By Greg Rodriguez
Arguably the most important link between a shooter and his rifle, the trigger is also the least understood part of the accuracy equation. Some hunters overdo it and hunt with trigger pulls so light, their guns are unsafe. Others ignore their triggers and happily plod along shooting big groups with triggers so heavy that it’s hard to tell if the safety’s engaged. Whichever camp you fall into, odds are that James Ferguson, Dave Fuqua and Jimmy McCullough, three of America’s premier gunsmiths, can teach you a thing or two about triggers.
I recently had the opportunity to pick their brains about triggers for hunting guns and came away with some pretty good information on tuning, shooting and maintaining triggers. However, I was surprised by their different takes on what I thought were pretty mundane subjects.
According to Dave Fuqua of Hill Country Rifles in New Braunfels, Texas, Remington and Kimber triggers are the best out of the box because they are adjustable for pull weight, overtravel and engagement (creep). Fuqua also likes the Winchester Model 70’s trigger. “Although it lacks an engagement adjustment, it is pretty easy to get a good trigger pull on a Model 70 Winchester,” he says.
Jimmy McCullough of McCullough Rifles in Valley Grande, Ala., also likes the Model 70 trigger. “If I were building a rifle to use in remote areas or harsh environments, I’d choose the Winchester Model 70. It’s easy to tune and bulletproof,” he states.
Adjusting a rifle trigger is best left to gunsmiths, says hunting guide and custom gunmaker James Ferguson, right.
MCullough also likes the Remington trigger because it’s easy to tune, but says it doesn’t hold up as well as the Winchesters in sandy or gritty environments. McCullough is quick to point out, however, that newer Model 700 triggers are better because of design improvements that allow dirt and grit to work out of the action.
Wharton, Texas, gunsmith and outfitter James Ferguson has a different take. “I don’t like factory triggers because they can’t be safely adjusted to a light-enough pull weight,” he says. “If I had to choose one, it would be Savage’s new AccuTrigger. Still, I usually replace a rifle’s factory trigger with an aftermarket trigger from Jewel.”
But being no fan of factory triggers, Ferguson takes a bit longer to name the best one. “If I had to choose,” he says, “it would be the Weatherby trigger, though I have to totally rebuild them to get the crisp, clean trigger pull I want.”
Regarding adjusting triggers, McCullough points out that doing it yourself will likely void the manufacturer’s warranty. The results can also be disastrous if it’s not done right.
“A trigger can be as dangerous as a coiled up snake if it’s not adjusted properly,” McCullough notes. “If too much sear engagement is taken out to get a lighter pull, the rifle can discharge when bumped or the when the bolt is cycled hard. If you take too much overtravel out of the trigger, it won’t break at all, or even worse, could hang-fire. A lot of bad stuff can happen when an amateur adjusts a trigger.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, leave the work to someone who does.” McCullough’s sentiments on shade-tree gunsmithing are about the only subject on which all three experts agree.
Aftermarket triggers, like this one above from Timney, are a good alternative to tuning a factory trigger.
Ask McCullough about about trigger jobs for semiautomatic hunting rifles, and he’ll quickly tell you that those guns are not target rifles. “I may tune one if it is absolutely awful, but most semiauto triggers are good enough for their intended purpose. The Browning BAR, in particular, usually has a pretty good trigger right out of the box.”
Dave Fuqua notes that few gunsmiths work on semiautomatic triggers these days, because few are easily and safely adjustable. “The timing, spring tension and sear angles are all very critical, and in my opinion, shouldn’t be messed with,” Fuqua says. He adds that a poor trigger job on a semiauto can result in a rifle doubling or going full-auto - two very good reasons for leaving those triggers alone.
All three experts agree that a trigger pull in the 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-pound range is ideal for most shooters, although Ferguson leans more toward 2 1/2 pounds for experienced shooters. The experts also concur that anything under 2 1/2 pounds is unsafe. “A lighter trigger can become unsafe when it gets dirty or if the shooter is nervous or wearing gloves,” Fuqua explains.
The gunsmiths also agree that trigger pulls over 4 pounds are too heavy for precision shooting, especially if the range is long or the target’s small. McCullough notes, however, that he prefers a gun with a crisp 4-pound trigger with no creep and minimal overtravel over one with a sloppy 3-pound trigger.
“Creep” and “overtravel” are often discussed, but few people understand those terms. “Creep is the amount of engagement between the sear and the connector,” Fuqua explains. “If the surfaces are smooth, you won’t notice much creep. If they are rough, the trigger pull will feel rough and gritty.”
“Overtravel is the distance the trigger moves rearward after the sear has dropped,” Fuqua continues. “Excessive overtravel can result in pulled shots. Most shooters like as little overtravel as possible. There should be just enough clearance that the sear doesn’t drag on the connector when it’s released and cause a misfire. “If I can’t get the overtravel right, I’ll replace that trigger with an aftermarket trigger from Timney or Jewel.”
Trigger maintenance is an important subject that gets far too little attention, our experts say. A common mistake is repeatedly spraying oil into trigger mechanisms without cleaning them. This can cause a trigger to gum up and fail or misfire.
James Ferguson advises hunters to keep their triggers clean and dry. “Flush it out annually or after a particularly nasty hunt with Gun Scrubber and use a dry lubricant, like Brownell’s powdered graphite. Graphite will keep your trigger slick but won’t attract or collect crud that can cause your trigger to fail.”
Jimmy McCullough likes to blast his triggers with carburetor cleaner at least once a year. “Once it’s dry, I follow it up with a drop or two of kerosene or lighter fluid,” he says. “They aren’t real sticky, so they don’t attract a lot of crud. But they offer enough lubricity to get the job done.”
Maintaining a trigger doesn’t take a lot of work, but it’s a detail to which every serious shooter should attend. Surely that’s not too much to ask to ensure the performance of what James Ferguson calls the most important part in the mechanism. “It’s like a fuel injector in a diesel engine,” Ferguson points out. “A good trigger makes it all work right.”
Reprinted from the November 2006 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine