You Want Me to Do What with My Finger? - ITS Tactical

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You Want Me to Do What with My Finger?

By Chris Sajnog

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Please join us in welcoming former Navy SEAL and current Director of Training at Center Mass Group, Chris Sajnog as a contributor on ITS Tactical.

Imagine if there was a law that all car seats had to be set to the same distance from the steering wheel. It didn’t matter how tall you were, your body shape or if your arms looked like you came from Planet of the Apes — You will keep that seat in the same position!

OK, wait…if it’s a manual transmission you can scoot a little forward, but for automatic slide that seat back to the approved seat-length.

Sounds strange? Of course it does; but why doesn’t it sound strange when a firearms instructor tells you the “law” about where you need to put your finger?

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Think about all the different sizes, shapes and strengths of our hands. Looking at the finger joints alone of any group of shooters and you’ll see they are in different places. How can they ALL put their finger on a gun in the same place and be expected to shoot well?

Now think about all the different sizes and shapes of handguns out there and we’re all going to put our finger in the same place? Oh, I forgot, on a revolver we all need to switch to a better place!

I know this is going to upset some people. For over 20-years I too have been told exactly where to put my finger on the trigger and when I first started instructing I was regurgitating the same company line that I was told.

I would tell students where to put their finger and if it didn’t work for them (normally some whining about their hands being “different”) I would have them change (weaken) their grip to put their finger where they were told.

It took a while but I finally took off my blinders and realized you shouldn’t adjust 99% of where your hand comfortably contacts your gun so that 1% goes where it said in a book.

Give Your Instructor the Finger!

Actually he’ll need to give you his finger if he’s telling you where you need to put it on the trigger. Your hands are not the same as his (go ahead, look!), so you may need to put your trigger finger somewhere else.

When you start key-holing shots, I’m sure he’ll be fine with it. To shoot effectively you first need to establish a good grip. Get high up on the tang with your firing arm straight behind the gun to control recoil, and then wrap your fingers around the grip.

Wherever your finger hits that trigger is the best place for YOU to put YOUR finger on the trigger of THAT GUN. Different person, different place. Different gun, different place. With the gun comfortably in your hand you’re going to have much better recoil management and better trigger control

Shooting is all about being relaxed and you can’t be relaxed when your hand is contorted around the gun in an effort to put the tip of your finger where it works for someone else. Finally, to make sure you press the trigger straight to the rear so you don’t pull your shots.

Here’s a sniper trick I learned years ago: Keep your 2nd knuckle (the 1st one on your finger) pointed straight at your target as you press the trigger. By doing so it’s nearly impossible to push or pull the shot with your trigger finger.

I’ve used this technique to improve the shooting of many students over the years and if you’re contorting your hand all in the name of finger placement, I know it will help you too. Give it a try next time you dry-fire (you do dry-fire, don’t you?) and then try it out on the range. Feel free to send thank you notes.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Chris Sajnog as a contributor on ITS Tactical. Chris is a former Navy SEAL and the Director of Training for Center Mass Group, started by two retired Navy SEAL Instructors. Giving people the experience of being trained by the most elite combat unit in the world, Chris is currently a Maritime-Counter-Terrorism and advanced marksmanship Instructor who has trained DOD, DHS, FBI, CIA and multiple foreign allies in all aspects of combat weapons handling, marksmanship and Maritime Operations.

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  • Chris great article. Welcome to the Team!

    • Thanks Matt! Let me know if you have an topics you’d like to see in the future.

  • tacticalbeachbum

    I like this guys writing style. No nonsense just what works and he isn’t afraid of pissing off traditionalists. Great tips Chris.

    • You don’t make it in the SEAL Teams by not telling people like it is. Use what works, not what someone told you works.

  • aaroneous

    This is the kind of thing I like to hear. If the shoe fits…

  • Travis

    I think part of this though is also finding a pistol that “fits” the shooter. They have to do some research before their purchase. Someone with small hands may not be effectively able to manipulate a full size pistol such as a 1911, for example.

    • Great point Travis. I think too many people hear about a gun that works for someone else or even see one in a magazine and go buy one before taking it for a test-drive. If you can’t take it to a range at least go to a gun store and dry-fire with it to make sure it fits.

      I train a lot of military and law enforcement and they usually don’t get to choose their guns or modify them. Thanks for the comment.

    • Phil Johnson

      I know what you are talking about. I am a LEO and I’ve used a Glock 22 exclusively. Obviously I’ve had a ton of training with it and it is my go to gun in most all situations. That said, I own other guns that actually “feel” better; Kimber Warrior and Kahr CW40. I’ve never bought a gun I didn’t at least hold and dry fire first.

