Safety Lesson

One of the big “crash landings” in most competitive shooting sports is having your finger in the trigger guard of your pistol or revolver during any non-shooting action, such as reloading, moving, or drawing.  The idea behind this is one of the underlying principles of competitive shooting – we don’t want bullets in things that do not want or need bullets in them, such as spectators, Range Officers, and your own leg.

At yesterday’s IDPA match at Atlanta CC, I was able to provide an object lesson in exactly why we don’t move with our fingers in the trigger guard.  On the 3rd stage, you had to do a lot of moving; I believe that we had a total 5 shoot positions on the stage, with the idea being to present the shooter with an opportunity to “think” with the gun in their hand.  My “safety lesson” came while moving from position one to position two.

One of the things I’m a big believer in is the “fast first step” (example here) the idea being that the quicker you can launch yourself out of the shoot box, the faster you can get set up in your next position.  Back to the IDPA match – the run from P1 to P2 was a lateral run of about 3 yards, which is just enough time to take two long strides and then land in your shooting position.  Here is the exact order of what happened:

  1. Pivot the lower body to run, and plant for the first step.
  2. Finger indexes along the side of the frame, and muzzle remains pointed downrange.  (Think of the body like a tank turret – you can keep your muzzle pointed into the berm while running laterally)
  3. Take the first step – as my foot came down for the second step, I hit a loose patch of gravel and lost my balance.
  4. I didn’t fall, but I came damn close.  I was able to recover my balance and move to the next shoot position.

The reason this became a safety lesson is it’s EXACTLY why you don’t move with your finger on the trigger.  When the body starts to fall, your brain sends out an “oh sh**” signal to all your parts, which causes you to reflexively tighten your grip on anything you’re holding at that moment.  It’s not a conscious act, it’s just what the body does…which means that my gun hand clenched down on the grip of my pistol as I lost my balance.  If your finger is safely indexed on the side of the frame, then all that will happen is that you won’t drop your pistol, which is a good thing.  If however you’re lax with your trigger discipline and your booger hook is on or near the bang switch, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to have an ND and earn yourself a trip home.

Action shooting is a dynamic sport – there’s rapid movement over short distances, and because most ranges are outside, you can often encounter uneven footing.  Loose gravel, wet grass, a big rock, etc are all common hazards on ranges.  Things like that are why when we do start running with loaded guns in our hand, the finger comes out of the trigger guard.  No one wants to get disqualified, and the RO’s don’t want to have to DQ someone.  You can make sure you do this by proper practice – always use safe gunhandling techniques even when you’re dry firing or cleaning the pistol.


  1. Good post. The convulsive grip reflex is an excellent reason to habitually index your finger above the trigger guard, alongside the frame, rather than simply straightening your finger outside and alongside the trigger guard as many do. Especially for those with short fingers, simply straightening the finger outside the guard still makes it quite possible to curl the finger onto the trigger when one’s balance is disrupted.

    Glad you did not hurt yourself with the stumble! How was the match otherwise?

  2. The match itself went pretty well. Two mental errors cost me the match – shooting a hostage in the neck (5 points) and having to go back for some makeup shots on a stage cost me easily another 5 seconds. I finished 12 seconds out of first, so those mistakes and the stumble cost me the match. I need to work on my transitions next time I’m practicing. I’m usually good on the first target, but my transitions from T1-T2 are kind of rough.

  3. EXCELLENT post! Thanks for the honest portrayal of a near accident and the impact of training the right way!

  4. Having slipped,stumbled, tripped and shown a general lack of gracefullness on various types of terrain, i agree that the two MOST important things are trigger-finger and muzzle discipline. Shooting and even watching others shooting while moving backwards in a shooting bay makes me nervous. We shouldn’t get dinged for shooting ‘hostages’ because if they don’t duck out of the way it should be considered suicide … 😛

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