Clay: Why Mil-Spec AR Triggers Suck, And How To Fix ’Em

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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.

The mil-spec parts in an M4 Carbine get the job done, but don't look for a lot of refinement in most cases. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ian Schell

The mil-spec parts in an M4 Carbine get the job done, but don’t expect a lot of refinement in most cases. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ian Schell.

Myth #1

“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?

Myth #2

“ 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.

Swapping out the trigger in your AR can be one of the most important steps to improving performance.

Swapping out the trigger in your AR can be one of the most important steps to improving performance.

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.

The author has found that the AR Gold Trigger gives him everything he wants in an AR trigger.

The author has found that the AR Gold Trigger gives him everything he wants in an AR 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.

A high-quality, drop-in trigger system for the AR like the AR Gold Trigger can make all the difference in your rifle.

A high-quality, drop-in trigger system for the AR like the AR Gold Trigger can make all the difference in your rifle.

“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?

American Trigger Corporation offers AR Gold triggers to help shooters enhance the performance of their AR.

American Trigger Corporation offers AR Gold triggers to help shooters enhance the performance of their ARs.

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 author was able to install the AR Gold trigger in 10 minutes into his rifle.

The author was able to install the AR Gold trigger in 10 minutes into his rifle.

The AR Gold trigger also has the easiest installation you can imagine. I am so far from being a gunsmith; 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.

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  • Ken November 12, 2022, 1:06 pm

    Good comments on the ‘reset’. I was watching a guy shooting on v-tube and kept hearing a click about 2 seconds after each shot with his rifle. He was holding the trigger down and slowly letting up in 2-3 secs. WTF ? A lot of tac-gamers seem to do this.

  • Mike August 21, 2019, 10:12 am

    Was reading along, you lost me at guys in straight jackets. Being a USMC Distinguished Rifleman (+ gold & silver pistol), former USMC Rifle Team member, scout/sniper and 1st Mar Div PMI, I kinda take exception with your opinion regarding comp shooters. Sure, I agree that you’re alluding to apples and oranges, but both taste equally well. There is no need to down one style of shooting for another regardless of taste. It’s all good, and each has it’s place. Cuz ya know, that crap can work both ways at the end of the match. And I have a sack of medals to back it.

  • Apache G January 21, 2019, 11:48 pm

    Great write up. When you talk about the barrel and trigger it made me think. What twist rate do you like most? I’m building another AR and the barrel is a 1 in 7. My rifle will be for having fun and protection. I’m not even adding a scope or red dot, just open sights. (My DI always said to learn how to shoot using irons, worry about scopes later). Im not worried about the trigger itself.

  • Brett C April 30, 2018, 11:42 pm

    Nice write up bro. Some good common sense with humor to boot. I agree with you, trigger and barrel first. I think Im gona look through your other articles, pissing myself at the comments. Nice work.

    • Jharl April 26, 2022, 4:17 pm

      Ditto here. Loved the humor and style. Keep it up!

  • Bob A March 2, 2018, 11:50 am

    These types of articles crack me up! Penned by those with a financial interest or as a favor to makers of various parts. These snobs try and embarrass the average AR owner into believing that their AR is a POS because it does not have some expensive crap on it. In reality mil spec is fine for everything you need if you want to save money or are on a budget.
    If it is that bad, just polish the trigger group (gently), lube it, and you will see a big improvement on ANY LPK/mil spec trigger. You do not need to spend money unnecessarily on shit you do not need. Buy ammo, watch YouTube videos on the different aspects of shooting fundamentals and you will become very proficient in a few months with dry firing and range time. Maybe throw in a couple of in-person training days. Not tacticool classes (though they are fun) but courses that teach you how to hold your firearm, site in your target and smooth trigger presses.
    Do not read the tacticool stuff too much or you may start drinking the kool aid. If you want to become some type of distance precision shooter, that is a different story. You may even want a different rifle than the AR15.

  • Pete May 8, 2017, 8:51 am

    I know I’m getting old when I read some of this stuff, but one thing comes to mind…Know you weapon. I was a USMC-FAC IN Nam….66-68..not good times, is war ever? I carried my m14..97..45. I slept with my weapons, knew them intamently. I always hit what I aimed at..always, maybe that’s why I’m still alive, at least that’s my take. different than paper Tigers. If you train with you weapons, it doesn’t matter what triger you have..the more you shot the better the triger. Want to get better…Sleep with rifle, you will..good day Men…Ladies

  • Andrew Barnes April 18, 2017, 10:08 am

    Many of you with negative feedback / comments , who question this mans legitimacy can only be ” certified ” themselves … sharing your ” bonafides” ……. And I don’t give a fuck how ” special ” a special forces guy ( or gal ) you are .
    You aint ” that special ” to me , or my cohorts/peers.

    To many

    most of you , with said negative comments , sound very whiny …..and even imply you are superior to ( which means you are prob inferior ) Mr. Clay Martin .

    I have shot many a match with this guy , and also witnessed / done some training with Clay .

    Silly Humans ……LOL!

    And yes ,even in the throes of the most technical discussion , I like to “keep it lite ” …with my writing style as well .
    Makes it easier for a lot of us redneck / laymen / non Harvard graduates …( Grandpa Barnes can keep that pedigree , thank you very much ) to comprehend .

    I invite you to our manufacturing plant / private range ANY DAY to show us your subject matter skill set , relative to said discussion .

