By Dan Kidder
There are two worlds among concealed carriers, those who train and carry frequently or every day, and those who get the permit, never do any additional training, and only carry once in a blue moon. As a firearms instructor, I get to see both worlds frequently and am constantly on the lookout for tools and techniques that help move the second world into the realm of the first.
The two largest obstacles from becoming an occasional carrier to a frequent one; from becoming untrained to more advanced, are cost and time. Most individuals don’t have sponsors to purchase their ammo or bosses who let them take time from the workday to go to classes or sneak in some training. Therefore, the average carrier of a defensive firearm is relegated to doing this on their own time and dime.
Since the price of ammunition has been on a steady increase, and not everyone has access to an indoor climate-controlled shooting facility, getting in the trigger time that is needed for live fire training can be a difficult challenge in both the time and expense departments. But there is no doubt that effective defensive shooting is a diminishing skill and without frequent practice, even excellent shooters will lose their edge over time.
First, let’s break the trigger press down into its basic mechanics. Many novice shooters see the pull of the trigger as a simple one step process; point the gun at the target and pull the trigger. I break my trigger press down into five phases, all with the principal goal of Minimizing Unnecessary Movement (MUM).
1. Commute – In our classes we talk about where your trigger finger lives. That is the index position alongside the frame of the gun pointing toward the target. This keeps the finger outside of the trigger guard until you have made the decision to fire and is Rule Three of Col. Cooper’s four rules of firearm safety; “keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you have made the decision to fire.” Once we establish where the trigger finger lives, occasionally the finger will go from home to work. Work is the trigger. The commute phase is the transition from the index position to the trigger; the movement from the side of the gun to inside the trigger guard. It is essential to be able to make this transition while maintaining sight alignment (MUM).
2. Face – Once we move our finger inside the trigger guard, it is necessary to orient our finger position to the face of the trigger. Several factors are at play here. First, we need to know are we shooting a semi-auto in double action or single action condition? Are we shooting a revolver in single or double action? Are we shooting a striker fired pistol? Each condition will require us to face the trigger differently. When facing the trigger, we are feeling for the proper position of the pad of our first distal phalanges on the face of the trigger. We want just the pad of that finger and not the interphalangeal distal crease on the face of the trigger. Many novice shooters will wrap that inside knuckle around the trigger, which will insert movement of the gun into the trigger press. If the tip of the finger, the area above the top crease, were divided in two, the very tip farthest from the body is used to press the trigger on a striker fired pistol or revolvers or semi-autos firing in single action condition (i.e., the hammer is cocked). The bottom portion of the finger tip closer to the body is used for the harder trigger press of a double action gun because more force is needed to actuate the trigger. This step is also where the shooter will depress the blade safety on a striker-fired gun.
3. Prep – With a few exceptions, almost every trigger has a certain amount of travel or creep that has to be pressed through. Prepping the trigger involves taking the slack out of the trigger before beginning the next phase. When prepping the trigger, the shooter takes up the slack until they “hit the wall” or the creep ceases and becomes a clear stopping point. It is important to good trigger control to clearly separate the prep phase from the next phase, which is the press.
4. Press – The press phase is where we actuate the trigger to fire the gun. We gently increase pressure with just our trigger finger until the gun fires. This is letting the gun fire, rather than making the gun fire. If done correctly, there should be no movement or tightening from any of the other muscles in the hands other than those attached to the index finger. Muscle isolation is a key component of MUM. The instant the gun fires should be a surprise to you because you are simply increasing pressure incrementally until the trigger breaks. This is how you can fire a heavy trigger with the same consistency as a light trigger. Nothing changes other than the incremental force and the amount of time needed to finish the trigger press.
5. Reset – One of the fundamentals of pistol shooting is follow-through. That is keeping everything exactly the same as it was at the time the shot is fired. This prevents a last split-second movement that can affect the shot. A problem I see with many less experienced shooters is jumping off the trigger as soon as they break the shot, allowing it to come completely forward, then slapping the trigger quickly, bypassing all the phases, to make a rapid follow-up shot. There are a variety of factors that make shooters do this, including getting a chronic case of the “Go Fasts” or fear from not understanding the trigger mechanics that if they are touching the trigger after the gun fires, the gun will go into full auto mode and empty the magazine if they don’t quickly let go. Proper follow through and reset consists of holding the trigger back after the gun fires and while it goes through its recoil arc. Once the sights are back on the target, then the shooter can begin to move the trigger forward until it reaches its reset point. The reset point is “The Wall” but approached from the rear rather than from the front, as in the prep phase. This is the point where the trigger has traveled forward enough to now re-engage the connector and allow it to fire again if started rearward. It is often perceptibly felt and heard, when the trigger has reset.
