Trigger Control vs. Follow Through
It is commonly taught that Aiming and Trigger Control are the most important Marksmanship Fundamentals. However, I am about to make the case that poor Follow-Through is often misdiagnosed as poor Trigger Control.
There is a reason the NRA recommends using smaller caliber guns (like .22LR) in order to help remove distractions. Aiming and trigger control is the same on an M&P .22 as it is on an M&P 9mm; however, the psychological response to recoil is significantly different.
Trigger Control is a mechanical process, while Follow-Through is a mental process.
If you can’t already tell, this post is going to be on the nerdier side of firearms training.
This blog post and other content on this website DOES NOT constitute or form an instructor-student relationship between the author (me) and the reader (you). Online education can only supplement in-person formal instruction, it cannot replace it. It is your responsibility to understand the firearm laws in your area and to follow the Firearms Safety Rules.
What it is
Trigger control is the skillful manipulation of the trigger that causes the gun to fire without disturbing sight alignment or sight picture.
Note, the animation above is just a loop of two images, rather than a video of a trigger press. However, note the small change in position of the front sight post between the two frames. It should be your goal to not disturb the front sight post in any way. If someone were watching you dry-fire and they were watching the front sight post for movement, the only indication that you pressed the trigger should be a “click” with zero movement of the front sight post.
Basically, when you press the trigger to the rear, it should be done in a manner that does not move the gun.
Poor trigger control, commonly referred to as “jerking the trigger”, causes the gun to move milliseconds before the shot breaks, thus resulting in poor accuracy and precision. Jerking the trigger typically causes right handed shooters’ shots to fall low and left, while left handed shooters typically hit the target low and right.
How it is performed
Most people think of trigger manipulation as a “pull”. The problem with the term “pull”, is that it can subtly lead someone to manipulate the trigger in a way that moves the gun and disturbs the sight picture. Thus, the phrase “press the trigger to the rear” was adopted in an attempt to inculcate the idea of carefully manipulating the trigger rearward without any side movement.
One analogy I like to use is to relate trigger press to the board game Operation. In Operation, you are required to extract small game piece with tweezers, while not touching the edges of the game. Think of pressing the trigger in this same manner. The trigger travels rearward between two channels, imagine that you do not want the trigger to touch either the right or the left side of this channel as it moves rearward. See the animation below for a visual explanation.
With a little bit of instruction and a few dozen repetitions, most people can press the trigger without disturbing the sights during dry fire. There are numerous analogies and instructor tricks intended to help students execute proper Trigger Control, but the most effective method I know of is just to say, “press the trigger so that the sights don’t move.”
Sometimes the best way to instruct someone how to do something is to explain the desired end result.
This is analogous to instructing someone how to perform the Back Squat. There is a bunch of complex information on proper kinesthetic form intended to keep the bar path straight. However, the most effective way to maintain a straight bar path is just to think of keeping the bar over the center of your feet. Simple and effective.
What it is
Follow-Through is the continued application of the fundamentals, until the round has exited the barrel, and immediately following the shot. Note, there is nothing you can do after the round exits the barrel that would effect its ballistic trajectory, but exaggerated Follow-Through mitigates shot anticipation (flinching) and/or lowering the gun just before the shot breaks to see where the bullet went (Think of the grandma, who takes a picture and lowers the camera before the picture was taken).
Most people think of Follow-Through as it relates to sports, hence the featured image of this post. In sports, Follow-Through is the process of continuing the movement after the ball is thrown or hit. However, Follow-Through as it relates to the Fundamentals of Marksmanship occurs throughout the shot process.
How it is performed
Follow-Through is simple but not easy. If you know how to apply the fundamentals, most importantly Aiming and Trigger control, then just continue to apply these fundamentals throughout the firing process.
Dry fire Follow-Through is much easier than in live fire. When trying to execute good Follow-Through in live fire, think of it in terms of passively allowing the gun to recoil, rather than bracing the moment before the recoil. This does not mean that you should not have a good firm grip on the gun, but that your firm grip should be constant throughout the firing sequence.
