Why you need to keep your finger off the trigger
Wednesday, February 12, 2020
I’m part of a few instructor groups online and a question was recently posed about an agency whose policy is to scan for threats with the trigger finger on the trigger and the slack taken up.
The response was pretty much universal…if your sights are on your intended target, the finger goes on the trigger. If your sights aren’t on your intended target, your finger goes off the trigger.
A lot of people have their finger on the trigger while scanning for targets or even while clearing their house or searching for potential threats.
Having your finger on the trigger saves time and allows you to respond to a threat quicker.
Doesn’t it? It depends.
I want to encourage you to try a drill a few times…either with live fire or dry fire if you have a shot timer that can pick up your dry fire presses.
Here’s the drill.
Set a long delay on a shot timer…three to five seconds.
With your shooting hand, aim at a target six to 10 feet in front of you. Ideally, it would be a small target…1-2″ in diameter. You can do this with either a pistol or carbine.
Hit the start button on your shot timer with your support hand and then get a support hand grip on your gun.
Take up the slack on the trigger.
When the beeper goes off, press the trigger as quickly as possible. Reholster, record your time, and repeat the drill until you have five times recorded. I would suggest picking a target size of 1”, 2”, or 4″ and only writing down the times where you hit the target. You may even want to figure out your speeds for different levels of accuracy.
I just stepped outside and did this on a steel torso target at 65 yards, and my average time was .26. (An 18″ torso at 65 yards is equivalent to .92″ at 10 feet.) When I’m on my game, I’m in the .15-.17 range, but right now I’m cold, tired, and hungry.
Next, repeat the drill with your trigger finger indexed high on the frame…not covering the trigger guard, but placed so that if you squeeze your trigger finger, it won’t go into the trigger guard. From the index position, it should take two movements to touch the trigger…rotating the finger down and curling it in. Again, you want to record your times and your group size.
My average time today was .39…when I’m on my game it’s about .30.
This is going to tell you a few things…
- What’s the quickest you can press the trigger without disturbing sight alignment?
- What’s the difference between the fastest time you can react and the fastest time you can react and still actually hit what you’re aiming at?
- How big of a difference does speed make on accuracy?
- How much of a delay does indexing add?
For me, indexing adds about .15 seconds. If you haven’t practiced this drill before, it can easily add a quarter to a half second…or even a second or more when the accuracy demands of the shot are higher.
What’s this all mean?
First off, it may be an eye-opener if you find out that you really need to slow down to hit what you’re aiming at.
Second, the delay that indexing adds may cause you to think that you should put your finger on the trigger before you’ve decided you’re going to shoot — don’t.
Here’s the thing…
There are mechanisms in the body that can cause you to press your trigger finger before you realize what’s happening. Three of them are:
- The startle reflex…when you respond to a surprise stimulus like a car door slamming, Taser going off, book dropping, sneezing, someone else’s gun firing, etc.
- Tripping, stumbling, or losing balance.
- The interlimb reflex…this happens when you use one hand to grab something, key a mic on a radio, or try to use a phone, and the fingers on your opposite hand flex without you knowing it.
These are all more pronounced as stress levels go up.
The speed of these actions depends on several factors, but a good rule of thumb is that they happen in about 20 milliseconds or .02 seconds…sometimes .1 seconds. And, if you wanted to stop them, you’d need reaction times quicker than that.
Now, look back at your reaction times where you knew the timer was going to go off and see what your reaction times were.
If your reaction times aren’t quicker than .02-.1 seconds, it’s a good indication that you couldn’t stop the sympathetic or interlimb reflexes before they happen…and you don’t want your trigger finger hanging out in the trigger guard unless your muzzle is pointed at something you intend to shoot. To be clear, this isn’t something that is practical to overcome with years of training. They’re hard-wired survival reflexes that have many benefits and “overcoming them” would decrease your survivability.
But what about the time that you lose by having your trigger finger indexed?
There are three easy ways to address this…
- Reduce your reaction time by practicing the reaction drills…both with your trigger finger prepped and indexed. Just practicing it will help speed up the quality and precision of motor signals that your brain sends to your hand. We go into more drills on improving trigger finger speed and precision in Praxis Gunfight Training.
- Cheat by starting earlier…Add a couple of “X-Factors” into the equation in the form of situational awareness and quicker vision. The sooner you can identify the pre-incident indicators of aggressive movement, the sooner you can react to it. It’s like getting a jump-start on your attacker. You can do this with a combination of situational awareness and Tactical Vision Training so that you can actually see threats quicker.
- Slow down your attacker’s plan with movement so that you’re not where they were planning to attack, and they have to reorient to what you have done.
The combination of these three things will more than make up for any delay that you experience as a result of having your trigger finger indexed…and you gain a ton of safety in the process.
But it all starts with the proper training.
Training that lets you build skills you can trust your life to that squeezes the most out of every minute that you have available for training.
If you’re not currently following a structured dry fire training program, you’re missing out.
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