Trigger Control Is Not the Answer

Target practice cardboard dummy

Michael T. Rayburn

Many firearms instructors incorrectly state that the primary issue for the majority of shooters is “trigger control.” Now, I’d like to pose a straightforward question to you. Although it may be somewhat lengthy, it remains a simple and direct contradiction.

Now, if I were to put my finger inside the trigger guard and pull the trigger, where would your round go?

It would go into the target, right? Where else could it possibly go? If I were to take a pencil and use that to pull the trigger, where would your round go? If I were to take a long piece of string and tie it to the trigger and then use that string to pull the trigger rearward (as long as the gun didn’t move), where would your bullet end up? It would go into the target, right?

You Really Need to “Get a Grip”

So, the central question is: What does “trigger control” have to do with anything? It’s all about the grip – that vise-like grip you need to have on your handgun when shooting. Grip the gun as if your life depended on it, because someday it just might.

Understand that this “vise-like grip” is simple and easy to do. While the gun is still in the holster, grab the gun firmly with your strong hand. You want to be as high up on the backstrap of the gun as possible before the gun even comes out of the holster. You want to have a solid grip on the gun before it comes out of the holster because you may have to start shooting at the assailant as soon as the gun clears your holster. Hip shooting and shooting as you bring the gun up are practical (and, at times, essential) strategies, particularly when in close quarters.

If you have the time and the distance and you want to enable a solid two-handed grip, as you draw the gun and start to bring it over to the centerline of your body, you’ll bring your off hand over and obtain a two-handed grip. This is done by bringing your two hands together like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, with your thumbs forward.  

Some firearms instructors will say, “You have too much finger on the trigger,” or you have “too little finger on the trigger.” How many of you have heard this one before, “Place the middle of the first pad of your index finger on the trigger”? In a gunfight, with the bad guy most likely already shooting at you first, according to FBI statistics, are you really going to be worried about how much of your finger is on the trigger

Trigger Control?

Skeptics can offer any number of excuses or contradictions, but it doesn’t change the fact that the grip is the most important part of handgun shooting and, in reality, there is no such thing as “trigger control.” The trigger is a mechanical device. It’s designed to go backwards and forwards, not side to side or in any other direction. If it does, there’s something wrong with your firearm and you need to have it checked out by the armorer.

Shooters need to have a vise-like grip on the handgun, so that it doesn’t move while they shoot. Of course, there’s going to be recoil, but the tighter you grip your handgun, the less recoil you’re going to experience. That directly relates to being able to get back on target quicker for that second, third, or fourth round.

As stated in the beginning of this article, a number of firearms instructors will boldly claim that “trigger control is the number one problem with all shooters.” In fact, the number one problem with most shooters isn’t the grip, either, although it plays a large part of the problem. The number one problem with most shooters is anticipating the recoil of the firearm.


It’s called the Pre-Ignition Push, or PIP. In that split second before the bullet leaves the barrel, you push the gun, either to one side or the other or up or down. If you’re pushing it off to the side, it will most likely be to your offside. Why? Because your grip on the handgun is not as strong on that side; it’s just that simple.

Again, that’s why you need to have that vise-like grip on the gun, so that it doesn’t move while shooting. Anticipating the recoil of the firearm, or PIP, is done subconsciously. Your brain is saying, okay, get ready for that big bang and you anticipate the recoil of the gun by pushing it off to one side or the other, or pushing it down or pushing it up which is sometimes called “heeling the firearm.”

It has absolutely nothing to do with how much finger you have (or don’t have) on the trigger. Or, how fast or how slow you pull the trigger. Some will proclaim, “Well, tell a sniper to pull the trigger fast and hard and see what happens.” Shooting a target at 300 yards with a sniper rifle is completely different than firing a handgun at a few feet which is the typical distance for the vast majority of officer involved shootings.

Do you practice sniper techniques with your handgun at three feet, five feet, ten feet, or 21 feet? Since the vast majority of officers are killed every year at 21 feet or less, why are you training to be a sniper at that distance, with a handgun of all things?

No Time for That

I know you’ve all heard this one before: “Take a deep breath in, let half out and hold it while you slowly squeeze the trigger rearward.” It sounds silly when you think about it, but this is what we’re training officers to do in a real gunfight, at close distances. You will most likely experience a huge dump of adrenaline and probably start to hyperventilate as your fight or flight response kicks in, making controlled breaths nearly impossible. 

Let me throw one more at you. I’ve heard this one so many times it makes me cringe when I hear it: “If you can hit the target at the 25-yard line, then you can hit it up-close.” The dynamics of a gunfight at 25 yards are completely different from those of a gunfight at three yards or three feet.

I’ve personally spoken to over 300 law enforcement officers who have been involved in an officer involved shooting, with some being involved in more than one. Not once did any of them mention “breath control,” “trigger control” or any of the other “target shooting skills” being taught on law enforcement ranges for gunfighting.

However, more than a few have said how their hand hurt from squeezing the gun so hard after the gunfight was over. One officer explained how he thought he had been shot in his gun hand, as it hurt so much. He actually had other arriving officers look at his hand for the injury which wasn’t there.

Another officer recounted how several minutes after the shooting was over and backup had arrived, he looked down at his hand because it was hurting so much. To his amazement, he had checkering on his hand from gripping his handgun’s buttstock. He had squeezed the gun so tightly that it left an imprint on his hand.

The Bottom Line

If officers are gripping the handgun as tightly as they possibly can in a real-life gunfight to the point where it leaves a mark on their hand, then why are we not training that way? We need to start training officers to have a vise-like grip on their handguns and stop training them to be target shooters or, worse yet, teaching them sniper skills for gunfighting with a handgun. We need to train the way we fight and that means having a tight grip on the handgun. Forget about all of the other inaccurate recommendations which don’t matter.    

Michael T. Rayburn has been involved in law enforcement for over 40 years. He is a retired police officer, a former Adjunct Instructor for the Smith & Wesson Academy and the author of five books.