Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Training: Trigger Press

I just had a e-mail discussion with a friend of mine. He teaches at the FBI Academy in Quantico. He’s a retired FBI agent. His call sign was Det Cord in the military. (He had a volatile temper when he was young). We get into these discussions every now and then.
When I was at a military combat arms instructor school in San Antonio, Texas I went through a class taught by Gunsite Academy (orange) founder Jeff Cooper. He told us that he was bound by military curriculum to teach some things he didn’t agree with. He would always say “They didn’t say I couldn’t tell you I don’t agree with this part…” and proceeded to teach what he felt was right. Now many years later it’s been proven countless times that the most important part of shooting is trigger control rather than aiming. You still must grip the gun correctly and know how to use the sights, but the trigger changes everything. Colonel Jeff Cooper, emphasized a “controlled trigger press” as one of the key elements in being able to defend yourself in a gunfight.
I’ve come to this conclusion about terminology and different kinds of shooting. Hear me out here and then you can disagree all you want. This is a touchy subject for gun instructors so I’ll try and be kind.
I’ve always called shooting a gun a trigger “press”. I guess it was my training that lead me to that initially but I’ve come to believe that is the best adjective to describe trigger manipulation. Now I also believe that trigger “press” isn’t what has to happen with competition shooting. I think that competition shooting is more of a “squeeze” because of the accuracy that is needed to compete well. I think it’s more precision than a press. But then again, I also feel when skeet shooting or shooting a shotgun that it’s more of a “pull”.
I know, you say “potahto” and I say “potayto”. But I do think there is a distinction between the words and the actions. Squeezing is the way most new students are taught. It is much more precise It develops fine motor skills. That’s why it’s no good in combat. In combat the stress of the fear makes the body lose most of its fine motor skills. That’s why a press is taught in combat shooting. It takes less motor skills to press than to squeeze.
I know the instructors mantra has always been “Front Sight. . .Press. . .Front Sight.”
I suggest it should properly be, “Trigger Press. . .Let the Sights Wobble. . .Trigger Press.” I don’t think it will catch on…

Det Cord says that years ago he saw something that changed his point of view about teaching shooting. He said he observed a scientific approach to this in Quantico. Another instructor had him use a electronic training device, a video-trigger pressure setup hooked into a split-screen computer, all on a live-fire indoor range. With this, he can see what the shooter sees and the computer displays a graph of trigger pull and pressure.

He said that they showed that at 10 yards, burying the front sight to the left, right and down–but coupled with a good trigger press–bullet strike varied only four inches from point-of-aim. This is where he came to believe that trigger press is much more important than sighting is. He said he saw it over and over with different shooters and the same results.

It is this discussion and experience of Det Cord, and my own experiments, that lead me to believe that trigger press is the most important thing in shooting. Put this together with good grip, and good aim and you’ll be shooting like Jerry Miculek in no time!
Well, just in case you try this a couple times and you are not shooting like Jerry, here are some drills to help you get there.

I looked all over the internet for drills that I thought were any good for trigger control. I found several that I liked the way they sounded. So I took them to the range. These are the ones I’ve actually used and recommend. Thank you to Tactical Defense Institute in Ohio for these drills. (

The Wall Drill
With an unloaded gun, in you practice area with no ammunition, in a safe direction, take your normal firing grip on the gun with your trigger finger off the trigger and high up on the frame/slide of the gun. Extend your arms out with the gun toward the wall so that the muzzle is about 1” away from the wall. Line up your sights concentrating only on the front sight THROUGH your rear sight. Place your finger on the trigger and press the trigger until you hear “click”. After the click, stay concentrated on the front sight for a second or two as a follow through. Any movement of the front sight within the rear sight notch indicates movement of the gun during the trigger press. This will move the bullet impact off target in live fire. Your presentation of the firearm to the wall should look something like this.

To repeat the process, the first thing that happens is your trigger finger comes off the trigger and up on to the frame / slide of the gun. Then your support hand cycles the slide to reset the trigger. You now re-grip the firearm and repeat the process.

With every repetition of the dry fire practice, you get these six benefits. You are training yourself;

1. To concentrate on the front sight THROUGH the rear sight.
2. To press (note that it is not a squeeze or pull; it is a press) the trigger straight to the rear without moving the rest of the gun and disturbing your sight alignment as indicated by sight movement within the rear sight notch.
3. To place your finger on the trigger when the firearm is on target and take your finger off the trigger when the firearm is not on target.
4. To place your trigger finger high up on the frame / slide of the gun, well away from the trigger when the firearm is not on target.
5. To re-establish your grip.
6. To follow through concentrating on the front sight THROUGH the rear sight and not looking at the target and where the “shot” went.

Why a blank wall (or any blank surface)? Why not practice while watching TV? There is nothing to distract your eyes on the blank wall. The only thing in front of your eyes is the important front sight. Consider this; with TV’s, there are thousands of images a second bombarding your eyes and brain for attention. Images are moving, colors are changing, the sound goes up during the commercials. Your whole job with dry fire trigger management is to concentrate on the front sight as you press the trigger. So, eliminate distractions. More important, it has been my experience that TV’s are never located in a muzzle safe direction in case something goes wrong.

The Balance Drill
1. Check, double check, and triple check that the gun is unloaded and no magazine is in the magazine well.
2. Present the gun toward the target and have a partner balance a spent casing (penny or dime if sight will not allow a casing to be balanced), taking care to not pass his or her hand or fingers in front of the muzzle of your gun.
3. Perform a trigger press as if firing the gun, taking care that the object balanced on the gun does not fall off. Concentrate on pressing the trigger straight to the rear, with the only movement in your finger taking place perpendicular to the face of the trigger. Look for movement up and down as well as left and right. If the gun moves left or right, adjust the amount of finger on the trigger (more if gun moves left, less if gun moves right for a right-handed shooter).
4. Reset the trigger by manipulating the slide (double checking the gun is empty), and repeat for a total of five repetitions.
5. Load the firearm with ONE round, and fire for accuracy.
6. Unload the weapon. Check, double check, and triple check the weapon is unloaded and no magazine is in the well, and repeat the process as many times as needed.

Check your target for the grouping of your fired shots. Are the groups tightening? Are they on target? Low and left? Vertically strung? Your target will tell you a lot about what you still need to work on. We recommend firing your shots at a minimum of 10 yards. The further you are from the target, the more precise your fundamentals must be to get your hits.

One criticism we hear of this drill by the uninformed is that it is easy to keep the gun steady when you know it is not going to fire. Our response is yes, exactly! That is why we use this drill to help hone that skill set into subconscious muscle memory by performing many repetitions. The more trigger presses you perform properly, the more likely you are to perform the task the same way when the gun is going to go BANG. This portion of the drill can be performed at home sans the live fire, in a room with no magazines or live ammunition, and facing an outside wall.

I hope these drills will help you to understand better the trigger press and how much it influences your shot. As I’ve said, grip and aim must be done correctly also.
Semper Paratus
Check 6