September 23, 2010
A better trigger will make you a better shooter Today there is no reason to put up with a cruddy trigger pull, a custom trigger in your old faithful rifle or buy one of these new-generation guns.
Every serious rifle shooter knows that the three critical elements of a rifle's accuracy are bore, bedding, and trigger. The only point where the shooter actually interfaces with the system is the trigger.
New and improved mechanisms from six leading rifle makers herald a modern renaissance in trigger quality.
No matter how "mechanically accurate" a rifle may be, if it has a stiff, crawly, inconsistent trigger pull, it's not capable of consistently accurate shooting, even in the hands of a champion shooter. Nonetheless, for about the past 20 years, the trigger quality on the vast majority of rifles from even the most famous mainstream brands has been--in a word--awful. Oh, you could get a rifle with a really good trigger if you wanted one from a pricy custom-rifle maker or by installing one of the many precision trigger mechanisms available from aftermarket suppliers for most any popular rifle model. But get a reliably precise trigger on a store-bought gun? Forget it.
Why? Simple answer: blame ourselves. I'd like to blame the lawyers, but actually, they're just feeding on the situation. When it became a national pastime for anyone acting stupid to sue the manufacturer of the product they used--from lawnmowers to McDonald's coffee--all manufacturers of all products had no recourse but to protect themselves by offering items ever-more-difficult to misuse, to the point that some shooters have wondered if gun makers really want us to even fire their guns.
This situation is changing. We are in the middle of a trigger renaissance. It began about five years ago, when several of our leading sporting-rifle makers finally began to listen to the discontent about the overall quality of their triggers and started serious R&D programs to develop new-design trigger mechanisms that are user-adjustable, as clean and light as custom triggers, and also--dare I write--idiot-proof.
The first major introduction to appear from this movement was the revolutionary Savage AccuTrigger, introduced in 2003. Its immediate success, and the following surge in Savage's share of the bolt-action rifle market, was apparently the final motivation needed.
In just the past 12 months, all other leading U.S. rifle manufacturers have also introduced or announced significantly new trigger mechanisms for their regular-production guns. All are intended to finally answer their customers' long-standing complaints about trigger quality and, just incidentally, to win back some of the dollars that Savage has been taking from their pockets. They're worth a quick look.
Browning Feather Trigger
The heart of Browning's new X-Bolt rifle is the innovative, all-new Feather Trigger System. It's a three-lever design that offers a crisp, clean pull with no take-up or creep and minimal overtravel. The trigger is screw-adjustable from 3 to 5 pounds and is factory pre-set at approximately 3.5 pounds. An alloy trigger housing contains hard-chromed steel components that are highly polished on all critical surfaces.
Mechanically, the Feather Trigger is very similar to the new M.O.A. trigger also announced this year for the re-introduced Winchester Model 70 (more about that below). Both Browning and Winchester are owned by the same parent company (FNH), and the same engineers worked on the development of both new trigger systems. Make no mistake, the Feather Trigger and the M.O.A. trigger are not interchangeable; all the components are different, although the concept behind their operation--a three-lever system--is the same.
The Feather Trigger is an impressive bit of engineering, markedly superior in feel to the previous trigger on the predecessor A-Bolt rifles, which is one of the better factory triggers on the market, anyway. Browning has stated, "Unlike competitors' triggers with secondary finger-piece levers, the Feather Trigger is designed right, feels right, and stays right, year after year." That should give you some indication of how large a role the success of the Savage AccuTrigger has played in other manufacturers' thinking about trigger development.
Marlin XL7 Pro-Fire Trigger System
Marlin's brand-new Model XL7 bolt-action rifle features the innovative Pro-Fire trigger system, which is virtually creep-free and can be user-adjusted as low as a crisp 2.5 pounds. The trigger design features what Marlin calls a Pro-Fire Trigger Release incorporated into the trigger itself. The release prevents movement of the trigger until it is depressed and serves as a safety against the trigger being accidentally jarred off.
Anyone looking at the Pro-Fire system will be immediately struck by the visual similarity of the trigger release to the Savage AccuTrigger system, but the two-lever--trigger and sear--Pro-Fire mechanism is an independent Marlin in-house development, and its internal mechanics are completely different from the AccuTrigger design.
In operation, when the shooter's trigger finger naturally depresses the very slight movement of the trigger release, it moves free of a blocking pin inside the trigger housing, freeing the upper portion of the trigger itself to rotate forward on its pivot and release the sear. It's crisp, clean, light, and very safe. I particularly like the fact that the trigger-pull adjustment screw--which requires removal of the action from the stock for access--features a lock nut to eliminate any shift of the screw once set.
