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Which Pistol is Right for You? Part 3-Triggers

In this series of articles I have been discussing factors to consider in choosing a pistol. Previous articles covered the grip and magazine release. With that in mind, we will keep working our way upward on a pistol to discuss other parts that come into play, such as the trigger.

Pulling the trigger releases spring tension to drop a hammer on the firing pin or to let a striker spring forward. This impacts the bullet’s primer to initiate the firing process. The difference between pulling, squeezing, and pressing is a subject all to itself, but that’s for another day. Today we are concerned with the mechanics of how triggers behave.

The first thing to consider is how much weight (measured in pounds) it takes to pull the trigger. I got the following results using a backpack scale:

Pistol ~lbs

Springfield armory 1911 high cap 8.5

Springfield armory XD .45 5.0

Berretta M9 5.5

Pull weight is a matter of preference, but like Goldilocks, it ought to be “just right” for you. That means not so heavy that you are straining (or maybe flinching), but not so light that it goes off when you even look at it. Both cases will result in a hit other than where you planned. It’s like having a conversation with the gun:

Me: “I’m going to shoot now.”

Gun: “So?”

Me: “Maybe now?”

Gun: “Really? Well, okay. (Bang!)” The trigger pull is too heavy.


Me: “I’m…(Bang!)” Maybe a little light.

Just right:

Me: “I’m going to shoot (Bang!) now.”

My XD has the lightest trigger pull of the three, and it feels just right. In any case, you should have a really good reason for setting a trigger pull below 3 pounds, such as with match pistols that are fired under very controlled conditions. Some pull weights are set higher, especially for tactical pistols where adrenaline may make a heavy trigger pull feel like nothing. The point is to try different pull weights (or have the trigger reworked by a reputable gun smith) until you find something that feels just right for you.

Note: My .45s are single action, but the Berretta is a double action. To shoot double action requires over 10 pounds of force, and you can imagine where the bullet might go (ex: drawn from the holster with the hammer forward, which is the condition when the safety is cycled on and then off). So, we’re done with triggers, right? Not so fast.

Four more factors can be looked at, and you can see them in action if you dry fire with no magazine in the gun. The slide will move forward when you let go of it vs. locking back when you have an empty magazine in the gun. These factors are: take up, trigger break/overtravel, reset, and distance to reset.

Take up: The distance between trigger fully forward and where you first feel resistance. As you move it further you are starting to move the sear, which is holding the hammer/striker back. When it releases, or “breaks”, that is where pull weight is measured. Know how much take up there is in your trigger.

Trigger break/overtravel: Once the trigger breaks, it will continue until it hits the backstop. This is called overtravel. The more overtravel there is, the more potential you have to induce movement before the bullet leaves the barrel. Less overtravel is better. One way to get an idea of overtravel is to note the distance between the break and backstop. Less is better.

Reset: After you dry fire the gun, don’t release the trigger. While holding the trigger down, recycle the slide to simulate the semiautomatic reloading feature. Now, slowly let off on the trigger until you hear a click. You now know how far the trigger must travel to be ready to fire again. You don’t want a lot of travel here either.

Distance to reset: Sometimes the distance to reset is well forward of the take up. Even though all of these distances are generally small, having a lot of any one can induce movement or force you to take more time to get a shot off accurately. You should know and understand how your trigger functions so there is no guess work to fire the gun accurately. Here are photos of three automatics (all in single action) with each of the positions superimposed to show how each trigger functions. 1 is trigger full forward (note: I did not consider the trigger safety in the XD), 2 is take up, (break is somewhere in here) 3 is backstop, and 4 is reset.

In summary, the distances on the 1911 are tighter, and the reset is between the take up and backstop (good!). Reset for the M9 and XD is between full forward and take up, but reset on the XD is closer to the take up (OK), whereas it’s closer to full forward on the M9 (not so good). The M9 is not one of my “go to” guns.

Next we will work our way up to discuss The slide and gun recoil.

--Jon Boyd

Raven One-Five 2IC

Copyright Jon Boyd, 2015

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