Trigger Types and Differences Explained

You may be wondering what I mean by “Trigger Types and Differences”. You may be thinking “Isn’t it just a trigger?” You wouldn’t exactly be wrong, but really what we’re talking about here is what the trigger DOES specifically. I touched briefly on this in an earlier post but I wanted to take a couple short paragraphs and go into it in a bit more detail. Triggers are classified by “action” which can sometimes also be referred to as “stage” in the AR 15 world. Really what this is describing is the function the trigger performs. There is “single action” and “double action” or “single stage” and “double stage” for the AR platform.

Single action triggers perform only one action; when the trigger is pulled it activates the firing pin (releasing it or striking it). Most modern semi-automatic firearms are of the single action variety. Also included would be bolt action rifles, lever action rifles, pump action shotguns, break action rifles and shotguns, and some revolvers. The trigger pull (measured in pounds) is often very light and little force is required to fire the gun, usually between 2 and 5 pounds. These types of triggers are preferred by competition shooters, people with handicaps, and others who just like a “hair trigger” (originally meaning just the weight of a single strand of hair would set it off).

Double action triggers perform two (2) actions when pulled, typically moving the hammer back (cocking it) and then releasing it. This is most common in Double Action Only handguns (though sometimes it’s the striker being pulled back and not the hammer). The trigger pull is significantly heavier than a single-action, usually measuring between 6 and 10 pounds. These are preferred by law enforcement as well as some concealed carry citizens so there is less chance of an accidental discharge (or firing) of the gun.

Some firearms are considered “Double/Single Action” which means the trigger can be operated in both double action and single action, usually at the preference of the shooter. These are often revolvers but sometimes semi-automatic handguns with hammers as well. The trigger pull weight for these firearms varies between the actions, with double action being heavier (sometimes to the tune of double) than the single action. There is not a lot of preference for these types of triggers and people who have only known a single action or only known a double action can have a difficult time adjusting to these as there can be a lot of trigger “take up” (distance a trigger moves before engaging the firing mechanism).

It’s worth noting that though triggers in the AR world are referred to as “single stage” and “double stage” they are all single action triggers. The only action they perform is releasing the internal hammer to strike the firing pin. What they are referring to is how the trigger feels when you pull it, with “double stage” having linear progression in felt resistance throughout its minimal take-up and a “single stage” having immediate and total resistance with no take-up.

Moving on to something that is relatively new (relative to the overall age of firearms as a whole); safeties on triggers. More manufacturers are coming up with designs that include the use of a mechanism that will only allow the gun to fire when the trigger is pulled. The reason for this movement is due in large part to the many lawsuits firearm companies have had against them where an accidental discharge occurred when the gun was dropped, bumped, or otherwise jostled in some way thus causing injury or death. Some of these new devices are passive striker blocks, but most are in the form of trigger safeties. As with all things, some companies do this right and some just aren’t quite there yet. Here is a short list of companies that have trigger safeties:

  • Glock
  • Smith and Wesson
  • Taurus
  • Ruger
  • Savage

There are others, many others, but you get the point. I have shot and do like the trigger safeties that are in the center of the trigger and are on the entire trigger (Glock, Savage, Taurus) but am less of a fan of companies who feel they have to “re-invent the wheel” such as Smith and Wesson with what I call their “broken trigger”. Everyone has different preferences, but I find these unique trigger safeties more uncomfortable to shoot.

Lastly I’d like to talk about trigger “reset”. “Reset” is, after firing the revolver or semi-automatic gun, releasing the trigger to the point where it is ready to fire again. On bolt action, pump action, lever action, and break action the act of working the bolt, or pumping the action, or working the lever, or opening the break resets the trigger and readies the gun to be fired again. On revolvers and semi-automatic guns there is usually an audible “click” and/or haptic (felt) feedback. Many competition shooters prefer a very short reset to allow for a higher rate of fire (as fast as they can pull the trigger) and law enforcement tends to prefer a longer reset to again mitigate the chance of an accidental discharge.

There you are. You now know a little bit more about the different types of triggers, what actions they perform, and what features they may have. If possible, I highly recommend shooting all different types of firearms as well as all different types of triggers as you may never know what you really like and prefer. Happy shooting!

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