Guns and Gear

Hoober: The Instances In Which It Might Be The Gun

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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By Sam Hoober

Most of the time, meaning almost all of the time, poor marksmanship is the fault of the shooter not the gun. They made a mistake or just haven’t put in enough practice to get good yet.

Thousands, if not millions, of innocent guns get blamed every year for the misdeeds of the shooter.

However, there are a very few instances in which it actually might be the gun, though they are few, far between and quite specific.

First is in the case of an actual and serious mechanical malfunction. That literally is the fault of the gun, or rather is the fault of the manufacturer for making a defective product, but this is of course obvious.

So long, of course, is the malfunction is not the fault of the shooter. Insufficient cleaning and lubrication is user error. Using magazines that aren’t made by Wilson Combat in a 1911 pistol is user error. Insufficient maintenance is likewise user error.

However, there is one instance in which it really might be the gun.

How so?

Too far or too short a trigger reach. That is the one aspect of a gun that really can make it a lot harder for a person to shoot the gun well. Not so much trigger weight, in case of double-action pistols (revolvers, DA/SA or DAO semi-autos) but the the trigger reach.

Trigger reach is a straight line distance from the front face of the trigger to the back of the grip, much like the length of pull in long guns. A poor fit, in this regard, can make a gun harder if not impossible to shoot.

This is why it seems like women have more problems firing a shotgun or a long gun that fits a man. The longer length of pull makes it harder to shoulder the gun, get a good cheek weld and press the trigger properly.

Oh, and guys let’s stop with the 3-inch shell pranks, okay? It’s not funny.

Grip circumference – how big the grip is – plays a part here too, but think of the trigger reach as being the diameter of the grip plus a bit extra. The bigger the grip, therefore, the longer the trigger reach.

Along with how you grip the gun, how you manipulate the trigger is almost all of accurate handgun shooting. It’s simple – but not always easy! – in that all you have to do is press the trigger until BANG! occurs, without moving the gun.

Don’t take my word for it; here’s Rob Leatham on the topic.


Too long a trigger reach is more problematic than too short of one.

The classic technique, which some instructors still advocate, is that a perfect trigger press involves putting the pad of the trigger finger – the smart ones will say the “distal phalange” – on the trigger and perfectly pressing it to the rear, discharging the gun.

What’s come to be understood in the fullness of time is that the exact placement doesn’t matter; what matters instead is the ability of the shooter to press the trigger without disturbing the sights.

For some shooters, the pad of the finger works. Others find they need a bit more digit to perform a perfect trigger press, but only being able to barely touch the face of the go switch is definitely not a recipe for success.

Don’t take my word for it; listen to an expert, such as Pat McNamara.

So, what that means is you have to get enough finger on the trigger to manipulate it properly to place a shot accurately. If your trigger finger is not long enough to due that due to a trigger reach that’s too long for you then you have a gun which does not fit!

In fact, that is a big reason why so many people have or have had a terrible time shooting DA/SA pistols when they were the prevalent pistol design for the civilian and service markets.

The FBI famously did not keep 10mm long as their standard service cartridge; agents had issues with the large frame of the Smith and Wesson Model 1076, as well as the recoil which is fairly stout with full-power 10mm Auto loadings.

Many former service members loathe the Beretta M9 due to the DA trigger reach causing them issues. Granted, some people have other reasons as well (such as the magazines) but that certainly earned the pistol some enmity.

That’s also why one of the guidelines in the XM17 trials for the pistol they replaced the M9 with – the M17 and M18, aka the Sig Sauer P320 – was interchangeable grips.

In short, there is an instance in which it really is the gun, namely the fit of the gun to the shooter in regards to trigger operation. If a particular pistol makes it hard or harder for you to shoot it…then you really should replace it with something that doesn’t.

Sam Hoober is a hunter and shooter based in the Inland Northwest.