Trigger Discipline and the Empty Mind

Sandy Keathley
McKinney Firearms Training

As a CHL instructor, I see a wide variety of shooters come through my classes, ranging from police officers and other experienced shooters, to people who just bought a gun 3 days before. As is to be expected, the more experienced shooters tend to score at the high end of the scale, and the others at the lower end, although both types will sometimes surprise me. While fundamentals like stance and grip play a role in the success of these shooters, probably nothing has as big an impact as trigger discipline.

So what is that? It means mastering two aspects of the trigger pull:

  1. Pulling the trigger straight back, so that any lateral forces (left and right) are balanced. If you have too much finger on the trigger (up to the joint), you will have a tendency to pull the muzzle right (for a right-handed shooter) as you squeeze the trigger. If too little finger, you will push the muzzle to the left. The movement may be very small, but that’s all it takes. With practice, you can find the “sweet spot” on your finger. It will vary from one gun to another, because of the dimensions of the gun.
  2. Focusing more on the action at hand than on the result. Anticipation of the shot will ruin the shot, so you must relax, clear your head, and pull back until the trigger touches the frame. Yes, the shot will break before then; pull through it,like a baseball batter swings through the ball.

You must not think of the trigger as being like a light switch, off and on. Think of it like opening a large, heavy door. Take at least 1 1/2 seconds, from the start of pressure on the trigger, to the end, or at least the minimal time required to press the trigger back without disturbing the muzzle. Even in a crisis situation, you would have 2 seconds per shot. As you get better, that time will decrease. During that interval, think only about a smooth, steady pull, and keeping the sights aligned, not where you want the bullet to hit. Better yet, think of nothing; empty your mind and get in the zone. Think the words “wait, wait, wait” until the shot breaks.

Accurate shooting should be a relaxing action, not a stressful one. The more agitated you are, the worse the shot will be. If you are stressed out at the range, what will happen in a real self-defense situation?

Relax, breathe, meditate, be surprised when the shot breaks.

Counting Bulletholes

Sandy Keathley

Fire 10 rounds at any type of target at 10 yards or less. Can you easily count all the holes? If you can, you may be focusing on the wrong thing. Your goal should not be to just hit the target, but to hit the previous hole. Well, if it was a good shot. For marksmanship training, groups are important. Every shot that misses the Point-of-Aim (center of the target) traveled at an angle to an imaginary straight line. The further out it goes, the larger that angle, and the further off the mark.  That’s why people trying to improve shoot at bullseye targets instead of zombie outlines, and try to get small groups. If you put as many as 10 shots on a target, and have not shot out a ragged hole, you will be able to count all the holes. That’s not a good thing.

As a Concealed Handgun instructor, I can look at a row of targets from 5 yards out and tell who has passed easily, and those who scored on the low end. I score every target manually, but I am seldom surprised. When there is a ragged hole in the middle, they will have scored 220+. If I can see all the holes, like a shotgun pattern, they will be below 220, and sometimes below 190.

That is still passing, but there is still a potential problem. It is estimated that a defensive shooter, even with training, will only perform at 50% of their ability in a crisis. Considering that many typical carry guns only hold 6 rounds, this person may well miss 3 shots entirely, and only wound with the other 3, whereas even an 8 inch, 3 shot group would likely kill or incapacitate the attacker.

That is why one needs to be an over-achiever with a handgun. Don’t just hit the target; put all the bullets in a tight group.