Trigger Mechanics

I spend most of my time at the range watching…

I spend most of my time at the range watching other people shoot, as an instructor. Carefully observing the shooter and how they apply the shooting fundamentals will indicate most of the time if they hit the target or not, and the most important skill to master is proper trigger control.

As with any skill, bad habits can build up over time and many shooters will use different techniques to try and compensate. However, when distance and/or speed are added to the mix, bad form will defeat any shooter. Also, bad skills that have been built up need to be unlearned and proper technique must be developed almost from scratch.

This is one reason it is often easier to teach new shooters than it is to train experienced ones. Long-time shooters may often be making mistakes they don’t ever notice, and this is why it’s valuable to have another shooter, instructor or coach serve as an observer. Even the slightest factor can cause bad shots. I have seen shooters that—no matter the distance—consistently group their shots slightly right or left. Often this is a result of using too much or too little of the index finger, which can alternatively pull or push the gun off-center for a right-handed shooter.

Still other shooters have a tendency to anticipate the recoil, pushing the gun forward and down to try and compensate, or they jerk the trigger instead of squeezing, both of which can make their shots go low. A heavy recoiling gun will give all but the most experienced shooters fits of anticipation, and trying to shoot fast makes not jerking the trigger a real challenge.

As trainer Pat Rogers (above) demonstrates, most ARs have single-stage triggers and shooters should practice regularly to master the feel of their rifle’s trigger. Panteao Productions, LLC Photos

Single Vs. Double Stage

These trigger mechanics are things the shooter can control—dealing with a bad trigger, however, is not. The first thing to understand is that triggers come in two flavors, singe-stage and two-stage for single-action guns. A double-action trigger will have a distinct pull but may still exhibit some of the problems described below.

In a two-stage trigger, the shooter will first encounter take-up, which is the distance the trigger travels with very light pressure before it starts to engage the sear and more pressure is needed. At this point, the trigger is only under light spring pressure. When there is no spring pressure at all, you have what is referred to as “slack.” U.S. military rifles, at least prior to the introduction of the M16, commonly had two-stage triggers.

Many competitive shooters, especially those who got used to older military rifles, will prefer a two-stage trigger, which allows the shooter to prep the trigger. Since it is not possible to hold the sights perfectly still, especially in pistol shooting, this lets the shooter know exactly when the shot will break and time the movement of their sights onto the bullseye of the target. Some also consider a two-stage trigger to offer a higher degree of safety since the difference in trigger feel gives the shooter more warning before the gun fires.

On a single-stage trigger, there is no take-up or slack, and as soon as the trigger squeeze starts, the trigger is engaging the sear. On a good single-stage trigger, the shooter should only feel the weight of the trigger and no take-up, and minimal travel or creep before the shot breaks. A single-stage trigger is preferred by many for tactical situations, or where fast shooting is the norm.

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