Finger: Safe When?

15-May-13 – 13:11 by ToddG


A couple of recent discussions over at pistol-forum have touched on the question of when is it ok to touch the trigger during the draw stroke?

Essentially it boils down to two schools of thought. Some folks think it is ok to begin prepping the trigger as long as the gun is pointed in the direction of the target. They tend to advocate a draw stroke that keeps the gun below the eye-target line until the very last moment. If they waited to get on the trigger until they saw the sights, it would slow down their shots. So they prep the trigger as the gun elevates toward their normal shooting position.

Others, myself included, don’t want fingers on triggers until there has been visual confirmation that the gun is on target. Rather than drawing the gun in a straight line from the holster to full extension their draw is in more of an “L” or “J” shape that gets the sights into the eye line earlier and then allows sighting (and trigger pressing) as it drives forward.

At least on easy targets, the first version really is probably faster for most people. But the photo above is a perfect example of why it’s a bad idea. That photo is from a USPSA match I attended in 2006 while doing some work at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia. The person photographed is a career law enforcement officer and a firearms instructor.

And under the mild stress of a match, he drew his pistol and was pressing the trigger when the muzzle was pointed at a table just inches away. 

He knew the table was there. He had plenty of time to think about what he was going to do and even had time to rehearse it. But when the buzzer went off, the habit he built up from all that “prep on the rise” practice led him to a situation that could have resulted in injury if he’d launched a ricocheting round into that table. In real life it could have been something a lot more precious than a range prop.

It comes down to a difference in philosophy. In a USPSA or IDPA match, generally everything in a 180 degree zone before you is a “safe direction.” For example, if you look at the photo in the banner of my website it shows a student with the muzzle of his gun elevated for a reload. In most shooting sports, if your finger is on the trigger while you’re reloading you’ll run afoul of safety rules… pointing the gun up into the air with your finger on the trigger, they recognize, is unsafe. But if instead you’ve got your finger on a loaded gun as you draw, pointed 45 degrees down instead of 45 degrees up, that’s ok because on the playground it’s usually harmless to launch a round low or into the ground.

Off the playground there’s no way to be sure what might be below or around the target that you really may not want to shoot. Think about having to take a shot in a crowded theater or — ironically — at a real playground with little kids running around. Sweeping the muzzle past all their heads with your finger on the trigger would be a bad idea, no?

Of course, advocates of the “prep on the rise” technique will assure you that under stress they’ll realize, on the fly, that the technique they’ve practiced endlessly and turned into a subconscious habit will give way to calm rational realization that it would be more appropriate to extend the gun before touching the trigger. Because we all know that under stress, going against our training is easy to do, right? Errr…

That’s why I prefer a draw stroke that keeps the finger off the trigger until the gun is up high and I can actually see that the muzzle is on target before I touch the trigger.

safefingerdrawPhoto above is me performing a demo at a C.U.S.S. class with Jack “Failure2Stop” Leuba in 2010. The gun is already more than halfway to my eye-target line and finger is nowhere near the trigger. (photo courtesy of ByronG)

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

  1. 26 Responses to “Finger: Safe When?”

  2. Some excellent logic. Thank you for posting this.

    By Redchrome on May 15, 2013

  3. If you look at the photo accompanying this story about Vogel winning his sixth straight Smith & Wesson IDPA Indoor Nationals title, he has his finger on the trigger just as his pistol clears the holster.

    Odd, isn’t it?

    By Isegoria on May 15, 2013

  4. Great article! I’m a little low speed high drag but I find I get best results when I have my finger indexed on the frame until my gun hand meets the support hand. By that time my muzzle is oriented forwards and I start to move the gun out and prep the trigger. Again, I’m not even close to nailing one second draws (or even 1.5 second) but consistency is key to progress right?

    By John on May 15, 2013

  5. So to clarify for my own benefit, you advocate finger on the trigger when the muzzle is on target (presumably the sights are on the target) but not neccessarily a perfect or even good sight picture as you are still perfecting this while extending the gun towards the target?

    By Nick on May 15, 2013

  6. Come on, you’re overreacting, he’s got a Sig with 10 lbs trigger, nothing could possibly go wrong. It is called “rounding the edges”, it is OK to do as long as you don’t do it too often. Otherwise, how else am I supposed to get a 1 second draw with a DA/SA gun, and please don’t say that “p” word of yours…

    Good article, and great photo. I am afraid people don’t recognize how often they do it, and this comes from a guy who openly admitted to NDing over target heads several times.

    By YK on May 15, 2013

  7. After being dinged by you in 2012 I have really focused on my safety. I am trying dilligently to get my department to set their standards higher as well. As always, good points and great advise!

