Trigger control is an essential part of accurate and fast shooting. How well a person can manipulate the trigger is a benchmark of an experienced and skilled shooter. Most basic pistol courses will go into how to do this, but it takes hours of practice to get it right.
After market triggers are not a cure all for bad shooting. If you can’t shoot accurately now, an after-market trigger won’t turn you into John Wick. There's no alternative to putting in the work. Being well trained and practicing what you are taught outside of gun class is essential for mastering the basics. Upgraded triggers can increase the controllability of your gun, but first you must already have solid grasp on how to do this without the upgrades.
After you have mastered your stock trigger and are consistently engaging targets accurately at various distances, you might want to make your weapon a little more efficient and more enjoyable to shoot. This article is for those of us who are confused about the difference between terms like “slack” and “pre-travel.”
Like all things, triggers are not as simple as they may seem. Knowing the terms that describe the trigger and it's characteristics can help improve your understanding and make you an all-around better shooter. When an instructor tells you to “Take in the slack,” you'll know right away what he means and be able to apply it immediately to your training.
Slack goes by a lot of different names, so you may hear a different one every day. Slack is sometimes referred to as “Prepping the Trigger,” “Take up” or Pre-travel.” Slack is the distance the trigger must travel before “Hitting the Wall” (We’ll go over what the Wall is next.) When the trigger is pulled, it will travel rearward until it meets resistance. Like pulling in the slack of a rope until it goes taut.
If instructors tell you to “Take in the Slack,” what they mean is to gently pull the trigger until you feel resistance. This is the point where only slight additional effort is required to break the shot. Reduced movement means better accuracy and a faster reaction. It takes time to learn, and each gun and trigger is different.
Competition shooters often chose triggers which have little or no slack to take in because it reduces the time it takes to fire the shot. This amount of time is, of course, very small and, while it may benefit someone in competition trying to shave milliseconds off their overall time, it’s probably not be the best choice for someone who carries a gun for defense.
The resistance felt after taking in the slack is referred to as the “wall”. If the trigger travels past this point, the shot will break. This is when the stored energy in the hammer or striker is released to fire the gun. Generally, most shooters prefer this to be a “crisp” or “clean” break. Imagine a slim glass rod that suddenly snaps under pressure from your finger. This is the crispness of the trigger. A trigger without this clean break is sometimes referred to as a “mushy trigger”.
Often when a shooter is on target with their finger on the trigger, but has not decided to engage the target yet, they will take in the slack to the point of the wall and hold it there until sure they want to fire. Then, when slight additional pressure is applied the gun is fired.
If, when the slack is taken in and meets the wall, there might be additional points of increased resistance before the shot breaks. Not unlike steps. These steps are referred to as trigger “Stacking,” or “Creep.” It is most common in double action (DA) and double/single action (DA/SA) triggers. It's considered undesirable because it reduces the amount of control the shooter has, and limits precision and consistency.
After the shot breaks, the trigger continues to travel rearward until it can go no further. This distance is called overtravel. It’s not a sign of a poor trigger unless this distance is excessive. Too much overtravel means an increased amount of distance to return the trigger to the position of “sear reset” (which we will go over next.) Depending on the amount of distance, this can lead to trigger finger fatigue if firing a large quantity of rounds during competition or training. It also reduces your rate of fire because of increased amount of time it takes to cover the distance.
Some guns and trigger upgrades have an adjustable set screw sometimes found on either the back of the trigger or behind the trigger on the frame. This is called the “overtravel stop” and can be adjusted to the shooter’s preference.
The shot breaks, and the trigger is held to the most rearward position. The next step is to relax the trigger finger allowing the trigger to continue back through the distance of overtravel until the position in which the sear is “reset.” Generally, shooters appreciate knowing exactly when the sear is reset through both a tactile sensation and an audible “click”. Feeling and hearing the click is especially important for new shooters to learn their triggers. Knowing the exact position of your weapon’s reset is important for fast and accurate follow up shots.
