Trigger characteristics and what they mean in a SD gun...
Some will benefit from this, some won’t. Some will find it interesting, some could care less. Some will consider mods to their triggers that may improve its ‘character’. Some may just find it enlightening to learn about the characteristics of triggers and their ramifications.
I will be addressing modern self-defense handguns, both semis and revolvers - not gaming guns.
Ok, on to the part that everybody loses sleep over – the trigger. Some feel the trigger alone determines how well, how accurate, and how fast one can shoot the gun. So the gun with the lightest, shortest pull, and shortest reset will always win right? Don’t we wish that’s all there was to it! The characteristics of a trigger are take-up, pull weight, break weight, travel from reset to break distance, creep, stacking, over-travel, and reset. In addition, I'm going to start with trigger stroke.
Trigger stroke refers to one complete action or stroke of the trigger. Generally trigger stroke would refer to pulling the trigger rearward to fire the gun. I suppose it could refer to the complete trigger cycle, the pull through to fire, and the release to reset or the full forward position. I personally don't think of the trigger stroke as the full pull/release cycle but some may.
First a definition: Take up refers to the distance the trigger has to travel rearward before it starts to actually activate or engage an action. The force required to pull the trigger through the take-up phase is usually quite light. I’m sitting here pulling the triggers on my Glock 17 gen 2 with a Ghost Rocket in it and my M&P with the DCAEK and RAM kits in it, and I’m just visually and mentally noting the take up of each gun, and you can do this with any gun(s). The trigger pressure required is indeed significantly less than when the action begins movement. The Glock take-up is considerably less than the M&P but that’s not necessarily bad, not even necessarily significant. There are only about two ways take-up might become an issue. One, on the first shot, if the take-up is long it requires more trigger motion to fire the first shot, which to me is essentially irrelevant. And the second could be if there’s significant take-up from the trigger reset position. Even then, the effect is likely a non-issue.
Creep and stacking:
I think before we get to pull and break weight, we’ll address these two characteristics. Creep is drag, or roughness felt as the trigger is pulled rearward. In a SD setting, I wouldn’t think creep would even be noticed, but in a precise shooting setting, it may be distracting.
Stacking is the characteristic resistance of the trigger’s pull weight, it’s like a trigger pull weight profile. If a gun does not have stacking, the trigger pressure (really trigger force) required to pull the trigger is uniform from start to finish. That non-stacking is actually pretty difficult to realize because as one compresses a spring, more force is required to compress the spring further. So one could expect a steady increase in trigger resistance due to continuing spring compression, but leverage, linkages, pivot points, camming in the trigger mechanisms may reduce or increase the effect of the spring.
Stacking can be more than just a smooth, steady increase in trigger resistance. It can refer to a rather abrupt change in trigger resistance where you reach a certain point, the force required on the trigger goes up noticeably. Stacking probably applies more to the DA trigger than striker fired guns like the Glock and M&P. Although, one could make the case that once you are through the take-up phase on a striker fired gun, stacking starts. The rationale here would be that the change in take up force to the break force abruptly increases.
Pull-weight and break weight:
Sometimes these can be synonymous, sometimes not. Pull weight would refer to the amount of force required to move the trigger rearward while the trigger mechanism is prepping the gun to fire. The force requirement could increase quite abruptly as the gun approached the break point. This is a little different than stacking. Break weight is the force required to make the trigger release the striker or hammer. Stacking can simply be additional force required to move the trigger toward the break point due to a change in leverage, spring compression, etc. Or the difference could be semantic.
travel from reset to break distance
This is how far you have to pull the trigger from the reset position to the break position. I don’t know that a lot needs to be said about that, but some feel there is phenomenal advantage in short travel triggers, and yet have probably never evaluated this thought with a timer. Basically, so the theory goes, the shorter the trigger the faster and more accurate one can shoot. Seems so simple; I just wish it were that simple – it isn’t.
