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Trigger Control

Discussion in 'Strategies, Tactics and Training' started by Frank Ettin, Mar 29, 2018.

  1. Frank Ettin

    Frank Ettin Moderator Staff Member

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    1. The first principle of accurate shooting is trigger control: a smooth press straight back on the trigger with only the trigger finger moving. Maintain your focus on the front sight (or the reticle if using a scope) as you press the trigger, increasing pressure on the trigger until the shot breaks. Don't try to predict exactly when the gun will go off nor try to cause the shot to break at a particular moment. This is what Jeff Cooper called the "surprise break."

    2. One wants to place his finger on the trigger in a manner that facilitates that. Usually, the best place for the finger to contact the trigger will be the middle of the portion of the finger between the first knuckle and the fingertip, and that part of the finger should be perpendicular to the direction in which the trigger moves.

      • With some triggers, e. g., heavy double action triggers with a long travel, that placement might not provide enough leverage to work the trigger smoothly. In such cases, the trigger may be placed at the first joint.

      • In either case, the trigger finger needs to be curved away from the gun sufficiently to allow it to press the trigger straight back without the trigger finger binding or applying lateral pressure to the gun. If one has to reach too far to get his finger properly on the trigger (or turn the gun to the point that the axis of the barrel is significantly misaligned with the forearm), the gun is too big. (For example, I have a short trigger reach and can't properly shoot some handguns, like N frame Smith & Wesson revolvers double action.)

    3. By keeping focus on the front sight (or reticle) and increasing pressure on the trigger until the gun essentially shoots itself, you don’t anticipate the shot breaking. But if you try to make the shot break at that one instant in time when everything seem steady and aligned, you usually wind up jerking the trigger.

    4. Of course the gun will wobble a bit on the target. It is just not possible to hold the gun absolutely steady. Because you are alive, there will always be a slight movement caused by all the tiny movement associated with being alive: your heart beating; tiny muscular movements necessary to maintain your balance, etc. Try not to worry about the wobble and don’t worry about trying to keep the sight aligned on a single point. Just let the front sight be somewhere in a small, imaginary box in the center of the target. And of course, properly using some form of rest will also help minimize wobble.

    5. In our teaching we avoid using the words "squeeze" or "pull" to describe the actuation of the trigger. We prefer to refer to "pressing" the trigger. The word "press" seems to better describe the process of smoothly pressing the trigger straight back, with only the trigger finger moving, to a surprise break.

    6. You'll want to be able to perform the fundamentals reflexively, on demand without conscious thought. You do that by practicing them slowly to develop smoothness. Then smooth becomes fast.

      • Again, remember that practice doesn't make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

      • Practice also makes permanent. If you keep practicing doing something poorly, you will become an expert at doing it poorly.

    7. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of the gun firing "by surprise." They feel that when using the gun for practical applications, e. g., hunting or self defense, they need to be able to make the gun fire right now. But if you try to make the gun fire right now, you will almost certainly jerk the trigger thus jerking the gun off target and missing your shot. That's where the "compressed surprise break" comes in.

      • As you practice (perfectly) and develop the facility to reflexively (without conscious thought) apply a smooth, continuously increasing pressure to the trigger the time interval between beginning to press and the shot breaking gets progressively shorter until it become indistinguishable from being instantaneous. In other words, that period of uncertainty during which the shot might break, but you don't know exactly when, becomes vanishingly short. And that is the compressed surprise break.

      • Jeff Cooper explains the compressed surprise break in this video beginning at 36:04. This article by Jeff Campbell and this article by Jim Wilson might also be helpful.

      • It may help to understand the way humans learn a physical skill.

        • In learning a physical skill, we all go through a four step process:

          • unconscious incompetence, we can't do something and we don't even know how to do it;

          • conscious incompetence, we can't physically do something even though we know in our mind how to do it;

          • conscious competence, we know how to do something but can only do it right if we concentrate on doing it properly; and

          • unconscious competence, at this final stage we know how to do something and can do it reflexively (as second nature) on demand without having to think about it.

        • To get to the third stage, you need to think through the physical task consciously in order to do it perfectly. You need to start slow; one must walk before he can run. The key here is going slow so that you can perform each repetition properly and smoothly. Don't try to be fast. Try to be smooth. Now here's the kicker: slow is smooth and smooth is fast. You are trying to program your body to perform each of the components of the task properly and efficiently. As the programing takes, you get smoother; and as you get smoother you get more efficient and more sure, and therefore, faster.

        • I have in fact seen this over and over, both in the classes I've been in and with students that I've helped train. Start slow, consciously doing the physical act smoothly. You start to get smooth, and as you get smooth your pace will start to pick up. And about now, you will have reached the stage of conscious competence. You can do something properly and well as long as you think about it.

        • To go from conscious competence to the final stage, unconscious competence, is usually thought to take around 5,000 good repetitions. The good news is that dry practice will count. The bad news is that poor repetitions don't count and can set you back. You need to work at this to get good.

        • If one has reached the stage of unconscious competence as far as trigger control is concerned, he will be able to consistently execute a proper, controlled trigger press quickly and without conscious thought. Of course one needs to practice regularly and properly to maintain proficiency, but it's easier to maintain it once achieved than it was to first achieve it.
     
  2. Kleanbore

    Kleanbore Moderator Staff Member

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    Excellent, Frank! Thanks for contributing this!

    The principle that you have set forth for "accurate" shooing applies for whatever balance of speed and precision my be called for. But it is important to start slowly as one gains proficiency.
     
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  3. murf

    murf Member

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    had to get a grip before i read this. where does grip (or mounting the weapon) rank in importance here?

    anyway, excellent read, frank ettin. trigger squeeze, pull, slap, etc., is always numero uno in my book.

    murf
     
  4. kcofohio
    • Contributing Member

    kcofohio Contributing Member

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    Thanks! Vey well explained.
     
  5. 9mmepiphany

    9mmepiphany Moderator Staff Member

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    Way down the pyramid of skills.

    Remember we're referencing accurate shooting, not shooting quickly. You can have the worlds worst grip...upside down...and still be able to shoot accurately if you have good trigger management skills. The most important part of Grip, for a beginning shooter, is to make it neutral enough to diagnose trigger management faults

    Right behind Trigger Management is Sight Alignment
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2018
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  6. murf

    murf Member

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    thanks for your opinion, 9mm. frank ettin, do you want to take a stab at this?

    murf
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 6, 2018
  7. Frank Ettin

    Frank Ettin Moderator Staff Member

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    I agree completely with 9mmepiphany. He's an excellent and knowledgeable instructor.
     
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  8. murf

    murf Member

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    thanks frank ettin.

    murf
     
  9. Wichaka

    Wichaka Member

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    When referring to sight use, they are pretty much set them and forget them.

    Example...Take your trigger finger and point at an object. More then likely you'll point at the middle of it, and I didn't ask you to. Your body will naturally find symmetry. While holding it there, you'll notice two things...1. You can't hold it perfect still, as you have a heart pumping that pulsates the body, and respirations. 2. You do not have to consciously think about keeping it there.

    Next take a pen, using the ink tip, put it on a small object at arms length. Again, you can't hold it still, and you don't have to think about keeping it on the center of the object.

    This is what happens with your sights, once they are on target...they aren't going anywhere. If you're concentrating on the sights, it's wasted effort. If you're waiting for the perfect sight alignment - sight picture, you're wasting your effort. Leave it to your sub-conscious. The only conscious thing you have to concern yourself with, is pressing the trigger.

    If you can't press the trigger quietly without disturbing the firearm, all that sight alignment-sight picture stuff is wasted energy. Learn to do that first, by pointing...not aiming, until you can do it quietly. Painfully slow is the theme here...as has been said...gotta crawl first.
     
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  10. huntsman

    huntsman Member

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    How about shooting drills? I was shown two(2” circle, cross) to pratice control.
     
