Keys to Good Shooting

“Moment of Truth”


Steve Light



This is the fourth and last of a series of articles on the keys to good shooting.  Three previous articles, which were published in The Skirmish Line have discussed the importance of the human element to good shooting.  The theme of these articles is that to maximize shooting performance, the skirmisher must improve his shooting skills.  Also, the improvement of the shooting skills and performance requires a tremendous amount of time in preparation, training and practicing.


This article is entitled, “Moment of Truth”, because no matter how well you have prepared for good shooting, you will shoot low scores if you use a poor sighting and trigger release method.  The moment of truth occurs when the bullet exits the muzzle. If the bullet’s path is not true at that moment, then the results will be a missed shot and a lot of wasted lead and time in preparation and training.


What is meant by “sighting and trigger release method”?  For the purpose of this article, it is defined as the process used by the shooter to produce a coordinated action between sighting (aligning the Musket’s front and rear sights with the target) and releasing the trigger. The word ”coordinated” is emphasized because there must be precise coordination among the eye, brain, and muscle functions to produce good results.  The type of sights (peep versus open) or holds (center versus six o’clock) will not be discussed since they were described briefly in previous articles.  The main discussion of this article involves what happens between the moment the target is sighted and the moment the bullet exits the muzzle.


This article will discuss two general methods of sighting the target and releasing the trigger.  The two methods differ in the timing and manner in which the trigger is released.  It is believed that most shooters will fall into one or between the two general methods to be described.


The first method of sighting and releasing the trigger is to employ a slow squeeze on the trigger while sighting the target.  The shooter is not supposed to know when the trigger will release.  He maintains an easy and steady squeeze on the trigger while the front sight is on target until the trigger is released.  If the front sight drifts off the target, then the shooter should stop the squeeze and only start again when the sight is back on target.  Although I have oversimplified the description of this method, it is one that is recommended by many shooting authorities.  For this reason, I am not spending much time on this method since information on this technique is available from many shooting books.


The second general sighting and trigger release method is to instantaneously release the trigger when the sight picture is true.  For the purpose of this article, I am calling this method “controlled snap shooting” even though snap shooting is perceived by many shooters as an ugly word and a method not to be used for good shooting.  I have never seen a definition of snap shooting or any information on the technique of snap shooting.  My own definition of snap shooting is that the shooter releases the trigger with a quick pull or snap of the trigger at the exact moment he recognizes the sight picture to be true.  The controlled snap shooting method, which will be described in subsequent paragraphs, differs from pure snap shooting only in one area, that is, the trigger is not released at the exact moment that the sight picture is true but only when the front sight has momentarily settled on the target.  Thus, the snap of the trigger finger is controlled until the front sight has stopped for a second or two on the target.  Some shooters will want to stop the front sight on the target longer than others, but best results for me occur when I practice keeping the time interval very small between the time the front sight settles on the target and the moment the brain tells you to pull or snap the trigger finger.


Before proceeding with a description of the controlled snap shooting method, a few words of caution are needed.  The controlled snap shooting method is based on my own shooting method and experience.  Also, I am biased toward this method over the method of slowly squeezing the trigger since I use it for both individual and team shooting although I hold on target a little longer for individual match shooting.  I am told by knowledgeable shooters that the controlled snap shooting method required too much timing and coordination to be used successfully by most shooters.  I AM NOT RECOMMENDING THE CONTROLLED SNAP SHOOTING METHOD OVER ANY OTHER.  However, I personally believe that the method of instantaneously releasing the trigger will produce the best results for many skirmishers.  My recommendations, as is the case with an other shooting advice, is to try various methods to determine which method produces the best results.  More importantly, each shooter should understand the basic steps involved in sighting the target and releasing the trigger so he can analyze his present method to identify areas requiring improvement.  Therefore, the major objective of this article is not to advocate the controlled snap shooting method but to describe the steps involved in sighting the target and releasing the trigger so the reader can relate each step to his own method and experience.


The following paragraphs will describe each step involved in the controlled snap shooting method and highlight the essential elements that must be mastered.  If the essential points are mastered, then an improved shooting performance will result regardless of the method used since many of the points to be discussed are applicable to all methods.


The shooter goes through the following mental and physical actions when sighting the target and releasing the trigger:


-         shooter sights target

-         eye reads sight picture

-         brain tells shooter picture is correct

-         brain relays message to finger

-         finger pulls trigger

-         hammer is released

-         percussion cap detonates

-         powder charge explodes

-         expanding gasses expel bullet

-         bullet exits muzzle




The point to be illustrated by  breaking down the above actions is that there is a time interval involved between the time you sight the target and the moment the bullet exits the muzzle.  The time interval is very small, perhaps only a second or less.  Nevertheless, there is a time lapse during which something could go wrong.  The shooter should understand this and concentrate on practicing a sighting and trigger release method that minimizes the error that can occur during the very small time interval.  Also, the shooter’s equipment must be designed or selected to minimize the interval by using a well tuned lock and good powder and caps.  For example, powder ignition is faster when you use smaller powder granules.  There is a noticeable difference in ignition time between FFF and FF powder.  FF powder burns at a slower rate which increases the time interval previously discussed.