Another trick is to mentally (or audibly) tell yourself that the gun will just go “click” in an attempt to trick your brain into behaving like you are conducting dry fire.
Remember, Follow-Through is psychological more than physical.
Note, as a shooter becomes more proficient, there will come a time when they learn to drive the gun to the target after recoil. The trick is not driving the gun before the recoil.
Firearms instructors often tell their students that the shot should surprise them. This is done by pressing the trigger so slowly, that the shooter does not know the exact moment the shot will break.
The reason for this, is that a small explosion happening a few feet in front of our face is not normal and we want to brace ourselves. However, this bracing causes us to disturb the sights a few milliseconds before the shot breaks.
A slow trigger press can mitigate this bracing because if the trigger is pressed slow enough, the shooter does not know the exact moment to brace (unless the shooter is extremely familiar with their trigger). Therefore, the shot will surprise them while they are applying the fundamentals.
Mind Over Matter
As mentioned previously, it does not take long for someone to apply proper Trigger Control during dry fire. This is because Trigger Control is primarily a mechanical process, rather than mental. The shooter learns how much force is necessary to press the trigger and how to kinesthetically move their finger and the trigger in a manner that does not disturb the sights.
After running a student through a few dozens reps of dry fire, while ensuring that they are not disturbing the sights and are obtaining a proper sight picture, you decide they are ready for live fire. So, you have them load their gun and execute the same process. You have them obtain a proper sight picture and then begin to press the trigger rearward.
BANG! The shot breaks and one of two things happen, the shot either hit the designated target or it didn’t. If it didn’t, they either were not obtaining a proper sight picture, or they disturbed the sights milliseconds before the shot broke. If the shot hit its intended target, there is a high likelihood that the next shot will not.
To diagnose their aiming technique, you can either use a SIRT pistol or a blue gun. After confirming they are obtaining a proper sight picture, the next thing to do is confirm Trigger Control via dry fire or SIRT pistol.
Chances are, they will have no problem performing proper Trigger Control with an unloaded or a training gun. So, you instruct them to load their gun again, obtain a proper Sight Picture, and apply proper Trigger Control by pressing the trigger to the rear.
BANG! Either a hit or a miss on the first shot, or likely missed on the second shot.
So, what is the issue? They know how to Aim. They know how to apply proper Trigger Control. Therefore, why do they keep missing the first shot or subsequent shots?
Because they are not applying proper Follow-Through, likely in the form of shot anticipation.
They are either acutely aware of when the trigger wall will break and are bracing, or they are jerking the trigger and disturbing the sights. Or both.
Some of you will probably think I am splitting hairs on this, and you might be right. However, understanding the cause of accuracy and precision issues is crucial for effective coaching or self correction. If we say that Aiming and Trigger Control are the most important fundamentals, despite the fact that improper Follow-Through (in the form of shot anticipation) contributes significantly to inaccuracy, we handicap our coaching abilities.
If Aiming and Trigger control were the most important Fundamentals, then dry fire and SIRT pistols would be all that is needed. However, time and time again we see that once ammunition is introduced after dozens of successful dry fire drills, accuracy begins to diminish due to flinching and bracing.
Lack of Follow-Through is the only logical reason that could be affecting accuracy if a student is performing well during dry fire because the only variable that is changing is the mental stress caused by recoil. With Follow-Through being largely a mental task of ignoring the small explosion occurring a few feet from our face, the only method for correcting it is the use of a Ball and Dummy drill.
A better way to say it might be that Follow-Through is the most important fundamental. Because if you do not follow-through, you are by default failing to apply another fundamental.
However, Aiming, Trigger Control, and Hold Control are the most important to Follow-Through with.
- You fail to Aim, you’ll miss.
- You fail to apply good trigger control, you’ll disturb the sights and miss.
- You fail to apply good Hold Control (i.e. flinching or bracing before the shot), you’ll miss.
Therefore, it could be that Follow-Through is somewhat of a Meta-Fundamental since it contains within it all the other Fundamentals.