Trigger pull, trigger jobs, trigger reset—the trigger has as much (or more) to do with accuracy on a handgun as the sights. However, there is a lot of bad information on how and when you should look into having a trigger job done on your favorite pea shooter, and the best trigger pull weight for your purposes.
This article will take a look at triggers and answer common questions as well as many of the questions you may not have thought to ask.
Last week, The Shooter’s Log ran an opinion story advocating for the 9mm over other calibers in handguns. The debate and comments were spirited to say the least. However, the most common theme among the comments was the importance of shot placement (accuracy). That got me to thinking about the importance of the right trigger and how it affects accuracy. Here are a few notes for your consideration.
The Right Trigger Pull
There is no definitive, or right, trigger pull. Competition shooters most often opt for a trigger as light as two pounds. The average concealed carry gun will likely feature something around a 5.5-pound trigger. However, law enforcement officers in New York City are required to carry handguns with a 12-pound trigger, while Deputy Sheriffs in Los Angeles carry sidearms with 5.5-pound triggers. With a spread such as this, it is hard to determine where to start or whether a trigger job is even worthy of consideration.
To get the answer, I reached out to a well-respected gunsmith, Jim Jones of J&L Gunsmithing. Jones is an accomplished competitor, law enforcement trainer, and builds or tunes up many firearms for law enforcement and members of elite members of our military’s Special Forces.
Here are a few lessons from our discussion regarding trigger jobs.
The first reason to get a trigger job for many shooters does not have anything to do with pull weight. Many shooters are happy with the trigger weight, but want the trigger pull to be smoothed out to make it more consistent. It is not uncommon for a handgun—out of the box—to feel gritty. As the trigger is depressed, it feels like it needs a good cleaning to get the sand out. In other words, the trigger feels like it is sticking in places. A good trigger job will smooth out the action. Then, when the trigger breaks, it will be as crisp as the snap when glass breaks.
Individuals concerned about the performance of their concealed carry guns often fall into this category. They are carrying a firearm they may be forced to use to defend their life or that of a loved one, but are concerned about the performance of a light trigger under a stress situation. A trigger job that does not lighten the trigger weight, but offers a smooth pull through the entire range will enhance performance without the concern of being too light.
Advantages of a Light Trigger
Speaking of a smooth trigger, let’s back up and discuss why a light and/or smooth trigger is advantageous. Let’s say your handgun weighs 40 ounces (2.5 pounds). Perhaps your handgun has a heavy, double-action trigger of 12 pounds. That means you have to apply 12 pounds of pressure while trying to steady a 2.5-pound gun. A lighter trigger brings this ratio down, making it easier to remain on target.
Trigger creep is commonly referred to as the distance the trigger has to travel before it breaks and the shot fires. Like a heavy trigger pull, it is considered an accuracy killer. Ideally, your finger should just touch the trigger and as pressure is applied, you’ll feel the instant resistance of the trigger. When it breaks, it should feel like an icicle or candy cane snapping within the first 1/16-inch. Inside the gun, the sear will drop, the hammer will drop and the gun will fire. At that point, if everything is lined up, you’ll hit your target. However, the longer you have to pull the trigger, the more time the sight has to get out of alignment, and the greater opportunity you’ll have to torque the grip ruin accuracy.
Next, you have trigger reset to consider. The longer the trigger has to travel to fire the gun, the longer the trigger has to travel back toward the muzzle before you can make a follow-up shot. This decreases your speed performance as a competition shooter—the faster shooters are doing double taps in 12/100-second. Likewise, it could also mean sacrificing critical fractions of a second in a self-defense situation. Remember, the longer the trigger travels forward to reset, the longer it has to travels back to fire again.
Trigger Pull for Neophytes
So, it all boils down to the shooter, and why you are shooting in the first place. That answer is simple—accuracy! If you are a competition shooter, your goal is accuracy. If forced to use your firearm in a self-defense situation, your goal is accuracy. If you are shooting Tin Can Alley in the backyard, your goal is still accuracy. And, quite simply, you are more likely to be more accurate with a lighter trigger. That is a true fact whether you are a new shooter or a seasoned veteran.
I have a Dremel tool. Can I do my own trigger job?
Yes and no, but certainly not with a Dremel tool. The difficulty of performing a trigger job varies by the firearm. The parts can be expensive and must be cut at appropriate angles. This is typically done on CNC machines.
