Shooting Your AR15 (better)

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The skill of developing a good trigger pull is the difference between a hit and a miss. Here’s how to get started developing perfect mechanics.

Pulling the trigger is the “last thing that happens” in the shot process. Well, technically, there’s also hammer or striker fall, primer ignition, and so on, but breaking the hammer loose from the sear is the last part we influence. Yes, it’s important.

There’s an old saw that goes “let the shot be a surprise…” Wrong. That’s a great concept for teaching a brand-new shooter not to be afraid: keep putting pressure back against the trigger until the shot goes. That helps avoid anticipation-induced flinch. However. When we’re really shooting, sights on targets and time is important, you best know when the shot is going. Trick is to break the shot, pull the trigger, without moving the sights off the target. That requires a little technique, and that’s what this article is about.

First, the best point of contact with the trigger face is near the middle of the first pad of the index finger. Not farther in. Ideally, the last joint of the index finger (closest to the fist knuckle) will be parallel to the gun receiver. That helps produce a “straight back” pull.

point of contact with trigger
Here’s the point of contact with the trigger face for best mechanics. It’s not easy to attain on an issue AR15 trigger, but get as close as you can. Of great importance is that no other little bit of the finger touches the rifle. If it does, there will, not can, be rifle movement during the trigger pull.

Make double-sure that no other part of the index finger is contacting anything else! Done right, only the trigger finger moves to press the trigger. The rest of the hand stays calm and steady (no matter how tight the gripping pressure is). This is something to put on the checklist: learning and practicing isolating movement to only the trigger finger. And move it straight back. Any side-loads will also move the gun, which will move the sights.

This ideal architecture may be difficult to duplicate depending on the distance the finger has to reach to access the trigger face. Usually, especially with pistol-grip-equipped rifles, the distance to the trigger is closer than ideal. Be aware of what you’re trying to accomplish (pull straight back, no side pressure), and a little fudging in finger positioning will find a way. For me, and the eons of hours I spent fiddling with this, with an AR15 I decided that getting the last joint parallel to the receiver ultimately was a more influential factor than perfect placement of the trigger face on the first joint of my finger. I’m moved in closer to the first joint than to the fingertip.

When you’re practicing the “move only the trigger finger” tactic, you might notice that it’s difficult to do that without also having the thumb move. They’re a team. As best as I can, I effectively remove my thumb from the equation by holding it upwards (if possible) and keeping it either away from contact with the rifle or deliberately held against the rifle with constant force. The sympathetic “pinching” habit has to be overcome. Sympathetic, in this use, means unavoidably linked. Flexing the thumb in conjunction with moving the index finger will, not can, influence shot impacts.

A great trigger makes all this next a far sight easier, but the mechanics involved in a skillful trigger pull have a lot to do with what happens after the sear breaks. “Follow-through” has different definitions, and that’s because it’s as much of a concept as it is a technique. Follow-through, to me, is “staying with” the trigger break for a spell after the shot has gone. This spell might vary from a couple of seconds to no more than an eye blink, and the reason is the sort of “reverse” effect it has on all that goes before. A focus on this will, not can, improve your shooting! I focus on keeping the trigger held back and also watching the sight. Follow-through promotes smoothness, and reduces undesirable movement. Call it a trick, but it works.

Shooting a semi-auto rifle, like an AR15, keep your finger on the trigger shot to shot. “Ride the trigger.” Some folks treat a trigger like it’s hot: they poke it back with the trigger finger and then jump off it. Staying in contact avoids “slapping” the trigger, which creates all manner of shot impacts strayed from center. You should be able to feel the trigger reset on every shot. The reset is the little “pop” you feel when the disconnector hands off the hammer to the sear. Pull the trigger, hold it back, let it forward and feel the reset: the trigger is prepped and ready for its next release.

AR15 disconnector function
With any semi-automatic, you’ll do better if you keep the trigger finger in contact with the trigger face all the way through each shot, back and forward, for all the shots. Don’t jump on and off it. Ride it. Feel the disconnector work: pull back and hold (top photo), and then release forward and feel the “pop” as the trigger resets for another go.

Learning how this feels, and seeing how much it helps, might add a whole new dimension to your shooting.

In another article I’ll talk about trigger types and traits that can either help or hamper results. The answers might not be predictable.


Glen Zediker is a card-carrying NRA High Master competitive shooter and earned that classification in NRA High Power Rifle using an AR15 Service Rifle. For more information, and more articles, please check out ZedikerPublishing.com

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2 thoughts on “Shooting Your AR15 (better)”

  1. Wow!!! What great articles. Learned more in two min than I could imagine. Keep them coming…..I love it 🙂 :-). 🙂 🙂

  2. Appleseed ,Appleseed ,Appleseed . RWVA.org Find one in your state and sign up! You will learn this and much more . It’s not hard to shoot like a Rifleman !!!!

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