Field & Stream Online Editors
Field & Stream Online Editors

A few days ago I was castigated by a reader who had wearied of my incessant whining about triggers. I replied that a good whine goes well with just about anything, and that there are a lot of genuinely rotten triggers worth whining about.

A trigger is to a rifle as steering is to a car. Steering that is too heavy or sloppy or gives you no feel of the road will have your car weaving all over the blacktop. Let me quote from U.S. Army Field Manual 23-10, Sniper Training: “Trigger control is the most important of the marksmanship fundamentals. It is defined as causing the rifle to fire when the sight picture is at its best without causing the rifle to move [BRACKET “italics mine”].” If you have to wrestle your trigger, you’re sunk, because your rifle _will _move.

A trigger is designed to hold stored energy-in this case, either a spring-driven firing pin or hammer. It does this via contact between several very small steel surfaces. And because these contact points are minute, the trigger must be adjusted with precision in order for it to function properly.

In the 1980s and ’90s, several firearms manufacturers were sued over accidents that involved triggers. Juries awarded megabuck$ to the plaintiffs, and this scared some gunmakers into putting out triggers that will not be set off without a serious pull. There is so much contact between the bearing surfaces, and the springs are so heavy, that it’s nearly impossible for them to go off by chance. But they won’t allow you to shoot very well.

Heavy trigger pulls are separated from light ones by only a few ounces. Five pounds is too heavy for sporting rifles. Four pounds, if it’s a clean pull, is fine. Three is about ideal for most people, and two is too light. Very few triggers break at precisely the same weight all the time, so if you can get yours to go off between 3 and 31/2, or 31/2 to 4, smile.

Figuring out if you have a good trigger or a bad one is not rocket science. There are three components to any trigger pull: Creep describes the movement of the trigger before it breaks and releases the sear, which releases the firing pin. Your trigger should have no creep at all: You pull and it should just go off. Weight of pull is the pounds and ounces of pressure it takes to make the trigger break. _Overtravel _is the distance the trigger moves after it breaks. In excess, it will disturb your follow-through after you shoot.

If your trigger is a disgrace, you have two options: Have a gunsmith modify it or have him install a replacement. Usually, on a trigger that’s not hopeless, an adjustment costs about $50. Some triggers are made so that they cannot be tampered with in any way. That means you want a replacement trigger, and there are several very good ones on the market.

Gunsmiths are in somewhat the same position as rifle manufacturers-they’re scared of being sued. My own gunsmith, a man of peerless abilities, requires customers who want trigger jobs to sign a waiver stating that they are aware of the possible consequences of tampering with a factory trigger and releasing him from all liability from now until the end of recorded time. His lawyer insists on this.

So if you ask a gunsmith to set the trigger on your Remington 700 to 2 pounds and he tells you to get out of his shop, he has probably just saved your life or someone else’s, because the 700 trigger, splendid though it is, will not hold safely at 2 pounds. To use an analogy from our touchy-feely age, triggers are like feelings-they are very sensitive, and we must always be considerate of them.