The trigger should be squeezed when the shooter is happy that the sight picture is correct and the breath is being held with lungs half full. Squeezing the trigger may only take a couple of seconds but it can have a large affect on where the shot hits the target and is one of the four core skills for rifle shooting.
Finger position on the trigger
Although it may seem like a very small thing, the position of the index finger on the trigger can make the rifle move and cause a shot to miss as the trigger is squeezed. A finger has a different sensitivity in each location, some parts of it are better at feeling ‘touch’ than others. The pad of the finger is quite sensitive whereas the area around the first joint is less sensitive.
Although it is preferable to have the most sensitive part of the finger in contact with the trigger it will also depend on how stiff the trigger is along with the position of the hand and finger in relation to the rifle and trigger. A very sensitive trigger can be easily squeezed with the tip of a finger, but a stiff trigger will need a greater force to move it and this will be easier if the trigger is closer to the first joint.
Types of trigger
There are two common types of trigger found on Smallbore target rifles.
- Single stage – the pressure applied to the trigger immediately applied to the firing pin release mechanism
- Two stage – there is ‘slack’ in the trigger movement where the trigger can be moved a few millimetres (sometimes more) before any pressure is applied to the firing pin mechanism. The trigger can be moved within this first stage without any affect on the firing pin and it is the second stage where the pressure on the trigger is transferred to the firing pin.
Modern rifles tend to use two stage triggers with a sophisticated mechanism of interconnected springs to connect the movement of the trigger into the release of the firing pin. These mechanisms are usually mechanical with the multiple spring systems used to translate small forces on the trigger into large forces in the firing pin, and it is possible to adjust the trigger sensitivity to suit the user. In recent years some electrically controlled firing mechanisms have been created, however the overall principle remains the same whichever type is used.
The rifles often available to beginners will probably, as previously stated, be older models. These rifles are unlikely to have a ‘hair trigger’ or match trigger as found on newer rifles, instead the trigger may feel ‘heavy’ and will require greater force to squeeze than the ‘lighter’ match trigger. It is important to get used to the type of trigger on the rifle being used because without understanding the different stages of trigger release the shooter will not be able to release the shot at the correct moment.
Trigger Control and follow through
Trigger control is the end to end process of squeezing the trigger to fire a shot. The different trigger types will each require a different ‘trigger action’ but whatever the type the action should always be smooth. In this case smooth does not mean slow, it means a single steady squeeze with a finger that is relaxed. The hand on the pistol grip should not be gripping tightly and should not be used to force the rifle to point in the correct direction because accurate shots will be less likely.
Try “dry firing” a few times to get used to the trigger pressure on a rifle before firing live rounds. Cock the rifle and gently squeeze the trigger (insert a plastic dry fire plug to prevent damage to the firing pin). The shooter should be trying to feel if there are one or two in the trigger.
New shooters often miss the first stage of a 2 stage trigger because they are not aware of its existence or they are unused to applying such a light pressure with the tip of a finger. Asking a more experienced shooter can help quickly identify the trigger type being used.
Once the shot has been fired it is important to keep the trigger squeezed for a short period before releasing it. This is called the ‘follow through’. If the trigger is released immediately as the shot is fired then the motion of release could move the rifle a very small amount, this can alter the aim and cause the shot to not hit the centre of the target.
A common mistake for beginners is to squeeze the trigger too fast and too hard followed by immediately releasing the trigger which is often accompanied by a movement of the head away from the sights. The trigger does not have to be squeezed very hard, only enough pressure should be applied to fire the shot.
The follow through does not require the trigger to be squeezed as far back as it will move, all that is required is to maintain enough pressure so that it stays in the same position for a couple of seconds.
If smooth consistent trigger control is applied with a follow through then a common cause of shots going wide can be greatly reduced.
Practice Exercises for trigger control
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The Information and images in these sections are taken directly from the early chapters in Smallbore Rifle Shooting: A Practical Guide (with permission from the author)
The book goes into each topic in greater depth than we cover on this site. For more detailed information on the book and how to get hold of it click here