The Obsession of the Light Trigger

Petrol & Powder

Well-Known Member
I'm a "gun guy" and when the discussion turns to firearms, there will often be talk about trigger pull weight. I understand the desire for a decent trigger that exhibits a clean break in SA or a smooth DA pull. However, some people seem to think that a light trigger is the only factor in accuracy. They obsess with the action of the trigger.
There are lots of reasons for these attitudes, not the least of which is the human tendency to blame the equipment for your own failings.

The purpose of seeking a light pull weight is so that the efforts to manipulate the trigger do not disturb the aim. But we can go a little too far in this quest,

When we are dealing with bench rest target rifles, we can probably get pretty extreme in our quest for a light trigger and still be safe. When dealing with hunting rifles and general purpose rifles - a hair trigger is not the best idea. For most applications, a clean, crisp trigger with little or no creep and no over-travel; can have a pull weight of a few pounds and still be an excellent trigger. A super light trigger pull is really not desirable.

When we are talking about single action handguns (revolvers and pistols), The same rules apply. We want a clean trigger, with plenty of sear engagement, no creep, no over travel. We can afford to have a few pounds of pull weight to release the hammer. A good trigger doesn't have to be a super light trigger.

Then we get into the area of the Double Action trigger. This is where I need to remember to stay calm when talking to others.
Unlike a single action system where the sear merely releases the hammer or striker, in a DA system the trigger loads the hammer spring and then releases it. Some people equate a lightweight DA pull with accuracy. While it's true that an excessively heavy DA trigger will make it difficult to maintain sight alignment, the trigger pull weight is not the sole factor in accuracy.

The quest for lightweight DA pull can quickly go too far. A Smooth DA pull is far more desirable than a light DA pull.
Reducing the strength of the hammer spring (a common tactic to reduce trigger pull weight) can decrease reliable ignition. The lightest trigger in the world will be useless if the gun doesn't go bang when you need it to go bang.
Reducing hammer spring weight can also increase lock time and therefore decrease accuracy.
Another common tactic to reduce DA pull weight is to reduce the power of the trigger return spring (rebound spring ). There are problems here as well. Reducing the strength of the rebound spring will make trigger reset less positive and maybe even slower. Some exhibition shooters like the late Ed McGivern, actually used heavier rebound springs in an effort to speed up the trigger reset.
There's a lot more to accurate shooting than a light trigger pull weight.

Under the heading of, "let he who has not sinned, cast the first stone"; allow me to say that I've done more than my share of tweaking DA revolver actions.
After many years of gaining empirical knowledge (empirical knowledge is learning what doesn't work ;) ), I've learned that a smooth DA trigger is far, far, more useful than a light DA trigger.

Reliable ignition, fast lock time, positive reset and safety are the goals.
 

Rick

Moderator
Staff member
Ever engaged in competition? My match single shot handguns (XP's etc.) have right about a 6 oz. trigger. My match single action revolvers a bit more at 10 or 11 oz. My hunting (field revolvers) have a 2-3 pound trigger. My match guns never go in the field and my field guns never go to a match.
 

fiver

Well-Known Member
well,, I will say I have taken a few guns into a smith and requested he add some weight to the trigger.
a light trigger can actually be an impediment when shot gun shooting. [causes you to miss behind the target]
clean, crisp and around 3-3.5 lbs. works for me.
my main trap gun right now actually has a 2 stage trigger with a pull weight at about 3-3/4 lbs.
my old 1300 is below that a good 3/4's of a pound, and the franken 120 is closer to 3.

3 is my goal on pretty much all of them, rifle shotgun, and handgun, it's enough for me to ride the trigger and enough for me to control it, but light enough I'm not moving things around too much trying to pull the trigger.
 

Petrol & Powder

Well-Known Member
Ever engaged in competition? My match single shot handguns (XP's etc.) have right about a 6 oz. trigger. My match single action revolvers a bit more at 10 or 11 oz. My hunting (field revolvers) have a 2-3 pound trigger. My match guns never go in the field and my field guns never go to a match.

"...My match guns never go in the field and my field guns never go to a match."
That's a healthy way to look at it.

I don't get too concerned about a single action target guns, they live in a different world.

Shotguns are in a category all to their own and I agree, too light of a trigger on a shotgun and you either end up with early shots or worse. I've seen more than one semi-auto double due to some bubba trigger job or a lot of wear to the action.

A single action pistol carried for self-defense probably shouldn't have a trigger pull weight under 3 pounds and 4lbs wouldn't harm anyone's accuracy.

Once we move into the world of DA triggers and self-defense, reliability and safety trump light trigger pulls every time.
 