I think this may be the most over-stated, over-played characteristic of a trigger. Over-travel refers to how far the trigger can continue to travel rearward after the shot breaks. There are two claims about trigger over-travel: one, the less over-travel the less chance of moving the gun (disturbing the sight picture) after the shot breaks, and two, the less over-travel the shorter the trigger reset travel will be. Let’s start with the latter.
It is proportionally true. If you limit how far the trigger travels rearward, then it has less distance to return to the reset position. SO WHAT! I bet most of you couldn’t measure the trigger over-travel on your gun if you had to. I bet most of us could not detect the effect of reduced trigger over-travel when you shoot. What is it - - wow, if my trigger reset had been a fraction of an inch less, I’d have made that shot. Or, I’d could shoot x% faster?
First, on most modern guns, over-travel is not that phenomenal to start with. But let me explain why a good bit of over-travel in a SD gun is far more beneficial than borderline over-travel limit, just in case that statement didn’t give it away. Trigger travel (rearward) is limited by something in the trigger mechanism that ‘dead-ends’ against a fixed point in the frame. Let’s say we have the over-travel reduced to bare minimum. What does that mean? It really means that your otherwise very reliable SD gun is on the very edge of not working reliably. Suppose a tiny piece of debris gets behind the over-travel stop? Since over-travel is already near the break edge, just slightly past it actually, it wouldn’t take much to prevent your gun from firing, or firing irratically. Is that what you want - your SD gun more sensitive to dirt and debris?
Then the former of the two: sight picture disturbance. With sarcasm, I’m surprised anyone can hit anything with a stock gun because of over-travel disturbing the sight picture. OK, maybe in a Bullseye 1911, but other than that, in a SD gun – I don’t think so. Yet how many 1911s marketed as SD guns, have that over-travel adjustment screw in the trigger? Ahhhh, you thought that was a trigger weight adjustment screw huh?
But now on to probably the least known, least understood characteristic of a trigger: trigger reset.
There are three important characteristics of trigger reset: one, how far you have to release the trigger to achieve reset; two, tactile (not tactical) or the ‘feel’ of the reset; and three, the force of the reset. Are these important in a SD gun? I think so, and I think very important. To wit, just recall the SRT (Short Trigger Reset) Sig offers for their DA/SA triggers. Of course just because a manufacturer offers an ‘enhancement’ to their trigger group doesn’t prove it’s all that important. But, let’s look at each of the three reset characteristics and see what they actually are and maybe the implication of each. First, what exactly is trigger reset?
When a gun is fired, a revo or a semi with any trigger, the trigger has to be released a certain distance in order for the trigger mechanism to ‘reset’ so the next shot can be fired. If you happen to fail to release the trigger to reset, you have ‘short stroked’ the trigger and the trigger will simply return to the full rearward position without firing the next shot, because the trigger mechanism(s) did not reset. Let’s move now to the first characteristics of trigger reset I listed, reset travel.
If you fire a shot and hold the trigger to the rear-most position and then start slowly releasing it, you will eventually notice perhaps a small click or bump in the trigger. That indicates the trigger mechanism(s) reset. Just like over-travel, reset distance may be a bit ‘over-talked’. I’m not saying it isn’t of some benefit, but it's rather a question of how much benefit and can you actually measure and/or realize the difference in performance. Some swear it makes a big difference absolutely. I, on the other hand, being the opinionated person you all have come to highly respect, love, and cherish – shoot I might as well not go on now, nobody’s gonna believe anything I say after that! Anyway, I say the benefit of a short reset depends.
It depends entirely on whether the person can wring the potential out of the feature. IOW, it requires training. First, a short reset does absolutely nothing for one shot accuracy, or for second, or third, etc. for that matter. All it does, purportedly, is let you fire the next shot milliseconds faster than you could with a longer reset. So why the training remark? Because if you don’t diligently train to release just to reset, you will over release and the short reset is no help at all.
