Why you need to keep your finger off the trigger…

I’m part of a few instructor groups online and a question was recently posed about an agency who’s policy is to scan for threats with the trigger finger on the trigger and the slack taken up.

The response was pretty much universal…if your sights are on your intended target, the finger goes on the trigger.  If your sights aren’t on your intended target, your finger goes off the trigger.

But why?

A lot of people have their finger on the trigger while scanning for targets or even while clearing their house or searching for potential threats.

Having your finger on the trigger saves time and allows you to respond to a threat quicker.

Doesn’t it?

It depends.

I want to encourage you to try a drill a few times…either with live fire or dry fire if you have a shot timer that can pick up your dry fire presses.

If you’ve got a MantisX, you can do the Compressed Surprise Break drill, although your times will probably be a little slower when using the Mantis than a dedicated shot timer because of the fact that your phone is doing so much stuff.

Here’s the drill.

Set a long delay on a shot timer…3-5 seconds.

With your shooting hand, aim at a target 6-10 feet in front of you.  Ideally, it would be a small target…1-2″ in diameter.  You can do this with either a pistol or carbine.

Hit the start button on your shot timer with your support hand and then get a support hand grip on your gun.

Take up the slack on the trigger.

When the beeper goes off, press the trigger as quickly as possible.  Re-holster or set down your gun so you can record your time, and repeat the drill until you have 5 times recorded.  I would suggest picking a target size of 1, 2, or 4″ and only writing down the times where you hit the target.  You may even want to figure out your speeds for different levels of accuracy.

I just stepped outside and did this on a steel torso target at 65 yards and my average time was .26.  (an 18″ torso at 65 yards is equivalent to .92″ at 10 feet)  When I’m on my game, I’m in the .15-.17 range.

Next repeat the drill with your trigger finger indexed high on the frame…not covering the trigger guard, but placed so that if you squeeze your trigger finger, it won’t go into the trigger guard.  From the index position, it should take 2 movements to touch the trigger…rotating the finger down and curling it in.  Again, you want to record your times and your group size.

My average time today was .39…when I’m on my game it’s about .30.

This is going to tell you a few things…

  1. What’s the quickest you can press the trigger without disturbing sight alignment?
  2. What’s the difference between the fastest time you can react and the fastest time you can react and still actually hit what you’re aiming at?
  3. How big of a difference does speed make on accuracy?
  4. How much of a delay does indexing add?

For me, indexing adds about .15 seconds.  If you haven’t practiced this drill before, it can easily add a quarter to a half second…or even a second or more when the accuracy demands of the shot are higher.

What’s this all mean?

First off, it may be an eye-opener if you find out that you really need to slow down to hit what you’re aiming at.

Second, the delay that indexing adds may cause you to think that you should put your finger on the trigger before you’ve decided you’re going to shoot–don’t.

Here’s the thing…

There are mechanisms in the body that can cause you to press your trigger finger before you realize what’s happening.  3 of them are:

  1. The startle reflex…when you respond to a surprise stimulus like a car door slamming, Taser going off, book dropping, sneezing, someone else’s gun firing, etc.
  2. Tripping, stumbling, or losing balance.
  3. The interlimb reflex…this happens when you use one hand to grab something, key a mic on a radio, or try to use a phone, and the fingers on your opposite hand flex without you knowing it.

These are all more pronounced as stress levels go up.

The speed of these actions depends on several factors, but a good rule of thumb is that they happen in about 20 milliseconds or .02 seconds…sometimes .1 seconds.  And, if you wanted to stop them, you’d need reaction times quicker than that.

Now, look back at your reaction times where you KNEW the timer was going to go off and see what your reaction times were.

If your reaction times aren’t quicker than .02-.1 seconds, it’s a good indication that you couldn’t stop the sympathetic or interlimb reflexes before they happen…and you don’t want your trigger finger hanging out in the trigger guard unless your muzzle is pointed at something you intend to shoot.  To be clear, this isn’t something that is practical to overcome with years of training.  They’re hard-wired survival reflexes that have many benefits and “overcoming them” would decrease your survivability.

But it gets worse…

I’ve done drills with shooters where a green light = shoot and a red light = don’t shoot (and vice-versa).

They start off shooting when the shoot light turns on and they’re supposed to shoot until they neutralize the threat (as signaled by the light changing).

When a shooter is operating on simple binary visual input, it takes .20-.30 seconds (or more) to “take back” the decision to shoot, regardless of reaction times.  The reason has to do with processing speeds in the brain, the time it takes to transmit signals from the brain to the muscles, and other similar factors.

But what about the time that you lose by having your trigger finger indexed?

There are 3 easy ways to address this…

  1. Reduce your reaction time by practicing the reaction drills…both with your trigger finger prepped and indexed.  Just practicing it will help speed up the quality and precision of motor signals that your brain sends to your hand.  We go into more drills on improving trigger finger speed and precision in the Praxis Gunfight Training.
  2. Cheat by starting earlier…Add a couple of “X-Factors” into the equation in the form of situational awareness and quicker vision.  The sooner you can identify the pre-incident indicators of aggressive movement, the sooner you can react to it.  It’s like getting a jump-start on your attacker.  You can do this with a combination of situational awareness and Tactical Vision Training so that you can actually see threats quicker.
  3. Slow down your attacker’s plan with movement so that you’re not where they were planning to attack and they have to re-orient to what you have done.

The combination of these three things will more than make up for any delay that you experience as a result of having your trigger finger indexed…and you gain a TON of safety in the process.

But it all starts with the proper training.

Training that lets you build skills you can trust your life to that squeezes the most out of every minute that you have available for training.

If you’re not currently following a structured dry fire training program, you’re missing out.

Finding a drill here and a drill there may be fun, but it’s not very efficient.

What you want are drills that are specifically designed to take advantage of how the brain learns quickest…a fun variety of drills that will take you from where you are as a shooter to where you know you need to be as quickly as possible.

And, one of the best resources available at any price is our Praxis Gunfight Training, which will show you how to dramatically improve your trigger finger isolation, the intensity that you can grip and still run your trigger finger, and the speed that you can run your trigger finger without disturbing sight alignment…under varying stress conditions, at odd angles, off balance, and on the move.  Learn more now by clicking >HERE<





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  • Julie

    Reply Reply September 21, 2020

    Unless you are in an already hostile encounter, where you know beyond a doubt that you need to shoot the next person you see, I cannot think of any good reason for finger on the trigger. And I might only give that reason 50/50 depending on other factors.

  • Steve Emmerling

    Reply Reply November 13, 2019

    I think that was one of the best things you have sent out , should save lives if people try it .

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