Trigger Control - The Joy Of Dynamic Timing by Phil Ross

trapshooting invites a good deal of discussion while socializing in the clubhouse. Discussions often refer to technique and equipment. What I call “trigger control,” however, is often overlooked. This may be due to its subtle and technical nature. Trigger control is somewhat more challenging to describe because, unlike swing or gun placement, it is harder to observe and demonstrate.

Great shooters understand trigger control, the rhythm of the mount, calling for the bird and the timing involved in making the shot.

For purposes of this discussion, I will assume the mechanical function of your gun’s trigger mechanism is as it should be. Triggers do require maintenance and cleaning. The poundage of a trigger pull must not vary substantially, as I have found a sudden variation in trigger poundage for either pull or let–off can lead to the shooter having sudden poor and varying results. I always have a trigger scale that measures poundage. Sometimes trigger springs need to be replaced, and trigger parts are known to wear. A properly functioning trigger is the first step towards consistent and competitive trigger control. I also recommend you safely store any extra trigger mechanism you may have. Trigger mechanisms do not fare well when dropped or exposed to harsh conditions, including moisture and dirt.

If your trigger’s mechanical aspects are appropriate and maintained, we can now discuss the more esoteric physical and mental aspects that lead a shooter to pull or release the trigger at the best possible instant. I have discovered through my teaching experiences the best way to “attack” the discussion of trigger control is to start with rhythm and timing. When a shooter attempts to shoot at a moving target, he or she must understand there are differences in comparison to the use of a rifle trigger. A rifleman is taught to “squeeze” a trigger. A shotgunner does not use a pull–type trigger in the same fashion as a rifle shooter. A shotgunner actually “slaps” the trigger in contrast to a rifleman pulling. There is an instinctual “pull” to the target that is involved. The individual using a release trigger has or develops an instinctual “release” of the trigger when he has identified and pointed at the target.

Terry Bilbey

California hall–of–famer Terry Bilbey understands trigger control and makes appropriate adjustments when conditions require, such as this shot in hazy, gray–sky conditions.

I define rhythm in trapshooting as the timeframe for mounting the shotgun, looking down the barrel through either the sights or over the barrel with the eyes transfixed in the area where you will first see the target. I define timing in trapshooting as the time during which a trapshooter looks at the flight of a target and actually creates their sight picture and slaps or releases the trigger. For strong results in trapshooting, the shooter must strive to develop the necessary rhythm and timing consistently on each shot.

It Starts With The Mount

All of the things I will address here are based upon logic and common sense. The shooter who wants to be better must understand the importance of trigger control. I have come off the trap field many times knowing my trigger control was good that day. Any shooter who understands this concept knows if you are not hitting targets in a consistently crushing mode, working on your trigger control can make a difference.

To obtain effective trigger control, it is very important to keep one’s timing and rhythm in hand. Timing and rhythm in trapshooting are determined from the mounting of the gun. While mounting the gun, the shooter is starting to create some of his rhythm. There is a rhythm to the way in which one mounts the gun and brings it to his shoulder, looks down the rib to the beads or down the barrel that is the beginning point that builds trigger control for the forthcoming shot.

Placement of the gun or “hold position” on the traphouse affects everyone. Determining where the gun is to be placed in relationship to the traphouse is a requisite procedural step in determining where you will first see the target. These two determinations are often the experienced shooter’s personal idea based on methods he has found work for him and work well in a repetitious mode to give consistency. Over time, you will find your best hold positions.

Once the shooter has mounted his gun, he is at a point where rhythm becomes synchronized with the rest of the procedure he has learned to follow (“in sync” or harmony) in a repetitious manner to be consistently successful. You must determine if you are actually, truly in sync when you mount your gun. This takes practice and experience.

To get in sync, you must ask yourself if you have cleared your mind and obliterated all other thoughts prior to calling for the target. That is a learned procedure all of us must develop. If you call for the target while processing other thoughts in your mind, it is impossible to get into the timing that is requisite.

Let’s recap: Trigger control starts with the rhythm with which the shooter mounts the gun. The rhythm and timing in moving to the target creates the finality of trigger control. On days when we are shooting well, we are accomplishing these tasks in a manner that works for us and in a manner that is repetitious (consistent). Trigger control encompasses all those wonderful and important factors that lead to success.

The line

When the action on the line is furious, good focus, concentration and trigger control are prime keys to success.

My examination of my personal trigger control often includes whether I am breaking targets dead–center. If I am breaking targets that way, I know I have wonderful trigger control that day. It means I am moving the gun, barrel and sights to that wonderful area known as my “sight picture” in my mind’s eye. That’s where I know I can really be good enough on that day if I center the targets.