  11. Wichaka

    Wichaka Member

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    I use a 6 or 8 inch circle, and practice a one hole drill...one can use steel for that matter.
    Pick a spot on the target, slow fire 6-8 rounds. Concentrate on the trigger, not the sights. Once the sights are set, focus on the trigger. Use the mantra "Keep pressing, Keep pressing" if needed...until the shot goes off.
     
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  12. Wichaka

    Wichaka Member

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    I take it that this original post is about bulls eye / precision shooting, as shooting slow vs shooting fast is different.
     
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  13. Ralph III

    Ralph III Member

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    Hello All,
    I realize this is an old thread and I do not desire to insult anyone, however there are numerous points the OP stated that are simply incorrect. Just FYI, I've been hunting/shooting for over 46 years and I am also an accomplished athlete (tennis) which is highly relevant as well. I apologize for the long post but it’s necessary to elaborate.


    1. The OP stated…."The first principle of accurate shooting is trigger control".

    That isn’t correct. The first principle of accurate shooting, whether pistol or rifle, is having a solid stance or platform. This is applicable with sports as well and there is no getting around it.

    In regards to pistol shooting:

    *It starts with having a stance that is both effective and comfortable to you. Whether that is a Weaver stance, a modified Weaver stance, an Isosceles stance or any other practical stance.

    *Next, you need to develop a good grip with solid support from your arms and upper body.

    At this point you are using your entire body to aid and stabilize your shooting. You want to create as stable a platform as possible because this will have the greatest impact on accuracy or lack thereof.

    The OP is also mistaken to say that the grip is "Way down the pyramid of skills” and that good trigger control would allow you to be accurate with even a "bad” grip. That assertion is highly flawed and the OP is misinterpreting what a bad grip is. He is simply describing a highly impractical or unorthodox grip. Neither of which would have an affect on accuracy as long as you can put the gun on target.

    A bad grip however would be one that doesn’t allow you to hold the gun steady. A bad grip would be one that tends to pull the gun off target. A bad grip would be one that impedes your trigger finger or that doesn’t allow a smooth trigger pull. In these instances you will not be able to consistently keep the gun on target and no amount of trigger control will ever compensate for that. So the OP is simply wrong in his reasoning because the grip not only helps support the gun but it plays an intricate role with trigger control.

    Does the OP teach that the one handed grip is fully sufficient and can be used in lieu of the two handed grip? No, I doubt. We use the two handed grip because it offers great stability for both accuracy and follow up shots. That alone speaks volumes of the importance of the grip.

    2. The OP is also wrong to put trigger management ahead of sight alignment. If you cannot put the gun on target or the gun isn’t on target as you fire; it doesn’t matter what degree of trigger control you have. You may be very smooth but you are not going to be accurate. On the other hand, as long as you have a minimal amount of trigger control (pull trigger straight back) you can be accurate. It’s just folly to suggest trigger control supersedes all the basics (stance, grip, sight alignment) and that is what the OP has done. Trigger control is important but it is one of those finesse aspects that can take you from being an adequate shooter to a highly proficient shooter.

    3. While I agree with the concept of the surprise trigger break, I do not agree with how it is presented. The OP emphasizes the surprise break as if it is the technique to develop, while he limits discussion on what is truly important?

    a) First, the surprise trigger break isn’t a technique. It is the result of technique. Serving aces on the tennis court isn’t a technique either. It’s the result of technique.

    b) Not everyone agrees to the surprise trigger break concept while many others do, myself included. There is really nothing wrong with either approach though because the surprise trigger break isn’t what truly matters. What truly matters is your ability to focus on your target and the task at hand while insuring you execute a smooth trigger pull. The former rarely gets mentioned and yet it is the most important aspect for accuracy for advanced shooters, IMHO.

