HOLDING AND SQUEEZING - American Pistol Shooting (2015)

American Pistol Shooting (2015)

Chapter VI


“HOLD ’em and Squeeze ’em,” that ever popular slogan of the target range has much greater significance for the pistol shot than for any other marksman. To the beginner or those unacquainted with the language of the range this expression may have several meanings but, to the marksman who understands, it has only one interpretation. The experienced shot knows that his success in practice or competition depends largely on his ability to hold steadily and to squeeze his trigger when he fires. His shooting form may be excellent, he may be able to aim accurately, but if he is unable to hold closely and to squeeze properly while he is aiming, his shot will be a poor one. These two essentials of pistol shooting are so closely related that it seems wise to discuss them together rather than as independent actions.

Nerves and muscles untrained in the art of steady holding make this problem a difficult one for the novice. He soon finds that the muzzle of a pistol at the end of a fully extended arm does everything but remain stationary. To hold the sights properly aligned on the bottom of the bull’s-eye seems more difficult for the beginner in the pistol shooting game than threading a fine needle is to the average man. If he does succeed in properly aligning the sights for an instant his difficulties are further increased by his attempts to squeeze the trigger and fire the piece. If not properly instructed at this point in his practice, he will by natural impulse do the wrong thing and that is pull or convulsively jerk the trigger when his aim appears to be correct for an instant. He should combat this tendency to the limit of his will power and by systematic drill in holding and trigger squeeze exercises, he will find that unsteady nerves and muscles are capable of a vast amount of training. He must not expect to train his muscles in a day or a week, but must approach his work of learning to hold with the idea of slowly improving, keeping in mind that he can make good scores with an unsteady pistol provided he gets his shots off with a proper trigger squeeze when his aim is correct. Close observation of some excellent shots will show that they have a very unsteady muzzle while aiming but that they have so mastered trigger squeeze that they make fine scores. The novice should realize that a movement of his shooting arm parallel to the line of aim can be considerable and if the trigger is squeezed properly the shots will still remain in an eight inch bull’s-eye. If, however, there is the slightest angular movement of the pistol and arm from the line of aim, such as might be caused by a slight jerk of the trigger, the shot may be a very wild one.

For the purpose of improving his holding, and gaining confidence before attempting much trigger squeezing or firing, the beginner should practice holding exercises until he is satisfied by personal demonstration that he can hold his sights well enough aligned on the aiming point to insure a good score if the pistol was fired without deranging that aim. The following will gain the desired results if practiced sufficiently: Take the correct firing position 25 yards in front of a standard pistol target, or before one reduced to correspond to the distance at which it is most convenient to practice. After assuring yourself that your pistol is not loaded cock and extend it at the full length of the shooting arm. Aim carefully at six o’clock on the bull’s-eye, hold the breath and without tensing the muscles of the arm, hand or shoulder try to maintain the sight alignment. Do not squeeze the trigger but let the index finger rest naturally on it. Hold the position for not to exceed 30 seconds and then return to the starting position. Repeat the exercise for the equivalent of twenty shots, resting between each five.

Holding is always affected by one’s physical condition so it is well, even in practice, not to attempt to aim, hold or squeeze when one is nervous from mental agitation or from vigorous exercise. Slow deep breathing and a few minutes of relaxation before and between practice scores will have quite a steadying effect. After a reasonable amount of holding exercise when one is sure that he can hold his aim long enough to get off a shot, he can then take up a trigger squeeze exercise. Before attempting it however, he should be sure that he understands just what he should try to do and the proper method of doing it, for he is about to deal with the most important essential of the pistol game.

As control is to the pitcher, as putting is to the golfer, and as touch is to the blind so likewise is trigger squeeze to the pistol shot and no language however expressive, no oratory however eloquent can over-emphasize the importance of mastering by careful study, application and perseverance this essential of the art of pistol shooting.