Trigger press is an essential fundamental to master. Knowing your trigger and how to transition between all five phases is a skill that can only be mastered through lots and lots of time pressing the trigger. Repetition while focusing on each phase is how you will get better and more confident in your mastery of each step, and also how you can isolate unnecessary movement and remove it from the equation. This is why dry fire practice is so essential to good pistol shooting.
The term dry fire is a bit misleading, as there is no such thing as wet fire. Dry fire is the concept of practicing your trigger pull with an unloaded firearm. It should go without saying that shooters need to verify their gun is unloaded, as are any magazines that will be used during practice, and even though the gun is clear, we always want to make sure we are not pointing the gun at any person, animal, or object we are not willing to destroy. If we are utilizing a wall for our practice, it is important to make sure what or who is on the other side of that wall, and always to practice in a safe manner cognizant of what might happen should we accidentally discharge a live round.
Dry fire training is used religiously by the majority of competitive shooters, and those who shoot professionally when their lives are on the line. It is an essential tool in your training toolbox and I can tell immediately whether a student practices dry fire frequently by how well they shoot in live fire. To help with your dry fire practice, there are several great tools and technologies on the market that I personally use and recommend.
Dry Fire Training Cards
As the name implies, the Dry Fire Training Cards are a deck of 52 cards with various dry fire drills. You can shuffle and cut the deck and randomly choose a drill, or you can divide the deck into stacks of five different skill levels; basic, advanced, complex motion, low light, and exercises, and work each category systematically. For a more advanced training regime, you can purchase the entire dry fire training course that features video instruction as well as drills. www.dryfiretrainingcards.com
A tool I have really come to appreciate and value is the SIRT Pistol from Next Level Training. The Shot Indicating Resetting Trigger Training Pistol is a valuable tool that streamlines dry fire practice, while also indicating where your shots are going with a visible laser. With your standard carry gun, the pistol must be recocked prior to each pull of the trigger, breaking the training cycle. The SIRT mimics your training pistol in weight, function, and trigger, but automatically resets so you can continue to dry fire over and over without breaking your grip to recock the gun. It is available in various makes and models standard to carry and duty models of guns and is compatible with your existing holsters. www.nextleveltraining.com
When used in conjunction with the SIRT or any laser insert, the LASR software provides instant feedback on shot placement, while also giving metrics such as shot time, split times, and also motion of the gun after the shot breaks. The program is web based and can be used on a laptop with a camera or on a smartphone or tablet. The targets are set up and then traced within the application to designate whether they are a hit or miss, or even can be set up as a remote to start and stop the session by simply firing at the designated target. A variety of drills and even par times can be preset in the app to create various training scenarios. www.lasrapp.com
SureStrike Laser Cartridges and Targets
The upside to the SureStrike system is that you can use your actual firearm by inserting a caliber specific laser cartridge. This laser is activated by the firing pin, which is protected by a primer cushion. The downside is that if you have a striker fired or single action only gun, you have to interrupt the training cycle to re-cock the gun each time you fire. The laser cartridge is inserted into the chamber and has no rim so cycling the gun won’t extract it when you cycle the slide and it must be pushed out of the chamber by way of a rod inserted down the barrel. Various targets read your hits and score your result. www.laser-ammo.com
The MantisX attaches to your firearm and uses Bluetooth technology to pair with your smartphone or tablet. Gyroscopes inside measure movement and provide feedback based on the position of the gun and any movement at the time the shot is fired. It can be used in live fire, dry fire, or airsoft modes. A variety of pre-programmed drills run you through exercises and provide scores, as well as detailed diagrams showing the movement of the gun for each shot. I have been using this system for more than a year and have seen significant improvement in my shooting as a result. If your gun doesn’t have an accessory rail, or you want to practice drawing from a holster, Mantis offers a variety of magazine butt plate adapters and even barrel adapters for revolvers to connect the device, expanding the available options for firearms to almost limitless. www.mantisX.com
A-Zoom Striker Caps
Dummy ammunition is a great training aid during loading practice and even live fire, but because they get ejected during cycling of the gun, they have been problematic for dry fire practice. Though most modern firearms are perfectly okay to dry fire repeatedly, some people are still hesitant to dry fire without some sort of firing pin protection. The Striker Caps feature a rimless case design that allow the gun to be cycled repeatedly without ejecting the dummy. A silicone cushion protects the firing pin through repeated firing. www.lymanproducts.com/brands/a-zoom/a-zoom-strikercaps