    4) The OP’s statement “... if you try to make the shot break at that one instant in time when everything seem steady and aligned, you usually wind up jerking the trigger” is also incorrect. I’ve seen that notion regurgitated by many pros and it is simply wrong. It also ignores what the real issue is; jerking the trigger.

    Short story: My father(Ralph Jr) started taking me hunting when I was 7 yrs old. He was an excellent shot from his youth but he also had formal training having served in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. At that time he gave me some very basic instruction as did his closest friend and my life-long mentor (Robert), who earned his expert marksmanship badge as a Marine. I'm very astute and as I grew I developed my own techniques (breathing control, heart rate control, trigger control, focus). So by the time I was in my late teens I had become equal to them as a shooter and maybe even slightly better in other aspects. Continuing: The land we hunted on was pristine and had many beautiful acorn flats. Consequently, it was quite common for us to take shots nearing 200yds and through very tight windows. So I would have to pick a hole and pull the trigger at the very instance a moving or trotting deer entered that narrow space. With those true intercept shots I knew precisely when and where I would pull the trigger.

    Jerking the trigger isn’t the result of someone consciously pulling the trigger at a specific time. It’s the result of poor mental focus and a poor trigger pull.


    ---------The above is my major objections. The following is just minor pet peeves--------


    *The OP mentions the 4 levels of competence from "unconscious incompetence" to "unconscious competence". Without going into specifics it is absolutely unnecessary to bring such up and irrelevant gibberish. People would be much better served by suggesting books on how to improve mental focus/toughness (sports psychology) or games to help improve concentration (chess) or trigger drills (balancing something on barrel, snap caps).

    *Can we please refrain from re-inventing the wheel! The term you use whether “pulling the trigger”, “squeezing the trigger” or “pressing the trigger” does not matter one iota. All that matters is how you convey the term. Personally I do not like the term “press” because it’s counter-intuitive. A quick search of a “trigger press gauge” on the internet would reveal that. Irrespective, our fathers and forefathers were able to survive off the land and save the world on TWO occasions using terms such as “pull” and “squeeze” but that is somehow no longer sufficient, please.

    *The term “Practice makes Perfect” is a phrase which has sufficed for about 500 yrs now. There is also no reason to correct that by saying only “Perfect Practice makes Perfect”. That term is actually even less accurate because nobody ever experiences a perfect practice. There is always room for improvement. Secondly, when I practice tennis I am simply attempting to be good. I most definitely am not attempting to be perfect because that would be counter productive. I realize pistol practice is a little different but the term “practice makes perfect” is fully sufficient.

    For me the above things come across as people attempting to seem supremely knowledgeable as if everyone in the past had it all wrong. That's really unnecessary and instead of relying so heavily on simple terms or slogans; I'd hope an instructor would instead rely more on his interaction with pupils.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    This post is only meant to correct a few things and to offer some constructive criticism. In no way is it meant to be insulting. I truly appreciate that the OP has a desire to help others by sharing his knowledge. I do however feel the OP may wish to reconsider some of his teaching methods and some of his terminology.

    God Bless,
    Ralph
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2019
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  14. 9mmepiphany

    9mmepiphany Moderator Staff Member

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    While that may be "incorrect" in your perception through your experience, it has been proven to be correct through testing and studies since the 70s.

    You can have the perfect stance, grip, sight alignment, and still have your shot ruined through poor trigger control/management.

    Perhaps you misunderstood the meaning of the OP's statement. When you try to "make" a shot go off at a particulate instant...the result is a jerked trigger

    The reason you see it repeated by "many pros" is because research, much of it international, has proven it to be correct

    The reason that the use of "Press" have evolved to dominate modern training is because "pulling" and "squeezing" were perceived to mean different things to students.
    "Pull" is often perceived to mean "Jerk"
    "Squeeze" has been found to be convene the idea of squeezing with the whole hand

    It isn't sufficient because is has been determined that many people were practicing incorrect techniques...which only resulted in them perfecting (relatively) a less than optimal technique. Practicing something flawed, doesn't make it less flawed.

