The Most Important Things To Know About A Rifle Trigger

The trigger is the single most important point of interface between a hunter and their rifle. It’s the lever you pull to end your hunt. The quality of that lever

by Richard Mann

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Richard


The trigger is the single most important point of interface between a hunter and their rifle. It’s the lever you pull to end your hunt. The quality of that lever—and how you pull it—means everything. Before you can pull a trigger effectively, you’ll need to understand triggers and you’ll need to understand some trigger terms such as “take-up, pull weight, creep, over-travel and consistency.”

Take-up is the initial movement of a trigger. There are two types of triggers; single-stage and two-stage. Both can have take-up, but with a two-stage trigger you’ll feel some resistance—as much as half the pull weight—during take-up. Take-up on a single-stage trigger is generally very light and undesirable. A good single-stage trigger has no take-up.

Pull weight describes the amount of pressure needed to move the trigger. Hunters often argue about the ideal pull weight; it’s a “feel” thing. A good place to start is with a pull weight no more than half the weight of the rifle. If your field-ready hunting rifle weighs 8 pounds, half that weight—4 pounds—should be the maximum acceptable pull weight.



The term “creepy” can describe mother-in-laws or weird uncles, but with triggers it deals with trigger movement after take-up. Creep is common in factory triggers and is why many hunters opt for a trigger job or an aftermarket trigger such as a Timney. A good trigger is not creepy.

Over-travel is the movement of the trigger after the sear has been released. Very few triggers have no over-travel, but a good trigger will have none or an almost imperceivable amount. Over-travel is important because the movement of your finger on the trigger, after the sear has been released, can move the rifle before the bullet exists the barrel. Combine lots of over travel with a heavy pull weight and a miss is what you get.

John Vehr at Timney Triggers says: “Just like with people, you need to build a relationship with your trigger.” It’s nearly impossible to build a trusting relationship with a person who is unpredictable … and the same goes with a trigger. A good trigger pulls the same way every time.

Many say that if you pull a trigger correctly you should be surprised when the rifle fires. This is both good and bad advice. The launching of a bullet at a wild and majestic animal shouldn’t be a surprise to the hunter; it should be a calculated event exercised with extreme precision.

The “surprise-break” adage comes from firearms instructors trying to teach shooters how to pull triggers. Shooters are slaves to their brains, which tell them there is going to be a hard jolt and a loud noise when the trigger is pulled. The result is a flinch or a jerk that results in a miss. To circumvent this flinch or jerk, the surprise-break technique was developed. If you continually apply more and more pressure to a trigger until it finally breaks, you should be somewhat surprised when you hear the bang and feel the pounding on your shoulder.

Two things can make this surprise go away. The first is a good trigger that responds consistently and the second is practice. You’ll need to pull a trigger hundreds if not thousands of times to learn it. Dry-fire practice counts, too; you don’t have to fire the rifle every time you pull the trigger to get the training benefit. Just like scratching an inch or picking your nose, the first few times you tried it you were careful and learning—now both feel like second nature. Once you learn your trigger, your shooting during practice and while hunting will improve substantially.

I have a lot of rifles. Some are very nice, some are average and some are just knock-around beaters. Some are bolt-actions, some are lever-actions and some are semiautos. They’re all used for a lot of different things—from recreational shooting to hunting and even protection. However, they all have one thing in common: They all have good triggers.



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