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Be Sure You Can Trust Your Trigger

By Holcomb Kerns

Be Sure You Can Trust Your Trigger
First introduced by Winchester on the Model 70 in 1936, this trigger provides for some adjustment to pull weight and overtravel. It is still one of the best commercially produced bolt action triggers on the market.

The role of a trigger in making a shot is simple. It starts the whole firing process by releasing a hammer or striker under spring pressure, initiating a chain of events that in milliseconds sends your bullet to the target.

Triggers come in all kinds of configurations. As they leave the factory, some are excellent; others are barely adequate, to put it politely. Some are adjustable - within limits - by the knowledgeable hunter, but most trigger improvements require the practiced hand of a gunsmith.

Generally speaking, when you buy a new hunting rifle today, you get a pretty good trigger. The downside is that its pull weight will likely be heavier than you want or need for accurate shot placement. Pull weights of triggers on most new rifles are “lawyer proof” - set at the factory at 6 pounds and more to avoid costly litigation.

Reducing trigger pull weight is helpful, but it’s not the only improvement a gunsmith can make to your trigger. Lessening creep, eliminating overtravel and getting rid of the rough feel that makes trigger pull seem much heavier than it really is, are also important.

The hunter should expect the pull weight of his trigger, after adjustment and possibly some honing, to be about 21Ú2 to 3 pounds. Any lighter may make trigger control difficult or impossible if you’re sitting on a deer stand on a cold day and wearing gloves.  A 2-pound trigger is dangerous.

The trigger should break so crisply and cleanly that the shooter is not conscious of having to pull excessively while waiting for the shot to break. He should be just as unaware of the pull weight of the trigger as he is of recoil and muzzle blast when the rifle fires. He needs to concentrate on planning the shot, not on how hard to pull the trigger.

Trigger creep is often confused with roughness, but those are separate problems. Creep is that observable rearward movement of a trigger shoe that takes place before you feel resistance telling you the sear is engaged and the rifle is about to fire. Most triggers have some degree of creep when they leave the factory. Although creep is intentionally designed and manufactured into many military rifles as an additional field safety factor, it is not desirable in a hunting gun.

Overtravel is the continued movement of a trigger to the rear after letoff has occurred. That movement occurs before the bullet exits the muzzle and can upset the shooter’s aim and ruin accuracy. If your rifle has no built-in adjustment for overtravel, a gunsmith can drill and tap the trigger shoe to install a set screw. When adjusted properly, this screw will eliminate the problem, stopping the rearward movement of the trigger just as the shot breaks.

Be Sure You Can Trust Your Trigger
This Ruger trigger is receiving some honing for improvement. Carefully placing the trigger in this device virtually eliminates the possibility of changing an angle during the process.

Roughness, often described by the shooter as “gritty,” can be caused by several things. The first place to look is where the trigger shoe exits the stock. The shoe could be rubbing against the side of the trigger guard or stock, a problem that is easily fixed.  Sometimes burrs or machine marks on the sear, cocking piece or the bearing surfaces on the side plates of the trigger can cause a trigger pull to feel rough. Eliminating these may require honing, a job best left to the gunsmith because removing too much metal or changing the angle of the sear can create an unsafe and dangerous firearm.

Because we have become such a lawsuit-conscious society, some gunsmiths refuse to work on triggers at all. Hardly any are willing to risk working on the triggers of semiautomatic rifles anymore. Most gunsmiths also refuse to work on the triggers of lever-action rifles.

One of my customers sent the trigger group from his semiautomatic rifle to a riflesmith in the Midwest who specializes in improving triggers on one popular rifle model. When it was returned and reinstalled on the rifle, the trigger was just as advertised - the pull weight had been reduced, there was no creep, overtravel had been eliminated and movement was slick. But the rifle had a feeding problem, and, still in warranty, it was returned to the factory repair service for correction.

When it was returned to the owner, the feeding problem had been corrected, and the factory service department had also restored the trigger group to its original factory specifications - creep, overtravel and pull weight were back!

Never oil the working parts of a trigger. Over time, the lubricant can gum up the trigger parts and affect their function. Benchrest shooters with trigger pulls in the 2-ounce range often wash their trigger mechanisms by removing the action from the stock, squirting the trigger group liberally with cigarette lighter fluid, and then allowing them to dry thoroughly before using them again. If your trigger is gummed up, you might want to try this low-cost fix.

Proper trigger care also requires that the shooter, when cleaning the rifle, use a bore guide. This not only guides the cleaning rod through the chamber, but also eliminates the possibility of cleaning solvent dripping into the trigger mechanism. The use of oil on triggers and allowing solvent to drop into the trigger mechanism account for virtually all of the triggers brought to my shop for service.

No part of a rifle attracts the attention of the amateur gunsmith more than the trigger group. Triggers that are manufactured to be adjustable in the field are a great temptation to the amateur, whose zealous pursuit of a lighter pull weight can make the rifle unsafe.

Subscribe Today!When the amateur picks up a file or stone to work on a trigger mechanism or seeks to replace a spring, things can get tedious. A minor change in the angle of the sear can cause the rifle to slam fire as the bolt is closed or to not cock at all. Removing too much metal where the trigger bar meets the sear can accelerate wear and cause the rifle to fire unexpectedly, particularly if the rifle is jarred or dropped. This kind of trigger tinkering can also void the warranty on the rifle.

A considerable number of excellent aftermarket triggers are now available to replace factory triggers. Buying and installing one of these is often preferable to altering a factory trigger, particularly if it is not adjustable. Some can be installed by the amateur. Others require fitting and should only be installed by a gunsmith. Some come with a new safety as an integral part of the trigger mechanism, while still others provide for use of the original factory safety.

Visiting with your gunsmith about which trigger is most suitable for your rifle can save you time, money and a lot of frustration. The same applies to “sporterized” military rifles, which often still have two-stage triggers. Some can be converted to a much more desirable single-stage trigger, and there are aftermarket triggers for some of those that can’t.

No matter which route you choose to improve your trigger, remember that gun safety is paramount. There should be no compromise where safety is concerned. You want that rifle to fire when you are ready. A slam fire, failure to fire or unexpected discharge can sure ruin your day.

Reprinted from the November 2004 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine

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