By Mike Pannone
November 23, 2010
Throughout my training, travels and experience, I have seen only a rare few organizations that allow their members to use match triggers in their duty rifles. I am a big proponent of combat match triggers for the enhanced shootability they enable. I consider a “combat match trigger” one that is single or two-stage, no lighter than 3.5 lbs to 4.5 lbs with a clean crisp break and produced of tool steel with a mil-spec weight hammer spring. I prefer a 2-stage trigger on a duty rifle and a single stage on a sport gun. I like 2-stage on a duty/combat gun because with gloves on I want to feel the trigger before I actually actuate it in that moment I am getting the final alignment. When shooting a sport gun I don’t wear gloves and can feel the trigger completely adequately to fire it properly so the 2-stage is unnecessary.
Others may differ in their likes or dislikes but my rational works for me and my shooting style. I have specific reasons for all that I do and say, as should we all. The groups I reference are military and law enforcement organizations. For the most part match triggers are considered “only for sporting use” or “unsafe”. Does that mean sporting guns are unsafe by design? I would really like to see the number of rounds that 3-gun shooters fire in extremely dynamic shooting events without injury, negligent discharge or mechanical failure. The unsafe concept I will address based on my personal and witnessed experience and some plain old common sense.
Before we begin to evaluate whether or not a match trigger is safe we must first identify the four firearms safety rules what we mean by “safe”.
My 4 Firearms safety rules:
1. Treat all weapons as loaded regardless of status or perceived status
2. Never point a weapon at anything you are not willing to kill, injure or damage
3. Keep your finger off the trigger and the weapon on safe until your sights are aligned and you have made the conscious decision to fire.
4. Know your target, what is in the foreground, background, left and right and the ballistic capability of your weapon the target and the backstop. (The last part of this is oriented toward operating in shoot-through structures.)
How I define a “safe trigger”?
1. Releases the hammer when I pull the trigger and only in the capacity it was intended, i.e. semi-automatic triggers only fire one shot with the pull and release of the trigger, while fully-automatic triggers will fire when the trigger is pulled, and stop immediately when the trigger is released. If a burst trigger mechanism is used, then it should fire the requisite amount of rounds or (less if the trigger is released rapidly), and the balance of the specified burst upon the next trigger pull.
2. The rifle being dropped in any manner from 10 feet should not discharge the rifle, nor damage the trigger mechanism.
3. Should use a hammer spring that ensures positive ignition with all types of currently available ammunition.
Notice there was no mention of trigger pull weight. That is because trigger pull weight is immaterial to safety, whether functional (the functioning of the trigger) or operational (use of the rifle). Properly functioning rifles only discharge when the trigger is pulled. Accidental or more-commonly-experienced negligent discharges (ND) are operator induced. An accidental discharge (AD), as far as I am concerned, is one caused by some anomaly while in possession of the rifle. Here are a few types to demonstrate what I mean:
1. While negotiating an obstacle, the selector lever is moved to fire and the trigger catches on a piece of your kit, thereby discharging the rifle. (I have personally seen this several times, and it is not the fault of the trigger or the operator, but can only be avoided by maintaining constant awareness of your weapons’ status.)
2. Falling on a staircase, where the individual hits the ground and their hand clenches around the pistol grip, inadvertently releasing the safety/pulling the trigger, and discharging a round.
These types of scenarios are far outweighed by negligent discharges. A negligent discharge is one that happens when a shooter violates the firearms safety rule #1 “Treat all weapons as if they are loaded regardless of status or perceived status” and #3 “Keep your finger off the trigger and the weapon on safe until your sights are aligned and you have made the conscious decision to fire.”
Here are a few examples of negligent discharge:
1. Violations of firearms safety rule#1 in any manner
2. Violations of firearms safety rule#3 in any manner
3. Improper loading (finger on trigger violation of firearms safety rule#3)
4. Improper clearing (not properly inspecting chamber or improper sequence (violation of safety rule #1)
5. Moving from position to position while weapon is on fire and discharging the rifle (even though this may be considered by some as an accident, not putting the rifle on safe is negligent and a violation of safety rule #3 and constitutes an ND)
In the above categories, the weight of the trigger is by far the least critical factor. If you are relying on a heavy trigger to keep someone with poor weapons handling skills from having a negligent discharge, then your training and equipping methodology are seriously flawed. Good weapons handling skills and weapon awareness will avoid each of these.