Remington X-Mark Pro
Remington's totally new X-Mark Pro Model 700 and Model Seven trigger system with integrated safety mechanism was introduced in 2007 after years of intense R&D by Remington's engineers. And if you're an old hand with Remington rifles, you probably won't believe this until you actually pull one: It breaks like glass and has virtually zero creep. Remington has stated that while other new trigger systems use "gadgets and add-ons to hide inconsistencies," its approach was to re-engineer its conventional trigger design by applying state-of-the-art modern manufacturing techniques, with the tightest possible production tolerances.
The three-lever mechanism of
Browning's Feather Trigger
inherently reduces perceived pull weight. As the trigger is pulled from rest (1), it pushes the trigger sear forward (2) until the bolt sear is released and the action fires (3).
From the box, the mirror-like finish on its internal components offers as m
uch as a 40-percent lower out-of-the-box pull weight than the previous Model 700 trigger design. It's one of the most crisp breaks I've ever felt on any rifle. It is also 100 percent adjustable for pull weight "by a qualified gunsmith," according to Remington.
The X-Mark Pro is standard equipment for this year on select Model 700 and Model Seven rifles and will doubtless be extended throughout both lines in coming seasons, but the most important fact about the new trigger system may be this: It is completely retro-fittable into any existing Model 700 or Model Seven rifle, right-hand or left-hand, all the way back to their original year of introduction. Remington won't sell the X-Mark Pro as an accessory to ordinary customers, but it will be available to certified gunsmiths, and Remington officially recommends you send your rifle to an authorized Remington service location. A nationwide list is available on the Remington website. I'm going to put the new system into just about every Model 700 and Model Seven I own; and I own a lot of them.
Ruger's non-adjustable new LC6 trigger for its Model 77 rifle series parallels Remington's approach in that it is not a completely new design but rather a refined re-engineering of the traditional Model 77 trigger, which has been both respected for its stability and despised for its feel by a generation of rifle shooters.
Much more crisp and creep-free than any previous Ruger trigger, the LC6 weighs in at a clean 5 pounds and is a product of new manufacturing techniques made possible by Ruger's ongoing factory improvements. A redesign of some of the internal components results in changed interface angles, so the trigger and sear surfaces mate with less friction. Plus, the grind on the mating surfaces is now done in a different direction. The machining used to be across the surfaces that mated, whereas now it is in the direction of movement. The result is the best trigger Ruger has ever produced, and it is already making many gunsmiths weep for their loss of business in doing trigger jobs on Ruger Model 77 rifles.
The Savage Arms AccuTrigger forever changed shooters' expectation for commercial store-bought rifle triggers. It is absolutely crisp and creep-free. It is easily user-adjustable. And it is absolutely safe. It won't fire, even at its lightest setting, even with the manual safety disengaged, no matter how hard it is bumped or slammed, even if you throw it from the top of a 20-foot forklift onto a concrete floor, which is exactly what Savage Arms CEO Ron Coburn did to prove it worked before authorizing its production.
The AccuTrigger is designed with an integrated AccuRelease, which must be completely depressed or the rifle cannot fire. While pulling the trigger, the AccuRelease is intentionally depressed, which unblocks the sear and allows the rifle to discharge.
Adjustment of the AccuTrigger is easy. Simply remove the stock and rotate the adjustment spring with the tool supplied with the rifle. The AccuTrigger has a single adjustment location and is designed so it cannot be adjusted below the minimum setting. In centerfire hunting models, muzzleloaders, the Model 40 Varmint Hunter, and most rimfire models, the AccuTrigger is adjustable from approximately 2.5 to 6 pounds. In the 12 Series Varmint, new Target, and Law Enforcement Series, the AccuTrigger is adjustable from approximately 1.5 to 6 pounds.
Winchester's re-introduction this year of the classic "Pre-64" Model 70 rifle is headlined by a completely new M.O.A. trigger system, which Winchester modestly has claimed is "the most precise three-lever trigger system ever offered to sportsmen." Operating on a simple pivoting-lever principle, the trigger mechanism has been completely redesigned to exhibit absolutely zero take-up, virtually zero creep, and perceptibly zero overtravel. The pull weight is user-adjustable from 3 to 5 pounds and is factory-set at 3.75. But because of the smooth wider-than-typical trigger surface and 2:1 mechanical advantage created by the design geometry, it feels substantially less.
The actual trigger, called the "trigger piece" by Winchester, is a lever that bears against a pivoting "actuator" that supports the sear, which in turn retains the firing pin. As the trigger pushes against the actuator, the actuator is moved out of engagement with the sear, which then drops, allowing the firing pin to travel forward.
