What makes a good trigger pull?

If you put 2 gun guys in a room with their favorite firearms the topic of trigger pull in an inevitability, but with terms like take-up, over travel, break, and weight and adjectives like “gritty,” “glass rod,” “surprise break” and my contribution “surprise reset” it can be hard for new shooters to follow. Hopefully this will help!

To start there are 4 main stages to a trigger pull…

  1. Take up/slack – The movement of the trigger with little or no weight before there is any movement of the sear. This is longer on many new polymer pistols because of the trigger face safeties.
  2. Break – The movement and increase in weight associated pressing the trigger with enough force to release the sear and fire the gun.
  3. Over Travel – The movement of the trigger moves towards the rear after the shot is fired
  4. Reset – The forward movement of the trigger required before the trigger can be pressed to the rear again and fire another shot

While any trigger can be mastered, these attributes can combine to make triggers that are more shootable.

For me, take up/slack on a polymer pistol is a mere annoyance. I strive to press the trigger through that portion of the pull during the presentation to the target and create a “2-stage” trigger pull. However, for many new shooter this portion of the trigger pull can elongate the motion and increase the chance of pulling or pushing the gun off target.

The same technique should be used for double action pistols and revolvers, however this motion will be cocking the gun and will have considerably more weight to it. Oddly this can be an advantage because there is little or no weight difference between the take-up and break (think of how it would feel to push bowling ball off of a table… you push the ball with the same amount of force until it falls off).

The trigger of the Kahr Arms line of guns is a great example of this characteristic.

Sometimes, however it can feel like there is an incline at the edge of the table… this is referred to as stacking and it is an increase in weight as the trigger disengages the sear. Or it can feel like there is a lip on the table… Or it can even feel like there is sand on the table.  When it feels like that it is described as “crunchy” or “gritty.”

The trigger break is probably the most discussed portion of the pull and it is very important for accuracy, because when a shooter has to increase the force before the break there is a tendency to try to “jerk” the trigger through it and pull the gun off target.

The analogy that is often used of a good trigger is “a glass rod breaking.” This is intended to describe a trigger that doesn’t move until enough force is applied for it to break… and then it happens so quickly that there is no opportunity to upset the sight alignment.

If you are firing only 1 shot, these are the only things that really matter, because the bullet is gone before anything else can occur. If however you plan on shooting another round over-travel and reset are very important too.

After that fine glass rod breaks you are now exerting 4.5+lbs of force on the face of the trigger and suddenly there is no resistance and then when you get to the end of the over-travel you are hitting the gun with 4.5+lbs of force and disturbing the alignment of the gun. (Imagine the floor suddenly falling away from you) The shorter this distance is, the less chance it has for that force to be in a direction other than straight back.

Additionally any distance you can remove from the over travel is also immediately removed from the reset! As has been mentioned before, anytime you can remove distance it makes it less likely that you will disturb the sights.

Why does the 1911 have a “best” trigger pull?

In short… because it is short!

A 1911 is a single action gun and does not have a trigger face mounted safety.  This allows the trigger to be set were any movement of the trigger moves the sear and fires the gun. It can then have very little over travel and therefore reset.  There just isn’t much opportunity for a “bad” trigger or for the shooter to jerk the sights of target.

What can I do to improve my trigger pull?

First spend a lot of time dry-firing! This can teach you how to prep your trigger and reduce the effective pull of the trigger when you are firing the gun. It will also help you learn to press straight back and reduce the impact of over-travel.

Second you can replace the trigger with one that has less movement like the Apex Forward Set Sear Kit for the M&P or reduce the weight of the pull so that poor form doesn’t upset the sights as much.

My Glock 19 typically has the following trigger for carry…

This combination spreads the trigger weight over a broader area of my finger making it feel lighter, increases the weight of the take-up and reduces the weight of the break so there is less difference between the two and reduces the total movement of the trigger between shots by reducing the over travel and reset.

Have you made any changes to your trigger to make your gun more shootable for you or have you changed your practice schedule to specifically address your ability to press the trigger, smoothly and straight back to the rear? Also what are your feelings about making changes to a firearms trigger for carry, hunting or competition?

Post a comment below, and let me know what you think!

Written by by Ron Larimer

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