How to pull the trigger

by B.B. Pelletier

With a title like that, you’d think I wouldn’t have much to say. “Just PULL it!” is all anyone needs to know. Right?

Actually, there’s more to pulling a trigger than many people know.

What KIND of trigger?
There are more kinds of triggers than we have room for here, so I will just address two popular ones – the single-stage and the two-stage trigger.

Single-stage triggers
A single-stage triggers is ready to go when the gun is cocked. Just pull back on it until the gun fires. The correct way to “pull” a single-stage trigger is to squeeze it straight back with the pad of your fingertip. Your finger should move in such a way that it does not influence the gun by moving it from side to side. This is very hard to do with a handgun, which is why the two-handed hold has become so popular. With a rifle, it’s easier to not push the muzzle to one side while squeezing the trigger, but it’s not a given. It still takes practice.

Apply steadily increasing force until the sear releases and the gun fires. The very best triggers release the sear without a jarring movement. If there is an overtravel screw, adjust it to stop the trigger’s movement at the moment of release.

As you become accustomed to the trigger, you should gain a sense of when it is about to let go. This sense will help you select the proper time for the sear to release.

Two-stage triggers
These are more popular among shooters because they give a better feel to the trigger. Nearly all military triggers are two-stage. The first stage of the two-stage trigger is usually just the resistance offered by the trigger return spring, though there are target guns that allow some of the trigger’s total pull weight to be loaded into the first stage, as well.

When the trigger stops moving, you’ve come to the second stage, which is the one that releases the sear. An adjustable trigger can be set to have a light first stage, then a VERY light second stage. Yet, it is safer than a heavier single-stage trigger because of the feel when the second stage is reached.

Once I know a gun’s two-stage trigger, I often pull and release the first stage several times before getting serious with the second stage. Treat the second stage just like it is a single-stage trigger, with the benefit that you know absolutely when you have begun your pull.

Be careful not to “snipe”
Sometimes, when you’re on the trigger and the target is in your sights, there is a tremendous desire to just pull the trigger and be done with it. Avoid doing this, as it is a leading cause of missing. Also, avoid hooking your first finger joint over the trigger for extra leverage. That leads to pulling the gun to one side. If you need that much leverage to work the trigger, you need a better trigger. If you can’t take your shot for some reason, relax your trigger finger and get it out of the triggerguard entirely.

This has been a brief look at proper trigger technique. I may expand on this if there is enough interest.

14 thoughts on “How to pull the trigger”

  1. My question isn’t about triggers. I was wondering if break barrel springers ever wear loose at the hinge and become inaccurate? I only owned one springer and it was a side lever cocker. Liked it a lot.

  2. Hey. I was wondering if you could do a review on the Crosman Air Mag S1008 airsoft gun. I’ve looked everywhere on the internet and can’t find anything. I was wondering if it’s worth the 40 bucks. Thanks

  3. A couple of comments:

    1. I hurt my trigger finger and had a bandaid on the tip forcing me to use the area close to the knuckle. My shooting was good and seemed a bit better than when using the ball of the finger. After removing the bandaid, I noticed that my shooting was indeed a bit worse. I switched to using the position next to my first knuckle all the time. That 1/4″ made a significant difference. The bottom-line — try various positions because the “book” may not be the best answer for each individual.

    2. I have adjusted my Steyr LG100ZM’s trigger from the “hair” setting Allen Zasadny originally set to one with a 500gm pull, the same as for my 10M pistol. For offhand, I think this works better and there is no apparent difference for FT sitting. Also, the gun has never misfired since doing this and it did a couple of times with the very light setting.



  4. BTW, “The Ways of the Rifle” book suggests a rather firm grip on the handgrip to offset any effects of trigger pull. Some like to barely touch the rifle — I find a rather firm grip reduces both trigger pull effects and some of the pulsing from my heart.

  5. Joe,

    On the firm grip, I agree with it for some pistols – if that means the middle finger pulls straight back towards the web of the hand. The M1911 Colt works that way. And so do the pistols modeled after it like the P1, P2 etc.

    But on a recoilling air rifle, I’ve always found the soft touch to be better. Your thumb has to oppose your trigger finger when you squeeze, and of course if the pull is 12 pounds all bets are off. On PCPs it doesn’t seem to matter as much.


  6. BB,

    I’d like to re-set the trigger on my Quest 1000 air rifle. The booklet says you can use the screw behind the trigger to set the trigger let-off to a lighter pull but some of the other sources I’ve read say that this screw affects nothing but taking up creep. There is a fair amount of creep and it’s pretty springy-feeling which, personally, I don’t care for. In any event, there seems to be a spring end that sits in the screw hole. Do I push this out of the way with the screwdriver blade before adjusting and then try to replace it or what? I can’t tell if this spring end placement is normal (to keep the screw from changing position under recoil?), and I can find no mention of it in the instruction book. Thanks for your consideration. -Joe

  7. Quest trigger,

    Here is the section on adjusting the trigger from the Quest owner’s manual.

    Adjusting the Trigger
    • This airgun is supplied with a trigger with an adjusting screw for adjustment of the sec-
    ond stage length
    NOTE: This feature is added for advanced shooters. Most shooters can use the settings
    provided during manufacturing of the gun, and should not need to make any modifica-

    All the screw does is adjust the length of the second stage pull. It says nothing about pull weight. I advise you to leave the spring where it is and just follow these instructions.


  8. BB

    OK, I’m looking at the manual too, and at the rifle. The manual doesn’t show the adjusting screw very well, but the trigger spring’s tail is sitting directly on top of the screw. when you pull the trigger (safety off, uncocked), it pushes the adjusting screw with the spring tail on top of it (rifle held upside down) towards the trigger guard. So I assume that the screw changes, and stops, the trigger’s overtravel (the amount the trigger travels PAST the sear release point). I don’t remember at the moment why you should do this but I do remember that target shooters find this important. If I do choose to adjust this screw, I will have to push the trigger spring’s tail out of the way in order to reach the screw slot with the screwdriver. Does this make sense? I do not want to damage the rifle in any way but I WOULD like to have the trigger feel more responsive.


  9. Joe,

    The screw adjusts the length of stage two of the trigger pull, according to the manual. It’s not an overtravel adjustment, which comes in after the trigger releases.

    I would say since you want to adjust this screw just go ahead and do it. Push the spring out of the way, but don’t try to relocate it. Just move it so you can get a bite on the screw head.

    If there is a problem, the dealer’s warranty should back you up.


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