Shooting question: when you should get on the trigger?

Photo by Shelley Rae
Photo by Shelley Rae

We all know what the 4 Rules say. Rule 3: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. In the photo above, my sights aren’t on the target in a way that I could verify. But my muzzle is in a safe direction, and I’m sure of what’s beyond my target. I’m willing to subject myself to the Internet Safety Nazis in order to have a conversation: when is it too early to get on the trigger?

In that photo, I’m obviously shooting a match. The gun is clear of my holster, clear of my body parts, clear of any barricades, so I’ve already placed my finger on the trigger so that when the gun reaches full extension, I can get the first shot off quicker. What’s interesting is that if you look at the series of photos, I’m not taking the slack out of the trigger. The hammer doesn’t move at all. Here’s the next photo for an example:

caleb on the trigger 2

Still on the trigger, but the hammer hasn’t moved. So I’m not taking the slack out of the trigger on the way to the target. I actually get the gun mostly to full extension, then pull the trigger as quickly to the rear as possible without disrupting my acceptable sight picture, which in the case of this target was “metal over cardboard.”

But here’s the discussion question: in the context of competition and self-defense, when should you put your finger on the trigger? When is too early to place your finger inside the trigger guard? A strict reading of the four rules would say that this is 100% too soon; the realities of competition say that it’s just fine. What do you think?


  1. The rule isn’t “be looking down your sights in a formal sight picture”, it’s says “on the target.” I’m not a point shooting advocate but due to experience I know when my sights are oriented on target “enough” by feel and peripheral vision if context demands I fire from a non-typical position. Particularly, as you note, if I know the area beyond the identified target is “safe” if I miss.

    The 4 rules as we know them were promulgated by Cooper, and Cooper was for sighted fire. Yet even at Gunsite, if I understand their curricula properly, they teach to shoot from retention with the gun just clear of the holster and the sights nowhere near eye-line if absolutely necessary. Context is all, Pharisaical thinking is unhelpful at best idiotic at worst.

  2. Well I guess the question really is for what purpose? In competition in the outlined form and when the body is stable (I.e. Not going to fall down in this case seated) I have no issue. In general gun handling it’s probably not a great idea… Also it appears in the picture above you’re in the old #3 position (aka point shooting position) where your sights should be roughly aligned with the target, so I guess in a competition setting the question is rather moot in this case.

  3. A good general rule for trigger finger placement would be whenever the potential of intentional firing is imminent.

    In most cases I think we would all agree, that is when we are sighted on a specific target and aware of back drop. However, in close lethal force engagements sighting may be impractical or impossible. In your particular case you are in a controlled environment, a controlled position, facing your target and imminently preparing to fire. Not to mention you’re firing a double action revolver. Under those limited conditions I think shaving a few milliseconds off your time is perfectly acceptable and safe.

  4. I’ve preferred to follow “on target, on trigger”. In some settings, I can know I’m on target long before the sights are there. In other settings, such as with a smaller target or other reasons when more precision is necessary, I’m not going to know if I’m on target until the sights/optics confirm it for me.

  5. Safety nazis aside, I would be willing to bet that the safety rules were intentionally designed with redundancy in mind–meaning that an unintentional slip resulting in the violation of one of them, SHOULD NOT result in someone, or something, “catching” a negligent discharge.

    IMHO, the salient point here is that one strives to be mindful of all 4, at all times, so that, in the event of a, hopefully, short and rare, lapse in vigilance, everyone is able to walk away with no “extra” holes in them.

  6. Bruce Gray is a big proponent of an early trigger press. Bruce teaches the following questions/criteria to determine if an early trigger press is appropriate:

    1. Are you making a conscience decision to press the trigger? (not some stress induced sympathetic response)
    2. Is it safe to do so? (Gun is NOT pointed at your junk, Gun IS pointed at a legit target, threat, etc…)
    3. Are you legally and morally justified?

  7. I tend to apply a little broader interpretation of Rule #3. Instead of sights–which are nothing more than a “muzzle alignment indicator”–I tend to go with moving to the trigger when the barrel of my gun is oriented towards the target. Of course, this occurs as I verify my target and that there is nothing in front of or behind the target that shouldn’t be shot. Shooting from retention is a real possibility in a self-defense scenario. I’ve taken several classes from Tom Givens and a couple from Dave Spaulding. Both advocate getting on the trigger once you have the barrel aligned with the target (during the draw) and taking up the slack as you extend the gun toward the target, firing as you bring the front sight to bear on the target–if the target still needs to be shot. They also both advocate getting your finger off the trigger as soon as you come off target.

  8. Too many folks over think when the finger meets the trigger. To put it plain and simple, put your finger on the trigger when you’re ready to fire period!

  9. I think Matthew Carberry and Turd ferguson summed it up perfectly. If you are “on target” (meaning that, if the gun goes off RIGHT NOW!, your bullet is going to the target, even if not a specific point on said target you would prefer), you may be on trigger safely.

    Personally, I preferr to at least have the gun indexed enough that it is at least in my field of view while concentrating on the target before I move to the trigger, and not always even then – I’ve noticed I’ll go on trigger faster with a DA than I will an SA, because of the trigger weight.

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