However, nowadays there are trigger kits you can buy for many guns. In these kits, the parts have already been cut. You will not be doing a true trigger job. Instead, you will be swapping parts to accomplish the desired results. For instance, using Glocks for example, you can buy a connector that the trigger butt cams on. You can replace the connector and it will noticeably improve your trigger but…
Hmmm. Replacing your own parts may seem like a good idea, if you are mechanically inclined and you get the right information on how to do it. The advantage of going through a gunsmith goes beyond a simple part swap though. During a trigger job, the gunsmith will change the shape or geometry of certain parts. After that, the part is polished as well as many other parts of the internals. Last, the gunsmith tests the handgun. If something goes catastrophically wrong, or a part was cut wrong during the trigger job, it is the gunsmith who suffers a financial loss, not you.
The Dangers of an Improper Trigger Job
A poor trigger job may result in a handgun that goes full auto when fired. As soon as the slide is dropped to chamber a live round, you could also experience a slam fire (the force of the slide being released cause the gun to fire although the trigger was not depressed). Is a few extra dollars for a professional who has likely performed hundreds of trigger jobs really worth the risk of wanting to say you did it yourself?
If the trigger job is not done right, you may not see any performance improvement, or you may actually lose performance. You could damage or destroy critical parts that may be expensive. You’ll have to buy new ones in that case and may not save any money, or you may end up paying more.
Facts and Myths
I am worried about getting sued if I am ever forced to defend myself and it is discovered that my handgun has had a trigger job.
Well, we know a lighter trigger often means better accuracy. If there is one shot that has to be on target, a self–defense scenario trumps plinking or competition any day! Why would you want to practice with a 3.5-pound trigger, then turn around a strap a 10-pound trigger to your waist for self-defense? Would a racecar driver do practice laps in a car that went 200 mph and then on race day jump in a model that only went 150? Or switch it around, would you only practice doing laps at 150 mph then try to hold the car on the track through a corner inches from the wall with 25 percent more power? You need to practice the way you’ll actually have to perform in a critical situation.
Would you be held accountable during an investigation because your handgun had a trigger job?
That is highly subjective. All other things being justified, no one questions a seven-pound trigger versus a 10. So, why would they question a seven-pound trigger versus a four. Now, that is when everything goes right and is justified. In a self-defense situation you are going to be under a lot of stress. Snap off an errant shot, or have an accidental discharge, and it could be held against you. You won’t have the protection of the manufacturer’s liability for its engineering. This is one decision that you cannot be advised on. You are a responsible gun owner; make an informed decision because it will be your safety or freedom that is on the line.
I am a new shooter. I will get a trigger job when I get better.
Let’s go back to the beginning of this article. Accuracy improves with a smoother, lighter trigger. Would you learn to race a bicycle that has warped wheels? Quality counts. Your shooting skills will improve faster with a smooth, crisp, light trigger. The process works something like this. Your brain takes a snap shot every time the gun fires. You see the hit or miss and the brain learns based on its action and feedback. Your brain learns good or bad habits based on the muscle memory and feedback of what works and what does not. The sooner your brain starts getting positive feedback from a certain action, the quicker you’ll improve.
What can we learn from law enforcement?
As earlier mentioned, New York City police reportedly have 12-pound triggers in their Glocks. They also have an average 15 percent hit ratio. Contrast that with the Los Angeles County Sheriffs using single action five-pound triggers with a 51 percent hit ratio. According to the FBI, anything heavier than the 5.5-pound triggers their handguns are equipped with results in poor performance in shooting under successful conditions.
As long as the trigger is safe and installed by a professional, it is no more dangerous for self-defense, on the target range punching paper or while having fun in Tin Can Alley—regardless the trigger weight. To use another analogy, it does not matter whether you are driving a 20-year old mini van or a sports car with 600-horse power when sitting at a red light. However, you take responsibility for the vehicle when your foot touches the gas pedal. Practice sound gun safety and trigger discipline at all times.
- Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
- Firearms should be unloaded when not actually in use.
- Don’t rely on your gun’s “safety.”
- Be sure of your target and what’s beyond it.
- Use correct ammunition.
- If your gun fails to fire when the trigger is pulled, handle with care!
- Always wear eye and ear protection when shooting.
- Be sure the barrel is clear of obstructions before shooting.
- Don’t alter or modify your gun, and have guns serviced regularly by a professional.
- Learn the mechanical and handling characteristics of the firearm you are using.
What is your experience with trigger jobs or replacement triggers? Have a favorite replacement trigger brand or trigger weight? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.