A common problem with shooters, both new and experienced, is the "slack" or "take-up" on triggers. A lot of pistols, especially striker-fired handguns such as Glocks, XD's and M&P's have "slack" in the trigger. This slack is rearward movement of the trigger, a sort of free travel that must be removed or taken out before the actual trigger press begins. Confusing this slack with the trigger press is the cause for a lot of bad shots. The shooter presses the trigger. There's not a lot of resistance to it. When they actually get to the point that they start feeling resistance – where the real trigger press should start – they jerk the trigger, forcing the shot to fire. The shooter anticipates the recoil, tensing up their muscles and moving the sights off target. The result is an inaccurate shot.
The key to shooting accurately is pressing the trigger smoothly without anticipating when the shot is going to fire. A good trigger press fires the shot without moving the muzzle. Jeff Cooper called this a "surprise break." You press the trigger and let the pistol fire when it's ready, as opposed to you making the pistol fire. (The same thing applies to any firearm.) The time it takes to press the trigger, how smoothly it needs to be pressed, depends on the accuracy you need.
Trigger designs that have slack or take-up require you to press the trigger lightly to the rear, removing this free travel. Once the slack is out you begin pressing the trigger to fire the shot. Think of it as a two-stage trigger like you might find on a precision rifle.
At the start of a class we have shooters verbalize this process. During dry practice they come on target and place their finger on the trigger. They say out loud, "Slack out," or whatever words work best for them as an individual. At the same time they apply light pressure to the trigger until feeling the actual resistance start. (Verbalizing this slows the mind down, forcing the conscious mind to think about the process.) Then they release the slack out and take their finger off the trigger. This is done numerous times so they get the feel of taking the slack out and releasing it.
Once this is working well we move to the actual trigger press. This is a two-step process. They are on target, finger on the trigger. Step one: they say, "Slack out." The slack or take-up has been performed. Step two: they say out loud "Presssssssssss… ," hissing like a snake and steadily increase pressure on the trigger. At some point the trigger "breaks," moving all the way rearward. Remember this is done dry, so they get to the point that the sights are steady throughout and after the trigger press. (This is normally done in a team format so the "coach" can cycle the slide, allowing the shooter say out loud "Reset," releasing the trigger far enough forward to reset the internals.)
After plenty of dry practice to figure out how their trigger works we go hot, performing the same drill live, one shot at a time with students still verbalizing their actions. "Slack out," takes out the free travel. "Pressssssssss… ," fires the shot. They recover from the recoil; get the sights back on target, and say "Reset," to reset the trigger. This sequence produces good, accurate hits for beginners and experienced shooters improve their trigger manipulations.
"Learning" your trigger is a never-ending process. You're always trying to improve. Any time you pick up a different type firearm it's going to take some time to become familiar with that trigger. If you're helping out a friend or new shooter make sure they understand the principles involved. Knowing how to work the trigger, both before and after the shot, is the key to getting good hits. Practice this often.
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of "The Book of Two Guns" - http://shootrite.org/book/book.html writes for several firearms/tactical publications, and is featured on GunTalk's DVD, "Fighting With The 1911 - http://shootrite.org/dvd/dvd.html Website: www.shootrite.org