The NOTORIOUS Surprise Break

A few months back Shooting Illustrated ran an article by me on the surprise trigger break entitled No Surprises. It generated a good bit of mail from folks that learned to shoot a gun by letting the trigger break surprise them. I contended, that is a bad approach, that a gun should only go off at the precise moment you intend it to. I didn’t make this stuff up, two instructors I’ve worked with who were combat snipers agree as do a few other instructors I’ve also trained with.

Here’s the thing, have you ever heard a professional marksman finish a course of fire and say, “Gee, I was surprised every time the gun went off.” Um, I’m guessing the answer is “no.” When an experienced person picks up a strange rifle or handgun, they will dry fire it a time or two before they live fire. Why? They want to learn the trigger so they can eliminate that surprise when it breaks. They need to know the trigger so they can make it break when they want it too.

Granted, when you are first learning to shoot a firearm, you will be surprised when the trigger breaks – its just like learning what you can and can not say around your wife. You can learn this with dry-fire and save a lot of ammo. Some will point out that the surprise break teaching technique helps to overcome flinching – well, yeah, after you do it enough. The counter point can be offered that the flinch comes from not knowing when the gun will go off – because you are, guess what? Expecting a surprise.

Maybe the reason folks stop flinching is because they finally figure out when the trigger will actually break.

When do you break the trigger? When the sights are aligned on target. If the “bang” surprises you, you’re doing something wrong. And, when you do have to shoot that bad guy that is trying to beat you to death with a tire iron, tell the jury you were “surprised” when the gun when off.

I asked former Marine Sniper / Marine Sniper instructor Caylen Wojcik if he knew when his trigger was going to break or if it was a surprise to him. He said, “I know exactly when its going to break, if it surprises me I usually miss.” Rifles Only instructor Jacob Bynum agrees.

Basically, my contention is that if you are shooting with the surprise break technique, you’re not shooting enough – you have not learned to make the gun go off when you want it to. Even wonder why shooters get trigger jobs or replace triggers in guns. So they can predict – not guess – when the trigger will break.


About gunwriter

Born and raised in the West Virginia hills, Richard literally grew up in the woods. He has chased coon hounds until daylight, waited out whitetails perched high in an oak, canoed the New River and hunted from the Montana Mountains to the Green Hills of Africa. During service in the Army and later as a municipal police officer and Special Agent with the railroad police, Richard obtained numerous certifications in small arms instruction. He has trained military personnel, law enforcement officers and civilians in the application of firearms for defensive, competitive and recreational use. Richard won the West Virginia Governor’s Twenty Award for law enforcement, the West Virginia National Guard State Pistol Competition and earned his Distinguished Medal with pistol. Badge turned in, Richard is now a contributing editor for several magazines. He was the compiling author of the book, Rifle Bullets for the Hunter and conceptualized and contributed to Selecting and Ordering a Custom Hunting Rifle. Richard also contributed a chapter to the John Velke book, The True Story of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. Richard has patents on a riflescope reticle and a revolutionary bullet testing media. A hillbilly at heart, Richard lives on Shadowland - his shooting range in West Virginia - with the most understanding wife in the world, their three kids and a very protective ridgeback hound.
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3 Responses to The NOTORIOUS Surprise Break

  1. Aaron Spuler says:

    Great points Richard. Keep up the good work on the blog, I really enjoy it.

    BTW, I am having a blah day too. I think my excuse is lack of sleep. My 2 year old has been waking up every night, usually multiple times a night, for two weeks now and I’m feeling it.

  2. John J. says:

    There is some validity for the points expressed in the article, and it doesn’t surprise me military snipers are pointing out the flaws in the surprise break theory.

    In the FM for Army Snipers, it actually states that the main cause for the ‘flinch’ is mostly due to unfamiliarity with the weapon system/rifle.

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