One of the fundamentals of marksmanship that most people need just a touch of tuning up on, is trigger control. As far as the concept goes, trigger control is not an overly complicated marksmanship concept. Proper trigger control dictates that the shooter makes contact with the trigger shoe with the pad of their trigger finger, which is cocked at a good 90 degree angle from their hand and forearm so as to exert even pressure directly to the rear against the trigger shoe until the gun fires. As the trigger breaks and the gun fires the shooter should maintain rearward pressure on the trigger and keep it pinned back until the recoil of the rifle has subsided. At that point pressure can be eased off the trigger so that it may reset or the bolt can be run to cock the trigger and chamber a new round.
Trigger Control – Marksmanship Fundamental
Like I said, trigger control is not a difficult marksmanship concept, right? Here are the main problems people have with the trigger control aspect of shooting…anticipation and trigger slapping. Anticipation has to do with nerves and lack of familiarity with the rifle. The human brain is programmed for survival and it is not oblivious to the fact that every time you pull the trigger you are setting off a small explosion near your face that generates noise and recoil. Shooters, even experienced ones and I include myself in this group, will find through careful self evaluation that if they are not doing the necessary dry fire that a flinch may start to work its way into your shot. That’s bad for good marksmanship!
I notice with my own shooting that the more I shoot, the better shot I am, which is a fairly straightforward marksmanship concept. Why does it work that way though? I think that the main part has to do with stress inoculation. That’s a concept law enforcement and the military crowd are familiar with. Put in common terms it means that the more exposure you have to a stressful event, the more acclimated you become to it and your body doesn’t react to it in a fearful way anymore. If you are shooting often and the feel of the recoil pulse and the noise are commonplace to you then you have less likelihood of developing a flinch. Flinches are bad for good marksmanship, remember?
Conversely if you have had lots of time off and haven’t made it to the range in a while that acclimation to the noise and recoil will erode. You essentially have to start over again when you pick up your shooting frequency. There is a way to cheat the system a little bit, and that is with dry fire. In the same way that repetitive exposure to recoil and noise can help you get used to it and avoid a flinch by programming your brain not to be fearful of those events, you can program your brain to expect a sequence of events that don’t include noise and recoil in order to facilitate proper trigger control.
By repeatedly working on proper trigger control and the other fundamentals of marksmanship through dry fire at home you can really get a good trigger press ingrained into your system and help avoid any flinches or negative reaction to noise. You do this by programming your body to expect a click with both eyes open and even pressure on the trigger. Obviously as you begin to participate in live fire you are changing that programming, so you have to stay on top of this by doing it a few times a week whether you shoot or not so you can reinforce what you want your body to expect from a press of the trigger. I myself notice much better trigger control and zero flinch when I’m keeping up with my dry fire practice. The more dry fire practice I do, the better marksmanship skills I possess, so do some dry fire!
To Attain Excellent Marksmanship, Practice Properly
As you practice proper trigger control with dry fire, make sure that each press of the trigger is a good one. You aren’t on the clock here so make sure you do it right, rather than doing it fast. Make sure your finger has a nice 90 degree hook and you are depressing the trigger with even pressure on the face of the trigger shoe so that the trigger is being moved straight back. Don’t curl or wrap your finger as you press or you will start introducing lateral movement into the rifle as you fire. As the firing pin drops and you hear a click, keep the trigger pinned to the rear of its travel for a second or two before releasing and beginning again. I find it really helps to visualize the trigger moving straight to the rear as I press. I also notice one of the first bits of rust I develop is a lack of proper trigger control. My trigger finger starts to lose that sharp 90 degree angle. So pay attention to that stuff as you practice.Careful self evaluation and critique are criticial skills to assessing and maintaining marksmanship skills!
You can avoid improper trigger control and slapping the trigger just by holding it to the rear after firing. This is an error that is easily corrected and controlled but keep a conscious bit of observation on whether or not you are doing it. Along with losing my 90 degree angle on my finger I find if I am not focusing on a good trigger squeeze that I will sometimes let off pressure on the trigger earlier than I should. I really believe the difference between good shooters and great shooters isn’t that the great shooters are so awesome they never make mistakes and they always do things 100% correctly. That’s not the definition of a shooter with excellent marksmanship skills, everyone slips up now and then.
I believe the difference is the great shooters are excellent diagnosticians who are honest with themselves about weaknesses in their training and technique. They can tell what they are losing focus on or what needs extra practice because they have an excellent ability to self diagnose and coach themselves. They then take steps to address and correct any weaknesses and it shows in their performance. I once read an article where somebody asked a pro shooter about the secret to their success, how did they get so good at it? The reply was something along the lines of, “Fire 10,000 rounds a year and you will figure it out.”
The point being if you shoot often and you do honest self assessments you will become a shooter with excellent marksmanship skills by default. I bring this concept up with regard to trigger control because vanity seems to be a common character flaw in shooters. I’ve shot a lot and I compete whenever I can but I’m still honest about my abilities. I am sometimes lax on my fundamentals, sometimes I don’t shoot as often as I should, and some of the first errors I make when I’m rust creep into my trigger press. Most people aren’t as good a shooter as they want to believe and as with other issues, being honest with yourself is the first step to improvement. If you are honest with yourself about your level of marksmanship you can excel that much faster.
So to wrap this all up and to promote proper trigger control as a fundamental of marksmanship: start doing dryfire practice at home and do it only as quickly as you can do it correctly every time, be honest with yourself if you are doing something wrong and fix it, keep a good 90 degree bend in your trigger finger, press the trigger shoe to the rear while visualizing it moving straight back, use the pad of your finger and keep even pressure on the trigger, and after the firing pin releases keep the trigger pinned back for a second or two before releasing and beginning again.
If you are interested in some professional instruction on the subject that you can check out from home, I highly recommend you head over to Sniper’s Hide and register for the online training. The owner is an outstanding instructor and describes these concepts, and several that are far beyond our ability to teach to others, in an easy to understand way with excellent video quality and written summaries of the topics. The going price for that training is less than $15.00 USD per month and a bargain any way you slice it. The Sniper’s Hide website can be accessed at http://snipershide.scout.com/