If I am shooting behind targets most of the day, my reaction is not going to be speeding up the gun or moving it more. My reaction should be a smoother and more aggressive swing. To repeat, because this is important, my reaction will be a smoother and more aggressive swing. That will allow me to work back to the center of the target. I will know that I am working back to the center of the target by how well the target is breaking. Almost all shooters know how a good center or “starburst” hit appears.

Timing The Shot

Start with mounting the gun. You must clear your head. Your head, mind, soul and spirit must be ready to “kill” the target. Do you have that kind of desire? Are you at a point of desire where you truly want to destroy the target? The desire to succeed is important to success.

After you have mounted the gun and gone through your procedure of looking down the rib and/or barrel, what you view at this stage is your choice. Once you have that rhythm of mounting the gun procedurally, looking down the rib and/or lining up the beads and looking for a position in relationship to the house and the first movement you see of the target, you begin timing the shot. Timing comes in when you move the barrel and the mind’s eye creates a “sight picture” that tells you when to take the shot.

The shooter must consider whether he did everything appropriately to get to that point where he will actually break the target. Following that sequence of events, you commit yourself to the swing of the gun toward the moving target. You need to ask, in analysis, if you looked at variables such as wind conditions that may or may not have affected the target. These things should be prepared for and you should have a plan in place to adjust for them.

If you have wind conditions affecting the target, you need to consider moving the gun barrel up if targets are flying higher or down if the target is lower. If the targets are moving higher, of course, you do not want to have the gun’s barrel so high it obliterates your view of the first movement of the target. You must see that first movement to develop your timing.

If in my mind’s eye when positioning the gun prior to saying pull, I feel the gun should be higher, I will position it higher. If targets are catching a headwind, I do not want to have to make a tremendous amount of upward movement, especially in my position, shooting from a wheelchair. A standing shooter must keep in mind he is looking to make the least amount of movement requisite to take the target, too.

Remember that first movement of the target. Recognizing it and acting appropriately upon it is an essential part of the steps you must go through to consistently break targets. As you shoot more and more, these steps will become better synchronized and you will be learning more about how to shoot well and consistently.

The author and squadmate

These two long–yardage shooters know to be at or very near the “back fence,” you must understand all aspects of trigger control.

If you are hitting the tops of targets, you are very likely shooting a target that is moving downward. That means you have somewhat of a tailwind or (and this is very important) the targets were set low. You owe it to yourself to understand what an 8½–foot target is, what a 9–foot target is, what a 9½–foot target is and what a 10–foot target is. When your squad leader asks to see a target, you should be watching. If you don’t like the targets because they are too low or whatever, contact management and have them reset if necessary. If you cannot have the targets reset, you must adapt (being adaptable is necessary for being a great shooter). Adjust in your mind’s eye that you are going to hold a lower hold on the trap. For a headwind, you would hold higher.

Even though these are really very simple points, they are all great resources for good trigger control. Trigger control is a combination of rhythm and timing and pulling the trigger. You must have some kind of preconditioned reflexive reaction to the trigger before you go to the line.

Trigger control means you are “on your game.” If you are having a tough day with your trigger, I guarantee you are having a tough day with your score. If you are a great shot, this will put you down into the middle to low 90s; if you are an average shot, struggling with trigger control will put your score maybe down to the middle 80s; and if you are a poor shot, 80 and below. A shooter knows after a few shots if he has good trigger control. Great trigger control is manifested by a person who is centering targets (i.e., smoking, crushing or obliterating the target). That person has strong trigger control!

I think all people who shoot trap understand how important trigger control is. Some don’t understand how important it is to have the “concept” of trigger control in their scheme of shooting, however. When I am shooting, I immediately ask myself if I am centering targets. That’s a very important thing to me. Each shooter must have a “litmus test” for proper trigger control.

You need to ask, while shooting, if your trigger control is competitive. Sometimes we have no trigger control. We may be out of sync (discordant), which can lead to flinching. You may move the gun prior to the first movement of the target, which is really just another way of saying you, the shooter, were not committed with your eyes to the first movement of the target.

All of the great shooters in any shotgun sport understand trigger control. They understand the rhythm of the mount, they understand the rhythm of saying the word “pull,” and they know how timing affects their shot. If you can develop that understanding, you will be in control of your game and reap consistent results in the form of obliterated targets.

Phil Ross has won trap events over the past seven decades. Phil continues to teach trapshooting and promote the sport with joy and passion. You can find out more about Phil’s trapshooting clinics, as well as his books and CDs, by calling (909) 307–0385.