In my opinion, there is nothing more fascinating than human nature. I consider it the only thing on par with shooting and this is why I love my job. As an instructor, I have found a true canvas to which my analytical mind can paint. My observations are based on thousands of students over nearly 10 years and to this day some of the best ones became standard course material at Renaissance Firearms Instruction. Of all of the shooting fundamentals, none of them yield quite as many AHA! moments as follow-through. I will always remember with absolute certainty that very moment when I realized exactly how important it was and what was entailed.
Following through on a shot is the act of remaining completely still as the gun fires.
Sounds simple, right? Why we all KNOW that we don’t move a muscle when the gun fires … or do we? When an instructor tells a student “don’t move during the firing of a shot,” that leaves a lot more to interpretation then appears at first glance. So let’s look at the two parts of that statement that ruin many a marksman, the first being “don’t move.”
At Renaissance, we teach precision marksmanship. Precision is another one of those words that can be interpreted loosely. So we start off each class with the following demo, and feel free to try it yourself with a friend:
Set up a 3-inch target downrange at just 15 yards. Next have a friend watch the muzzle as you change between two aim points, the twelve o’clock edge and the six o’clock edge. What your friend will see is the margin of error you have just to hit at all! Switch positions and repeat. After you have both performed this exercise you should both have come to the conclusion that the handgun barely moved… And that is precisely the point. Armed with this new-found knowledge most people will actually believe what I am about to write in the following paragraphs.
So the above covers the first misinterpretations of the old saying “don’t move while the gun is firing.” As you will see, it doesn’t take much to put you outside of the margin of error. Now let’s look at the second part. The portion of that phrase “while the gun is firing” is also often misunderstood. When humans think about how to treat something we put it in a group of other like actions. We know of three VERY fast forces on this planet; the first being light, the second sound, and the third a bullet. We know that the instant you flip the switch the light comes on, the moment someone’s lips move you hear the sound and the second the trigger stops moving the bullet leaves the barrel, right? Well if you said yes you still got a 66.6 and while that’s passing in today’s school system, that doesn’t exactly equate to high match scores.
Let’s examine what happens when the trigger stops moving and the shot breaks:
When the trigger stops and the hammer is released, that hammer travels about an inch in many cases and strikes a firing pin which will move about another sixteenth of an inch. This then strikes the primer of the cartridge. The cartridge builds up pressure and pops the bullet out of the case and down the barrel. So as you can see it is anything but INSTANT. The process takes just a tad longer than the average person’s reaction time, and in there is where my work lies.
We are creatures of instinct, meaning that above all, we want to survive. Shooting a gun is far from our basic maneuvers. What we are really doing is setting off an explosion just inches in front of our face. This is very unnatural for humans and therefore we react to this defensively. This defense is the dreaded F-word (flinch). To beat a flinch it needs to be attacked two ways: mechanically and psychologically. Let’s start with the mechanics.
Go ahead and make a loose fist. Now open just your trigger finger up. Did other parts of your hand open up as well? Do other fingers loosen? For most of us, the answers are yes. This is the mechanical portion that I am referring to. Pretend your trigger is a golf club, tennis racket, bowling- or basketball. When these objects are swung or released we continue the motion indefinitely. Carrying this over to firearms means that after you have squeezed the trigger and the gun is firing you need to hold it to the rear of the trigger guard and pin it there! Don’t let that pressure off until you have seen the impact of the bullet!
This eliminates the movement you would have imparted by letting it swing back forward. Most shooters release the trigger during firing which loosens your grip when you need it most! If you’re a shooter who likes numbers, your 10 fingers make up 100 percent of your firing hand grip. Taking just that one finger off brings your maximum control down to just 90 percent.
So now let’s take a look at the psychological problem. Ever wonder why we take our finger off so fast in the first place? In the grand scheme of things, it’s not how we usually work. Think about flipping a light on in a room to just look inside quick, most of us wouldn’t take our hand off the switch. So why do we jump off the trigger like we just touched a hot stove? We do it because it’s a retreating motion. The caveman inside of us shines through saying “this thing is loud and it’s blowing up in front of my face!” Our finger coming off the trigger is the beginning of the process of throwing that boomstick as far away from us as possible. Of course, higher-order thinking chimes in and the compromise they reach is just the trigger finger will let go.
So how do we solve that aspect of follow-through error? You guessed it, with the exact same technique! Holding that trigger back is a psychological reconditioning because it becomes a moment of intention and commitment. By pinning that trigger back you’re telling your brain “we’re shooting this gun and holding it tight, it’s not going to hurt us, everything is happening exactly as we have intended”.
In another light, it changes our perspective on when the process of firing a shot actually ends. The human body is an event-based mechanism. We build up concentration and focus as we lead up to the planned execution of said event, and then immediately relax (or react) the moment the event is over. Before learning this information most of us were under the impression that the shot is over when the trigger stops moving. Today we know that the shot is not over until the next shot is about to begin.
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