Russian Spetcnaz Firearms Safety Rules: Finger Off (Under? Over?) the Trigger.

    In the early 2000s, after the assault weapon ban was lifted and Kalashnikov rifles started to gain popularity on the US market, a lot of shooters were looking to learn the original Russian way to run an AK.

    Naturally, very few Russian instructors were available and very soon the demand was met by US instructors, who rapidly perfected their techniques and quickly, the new manual of arms was created. But the curiosity regarding the topic of “How to REALLY run an AK like a Russian” is still huge. There are typically two polarized opinions.

    Opinion 1: Those dirty commies know nothing and have no concept of firearms safety, their weapons are terrible and the only two things they are good at is killing hostages and throwing hatchets during a backflip.

    Opinion 2: 

    NYET! Rifle is fine! Keep that crap off my AK! I do it like Russians did it – with the iron sights! I don’t need no stinking red dot! Learn to run the weapon the original way and you won’t need any upgrades.

    As you can probably imagine, I am somewhere in the middle of this debate. In a series of articles, I will try to address some of the popular misconceptions regarding Kalashnikov rifles, traditional Russian manual of arms, and the perception of safety rules and other issues.

    I will start with the most common misconception – “Russian” interpretation of “finger off the trigger” rule. In 2011, famous instructor Sonny Puzikas (you might remember him for his controversial Panteo training film or because he shot his fellow instructor in a shoothouse after a class), released a training video “Beyond the Firearm-2”.

    In this video, he explains a pretty interesting technique, when instead of keeping his finger off the trigger, he keeps the finger inside the trigger guard and pushed outwards, toward mag release.

    I personally never met this instructor and don’t want to make any judgments behind his back. I think that should only be done face to face. So, no need to talk about the personality, let’s talk about technique.

    What troubles me about this technique are two things:

    1. In my personal opinion, it is a very unsafe way to prevent a negligent discharge.
    2. I’ve never seen any Russian soldier/officer/operator using this technique. I’ve never seen an instructor from any Russian special unit teaching this technique to anyone or even mentioning it. This technique is also not in any manual or training video currently or previously used by any Russian military units.

    It should be noted, that I never served in Russian Spetcnaz myself, but was lucky enough to participate in teaching some basic combat marksmanship courses, trained with certain units and was a Range Officer on numerous special forces competitions. If anyone tried to demonstrate this unconventional technique during training or SF shooting competition, I would have to disqualify him immediately.

    Author, giving a safety briefing during a special forces competition (2013). Picture source: http://www.nobninsk.ru/news/ipsc/2-avgusta-2013-kaluga.html

    So, where this strange technique comes from? It took me several days to find the answer and it was very, very surprising.

    According to Dmitri Samoilov, one of the leading researches of work and legacy of William E. Fairbairn, this exact method (finger inside the trigger guard with the tip pushing outward) was, in fact, taught by Fairbairn in the old days.

    William E. Fairbairn is a legendary British/American instructor and founder of a close-combat system from WW2 era, who trained British, American and Canadian Commandos, Rangers and OSS (Office of Strategic Services). Apparently, it seems like that he also taught the Soviet Spetcnaz unit where Sonny Puzikas served. How else you would explain that Sonny is demonstrating this ancient technique?

    People who never heard of this technique had a unique chance to see the ultimate proof of its “effectiveness” on the now famous video called “Travis Haley AK discharge”.

    You can watch the full video here

    What you see in a video is NOT a negligent discharge. Travis was explaining, why this technique is completely unsafe and should not be used, and a simple demonstration proved that he was right.

    When I watched the video for the first time that was very clear for me and I was surprised why so many people did not understand that. Later, I had an opportunity to discuss this video with Mr. Haley himself and he confirmed my opinion on the matter.

    In conclusion – sticking your finger in the trigger guard when you’re not shooting is unsafe, Russians never do it (on purpose) and if you try to do it, you will probably shoot yourself. So, don’t do it.

    Interestingly enough, in Russia we have another really weird “finger ready position” – finger BEHIND the trigger, inside the trigger guard.

    It was developed in one of the GRU Spetcnaz brigades for a very specific purpose – movement in the thick forest when small tree branches can accidentally press the trigger. To prevent that, someone came up with an idea to put the finger under the trigger guard to prevent a potential ND. And no, it has nothing to do with SKS and SVT safety, located under the trigger.

    At first, I thought that this technique is only used in Russia, but later I saw quite a few Gurkhas in Afghanistan doing exactly the same thing – putting a finger under the trigger. Also, in the US one website published an article advocating the so-called “Babineaux method”, when a finger was put under the trigger during reholstering of a handgun.

    I personally have a few problems with this technique.

    1. Does not work with every weapon. You CAN’T stick your finger under the trigger on Glock, 1911, AR15 and many other weapons.
    2. This method is shooter and gear sensitive. If you have big fingers, they simply wouldn’t fit under the trigger. Same if you’re using gloves, especially in cold weather.
    3. It is unreliable in general. Let’s say you have an AK and managed to stick your finger under the trigger. You’re creeping through the woods in your fancy cammies and suddenly you need to take something from the pouch on your right side, work with a map or maybe just scratch yourself. Your hand leaves a pistol grip and now trigger is exposed to brushes and gear elements that can accidentally press it. Why not just use the safety?
    4. You look like an idiot doing it. Sooner or later, you will try to do some competition shooting or get formal training. With a finger under the trigger, you’ll be disqualified from any match and perhaps kicked out of a class taught by any reputable instructor.

    In conclusion. If you see any questionable firearms safety rules or techniques, do not accept them just because, allegedly, some special units do that. Because, in my personal experience, real professionals from all around the world have extremely similar techniques and procedures, because that what works the best.Actual modern-day Russian counter-terrorist unit. Note straight trigger fingers and general similarity with western Special Operations units. Photo courtesy of Konstantin Lazarev: https://www.facebook.com/konstantin.lazarev.1982

    Vladimir Onokoy is a Russian defense industry specialist and firearms instructor. Over the years he worked in 15 different countries as a security contractor, armorer, firearms industry sales representative, product manager, and consultant.

    His articles were published in the Recoil magazine, Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defence Journal, and Silah Report, he also created several video series such as “Gun myths”, “Kalashnikov: around the world”, “Larry Vickers in Russia” and “Kalashnikov: evolution” that are available on YouTube.
    ► Email: machaksilver at gmail dot com.
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    ► YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/machaksilver


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