One benefit of this design is that there is zero take-up--i.e., no slack--in the system. Likewise, while there is a necessary amount of trigger movement--i.e., creep--while the actuator is pushed the distance to the point where the sear drops free, it is so slight as to be virtually imperceptible. The overtravel-adjustment screw allows you to control the amount of trigger movement and can be backed off to stop at just the exact point when the sear breaks free from the actuator so that no overtravel can be perceived. This is a remarkably efficient and clean design, housed in a solid-steel framework that makes tampering with the internal parts' engagement impossible, except for what is accessible via the two external adjustment screws. It's the trigger we all wish the Model 70 always had.
The Model 70 M.O.A. trigger system works on the
principle of the pivoting lever. As the trigger piece
moves rearward (X), it travels only half the distance
of the actuator (2X), eliminating the perception of
trigger creep and overtravel.
How Important Is All This?
I've never understood why there has always been a distinction made between production-grade triggers and target-grade triggers. Yes, I do understand that a few-ounce "breathe-on-it" trigger for a benchrest competition rifle, used only under controlled competition conditions, is probably not what you want on an elk rifle that you'll be rough-hauling up and down the mountainsides. But I'm also not satisfied with the stiff, creepy, 6- or 7-pound trigger pulls we've been offered up to now on most store-bought hunting rifles, which is what most of us have in our racks. Why shouldn't a hunting/utility rifle have a solid and safe, glass-crisp 2.5-pound trigger? Solid and safe being the operative terms.
Trigger pull does make a difference in the success of your shots. When you're sighting-in at the benchrest or competing in a rifle match, you've got time to prepare yourself, settle-in, focus on trigger pull, and give attention to any trigger irregularities that might be present. In the field, everything can happen unexpectedly all at once in an instant. The last thing you need distracting you or affecting your aim is a shoddy trigger pull. And the longer the shot presents itself, and the quicker you have to make it, the more important a crisp, light trigger pull becomes. If you have to be conscious of your trigger's pull and if you have to think about it to keep from pulling off the shot, you lose.
Still Hope For Your Old Rifles
How much difference is there between your accuracy with a good trigger and a poor trigger? A lot.
years ago, I acquired a new .22-250 varmint rifle from a leading brand-name manufacturer. It had a particularly stiff trigger. The trigger mechanism on this particular well-known model of rifle has mechanical adjustments--although breaking the shellac-sealed screws to make adjustments voids the warranty and is officially discouraged by the company--but every adjustment I tried still left it with a very heavy 7-pound-plus "stack" at the moment of break-off, even at the closest adjustment possible before interfering with the manual safety function. Stoning the interfaces didn't help. The rifle shot well, but even when I applied extreme concentration at the bench, with very deliberate trigger control, I couldn't get anything consistently better than 1.5- to 2.00-inch groups at 100 yards with the scope set at 24X magnification. That's not what you want on a long-range prairie dog or coyote gun.
So I finally installed a JARD Inc. two-lever trigger upgrade kit, consisting of a replacement sear, trigger, and trigger spring costing about $62. The JARD kits are drop-in and easily installable for anyone with a modicum of mechanical ability or by your local gunsmith, and for this rifle they are available with your selection of 10 different trigger-spring weights running from 9 to 32 ounces. I selected a 14-ounce spring, which is about half the weight I'd want on a big-game hunting rifle--up to a certain point, a crisp trigger pull on a big-game rifle is more important than an extremely light trigger. But for a precision varmint gun, this is just what I like. The difference it made was impressive. With the rifle's preferred ammunition, my 100-yard benchrest groups shrank instantly to less than a third of what they'd been before. There were no other modifications to the gun.
JARD Inc. is only one of several well-known and reputable manufacturers of user-installable custom and aftermarket triggers for production-grade hunting and target rifles. Among the other best-known names are Timney Triggers, Jewell Triggers, and Rifle Basix. The range of models and types of aftermarket triggers available is very large, for nearly every popular make and model of rifle on the market from AR-15s to every well-known name of bolt-action gun; single-stage triggers, two-stage triggers, even set triggers, your preference. I've used examples from all the trigger makers named here, in a variety of styles, and as a rule of thumb I've found that a good aftermarket trigger in the 2-pound range will cut your average groups in half compared to a creepy standard trigger in the 6-pound-plus range.
A better trigger will make you a better shooter. Today there is no reason to put up with a cruddy trigger pull, whether you choose to put a custom trigger in your old-faithful rifle or buy one of these new-generation guns.