When sighting the target, the eye and brain should only concentrate on holding the front sight on target (applies to a peep sight). Do not concentrate on the target but keep your concentration on the front sight in the black.  Don’t be too concerned about holding exactly on center.  Other than the varying sizes of skirmish targets, one of the reasons that I like a center hold is that my true sight picture occurs when the front sight is approximately within the middle of the black or target boundary.  I do not attempt to hold the exact center since no person can hold a Musket exactly center.  Also, the relatively crude sights on Muskets make it very difficult to tell when you are exactly on center.  I like a black sight on a black target since I prefer to let the front sight melt or blend into the target rather than attempting to hold a contrasting point into a specific location on the target.  Therefore, when the front sight has momentarily settled into the black or confines of the target boundary, I snap the trigger.


It is important to sight (the eye and brain presents the picture of the front sight on target) as fast as possible.  Many shooters start their sighting by moving the Musket and front sight from left to right or up and down and then at the very moment the front sight crosses the target, the release the trigger.  I do not recommend this method, which I call the drift method, because the slow and varying reaction time of Muskets preclude the precise timing needed to match the exit of the bullet with the exact moment that the front sight crosses the target.


The next step is a difficult one and can only be perfected through practice and proper body conditioning.  Practice is required to fine tune the timing and coordination that is needed among the eye, mental and muscle functions which are involved in sighting the target and releasing the trigger.  Body conditioning is required to reduce nervousness and increase muscle strength to enable a steadier and longer hold of the front sight on the target.  The front sight must be held on the target for an instant of time.  How long you hold on target is a judgment call and the area where many mistakes are made.  You must be satisfied that the front sight is on target long enough so that the front sight will still be on target when the bullet leaves the muzzle.  However, you should not hold the Musket on the target too long or you will start to wobble.  The longer you attempt to hold on target, the more shaky you will become.  You must learn to bring the sight on the target as fast as possible.  Usually, the better aim will occur immediately after you raise the Musket and bring the front sight on target.  If you start to wobble, then lower the Musket to the waist and wait a few seconds before attempting to re-sight the Musket on target.


When the brain tells you that the sight picture is correct and the hold is steady, then it is time to make the decision to pull the trigger.  If you make the working decision, then you should be able to call the location of your missed shot.  The sight picture must not be disturbed by the act of using the trigger finger.  Movement of the trigger (index) finger must be independent from the hand, arm, or body.  Hold the Musket somewhat loosely with the left hand and just snug to the shoulder with the right hand.  The left arm should be relaxed and provide only a balancing support for the Musket.  Don’t keep the body or left arm taut or use the left arm to pull the Musket to the body.  The right thumb and three fingers should grasp the wrist of the stock tightly with the trigger finger being able to act independently.  Pull or snap the trigger with a quick and crisp action without moving any other part of the hand, arms or other part of the body.  Never jerk the finger.  The only portion of the trigger finger that should move is from the middle joint to the tip.


A FOLLOW THROUGH IS VERY CRITICAL TO GOOD SHOOTING.  This means that no body movement should occur between the moment that you recognize the sight picture as true and the moment the bullet exits the muzzle.  This time interval is probably no longer than a second.  Therefore, it would seem a simple task to follow through, that is keep the body still for one second.  However, the task is difficult because the body anticipates the recoil at the same time that the brain sends the message to pull the trigger.  The body reacts to this message by a tightening or jerking of the muscles that causes the body to move and disturb the hold.  An advantage of the steady squeeze method of trigger pull is that you never know when the trigger is going to release, therefore, the body does not get the message to prepare for the recoil. 


However, even with the controlled snap shooting method, you can learn to follow through and control the unwanted flinch  or movement of the body before the bullet exits the muzzle.  You can practice this by sighting and dry firing at home.  Sight a spot on the wall with the Musket and then release the trigger when you are satisfied you are on target.  When the hammer has struck the nipple, recheck your sight picture.  If the front sight is still on the target, then you will have held long enough and properly followed through.


It has been difficult to describe a shooting process that mostly involves mental and physical timing and coordination.  However, I hope this article and the others have provided some useful hints and an incentive to motivate a few skirmishers to improve their shooting.  These articles will not by themselves make you a better shot.  The concepts and ideas must be reinforced through a lot of hard work.  A good sighting and trigger release method comes only through a lot of practice to perfect the timing and coordination.  Practice until you can call each shot.  If you can call your shot, then this means that you have mental picture of where your front sight was when the bullet left the barrel.  Then when you can call your shots, practice some more until the missed shots are the exception rather than the rule. When you can do this, then you not only have a mental picture of your front sight on the target but you have physical control to keep the front sight on the target until the bullet exits the muzzle.