March 30, 2022
By Joseph von Benedikt
The trigger is your launch switch; the tool of your final decisive action while hunting. It should be a very, very good trigger, with a pull weight that helps you make clean killing shots in the field.
So, you ask, what exactly is the perfect pull weight?
Hold your horses! We’ll get there. First, we need to lay a bit of foundation. There’s more to a great trigger than just pull weight.
Ideally, your hunting rifle trigger will not have any slop or take-up. No “creep,” as it’s called, before it releases. Particularly, it shouldn’t have any gritty creep. As the proverbial saying goes, it should “break like an icicle.”
Next, a great trigger has minimal overtravel. Overtravel is the rearward movement of the trigger after it releases. When your trigger breaks, rearward movement should be nearly imperceptible, immediately followed by a nice solid wall. If excessive overtravel is present, a release of energy causes the rifle to vibrate—and often even twitch—as the trigger leaps rearward after releasing. This is bad for accurate shooting.
Lastly, a great trigger should be adjustable. (This leads us to the primary topic of trigger pull weight.) Being adjustable allows the trigger to be set to the weight of your choice. Plus, a properly adjustable trigger enables you to set sear engagement, eliminate creep, and minimize overtravel.
Now, how ’bout that trigger pull weight?
A trigger that’s too heavy is difficult to squeeze through and get off a clean shot, particularly in challenging field conditions, even more so if you’re a kid with minimal hand strength. Many of the cheaper production-grade rifles have four-pound—even five-pound—triggers. That’s much too heavy for accurate shooting in field positions.
A trigger that’s too light increases the likelihood of a premature shot, particularly when the hunter is excited and the sensory perception in your fingertips is reduced. This is even worse in very cold conditions, when you’re attempting to feel the trigger and squeeze it cleanly with fingers clumsy from cold. Anything much less that two pounds in pull weight is in that “too light” zone, and the lighter it is, the riskier it becomes.
Most gunsmiths and serious shooters agree that, for the majority of hunters, a three-pound pull is just about perfect—that is, as long as it’s crisp, creep- and grit-free, and has minimal overtravel.
That’s the simple answer. Unpacking the topic a bit more, it’s worth noting that the more accomplished a shooter becomes, the lighter he or she generally prefers the trigger to be—with caveats.
I’m a self-confessed trigger snob of the worst degree. Depending on the rifle and its purpose, I like to have each trigger set for the conditions in which I anticipate using it. For example, my classic walk-and-stalk hunting rifles and my precision hunting rifles all have triggers set at a very crisp (did I mention I demand crisp) pull weight of two pounds. My PRS match rifle has a Timney Calvin Elite trigger that tips the scale at just 12 ounces, making it easy to release a clean string of shots on dynamic targets against a challenging time limit.
However, my dangerous-game rifles and guns destined for use in cold, wet conditions wear 2.5-pound or three-pound triggers. And here’s another example: I’m heading to Kodiak Island this fall for a late-season Sitka blacktail hunt. Conditions are expected to be cold and miserably wet and potentially muddy and almost certainly slick. My Winchester Model 70 in .338 Ultra Mag has a Timney Elite Hunter set at three pounds because I don’t want any surprises when settling in, cold but excited, for a shot at a big buck or, heaven forbid, as I’m keeping the rifle at the ready while attempting to stall and turn a big coastal brown bear with uncivilized intentions.
The takeaway? If you really want a great trigger, one that will help you close the deal at the moment of truth, you probably need either a high-end factory rifle that comes standard with a great trigger, or you need to put a custom trigger in your rifle. My favorites are made by Timney Triggers and cost between $100 and $250, depending on the model. Other good manufacturers are Jewel and TriggerTech. I’ve used Timney triggers for nearly 30 years without a single complaint. They’re beautifully adjustable, too, which some of the competing brands are not, and they are available for pretty much every hunting rifle on the market.
Set your trigger’s pull weight between two and three pounds—depending on your shooting experience and hunting demands—and hunt happy, knowing it’s enabling you to access the best performance your rifle has to offer and to make the most of every opportunity in the field.