Your trigger set up and pull weight can have as much influence on your accuracy as any other element of your equipment and shooting routine. It’s an important factor that can be easily overlooked, especially by beginners.
Until a new shooter gets more experience, they will typically work with whatever trigger type is included with the gun that they have. More time will be spent on stance, grip, scope and sight picture etc. to help ensure accuracy and consistency, but the trigger pull weight can make a big difference. By definition, the pull weight is the amount of force required to effectively engage the trigger mechanism and make the gun fire. The higher the weight (in pounds), the greater the force needed.
This is important to understand since not all guns (or shooters) are created equal. If you’re dealing with a ‘heavy’ trigger and you have small or weak hands, arthritis or a disability, there’s a good chance that you may be inadvertently pulling the gun to one side and consequently throwing your shots off. Pretty simple math. This can also be a factor if you have a lighter gun with a heavy pull. This type of imbalance can also have the same effect.
Weight Range Breakdown
So what is the ‘right’ trigger pull weight? Good question. There really is no definitive standard that can be relied on as there are so many factors to consider. It really comes down to the application and the type of weapon being used. Is lighter better? Typically, lighter pulls are superior as far as accuracy goes, but there’s more to it than that. For instance, police force standards for pull weights on service weapons vary broadly, as do their rates for shooting accuracy. Why the difference? Well, local authorities and experts determine what’s right based on a laundry list of elements and determine what makes the most sense for those particular individuals. Have to weigh the pros and cons. There are also a variety of generalized charts and sliding-scale ranges available for reference. The following outlines the basics:
The Lightweights (1.5 to 5 pounds)
Good for single-action handguns / hunting & target rifles / shotguns
A lighter pull with minimal take-up will provide greater potential for accuracy since the shooter is better able to keep the gun more stable. This would obviously be important for competitive shooting and hunting. Many guns in this category also have an external safety. Some shotguns may fall into the upper end of this range, but the need for really fine trigger response isn’t quite as critical for shooting clay or hunting birds.
Somewhere in the Middle (5 to 8 pounds)
Covers striker-fired semi-automatics / shotguns / rifles
This is a good, general range for a lot of gun types, and some trigger take-up in these cases can work to tension the striker in preparation for firing. A certain number of rifles and shotguns fall into this range as do striker-type carry or service weapons. The accuracy is adequate for personal defense – and too light a trigger can become a safety issue, especially under stressful situations.
Heavyweight Contenders (8 pounds +)
Typical in double action revolvers & semiautomatics
Since the trigger is serving two functions, a little more pressure is going to be required. It’s actually not a bad thing from a safety perspective since you’re less likely to have any inadvertent discharges. From a functionality standpoint, some gun models will have a heavier initial trigger pull, but will be lighter for any subsequent shots.
Adjustments & Gunsmithing
Longer-term shooters or firearms purists would often lament about poor experiences with ‘factory’ triggers. Luckily, manufacturers have greatly improved triggers and mechanisms over the years to the point where they are much smoother and more user-friendly than they once were. There are also adjustable factory triggers available that will provide more flexibility for comfort level and specific applications.
The bottom-line is that you’ll want a gun that is easy to use and that provides consistent performance over time. If you have purchased or have been gifted a gun of any type and it’s just not working out for you – what do you do about it? Well, you could simply swap it out for something more appropriate. It’s not the end of the world. Why struggle if you don’t have to? Ideally, you’ll have had the chance to try out the specific gun or that type beforehand to get some sense of how it feels and shoots. Makes more sense than just going in blind. You can also get some instruction and then practice until you’re more comfortable.
The alternative would be to go to your local gunsmith for an assessment and a potential trigger job. This might include modifying or changing the trigger type (contour) or to adjust the pull. It can also include adjustments to account for other issues such as:
Trigger Creep – the distance at the back-end of the trigger pull before it breaks. This can have the same effect as a heavy pull on your accuracy.
Trigger Stacking – an increase in pull weight as the trigger travels backward which can lead to inconsistent performance.
Trigger Reset – the distance that the trigger has to travel back to its starting point before you can fire again. This tends to decrease your subsequent shot speed, which would be important for competition shooting or personal defense situations.
A ‘Sticky’ Trigger – In some cases, a gunsmith can simply smooth-out the action of the pull without necessarily reducing the weight. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
You can attempt to measure and adjust your triggers yourself, but I always try and leave this sort of thing to the professionals. Ultimately, most shooters are looking for a clean, crisp trigger break that will provide control, consistency and accuracy no matter the application. It’s definitely something to consider if you take your shooting seriously.
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