Perfecting your Double Action trigger pull Part 1

Perfecting your Double Action trigger pull Part 1 Part 2

DA/SA and DAO airguns can help improve your shooting technique

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By Dennis Adler

For the purpose of this article I have chosen two popular CO2 handguns, the well established Umarex Beretta 92FS, which is a functional DAO semi-auto using an 8-shot rotary pellet magazine, and the new ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 pellet cartridge firing 4-inch revolver. Both have equivalent DA trigger pulls to their centerfire counterparts.

Double Action and DAO revolvers and semi-autos all share one thing in common, a heavy trigger pull. Before we move on to other topics this summer in Airgun Experience (like target shooting and target pistols), I want to spend a little more time on training with CO2 revolvers and semi-autos, as many have trigger pulls equivalent to centerfire DA/SA and DAO (double action only) models. There is no question that trigger pull can make or break your shooting accuracy. You can memorize every mechanical aspect of a handgun, know its operation inside and out, have mastered sight alignment, even compensating POA with fixed sights, but if you make a hash of pulling the trigger you are still going to miss. This is a lesson I learned the hard way because when I first started shooting in my teens I had a .22 LR Colt ACE (and how I wish I still had that pistol!), the trigger pull was light, about the same as a .45 ACP Model 1911, however, recoil was much lighter like most .22s. I never even picked up a double action revolver until more than a decade later and it was a 4-inch nickel plated Colt Diamondback (and how I wish I still had that pistol!). I was not very good with it firing double action, so I just cocked the hammer and shot it single action.

Years of shooting single action revolvers and semi-autos taught me one style of trigger control that has served me well with these types of handguns, whether centerfire or CO2 BB and pellet cartridge firing models. But this skill is not necessarily the best for firing a double action revolver or semi-auto.

What I had learned over the period of time from the ACE to the Diamondback was how to shoot single action. And later on when I started shooting single action revolvers, that same proficiency paid off. A little over 30 years ago I bought an S&W Model 29, and like the Diamondback I discovered I wasn’t very good shooting double action. What my first professional arms instructor taught me back in the late 1970s was shooting a double action revolver double action requires a different set of skills. Yes, you can do everything right and still be less accurate because you are placing your finger on the trigger like it was a single action. I would venture to say a lot of very good shooters do this and have managed to make it work for them but the level of resistance your finger encounters with a DA or DAO trigger is significantly greater than the vast majority of SA triggers on revolvers or semi-autos. By the time I was through training he had me shooting Q-Tips at 50 feet with the Model 29 fired double action. (I still have the Model 29 but time has taken away a little of the edge I had back then and Q-Tips are pretty safe from me at 50 feet these days).

Trigger pull is a balance of muscle control and hand-eye coordination. The heavier the trigger pull the more apt you are to increase total muscle effort, i.e. over tightening your grip on the pistol and tensing your arm(s). Learning double action trigger pull with air pistols that have equivalent triggers to centerfire models can help improve muscle memory, fine tune your shooting accuracy, and provide more feedback than dry firing a cartridge gun.

The mechanics and the practice

Mechanically, this is a simple explanation; with a single action pistol the hammer is already cocked and the only function the trigger performs is firing the gun. You then either re-cock the revolver’s hammer (single action revolver or DA/SA) or the slide on a semi-auto re-cocks the hammer or striker as part of its rearward motion. Shooting a double action revolver double action or firing a DAO revolver or semi-auto demands more from the trigger system and the trigger finger. The pull of the trigger must now re-cock the hammer or striker, and with a DA/SA or DAO revolver, must rotate the cylinder to the next chamber. Outside of finely tuned competition DA pistols, the average double action trigger pull is going to be from 10 pounds to 13 pounds, plus some ounces, (I have an older PPK/S that requires 14.5 pounds average to fire the first round double action).

As shown here the hammer has been re-cocked by the slide (or it could be manually cocked) on this Umarex Beretta 92A1. For a single action shot the third joint of the trigger finger is firmly engaging the trigger.

In comparison, a good single action trigger will have a pull of 5 pounds; less then half that of a DAO. Simply, a trigger pull resistance of anywhere from 10 to 14 pounds is a lot to ask from the pad of your trigger finger. It is, of course, done all the time, but you may have a tendency to hit right of POA (less so using a double handed hold). A more reliable double action trigger pull should be tried using the middle joint of the trigger finger with the pad of the third joint protruding out of the triggerguard. A lot depends, too, on the length of your fingers, the size of your hand and the size of the gun and grips. Choking up on the trigger demands that the shooter pull through smoothly and consistently without jerking the trigger back (the results of which at best leads to pulling the shot low).

