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Shooting Tips: Master the Trigger

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June 24, 2012
Shooting Tips: Master the Trigger - 12

On day one of my four-day sniper training course the instructor knelt down next to me and said "Young man, I love ya, but I'm going to beat the hell out of you if you don't stay with your trigger."

I was lying prone on the frozen ground at Sniper Country, a 50,000-acre shooter's paradise in Utah, and I had just sent a .338 Lapua round 300 yards down range into the center of an 18 by 24-inch steel plate. I was pretty pleased with the shot, but the instructor was clearly not impressed (however he didn't actually beat the hell out of me). My offense was what I did after I squeezed the trigger. Instead of hanging in there and following through, I allowed my index finger to slip out of proper position as the rifle charged into my shoulder.

With all of the sexiness Hollywood has created around long-range shooting (see Shooter, Enemy at the Gates, Sniper) it's easy to forget that one of the most important aspects of accurate shooting is also one of the most fundamental: pulling the trigger correctly. You can get away with fairly sloppy trigger form if you're simply trying to poke holes in a target at a few hundred yards, but if you're aiming for precision long-range shooting at targets out past 300 yards, the connection between you and the trigger must become sacred.

Here are some things I learned from shooting instructor Jacob Bynum about the not so simple act of pulling the trigger.

90 is the magic number
Your finger should make 90 degree angles with the rifle. This will ensure that you pull the trigger straight back and don't send the bullet veering off to the left or right. If you jack the trigger even slightly to the left or right it will send your bullet off target horizontally. The best way to make sure that you're at 90 is to look at your  finger nail and make sure it is pointing perpendicular to the direction you're shooting and stays that way after the shot.

Dry fire is your friend

Dry firing is free, easy and essential to better shooting. Get behind your rifle, aim it at the target and squeeze the trigger like normal. This will allow you to truly analyze your form without having to worry about recoil. It's also a good way to get familiar with your trigger and keep you from flinching.

Don't slap it
We've all been there: there's no rock solid rest, the target is in the scope but the crosshairs are moving in small circles on and off the target. There's no time to get a better rest, it's now or never. The natural thing to do is wait until the crosshairs hover back over the target and then jump on the trigger. This will generally work for close range shots, but if you want to go deep you need to keep your trigger squeeze consistent just like if you were shooting from the bench. This is where all that practice dry firing comes in. By now you know exactly when your trigger will fire. Time your squeeze so that it will fire just as your crosshairs cover the bullseye.

Don't let it surprise you
Old wisdom says that you should squeeze the trigger until it goes off and the shot should surprise you. According to Bynum, this is what you tell a kid who just started shooting in order to keep him from flinching before the shot. A really good marksman knows exactly when his gun is going to fire and is ready for the recoil but doesn't flinch in anticipation of it.

Follow through
This is what I spent three days working on. Pulling the trigger and holding it through the shot. It's easy to let your finger jump off the trigger or hook around the trigger so your finger nail is pointing back toward you instead of perpendicular. The best advice I got on this was from Brent Wheat, a veteran police officer and freelance gun writer: Pull the trigger and mentally count to one before taking your finger off.

 

It sounds simple, but just like everything else in long-range shooting, it takes a lot of practice to master.

Come back to outdoorlife.com for more blogs, galleries and video from my trip to Sniper Country.

Comments (12)

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from bberg7794 wrote 2 years 5 weeks ago

Great article!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from land_cruiser_73 wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

A friend of mine on the Army Shooting Team shot a very nice 10 round string and then threw his gun down and started jumping around. A wingless wasp had crawled up and started stinging him in the armpit after the third shot!
Long range shooting is about concentration.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from hmmmAnd wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

A good article, sometimes simple facts like this seem like second nature, but along comes a stressful or panic filled situation and they are easily forgot. Identifying critical technical aspects of accurate and precise shooting form are important.
I recall qualifying as in BT back at Fort Jackson, I had been regularly getting 36+ of 40. Then qualifying morning I opened up my foxhole (I was on the range detail) hopped in set up the sand bags and noticed a black widow crawling out of towards my arm. During that round I spotted two more out of the corner of my eye will looking down range, then a came a double feed, needless to say I didn't qualify that round. I did end up qualifying that day, but considering I had been lead of the range detail - on honor bestowed on someone deemed not needing to practice BRM as much as the others it was a disappointing day. Tips like these could well have helped settle me down that day.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

By the way, I never bought into that surprise business. I always wanted to know when the gun would go off so I could have the best possible aim point and sight picture.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I got a lot out of this, even at my age. I need to work on this. But remember, the trigger pull is only a part of the equation.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Yosemite-Sam wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

As an old living former RVN sniper. Learning to shoot well, camouflage yourself (even slightly), and move through the woods to hunt the most dangerous of game. Did not induce me to make long shots on deer or elk. In fact when I came home, I was and still am, a much better hunter. I have stalked within 5 feet of deer to deliver a point blank rifle shot. Many times, 5-30 foot shots, after a stalk last what seemed like hours in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada Mountains (which is the toughest hunting that I have ever experienced - due to the heat and dry crunchy forest material). Learning to shoot straight also means you cannot lie your way out of a missed shot. Not one of the people who know you will believe any possible true story. Especially the wife.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from land_cruiser_73 wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

I just read the article on long range shooting and it scared me to think that someone will study those techniques and go try a long shot on a live animal. It didn't take into consideration the most important aspect of long shots: Luck. I once hit the bullseye from 600 m, caught a 1 minute wind change, put another through the same hole and another touching the first two with an M14 with peep sights. How? Luck. Yes I had been training everyday for 3 months with professional coaches, but the results of my shooting exceeded the capabilities of the gun. In essense, I missed by enough that luck put my shot in the same spot.
Long range shooting is fine for targets or maybe humans, as a wounded human is still out of the fight, but IMHO should never be used when a quick, humane kill is desired. I believe 500 yds to be the maximum that any hunter should shoot, no matter what his skill level.
Did a gust of wind come up between the time you read the mirage and the time you squeezed the trigger?

