To learn more, visit http://www.americantrigger.com/.
Where should you spend your money in your AR? What parts actually matter? I like pistol grips, they are cool. And a proper grip helps your accuracy, right? How about a new stock? An upgraded stock helps get a consistent cheek weld, especially from the prone position. That is important, isn’t it? Ambidextrous charging handle? In case I need to get all left-handed up in a firefight?
For my money, the only two parts of the gun that actually matter are the barrel and the trigger. (Optics, I consider to be a completely different discussion.) The barrel is the only part that really actually matters for accuracy, and the trigger is the most important part for how you interface with that barrel. I am a fan of all the cool Magpul stuff in the world, and I have whined once or twice because my hand guard sucked. But the brass tacks is that trigger matters the most. It consistently amazes me that people will spend $300 on a flashlight and $150 on a muzzle brake, but balk at the idea of purchasing a good trigger. Let’s spend a few minutes dispelling some myths, so we can talk about triggers like grown ups.
“I only want to use a mil-spec trigger because that’s what the USMC/Navy SEALS/ Task Force Fuscia use, so it must be the best.” As a man that served in two services, let’s get right down to it on mil-spec. Sometimes it is really on point, i.e. salt-water corrosion standards. Sometimes it is overkill in a stupid fashion that actively hinders progress; i.e. the only authorized carabineers for climbing are steel, screw style locking, with an 8,000-lbs, load capacity. The military is really quick to adapt on some things, and slower than Christmas on a blue moon with a solar eclipse and a total eclipse of my heart on others. Unfortunately, it tends to be the latter on all things weapons. If you look at the standard issue mil-spec M4, you will notice that it hasn’t changed much since 1999. It still has a tiny six-inch quad rail and an A-frame front sight, even though we know both of those are not ideal. It has a pistol grip unchanged since 1983. Why in the name of all that is Holy would you want a trigger blessed by the same paint chip eaters that think this is okay?
“ It was good enough for Gran-pappy when he was killing heathens back in Beirut/Mogadishu/Grenada/ Tal Afar.” Yes, true, you can shoot good groups with a substandard trigger. But that’s like saying Mario Andretti can drive a Prius fast. I have shot some pretty amazing stuff with a mil-spec trigger, its just harder and less forgiving. Marines still qualify to 500 yards with a mil-spec, true. And SOF guys regularly do some ninjary stuff with one. The difference between you and those guys is that they are professionals. Not “wear a rainbow colored jersey and shoot tin cans” professionals, either. If you are a grunt and you can’t shoot, someone will beat you with a stick until you can. And if you are a SOF guy and you can’t shoot you will get fired. Pretty much makes your equipment a non-issue. If one guy there can shoot 4,000 yards with a slingshot, you damn well better figure it out and quick.
Enough said on mil-spec? Good. I lived this life. Until late in the GWOT, most of our issue toys were not great. Finally we got some kickass Daniel Defense uppers with a real hand guard, a Surefire suppressor suite, and some Glock sidearms. And we got to stop walking uphill both ways in the snow to go to school. But anytime you are tempted to think the military is the end all be all on standards, go ask your local sky dive school if you can rent a T-10 and jump it.
What’s the Answer?
I’m glad you asked, hypothetical Internet person. Now let’s admit that all equipment choices are opinions, and you know what they say about opinions are like. Everybody has one and they all stink. Unless you are drunk and in a stranger’s hotel room. Then all bets are off. Let’s look at the options for aftermarket triggers.
Single Stage: I most often compare this to a high-quality 1911 trigger. Close, but not exactly. Rifle single-stage triggers tend to be a much different affair than any pistol trigger. Rifle triggers in this class have zero take up, zero movement, as soon as you touch them you are putting pressure on the sear. They are often set to some ridiculous ½-lb. release weight as well. This is all well and good for a competition rifle built only to shoot tight groups from the prone position. It is a terrible idea for either tactical and or run and gun style competition. Why? Keep reading.
