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Triggers 101...

Discussion in 'Shotguns' started by Dave McCracken, Jan 22, 2004.

  1. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    I really ought to take a camera to the range. The expressions on people's faces when they hand Frankenstein back to me are well worth recording.

    Despite Frankenstein's cosmetic shortcomings, it does have a clean, crisp, light trigger of about 3 lbs 14 oz. The importance of this can hardly be overemphasized.

    NOBODY, repeat nobody, shoots as well as they can with any other trigger. When I let people take a practice shot with my old 870,it's like the Heavens open, the choir breaks into Hosannahs, and sunlight shines down as never before.

    Here's why...

    Unless one gets a new shotgun costing several thousands of dollars,or an old one of good make, it's practically a given the trigger is excreable. It's heavy, muddy, overtravels, creeps and in general is the kind of thing one hopes one's enemies have on their weapons.

    Chances are an old hardware shotgun made before WWII and sold new for $10 has a better trigger than a brand new midgrade auto, double or pump.

    Back then, the makers took pains to get this right. Now, with the almighty bottom line ruling, it's cheaper to make guns with lousy triggers. And, it avoids any possible litigation from fools over an issue of a "Hair" trigger.

    Ruger lost a lawsuit over this. The weapon was a handgun, but the idea's the same.

    A recent range session had me trying out a few guns owned by friends. Without exception, the triggers were heavier than the weapon itself. Not all are so bad, but very few are good.A few were gritty, nasty and impossible to control well.

    As to why we need good triggers....

    Bad triggers are harder to control. That means it's harder to get it to go bang at the best millisecond in the swing. Timing is crucial, and bad triggers screw up our timing. If they're really bad, making them go bang can even jerk us off the target. This is egregious whether it's a clay, game, or an assailant.

    Ask the next top shotgunner you see if he/she has a heavy,nasty trigger on what hey used to shoot their way to the winner's circle. Regardless of make or game, it's clean and light.

    The fix is neither terribly difficult nor costly.

    A decent smith can get MOST shotguns into shape for less than $50. And,a qualified smith is essential, for the same reason most folks shouldn't do their own brake work. Bad work here is dangerous. A clean SAFE trigger of about 4 lbs is my choice, and recommendation.

    Again, let a good smith do it.

    For what it's worth, some recently made Express triggers I've tried ran less than 5 lbs, and were clean enough. The otherwise excellent Beretta and Benelli autos have terrible pulls. Angle Port and such advertise cleaning these up to about 3.5 lbs, but their packages run well into 4 figures.

    Anyway, if you get your trigger done and do not note improvements in your scores, life expectancy or bag, lunch is on me...

    And maybe some info on technique is in order.

    The most obvious bad shooters tend to jam their forefinger into the guard as far as possible. amd use as close to the base of the finger as possible. Part of this is adaptation to those heavy triggers.

    The closer to the tip of the forefinger the better. If you can get a good grip and reach the trigger with just the tip, you have better control and a nice delicate feeling. I've trouble getting there, so the first crease on my forefinger goes on the right edge of the trigger and I work at pressing it straight back. The ONLY part of the hand that should be moving in relation to the shotgun is the forefinger. Too many folks use a spastic grab,a clenching of the whole hand.

    I work on my technique at home, using a SA handgun with a medium heavy but clean trigger. Latest one is a Ruger Blackhawk, the old thumb buster type. After checking that it's empty EACH AND EVERY time I pick it up,I get a good grip, align the sights on a blank wall and attempt to press so lightly and straight back that the sights stay in alignment as the hammer falls. Good for other firearms also.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2004
  2. TrapperReady

    TrapperReady Well-Known Member

    I'll tell you what...

    I've got a pretty decent collection of shotguns: pumps, autos and one lonely O/U. They range in age from less than one to over eighty years old, and represent many of the major manufacturers.

    In the interest of science and general curiosity, I'll get my hands on a trigger-pull scale within the next day and do a little write-up on my findings. I've been meaning to do this for a while... and you've just gotten me off my kiester to do it.

    It'll be interesting to see how the old standbys stack up against the new offerings.
  3. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    Eagerly awaiting the results, TR. Thanks...

    HSMITH Well-Known Member

    Dave, as I have noted in the past, this is one small point where we disagree.

    I do not feel a shotgun needs a light trigger, I really and truly could care less what the trigger is like. I have had a Kolar tuned mechanical triggers in a 425 that went under 4 pounds and no perceptible motion for the break, and a stock Red Label with a 10 pound pull on the bottom barrel and a 15 pound pull on the top barrel with both feeling like you are pulling a dirty towchain over a pine tree. I shoot the Red Label better by a minute amount and they fit equally well/poorly however you want to look at it.