    Of course nothing is perfect. It was just made for a catchier phrase than Practicing Correct Techniques Will Make You Better or Optimal Practice Makes Optimal :p

    The above is also not meant to be insulting, but only to clarify some mis-perceptions for future readers
     
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  15. 9mmepiphany

    9mmepiphany Moderator Staff Member

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    You'd be mistaken about the original focus. As stated in the OP, it is about accurate shooting...placing shots where you intend them to go

    Regardless of the application (target, casual, Action Pistol, defensive) the basics of putting shots accurately onto an intended target doesn't change how the trigger is manipulated
     
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  16. Frank Ettin

    Frank Ettin Moderator Staff Member

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    And I disagree with that. While there's no doubt that solid platform can be important and enhance accuracy, as 9mmepiphany put it:

    Also, in connection with the practical use of firearms, one might not always have the luxury of being able to take an optimal solid stance or shooting position, especially when one is forced by exigent circumstances to use a gun in self defense. If one must shoot from an unconventional posture or improvised position, good trigger control is vital.

    Similar things can be said for grip and sight alignment. On can have a perfect grip and align the sights exactly, but if he mashes or jerks the trigger he will miss. And, again especially when forced to defend oneself with a gun, perfect grip or sight alignment might not be reasonably possible.

    I've certainly seen, at public ranges, hordes of folks firing their pistols at targets no more than 7 to 10 yards down range who couldn't manage to get two shots within a foot of each other on the target. Poor sight alignment could not account for such dismal performance.

    I've helped teach hundreds of complete novices the basics of shooting. For the last 10 years or so I've been with a group of instructors putting on a monthly NRA Basic Handgun class. Probably 80% to 90% of our students had never touched a real gun before. Our class enrollment runs 20% to 40% female. We have students of all ages from early 20s to us more seasoned types. We've had entire families attend together. So I have experience putting into practice, with good success, everything I've written.
     
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  17. LiveLife

    LiveLife Member

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    I disagree and agree with the OP.

    I have taught/shared defensive point shooting and emphasized the need to be able to shoot accurately/consistently from all shooting positions whether solid/stable or not and trigger control is fundamental - https://www.thehighroad.org/index.p...-help-me-speed-up.824618/page-4#post-10902444

    And to shoot accurately/consistently, I have them practice releasing the hammer/striker without moving the front sight - To me, and to Rob Leatham, it is the foundation for shooting accurate - https://www.thehighroad.org/index.p...-help-me-speed-up.824618/page-4#post-10902452


    OP is not flawed at all and I shatter this shooting myth when I demonstrate defensive point shooting by shooting various 9mm/40S&W/45ACP pistols with just the thumb and the middle finger wrapped around the pistol grip (Very poor grip). I tell people 4th and 5th fingers are there just for "moral" support and can often contribute to input on grip to move the POI away from POA. ;)

    After I demonstrate controlled shooting various pistols with just two fingers, including fast double taps at multiple targets, I have the students do the same and they are amazed, especially female shooters, that they can control even 45ACP 1911 pistol with just two fingers and manage to shoot rapidly at multiple targets.

    I then demonstrate point shooting from unstable and unconventional positions such as sitting, lying flat (Never know, we may have to defend ourselves while in bed) and even across the chest while looking straight and shooting to the left all to debunk the myth we have been told for decades.

    Once again, this is false.

    When I teach/share defensive point shooting, sights are not used at all and even tape up the front sight to discourage use of sights. And the shocker? I have them shoot their initial shots with their eyes closed :eek: so they can find their "natural point of aim" and synchronize with point of impact - https://www.thehighroad.org/index.p...-help-me-speed-up.824618/page-4#post-10902245

    At 1:25 minute mark of below video, Rob Leatham demonstrates shooting accurate with EYES CLOSED thus not using sights. Shooting with eyes closed involves shooter's ability to produce consistent trigger management without the use of sights - https://www.thehighroad.org/index.p...-help-me-speed-up.824618/page-4#post-10902230



    And D. R. Middlebrooks demonstrates fast shooting at multiple moving targets without using sights



    Even out to 100 yards



    Amen ... This is the core foundation of point shooting and "Zen" of shooting that many match shooters employ/strive towards.

