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  Accuracy for Handguns Part 3 - *Trigger Control*
« on: November 15, 2007, 18:03:17 PM » by MSS Forum Admin
Well, we have discussed dry firing and hold, both of which are inextricably linked with the next subject to be discussed - trigger control. Dry firing is the means by which we can analyze our trigger control, and the adjustment of your hold is a means of ensuring that our best efforts in trigger control don't go to waste. In this topic, we will take a broader view of the subject, as there are so many closely correlated and contemporaneous actions that are essential in ensuring accurate shot placement, that it makes no sense to hive them off to a separate topic.

Accurate handgun shooting is probably 90% mental, and 10% physical. And trigger control is where your mental efforts must be focused. The reference to handguns only is not strictly correct - while much that will be discussed will refer to handguns, most of the basic principles apply to long arms also, even if shot from a rest. But we move on.

It is possibly best to start from the trigger itself. Triggers come in single stage or two stage, the difference being that a two-stage trigger's movement consists of a light first stage, a distinct stop, and requires additional effort to be applied for the second stage, which breaks the sear and releases the hammer or striker. There is not really a "best" type of trigger, although with very light triggers a two-stage offers some mental and physical pre-calibration of the forces required to release the sear that helps with avoiding premature discharges.

Whatever, if there is a facility to adjust the trigger, adjust it to personal preferences, always within the parameters of safety and the type of shooting that you will be doing. Shooting at static targets with all the time in the world, a very light trigger release is perfect, but for instinctive, action shooting, where all motions are more deliberate and forceful, would not be good news at all. Try to remove excessive movement and creep, and with a two stage trigger, ensure that you do not "lose" the second stage by any over adjustment.

Often overlooked but very important, adjust the overtravel screw (again if present). This is a little screw generally fitted within the blade itself, and as it's name suggests, prevents excessive movement of the trigger after the sear has been released. Over adjustment in this case, will result in a gun that fails to fire, potentially with the sear an unmeasurable distance from breaking, a highly unsafe situation. So do allow a safety margin. And do test in both single and double action modes as correct function in one does not guarantee the other. Overtravel is a bad thing as it is an unnecessary and potentially harmful movement.

OK, so we are now on target. Unless your pulse has stopped and you are somewhere in the Antarctic, propped upright and frozen solid, chances are that your sights are dancing on the point of aim, despite your best efforts to remain still. Similar to a pendulum, only vertical for an instant, at only an instant are you perfectly on aim.

Major failing no.1: Trying to time the shot for that instant. This will GUARANTEE that you will miss, by a wide margin. You will PULL the trigger, PULL the gun off-aim, and even if you did none of that, your timing would be out anyway.

Major failing no.2: Waiting ages for that perfectly still moment. Waiting too long, fatigue will set in, and the dancing on the target will INCREASE. Sure, you don't really want to time your shot with a force 7 gust, but if conditions are the best that they can be, don't linger. If you must wait for some reason or other, rest your gun.

Here's what you need to accept, and what needs mental control for - The diameter of your "wobbles" on the point of aim, is probably the best group size you are able to achieve on the day. When you think about it, that's generally not too bad at all, but the reasons that you end up with a group several times larger are generally the preceding failings.

You need mental control because the temptation to time the shot will be overwhelming, as will trying to wait it out. Here's what you should REALLY be doing:

Line up sights on target. FORGET THE WOBBLES. Almost immediately, gently feel your trigger - if a two-stage, gently squeeze until you find the second stage, if single-stage, start here - within a few seconds, gradually and consistently, COME WHAT MAY, start to increase the pressure on the trigger until the sear breaks... Come what may? Yes, it is important not to hesitate for whatever reason - and suffering a relatively major wobble is NOT sufficient reason.

Effectively, you need the mental control to separate two distinctly different actions - on the one hand, you are supporting the gun and doing your best to keep it on target throughout the firing cycle - the other, totally separate action, is that you decide to irreversibly initiate the process that involves your trigger finger gradually and consistently increasing the pressure applied to the trigger. If you try to relate both actions to each other, you will likely end up attempting to time the shot. You need to have faith in the procedure if you are to make it work. I guarantee that if you do things as described, you will be greatly surprised that on several occasions, shots you were convinced were totally out, apparently taken at some extreme of the wobble, would on the contrary be exceptionally well placed.