    I do NOT want a shotgun with less than an 8 pound pull for a hunting gun, no way no how. Most of my hunting guns are at or below 8 pounds but if they were a couple pounds heavier i t wouldn't bother me in the least.

    I guess cutting my teeth on stock S&W revolvers and an old M88 Winchester with possibly the worst trigger I have ever had on a rifle taught me to shoot around the trigger.
  5. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    H, I'll wager the usual flagon of mead that you've hands stronger than average.
    Anyone shooting up 10K+/year of handgun rounds does.

    When growing up, the triggers I had ranged from sublime to not so good. I shoot the sublime ones better.

    And more comes into play here than weight, Travel, crispness, smoothness, all have a part to play.

    While there may be exceptions, and I won't hold my breath waiting, new shooters will find the benefits of a clean and light trigger a big help,IMO.
  6. nico

    nico Well-Known Member

    Dave, can you recommend a local gunsmith (anywhere in MD on this side of the bay, or NoVA would be good) that could do a good trigger job? Also, what weight would you recommend for a gun that'll probably also be used for hunting?
  7. P95Carry

    P95Carry Moderator Emeritus

    Know what Dave ... I know my Citori trigger was very pleasant ...... probably smooth but way over your sub 4lb mark. But I was never actually aware of it from a critical standpoint ... it was - well - the trigger!!

    I now have the Baikal instead...... and again .. I have not really thought that much about trigger. It does nothing that irks me .. pull is perhaps (guessing) in the 7-8 lb region ....... but when I let off a shot ... nothing makes me think ... ''oh, wish this trigger different''.

    Granted, I am not in your league or that of TR, H, sm etc .. but with all the weapons I have and shoot - trigger is a major awareness factor - usually. For some reason with shotties ... hardly at all. Guess I have never experienced a real ''dog'' of a trigger ... either thru luck, or shere insensitivity!!:D
  8. Slimjim

    Slimjim Well-Known Member

    Nico: R.A. Brown here in westminster. i believe the number is 410-848-5917.
  9. TrapperReady

    TrapperReady Well-Known Member

    No trigger-pull measurements yet, but I have just spent a good 45 minutes or so doing some evaluations and comparisons. I've found enough interesting data that I'm going to go ahead now.

    My method of evaluation was to empty the safe and line everything up in no particular order. I then went down the line, evaluating each trigger with regards to the overall amount of travel, amount of lateral play, how crisply it broke and how much creep it had. I made notes on each one, and then dry-fired a number of times to get an overall feel for how much I liked it. As I did this, I moved them around, so that I wound up with them ranked in order by how much I liked the trigger.

    BTW, all of these guns are totally stock, at least with regards to not having had trigger jobs performed. I've shot each of these guns (the Western Field being the lone exception) at least hundreds of times, with many having digested many thousands of shells.

    In summary...

    The winner was the oldest - a 1922 Winchester Model 12. It has only the slightest hint of lateral play, not a bit of creep and breaks very cleanly (like the proverbial "glass rod"). Additionally, the overall amount of travel is very short.

    In second place (and not by much) was the next oldest - a 1930 Browning Auto-5. It was the only one with ZERO lateral play. Like the Model 12 the trigger pull is very crisp with little travel. It's almost a toss-up between the two, but the M12 just feels a hair better.

    In case any of you are thinking this pattern holds... forget it.

    The next best was a Browning 425, probably 2000-vintage. This trigger has a little lateral play and some take-up, but breaks cleanly and is quite smooth. It is also the only shotgun tested that has a wide trigger - which does change the feel some.

    Next come three which are far too close to tell any difference - a Benelli M1 Field and a 1957 Remington 870... both in 20ga, plus a Benelli Montefeltro in 12ga. All have a slight amount of lateral play, all exhibit some creep, but all break cleanly and have a smooth action. From a seat-of-the-pants guesstimate, I would wager that the 870 has a very slightly heavier pull.

    My Beretta 391 Urika Sporting comes next. It has an "interesting" feeling trigger. It feels not unlike the trio above, except with the addition of a bit more lateral play and a noticible grittiness (which does not go away after cleaning). I do think that the pull is lighter than any of the above, however.

