By Dan Kidder
There are two worlds among concealed carriers, those who train and carry frequently or every day, and those who get the permit, never do any additional training, and only carry once in a blue moon. As a firearms instructor, I get to see both worlds frequently and am constantly on the lookout for tools and techniques that help move the second world into the realm of the first.
The two largest obstacles from becoming an occasional carrier to a frequent one; from becoming untrained to more advanced, are cost and time. Most individuals don’t have sponsors to purchase their ammo or bosses who let them take time from the workday to go to classes or sneak in some training. Therefore, the average carrier of a defensive firearm is relegated to doing this on their own time and dime.
Since the price of ammunition has been on a steady increase, and not everyone has access to an indoor climate-controlled shooting facility, getting in the trigger time that is needed for live fire training can be a difficult challenge in both the time and expense departments. But there is no doubt that effective defensive shooting is a diminishing skill and without frequent practice, even excellent shooters will lose their edge over time.
First, let’s break the trigger press down into its basic mechanics. Many novice shooters see the pull of the trigger as a simple one step process; point the gun at the target and pull the trigger. I break my trigger press down into five phases, all with the principal goal of Minimizing Unnecessary Movement (MUM).
1. Commute – In our classes we talk about where your trigger finger lives. That is the index position alongside the frame of the gun pointing toward the target. This keeps the finger outside of the trigger guard until you have made the decision to fire and is Rule Three of Col. Cooper’s four rules of firearm safety; “keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you have made the decision to fire.” Once we establish where the trigger finger lives, occasionally the finger will go from home to work. Work is the trigger. The commute phase is the transition from the index position to the trigger; the movement from the side of the gun to inside the trigger guard. It is essential to be able to make this transition while maintaining sight alignment (MUM).
2. Face – Once we move our finger inside the trigger guard, it is necessary to orient our finger position to the face of the trigger. Several factors are at play here. First, we need to know are we shooting a semi-auto in double-action or single-action condition? Are we shooting a revolver in single or double-action? Are we shooting a striker-fired pistol? Each condition will require us to face the trigger differently. When facing the trigger, we are feeling for the proper position of the pad of our first distal phalanges on the face of the trigger. We want just the pad of that finger and not the interphalangeal distal crease on the face of the trigger. Many novice shooters will wrap that inside knuckle around the trigger, which will insert movement of the gun into the trigger press. If the tip of the finger, the area above the top crease, were divided in two, the very tip farthest from the body is used to press the trigger on a striker-fired pistol or revolvers or semi-autos firing in single-action condition (i.e., the hammer is cocked). The bottom portion of the finger tip closer to the body is used for the harder trigger press of a double-action gun because more force is needed to actuate the trigger. This step is also where the shooter will depress the blade safety on a striker-fired gun.
3. Prep – With a few exceptions, almost every trigger has a certain amount of travel or creep that has to be pressed through. Prepping the trigger involves taking the slack out of the trigger before beginning the next phase. When prepping the trigger, the shooter takes up the slack until they “hit the wall” or the creep ceases and becomes a clear stopping point. It is important to good trigger control to clearly separate the prep phase from the next phase, which is the press.
4. Press – The press phase is where we actuate the trigger to fire the gun. We gently increase pressure with just our trigger finger until the gun fires. This is letting the gun fire, rather than making the gun fire. If done correctly, there should be no movement or tightening from any of the other muscles in the hands other than those attached to the index finger. Muscle isolation is a key component of MUM. The instant the gun fires should be a surprise to you because you are simply increasing pressure incrementally until the trigger breaks. This is how you can fire a heavy trigger with the same consistency as a light trigger. Nothing changes other than the incremental force and the amount of time needed to finish the trigger press.
5. Reset – One of the fundamentals of pistol shooting is follow-through. That is keeping everything exactly the same as it was at the time the shot is fired. This prevents a last split-second movement that can affect the shot. A problem I see with many less experienced shooters is jumping off the trigger as soon as they break the shot, allowing it to come completely forward, then slapping the trigger quickly, bypassing all the phases, to make a rapid follow-up shot. There are a variety of factors that make shooters do this, including getting a chronic case of the “Go Fasts” or fear from not understanding the trigger mechanics that if they are touching the trigger after the gun fires, the gun will go into full auto mode and empty the magazine if they don’t quickly let go. Proper follow through and reset consists of holding the trigger back after the gun fires and while it goes through its recoil arc. Once the sights are back on the target, then the shooter can begin to move the trigger forward until it reaches its reset point. The reset point is “The Wall” but approached from the rear rather than from the front, as in the prep phase. This is the point where the trigger has traveled forward enough to now re-engage the connector and allow it to fire again if started rearward. It is often perceptibly felt and heard, when the trigger has reset.
Trigger press is an essential fundamental to master. Knowing your trigger and how to transition between all five phases is a skill that can only be mastered through lots and lots of time pressing the trigger. Repetition while focusing on each phase is how you will get better and more confident in your mastery of each step, and also how you can isolate unnecessary movement and remove it from the equation. This is why dry fire practice is so essential to good pistol shooting.
The term dry fire is a bit misleading, as there is no such thing as wet fire. Dry fire is the concept of practicing your trigger pull with an unloaded firearm. It should go without saying that shooters need to verify their gun is unloaded, as are any magazines that will be used during practice, and even though the gun is clear, we always want to make sure we are not pointing the gun at any person, animal, or object we are not willing to destroy. If we are utilizing a wall for our practice, it is important to make sure what or who is on the other side of that wall, and always to practice in a safe manner cognizant of what might happen should we accidentally discharge a live round.
Dry fire training is used religiously by the majority of competitive shooters, and those who shoot professionally when their lives are on the line. It is an essential tool in your training toolbox and I can tell immediately whether a student practices dry fire frequently by how well they shoot in live fire. To help with your dry fire practice, there are several great tools and technologies on the market that I personally use and recommend, like the A-Zoom Striker Caps.