Marksmanship: Breathing & Trigger Squeeze – Survival Prepper

Marksmanship: Breathing & Trigger Squeeze

Effectively employing a ballistic weapon takes time and practice, and honestly, this little blog post isn’t going to do much for you if you do not have a way to practice. Realize this, you don’t need to have access to a Barret .50 cal in order to begin learning the fundamentals of marksmanship. That said, you should have access to something. If all you have is a .22, go for it. Hell, if you can only get access to a pellet gun and have to shoot in your backyard, do it; the fundamentals are the same.

Every expert, whether they are a combat sniper or an expert huntsman, had to start somewhere. Do not let a lack of equipment stop you from learning a valuable skill that can put food on the table and potentially save lives. Now that we got that out of the way, we have two topics: breathing and trigger squeeze.

Marksmanship Fundamentals: Breathing

While you shoot, breathing is by far more noticeable of these two elements. When you have a rifle tucked into the pocket of your shoulder, the rise and fall of your chest subsequently forces the rifle to rise and fall as well. In some situations, such as engagements within fifteen meters, your breathing is going to have little affect on whether or not you can hit a man-sized target. Anything beyond that, and you will notice major deviations of the bullet’s trajectory unless your breathing is properly controlled. This doesn’t mean you should hold your breath. Really, it is just a process to pull the trigger in the exact same position with every shot.

In order to see if you have a problem with your breathing, you will need to shoot at a paper target and track your rounds. Try using three shots before you stop to take a look. This will let you see the pattern to your shot grouping. The best shooters can get all of the rounds to hit the same point, which results in all of the bullet holes touching.

Breathing Problems & Solution

If you happen to notice that your rounds make a vertical line or that one of the bullet holes is way above or way below the others, then you know this is a sign that your breathing is out of sync. In order to have a consistent shot group, you need to pull the trigger at the exact same point in your breathing cycle.

For most people, it is easiest to wait for the bottom of the cycle which is known as the respiratory pause. This is that slight moment once you exhale that your lungs are empty, but your body is not straining for more oxygen. By engaging your target at this moment, you maintain comfort which is important to the overall process.

Marksmanship Fundamentals: Trigger Squeeze


The next element is a little bit trickier to notice and also a bit harder to fix. Everyone is able to feel the respiratory pause, but a trigger squeeze requires expert perception. Don’t worry if you deviate from time to time, especially in a real life situation. It takes discipline to maintain awareness when the adrenaline is pumping.

Trigger Squeeze Problems & Fixes

In the same way that breathing correlates to vertical deviations in your shot group, an improper trigger squeeze shows in your lateral movements. When one of your rounds is off the left or right of the others, then it is likely that you accidently jerked the trigger. While this is much harder to a bad trigger pull in the process, the results are clear.

In order to fix the problem, you need to practice pulling the trigger in a slow, yet steady motion. The term squeeze is really important because it is easier to apply an even amount of pressure if your whole hand is constricting at once. If you only use your finger, it acts as a lever and gently moves the rifle in the direction of your palm. You will know that you made a solid squeeze if the kick of the rifle surprises you. The firing pin should release before the trigger has made it all the way to the rear, and this should catch the best shooters unaware.

An added tip is to hold the trigger to the back of the trigger well once the rifle has engaged. In the same way that you squeezed, slowly release the pressure until you hear/feel a metallic click and then freeze. That click is the bolt resetting, and since you stopped right after it, it will only take a hair’s worth of pressure to set off the next round. This is a great way to minimize any errors because it lowers to amount of effort needed for your next squeeze.

Parting Thoughts on Rifle Marksmanship

While these are important parts to the fundamentals of marksmanship, they are not the only things you need to know. In addition to breathing and your trigger squeeze, a stable firing position and a good sight picture are essential to becoming an expert shot. Once you master the basics, you should be able to consistently engage targets out to 500 meters. If you want to get into long distance shooting, you will need to learn about windage and ballistic drop then practice factoring them into your initial aim. Thanks for reading and join us on Thursday for our next post.

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My name is Steven Capps, and I have a B.A. in English from the American Military University. My writing has been featured in Fiction, The Bird & Dog, Survival Sullivan, The Cass County Star Gazette, and many others. I currently serve as an Infantry Sergeant in the U.S. Army National Guard.