Trigger Finger Discipline

posted on December 7, 2018

One of The Four Rules covers your trigger finger. As in, your trigger finger ought not be anywhere near the trigger, unless you are actually shooting or going to be shooting. It was not always thus.

A few years ago, I was a gunhandling coach on a movie production, set in the gangster era, and when I arrived at the production site, I had a quick talk with the prop master. The question was simple: what level of verisimilitude were we working at? He had to think for a moment, and then said “fingers off the trigger.”

So, we set about teaching the actors how to keep their fingers off the triggers of their gangster guns, despite the custom in that time period being different.

This has gotten to the point that many shooters don’t even know what things were like back then. As an example, watch “Saving Private Ryan” and you’ll see a lot of the actors keeping their fingers straight. Or substitute any modern war, gangster, police or action movie. I hate to tell you this, but that’s not the way things were in the 1940s. GIs did not walk around with fingers straight, mostly because they couldn’t. The safety on an M1 Garand is in the trigger guard. On carbines, it is on the front of the trigger guard, and on a BAR, the magazine catch is in the trigger guard. GIs had their fingers in the trigger guard all the time.

But do that on-screen today, and you’ll be excoriated, verisimilitude be danged.

Now, movie “magic” and historical accuracy aside, keeping fingers out of the trigger guard is a good thing. So good, in fact, that I don’t even mind when I’ve been singled out about it. And I have.

There is another way, however. That is the “Bent C” position. You see, keeping your finger straight is all well and good, but in some—I’ll admit, rare—circumstances, it isn’t enough. If you are holding a firearm, and stumble or fall, the sympathetic nervous system clutching you’ll do (both hands will clench, at maximum strength) can cause your finger to slip off the frame and onto the trigger.

This is a less than a one-in-a-million chance, but some feel strongly enough about it that they teach the bent-C finger position.

I try to do it, I think it can be beneficial, but I’ve had to change some times. I’ve been in classes and tactical training where the instructor thought bent-C so odd as to instruct me to go back to the straight finger. Mostly so they could see if my finger was straight or not. They couldn’t tell if the bent-C finger position was on the frame, or in the trigger guard.

Which is the drawback, if there is one, to the bent-C position: others can’t tell if you have it right or not, not easily, anyway. The straight finger, they can.

This is a huge sea change from the early days. This was brought about by International Pistol Shooting Confederation (IPSC) competition, where the rule from the beginning was to keep your finger away from the trigger until you needed it there to shoot. It had become such dogma that you simply cannot argue otherwise, which is fine by me, so I won’t.

But the important thing to remember is this: a straight finger is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Having a straight trigger finger does not excuse bad habits. Just because your trigger finger is straight does not excuse you from failing to control muzzle direction. It does not mean you can fail to follow other range rules, such as “safe areas,” or the required stage procedure in a match.

Not to pick on them in particular, but I see this sometimes in entry teams. There’s a stack of officers (on the big screen, or in real life) and packed in so tight, they have muzzles covering each other. Guys, just because your finger is straight it doesn’t negate Rule One.

But when I started, fingers inside the trigger guard was normal, because a lot of our fathers (for many readers, your grandfathers) were taught that it was OK.

Times change, be kind when you correct someone, at least the first dozen times or so


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