  • I can see the red-shirts going nuts now. This makes total sense.

    Welcome to ITS!

    • Ah, red-shirts…or even better are the red vest, red hat guys! Thanks Eric.

  • Amazing things happen when we start to question why we do what we do. Most often then not, we do it because we were told to do it. Great article and I can’t wait to read more!

  • peter oehl

    Great post. I have never been told to put your finger where you want it. I have had instructors say use the first not the second digit. What you say makes complete sense. I am going to give it a go.

    • Peter, I’m a believer that if you shoot well using your pinkie-finger, then use your pinkie-finger. When someone is shooting at you, you’re not going to think about where your finger is anyway. You’re going grab your gun naturally and your finger is going to hit that trigger where it fits best. Practice how you’re going to shoot when it counts. Hope it works for you, let me know what you think.

  • captain H

    Great article, as a firearms instructor (AASAA) in the British Army, I have never come across issues with the location in which people place their finger on the trigger. Its interesting to see what our cousins across the pond are taking into account throughout their training. Looking forward to plenty more articles, cheers!

    • Ahoy Captain! I think that’s probably a good thing. Controlling the weapon with your grip, smooth manipulation of the trigger and consistent hits are more important than how you do it. Cheers.

  • Bob

    Great article! I will try the second knuckle trick next time at the range/dry fire.

  • Gotta disagree. The reason you want the trigger in the center of your fingertip is geometry.

    With any given gun, the trigger travel length is fixed. Let’s say 1/2 inch when in DA mode. Can we all agree that the optimum trigger squeeze is directly to the rear of the trigger guard? If we’re coming from either side, we’re more likely to push or pull the shot.

    Can we also agree that a shooter with short fingers MUST adjust their grip? Their grip must be adjusted so their fingers can catch enough trigger to result in the gun firing.

    So, we’re really only talking about shooters with bigger hands. To allow a shooter to have a consistent grip with different sized pistols, the adjustment only needs to be made with the trigger finger, NOT the entire grip.

    Now the geometry: Hold your trigger finger in a figure 7 (the tip and second section are the top of the 7 and the third section is the body of the 7). Between the second and third sections is the knuckle that acts as the fulcrum when the trigger is pulled.

    Move your fingertip the 1/2 inch towards your palm to approximate the trigger pull. Without breaking out a protractor, let’s say your fulcrum closed 15 degrees. Now move the second section 1/2 inch. Your fingertip will have moved, say, 3/4 inch and your fulcrum will have closed, say 25 or 30 degrees. You’ll also notice that to move the second section that entire 1/2 inch, your finger necessarily pulls the trigger to the right (assuming you’re a right handed shooter).

    The adjustment for big hands is to close that fulcrum when placing your finger on the trigger. Instead of your finger making a perfect 45 degree “7”, it’s at 60 degrees at the start. You are much more easily able to squeeze the trigger directly back with the center of your fingertip than if you have more finger through the trigger guard.

    Bottom line: The closer to your middle knuckle you’ve got the trigger, the more likely you are to pull your shots.

    • “Chief Instructor” Next time I’m in combat I’ll break out my protractor and see how that works for me. I don’t practice what works well for me as I make strange shapes with my fingers at the dinner table. I practice what works well for me when someone is shooting at me. The finger placement you describe is what some NRA instructor figured out works on a static range with a heavy gun and a light trigger. I was taught the Weaver stance 20 years ago too, but I don’t teach that anymore either.

      Have you even tried the technique I described? My goal is to make people better shooters in combat. If it doesn’t work for you and your technique does, I think that’s great! Thanks for your comments and let me know if you tried my technique before writing them.

    • Ah, as I suspected from your original post, I see that you handle opposing views quite well.

      Good luck in your business venture. I’m sure you’ll do quite well.

    • Thanks Chief. As I’m sure you could also tell from my article, I’m a bit of a smart-ass. It’s the way we talk to each other in the Teams…nothing personal. I’ve already decided what my next article is going to be and it will go against traditional shooting techniques. All I ask is that people try it before they buy it (or not buy it).

  • Alpha32

    I really hate to be the first and possibly only dissenter in this lovefest but there IS a problem with this article: It seems to me that there is blanket permission being given to lay the trigger finger anywhere while handling a handgun, ie., establishing the master grip, comitting to fire, pressing the trigger, etc.

    After an article and video regarding an accidental discharge, I would have thought trigger finger discipline would have been in the forefront of any future such articles and following discussion. It seems a few sentences regarding laying the trigger finger along the frame, outside the trigger guard when drawing the weapon, regardless of the handgun being a revolver or semi-auto, would have been warranted.

