I have a problem with how we as shooters, and how firearms instructors, teach the fundamentals of marksmanship to new shooters. Specifically, I have a problem with how instructors stress sight alignment and sight picture, without reconciling these two core fundamentals with trigger control. This issue is compounded exponentially when it comes to pistol marksmanship.
It happens all the time. You’re on the firing line at the local pistol range and someone lands a shot low and left, or maybe just wildly off target. Their shooting buddy looks over their shoulder and says “you jerked the trigger” or “you yanked the trigger” or some variation of the phrase. So you see the trigger jerker reset, try to relax, breathe a little, and rock on.
What we don’t seem to think about is the relationship between these three core fundamentals, and I attribute this to how we teach them to new shooters. There is a relationship between jerking the trigger, and sight alignment and sight picture.
Think about it. When a new shooter is taken up to the firing line one of the key talking points drilled into them by their instructor is the correct sight alignment and sight picture. The front sight must be clear, with the top of the front sight post level with the top of the rear sight, and equal light on either side of the front sight. The perfect, ideal sight picture. The sight picture a new shooter hardly ever sees.
The human body is an amazing piece of biology, but we aren’t machines. Holding an object out at arms length perfectly level and still for some period of time is not humanly possible. There will always be some wiggle, some wobble, some amount of movement that can be seen by the naked eye.
This is the first pitfall of stressing perfect sight alignment and sight picture: it simply does not occur very often due to the biological nature of our body.
The second pitfall is how trigger control is taught to new shooters, or rather, the lack of teaching trigger control to new shooters. “Pull the trigger smoothly and straight to the rear”, “keep pulling till the trigger breaks”, “let the trigger/gun surprise you” or some variation of these phrases, dominates the firearms structor lexicon. None of these phrases is worth a damn to new shooters, and letting the trigger/gun surprise you is just plain foolish. What movement of the trigger finger constitutes a smooth movement? What kind of trigger finger placement should the shooter use? Can or should they pull using the first distal joint only? Can/should the knuckle joint be involved? Can a trigger be pulled straight to the rear? All these questions, and more! The trouble is, these questions are rarely asked, and a lot of instructors I’ve seen on the firing line don’t make mention of these factors.
This creates an unfortunate situation where a new shooter is overwhelmed by the need to consciously maintain the correct sight alignment and sight picture, while manipulating a trigger with a finger that has, heretofore, rarely moved in the biomechanical pattern required to operate a pistol trigger. Like it or not, the mind-muscle connection takes a lengthy period of time to manifest. This typically results in a new shooter rushing to get onto the trigger as soon as the perfect sight alignment and sight picture is obtained, and lo and behold, the shot lands low and left, or just wildly off target. The instructor/shooting buddy remarks “you jerked the trigger”, without breaking down the potential reasons why. The shooter resets, not knowing any better, and the cycle continues.
The relationship between sight alignment, sight picture, and jerking the trigger therefore is simple. Stressing sight alignment and sight picture, while stressing the need for good trigger control without explaining what that actually means, is simply setting a new shooter up for failure. For new shooters reading this: accept the fact that you won’t have the perfect sight alignment and sight picture all the time. In fact you’ll only have it some of the time, at best. Most of the time that front sight will be wobbling around slightly. Don’t worry too much about it. Don’t focus so much on the front sight that you forget to exercise good trigger control. The sights aren’t going anywhere. They won’t mysteriously and spontaneously drift so far off target that paying less attention to the sights and more attention “perfect” trigger pull will result in a miss. The body might not be a machine, but its pretty damn good at keeping still. Focus on your trigger pull instead. It will pay dividends. I’ll talk about trigger control in another post.
As Gun-fu Jedi Master Mike Pannone from CTT Solutions in the USA puts it: “shoot the sights”. When the sights are on target, in the correct alignment, you must decide on your acceptable level of accuracy and balance that with speed and trigger control. And whatever you do, do not let that trigger surprise you, but that’s another topic for another post.
And for anyone out there suspecting it, yes, I am. Just a little.
Stay sharp, stay safe.