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Triggers

This article could trigger some argument. Or better shooting.

Ron Spomer

Triggers are often an overlooked part of shooting accuracy. We go bananas over calibers, barrel diameters, stock bedding and scopes — and ignore our triggers. Yet, a bad trigger can negate $2,000 worth of accuracy-enhancing custom accuracy work!

Think about it. No matter how accurate and precise your rifle, scope and bullet, if you move the rifle while pulling the trigger, you ruin the accuracy. Ideally, a trigger should break so cleanly that the rifle never budges.

Finger pulling a trigger.

A lot of this can be controlled by the shooter. Most of us can learn how to control a fairly heavy or rough trigger and compensate for its bad behavior. But a great trigger — one that breaks “like a glass rod” with no creep, no dragging, no coarse movement, no hesitation and minimal pressure — a trigger like that can cut the best shooter’s group size in half!

What a trigger does is release a sear (a “hook” or notched bar) that holds back the firing pin, which is under spring pressure.) The lighter the pressure needed to nudge the sear free — and the smoother and shorter this connection — the easier it is to fire the rifle without disturbing (moving) it. But if this connection is too easily broken, the firearm can be dangerous, prone to firing when you don’t want it to — such as when you slam the action closed or drop the gun. The sudden jarring frees the sear and the firing pin spring leaps forward. To prevent this, gun makers over the years have built “lawyer triggers” so heavy and difficult to jar off that they must have been engineered to prevent lawsuits rather than hit targets.

There was a time when good triggers pulled with about 2.5- to 4 pounds of pressure. On target rifles, they were sometime set to mere ounces. But, after the 1960s, factory rifles began sprouting increasingly heavy triggers. You had to take them to gunsmiths to lighten them up or buy aftermarket triggers, such as Timneys and Jewells.

Savage AccuTrigger. Note the silver actuator lever. If this isn’t pulled/pushed back, it’s upper end (unseen within the rifle) blocks the sear/firing pin from traveling forward to strike the primer.

Today, however, factory-rifle triggers are lightening up again, largely because gun makers have found safe ways to do it. Savage started the trend with its Accu-Trigger, a unique device the puts a mechanical block in the way to prevent the sear/striker/firing pin from moving all the way to the primer unless and until the shooter pulls a lever out of the way. This lever is cleverly placed in the center of the regular trigger shoe, making it easy to pull out of the way as a natural part of pulling the trigger. Without the shooter’s finger on it, however, a spring holds it back so that its upper end blocks the sear/striker/firing pin from moving forward. Even if the rifle is jarred severely (like dropping it from 14 feet) it cannot fire because this striker block is in the way. 

Once the Accu-Trigger broke the ice, most gun-makers began building better, safe triggers. Many of today’s bolt-action rifles feature triggers that can be adjusted by the user. They adjust as low as 2 pounds on field rifles, 6 ounces on target models. Follow manufacturer directions precisely or take it to a gunsmith.

Triggers adjust for not just the weight or pressure required to pull or push the sear off the striker, but for the length (creep) of the pull plus “over travel.” If the trigger continues moving appreciably once the firing pin has been set free, your finger continues to move, potentially shifting the rifle off target before the bullet leaves the barrel.

Timney makes aftermarket, adjustable triggers for many, many firearms. Following supplied directions, users can easily mount them.

The ideal trigger (according to some shooters) has a “surprise break.” It has no creep, breaks crisply and immediately stops. Because you can’t feel it nearing its breaking point, you concentrate on the target and your hold.

To learn how a trigger “feels,” unload your gun, point it in a safe direction with a safe backdrop, aim, close your eyes and concentrate on what your finger is feeling as you increase pressure on the trigger shoe. Does it creep backward? Does it feel as if you’re dragging it across a gravel parking lot? Does it continue moving backward after the firing pin moves? Or does it suddenly break, catching you by surprise with no perceptible movement, roughness or “after travel?” The latter is what you want.

Some shooters prefer a “two stage” trigger that does travel a bit before suddenly increasing in tension. This let’s them know it is ready to break with a bit more pressure. You can learn to use either effectively. The weight of the pulling pressure (pull weight) can be anything you want. Most hunters prefer something from 2.5- to 4 pounds for field use, leaning toward the heavy end when wearing gloves in cold weather. Varmint shooters often like 1- to 2 pounds of pull, and benchrest target shooters take pull weight down to a few ounces — not safe during rough field/hunting conditions. Your best advice is to consult your rifle manufacturer for recommendations or a qualified gunsmith.

But do spend some money to get a good trigger. Your shooting will improve.

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Ron Spomer has been photographing and writing about the outdoors for nearly four decades. He’s written seven books, hunted on six continents and been published in more than 120 magazines. He’s currently rifles’ editor at “Sporting Classics,” Travel columnist at “Sports Afield,” Field Editor at “American Hunter” and “Guns & Ammo” — Optics Columnist at “North American Hunter,” Contributing Editor at “Successful Hunter,” Senior Writer at “Gun Hunter,” and TV host of “Winchester World of Whitetail.” He will write on Shooting Tips weekly for sportsmansguide.com. You can read his blogs and catch some of his YouTube videos at www.Ronspomeroutdoors.com.

 

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