Hammering down accuracy
Best double action CO2 revolver triggers Part 1
By Dennis Adler
Trigger control is one of the essential skills in target, competition and self defense shooting. With cartridge-firing revolvers and semiautomatic pistols trigger design and ease of operation is often one of the selling points. The fundamentals of trigger design, both in operation and levels of resistance, (stacking, travel, over travel, and reset), as well as quality, apply equally to air pistols that are based on actual handguns. Semi-autos are much easier to match for design, function, and resistance to cartridge-firing models, as evidenced by airguns like the S&W M&P40, Beretta 92A1, Sig Sauer P226 X-Five, and Tanfoglio Witness Gold Custom. When it comes to double action revolvers it is almost the same, but not exactly. The demands placed upon the trigger in a DA/SA airgun are not equal to those of a cartridge-firing model. There is less mass (a lighter weight alloy cylinder), a lighter hammer spring, and of course, the hammer itself is light weight alloy construction, not steel. The double action function on some CO2 revolvers can feel sloppy and trigger pull can vary from heavy, with excessive stacking on some, to light, smooth actions that run like a tuned revolver (from the S&W Performance Center, as an example). This is evident in a handful of CO2-powered, BB or pellet cartridge loading revolvers.
The Double Action Design
Double action revolvers were first developed in the mid 19th century during the percussion-era (loose powder, cap and ball). The most famous American version being the c.1858 Starr double action revolver used by Union soldiers during the Civil War. In the postwar American West the first double action/single action cartridge revolver was the .38 caliber Colt Model 1877 Lightning, followed by the larger and more powerful .45 Colt Model 1878.
There is an apocryphal tale of the first double action Colt six-shooters that is told in author and historian Joseph G. Rosa’s book The Gunfighter Man or Myth? It revolves (pun intended) around the design of early double action revolvers which were primitive by today’s standards, and some even by the standards that would come to pass by the end of the 19th century. There was, for lack of a better word, a prejudice by many cowboys toward double action revolvers in the 1870s and early 1880s. Rosa’s story was about a writer for the New Mexico Democrat who observed a young cowboy deciding on the purchase of a new revolver in 1884. The gun shop’s proprietor reached into a display case and retrieved a handsomely mounted .45 caliber revolver and said, “How do you like this? It is the newest thing out – a double action forty-five.” The cowpoke looked at the Colt Model 1878 and turned up his nose, “Ain’t worth a row of beans. No man ‘cept a tenderfoot wants that kind of thing. Give me an old reliable all the time. Ye see a man that’s used to the old style is apt to get fooled – not pull her off in time – and then he’ll be laid out colder’n a wedge.”
The trick to not being “laid out colder’n a wedge,” was in knowing how to pull the trigger, if you’re shooting double action, which is the whole point of the gun. It is faster than a single action (though there were some shootists who could easily outpace a new double action Colt with their old single action Peacemakers). Understanding what’s taking place was important to shooting a double action revolver quickly and accurately, because there was a lot going on inside.
The trigger in a DA/SA wheelgun has a big job. In one continuous motion it has to release the bolt stop (as the trigger is pulled back), operate the pawl to rotate the cylinder to the next chamber, lock the bolt back in the cylinder bolt stop, depress the hammer spring to cock the hammer, and then discharge the gun. The amount of resistance generated by pulling the trigger on a double action revolver could vary by gun and caliber, and even manufacturer.
To establish a baseline for comparison let’s start at the beginning by measuring the double action trigger pull on a Starr double action revolver. There were other DA/SA designs during the 1860s including those by Remington, as well as fine British double action revolvers. The Starr was one of the earliest, however, and in theory a double action only design because one could not thumb the hammer back without jamming the gun. This caused no small amount of consternation among soldiers trained on single action revolvers like the Colt 1851 Navy, Remington Model 1858 and Colt 1860 Army. The Starr’s trigger was actually a “lifter” with the job of rotating the cylinder and pre-cocking the hammer. The hammer release was a small lever projecting from the grip frame at the back of the triggerguard, and when it was struck by the trigger lifter it dropped the hammer. How much effort did this take? Trigger pull averaged a little over 12.5 pounds. And things didn’t improve much with cartridge models like the Colt Model 1878, which also demanded a good 12 pounds of effort to work the gun double action.
By the turn of the century Smith & Wesson was able to improve on that with guns like the .44 Hand Ejector c.1908 or Triple Lock (one of the earliest designs with a swing out cylinder), which took the average double action trigger pull down to around 9 pounds, 5 ounces. Even today, modern large caliber double action revolvers still come in at around 10.5 to 11 pounds average, without a lot of custom work. The difference is really in the smoothness of the action vs. the coarseness of earlier designs. The baseline is around 11 pounds for modern double/action single action cartridge guns.
In Part 2 the top guns get put to the double action test.
A word about safety
Double Action/ Single Action airguns provide the look, feel and operation of their cartridge-firing counterparts. Most airguns, in general, look like cartrrige guns, this group even more so, and it is important to remember that the vast majority of people can’t tell an airgun from a real cartridge revolver. Never brandish any of these BB and pellet cartridge-loading airguns in public. Always, and I can never stress this enough, always treat an airgun, any airgun, as you would a real cartridge gun. The same manual of operation and safety should always apply.