Safety and Training

Accurately Using A Double Action Trigger

Ruger LCP with Double Action Trigger

The gun industry has continued to meet consumer demand by producing an immense number of small pocket-sized handguns. As concealed carry has grown in legality (and popularity) the demand for these little heaters has also increased dramatically. Smith & Wesson’s Bodyguard line, Ruger’s LCP and LCR, and Kel-Tec’s popular P3AT line all have small pocket-sized pistols, and all of these little numbers have triggers that are double action only.

This long heavy trigger is compact, simple and reliable, but it can be difficult for many people to operate accurately. The long pull and heavy trigger weight, relative to a single action trigger, makes negligent discharges less likely by users unfamiliar with the stress of a combat scenario and decreases the chance of an accidental discharge from a foreign object hanging on the trigger when the pistol is carried in a pocket or purse. But these same traits that make the action safe and reliable can make actually firing the handgun more difficult unless the user has practiced with the firearm extensively. The additional force required to pull the trigger can drop the nose of the pistol or otherwise cause the shooter to lose a proper sight picture.

To quickly and accurately use a double-action trigger, you first need a proper grip on the handgun and the correct interaction between your finger and the trigger. Without getting into the specifics of a proper handgun grip, your trigger finger should rest on the trigger with only the pad of your fingertip touching the trigger.

Most people who have had at least a minimal amount of training in handgun use are familiar with the phrase “front sight, press.” This, of course, refers to the action of acquiring a proper sight picture and then smoothly pressing (not pulling) the trigger to the rear. Rather than pulling the trigger with your first joint as one might do when gesturing “come here” with a single finger, with only the pad of your finger contacting the trigger press it straight back. As you press the trigger, focus on keeping a consistent force and speed throughout the press.

Some people say that the first joint of the finger should be used instead of the pad of the fingertip on a heavy double-action trigger, but this can cause problems with accuracy. Because of the long arc of a double-action trigger, your finger will slide down the trigger face as it is pulled. When using the finger pad, this is not a problem, but if you are using the first joint of the fingertip to press the trigger the motion needed to keep your finger joint in constant contact with the trigger face can cause the pistol to twist. This does not mean that it is wrong to use the first joint of the finger on a double-action trigger- don’t misunderstand. In general, using the pad is much more accurate, faster and smoother. But heavy triggers and double-action triggers with a long arc can be easier to operate using the finger joint. Using the first joint gives you additional leverage that helps operate heavy triggers without dropping the front sight. If you choose to use the first finger joint as opposed to the pad of your fingertip, take care not to “milk” the trigger. Milking or grasping the trigger occurs when using the joint of the finger causes the finger to contact the frame of the gun or allows the entire hand to curl with the trigger finger as part of the motion. For this reason, it is better to learn to use the pad of your finger and, if the trigger pull is too heavy, lighten the trigger or use a different pistol with better ergonomics or a lighter trigger pull.

Pistol manufacturer MasterPiece Arms recently redesigned the trigger of their Protector line of pocket pistols to make it easier to pull and reduce friction as the shooter’s finger slides down the trigger face. This new “Rev B” trigger provides a much smoother and more comfortable controlled trigger pull.

Just as important as the trigger press is the trigger return and reset. Again, maintaining a smooth and consistent speed and pressure on the trigger is important. Think of the trigger return as your follow-through. A good trigger return allows you to set up your next shot quickly and accurately.

Properly done, a double-action trigger pull will not move the front sights at all. The best method I’ve found to practice using a double-action trigger involves balancing a coin on the front sight while pulling the trigger. The goal is to be able to pull the trigger through the full range of motion until the hammer drops (or the pin fires) without dropping the coin. The larger the coin, the more difficult it is to balance it properly. With most front sights it’s fairly easy to balance a dime or penny on the top. Nickels and quarters are more difficult, but as you get better with your double-action trigger control you can move to a larger coin.

It doesn’t take much practice to get smooth and consistent when using a double-action trigger. If you are unable to work the trigger using the pad of your fingertip, you can use the first joint for better leverage, but be aware that this can have a detrimental effect on accuracy and can build bad habits.

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 (7)

  1. My personal handgun is a Taurus 38 Spl , stainless , 3″ tube and six shoots .
    The trigger weight (double action) is 8.4 lbs ; i try down to 7.7 lbs for most confortable
    The Glock pistols had 5.5 lbs trigger , and constitute a best self defense handgun for
    me (in .40 S&W caliber).

  2. I love this gun!! I have a beautiful little hand gun my brother gave to me, but I would love to add this one next to it. Its very small and compact and perfect for a purse but I can totally get that it may be more difficult to fire for accuracy.

  3. My background with bullseye pistol tells me to always use the middle of the finger pad. However, my problem with self-defense pistols isn’t so much the weight or distance of the trigger throw, but the size of the gun. To use the pad of the finger on a tiny gun like a Kel-Tec P32 or compact revolvers, my index finger has to really kink to break the shot. I found that this was slowing me down and making consistant hits much more difficult. Once I started using the first joint, everything smoothed out and became very comfortable. Just like proper grip, trigger manipulation is sometimes dictated by the particular gun.

  4. Using the pad of your index finger to press the trigger in a stiff double action handgun like a brand new d/a revolver is simply not possible with weak hands. I have many students (mostly women and seniors) who, despite huge effort, simply cannot press that trigger with the pad of their shooting hand finger. They have to move to the first joint for extra strength and control. Remember that these are short-distance self defense guns, not competition handguns. “Combat accuracy” at 7 yards is plenty accurate for what you want to accomplish – putting a lot of lead into the center mass of the bad guy quickly. You do what you have to do to get the gun to work and expend lead.

    Having a gunsmith smooth things over with stoning, smoothing, and spring exchange is an option, but few novice shooters, after paying $600 for a brand new handgun, want to spend another $100 to make it “right.” They are firmly of the opinion that it should be “right” from the factory. Philosophically, and as a consumer, I agree.

    On the other hand, I realize that the factory, acting upon the advice of their lawyers, make the triggers extra stiff ON PURPOSE, for liability mitigation purposes, and a trip to the gunsmith to lighten the trigger is, unfortunately, a necessary expense.

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