Prepping the Trigger

Article contributed by Randy Dillman.

This is the first of what will hopefully be a long line of articles that will be aimed at teaching some of the proper techniques for competitive shooting and some of the “why” behind it. This first article will cover what is probably the most basic of all principals, yet one of the more difficult to master without specifically training yourself to do so. It’s the Trigger Prep.

You may have noticed that when you were a new shooter, or when you observe other new shooters that misses are most often below the zero, and quite often slightly to the left. (for right handed shooters) Even experienced shooters will occasionally allow bad habits to creep back into their game and commit this basic shooting error. When other shooters attempt to diagnose why your are hitting consistently low left, you will often be told “your slapping the trigger”. This is a correct diagnosis, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. If the only finger that was “slapping” was my trigger finger and the rest of my grip stayed static, then the impact point of the shot should not be changed simply by how the trigger finger acted. The trigger finger only holds onto the trigger, not the whole gun. To explain why the impact is changed, we have to get into a little anatomy and physiology of how our hand works. Don’t worry, this won’t be a college level anatomy class, we will keep it in laymen’s terms.

The muscles that control flexion (bending) of our little finger and our ring finger are large muscles that are designed for a “power grip”. The muscles that we use to bend our trigger finger (aka booger hook) are small muscles designed for fine motor skills. To illustrate this, hold your hand out straight as if you were about to shake someone’s hand. Take your other hand and cup it underneath your forearm just in front of the elbow. Now flex just your pinky and ring finger until they are clenched against your palm in a “half fist”. You will be able to feel the large muscles on the under side of your forearm contracting. Now try the same thing with your trigger finger, you won’t feel any muscles on the underside of your forearm contracting. If you search around, you will find some really small muscles in the top of your forearm that are working on your trigger finger flexion.

When we have not prepped the trigger (I’ll explain in a minute what prepping the trigger is), and we try to make a quick shot. Through practice, we have conditioned or brain that breaking a shot means take up the slack, and apply “x” amount of pressure on the trigger to make it go bang. That is a lot to do when we want to break a shot quickly so our brain sends the signal “Pull the trigger NOW!” When our body gets this kind of urgent signal from the brain, it doesn’t engage just the fine motor drivers of the trigger finger. It will also engage the larger, power grip, muscles of the lower fingers in an effort to make things happen faster. When we subconsciously squeeze the bottom fingers, the muzzle dips down and left. This is not done through conscious thought; it is done through the sympathetic nervous system that we don’t have any control over. If I can’t control the actions of the sympathetic nervous system whenever urgent messages are sent from the brain, I have to figure out how to shoot quickly without these urgent messages being sent from the brain and kicking the sympathetic nervous system into action. Enter the trigger prep.

When we prep the trigger, we take up all the movement from the trigger and apply almost enough pressure for the gun to go off. We want to be about 1# of pressure away from breaking the shot. The time to do this is not when you are ready to break the shot, it’s too late then and you will start sending those urgent signals to the sympathetic nervous system. When we prep the trigger it is done before the gun comes out from around a barricade, or while transitioning between targets, or during recoil while shooting multiple shots on the same target. (but it is always done with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction) When you are first learning to do this, you will break a few shots before you get to the spot where you wanted to shoot. Don’t be upset when this happens, you are teaching your brain how much pressure you can apply before it goes off. You can’t learn that spot of maximum pressure without occasionally applying too much pressure. Once you perfect the technique of prepping the trigger, the signal from your brain will no longer be that urgent “Pull the trigger NOW!” and will instead be “one more pound of pressure” that will not force your power grip muscles into service.

Trigger prep is not always necessary. Slapping the trigger is faster than prepping the trigger, so if I can make accurate shots while still slapping the trigger, then I should be slapping. An example would be shots at a target 3 yards away………who cares if my muzzle moved a few millimeters because I hurried the shot, it will still hit in the zero. Different shooters will have different ranges at which they can “point shoot”. For most shooters, targets that are closer than 5 yards can be shot accurately with point shooting/trigger slapping. For some shooters, 10 yards is still a point shoot target. You will need to experiment to find out where your “point shooting” range is.

Hopefully, this article will help you shoot faster and more accurately. Remember……….practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it can make permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

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3 thoughts on “Prepping the Trigger

  1. I suspect putting 1# of pressure on a 3# trigger takes quite a bit of practice. Good info to know. Look forward tips Dr. Dillman.

  2. Great article, Randy! Thanks for the information. I think this is one of my main “problem areas”. I will focus on this in my dry fire practice.

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