Trigger Finger Placement

Back To Basics
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(Left) Finger “pad” placement works well with the short, light trigger pull of this High Standard .22 Target pistol.
(Right) Longer, heavier pull of this double-action-only SIG P250 .45 ACP makes distal joint finger placement advantageous.

Subtleties matter. Individuality matters. And for both of those reasons, exactly how you place your finger on the trigger matters. We’ve all heard the old saying, “The devil is in the details.” I try to balance that with the classic statement widely attributed to the great architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, “God is in the details.”

To get good hits with a handgun, I have long believed a controlled trigger press is “the heart of the beast.” But the heart of anything is made up of that organ’s valves and chambers and synergy with the lungs and the circulatory system. In the same (no pun intended) vein, telling folks to “just bring the trigger straight back without pulling the muzzle off target” doesn’t cover all of the little elements involved in making that possible.

And one of those elements is, exactly what part of the trigger finger should contact the face of the trigger in the first place?

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Placement options for a controlled trigger squeeze are the fingertip (1), the pad of the finger (2), and the distal joint (3).

Tools And Techniques

We must adapt the tool to the task. Some people forget we must also adapt the technique to the task. Traditionally, we have looked to target shooting champions for techniques allowing us to shoot well in tasks that might be the same as theirs—target shooting in the given champion’s same discipline—but also might be starkly different, such as hunting or fighting. We have to remember different tasks might require different techniques as well as different tools.

Since the dawn of organized “target pistol shooting” in the 19th century, trigger finger placement assumed a heavy pistol that hung steady on a still target, with a very light trigger pull a layman might even call a “hair trigger,” and ample time to aim and release the shot. The classic example is NRA bull’s-eye, where Rapid Fire means five shots in 10 seconds, and a 2.5-pound trigger is allowed in everything but the Distinguished event and President’s Hundred competition. If “Rapid Fire” suddenly becomes five shots in 1 second before an onrushing psycho can reach you with his knife, and you’re an NYPD cop with a lightGlock 19 pistol and the department-mandated “New York Plus” (NY-2)trigger system requiring nearly 12 pounds of pressure, the task and the tool have both changed profoundly. So, therefore, must the technique.

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Leverage

Leverage gives power, and power controls. The more we go toward “lighter gun with heavier trigger pull,” the more leverage we need if we’re going to hold the gun steady on target as the shot is fired. There are three trigger finger “sweet spots” generally recommended: the tip of the finger, the “pad” of the finger, and the distal, or farthest, joint.

“Tip” of finger is an old theory, based on the presumption it is the most sensitive part. That might be true if the task is to determine the roughness of the trigger’s surface, but it does little to “control” the trigger. In fact, using the very tip of the digit tends to push the gun left for a right-handed shooter, and vice-versa for a southpaw. Fingertip placement pretty much demands a very light pull if you’re going to have good control of the trigger.

“Pad” is best described as the center of the whorl of the fingerprint. It’s where most top competitors with auto pistols having short trigger pulls place their fingers. It is also where the designers of many handguns, notably the Glock and the long trigger versions of the 1911, assumed the index finger of an average-size adult male hand would rest when the gun was held straight in line with the forearm. It doesn’t give a whole lot more leverage than the fingertip, but in many or perhaps most hands it aligns the bone structure of the hand to permit a natural straight-back pull.

“Distal joint” placement was known to double-action revolver masters as “the power crease.” The reason is, this finger positioning allows you to exert much more power pulling the finger back toward yourself. Stiffen up your support hand index finger and pretend it’s a resistant trigger, put your trigger finger on it as if it was a trigger, and see and feel for yourself. This remains the most effective way for most people to bring most heavy triggers straight back without deviating the muzzle off target.

Of course, there’s a lot more to good shooting than just trigger finger placement. I wouldn’t twist my hand into an awkward position to get trigger leverage if the trigger was too far forward to fit my hand, because that could compromise my grasp, reducing recoil control and even weakening the hold enough to induce a malfunction in some auto pistols. Each of us has to adapt our hand to the gun… but if the gun is not mandatory issue for police or military service, we have the option of buying a gun that fits our hand, in terms of trigger finger placement and other respects.

Of course, there is much more to trigger control than just finger placement, and we’ll get into that next time.

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