Marksmanship Fundamentals, Part I: Sights & Trigger

  When it comes to accurately firing a pistol, two of the most important factors are your abilities to use the sights and press the trigger. A tricked out gun and sub-second drawstroke won't be any help outside of contact distance if you lack the ability to accurately put rounds on target. First, let's talk about sights.


  For the purposes of this article I'm going to assume that you have fixed sights and I will not get into sight adjustments. Most pistol sights have a single-post front sight and a two-post rear sight. When you line up the sights to aim, the front sight should be centered between the rear sight posts and the top edges of all three posts should be level with one another. This is called proper sight alignment. The NRA Guide to Basics of Pistol Shooting defines sight alignment as "the proper relationship between the front and rear sights".

Proper sight alignment

   Your focus should be on the top edge of the front sight while the rear sight and target are visible, but out of focus. This is called proper sight picture. The NRA Guide to Basics of Pistol Shooting defines sight picture as "the proper relationship of the aligned sights with the target". In his book, Green Eyes & Black Rifles, SGM (Ret) Kyle Lamb of Viking Tactics combines the concepts of sight alignment and sight picture into a single definition, "properly aligning your front sight with your rear sight and then superimposing them on the target".

Proper sight picture

  Most front pistol sights have a bright dot, tritium vial, or fiber optic rod to naturally draw your focus. These are great for fast shooting at relatively close distances. However, at extended distances or in instances where a great deal of precision is required, you should focus on the top edge of the front sight as opposed to the dot, tritium, etc. that is below the top edge.

  When firing at speed, you should focus on and track the front sight through the muzzle rise. This way you will be ready to press the trigger again as soon as you see the front sight settle between the rear sight posts. You may be asking yourself how you're supposed to focus on something that moves so quickly. The trick is to not blink. You'd be surprised how fast you can see when your eyes are open ;-) Seriously, I understand that it's completely natural to blink when something explodes two feet from your face, but this is something that you must train out of your system as it is detrimental to fast follow-up shots. I don't know any tricks or shortcuts to overcome this. I overcame it by shooting a lot and growing accustomed to having the explody thing two feet from my face.


  Now let's discuss trigger manipulation. We'll start with proper trigger finger placement. Many instructors will tell you to contact the trigger with the pad of your index finger. Others may tell you to use the crease in the first joint of your index finger. In my experience, though, proper trigger finger placement is specific to each shooter and pistol. People have many different sized hands and pistols have many different sized grips. Grip your pistol in such a way that you contact the trigger with the part of your index finger that allows you to most easily press the trigger straight to the rear. If you are contacting the trigger with too much or too little index finger, you may push or pull shots off target.

Trigger finger placement is specific to each shooter and pistol.

  Trigger control is arguably the most crucial component of accurate pistol shooting. Kyle Lamb describes trigger control as "maintaining sufficient sight alignment while squeezing the trigger." Meaning that poor trigger control (i.e., jerking the trigger, pulling the trigger, etc.) will interrupt your sight alignment. When you press the trigger, focus on being smooth and consistent. I tell my students not to think of the trigger as a button they're pressing to make the gun fire, but to concentrate on pressing it smoothly, consistently, and straight to the rear. The gun will fire when it fires and you don't need to worry about it. The NRA Guide to Basics of Pistol Shooting calls this a surprise break. "The goal of this technique is to produce a "surprise break," in which the shooter cannot predict the exact moment at which the gun will fire." Dry-fire is an excellent way to practice the surprise break. Focus on your front sight while dry-firing a cleared pistol. If the "shot" breaks and you see little to no movement from the front sight, you're doing it right. An excellent dry-fire drill is to place an empty pistol casing on your front sight and then execute a proper trigger press. If the casing doesn't fall you're practicing sufficient trigger control. Begin with both hands and once you've gotten the hang of that, move to single hand only.

Dry-fire is an excellent way to practice trigger control.

  Trigger reset is the point at which the trigger has mechanically reset and is ready to be pressed again. After the shot breaks and the pistol has cycled, keep your finger on the trigger, ride it back to the reset point, and fire again if necessary. Most firearms have an audible, tactile reset, making this fairly easy to do. The benefit is that you have eliminated the need to "take the slack out" of the trigger before the next shot and have reduced the odds of making an error like "slapping" the trigger. However, as you progress in your pistol prowess and are able to shoot faster, riding the trigger to the exact point of reset may actually hinder you. The goal is to maintain contact with the trigger, so if you let the trigger go slightly past reset, but are able to go faster and maintain sufficient accuracy, then do it.


  One final element to both sight and trigger use is follow-through. The NRA Guide to Basics of Pistol Shooting defines follow-through as "the effort made by the shooter to integrate, maintain, and continue all shooting fundamentals before, during and immediately after firing the shot." After every shot, even if you intend it to be your last, maintain contact with the trigger, ride it to reset, and re-acquire sight alignment and sight picture. If you find yourself pulling the gun back in as soon as your shot breaks, you're not following through. This is something with which I often struggle. Kyle Lamb says, "If you are squeezing the trigger slowly straight to the rear... but as soon as the weapon fires, you quickly release the trigger to get ready to shoot again, then you are not following through." Always follow through. This will help your accuracy as well as prepare you for follow-up shots if necessary. Stay safe and shoot often!