The manipulation of the trigger is really the core element of good shooting. Many presume it is sight alignment and sight picture. I find when I teach brand new shooters that imparting the concept of aligning the sights is relatively straight forward. Most people can put that together quite quickly. The majority of shooting issues for the majority of shooters (relating to accuracy) lies not in errors with the sights, but errors in trigger manipulation.
The handgun is a much more difficult platform to shoot well than any shoulder-fired weapon. We have only one point of contact on the weapon as opposed to four with a rifle or shotgun. We also have a much shorter sight radius. However, what truly makes the handgun difficult to shoot accurately is the fact that we have a trigger pull that is typically between 5 and 15 pounds, depending on the gun, in a weapon that usually weighs less than two pounds. With really small guns, which notoriously have the heaviest triggers, it is not uncommon to have a 12+ pound trigger pull on a gun that weighs less than a pound. There are some interesting physics that come into play here.
The single greatest factor in making hits with a handgun is being able to manipulate the trigger and break the shot without the mechanical motion of the trigger press disrupting the alignment of the weapon. The ability to do this makes all the difference and is the single greatest deviation between novice shooters, good shooters, and great shooters. Also of critical importance is the grip on the gun, as a good grip minimizes the sympathetic movement of the rest of the hand along with the motion of the trigger finger, thus improving accuracy. Another issue that often crops up is the “flinch” in which a shooter anticipates recoil and sub-consciously forces the gun down when the shot is fired, thus sending shots low. While all of these elements are important, here we look specifically at trigger manipulation.
There are actually several ways to manipulate a trigger that can be successful. The method I tend to use, and the one that is most often taught now, is the idea of riding the trigger only to “reset.” The idea here is that if the finger never leaves contact with the trigger and the shooter only allows the trigger out far enough to re-set the firing mechanism then there is less mechanical movement involved that can disrupt the sights of the weapon. There are good shooters who also take a “prep-and-press” approach which basically calls for the finger coming off the trigger completely and then the slack being taken back out of the trigger mechanism, and “prepping” it for the next shot.
Both techniques work if trained diligently and if done properly. For example, some say “trigger reset” does not work because they see new shooters actually pinning the trigger to the rear after the shot is fired, then slowly letting the trigger back out until they hear or feel the reset. Well, that is a problem because such people don’t know what they are doing. If properly trained and practiced a shooter builds the reflexive ability to automatically release the trigger to reset, or just beyond, but not come off the trigger, and do this in rapid fire. Similarly, prep-and-press, while involving coming off the trigger, can be done with great speed as well. Either way, it requires practice, imagine that.
Regardless of the exact technique you use for trigger manipulation there are a few things that are rather universal to bear in mind. An overriding principle in trigger control is developing the ability to “press” the trigger directly to the rear. This is harder to do than it sounds because our fingers work on hinged joints, directing the digit straight rearward is not natural. What tend to happen is shooters put some disproportionate pressure to one side or the other of the trigger face which results in shots being pulled to the left, right, or the classic low-and-left which is a typical trigger “jerk.” Think of pressing the trigger more akin to pressing the button on a camera (not a phone, a real camera). Typically, you will press that button straight down so as not to disturb the picture shot.
Trigger press is the heart of the beast concerning shooting, particularly handgun shooting. Any small variation in the alignment of the gun which may result in poor trigger manipulation shows up compounded many times over down range. A deviation of the gun’s alignment of only millimeters at the muzzle results in inches or feet down range depending on the distance. Analyze your own trigger technique and be sure to spend some time bettering it. This is most effectively done through dry fire, watch for variance in your sights when pressing the trigger. Improvement in your trigger press will do more for your accuracy that almost anything else.