    Which leaves us with a Western Field Model 30 bolt-action (probably from the late '50s or early '60s). This trigger is horrid... easily the worst I've ever used. There is enough lateral play to make one think that there's something busted inside (which is a distinct possibility). There is enough travel to make even a Glock-shooter call it spongy. It's gritty and vague... but probably the lightest overall trigger pull. You pull the thing and keep thinking that it's going to stack, but it just breaks.

    So, what does all this mean? If they were rifles, the only two I'd really WANT to shoot would be the Model 12 and the A-5. The curious thing is that I probably shoot the Beretta (which finished second from the bottom), better than any of them. I can say that when I'm shooting at clays, I can notice the trigger at times. In the field, shooting at that evening's dinner... never.

    I don't have (yet) the trigger time of Dave or HSMITH... but IMO the trigger is pretty far down the list, after fit and form and ammo selection and a bunch of the other 101s from Dave. For serious clay target work, I bet a finely tuned trigger can be worth a slight edge... but at the highest levels, a slight edge is all it takes. For the rest of us, I'd be perfectly content using most anything (except that Western Field), either new or old.

    Time permitting, I'll get the trigger pulls checked tomorrow and let you know how they stack up numerically.
  10. P95Carry

    P95Carry Moderator Emeritus

    Another ''101'' thread shaping up beautifully!!:)
  11. sm

    sm member

    Last edited: Jan 23, 2004
  12. HSMITH

    HSMITH Well-Known Member

    I CAN shoot anything. Give me a round of trap or a half dozen targets on any station of a skeet field and I can find where the gun is shooting. From there on it is simple execution of the shot to shoot perfect scores on the skeet field. Don't tell anyone or that adult beverage box can turn into the loaf of bread Dave offered or LESS!!!

    I submit this: I am a sustained lead shooter. I have been since I fingered out how to shoot consistently. My "window" on a given target is pretty wide and when compared to a butt-belly-beak=BANG my window is IMMENSE!!!! Is that why the nasty triggers don't bother me? I think it is.

  13. kudu

    kudu Well-Known Member

    I'm with HSMITH on this one, as a sustained lead shooter I have never noticed the trigger pull when shooting. I know several of my shottys have horrible triggers, butmy concentration is usually on the bird. Not saying that the different ways of shooting don't make it more noticable. I am surprised that no one has mentioned release triggers on their shotguns. I know its more in the trap shooters realm, but I have seen several guys shoot them in my area. Don't ask to shoot them, it really screws with your head.
  14. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    Wow, another think tank aggregation. Thanks for the input.

    Nico, the smith at Clyde's, AKA Gunz R Us, can do one. 410-242-6108. So can Greg Wolfe, associated with Albright's Gun Shop, in Easton.

    Even closer, if you can get hold of Fulton Arms over in Savage, and pry Charley Maloney away from all those EBRs, he can do a bang up job.

    IMO, 3 1/2 to 5 lbs is optimum for most folks on a GP shotgun, and I favor the lighter end myself.

    Chris, TR and H, maybe y'all can shoot nasty triggers well. But, if you kept records of how you shoot with a given gun long enough, then had the trigger optimized, then shot it more, chances are your records will indicate an improvement. This may be subtle, and it could be masked by other factors, but it'd be there. And I'd want the triggers to be clean and smooth,as well as light.

    As for sustained lead being bad trigger proof, I'm skeptical. The few good skeet shooters I know like good triggers too. However, if it works for you...

    I left release triggera alone for two reasons.

    First, I don't use them. Frankly, they bother me no end.

    Second, the 101 stuff is for new shooters, and release triggers are not something a new shooter should mess with.
  15. Smoke

    Smoke Well-Known Member

    I grew up with guns. My dad and granddad were all pretty avid bird hunters. And every gun they had was box stock. Most were pretty nice guns too.

    Rifles were the same. I don't know of any gun that had ever been to a gunsmith for any reason. It wasn't until I was much older and out on my own and hanging around more shooters that I touched my first trigger on a rifle that had been worked over right. It was as Dave stated "the Heavens opened, the choir breaks into Hosannahs...". Revelation? To say the least!

    As I progressed into nicer rifles they all had the trigger done (with the exception of the Kimber 84M) Handguns were tuned as well once I started seriously using them. But I still neglected my shotguns, why? It just never occured to me that I should be paying attention to them too.

    Then I had another "revelation". Why not try to have a shotgun trigger tuned? I took one of my "spare" shotguns, an old Winchester that had been my dads, to a gunsmith just to play with. Well guess what, the Heavens opened, the choir breaks into Hosannahs...