Two Stage: Two stage triggers are exactly what they sound like, a longer trigger pull with two separate felt weights. The most common of these is a 3-lb. first stage, with a 4.5-lb. “break” at the end. The take up, followed by the additional pressure needed to cause the rifle to fire, makes this “feel” like it is a 1.5-lb. trigger. This was built to get around the rules of the National Matches at Camp Perry. They mandate a 4.5-lb. trigger, someone builds a Rube Goldberg contraption that satisfies the rules and cheats as much as possible.
Hey, wait a minute! Did you just spend two paragraphs smack talking competitive shooters? Aren’t you the same guy always advocating competitive shooting for tactical guys? The answer is “yes.” But only in the sense that it is also dumb to show up to a NASCAR race in a Baja truck. I believe very firmly there is a lot to be taken from the competitive world for the tactical. Fast and accurate is fast and accurate, period. But you also have to know where the crossover ends. I refuse to have my trigger break weight dictated by some chucklehead in a bondage jacket playing a sport that hasn’t updated its rules since the 60s.
Let’s inject some combat reality into our trigger discussion here. Fortunately, I blasted people’s faces off for a living for 15 years, so I have some opinions. First off, I prefer a trigger with a smidge of take up in it. Yes, I know to “keep my finger straight and off the trigger until you are ready to fire.” In the real world however, you often have made the decision to shoot and don’t yet have a firing solution. Many times I have held the slack out of my trigger waiting on some insurgent twit to poke his head back out so I can ventilate it. No one can deny also that every sniper school in this nation teaches you to keep your finger on the trigger as you prep to fire on moving targets. Whether you ambush or track movers, it’s part of the skill. I have tried this with hair triggers, and I don’t care for it. At closer ranges (400m and in), you often have move your gun a lot to track movers, not a fun time with a 1-lb. trigger.
A two stage presents a different problem. Strong forearms are part of soldiering, from climbing rocks to driving a parachute on a HAHO jump. But you will get tired of holding 3 lbs. of pressure on a two-stage trigger waiting to hand out a Sierra 175 grain lobotomy. Human beings aren’t stupid, no matter what we think of our current enemy. No one that has survived past the first year of the war will ever stick their head up for long, or predictably. Every sniper in the GWOT has at one time or another spent some time holding pressure till his forearm cramped waiting on a snap shot. Even worse is a simultaneous sniper shot, where you can spend a lifetime in a tough position waiting on other snipers to also have targets lined up. It’s like the most lethal game of whack a mole in the universe, and you had better not jerk your shot because you were tired. Or worse yet, premature your trigger pull because you accidentally added that extra 1.5 lbs of pressure. You are likely to hear about that on your next performance review.
“But when my Drill Instructor taught me to shoot, he said I should pull my trigger straight back and the break of the shot should surprise me.” I promise I am done dog piling on Camp Perry after this. CMP and other bull’s-eye disciplines have done a lot for marksmanship in this nation. And for that we thank you. But this is not how things work in combat. If the break of the shot surprised you, you didn’t decide when to shoot. We call that a Negligent Discharge in my book. This might get you the best grouping on paper, but it is not going to fly in a high stress world of incoming RPGs. In combat, you had better be the one that decides exactly when the shot flies. As mentioned, people aren’t known for holding still very long on the battlefield. All those people are already dead. And what if you need to take a critical shot on a target that is tap dancing, holding a hostage? In the Iraq war at least, dirt bags were notorious for holding up their babies to avoid the Black Hills burial plan. It doesn’t matter if it is 2 yards or 200, your shot has to break exactly when you tell it to.
“Snipers are stupid, I have an Aimpoint, and I only like to run and gun. Assaulters rule!” Okay fine, but an investment in trigger is going to help here too. Surprise, I was an assaulter too! And I taught CQB in the Army. Not the Army on XBOX either, the one that has PT every morning and wears funny hats to work. First off, CQB sucks with a two-stage trigger. By design, you have a lot of slack to take up, and you need to do it in a hurry. I have done CQB range work with an SR-25, and the inherent long pull of that design is telling. Second, the mechanical reset of that trigger is longer. That might not seem like a big deal in relative distances, but it matters a lot when some one is 3 feet in front of you with a Kalashnikov. You want all your bullets, in that guy, right now.
“That’s cause you hold the trigger to the rear and then release it until you feel the reset right? That’s the pro way to shoot?” Absolutely not. Anyone that thinks this is how you do it in a close-range gunfight is probably also wearing a yellow helmet and riding the short bus to school. I don’t know exactly were that method of trigger control came from, but it’s dumb. For CQB, that is entirely too slow. If you wait to feel the mechanical reset, you are probably also going to feel some 7.62×39 in your favorite chest. Well, second favorite chest. Kate Upton will be fine, but you won’t. It’s unreliable. If you go to the range and try to shoot fast “feeling” the reset, I guarantee you will get a “ dead man’s gun” eventually. That is where you have not released the trigger far enough, and when you press it again you get nothing. A fast, and accurate, trigger finger is cyclical. It pulls the slack from the trigger, presses the shot, releases, and starts over. The shorter your slack stage, and shorter your mechanical reset, the faster this is going to be. I will contend, with some of the sport shooting champions, that “split time” doesn’t matter much in a “two hits on paper” world. It does matter in a close range room fight full of savages holding machine guns though, you can bet the farm on that. One of the first things we learned in the GWOT, 2 hits is not enough to reliable shut down human beings INSTANTLY. And they don’t have to be very good at close range to hit you back before they die. 15 hits from a rifle is closer to average from what I have seen. Puts split times in little different perspective huh?
What Do I Need?
Thankfully, there is a product that answers all these needs. The AR Gold Trigger from American Trigger Corporation does all this, and has become my favorite trigger over the years. It’s crisp, just a hint of take up, and it breaks like a terrorist’s neck. That is to say, very satisfyingly. The manufacturer says the take-up is 6 ounces, but it feels like nothing to me. And unlike a real two-stage, it does not move the sear. Mechanically, the take up only moves the trigger itself into position to move the sear. I like this for a variety of reasons. I feel like I am actually setting my finger in position, prepping for an accurate shot. If it is cold and my finger is partially numb, I can still feel the trigger move through its take up. That is very important. If I have to hold the slack out of my trigger waiting on wind correction or a snap target, it is a lot easier to hold six ounces than three pounds. The take-up stage is also very short, short enough I can get away with holding no pressure at all. It has become the standard by which I judge all other triggers, and sets quite a high bar. My personal one has over 80,000 rounds on it. I have used it exclusively in 3-Gun and my teaching rifle for years, and it has taken some abuse. Sports don’t quit because the weather got nasty, and neither does training. Rain or shine, sleet or snow, my AR Gold hasn’t let me down once.
The AR Gold trigger also has the easiest installation you can imagine. I am so far from being a gunsmith; GunsAmerica.com had me putting together a lower receiver to prove a monkey could do it. The AR Gold is a one-piece module that replaces all the other parts of the trigger group. All you do is (see the video for this process as well):
- Remove the pistol grip, being careful not to lose the detent and spring.
- Drive the pins out of your current trigger, being careful not to get any on you as sears and springs explode everywhere.
- Remove the safety selector lever.
- Put the AR gold module in.
- Wiggle the safety selector back in, facing the correct way.
- Reinsert pins, reattach pistol grip.
- Function check.
- Have a beer.
A little food for thought before you decide to purchase a paint job or switch all your add ons over to key-mod. It’s a travesty that our Grunts don’t have decent triggers in their guns, but it’s a fact that the DOD mostly doesn’t care about small arms. You, however, have a choice. I know how painful it was when I taught in the Army, going from my awesome trigger on Sunday back to a crunchy bag of turds Monday morning. Ultimately the purchase of a good trigger will save you money on ammo, frustration, and generally make your life easier. Try one out like the AR Gold Trigger, you will never go back.
To learn more, visit http://www.americantrigger.com/.