    Perhaps the author is advocating putting the trigger finger anywhere it feels comfortable to the shooter while drawing as well. I hope not and I really don’t think so. I am hoping this article was strictly about just when pressing the trigger only. Even then, though, there are and need to be simple basic ideas.

    Sticking a trigger finger all the way through the trigger guard as far as it will go and pressing the trigger with something between the shooter’s 2nd and 3rd knuckle just because it is comfortable is not OK to advocate.

    A ballistic vest is not worn because it is comfortable. Running in loose soil / sand, carrying additional weight on your back is not comfortable. Laying in a hide, blind or conducting surveillance for hours / days is not comfortable. Things in life are not always comfortable but those techniques and proceedures that are in place to save lives can be learned and accepted.

    I just happen to think placement of the trigger finger on a handgun is one of those things. Thank you for your time.

    • I also failed to mention you should NOT stick the muzzle of your gun in your mouth as you manipulate the trigger…Weapons safety is a very important topic, but this article (obviously) is not about that. The guy that shot himself in the recent YouTube video did it because he pulled the trigger while pointing the gun at himself. I know I didn’t address this in the article specifically written about finger placement; but I do NOT advocate ANY trigger finger placement while pointing a gun at yourself (or your friends). Maybe if he had his finger touching the trigger somewhere else he wouldn’t have shot himself?
      As for simple, basic ideas…I gave them in the article. They are just not the ones we’ve all heard…change is hard.
      I understand your points about combat not being comfortable…been there, done that. But does that mean I should go to sleep on a bed of rocks because other things are uncomfortable?
      You’re not the only decenter and that’s fine, I really do appreciate your comments. At least I’ve got people putting down the Cool-aid long enough to ask why they are doing what they’re doing and seeing if there’s a more EFFECTIVE way. Like I asked the Captain…did you try the technique before shooting it down?
      Do you think that when someone is shooting at you that you’re going to make sure your finger is placed on the trigger 1/2 way between the tip of the finger and the first joint?

  • Ken

    While I heard and read the idea of using the middle part of the pad of your finger to pull the trigger, my primary instructor said, “it’s not important how you pull the trigger as long as you’re not jerking it and pulling it straight back.” He then went on to ask, “does anyone eat peanut butter out of the jar. You know the feeling of you scooping out some peanut butter with your finger? That’s how you pull the trigger.”

    Needless to say I’m a peanut butter junkie and I actually started saying to myself, “peanut butter.” My groups tightened up. I start slinging them and I slow down with “peanut butter.” It’s probably a combination of concentrating on trigger control and not rushing the shot. Then I bring my speed back up.

    BTW, I wasn’t confused about the article being anything other than about trigger control.

  • Sounds like you’ve got a good instructor there…just get the job done. Ihe peanut butter thing makes sense, but I know I’m going to laugh about it at the range today! Thanks Ken.

  • Gene

    Great common sense approach…thanks from a “newbie” for a great article and tip!

  • Frank

    Could you please elaborate on the “sniper trick” you mentioned. I’m not clear on the knuckles, joints, etc. Thanks! BTW, a good concise article. I’ll be looking for more in the future.

  • Frank, I’ll try to describe it, but I may have to figure out a way to post a picture. On your finger, starting from your hand you’ve got the first joint, then you’ve got the second joint moving towards the tip. This second knuckle is the one you want to keep pointed at the target. Let me know if that helps. If not I may put a video up on our YouTube page ( Thanks.

    • Frank

      That explained it; thanks!

    • Michael Morelli

      I have really short fingers and small hands in general, and have been forced (so I thought) to to contort my grip and sacrifice some recoil control to get my finger where I’ve been told for years it had to be. After reading this, I tried your “sniper trick” with my Glock, which aren’t exactly known for being small hand friendly, holding the pistol perfectly aligned with my arm and it worked like a champ. Since my Dept. uses Glocks I don’t have the luxury of picking a sidearm perfectly suited for me and you just solved a problem that has been plaguing me for a long time. Thanks for the article.

    • Glad it helps out. Thanks for your service. Stay safe.

  • brendan murphy

    since we’re talking ’bout trigger control here.. . I’m not much of a ‘gamer’ but recently i started playing the heck out of the newest Medal of Honor game. After banking a few too many hours into the game over a couple weeks i noticed that my trigger control had suffered a little. I thought “what am i doing wrong?” then “oh yea! i’ve been mashing an xbox controller over and over without any thought to how this affects my actual shoooting.” not overly dramatic effects to my grouping but enough that i thought about it.. not sure if that’s worth a mention or not.
    thanks for the posting! great article!