For a double action revolver fired double action the middle joint of the trigger finger should engage the trigger as shown. This provides more stability to counter the added resistance of a trigger system that is also rotating the cylinder and cocking the hammer. Most well built revolvers will stage the hammer as you pull the trigger and this image shows the hammer on the Dan Wesson partially cocked and in a locked posture after the cylinder has rotated into battery. This is a fixed point during the trigger pull. In a defensive situation one would more likely continue to pull through. Staging the trigger is better suited to target shooting. 
In this image note that the trigger finger is positioned as it would be for a single action shot. This works, but not as well as choking up on the trigger and using the middle joint for a more secure pull against the added resistance of a double action mechanism.

It is easier to explain this than it is to master. You don’t want your grip to over tighten either as you pull the trigger with the middle joint of your index finger (that is a natural tendency), so again practice will help to overcome this. Smooth, slow, and steady is the drill; with time speed will come on its own, but consistency is first and foremost when firing double action.

You can dry fire a cartridge revolver to practice but without a round going downrange you really have no idea how well you are doing. Dry fire practice will help improve skills, but using a CO2 powered DA/SA revolver or semi-auto that has a comparable trigger to its centerfire counterpart will not only achieve the same results but allow you to fire a live round (BB) and gauge your accuracy.

In Part 2 the shooting test proves the theory of using the middle joint of the trigger finger on a double action or DAO revolver or semi-auto pistol. The test will be shot using a two-handed hold.

Will that be one hand or two?

I recommend starting with a two-handed hold as you begin to practice DA shooting techniques, it is easier in my opinion, helps build confidence, and with practice one can make the transition to firing with one hand in a target shooting stance. Some CO2 models are better choices for this training regimen, and hopefully you have one of these airguns in your collection. If not and you are serious about improving shooting skills, pick one, make the purchase and begin training. Most DA/SA CO2 revolvers have double action triggers that are much lighter than their centerfire counterparts. This makes them great to shoot, but not much help in this training exercise. One fine exception is the new ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 with a 4-inch barrel. This revolver has a superior DA/SA trigger to either the 2-1/2 inch or 6-inch models (at least as far as my test guns are concerned), so I have chosen it for the photos. DA trigger pull on the Dan Wesson is 10 pounds, 6.5 ounces.

The same principles apply to a DA/SA or DAO semi-auto, which in this image is an Umarex Beretta 92FS. The trigger on this airgun is DAO since there is no blowback action slide to cock the external hammer. This pistol is an excellent training aid in fine tuning double action trigger pull with a semi-auto design. It is also an inherently accurate pellet firing pistol.

Blowback action semi-auto DA/SA air pistols all re-cock the hammer after the first shot. One excellent exception is the non-blowback action Umarex Beretta 92FS pellet firing model which is a “functional” DAO unless you manually cock the hammer. For this exercise that will be the semi-auto used. Mine is factory equipped with optics and a laser, but the shooting technique with the DA trigger is otherwise the same. DA trigger pull on the Umarex Beretta 92FS pellet model is an average of 8 pounds, 9.5 ounces. Both DA trigger pulls are within the average for actual cartridge firing DA/SA and DAO revolvers and semiautomatic models.

In Part 2, I will show actual shooting results between firing double action using a SA-style shooting technique vs. the DA trigger technique and how airguns can help improve your skills for handling centerfire models at a fraction of the cost.  

3 thoughts on “Perfecting your Double Action trigger pull Part 1”

  1. I shoot da revolvers a lot ,and there probably is no better understudy airgun than the Dan Wesson 715 for practicing and mastering da action shooting skills. The rail limits holster choices, but I have found that an old Roy Baker Pancake holster made for a Colt Python fits the Dan Wesson 715 with rail, and allows drawing and firing practice. Until other revolvers are replicated as well , this revolver is the go to understudy.Wish ASG would offer a model without the rail in 4 inch as well as the same metallic blue finish that the 6 inch version sports.

    • What is your position on trigger finger placement firing double action? I know you shoot a lot of single actions as well. ASG wanted to do something different with the 4-inch model and that is why they added the rail. I wish they had made it both ways. Actually I would prefer the rail on the 6-inch model.

      • I pretty much use the same finger and hand position you are illustrating , gives good leverage and control . I have found this will give you fast shooting , with accuracy as good as slow sa shooting at gunfighting distance.

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