Trigger happy: Part 3

by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: Adam Vierra is this week’s winner of Pyramyd Air’s Big Shot of the Week on their airgun facebook page. He’ll receive a $50 Pyramyd Air gift card. Congratulations!

Pyramyd Air Big Shot of the Week

Adam Vierra is this week’s Big Shot of the Week on Pyramyd Air’s facebook page.

Part 1
Part 2

I wasn’t sure there was going to be a Part 3 to this report. But yesterday, when I read your interest about the airguns with double-set triggers, I decided that it was okay to do one more, and this one will be about set triggers, match triggers and stuff like that.

As it happens, this blog is very timely for me, because this past Wednesday I was at the range shooting several firearms and a new airgun that you’re going to read about in January. One of the firearms I shot was my new Winchester high wall in .219 Zipper Improved. Some of you may remember that was the rifle I recently bought and discovered after the fact that it has a single-set trigger.

Winchester single set trigger
The screw that hangs down behind this trigger is the telltale clue that it’s a single-set trigger. You can either pull it the usual way, in which case it breaks at about 3-1/2 lbs., or push the trigger forward after the rifle is cocked. It then breaks at just 6 oz.

Shooting an obsolete caliber like a .219 Zipper Improved is a lot of work because they don’t make ammunition for it. In fact, they never have. This cartridge is called a wildcat because it’s always been necessary for the shooter to make the ammunition from some other cartridge. The .219 Zipper was a standard commercial cartridge at one time and is based on a 30-30 case. The Zipper Improved is based on the standard Zipper case, which means it, too, can be made from a 30-30 case. In fact, that’s how they’re made today.

.219 Zipper Improved and 30-30
Here we see a 30-30 (left) and the .219 Zipper Improved that sprang from it.

But my shooting buddy, Otho, discovered that the case dimensions of the now-obsolete but far more recent .225 Winchester are virtually identical to the .219 Zipper Improved. The rim is thinner and a trifle narrower, but it’s close. So, he thought we could make our cases from .225 Winchester cases, which are now being produced in limited quantities.

To make a long story short, the .225 case is so exact that all I have to do is prime it, fill it with powder and put a bullet in the neck. That saves me about 5 minutes of case preparation time for each case (when making them from a 30-30), and I also don’t have to clean my gun after fire-forming the new cases, which is a royal pain. Also, I lose about 40 percent of the formed cases, and I don’t think I’m going to lose any with this new method.

On Wednesday, I was at the range with 20 rounds of .219 Zipper Improved made from new .225 Winchester cases to see if this works. The measurements said it should, but since we’re generating 45,000 psi with every shot, theory and practical application are two different things.

I loaded the cartridges on the light side for safety, and I loaded only 5 with each amount of powder so I wouldn’t have to pull apart dozens of cartridges if they weren’t right. I’d seated the 40-grain bullet out as far as I felt I could and still keep it stable in the case. That’s supposed to improve accuracy — if the bullet doesn’t travel far before engaging the rifling.

The set trigger
Now we come to the subject of this report. My rifle has an aftermarket single-set trigger that releases with 6 oz. of pressure. To me, it feels like nothing. I can barely feel my finger touch the trigger blade when the gun fires. That’s as light as I ever want a trigger to be, and only then if it’s on a target rifle or a varmint rifle like this one. I want to be in position and ready to take the shot before I touch that blade.

So, now you appreciate that everything was perfect for this endeavor. If the loads I cooked up were accurate, nothing should get in the way of the results. Put the crosshairs in the center of the aim point at 100 yards, get stable and touch the trigger — BAM! The deed is done. All you have to do is look through the scope. The bullet should be moving at about 3,600 f.p.s., so the hold isn’t very much of a factor. Just make sure you have your head at the same spot every time so parallax cannot enter into the equation, and you should be good to go.

The first 5 shots included the very first shot after the barrel had been cleaned. That one went almost an inch wide, while the next 4 shots landed in a group that measures 0.51 inches between the centers of the two widest shots.

The rifle was shooting a little high so I adjusted the scope down for the next group.

The next 5 shots were with a powder charge weighing one grain more than the first load. I saw the first bullet from this batch land almost exactly on the vertical line above the center of the aim point, so I proceeded to shoot 4 more shots after it. I couldn’t see these shots through my 10x rifle scope, but the spotting scope revealed a tight cluster next to the first shot. That was worth investigating. We called a cease fire, and I walked down to look at the target. What I saw was amazing. The final 4 shots had landed in a tiny cluster measuring 0.239 inches between center. When the first shot is added, the group opens to 0.444 inches. For me this is a very good group!

.219 Zipper Improved groups
Top group is the first 5 shots with the new cases. Bottom group is the second 5 shots, using one grain more powder. The group measures 0.444 inches between centers…and the smaller group of 4 measures 0.239 inches, which is less than a quarter-inch at 100 yards.


But the single thing that made this group possible — other than lucking out and picking the right bullet and the absolute best powder charge on the first time out with these new cartridges (which is at least a thousand-to-one-guess) — was the set trigger. It took me out of the equation, by virtue of making the rifle fire when all things were perfect. Even a heartbeat, which can throw off a bullet by more than an inch at 100 yards, was not an issue because I was using the M-T-M Predator shooting rest that holds the rifle perfectly on target without my help.

And that’s what set triggers do. They allow you to either eliminate the human from the shooting equation; or, conversely, they allow the human to knowingly pull the trigger at the exact instant the sight picture is perfect. That’s called sniping the target, and it’s usually not recommended; but since a set trigger doesn’t move the gun like a standard trigger does when it’s pulled, you get away with it.

Double-set trigger
So far, I’ve mentioned only the single-set trigger. The double-set trigger is more common and works just as well, if not better. Perhaps the most familiar place to see this kind of trigger is on a muzzleloading rifle, where they were favored over the plain trigger.

Double-set triggers often work like normal triggers if they’re not set. Usually, the rear trigger is pulled to set the front one, though not always. The double-set was very popular on bellows dart rifles in the 1700s and 1800s, and these are the triggers that are famous for being so sensitive that a breath of air can make them fire. I’ve owned several rifles with double-set triggers, including a five-lever trigger made by Aydt that was extremely sensitive. But I’ve never experienced a trigger so light that air, alone, can set it off.

double set trigger
Pull the rear trigger to set the front trigger. The rifle can also be fired by just pulling the front trigger, though the pull will be heavier.

Set triggers and target rifles
Set triggers were once an important part of all target rifles. From the days of chunk shooting, when the rifle was a Kentucky long rifle rested on a log (called a chunk), to the final days of international match shooting at 1,000 yards, the set trigger was as common as the vernier peep sight and spirit level front sight that eliminated cant.

In the sporting world, set triggers were found on many varmint rifles of the past. The double-set was more common than the single-set, but either one can be a blessing when you’re trying to do precise work. In recent years, set triggers have been making a comeback on many factory guns, but they may not be as necessary as they once were due to innovations in replacement sporting triggers. More on that in a moment, but let’s now take a look at set triggers on airguns.

For some reason, set triggers have not been very popular in airgun target shooting. Perhaps this started as a safety rule; but considering the light match rifle triggers now in production, that cannot be the only reason. The fact that set triggers do exist on target air rifles indicates that some people wanted to try them at one time, but the rules were written to exclude them from competition…just like Tyrolean stocks and tube rear sights…and today they’re seen only on vintage guns.

Here’s a prediction: If an airgun manufacturer were to put a nice set trigger in an accurate low- to mid-powered .177-caliber air rifle today, they would have a hit on their hands!

Non-set triggers that are still remarkable
This is for our blog reader GenghisJan, who asked blog reader Kevin how he would compare a set trigger to a match trigger. I believe the big difference is that you must intentionally set the set trigger for it to be light. If you don’t set it, the trigger-pull seems about normal. But a match trigger releases at just one weight, and it’s always light. How many times have I seen people fire a match gun before they were ready, simply because they were unaccustomed to how light the trigger is? It actually takes some learning to operate a match trigger safely, and some people never get it.

A Benjamin Marauder trigger can be adjusted to have a two-stage release where the second stage is light, but also positive. It’s more than the few grams of pressure that a true match trigger needs, but far lighter than most sporting triggers. This is a wonderful compromise in a trigger, to my way of thinking.

In the world of sporting guns, triggers have continued to improve until it’s possible to buy drop-in units today, or sometimes the parts to make a factory trigger as light as a set trigger. There are many manufacturers doing this — companies like Jewell Trigger, which makes sporting triggers that break at mere ounces. They’re a sort of set trigger that’s always set!

But in airguns, the choices are fewer. In the world of spring guns, there’s the Rekord that can be adjusted to release at just ounces of pressure if properly set up, and the Air Arms trigger that’s even more adjustable. There used to be some aftermarket triggers from companies that would drop in certain guns and be even lighter and better than Rekords, but they’re gone from the marketplace.

You’ll find more good triggers in the PCP world because they don’t have to restrain hundreds of pounds of force. And the state-of-the-art 10-meter match rifle trigger is at the top of the heap. With triggers this sensitive, you don’t touch them until you’re safely on target.

