Get your finger on the trigger… Andy McLachlan looks at how you can master the fine arts of trigger control and follow-through
One of the required skills for shooting, particularly if you are new to the sport, is the ‘follow-through’. It is also one of the easiest tasks to master as you release the shot, and is as simple as holding your sight picture on the target for a couple of seconds after the gun has discharged. This sounds easy to do – and it is. The problem is that many shooters forget this basic requirement. Once the shot has gone, there is a tendency for some to lift their heads and watch as their intended target is hopefully struck by the pellet in the right place.
Unfortunately, lifting your head from the stock straight after releasing the trigger is about the worst thing you can do if you wish to present an accurate shot. In a firearm, the bullet is moving so quickly that any movement from the shooter following the trigger release is unlikely to influence the fall of shot. The same cannot be said for our much slower-moving pellets.
There is an often-used term, lock time, to describe the period of time it takes for a projectile to leave a barrel following trigger release. As I have said, in a firearm this is pretty damned fast as the bullet speeds its way to target at a vast rate of knots, and it goes without saying that any influence from the shooter based on how they move their head from the sighting position is minimised. The exact opposite is the case with airguns.
The reason for this is that your pellets take an awful lot longer to exit our barrels than a firearm’s bullet, allowing you loads of time to badly influence your carefully sighted shot. Due to the slower-moving airgun pellet, any movement whatsoever will alter the position of the gun barrel – and it does not take much movement, even a couple of millimetres, for this to result in the pellet missing the killzone on a knockdown target or even possibly missing the faceplate.
What to do
The best way to try to reduce any movement at all, both during and immediately following shot release, is to maintain a steady sight picture and, if possible in the lighting conditions, track the flight of the pellet in your scope’s image as it spins its way to your target. The only time you should be lifting your head when you shoot is shortly following the hopefully successful conclusion of the shot as the target falls with a satisfying clank.
This is far easier to achieve with a PCP due to the total lack of movement and minimal, if any, barrel flip. Presuming that you have mastered the art of proper trigger release and haven’t used any sudden movements as the second stage of the trigger is tripped, it is indeed often possible to observe the flight of the pellet. This does bring into question how easily this can be accomplished by the shooter’s trigger finger, and is responsible for many target-oriented shooters for preferring a very light trigger pull. If the trigger weight is too heavy, this can cause the shooter to ‘pull’ the shot as the gun moves due to the force applied by the trigger finger.
Modern PCP target rifles come ready-fitted with match-standard trigger blocks, and are perfectly capable of being adjusted down to pull weights of a couple of ounces if required. This then becomes a genuine ‘hair trigger’, and although this does allow minimal movement of the muscles and trigger finger, it should not be attempted by less experienced shooters due to the dangers of such a light trigger pull. Hunters tend to set their trigger weights around the 1-2lb release weight, which is considerably safer when you’re in a cold wet field with freezing hands, your trigger finger is numb, and you can’t feel the blade.
I have set the trigger pull on my own Anschutz target rifle to a pull weight of 7 ounces (measured on a Lyman trigger gauge). This is still light, but allows me to hover on the target with the second stage ready to be tripped as the perfect sight picture is achieved and the shot flies downrange. If the trigger was set any lower, even thinking about releasing the shot, never mind touching the blade will be sufficient for the shot to be released when not intended. This is another reason for not touching the trigger blade at all until you have acquired the correct placement of the shot via your scope reticle. Only then should the trigger finger be carefully brought into play, with the tip of the finger touching the blade itself and the first stage taken up. A final check of the sight picture and a very minimal movement of the finger releases the shot, and you should see the picture remain precisely the same as it was before the trigger was tripped. I usually set my springer triggers at about a 1lb let-off, with the most important consideration then being lack of creep.
The follow-through part is just as important as the trigger release, and should really be considered as part of the same process. Simply keep yourself in precisely the same position as you were prior to releasing the shot. Don’t move a muscle! You only have to maintain this for a couple of seconds for maximum benefit. The hardest part is remembering to do this, until you have trained yourself to think of it as being part of the act of pulling the trigger.
Springer vs PCP
Shooting a PCP and being able to maintain a clear sight picture is very easy indeed due to the lack of much happening within the gun’s action. Apart from the trigger sears, the only other component working is the hammer which is responsible for releasing the air behind the pellet. As the hammer weighs only a very small percentage of the gun’s overall mass, this does not have much, if any influence on perceived movement during the firing cycle as it flies forward and hits the valve assembly.
The same cannot be said for the spring-powered recoiling rifle, however. Contained within the cylinder of the springer are lots of moving components that are unleashed following the release of the trigger. The mainspring releases its stored energy and propels the piston rapidly towards the end of the compression tube, where it squeezes the air, builds up the pressure and eventually fires the pellet down the barrel. This all happens in milliseconds, but it is still sufficient time for the process to have a significant impact on your ability to maintain a proper aim.
You can imagine how the movement of these particular components affects the shooter’s ability to maintain a clear sight picture. If the shooter is using a target rifle weighing in the region of 15lb, as some Field Target rigs do, the additional weight can and does tend to reduce the recoil perceived by the shooter. For shooters using spring-powered guns with sporter-style stocks, though, recoil is something that must be carefully managed if an accurately placed shot is to be the outcome. The much larger mass presented by the swiftly moving mechanism imparts a rearward recoil followed by a smaller movement forward as the shot cycle progresses.
All this movement must be accounted for if an accurate shot is to be placed, and explains why it is far harder to shoot a springer accurately. The many specialists who work on spring-powered gun actions trying to reduce the felt shot cycle, will also strive to make the transition between trigger release and placement of an accurate shot as vibration- and movement-free as possible. It is amazing to shoot a properly, fully tuned springer, then compare it with a gun straight out of the box.
It is therefore far harder to not only maintain a good sight picture during the firing cycle of a springer, but to ensure that a grab-free hold is maintained as the gun moves. Failure to apply the same hold technique usually results in a different point of impact as the gun moves differently during the cycle if your supporting hand and cheek position differs. Guns that are known for this are described as ‘hold-sensitive’, although all springers will shoot to different points of aim to some extent if the proper hold technique cannot be accommodated, due to the location of the shooting position for example. This might be leaning on a tree taking an elevated shot or holding the gun up the peg and making sure that no part of it touches anything other than your supporting hand and shoulder.
Finally, the span of time that spring guns take between releasing the shot and the pellet leaving the barrel is much longer than with a PCP. This means that follow-through on the shot is even more critical as the shooter strives to hold the bouncing beast as it eventually fires the shot downrange. Failure to do so will always result in a missed shot.