Subconscious Trigger Control

You have described only too well,” replied the Master, “where the difficulty lies…The right shot at the right moment does not come because you do not let go of yourself. You…brace yourself for failure. So long as that is so, you have no choice but to call forth something yourself that ought to happen independently of you, and so long as you call it forth your hand will not open in the right way–like the hand of a child.:

Eugen Herrigel, “Zen in the Art of Archery”

 

I’ve written a little on trigger control in the past, but something I re-read recently exposed something that I hadn’t experienced before or had forgotten about. I was reading “With Winning In Mind” by Lanny Bassham again. He has a section on subconscious trigger control. Something finally clicked for me after reading it.

What I had been doing before was a rather sequential redirection of my attention based on where I was in the process of firing a shot. There are different methods out there for the steps of firing a shot. I don’t think the particular method is important, just that all the bases are covered. What the methods seem to advocate is a serialized (one after the other) set of actions leading up to and through the firing of a shot. If one were to shoot “by the numbers” it could very well lead an obedient and willing pupil to follow them with one’s attention, one after the other. I think this was what I had been doing. When my sights were right I transitioned my attention to my trigger finger to make sure that the technique was perfect.

The problem with this approach, if Bassham is correct, is that the conscious mind can only really focus on one thing at a time. So when I transition my attention from my sight to my trigger, and trying to consciously control each step, I am probably leaving the quality of my sight picture behind when I move on to the trigger control step. What Bassham says is the solution to the limitations of the conscious mind’s inability to multitask is that the subconscious mind is capable of performing many tasks simultaneously.  This is beyond the capabilities of a “by the numbers” type approach.

I also believe that putting one’s complete attention into controlling a task seldom results in as good an outcome as something that is allowed to happen, assuming proper training. If the attention is on the task, how can that task be adapted to what is unfolding under real time. The attention is on the ball, not on the hand that is preparing to catch it.

I can maintain a sight picture as I press the trigger. In fact, what I found out is that an acceptable sight picture can lead the trigger finger to press the trigger without really thinking about it. Of course, there is the will to fire and I am aware of what I’m doing, but there is no attempt at controlling the entire process.  What there is a lot of is observation and awareness. That’s what all the dry fire was for, to get the technique to the point where it can just happen.

What was strange was that it just took the suggestion to operate the trigger subconsciously to allow it to start happening. Of course the framework for this had been building from the time commenter “RF” had posted on it some time ago on the blog. It might have even started earlier when I read “With Winning In Mind” for the first time, when shooting a 1911 was at the forefront of my mind. I have experienced subconscious trigger control before, but I don’t think I have ever been able to allow it to happen consistently with a only a simple decision to do so.

After reading this suggestion, it was just a matter of picking up my rifle, getting a proper sight picture, and letting the trigger press and the bolt work happen without trying to micro-manage the process. It happens a lot cleaner this way, in terms of time, steadiness, directing one’s attention, and the quality of the trigger break. The advantages are magnified as the situation becomes less predictable.

Thank you for reading.

8 thoughts on “Subconscious Trigger Control

  1. In the back of Snipercraft there is suggested reading list on that short list is “Secrets of mental marksmanshiip: How to fire perfect shots, I happened upon a copy of this in our little local library ,must say it is a quite a work ,one neat thing is the points are followed by real life stories applying them and they are taken from Military, LEO,Hunter and Competitor experiences ,It applies to all shots taken be it a snap shot or a rested shot- even if you are not a shooter it has some really positive attitude applications

  2. Stumbled over a copy of “mental marksmanship:How to fire prefect shots” in our little local library and found it was recommended reading suggested in “Snipercraft” quite a work I must say ,each point is followed by a real life story from Military ,LEO, Hunter and Competitors -even if you are non-shooter book is a great attitude improver

  3. Pingback: A Thought | The Everyday Marksman

  4. “I can maintain a sight picture as I press the trigger. In fact, what I found out is that an acceptable sight picture can lead the trigger finger to press the trigger without really thinking about it. Of course, there is the will to fire and I am aware of what I’m doing, but there is no attempt at controlling the entire process. What there is a lot of is observation and awareness. That’s what all the dry fire was for, to get the technique to the point where it can just happen.”

    BINGO my friend. The subconscious runs the trigger finger based on what the eye sees. I find this is the way fast handgun shooting works for me. I transitioned from the conscious to the subconscious through regular, frequent practice, and my speed increased greatly. Always focusing intently on the sight picture, and putting no thought at all to the trigger work; the gun seemed to simply shoot itself when the sight picture was correct. When you can see (without blinking) the handgun front sight lift in recoil, see the slide open and the empty case eject, and it feels like you are waiting for the slide to finish cycling so you can shoot again, and when the front sight drops down into the rear notch giving correct alignment and the follow-up shot simply goes at that instant, you’re there.

    For rifle shooting (at least the more deliberate, small-target-far-away kind) this does not happen, at least for me, and I can tell the difference – I can recall some shots wishing I was using my handgun trigger technique instead but not quite making it happen.

  5. This is where intensive pistol practice really pays dividends. It is also one of the reasons that the best units in the country spend more time on their pistols (usually) than on their primary weapons. It is because no one can practically shoot 20,000 plus rounds a year through a bolt gun. With a pistol, that’s just not that hard to do. Even greater disparity exists for those of us who have in the past, or still, shoot upwards of 50,000 pistol rds a year. A pistol lets you experience way more trigger pulls, and with varying degrees of acceptable sight picture, so that your trigger finger learns faster, and acts more subconsciously sooner and more often, until all you think is “hit that target”, and then it is hit. Friends of mine who have had no rifle or carbine experience, but who are master level pistol shooters, pick up rifle shooting at a very high level with just a few days of practice. Not so the other way around.

      • I agree as well. With a rifle, consider what 50 quality dry shots a day, five days a week, would do. 50(52*5) = 13000. Quality dry fire also has other benefits that live fire does not, and given the cost of ammo and extra time and effort involved in actually putting lead downrange, the development of this skill for a rifle shooter is probably best worked on with dry fire.

  6. “I can maintain a sight picture as I press the trigger. In fact, what I found out is that an acceptable sight picture can lead the trigger finger to press the trigger without really thinking about it. Of course, there is the will to fire and I am aware of what I’m doing, but there is no attempt at controlling the entire process. What there is a lot of is observation and awareness. That’s what all the dry fire was for, to get the technique to the point where it can just happen.”

    BINGO.
    That is how high speed pistol shooting is done, shifting from the conscious to the subconscious. When your eye sees the correct sight picture the shot just goes, without any conscious thought of trigger action. More of a programmed instantaneous reflex, initiated by intense concentration and focus on the sights. I can do this with handgun but not quite with the rifle. Not enough rifle reps yet I guess, at least compare to volume of handgun practice!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *