What is a Good Trigger?

Any time a new firearm hits the market, the gun world is intrigued by what it offers. From its controls to the firearm’s reliability and performance, end users want to know how it performs. Invariably, many ask, “Does it have a good trigger?” After all, one of the first things many of us do after we’re handed a new firearm (besides verifying it’s empty) is feel the trigger. However, what makes a good trigger?

The definition of a “good” trigger is rather broad. More than anything, it depends on the gun’s purpose and the shooter’s expectations. While a duty handgun differs significantly from a benchrest rifle, expectations can differ significantly across a single platform. For example, an AR-15 for three-gun competition has a different expectation from one built for law enforcement or military use. Ultimately, though, when we break down a trigger into its stages of operation, there are some consistent expectations that help determine what truly constitutes a good trigger.

Timney Remington 700 Trigger

The Trigger Stages

Triggers are a diverse bunch: single-stage, two-stage, single-action, striker, double-action, and so on. However, they all go through the same process when pressed. The ultimate action of pressing a trigger invariably causes the hammer, striker, or firing pin to drop with the goal of firing a cartridge. While each feels different, the process includes many of the same steps that culminate with the same end result. Pre-travel, a wall, maybe some creep, the break, and then reset for subsequent shots all comprise the trigger pull or press process.


Pretravel is the trigger’s movement prior to hitting the “wall”. The wall is where any further trigger movement will discharge the firearm. For example, a two-stage trigger has pretravel or “slack” prior to the second stage. Pretravel is also common in most striker-fired handguns. In those, the trigger moves until a clear point is felt where the sear will disengage if pressed any further.

The Wall and Break

Once the trigger is at the “wall”, any further pressure provided by the press causes the shot to break. The wall and subsequent break vary significantly depending on the firearm. A Geissele two-stage AR-15 trigger will break cleanly, while a factory Glock trigger has some mush as it creeps through the wall. Meanwhile, a Smith & Wesson revolver’s wall and break may be somewhat indiscernible. With most triggers, the wall and break are a significant factor in whether or not it’s a good trigger.


Overtravel is how much the trigger continues after the sear, hammer, or firing pin is disengaged and the shot fired. While overtravel isn’t as heavily discussed with lever, pump, or bolt-action firearms, it’s definitely a point of interest—and occasionally contention—with semi-automatic firearms. Overtravel affects how far a trigger has to be released to reengage the sear, hammer, or firing pin for the next shot. For many semi-automatic firearms, overtravel determines how quickly you can conduct follow-up shots.


Trigger reset overlaps with overtravel to a degree, but not entirely. Reset is an important part of semi-automatic platforms when evaluating speed to follow-up shots. Glocks have a positive and distinct felt reset, whereas early Smith & Wesson M&P handguns, for example, were somewhat light and mushy. A good trigger frequently has a positive, short, and distinct reset for follow-up shots.

So, What is a Good Trigger?

Now that we have a rough definition of a trigger pull’s components, let’s delve into what is — or isn’t — important. From my experience, the two most commonly cited determining factors for a nice trigger are the pull weight and crispness. A crisp trigger doesn’t creep through the wall and breaks quickly and cleanly with just a little more pressure while at the wall.

Is a good trigger light?

A frequent complaint about triggers is how heavy they feel, especially with newer shooters. Pull weight can define a trigger’s quality; however, it has limits. For example, too light, and the gun’s safety mechanisms could malfunction and become unreliable. In addition, a lighter trigger could produce light-primer strikes with striker and hammer-fired weapons. Lighter pulls are nice, but not worth the firearm not going “bang” when it’s supposed to. Furthermore, a light trigger is more easily discharged than a heavier one. Consequently, a negligent discharge is more likely.

Gauge on 1911
Despite being heavily customized, this Kimber 1911 still breaks at 5.5 pounds. Nonetheless, this handgun is a tack driver. Pull weight doesn’t need to be crazy light to produce a good feel.

There’s certainly a threshold where pull weight matters. 50 pounds is unrealistic whereas a one-pound pull is downright dangerous, unless for a dedicated benchrest gun. Let’s delve into some brief testing to see how pull weight affects performance.

Pull Weight and Accuracy

I grabbed a Glock 19 from my safe and measured the pull weight with a Wheeler Trigger Pull Gauge. After a few tests, the factory trigger broke consistently at about 5.5 pounds. I then stepped out to the range and conducted 15 shots from 10 yards, with each shot timed from the draw. With an average of around 1.4 seconds or less, the vast majority of hits were in the target’s “A” zone with a couple of fliers.

I then installed a Glock New York “2” return spring on the trusty 19. The Wheeler Gauge maxes out at around eight pounds. With the New York spring installed, the trigger exceeded the gauge’s range. In excess of approximately 10 pounds, it was nearly double the factory trigger. I then shot the same course of fire with mixed results. The heavier pull required I slow down and work through the trigger to not bury shots low. When I slowed down to an average of about 1.6 seconds, I consistently hit the target’s “A” zone.

Target comparison
The factory Glock group on the left was far tighter than the New York group on the right. While not the end-all, pull weight does affect accuracy when it’s too heavy — especially when time and speed become a factor.

Not satisfied with those results, I felt a modified version of the 10-10-10 drill would produce a better visual representation. This drill consisted of five shots from 10 yards in five seconds, starting from the low-ready. I ran the drill in 3.65 seconds with the New York and 3.52 seconds on the factory trigger. The factory scored a comfortable 48 points out of 50 while the New York scored an abysmal 42 out of 50 points. While both these scores would “pass” for most shooters, the group sizes were dramatically different. Three inches with factory and six inches with the New York. Overall, trigger pull weight can — and does — affect accuracy.

Crisp is Important

A good trigger doesn’t have mush or creep as the sear disengages. The break is crisp, clean, and consistent. Some of the most noticeable triggers with creep are those on factory AR-15s. While most factory ARs pull anywhere from six to 10 pounds, they all consistently have creep. With good triggers, creep isn’t as pronounced or it’s non-existent. Once on the wall, it doesn’t drag through like a sled over gravel. It’s an immediate break.

Smith & Wesson Model 18
While this gun is extremely crisp in single action with a distinct wall, the double-action trigger produces increasing pull weight followed by a gradual reduction. This perceived “roll” is common with double-action revolvers.

Not all triggers have a distinct break, though. For those acquainted with wheelguns, a clean wall only exists in single action with a cocked hammer. When on double action, the wall is almost non-existent. A good double-action revolver feels smooth, consistent, and “rolls” through the shot break.

Finding Your Best Fit

The perfect “good trigger” is somewhat subjective. A favorable trigger for one person doesn’t necessarily translate to enjoyment for another. However, a smooth trigger with reasonable pull weight and a crisp break is undoubtedly anyone’s favorite. With any good thing, moderation is key though. Too light and the gun becomes a safety liability and unreliable. Common sense should prevail here. Two-pound “hair” triggers are best left to benchrest and bullseye shooting matches, not defense or hunting.

Geissele next to BCM trigger
Whether a Geissele SSA (left) or BCM enhanced (right), the shooter’s skills have more bearing on how these rifles perform than the trigger.

Ultimately, triggers are only as good as the person behind it. No matter what is inside, poor mechanics and finger control will almost always produce an errant shot. Before spending hard-earned money on something aftermarket, drop some hard-earned cash on ammo and training. After some time behind a factory setup, you’ll better understand just what is a good trigger.

Tom Stilson began his firearms career in 2012 working a gun store counter. He progressed to conducting appraisals for fine and collectible firearms before working as the firearms compliance merchant for a major outdoor retailer. In 2015, he entered public service and began his law enforcement career. Tom has a range of experience working for big and small as well as urban and rural agencies. Among his qualifications, Tom is certified as a firearms instructor, field trainer, and in special weapons and tactics. If not on his backyard range, he spends his time with family or spreading his passion for firearms and law enforcement.

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