Choosing and Fitting Triggers

I don’t know if Davy Crockett adjusted his rifle trigger for a smoother release, although chances are he did. Ever since folks began contemplating long-range work with the rifle they have addressed the need for a light crisp let-off so they can hold the sights steady as they press the trigger.

On the other hand, troops using a light trigger have frightened military men. Heavy two-stage triggers are the rule. This helps marksmanship when nerves are rattled and when wearing gloves. However, sometimes these military rifles end up in the hands of sport shooters.

We are used to lighter and crisper trigger actions on commercial firearms and when military actions were cheap and plentiful, the trigger got a lot of attention. Yes, there have been lots of military rifles in the hands of sportsmen who despised the original triggers. The two-stage trigger is a good choice for the military and really not a bad choice for hunters who use the rifles at moderate range. This is especially true for those who hunt in cold climates with gloved hands.

You always know you are in control with the two-stage trigger. There is a bit of take-up and then the final compression. Still, for gilt-edged accuracy, there is no question we need a lighter crisper trigger action.

Some have taken the path of modifying the original trigger action by polishing the sear. If there is anything I have learned it is to replace the trigger, never to modify the original two-stage trigger. While this may be a controversial statement in some quarters, I feel that with the availability of modern triggers there is no profit in attempting to tune a two-stage trigger.

There is simply no profit in fooling with the original trigger when you consider the time and effort needed. (I have come to feel much the same concerning the 1911 trigger action in pistols and use quality ignition sets rather than modifying the original.)

Some of the gunsmiths who attempted to modify military triggers, such as the late T. N. Hughston, knew exactly what they were doing and others did not.

Some were from the “By G—and by Gosh” school.

Installing a New Trigger

Why not simply install a modern trigger assembly offering a wide range of adjustment? These replacement units replace the original trigger action and behave like a sporting trigger. A number of AR-15 rifles come into the shop for trigger jobs. There are also a number of aftermarket triggers available.

One of the triggers I count on comes from Wilson Combat. This trigger is usually a drop-in unit, and with this unit installed, the AR-15 rifle becomes more of a commercially successful sporting rifle. Installing a new AR-15 trigger isn’t really much more difficult than a simple clean and lubrication.

There are two pins to worry about: the trigger pin and the hammer pin.

This is a job that calls for carefully handfitting the trigger. If the pin doesn’t quite fit on installation do not force it. You may need to polish the pins on the edge, nothing more.

I test fit the pins before installation. They should press into place freely. You should lightly grease the pinholes and the holes in the hammer and trigger before starting. Remember, the lower receiver isn’t as robust or hard as a steel receiver and can be damaged. Place the safety lever in the fire position as you begin your work. After stripping the old trigger assembly from the receiver, place the trigger carefully into the lower receiver. As you do so, be certain the return spring remains in position. The disconnect spring also must remain in place. The rear or tail of the trigger assembly goes under the safety bar. Place the disconnect and line-up the holes.

I use an assembly punch. Press the punch from left to right. The punch runs into the trigger, not the disconnect channel. Position the disconnect. Pay close attention to the position of the disconnect spring. By pressing the disconnect downwards, the positioning hole lines up with the trigger hole. You now begin to press the pins in from right to left as the punch holds the pieces in place. After seating, the parts should move normally. If not check the springs. The legs of the hammer spring should point to the rear of the AR-15’s receiver. These legs ride on top of the trigger pin. The right hand leg keeps the trigger pin from coming out by riding a groove. To fully seat the pins, keep the hammer pressed down and forward as you seat the pins.

The Safety Check

Now do the safety check. Remember, the safety can only be applied in a properly operating AR-15 with the hammer cocked.

  • Cock the hammer.
  • Rotate the safety lever to the SAFE position.
  • Press the trigger.
    The hammer should not fall.
  • Maintain pressure on the trigger and move the safety to FIRE.
    The hammer should not fall.
  • Release pressure on the trigger and then press again, while holding the hammer with the fingers.
    The hammer should fall.
  • Watch the hammer as you release the trigger.
    The hammer should be forced to rise slightly by the disconnect as the trigger releases.

It isn’t possible to cover every type of aftermarket rifle trigger although the main ones operate on the same principle.

Do your research and get it right.

Have you adjusted the trigger on your favorite gun? Do you have a favorite modern trigger to make your firearm work your way? Share in the comments section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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. I am disappointed that the author confuses the terms of single- & two-stage triggers. “Original” military triggers are single-stage, and are issued as such as standard equipment on GI M4/M16 platforms, rather than “original two stage trigger”, as mentioned in the article.

    Perhaps this was just an oversight or typo.

    1. Have you tried the Hiperfire triggers yet, especially the HiperTouch 24C? They are incredible triggers; they are fast, smooth, and light. They have only been out for a little over a year but a lot of the top competitors are starting to switch over to them. I am running them in two of my AR’s are they are worth every penny I paid for them…

  2. I’ve installed the Geissele SSA-E trigger in both of my ARs. An exceptional two stage trigger. A more problematic task will be improving the trigger on a Marlin 795 for Appleseed Project shoots.

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