What’s it going to be?
I like a set trigger in the right circumstances. And since most of them can be fired without setting, I found them to be ideal for everything. But I’m just starting to experiment with the crop of new and improved replacement triggers that have hit the market. Though they’re less flexible than set triggers, they might be a good modern alternative.

As far as a true target trigger is concerned, the only place for that is on the range. And you have to train with it by dry-firing so you are ready when the time comes.

50 thoughts on “Trigger happy: Part 3”

  1. Tom,

    Stunning group shot with that wonderful Winchester High Wall. Suggest you tape that 31gn recipe to the fridge. That’s just spectacular.

    Yes, a rest helps, a good trigger is important, the right load is critical, a 10x scope is not ideal (for me at 100 yards) but you don’t seem willing to admit how few shooters have ever shot a screaming group like that at 100 yards. It takes a good shooter to shoot 4 out of 5 shots into 0.239″ at 100 yards. Wow.

    Great series on triggers. Wish set triggers would make a comeback in airguns. I agree that if a manufacturer would put a set trigger in a mid powered airgun they would have a hit.


    • Kevin,

      I left out the screaming part, but you can bet there was plenty of it when I saw this group. Of course it’s only five shots, but now that I have the load there is nothing that prevents me from shooting some more.

      The scope is interesting. It’s a vintage Weaver K10-T that I paid $25 for at a gun show. It is clear as a bell and I can actually bisect the bull with the thin crosshairs at 100 yards. otherwise, this group would have been larger.


      • Tom,

        Here’s something you don’t know.

        I’m so amazed by your story of acquiring the Mashburn Arms Winchester High Wall and the picture of it with the Weaver K10-T mounted that I frequently visit the blog where you confessed your thievery. Just a beautiful combination. Just gazing at your picture is inspiring. Nice when a beautiful gun can shoot.

        You’re fortunate to be in the land where Weavers were/are? made. Banged up Weaver K10’s with most of the finish missing bring around $150.00 in these parts. You can occasionally run across a good deal on a vintage Burris or Redfield here in Colorado since this is where they were made. They’re all good scopes in decent light and overlooked by many. Many of the old Weavers, Burris and Redfields had AO too. That K10 just looks right on top of that High Wall. Does your K10 have the single horizontal reticle or the double?

        Congratulations on the discovery of the .225 winchester case. Sounds like your life will be easier and leave more time for shooting that .219 zipper.



      • If I shot a group like that with one of my air rifles at 25 yards, I would have been walking on air. That is some great shooting, Tom, more so considering the ammo is your own starting load! Now about the fix for the Fusion……

        Fred DPRoNJ

      • Tom,

        Well, Here’s something you don’t know.

        I’m so amazed by your story of acquiring the Mashburn Arms Winchester High Wall and the picture of it with the Weaver K10-T mounted that I frequently visit the blog where you confessed your thievery. Just a beautiful combination. Just gazing at your picture is inspiring. Nice when a beautiful gun can shoot.

        You’re fortunate to be in the land where Weavers were/are? made. Banged up Weaver K10’s with most of the finish missing bring around $150.00 in these parts. You can occasionally run across a good deal on a vintage Burris or Redfield here in Colorado since this is where they were made. They’re all good scopes in decent light and overlooked by many. Many of the old Weavers, Burris and Redfields had AO too. That K10 just looks right on top of that High Wall. Does your K10 have the single horizontal reticle or the double?

        Congratulations on the discovery of the .225 winchester case. Sounds like your life will be easier and leave more time for shooting that .219 zipper.



  2. Wow – what a result with that new load!!! Wow.

    Thanks for describing set triggers for us. I hadn’t considered that folks might use them un-set. Now that you mention it, it does sound very useful to have a nice, safe trigger and a hair trigger in one package! I sure hope to be able to experience one someday.


  3. B.B.

    My two cents on your yesterday article about user reviews.

    People can enjoy only what they are able to feel to the fullest extent. Just imagine a tea drinker who hadn’t ever tasted anything better than “teabag dust” – how can you discuss subtle differences between years of South Fujian and Taiwan oolongs? The man won’t even know one from another.

    I think that the myth of PCP’s inherent accuracy also comes from this area. It was born due to the fact that most fresh airgunners simply do not know how to shoot an airgun. So PCP, being much more forgiving, delivers relatively better acuracy results in unskilled hands. And that is also true for magnum springers – in fact they are quite accurate (if the pellet stays in 260-270 m/s corridor), but to see their true qualities one must have enough skill.

    On the other hand comes time of ownership. I consider myself an average shooter – but I can swear that a new gun and a gun that I know for at least a year (even if they are of the same model, tuned by myself and equipped with same sights) will produce different results. Ommit the time for the rifle to break-in – it’s just getting acquainted and knowing one’s rifle. So I think user reviews must also contain info on reviewer’s “career” in airguns and time spent with current specimen in hands – to get a clearer picture for readers.