A rifleman firing from the prone position with his rifle supported by both elbows and held immovable against his shoulder by the aid of a sling, may actually pull his trigger without deranging his aim, whereas the slightest movement of the finger on a pistol trigger has a tendency to cause an unsteadiness in the balance of the gun and a corresponding movement of the muzzle.

The trigger should be squeezed straight to the rear, with a pressure applied so gradually that the firer does not know when the pistol will fire and so carefully that the aim will not be disturbed by the movement of the trigger finger, and it should be squeezed, only when the aim is correct. It matters not whether the marksman is practicing deliberate slow fire or quick or rapid fire, the trigger should be squeezed steadily, straight back, when the sights are in alignment with the target. In rapid fire the pressure is applied in less time and more decisively than in slow fire. This statement does not mean that the trigger is ever pulled but that the good rapid fire shot has learned to contract his trigger finger smoothly and quickly when his aim is just right, and he does it so well that his sight alignment is not disturbed. The beginner will probably find when he takes up rapid firing for the first time that he will get some “fliers” or wild shots in each of his scores. These are due to the natural impulse to jerk rather than squeeze the trigger, especially when the aim can only be held on the target for an instant. This tendency will grow less as one’s ability to hold closely increases.

When possible it is preferable to squeeze the trigger with the first joint of the index finger but if one must take an improper grip to do this, then he should squeeze with that part of the finger that rests on the trigger naturally and enables him to squeeze straight back. To determine this, cock the pistol, grip it properly, and with arm extended in firing position lay the index finger across the trigger as far as it will reach comfortably and squeeze lightly. You will find that you have a natural tendency to press against the right side of the trigger and the pistol frame. Now move your finger to the right until no part of it rests against the frame; then any squeeze or pressure you may exert will come on the face of the trigger, as it should. If your index finger is so short that the tip only rests on the trigger do not let this worry you for the only man who has ever won our National Individual Pistol Championship twice shot in this manner. I refer to the late Gunnery Sergeant J. M. Thomas, U.S.M.C.

As an aid to learning this important essential the beginner should practice a good trigger squeeze exercise carefully and frequently until squeezing becomes as second nature to him. The more he practices the greater will be his success, provided he does it correctly. The following is suggested: Take the correct firing position in front of your practice target, cock your pistol, extend your arm fully, hold your breath and try to align your sights on the bull’s-eye. Whenever in the course of their movement across the target the sights are in alignment on the bottom of the bull’s-eye squeeze slowly but steadily on the trigger. As the line of aim moves off the bull’s-eye, from the unsteadiness of your holding, maintain the pressure you have on the trigger until the sights again come into alignment with the target and when this occurs squeeze a little more. At some one of these times, when your sights are in alignment, the hammer will fall and you can see that the shot would have been a good one, unless in applying the final pressure you disturbed the aim, or the fall of the hammer did so. Repeat as you did with the holding exercise, with frequent rests between shots. When you reach the point that you can call a reasonable number of your shots “Good” and the aim is not disturbed by the fall of the hammer, then it is soon enough to take up firing. Do not attempt to practice rapid squeezing until the muscles of your trigger finger become sufficiently trained to squeeze correctly in slow fire. When you begin firing you must concentrate more than ever on aiming, holding and squeezing the trigger, for the effects of the discharge and the resulting recoil will cause a mental and physical reaction which will have a tendency to cause you to flinch, and to flinch before the bullet has left the muzzle, courts disaster in the form of a wild shot. As correct trigger squeeze is the greatest asset to successful pistol shooting so is flinching the greatest obstacle to learning the game. If it was possible for a man to put out of his mind all thoughts of what was going to happen when the hammer fell or if he could fire mechanically he would then be able to eliminate flinching or at least to minimize the tendency so that he would have little to fear from that source. In this connection the reader is referred to the chapter on Shooting Psychology.

In all trigger squeeze or rapid fire exercises it is extremely desirable, in fact quite essential, to have a trigger adjusted so that it is free from “creep” and will release the hammer smoothly and cleanly.