital area while you and the suspect are moving is problematic, especially under the stress of a gunfight. But it can be done and has been countless times. Police officers and armed citizens have prevailed by keeping their cool and shooting accurately, which means they controlled the trigger.

So how important is all of this? Read on and see how much one-eighth inch of muzzle movement means to bullet impact:

•At 15 feet: 4 ".  If you were aiming at the center of the 8-inch high-chest region, you just moved out beyond its edge.

•At 21 feet: 6 ". You have now moved from the center of the chest to the edge of the chest cavity or armpit.

•At 30 feet: 8 7/8".  A hit in the arm or maybe armpit…if the attacker is bladed you just missed them!  By the way, 30 feet/10 yards is not a long pistol shot as many claim. The world long jump record is 29”4 ½” …there are men who have run and jumped this far so do not consider it a long shot!

•At 45 feet: 1' 1". You have just missed the suspect's torso and sent a round down the street. (I hope something stops this bullet other than a child on a tricycle.)

Stay in Control

To control is to regulate or direct a mechanism. Trigger control means how much you allow it to move. Thus, to my way of thinking, the less we move it, the less likely we are to move the muzzle.
If we can minimize the movement of the trigger finger, we're less likely to flex the whole hand. Therefore, I believe in beg minimal” on the trigger for the vast majority of us. For you folks who can pen your trigger finger without affecting the rest of your hand, God bless and go for it! I once had a famous competitive shooter tell me this was the method he used and was the best method for all shooters. When I asked what he based his opinion on, he told me, "In my millions of rounds of shooting, I have found that I …" I held up my two hands in the classic "time out" formation and asked, "How many people will ever shoot millions of rounds? You are not the norm. You are the gifted exception. You are he same as an Olympic sprinter. Everyone can run but few will make it to the Olympics. You cant compare yourself to the masses.”

I'm not convinced we should emulate the well-practiced shooter on the competition circuit. No disrespect intended, but we're talking about moderately trained police officers and armed citizens, not the gifted. I am convinced for those f us who are average the best way to control any object is to stay in contact with it. Example: When you're driving a car, would you "slap" the steering wheel in order to direct the vehicle where you want it to go or would you stay in constant contact with it so that you can actually feel how far to turn the wheel to steer the car?  Contact means control…

It's true that reset is different for every gun, and some claim the need for a "battlefield pick-up" makes practiced trigger control unwise, but how likely is it in U.S. law enforcement or as a legally armed citizens you'll pick up and use an unfamiliar gun? In all of the gunfights I have reviewed I know of three and all involved off-duty cops carrying five shot snubbies and no reload.  IN addition, domestic pistol fights last but a few seconds…when will you have the time to seek out a gun lying on the ground and retrieve it? Should you? After all, why is it lying there?

Final Thoughts

Like many things firearms related, trigger control will continue to be debated, but I'll stick with what's simple and proven. Understand that trigger control not only means how much you allow it to move, but also knowing when to place your finger on it. The secret to trigger control is training and practice. There's no substitution.

Remember: We all must be active participants in their own rescue, which means hitting what we are shooting at. And trigger control, more than any other aspect of shooting, will determine how successful you will be when the time comes to save your own own life. 

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