Along with negligent and accidental discharges, there is mechanical failure discharge. This extremely rare incident happens when the weapon operating within the design parameters (durability and drop test) has a material failure leading to the discharge caused by the mechanical failure of the trigger group. This is a situation where properly made and installed match triggers in the 3.5-4.5 lb range will easily match the performance of stock triggers, if not exceed them. I say easily match or exceed because match triggers are fully hardened and not case (surface) hardened, so the incidence of material failure is much lower.
I have 2 triggers that have fired well over 50,000 rounds each without issue and are still in use. Both are still in the same configuration as received from the manufacturer. One trigger is a JP single-stage adjustable that came on a rifle I purchased from JP Enterprises almost 5 years ago, and the other is a drop-in McCormick 2-stage trigger pack that was purchased at the same time through Brownells. The McCormick trigger is non-adjustable, and the JP trigger, though adjustable, has never been adjusted and has not shot loose or changed other than becoming smoother over time. I have cleaned that lower receiver with various solvents at least 25 times and it has not had any effect on adjustment.
By contrast, I have routinely shot out stock triggers in around 10,000rds. By “shot out” I mean I have worn them so badly that I get either an extremely heavy and scratchy 10lb trigger or trigger failures to include firing on release. Stock military-type triggers are case hardened (hardened only on the surface), and once you wear through that, they degrade rapidly. Aside from the terrible trigger pull from the softer unhardened steel, shooters will also often experience “shoot on release”. This is when a shooter fires a well aimed shot and after the follow-through slowly begins to release the trigger to reset the hammer. At that point, the rifle discharges again. This is caused by an excessively worn trigger-sear surface and constitutes an extremely unsafe condition. Think of the problem/tragedy that could take place if an LEO (Law Enforcement Officer) or military operator fires his rifle and upon releasing the trigger it discharges again? Not a good picture.
If using a good quality trigger and keeping the pull weight at 3.5-4.5 pounds, there is absolutely no reason to consider them any less safe than a stock scratchy 6-9 pound trigger.
Speed and Accuracy:
Speed and accuracy are intertwined so intimately when it comes to trigger weight that they must be addressed together. Relative to speed there are two things I am concerned with:
1. When I decide to pull the trigger does it go off when I want?
2. When I shoot repetitive shot’s can I do so rapidly and with good precision and speed without excessive difficulty?
With the stock trigger, the answer to question one is NO. With a heavy stock trigger, often with a precision shot I am forced to the edge of my patience as I try to slowly and smoothly pull the trigger straight to the rear without disturbing the lay of the sights. If that is a fleeting target, I have to jump on the trigger hard and thereby remove the precision from the shot. Think about this: If I have a 3.5 pound trigger, and you have a 7 pound stock trigger (just for the sake of discussion say they break the same…which they surely don’t. Stock triggers usually have about 3-5 times the travel and over travel/reset), and we get on the trigger at the same time, you are putting 200% of the input I am on the gun in the same amount of time. Now multiply that times 3-5 repetitive shots in a very short duration. It’s not reasonably possible for you to shoot as accurately or as rapidly as a comparable shooter when you have to put twice as much input on the gun in the same amount of time.
It’s easy to see if you do a few speed drills on a flat range. When I worked with VTAC (Viking Tactics) as their senior instructor I brought a drill I had been doing since July 2001 called the ½ & ½ and one to remedy problems students had with sight offset at short range (also known as “Aimpoint offset” and “hold-over offset”) called the Triple-Threat Drill.