The danger of a short reset – there are essentially two, one an unintentional or early shot. This is especially true for DA/SA type guns. Here we transition from a long, heavy trigger pull to a short reset, short travel to fire, light trigger. What felt like necessary pressure on the trigger for the DA shot, is excessive and can break a second shot prematurely.
The second danger is training to a specific trigger reset. While focused training on trigger reset can decrease split times, you are, in fact, training yourself to release just enough to reset the trigger. Does anyone see any problems with this in a SD setting? Of course, we would be training ourselves to release the trigger to the literal edge of trigger reset. What if with all the stress and adrenaline we miss that by a fraction of an inch?
Another consideration that’s dangerous, is we’ve got that short trigger training ingrained in us and for whatever reason our gun fails but another is available, say a BUG, what’s all that training doing for you now – causing a short stroke with the BUG perhaps?
A characteristic of a trigger that I believe is far more important than reset travel distance is what you sense via feel and sound when the gun resets. A Glock has the best tactile reset of any gun on the market – better even than my M&P with the DCAEK and RAM kit in it. Again, let’s say you’ve shot the gun and are holding the trigger to the rear. You start slowly releasing it and you’ll sense a click or a bump and a distinct change in the trigger, at least that’s the theory. With a Glock, that’s certainly true; with a stock M&P it’s more like, did I just feel something??? So why is this important. Well since that came up….
When you start releasing the trigger, how do you know when you’ve released it far enough to start pulling it for the next shot? Well, tactile feed back. You feel the change in the trigger, you feel the click, and you may even hear it. Remember the trigger resets after the shot, not during. So when you train, you can train to feel the trigger reset. But isn’t that dangerous like I said before? Maybe. But if you are training to a significant tactile trigger reset, you are training to feel the reset, rather than releasing to a certain distance. If you then have to switch guns, you have trained to an event - tactile reset, not a position.
Plus, I think a good tactile reset will be sensed subconsciously in a gunfight, IF you’ve trained to release to the event. If you think about a concert pianist, do you think he/she is consciously thinking, ok this is the note C, I should play it as a quarter note, etc. Of course not! How do they play all those notes so impressively? Training. For the most part their subconscious is doing most of the work. Ever hear of muscle memory? Ever wonder how a person could possibly play so many notes so fast? It sure isn’t because they’re thinking about each note consciously.
The force of the reset
By force of the reset, I mean the spring force on the trigger that is forcing it forward, toward the reset and actually on to the full forward position. One of the things that comes in the DCAEK kit for the M&P is a trigger spring. Since this kit is supposed to lighten the trigger, you’d think this spring would be lighter than the stock spring – it is not! It is stronger! Why? To provide a more forceful trigger return. I once read that Jerry Miculek prefers a stronger trigger return spring in the revos he fires so fast.
The stronger reset spring seems to help get your finger and hence trigger back to the reset point a bit faster. Again, if you can measure a difference in performance with the heavier spring vs the stock spring, you must be doing something right. It takes training and lots of it to consistently realize the benefits of all these subtle enhancements.
For me, I don’t worry a whole lot about trigger travel distance. I suspect that longer triggers may be a bit slower to fire, but I cannot confirm that they are less accurate. I don’t worry a whole lot about trigger reset distance. What I do lose sleep over is tactile reset. I want to know when my trigger has reset and is ready for the next shot. The more of an event that is the better. I have realized via the DCAEK kit that I like a stronger trigger return spring – I can’t put it in words yet, but I can sense that it’s happening and helpful.
So after all this, want to know what I think the best trigger on the market is? A Glock with a Ghost 3.5 lb connector. I must admit I have the Rocket in my Glocks which has the reset limit and the increased possibility of a debris blockage. But, even though the stop is just a thin edge and less likely to get a debris stoppage, I’m seriously considering removing the reset tab.
So there you are! Too long, right?