In effect, although not quite correct in description, the sear breaking should surprise you - however with practice you should be able to "predict" that surprise to within a fraction of a second, as the total elapsed time between the decision to take the shot and the actual event should not take longer than around 3-odd seconds. And you MUST ensure that you have a time frame for the process which is not open ended - firstly as a means of disciplining yourself, secondly to avoid the effects of fatigue, and finally because most of us find that the movements associated with breathing are disruptive, so tend to time taking the shot to that in-between phase where we have just let out our breath, and are preparing to take in another one. Of course if this pause in breathing is delayed unduly, this will cause blood oxygen levels in our bodies to drop rapidly and induce survival instincts, and if we reach that stage, it's just too late to let off a decent shot.

But that's not over, is it? It's hard to think of what comes next when what does inevitably come is flash, bang, and recoil. Which brings us to Major Failing no.3 - flinch. Flinch is what happens when you anticipate the sequence of events. Let's face it, recoil in particular brings out the instinct in each and every one of us to prepare ourselves for a forthcoming physical event. Just as if I poked my finger harmlessly to within an inch of your eye, you would instinctively shut your eyelids, and it would indeed take supreme confidence on your part in my finger-poking skills to stop yourself from doing so. With a firearm, the instinctive reaction is to alter one's grip at the critical moment, maybe initiating a movement counter to that created by the recoil, and naturally shifting the sights off target.

So notwithstanding trigger practice to perfection at home, your technique may well fall to pieces at the range, when the tame click of a falling hammer is replaced by an almighty bang. But - we are back to mental control, and the building up of confidence in the handling of our guns. Let's face it, unless something is seriously wrong, or you are shooting something that really is designed for purposes other than being repeatedly fired at the range, Recoil Won't Hurt. And this is the mantra that you must chant perpetually to yourself - for flinch is not just a beginners' issue, even seasoned shooters may develop one. You must mentally discipline yourself to accept that recoil WILL happen, and that you WILL allow it to happen freely, in it's own time, and that you KNOW that once it has happened, no big deal.

A typical training procedure to detect if one has developed a flinch is to get a friend to load your magazine or cylinder with a mix of live ammo and snap caps, so that you would not know what will happen once the trigger is pulled. The instances where the hammer falls on a dummy round, effectively a dry fire, will be very revealing. Unfortunately at time of writing this is hardly possible (or permissible) on the range, so we'll have to work harder on the mental pre-conditioning.

Are we done? Not quite. Despite our best efforts, we are human, and suffer from psychological and physical pressures which can disrupt the whole plot even at this late stage. Physical in the form of fatigue, and psychological in the form of pressures such as time constraints, both of which cause us to unconsciously rush the shot. Similar to flinching, but instead of the cause being anticipation of recoil, the unwanted movement would be anticipation of the end of the firing process. A tendency to "let go" either as soon as the sear breaks, or even worse, slightly before. You see, the sear breaking is only the first part of the process the end result of which being the bullet leaving the barrel. It may well take milliseconds, but in the interim, the following takes place - The hammer (or striker) falls. The primer is ignited. The powder burns. Pressure builds up. The bullet accelerates down the bore. All this happens maybe too quickly in human-measurable terms, but there is an instrument-measurable time lapse nevertheless. Time enough for you to pull the sights off target, if you anticipate.

So follow-through, and a disciplined procedure for the "after", are also critical. Follow through means ensuring that we psychologically condition ourselves to stay/wait with sights on target for a measurable amount of time after the bullet has actually reached the backstop, to eliminate any form of anticipation. Sure, you may say, that won't be the case, due to the gun's recoil, but back to our 90% mental / 10% physical balance that constitutes accurate shooting, "its the thought that counts", or rather our intentions. Proper follow through will make us more consistent shooters with less "bad" days. A follow-up to follow through is considering the actual release of the trigger as part of the process. You should plan to SLOWLY release the pressure on the trigger in a controlled manner to it's ready position. This is the final insurance that you are following through properly.
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