    Or else it will produce reviews like that:
    “That RWS-54 is a nightmare of a rifle! Heavy, big, ugly and requires too much strength to cock. The best way to ruin your first week in airgunning! Never buy it”
    “Who makes those CFX? They require too much of me – I can not evem move my hands half-inch when shooting that springer and I must hold it very tight because it kicks and starts spraying pellets like a firehose!”

    I noticed that the more a man shoots – the less expressive and “content-generating” he becomes. And the better every rifle he owns becomes. So reviews IMO are to be taken not only with the grain of salt, but surely with a lot of water to dilute too 🙂


  4. Tom,I just can’t imagine how much better that gun will get once the barrel is seasoned! What an amazing result so soon after cleaning,let alone so early on in load developement.I’m with Kevin on this one…….you need much “better” glass on this one!(by better,I mean higher magnification) That scope sounds like it’s pretty neat too. I find that occasionally vintage scopes are drastically undervalued,as in you could buy 7 or 8 of amazing quality for the price of a “good” new one! Too many folks think that anything short of the latest & greatest will be lacking,but they forget precision is NOT a new invention.

      • Well,I’m a virtual “newby” compared to your experience BB,but I will venture a guess that it will either help or hurt things a little……at least if it was me! Shot to shot “feedback” visually may make it harder as in more pressure psychologically,or as good as this rifle is shooting it may increase the zen factor.Either way I very much enjoy the experience vicariously.

  5. BB/Tom
    Can a double set trigger be reset? I believe a true two stage trigger resets the sear if the first stage is released. A single set could not be reset, obviously, because the direction to reset would fire the rifle.
    Just curious.

    • I have read and re-read your question but I’m not sure I understand what you are asking. Either a single-set or double-set trigger will fire if the trigger is pulled. Both can usually be set, apart from the rifle being cocked, so it is possible to dry-fire the gun. But I’m missing something.


      • Sorry,
        I will try to be more clear. With a double set trigger the first trigger is pulled creating a hair trigger on the other trigger. I am asking if the first trigger can be pushed back to it’s original position thus creating a safe situation.

        With a true two stage trigger the first stage takes up some sear engagement but if the trigger is released the sear re-engages if it’s working properly. At least that is my understanding.

        I would guess that once the first trigger is pulled on a double set trigger that there is no going back. I just thought I would ask. And to try to clarify my earlier post on the single set trigger there is clearly no going back because that fires the trigger.

  6. It’s tough not to interpret the small response to this blog topic to single set triggers and double set triggers to a lack of first hand experience. I really wish I could put some sst and dst guns in your hands because it’s such a wonderful dimension to shooting that I think would result in you bubbling over with enthusiasm.

    Wish you could come here to my place and shoot these fine instruments.


    • Kevin,
      In my case you are absolutely correct. I didn’t even know single-set/double-set existed. Yet again, this blog increased my knowledge base.

      I was ready to ask more questions about them because I still wasn’t sure how they worked but then I followed the exchange between Anonymous’s question around 8am and Tom’s answers and it is now clear to me.

      Again, it pays to read all comments.


    • And then there is the T/C Contender… With its “hammer the hammer” system. Squeezing the spur of the trigger guard opens the action to eject/reload AND cocks the TRIGGER. It does NOT cock the actual hammer — you do that by using your thumb to pull the hammer all the way back. The Contender trigger has a fairly light pull (for a hunting pistol); pulling it releases an internal striker which “hammers” the sear mechanism of the real hammer.

      The result is something like a cross between the IZH-46m trigger with the hammer of a single-action revolver…

  7. B.B., this has been a very informative blog. You know, the first time I knew about double-set triggers was when I saw Quigley Down Under for the first time. Although I can’t find it quickly, I believe you did write about the trigger (as well as the sights). ~Ken

  8. Sorry for going off topic ,but I have to say that my mother is 23 days post heart transplantation, and from yesterday she is no longer in isolation ,I went to see her ,and she is walking normally , talking and … -she is fine!Thank you guys again on your support ! 🙂

          • No worries, Milan. I know some people have experimented with the dry moly powder and wondered outed you were among them. Messy stuff. I’ve used it on bullets while reloading and on a Desert Eagle .44 mag trying for better performance, but it didn’t seem to make a difference on that one. Never tried it on an airgun because of the mess. That stuff migrates everywhere for a while….


  9. OK, I have an “Airguns vs Firearms” question for you. Why is a 4lb trigger considered light, safe, and excellent on a firearm, but airgun triggers don’t get “good” until they are under 1 lb?

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