    And why point shoot without using sights

     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2019
  18. bearcreek

    bearcreek Member

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    Seems like trying to rank things like sight alignment vs. trigger control in order of importance is like debating which of the 4 wheels on a car is the most important.
     
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  19. 9mmepiphany

    9mmepiphany Moderator Staff Member

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    It really isn't. Folks who have taken the time to study the subject and who have been teaching it for some time all understand that trigger control is the most important factor.

    There shouldn't be much debate about it after all the years of study and testing. It doesn't even matter which handgun shooting discipline we are talking about, the basis of accurate shooting will always boil down to trigger control.

    You can debate the importance of grip and sight alignment some. There are even some folks who believe that stance plays more than a minor role. But anyone willing to question the primary importance of trigger control, unless there is a physical limitation, is basing their opinion on flawed reasoning
     
  20. 9mmepiphany

    9mmepiphany Moderator Staff Member

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    You might be surprised how far out of alignment your handgun sights can be and still place shots onto a target from a reasonable distance.

    Try taking shots with the front sight (1) centered in the rear notch, (2) all the way to the right side of the notch, and (3) all the way to the left side of the notch. At a distance of 10 yards, all 3 shots should still be within 6"-8" (IDPA -0 zone)...if you are using correct trigger control
     
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  21. bearcreek

    bearcreek Member

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    At a distance of 10 yards, you can shoot an 8 inch group with marginal trigger control as well. Same thing. Distance accentuates deficiencies in both trigger control and sight alignment.

    Anyone willing to question the primary importance of having the sights aligned with the target in order to hit it is basing their opinion on flawed reasoning.:thumbup:
     
  22. Frank Ettin

    Frank Ettin Moderator Staff Member

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    And how do you [think you] know this? It certainly doesn't match my experience. At 10 yards a modest trigger jerk can displace a shot a good deal more than 8 inches.

    Phooey!

    Still the reality, as observed time and time again, is that poor trigger management can cause much greater error than misalignment of sights.
     
  23. film495

    film495 Member

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    I checked sight alignment on one of my pistols a few months ago - well, what I did was at about 30 feet - see how far off POI would be if I had the sight picture horribly aligned and could barley see the front post. It was only off by about 4 inches - with the sight picture aligned that poorly. IMHO if you are missing badly and/or are all over the place - you are flinching and/or need to practice the trigger. I do however, never really see any information out there on how to know if you are actually pulling the trigger straight back. My take on that is - hold your pistol where you can see the top, and watch how much side to side movement there is at the moment when the trigger is pulled (dry firing). I did this and on one pistol and the front of the barrel moved side to side probably more than 1/4" at the instant the hammer landed. I was pulling straight, but it was as much my grip being a little unbalance as it was the actual trigger pull. The impact of the hammer is what was causing force to throw the front of the barrel to the right. Was this really my trigger control, or grip - don't know, but I fixed it by modifying both for that pistol.
     
  24. bearcreek

    bearcreek Member

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    Experience, observation, research and training.

    Fiddlesticks! :rofl:

    All else being equal, that depends on how poor the trigger management is and how poor the sight alignment is.

    Anyway, I'm bowing out of this one. It's been fun but this discussion isn't going to get anywhere. ;)
     
  25. jmorris

    jmorris Member

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    Like everything it depends.

    I don’t treat a 2oz trigger on a benchrest rifle the same as a DAO revolver.

    One you don’t touch before you are ready to fire and the other you might “prep” as you are indexing to the next target. No right or wrong if you have found something that works for you and wins.

    Sometimes one doesn’t even need to use sights to shoot accurately.



    Try shooting from the hip not using something to aim at a bench rest match and you’ll get less than ideal results.

    You just can’t generalize every discipline.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2019
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