    • I’m not a gamer, but that’s a good point and good heads up on your part to think about it! Maybe you could use that time to actually work on the trigger finger manipulation? That way you can tell the wife, “Hay, I’m training here…go make me a sandwich!” Thanks for the comment.

    • brendan murphy

      haha.. goodness.. there are alot of things i’m prepared for- the cold steel look in her eyes over “gamer training” is not one of them.. good thought though..

  • KR

    If you don’t build your pistol shooting platform starting with a grip that aligns the pistol properly with the wrist, hand and arm, there is no natural point of aim. If you study the history of pistol shooting (Ed McGivern, Applegate, Cooper, Enos) – they all discuss this in their writing.

    The fundamental issue with “gun fit” is whether the user can grip the gun properly and have enough “reach” left in their trigger finger to put finger on trigger without laying it against the frame. If the trigger finger is pushing on the frame as it presses on the trigger, that’s going to push the whole gun around and take the sights off the target. If the trigger finger’s movement is isolated from the rest of the pistol, and the trigger is pressed straight back – there’s a wide range of acceptable positions for the trigger to make contact with the finger.

    As trigger pull weight increases, most shooters find it easier to put more “finger” on the trigger — thus the inherent problem with the M9 and every other DA/SA style handgun. DA triggers have longer trigger reaches and heavier pull weights than SA or striker fired designs. The solution, for a shooter whose trigger ‘reach’ is not long enough to grip the pistol properly, reach the trigger with enough “finger” to press it smoothly and still have no contact with the frame with the trigger finger, is to ditch that gun and get something with a smaller grip and a shorter trigger reach.

    In the private sector, shooters have that option. In law enforcement, switching to striker fired guns like the Glock (in 9 or 40), or the M&P with their interchangeable grip panels, solves that problem. Over the past 10-20 years, mostly thanks to lessons learned from competition and private sector training, gun companies and gun buyers are more aware of the importance of gun fit – which is why sales of doublestack DA/SA guns like the M9 and SIG have plummeted in comparison to sales of striker fired guns and 1911’s and single stack .380’s and 9’s.

    US military shooters, unfortunately, have been stuck with dealing with an essentially unsolvable problem. Either you twist the pistol in your hand to meet the “trigger” requirements for good gun fit, or as you suggested, get the grip part right and end up with suboptimal trigger reach (there are shooters who physically cannot reach the M9’s DA trigger at ALL if gripping the pistol properly). Neither solution is preferable and neither results in particularly good results, no more than trying to run a 10K in shoes 2-3 sizes too big or too small. You can make it work somehow, but you’ll always be a terrible disadvantage.

    • Great points, thanks for your comments.

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  • Dave McDonald

    Great article! I have read/viewed many different sources of shooting instruction and this is the first time I have seen trigger finger placement explained like this. Intuitively it just made sense. Then I immediately applied your suggestion about pointing the second knuckle at the target while dry firing and the front sight didn’t budge. Can’t wait to try it out at the range.
    Dave M

    • Thanks for trying it out, glad it helped! Have you tried it at the range yet?

  • Julia R.

    THANK YOU!!! I am a petite woman in the U.S. Army, and nothing I’ve ever been told about finger/hand position, body position for the rifle, etc. has ever helped. Instead, as I fight my body to follow instructions, I hit muscle failure, get the shakes, get frustrated, and end up shooting “like a girl.” I can shoot just fine when I am allowed to do it my way.
    It’s funny how often I’m told I need a small, light pistol, because of my size and gender. I actually prefer the kick of a 1911 .45 over the standard issue Army M9. I expect some kick, so with the 1911, my slight reaction works with the weapon, rather than ruining my shot. And yes, let me repeat, I’m a 5’1″ woman, less than a buck thirty in weight.
    As for rifles, the M16A2 is literally too long for my arms, and I cannot find a comfortable position with it. An M4 would probably work just fine for me, but the Army isn’t big into giving their support units M4s. But I’m always told that I’m holding it wrong, or I “just need to relax,” and it’s hard to convince these old-school range operators that the problem is with my size and build, not with my technique.

    Thanks again for addressing this issue with traditional training. I hope your readers take heed!

    • Thanks Julia, Glad it helped and thank you for your service to our country.

  • triago88

    @Alpha32i guess the author didn’t take into account that the readers may be complete dumb asses. Or maybe he just figured if someone has the sense enough to read an article on trigger finger placement, then maybe they already know not to use their pinky to pull the trigger because its comfortable.  As with most things in life, common sense goes a long way.

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