    By Chip on May 15, 2013

  8. Nick — correct. What I need to see before touching the trigger is a sight picture that puts a round into something I’m willing to shoot. Waiting for a truly perfect, settled sight picture might work on the range (though slowly) but isn’t really practical when people are moving, etc.

    By ToddG on May 15, 2013

  9. During recent dry fire sessions I caught myself on the trigger early and have been making a conscious effort to correct this. As usual, your articles are right on time. I’m probably not the first to say it, I’ve said it before; Write a book, Todd. Please write a book.

    By Redell on May 15, 2013

  10. Todd, how do you reconcile your thoughts here with Roger’s Shooting School technique of working the trigger as the gun rises and breaking the shot as the sights get on target? If you had waited until you had confirmed sights on target before touching the trigger could you still shoot the advanced score there?

    By Ken on May 15, 2013

  11. Ken — While I understand why Rogers teaches it that way, personally I am not comfortable with it and didn’t (purposely) touch the trigger until my sights were on target. I’d definitely like to have video of myself to see when I actually did touch the trigger during the movement.

    FWIW, I don’t use an extended low ready for anything so outside of the Rogers test or some stage requirement at a match it’s a non-issue for me.

    By ToddG on May 15, 2013

  12. 1) what is the definition of finger on trigger — in motion towards the trigger guard, in the trigger guard, touching the trigger, taking the initial take up out of the trigger, or taking the initial take up plus some of the weight of the trigger?

    2) I bet, if you used slow motion video, most shooters touch the trigger earlier than they think they do.

    3) Rogers teaches, and I think it makes sense, that the most important rule is #2, don’t muzzle anything you don’t intend to shoot. So if I happened to be the hostage today, I could care less if your sights were on the target or not as regards you touching the trigger, I am a lot more interested in you not covering me with the muzzle.

    By GJM on May 15, 2013

  13. GJM — regarding your third point… how does one draw a gun that’s pointed at the ground in the holster and raise it to point straight ahead at eye level without covering things you don’t want to shoot?

    By ToddG on May 16, 2013

  14. “I’d definitely like to have video of myself to see when I actually did touch the trigger during the movement.”

    When I started using a SIRT training pistol, I noticed that a red dot was appearing on the floor in front of me during my draw stroke.

    I had, without realizing it, been putting my finger on the trigger while bringing the pistol up.

    In your post about the SIRt, you wrote that

    A red “take up” laser that projects as you press the trigger; allows you to see where you’re pointing the gun during a press out and provides feedback about what inadvertent movement you’re causing during the trigger press. Another benefit of the red take up laser is that it provides immediate notification if your finger puts pressure on the trigger when it shouldn’t!

    So true.

    By anonymous on May 16, 2013

  15. “GJM — regarding your third point… how does one draw a gun that’s pointed at the ground in the holster and raise it to point straight ahead at eye level without covering things you don’t want to shoot?

    By ToddG on May 16, 2013”

    Only by taking a path that avoids covering something you are unwilling to shoot. So while I want to shoot a specific target, I am willing to hit some things around it in the process but unwilling to hit others. Those I am unwilling to hit, can’t be covered by the muzzle.

    By GJM on May 16, 2013

  16. The converse to seeing the take up laser on the SIRT early, is a high percentage of “experienced” shooters I observe when handing them a SIRT, don’t turn the take-up light on until at full extension, putting them at least one reaction time behind in making the shot, and more likely to crush the trigger when trying to make a quick shot.

    By GJM on May 16, 2013

  17. GJM — So how would you do that, say, in a school yard during recess? Or in a crowded movie theater? More importantly, when you saw an immediate threat to yourself or your wife do you think you’d have the wherewithal to draw, find a “safe path” for the gun to come up, and only then get on the sights and trigger? If so, how have you practiced this, and how often?

    By ToddG on May 16, 2013

  18. Todd, my point is ultimately the muzzle must cover something to harm it, and therefore that is, or should be, the primary safety rule. When the finger touches the trigger is interesting to important, but secondary to not covering unintended targets.

    I believe you are over complicating the issue of safe path to the target. As someone that has hunted birds over a dog for years, and both hunted big game, and carried a long gun for bear defense for a long time, it becomes second nature as to how to engage a target without muzzling your dog or companions. So to answer your question, I practice acquiring safe paths to a target many days a year.

    As to the school yard or movie theater example, I believe you own the outcome, and a defense of “I never touch the trigger until my sights are on the target'” is a lot less compelling than I don’t muzzle things I am unwilling to shoot. If you cross a friendly target on the way to a threat, you have done so with the knowledge that you could shoot them.

