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>> Balancing Trigger Pulls :: By J. Marshall Stanton on 2002-02-07
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ďBeware the hunter with only one gun!Ē Most hunters and shooters have all heard this clichť many times throughout the years, and few question the validity and truthfulness of the saying. But, have you ever considered why it is true?

There are a number of reasons, some are quite obvious, as in being intimately familiar with the cartridge, its limitations, ballistic performance and itís field capabilities. Another reason could be that continually carrying the same gun, it becomes a subconscious extension of your own arms, pointing without mentally thinking about it. Along with this comes familiarity with a gunís balance and physical fit to the shooter.

Perhaps the last, and also arguably most important, is total familiarity with the gunís trigger pull! Using the same firearm with enough consistent frequency to positively know when that trigger will break, how much pressure it requires, the amount of creep or slack in that trigger pull, and precisely when that favored gun will fire. It is this aspect of the gun that probably contributes the most consistent success to a hunterís harvest, being confident when that boomer will go off!

While not rocket science, trigger pulls and their attributes are an interesting and intricate study. For todayís hunter, and rifle enthusiast, many of us have multiple rifles of similar construction and design in our closets and gun-safes. They are similar in balance and overall design, but chambered for widely ranging arrays of cartridges, and for equally varied field application.

In this photograph is represented rifles suited for anything from prairie dog shoots to Africaís big five. Cartridges ranging from .223 Remington to .375 H&H Improved, all in bolt action rifles, and varying from basic ex-military rifles, to some of the most respected and trusted commercial actions. Although varied in manufacture and features, the scoped rifles all basically have very similar weights, the barrels are roughly the same contours, and overall the balance of at least three of these firearms is very, very similar. However, as purchased, they all four have very differently designed trigger mechanisms, with equally distinct feels and trigger pulls. Switching from one rifle to another in this battery not only entails once again familiarizing yourself with the feature nuances from one manufacturer to another, and the difference in optics, but a very different and distinctive trigger pull with each gun. This creates an atmosphere that discourages consistent marksmanship and overall shooting ability on an intuitive level when changing rifles for different purposes.

Perhaps the easiest of the differences between these rifles to make uniform, or nearly so, is the characteristics of their respective trigger pulls. Both the Sako and the Winchester Model 70 in the photograph have excellent adjustable triggers, and can be adjusted to regulate over-travel, sear-engagement and creep, or lash. The surplus Springfield and the Ruger KM77MKII can both be fit with excellent quality aftermarket triggers at a modest expense. Once fit with adjustable aftermarket trigger assemblies, these guns to may be regulated for the attributes listed above in regard to their actual trigger pull characteristics.

We need to interject here, that improperly adjusted trigger assemblies are hazardous, and if you donít have experience with trigger adjustment and regulation, and have the least question or hesitation about trigger adjustment, DONĒT DO IT!! Take the gun to a qualified gunsmith to do the work for you.

Now, with a little experience, adjusting a quality trigger for lash (creep), sear engagement and over-travel is just time consuming, not hard, but requires an undivided attention to detail, and an un-hurried atmosphere and environment. The point of having adjustable triggers, is just that, to have the ability to balance the characteristics of the triggerís pull to match your expectations of a great trigger pull! Note, that we specified YOUR EPECTATIONS of a great trigger pull. No two people will have EXACTLY the same taste for how a trigger feels, or breaks when discharging the firearm.

You might ask where this discussion is headed in regard to the opening paragraph. Fair enough! By carefully, meticulously and methodically adjusting the triggers on your various hunting rifles, you can very nearly, if not totally match the characteristics of each trigger in each rifle to duplicate one another in feel and action. Itís not that difficult, but will require time, patience, and an unhurried approach to attain matched trigger performance, one gun to the next. A very helpful, if not necessary tool for precise trigger performance matching is a digital trigger-pull gauge such as the new one marketed by Lyman Products Corporation.

The first step is total familiarization of each of your trigger types, and to develop a thorough understanding of how the adjustments of each operate, what they regulate, and how they inter-react with each other as adjustments are made to the particular trigger of interest. The second step is to decide which trigger has the most limited adjustment capabilities, then set that gunís trigger up as nearly perfect to your expectations of how a trigger should feel and operate. Then, using that gun, with the least adjustment capabilities as a model, then regulate the remainder of those gunsí triggers you wish to match to one another as closely to the model gunís trigger characteristics.


Generally speaking, creep, or slack in the trigger is the easiest trait to match, and get uniform among your guns. Usually over-travel too is simply regulated. The biggest culprit will be the actual weight of pull between the guns of interest. Hereís where the trigger pull gauge makes all the difference. Surprisingly, even one ounce difference in trigger pull, when all other factors are equal, can make-or-break a trigger pull, whether or not it feels right. Without a trigger pull gauge, this is purely subjective and guesswork. The pictured Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge is outstanding for this type of work. Not only does it give a read-out of an individual pull, but an average of repeated trigger pulls on the same gun, to factor out human influence on using the tool, and to give an idea of the uniformity of how the trigger breaks.

Keep in mind, that this article pertains to bolt-action rifles. Although other action types may have trigger pulls tuned it is much more work, and requires a higher degree of skill and experience to achieve proper results. Lever actions, pumps, autos and single shots all fall into different categories when it comes to trigger design, and none of these, other than perhaps the BLASER and Ruger No.1 have adjustable triggers, either factory or after market. While I have carefully balanced the trigger pulls on several of my lever-action rifles, and they are very close in feel to one another, it is a very meticulous process, and not a project for the average home enthusiast.

Now, after having spent LOTS of time tinkering with your triggers, and balancing the traits of each so that the mimic or duplicate one anotherís performance, you can begin to appreciate the similarities of your different rifles. Although they might feel different when shouldered, or even carried, youíll never again have to try to remember how THIS rifleís trigger feels, and when it breaks! It will break when you expect it to, since you took the time to tune them all the same. Youíll be surprised at the difference it will make in the way you shoot your firearms, and the marked improvement in how well you shoot them. We have too much fun being rifle cranks to limit ourselves to just one gun, but that doesnít mean that we canít enjoy the benefits of having a trigger that feels the same on each one of them!

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