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CZ93X62

Official forum enigma
This may be hard to believe, but I come from A Time Before Autopistols. Yes, I am that old. Shade-tree trigger jobs gave me a case of the azz as a rangemaster. I did a little consciousness-raising a couple times each year at squad briefings--Department sidearms and private sidearms gotta have 2.75" single-action trigger pull tension AND have positive trigger return, or they are disqualified from carry. I only had to DQ 3 or 4 revolvers before the folks got religion. In an exchange of finality, you need to have your equipment do the right things.

I really like Rick's distinction between "match guns" and "field guns". I have only owned a couple "match guns", both were bolt rifles. Scary-accurate, with very light triggers. Neither one lasted long in my safe. Both of their triggers scared me just a bit, and they were sold with that caveat clearly expressed. Their excessive weight was a factor as well. A 13# Rem XB-BR in 222 Rem and an 11# 22 LR (with glassware on board) were not handy.
 

RicinYakima

High Steppes of Eastern Washington
My favorite rifle trigger is the two stage military trigger. I have a 1937 USMC National Match Springfield that is my best; 3 pound first stage that moves maybe a 1/16" and a 1/2 pound second that breaks like the legendary glass rod. Plenty of sear engagement and useable at the bench. The armorer that set this one up did it all with the double humps on the top of the sear.
 

Petrol & Powder

Well-Known Member
Due to a weird niche in my particular collection habits, I have quite a few DAO revolvers. They shoot way better than most people give them credit for. When you shoot in DA, all the time, you don't see DA as an impediment. Learning how to shoot a DA trigger is not that difficult. When you have no option other than DA......it's even easier ;) !

I've seen my share of the "Shade tree trigger jobs" that CZ93X62 speaks of. They are scary. I've corrected a few and discourage all.

In a DA pistol or revolver, you want plenty of energy when that hammer falls.

I have a few target guns with light triggers, a couple of rifles and .22 pistol. They are range toys and fun ones at that, but that's their entire world

RickinYakima brings up a good point. You can have an excellent trigger with plenty of sear engagement - if the person setting it up knows what they are doing. In any type of single action design, whether it be a striker fired system or has a hammer, The amount of sear engagement is important.
 

Winelover

North Central Arkansas
Most of my firearms have stock triggers. They are either for self defense (DAO) or big game hunting. I shoot enough that they are not an impediment for me. I have shot some of Rick's competition guns................they are not for me. I own very few SA's. DA revolvers offer they best of both worlds. IMO. So why limit yourself?
 

Rick H

Well-Known Member
MY ideal rifle trigger is 3-3 1/2 lbs weight with a clean break. Under 5 is acceptable. Yes I am a hunter, but less than 3 lbs. makes me nervous. I can do well with the same in a single action revolver and do very good work with a crisp 5 lb trigger in a 1911. What is more important than weight is a clean consistent trigger. With double action triggers I want a smooth, consistent, non stacking trigger. Keeping it within a pound or two of 10 lbs. is nice but not mandatory. I have never had the pleasure of firing an old triple lock S&W from the 1920's and 30's that were said to be dead reliable and smooth with 6 or 7 lb. double action triggers. If I did they just might spoil me.
 

RBHarter

West Central AR
Due to my lifetime of work and "soft callus" leather like finger pads I can only really feel the DA trigger in one of 5 ...... It's that or at 6-7# they just roll through the single action sear break .

When I bought the SS Sec 6 357 I thought it had a pretty good trigger based on compared feel . Then I inherited a 1947 built police warehouse distributed very early M10 that hadn't seen light in likely 30 yr . All of the sudden that 74' Ruger went from Yukon to farm truck . The jump to the 1917 Smith while not nearly as dramatic proved that the M10 was a working gun and the 1917 had either been worked over , shot a lot , or some incoherent ramblings about old school workmanship etc . The Sept 1918 1917 is the only one and then only when I'm in that zen place that I can actually feel the bump/cam/set whatever thing .

I've come to really like a clean GI 2 stage of about 4.5# . It's not hard to find in a 93/95/98 . Really they just needed to be clean and polished a little from whatever I started with . I did polish one a little and lost all of the 1st stage bump , still a 5# trigger but the bump is only about 1.5# and it's really easy to bump it too hard .

I had a Mil-spec AR trigger that I replaced with a 4.5# wonder cassette trigger and if not for the short reset and spring balance improvement I'd have put the Mil-spec parts back . They may have about the same break but they don't feel the same .

Long triggers ? Ever shoot an SKS ? The pull is about an inch and a half through the first stage of 4#+ and about 6# more to break .

A very low miles Model 14 Rem came to me . It is THE King of long gravelly triggers . After much review of diagrams , actual parts relationships and what little wear marks were present I polished some tool marks that looked a lot like the Russian war production Mosin barrels that might be passed off as threaded rod . It was still long and rough but only about 10% of factory .

The 3 screw Savage is a delightful trigger . Simple self locking and while not idiot proof it was as simple as the rest of the rifle .

I have a Jaeger trigger in a Gew 98 . Very nice . I'm told it's the parent of the Timney .

Browning and Winchester spoiled me in shotguns . Pre-war M12s and the BPS even the 74' FN made A5 are .......... Well next to 90s 870 or M500 heavenly .

I'm guessing you guys already knew most of that .
 

RBHarter

West Central AR
MY ideal rifle trigger is 3-3 1/2 lbs weight with a clean break. Under 5 is acceptable. Yes I am a hunter, but less than 3 lbs. makes me nervous. I can do well with the same in a single action revolver and do very good work with a crisp 5 lb trigger in a 1911. What is more important than weight is a clean consistent trigger. With double action triggers I want a smooth, consistent, non stacking trigger. Keeping it within a pound or two of 10 lbs. is nice but not mandatory. I have never had the pleasure of firing an old triple lock S&W from the 1920's and 30's that were said to be dead reliable and smooth with 6 or 7 lb. double action triggers. If I did they just might spoil me.
Rick , P&P .
If you're ever down my way I'll let you run a clip or 5 through the 1917 , then you can say you have .
 

Petrol & Powder

Well-Known Member
I've played with a lot of DA service grade handguns, some revolvers and some pistols. I am constantly impressed with the quality of those working guns. While bad examples will show up from time to time, for the most part the service grade guns are better than many people realize.
I have a former West German Police Walther P-5 that is nothing special but it has one of the best DA triggers I've encountered on a run of the mill pistol.
How many of us have picked up an old rough looking S&W Model 10 and found the DA pull was as smooth as butter?

A few years ago I purchased a S&W 681 from a friend. The gun had been the victim of "Bubba" and I knew it before I paid for it. I got it cheap because it had been "fixed" by some idiot. Someone had shortened the stain screw and made a few other modification in an attempt to improve the action. I corrected all of the prior "improvements" and it turned out to be an incredibly good gun.
I felt a little twinge of remorse and sold it back to my friend with a little mark-up to cover my parts and work.
A DA trigger doesn't need to be super light to be super good.
 

JWFilips

Well-Known Member
My wife's Handgun is a S&W model 32 Terrier in 38 S&W caliber from the 1950's
She only shoots it in double action!
I got replacement springs from Wolfe and got the DA much softer but now I have to reload her ammo with Federal Primers...because anything else is hit or miss!
But she love's the feel.... I just have to make sure she always has a supply of Federal Primers stored away
 

Rick

Moderator
Staff member
My 308 TCR 83 has a set trigger and I really like it. Never measured the pull but it's crisp & without creep.
 

JustJim

Active Member
At some point, someone (not me) did a really nice trigger job on my 1903 MkI sporter project rifle. Still 2-stage, the second stage breaks nicely at an ounce or two under 4#.

Had a DA revolver trigger not return once at an inopportune time. Got it fixed but I was never able to trust it again, so it went down the road.
 

BBerguson

Official Pennsyltuckian
I wish all of my guns had the triggers that my Smith & Wesson revolvers have. I measured my M29 once and it was about 4lbs. I didn’t believe it then (wondered if the scale was screwed up) and still think I need to measure it again. Absolutely zero creep and feels like it’s under 1 pound. Like I said, I need to measure it and my other Smiths...
 

Winelover

North Central Arkansas
My experience with set triggers are on muzzle loaders................double set triggers. Bought a left handed 50 caliber Tennessee Mountain Rifle for hunting the lower peninsula shotgun/muzzle loader area of Michigan. Besides being too light, there isn't enough room in the trigger guard for wearing gloves, during cold weather. Rear trigger is too heavy, even if there was room. Barrel is too long, for seeing the front sight in anything but full daylight. Firearm is now just a range toy.

Shortly thereafter, I moved to a larger caliber (.54) TC Renegade in left hand. Solved the longer barrel issue but still had the double set triggers. Found an aftermarket manufacture that offered a single trigger for the Renegade. That is what it wears, now. Plenty of room for gloves with a hunt able trigger pull.

Personally, I wouldn't have a set trigger for hunting. Even in warmer climes.
 

L Ross

Well-Known Member
Game with set triggers? One bull elk with double set triggers on a percussion plains rifle replica. One deer with a 98 Mauser 8x57 sporter with 4 lever double sets that fired at about 6 oz. Three buffalo, two with Shiloh Sharps .45-2 1/10", one with C. Sharps .40-70 SS with set triggers and two deer with the C.Sharps .40-70. Never forgot to set any of them, but I was so excited on the first buffalo I forgot to cock that big side hammer, set the rear trigger and slapped the front trigger. Recovering from my private embarrassment, I calmed down and did it right.