    By GJM on May 16, 2013

  19. Most if not all LE trainers have the following rules.

    Rule #2: Never point the muzzle of a weapon at anything you are not willing to destroy.

    Rule #3: Keep the trigger finger straight along the frame until you are on target and have made a conscious decision to fire.

    Seems to me there is a fine line between pointing your muzzle at something on purpose and the unintended “muzzling” of the gun as you draw and present it towards the target you do intende to destroy.

    In a real world situation, your muzzle may cross victims, cars, doors, animals, partners etc. that you will not be shooting as you get your gun sights on the intended target. That is why rule #3 is essential to follow.

    If you have the time to find a safe path to your target, great, but in most police shootings you don’t have the luxury of always doing that.

    By KennyT on May 16, 2013

  20. I practice just the way described it for Nick. I have seen a shooter in class driving the gun to the target while trying to break the shot as early as he had an “acceptable” sight picture. What resulted was a very fast time (0.59) and the shot hit the berm 10 feet above the target only 7 yards away. Don’t let your ego determine your sight picture is “good enough” and thank God the berm was a small hill!

    By Franky2Shoes on May 16, 2013

  21. “In a real world situation, your muzzle may cross victims, cars, doors, animals, partners etc. that you will not be shooting as you get your gun sights on the intended target. That is why rule #3 is essential to follow.

    If you have the time to find a safe path to your target, great, but in most police shootings you don’t have the luxury of always doing that.

    By KennyT on May 16, 2013”

    I disagree. Rule 2 is not “never point the muzzle at anything you are unwilling to destroy, unless your finger is straight along the frame.” LE or otherwise, folks that cover friendly things with their muzzle, regardless of finger position, need to consciously understand that they are violating rule 2, and if the firearm discharges, bad things will likely happen.

    Consider two scenarios, someone is pointing a firearm at you, with their finger straight, or pointing the firearm three feet to your side. Regardless of finger position, I would be a lot happier with it pointed three feet to my side, since the muzzle needs to be pointed at you to hit you.

    By GJM on May 16, 2013

  22. Rule #2 is rule #2 as written
    Rule #3 is rule #3 as written

    Both are rules for a reason and by following both rules you are very unlikely to shoot something you are not willing or intend to destroy.

    All I am saying is that in real world situations, and in conducting hundreds of hours of simunition force on force training, I have seen situations that muzzles do sweep past unintended targets on the way to the threat, because there is no other way to shoot the threat due to the circumstances at hand. That is why Rule #3 is so important. Hard to have a discharge without your finger on the trigger.

    Training muzzle awareness and holding people accountable for improper tactics that cause them to muzzle someone unnecessarily is a major focus in training. Yes, everyone should understand where there muzzle is pointing and know they might violate rule #2 under extreme circumstances, but by following rule #3, should minimize the chances of shooting someone or something by accident.

    By KennyT on May 16, 2013

  23. I definitely fall in line with what KennyT is saying here. Simply having a clear path from holster to target is an assumption. Even if there is one, expecting someone to draw awkwardly off to the side or swing the gun around in some odd way, while certainly a more strict adherence to Rule #2, is probably unrealistic.

    I cannot remember ever taking a pistol, shotgun, or carbine class that taught a draw or snap shot technique that wasn’t in line with the threat.

    By ToddG on May 16, 2013

  24. If you RO is doing his job right, that’s a DQ right there. USPSA rules state finger out of the trigger guard unless the sights are on the target. 10.5.8-10.5.10

    By Bruce on May 16, 2013

  25. With regard to muzzle awareness/aversion – while the shooter ought to do his best to avoid muzzling himself or innocent non-combatants, in the real world, people and things often move unpredictably and quickly in ways and at times that are beyond the shooter’s ability to control.

    However, the shooter always has the ability to control when and how he places his finger on the trigger. Seems to me that it would be more efficient to train on trigger finger discipline than to expect that you can always keep your muzzle from covering people/things that you might not be aware of until the moment they appear behind your sights…

    By Phil Wong on May 18, 2013

  26. Phil, I agree with your assesment. Most LE trainers I know do just that. What Rule #2 normally refers to and is a problem for us, is when someone intentionally points the muzzle at a person or object.

    By KennyT on May 20, 2013

  27. Rule 2 was not designed in such a way that you compromise valid technique, muscle memory, etc in order to avoid muzzling a noncombatant. But safe gun handling isn’t based on just one rule. All three of those rules would have to work in concert. Assume your gun is loaded, but if that is not applicable, assume that you should not muzzle something you are unwilling to shoot, if that is also not applicable you should keep your finger off the trigger. If you failed at all three of those you have a ND. Just my .02

    By John on May 20, 2013

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