Trigger Length and Finger Position?

"Align the sights on the aiming area and move the trigger straight back without disturbing the sight picture."

Easier said than done?

Yep. That’s what Bullseye is all about. As we advance up the ranks, you’ll probably hear about finger-placement on the trigger.

Off-hand, it would appear that the trigger should be placed about in the middle of the pad. But with a revolver and especially if you’re shooting double-action where your trigger finger has to both cock the hammer and then release it, many will advise placing the trigger on the joint so you’ll have more power when moving the hammer back.

Conversely, with an extremely light trigger of a pound (or less!) as may be found on a Free Pistol in International competition, you may want to place the trigger farther out where the nerves in the skin are more sensitive.

But following the standard advice about trigger placement, doesn’t that mean that Free Pistol shooters should push all their shots wide while revolver shooters should pull all their shots inward?

But they don’t!

Why not?

Because while finger placement is important, it’s not everything. There’s more at play here.

Answer this question: If you use a mouse on the computer, how does your finger move when you click the button? Is it the same as when you shoot?

Of course not. Clicking the mouse is a tapping motion the same as if you place your hand on the table and tap with your fingers.

Here’s an experiment you can try. Sitting in a chair, relax and place your hand on the table. Scratch the table.

That’s the trigger motion: Mouse = tapping, trigger = scratching.

Now, here’s something important about that scratching motion. With your hand still on the table, stretch your trigger finger all the way out as far as you can and then slide (scratch) it all the way in as far as you can.

As you do that, watch the second joint in from the tip. (The three parts of the finger as called distal (tip), middle and proximal. The joint to watch is the one between the middle and proximal parts.) As your finger moves it, that joint will rise until the tip of your finger is immediately beneath it, and then if you continue moving the tip inward, that joint will go down.

This is because the bones in your finger are rigid and, to move the tip inward along a flat surface, that joint has to rise to make room for the bones to rotate and, after the tip passes underneath, it has to go back down because the bones don’t stretch..

Here’s the final part of this experiment.

Relax your hand but keep it on the table, this time with the tip of your index finger pointing straight down into the table. Scratch a tiny spot about 1/8" long on the table and watch that same joint. Move the spot you are scratching in and out a little at a time. At some point, you will find the place to scratch where the middle joint is right at the peak of its rise and, as you scratch that spot, it will neither rise nor fall.


Keep your hand exactly there and look at the end joint, the one that will be pressing on the trigger: It should be just about perfectly perpendicular to the table at that point.

That’s the ideal shape you want you hand to have when your finger is on the trigger. The pad is perpendicular to, or you could say, “flat on” the trigger. When you then press the trigger, the pressure will be “straight back”.

This is how you determine what length trigger to use. You want your hand to be in that shape with the trigger finger flat on the trigger with the pressure coming straight back.

To get that with a 1911, you can try different length triggers until you find one that matches your hand.

That’s the ideal.

But what do you do with a handgun when you can’t adjust the position of the trigger? Or what about that revolver with the 12-pound double-action trigger when you need to plant the trigger smack on the joint to have enough strength to move that hammer back?

Well, most fingers are remarkably smart. Properly instructed, they can be taught to “move the trigger straight back” regardless of where the trigger needs to be on the finger. But it will take practice.

Try this experiment.

Close your eyes and extend your hand in a shooting position with the trigger finger almost completely extended and the trigger on the bones of the joint. Now, mentally visualize “pulling” that joint so that it moves straight back. Practice that a couple of times with your eyes closed.

To me, this feels very similar to when I had my hand on the table and was beginning to draw that finger inward. It’s coming straight back.

Conversely, try this again but start with the trigger finger curved inward with the tip (mentally) on the trigger. (You can visualize a short 1" stick between the tip of the finger and the V-notch between thumb and hand where the gun will be planted in your hand.) Again, mentally visualize “pushing” with the tip of your finger against that trigger so it moves straight back.

Holding a paperclip between finger tip and V-notch and then pressing on the paperclip will do the same thing.

What you’re doing in each case, however, is the same. Regardless of where you need to place that trigger on your finger, you are learning to move the trigger straight back.

Ideally, having the finger flat on the trigger is the best because that “straight back” motion is the simplest – only the tip of the finger moves.

But with practice, more complex motions can be mastered. Of course you can. Three world-class shooters with different hands can pick up the same gun and nail the center of the target.

The gun fits each of their hands differently. Trigger length won’t be perfect. And finger placement will be less than ideal. But they can still put shots into the center of the target.

How do they do that?

Simple. They know that no matter what handgun they are shooting, whether it fits them or not, they’ve learned to,

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