The ½ & ½ is shot as follows on an IPSC target starting from the ready position (rifle at a 30 degree downward position shouldered):
– 10 rounds in 10 seconds max time at 20 meters
– 10 rounds in 5 seconds max time at 10 meters
– 10 rounds in 2.5 seconds max time at 5 meters
The Triple Threat as I designed it uses 3 marked IPSC targets (see picture for scoring areas) at 5m (center target), 7.5m (left target) and 10m (right target) in a 45 degree front left to right target.
From the same ready position as the ½ & ½, on the timer fire 3 to the body one to the pelvis and one to the head (in that specific order) as fast as you can from near to far target.
1. 3 targets
2. 3 different distances
3. 3 different targeting areas
4. 3 different sight offsets per target
5. 3 different offsets per distance
6. 3 different shooting cadences
7. Driving gun in 3 different directions (straight up, left and right)
…hence the name Triple threat
Many readers have shot both these drills before, and when shot rapidly, are very aggressive and extremely challenging. When I shoot them with the same degree of accuracy (no misses) five times and then average my times, I am 10-40% faster depending on the drill or the stage of the drill just by switching my lower receiver to one with a match trigger. Equipment matters! The upper receiver, buffer and spring are all the same so recoil characteristics are unchanged but with a lighter trigger I can cut 20% or better off my reliably accurate engagement time.
For instance, from my data I am much faster on the ½ & ½ with a match trigger. On the ½ & ½ I can consistently break 2 seconds at 5m and 3 seconds at 10m and 6.5sec at 20m with a match trigger. With a stock trigger 2.25, 4.5 and 8.5 seconds are about the best I can do and consistently shoot it clean. I usually demonstrate the ½ & ½ during instruction from my support side and in my most recent carbine block with Pinal County Sherriff’s Office SWAT had no problem shooting within the time standard with a JARD non-adjustable trigger on a 14.5” Noveske barreled rifle with Troy/VTAC forend that had been ceramic coated by Next Generation Arms (NGA).
With a stiff stock trigger I will eventually not fire the rifle when I wanted to but my body is still in its proper cyclic timing. That adds up to a thrown shot. With a match trigger the rifle discharges right when I want it to and very effortlessly making any shooter faster and more accurate.
Test it yourself and see!
That said, with the enhanced ability to shoot quickly and accurately, why would one deprive an officer or soldier the ability to protect others and himself for a “safety concern” that is not quantified nor valid…I have no idea either? I have used various JP, McCormick, JARD and Geissele match triggers and like them all. All have their own particular “feel” even if they weigh out the same and personal preference is what will dictate what is best for you. Any of them will outlast several uppers at a minimum.
Trigger weight and safety are not connected, training and safety are. That said speed, accuracy and trigger weight are inextricably connected and a certain type of trigger can make a difficult shot faster and easier to make…or slower and more difficult to make. Pick one but remember, safety is in a different equation and the variable is training not equipment. Proper weapons handling can avoid all but truly accidental or mechanical discharges…a ten pound scratchy trigger won’t stop an unsafe act from being unsafe…or catastrophic. Again the answer is simple…it’s about enhancing safety with proper training not making the weapon more difficult to discharge and calling that “safe”.
Match triggers are safe and effective…lack of training or bad training are not.
Photo(s) Credit: JP Enterprises, Inc., Chip McCormick Corp. (CMC), JARD, Inc., Geissele Automatics, LLC
About the Author: Michael Pannone a.k.a Mike Pannone is currently the owner/operator of, and senior instructor for, CTT Solutions, which is a tactical training (including tactical shooting) and consulting firm. He’s also an instructor with Grey Group Training (GGT), and a certified Colt Armorer. Mr. Pannone is a former operational member of U.S. Marine Force Reconnaissance, U.S. Army Special Forces (SF), and specially selected elements of the Joint Special Operations Command. He has participated in stabilization, combat, and high risk protection operations in support of U.S. policies throughout the word as both an active duty military member, and a civilian contractor. During his military career, Mr. Pannone was the Distinguished Honor Graduate of a Level 1 SOTIC held at Ft Bragg. He currently instructs U.S. military, law enforcement (LE), and private citizens around the country as an adjunct instructor with several different organizations. He can be contacted via e-mail at [email protected].
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