Signs of a Bad Trigger
A good trigger should feel smooth, like glass. It shouldn’t feel like it has sand in the mechanism. This doesn’t mean much for your performance, it just doesn’t feel great. And if you are going to spend the money on an upgrade you might as well enjoy the clean feeling of smooth trigger. It’s also a sign of a good trigger because if firearm manufacturer takes the time with little details like polishing the internals the odds are good they paid attention to more important areas as well.
As stated before, overtravel is not necessarily a bad thing. A lot depends on the shooter’s preference. So, decide for yourself what is and isn’t acceptable. If you are interested in being able to play around with amount of overtravel, purchase an aftermarket trigger with an overtravel stop built in, so you can set the trigger to your desired distance.
Also called a “False Break”, means the gun is more difficult to control for those times when you need precision. It also helps to limit the shooters ability to learn where their trigger breaks. Try to avoid triggers with this issue if possible.
There are a lot of aftermarket triggers for sale, so which one is right for you? There are a variety of bells and whistles that change from purely cosmetic, to purely functional.
Most triggers are sold in a number of colors, so you can match your trigger to your slide or holster or whatever suits your fancy. While it might not help you shoot better, at least you’ll look cooler when you miss.
The trigger Shoe, (the portion of the trigger which comes into contact with the trigger finger, also known as the “Face” or “Blade”) can also be chosen and vary as widely as color options. Some are curved like you’d expect a trigger to look, but others are flat, or angular. Still others have a straight bar which the shooter can attach a variety of different trigger shoes and are adjustable to sit higher or lower inside the trigger guard to get the perfect custom height.
While a unique looking trigger helps the cool factor of the gun, there are some functional reasons to choose flat over curved triggers. The theory goes, that with a flat trigger the shooter is more likely to pull the trigger straight back rearward. This helps with accuracy and consistency, but again, it’s all about shooter preference.
Trigger upgrades also come in a variety of pull weights. How light should your trigger be? Well that depends on what you intend to use the trigger for, and of course, preference.
But there are some key things to consider in choosing the right pull weight. If you are using gun for defensive carry you might want something in in the middle somewhere between a hair trigger and a New York Trigger. Hair triggers being extremely light and needing only slight pressure, and New York Triggers being extremely heavy at around 12 lbs.
The risk of a trigger too light is, of course, the increased chance of a negligent discharge. Having a slight buffer of between 4-6 lbs. pull weight helps ensure the gun goes off when you mean it too, without being overly difficult. If, for example, you are in a high stress situation like competition or Defensive Gun Use (DGU), being very tense can cause you to inadvertently fire a shot because of how light the trigger is.
Alternatively, you don’t want a trigger that’s too heavy, like a New York Trigger.
New York Triggers originated when NYPD switched from revolvers to Glocks in 1993. The heads of the NYPD felt the Glock triggers were too light and feared it would lead their officers to negligent discharges. They demanded Glock Inc. increase the pull weight to 12 lbs. to match that of the double action revolvers they were used to. This became a kind of industry standard with other police departments following the NYPD’s example.
This heavy of a trigger is an issue for a few reasons. First is the problem with accuracy. If the shooter has a long heavy pull, the sympathetic muscles in your hand over contract and can throw your shots off target. Just as a hair trigger increases accuracy, a heavy trigger can significantly reduce accuracy.
The key here is to find the middle ground. Which happens to be in the middle, with a 4-6 lb. trigger.
What does this mean for legalities? If you upgrade your gun’s trigger could you be at a greater risk for prosecution if you get into a defensive shooting?
The answer is both yes and no. Defense attorneys seem to be on the fence about this. Most of the sources I could find said they didn’t think it would pose much of an issue, but, if given a choice, they would rather defend someone who had a pistol which looked and functioned exactly the same as the local police department.
The greatest risk appears to be over how light your trigger is and if the court determines you fired your gun accidentally rather than intentionally. A light trigger will be looked at with a greater degree of suspicion if you were not justified in the shooting.
If, however, you were justified to shoot a threat for fear of harm to yourself or another, then the court is unlikely to care about how heavy or light your trigger is. But please consult an attorney in your area who is familiar with self defense law if you feel that this is something that's important to you.