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from land_cruiser_73 wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

Trigger fingers are very important, but I believe Natural Point of Aim for a very long shot is more so. That means your position is set up so when you relax, close your eyes, breath, and then look down your sights, you are pointing exactly where you want your bullet to go. This removes muscles jumping and making you miss.
That's how they explained it when I worked for the US Army Marksmanship Unit at Ft Benning.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from The Captain wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

Ishi, I will disagree with you (as I think it matters whos head explodes). I know I could not make a 2,000 yard shot on a terrorist... but I have seen all manner of bad things happen to them, and I have not regretted a single one.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from pineywoods wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

Thank you. I'm always looking for ways to improve my shooting and this is something I haven't heard of before. I'm going to try it.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ishi wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

Good advice on trigger pull.

Sniper training is easy. Learning to watch a head explode in your sights... not so much.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from MazPower wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

Good stuff A-Rod, I live in Utah and had never heard of this place. Can't wait for the other three days.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

from land_cruiser_73 wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

Trigger fingers are very important, but I believe Natural Point of Aim for a very long shot is more so. That means your position is set up so when you relax, close your eyes, breath, and then look down your sights, you are pointing exactly where you want your bullet to go. This removes muscles jumping and making you miss.
That's how they explained it when I worked for the US Army Marksmanship Unit at Ft Benning.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from MazPower wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

Good stuff A-Rod, I live in Utah and had never heard of this place. Can't wait for the other three days.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from pineywoods wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

Thank you. I'm always looking for ways to improve my shooting and this is something I haven't heard of before. I'm going to try it.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from The Captain wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

Ishi, I will disagree with you (as I think it matters whos head explodes). I know I could not make a 2,000 yard shot on a terrorist... but I have seen all manner of bad things happen to them, and I have not regretted a single one.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from land_cruiser_73 wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

I just read the article on long range shooting and it scared me to think that someone will study those techniques and go try a long shot on a live animal. It didn't take into consideration the most important aspect of long shots: Luck. I once hit the bullseye from 600 m, caught a 1 minute wind change, put another through the same hole and another touching the first two with an M14 with peep sights. How? Luck. Yes I had been training everyday for 3 months with professional coaches, but the results of my shooting exceeded the capabilities of the gun. In essense, I missed by enough that luck put my shot in the same spot.
Long range shooting is fine for targets or maybe humans, as a wounded human is still out of the fight, but IMHO should never be used when a quick, humane kill is desired. I believe 500 yds to be the maximum that any hunter should shoot, no matter what his skill level.
Did a gust of wind come up between the time you read the mirage and the time you squeezed the trigger?

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

By the way, I never bought into that surprise business. I always wanted to know when the gun would go off so I could have the best possible aim point and sight picture.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ishi wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

Good advice on trigger pull.

Sniper training is easy. Learning to watch a head explode in your sights... not so much.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Yosemite-Sam wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

As an old living former RVN sniper. Learning to shoot well, camouflage yourself (even slightly), and move through the woods to hunt the most dangerous of game. Did not induce me to make long shots on deer or elk. In fact when I came home, I was and still am, a much better hunter. I have stalked within 5 feet of deer to deliver a point blank rifle shot. Many times, 5-30 foot shots, after a stalk last what seemed like hours in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada Mountains (which is the toughest hunting that I have ever experienced - due to the heat and dry crunchy forest material). Learning to shoot straight also means you cannot lie your way out of a missed shot. Not one of the people who know you will believe any possible true story. Especially the wife.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

I got a lot out of this, even at my age. I need to work on this. But remember, the trigger pull is only a part of the equation.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from hmmmAnd wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

A good article, sometimes simple facts like this seem like second nature, but along comes a stressful or panic filled situation and they are easily forgot. Identifying critical technical aspects of accurate and precise shooting form are important.
I recall qualifying as in BT back at Fort Jackson, I had been regularly getting 36+ of 40. Then qualifying morning I opened up my foxhole (I was on the range detail) hopped in set up the sand bags and noticed a black widow crawling out of towards my arm. During that round I spotted two more out of the corner of my eye will looking down range, then a came a double feed, needless to say I didn't qualify that round. I did end up qualifying that day, but considering I had been lead of the range detail - on honor bestowed on someone deemed not needing to practice BRM as much as the others it was a disappointing day. Tips like these could well have helped settle me down that day.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from land_cruiser_73 wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

A friend of mine on the Army Shooting Team shot a very nice 10 round string and then threw his gun down and started jumping around. A wingless wasp had crawled up and started stinging him in the armpit after the third shot!
Long range shooting is about concentration.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from bberg7794 wrote 2 years 5 weeks ago

Great article!

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

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