    I have to go with Dave on this one. Triggers are important, more so than most realize, rifleman have figured this out, handgunners have figured this out, why does the shotgun crowd scoff at the idea? Tradition?

    Fit will always be a more improtant issue with a shotgun. But if you take your favorite shottie, the one you shoot the best, to a competent gunsmith for some trigger work, the difference will amaze you.

    ...and thats my two bits.

  16. 45auto

    45auto Well-Known Member

    I agree that 3-5lbs is good for a shotgun depending on what kind and what you are doing with it.

    Since shotgun triggers are really "slapped" when you fire, unlike rifle/pistol I think you can "get away" with much less than ideal...though they are nice when they are crisp. Creep is much more acceptable in shotgun than the other gun types and I don't think it hurts you...give or take.

    Where I have found problems is "take-up"(slack) and the amount of travel after the first shot is fired(release?). Shoot different guns with varied amounts can cause AD's on trap houses :) , and not being able to fire the second shot...didn't release the trigger enough, i.e falling forward trying to pull the second shot. :)

    You don't need to ask me how I know this. :cool:

    All in all, as with most shooting, it's best to have good triggers and worth the money to "fix" them if it's not to your liking.
  17. TrapperReady

    TrapperReady Well-Known Member

    Smoke, I think the big difference is not with tradition or any such thing. It's with the very fundamental difference between shooting a shotgun vs. a rifle or pistol.

    Rifle and pistol shooting involves launching a single projectile, usually at a stationary target. In that scenario, a good smooth trigger pull is required so as to not upset the geometry. Even a minute change can cause your shot to be pulled.

    Shotguns typically are sending a swarm of small pellets at a fast-moving target. Unlike most rifle and pistol shooting, you are swinging the gun as you shoot. Here, having an ultra-precise trigger becomes less important. Also, instead of the smooth, steady increase of pressure like you use in rifle and pistol shooting, you make a more abrupt pull (or slap).

    I think that good triggers can certainly help... especially when you have already made sure that your gun fits, your form is decent, and you are using good-patterning loads that are comfortable to shoot.

    Of all the shotties I own, the only one I would have a trigger job done on is the Beretta, and then only for the purpose of removing the gritty feel. Since that is currently my primary clays gun, I may very well have it tuned sometime this year. If I suddenly start picking up a bunch more targets, then I guess we'll know why.
  18. Correia

    Correia Moderator Emeritus

    This is a very interesting thread, as it has caused me to do some reflection.

    My main 870 has a pretty good trigger. My back up 870 has an OK trigger. My Mossberg has a horrible trigger. And my Saiga has one of the worst trigger pulls of all time, absolutely awful. Long, heavy, creepy.

    Truth be told however I haven't really noticed a whole lot of difference while actually shooting them for 3gun style stuff. However on clays the better triggers really pay off. Between the high sight vs. boreline on the Saiga and the trigger, it isn't the most natural gun to get hits with on moving clays.

    I'm the same way with rifle. I have rifle triggers that vary greatly, probably because my rifle back ground is mostly black rifles, (not known for great triggers) some of which I put together myself. (for some reason those triggers are particularly bad! :) ) I can still shoot a rifle pretty good despite a mediocre trigger.

    Pistols however, if it doesn't have a short, light, crisp, trigger, I can't shoot worth a darn. Trigger pull on the small gun is much more important to me.
  19. TrapperReady

    TrapperReady Well-Known Member

    Correia - I've found that bad rifle triggers (as long as the pull isn't outrageously heavy) can be shot reasonably well, because all of the different kinks and catches are generally reproducable. For example, the AR I shoot in highpower technically has a single-stage trigger. In reality, it has a little bit of gritty creep (which I choose to call "take-up") and then a slightly heavy, but crisp break. I sometimes refer to it as my "Factory Colt two-stage trigger".

    I'm not a very skilled pistol shooter, but I do markedly better shooting ones with very smooth, light pulls.

    With shotguns, I think the triggers can comfortably take a back seat to most of the other bits. However, when you are looking for every advantage, a good trigger makes sense. It certainly couldn't hurt.
  20. Smoke

    Smoke Well-Known Member

    Not to be argumentative.....:) But to my backwards Bosque County brain just the opposite would seem true. A staionary rifle on a solid bench shooting at a stationary target would allow you a little more room for a poor trigger than shooting at a fast moving dynamic target.....

    It has always been told to me by the old timers "shooting a rifle is a science - shooting a shotgun is an art"

    In this vein, I think fit is the most important, a good trigger is second.


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