Consumer Information

4 Types of Trigger Actions and Their Benefits

man shooting double action revolver

For all their complicated inner workings, the act of firing a gun is relatively simple.

You point it at your target, make sure the safety is off and pull the trigger.

It’s often as simple and complicated as that. The trigger and action mechanism control the majority of the weapon’s functions.

So, what are the different types of trigger actions currently in use, and what are the benefits of each?

1. Single-Action Only (SAO)

One of the most common types of triggers is the single-action model. You’ll often see this trigger design on handguns.

As its name suggests, pulling the trigger on a single-action firearm will only do one thing — drop the hammer — so you’ll have to manually cock the hammer if you want to fire the weapon.

If you pull the trigger before you cock the hammer, nothing will happen.

SAO triggers are popular because they aren’t complicated and they don’t require a heavy pull to fire the weapon.

This often makes it easier for you to hit the target because it doesn’t need as much force to pull, so there’s no risk of pulling yourself off target while you’re trying to fire.

Every trigger pull will feel the same. With modern SAO triggers on semi-automatic pistols, you no longer need to cock the action before every pull.

Single-action revolvers will need to be cocked manually before every shot.

SAO semi-autos are often carried with a round chambered and the hammer cocked, ready to fire if the need should arise.

The action is stopped by a manual thumb safety you’ll need to disengage.

man shooting AK-47 trigger actions

2. Double-Action Only (DAO)

Next, we have the double-action trigger.

These are most commonly found on revolvers and get their name because they carry out two actions when you pull the trigger.

They both cock and release the hammer.

These have a heavier trigger pull than the SAO style. DAO triggers take these design elements to the next level.

There is typically no external hammer for you to cock, with the trigger pull handling both cocking and firing within the gun’s internals.

In the cases where there is an external hammer, it’s usually “bobbed” and cannot be cocked manually.

Like single-action handguns, DAO firearms will have the same trigger pull every time you fire the weapon.

For DAO firearms, the heavy trigger pull is considered a safety feature.

It’s harder to pull the trigger and discharge the weapon by accident, so if you shoot someone, it was likely intentional.

Five shot 38 caliber single action revolver handgun isolated with clipping path.

3. Double-Action/Single-Action (DA/SA)

Double-action/single-action triggers are designed to give you the best of both worlds.

Choose how you’d like to fire your first shot — by manually cocking it like a single-action firearm or by pulling the trigger and letting the double-action mechanisms do the work for you.

Semi-Auto Pistols

On DA/SA semi-auto pistols, after the initial heavy DA trigger pull, the action will shift into a lighter SA pull, enabling faster and smoother shooting.

This is great for speed, but it can throw off your accuracy until you learn to adapt if you’re not prepared for the shift.

When you’re finished shooting, most DA/SA pistols will feature a decocking lever or button to safely lower the hammer.

Revolvers

On DA/SA revolvers, the default trigger pull is a consistent heavier double-action pull, but you have the option to manually cock the hammer to take a lighter single-action shot.

This is good if you’re target shooting or firing at distance.

These are also often referred to simply as double-action revolvers, but they function more like a DA/SA firearm.

DA/SA firearms are a very popular choice for military and law enforcement, but they can be great for civilian use as well.

If you decide to add one of these trigger types to your collection, make sure you take the time to practice and adapt to the two different trigger styles contained within one firearm.

revolver with double-action trigger actions

4. Striker-Fired (SF)

Now we’re leaving the hammer behind entirely in favor of a wholly internal system.

The striker-fired, or SF, trigger uses a firing pin instead of a hammer.

Chambering a round begins the process of cocking the action and pulling the trigger finishes it, sending the round out of the barrel and, hopefully, into your target.

You’ll often see this sort of trigger action in rifles and shotguns, but GLOCK’s semi-automatic handguns, as well as a number of modern polymer-framed pistols are also known for employing this kind of trigger.

Striker-fired triggers are popular because they function well in a variety of environments.

We feel comfortable taking rifles and shotguns hunting with us because the lack of an external hammer reduces the risk of dirt or debris affecting the firing action.

The only downside is that the lack of an external hammer or safety lever means you’ll need to take extra steps to secure the firearm to prevent accidental discharge. However, many striker-fired firearms do include an external safety and other internal safety features.

Two GLOCK pistols on case

Choosing Between Trigger Actions

Choosing between trigger actions is a matter of personal preference.

Some people prefer the ease of a single-action trigger, while others prefer the added safety of a heavy double-action trigger.

For everyday carry or self-defense, an SAO or DAO handgun might be your favorite.

However, you might be uncomfortable sticking a cocked-and-locked single-action pistol into your holster.

Whatever the case, we recommend experimenting with different trigger styles to figure out what works best for you. The results might surprise you!

What is your favorite style of trigger action? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author:

Oscar Collins

Oscar Collins is the managing editor at Modded where he writes about gear, the outdoors, survivalism and more. Whether you're interested in ice fishing, building a rooftop tent or the best hiking trails, Oscar has you covered. Follow him on Twitter @TModded for frequent updates!
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (4)

  1. I’m a handgun target shooter and have done a bit of handgun hunting.
    I’m very fussy about my triggers, a light crisp break being mandatory for high accuracy handgun shooting, I like my trigger like the praverbal glass rod break at about 2 1/2 lbs.
    SA triggers tend to be the easiest to get the desired feel with in autos, 1911’s being famous for theirs. Revolvers whether SA only or DA/SA can be tuned for world class triggers.
    I’ve never met a striker fired auto I could love, IMHO they all suck.
    Let the flames begin. LOL

  2. Per my reading of the article, the comments made for SAO handguns carried cocked and locked were confined to SAO semi-autos – end of story. No mention of SAO revolvers at all.

    My personal 1911 Colt is a SAO semi-auto. I have found wide acceptance in the industry for the very method of carry to be round chambered, hammer cocked, thumb safety engaged. I believe this is known as “Condition One.” https://jeffcoopersfivefactsof1911life.blogspot.com/2009/02/john-brownings-revolutionary.html

  3. Referring to the comment made by LONESTAR, I agree that SAO Revolvers should never be carried with the hammer cocked with a live round in the chamber. If that’s the case, if you do carry the revolver with the hammer cocked, it must be done with the chamber empty. However, on more modern SAO Revolvers some are designed with a transfer bar that will prevent an accidental discharge. In order to fire the gun you must pull the trigger. For instance, in a revolver that incorporates a transfer bar, if the gun is dropped on the hammer the gun won’t fire. You have to pull the trigger. I have a Ruger Vaqureo which has a transfer bar. Almost all Ruger SAO Revolvers and probably other manufacturers are designed with a transfer bar. This enables you to carry the gun with all six chambers loaded without having to worry about an accidental discharge. Again, in this instance, the trigger must be pulled in order to fire the gun. I also have a Heritage Rough Rider in .22 that actually has a flip down safety which blocks the hammer from hitting the firing pin. I also have an older Virginian Dragoon which doesn’t have a transfer bar. The manufacturer recommends you carry the gun with an empty chamber under the hammer. Most holsters made for SAO Revolvers have a strap to secure the gun in the holster. I’m sure that these holsters are not designed to secure the gun in the holster with the hammer cocked. Even modern D/A S/A Revolvers incorporate a transfer bar. Again, you must pull the trigger in order to fire the gun. Regardless of all this, we all must exercise safety and good judgement whenever handling any firearm so we keep everyone safe.

  4. Oscar, did the editors get you under SAO triggers? I have NEVER seen as Single Action Revolver carried with the hammer cocked – either over a loaded or unloaded chamber…. Except for a very few revolvers, they DO NOT have manual safeties..

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