Handgun Skills with Daniel Shaw | Why You’re Probably Pressing The Trigger Wrong

Handgun Skills challenge with Daniel Shaw, retired US Marine Infantry Unit Leader with multiple combat tours and instructor titles

At the beginning of my Handgun Vitals program, I start with diagnostic drills to see what skills the students brought to class. On average, about 95% of shots fired strike below the aiming area in every class. After talking through each student’s target with the entire class together, I ask why. 
gun target shots
One of the most common groups I see with right handed shooters. Left handed shooters often miss low and right, but both righties and lefties sometimes group low and to the opposite side. It all depends on how they flinch just prior to the shot breaking.
I hear answers that sound like they come straight off of those useless shot group analysis targets. Answers such as, bucking, flinching, heeling and other meaningless unhelpful words and phrases. The most common answer is that the shooter is anticipating recoil. Anticipating recoil would be correct except the problem isn’t anticipation of recoil. The problem is an improper trigger press – the symptom is anticipation of recoil.
A lot of people claim to be better rifle shooters than they are handgun shooters and that makes sense considering the trigger issues. An AR weighing at around 8 pounds with a 4.5 pound trigger can allow the shooter to get away with a poor trigger press since the weight of the gun outweighs the amount of pressure it takes to fire. A handgun that weighs somewhere around 2 pounds and has a 4.6 pound trigger leaves no margin for error since the amount of pressure it takes to make the gun go bang outweighs the entire handgun itself. We can’t get a away with a bad trigger press on a handgun. That still doesn’t explain why people are missing because of an improper trigger press.
We miss because we press a 5 pound trigger with 17.5 pounds of pressure, sometimes 27.2 pounds of pressure. I see this with shooters in gun stores while trying out new guns. He or she checks the feel of a 5 pound trigger by pressing it with 18.75 pounds of pressure, and never actually gets to feel the trigger. When a shooter over-presses a trigger on a handgun, the handgun moves, thus causing the miss, but that isn’t the entire story.
Nighthawk Custom Shadowhawk
The Nighthawk Custom Shadow Hawk used by the author.
I have been recording video and taking pictures of new and experienced shooters for the past couple of years to gather data. I have found that almost 100% of the time when the shooter misses, he or she misses in the exact opposite direction of the path the recoil travels. Shooters who experience recoil to the high right often miss low left. I see the same result for any direction of recoil a shooter may experience.
“My analysis of the equal and opposite recoil phenomenon is that the shooters are anticipating the movement the gun makes when the gun is fired. To counteract the movement, they force the gun in the opposite direction of recoil.”
A month and a few days after I turned 17 years old, I was being addressed as recruit Shaw at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC. When it came time for rifle qualification, I heard the term “Surprise shot” for the first time. Surprise shot has its place in pure form marksmanship, be it in competition or hunting, or anytime there is little sense of urgency. It can also be a great teaching aid and I use part of the concept to do that, but I would argue against the concept being applied in defensive shooting.
The idea is that the shooter does not know when the gun will fire, and he or she adds pressure to the trigger until the gun goes bang. Without the shooter making the gun fire at a chosen instance, the result is an over-press of the trigger, and the shooter is surprised when the firearm discharges.
precision shooting
The goal is to learn how to achieve a high level of precision. Depending on the distance to target, this group may not even be as good as it should be. The group was fired at 7 yards with Nighthawk Custom 1911 Shadow Hawk.


When the surprise shot happens, the shooter’s nervous system or subconscious or whatever makes them flinch, buck, jerk, anticipate, heel (or whatever the chart says), is removed from the shot process keeping the gun is pointed where it should be. I use the idea of adding pressure to help shooters understand how to press a trigger and to help them learn the amount of pressure the handgun requires.
We could weigh our triggers and find out how many pounds of pressure it takes to make it go bang, but that number wouldn’t mean anything to our brain or finger doing the pressing. We have to feel it to understand our perception of the pressure required. Then we have to practice to make the application of that exact amount of pressure repeatable. The entire idea is that we press the trigger with the exact amount of pressure required without moving the gun. Contrary to popular belief, the application of this pressure does not have to be slow.
Apex trigger kit
Apex trigger kit on an ATEi modified Glock 19. Learn to press triggers correctly through practice before trying to purchase skill. Buying a better trigger will help with the symptoms, but it doesn’t correct the problem.


The Drill

Aim and place your finger on the trigger. Maintain your sight picture and add an almost unnoticeable amount of pressure to the trigger. We will refer to that almost unnoticeable amount of pressure as one pound. Then if the sights are still good to go, add another pound of pressure and so on. If at anytime the gun no longer points at the desired aiming area, hold until a proper picture has returned and then continue adding another pound. The gun will go bang and you will have used the exact amount of pressure necessary to make that gun go bang.
Most people at this point experience an immediate improvement on groups and accuracy, but at a slower pace than normal for the shooter. Lets get faster at pressing the trigger precisely and then speed up the press while leaving out the part where we move the gun.
1911 trigger
The 1911 trigger is the trigger that all others are measured against. The trigger on my Nighthawk Custom 1911 is outstanding among 1911 triggers.


Give it a try the next time you are at the range and share this with someone else. 


About the Author: Daniel Shaw

Daniel Shaw is a retired US Marine Infantry Unit Leader with multiple combat tours and instructor titles. He has developed curricula and training standards for pre-deployment training and Marine Security Forces such as the Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Teams (FAST) and the Naval Nuclear Security Program. His direct action experience includes Level IV VBSS and In Extremis Hostage Rescue. Daniel has been a DOD/USMC firearms instructor for over 16 years. Since retirement from the Marine Corps, Daniel has gained over 4 years of experience teaching Armed Citizens, Law Enforcement Officers, and Active Duty Military. He holds numerous instructor certifications from the US Marine Corps to include foreign weapons and master instructor of handgun, rifle/carbine, shotgun, and medium to heavy machine guns.

Daniel takes his life of training and combat experience and develops as well as presents curriculum and also creates digital media content to help Law Enforcement, US Military and responsible Armed Citizens prepare for a deadly force encounter. Daniel was named instructor of the year for 2015 by the Kansas State Rifle Association and serves as sitting committee member and consultant to the KSRA training committee. Daniel is also a Cabela’s pro staff team member. As Cabela’s only Pro Staff Member with expertise in the defense and tactical arena, Daniel works to help Cabela’s reach defense and tactical end users with quality products as well as training and information.  Daniel travels the US teaching and training under his company Shaw Strategies.

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