    I will have Clay in attendance , as well as a few other ” working stiffs ” ….and a few NC rednecks that will burn you to the ground with all three , pistol , shotgun , and rifle . You are welcome to bring your self , and any other qualified personnel as well.
    That way , we have a clear difference in opinion ,amongst industry qualified participants , and can have a constructive discussion
    About said subjects( s) ….

    Then , we can let the chips fall where they may sir .

    But ,what I expect will happen ( as usual) is to hear crickets in the quiet Caroilna nite sky .

    I suggest you all take a ” technical writing ” course …..after basic elementary grammar , then you are qualified to “wax eloquent ” any Goddamn way you see fit .
    Why ???
    Here’s why ….
    Custom ,filed , polished And fucked with stock mil- spec select fire , or commercial AR15 semi- auto triggers are one thing , and one thing only ……
    A LIABILITY ….. I don’t care how skilled/ talented a gunsmith / craftsman you are .

    Hobby gunsmiths , ( or professionals) Wake the fuck up , and get a clue .
    It’s 2017 , and your neighbor/customer base is just WAITING to sue you over said bullshit .

    Ok ,back to his writing ,
    Why is this Clay’s style ???
    Cause MERICA , and cause he EARNED the right .

    Now , lets all play nice , or I will put you over my knee , spank your little bottom , and embarrass the hell out of you in front of everybody , like the immature , uneducated , no manufacturing / no engineering background ( much less ” gunsmithing ” ) children you act / sound like .
    If you have the balls to show up in my plant espousing said rhetoric about Clay , and said subject ,
    I guarantee you I can show you different , in the most professional manner , with the latest / greatest engineering , manufacturing technology available in this country , or on this planet for that matter , respective to modern firearms / weapons manufacturing .

    It takes a real man ,( and in some cases , a real woman ) to attempt to represent, and or defend – humanity / passion of intellect , and or dignity for many a confusing reason.
    Clay , like family -was present at my wife Lorelei’s funeral after her 8 year long cancer battle , attempting with sincere effort to represent a group for whom I have much respect .
    His intent was unwaivering , as was his unquestionable service to this country .
    Let’s please all show respect , where respect is due – no matter the complex mechanical engineering opinion of the day .

    Thank you –

    • Big dan May 26, 2017, 11:34 pm

      Was there a coherent thought in there somewhere?

  • Justin Clark February 21, 2017, 10:38 am

    I had my gunsmith polish my mil-spec trigger and I am pulling 3.8 lbs consistently according to a digital trigger gauge. No grit, no take up, no overtravel and a shorter reset than the Timney on my sbr. He charged me $30 including the dismantle and install. Unless you can show me a better trigger (or any trigger) that I can buy for less than $30, than we really have nothing to talk about.

  • SS Rao December 28, 2016, 4:35 pm

    Another horribly-written article from Guns America sacrificing clarity, brevity, and constructive information for a childish, dilettante journalist’s attempt at humor….

    “Unsubscribe”. Enter

  • Uncle Nat December 27, 2016, 11:26 am

    Outstanding article Clay. Informative and entertaining too–Two thumbs up!

    • Stan December 27, 2016, 3:56 pm

      Article still did not address the “how to fix a Mil-Spec Trigger”. Should have been called how to swap out a stock trigger for an aftermarket one in 10 minutes or less. My gunsmith works magic on stock triggers, but at $85.00 per hour, not swapping parts from companies like Slide & Cylinder. But reworking the stock items, a true gifted craftsman. THAT kind of info would have made a GREAT read. At the low price point of an AR, its easy to (end up with) build a bunch of stock guns with different setups from Retro looking to multi length barrels / sights / etc. that’s the fun of them. Fixing a stock trigger with some time investment helps put the $200ish replacement trigger money elsewhere. Write a piece on reworking $15. worth of stock trigger and you would have a winner.

  • Rod December 26, 2016, 7:01 pm

    Isn’t “mil spec” and “AR trigger” an oxymoron?

  • Kurt December 26, 2016, 12:46 pm

    Another well thought out and presented article.
    I like reading the comments and can tell that you are a professional by your lack of response to some of the negative comments.
    The personal attacks remind me of the jackals nipping at the heels of the lion, annoying but it comes with the territory.
    I don.t see you as someone pimping a product, just a man sharing what works for you.
    God Bless and keep safe
    18 what? I would guess 18C

  • Stan December 26, 2016, 12:20 pm

    When I saw ” Why Mil-Spec AR Triggers Suck, And How To Fix ’Em” I thought I was going to read about how and where to stone, file, polish, etc. my existing trigger setup to get the most out of it. I do try to polish the stock parts a bit but would really like some indepth info on FIXING THE MIL-SPEC TRIGGER and not spending money on buying a new trigger for ever AR I own. Any fool can open a wallet and swap out a trigger but few people know how to make stock parts “not suck”. THATS the info I want and this guy apparently dose not have a gunsmith skill set.

    • B. Young December 26, 2016, 11:06 pm

      I got suckered in too. Of course a $200 trigger will fix a lot of things.

  • Tyler December 26, 2016, 10:46 am

    Stopped reading at “Fortunately, I blasted people’s faces off for a living for 15 years, so I have some opinions”

    Barbaric and bloodthirsty comment for a sales pitch. And hardly something to boast about. Probably in the motor pool his whole career if the truth was known. No im not a liberal gun hater. I’m pro gun and a vet.

    • Mahatma Muhjesbude December 26, 2016, 11:58 am

      But Tyler, that’s what ‘combat shooting tactics’ are all about, aren’t they? Being that ALL war is bloodthirsty and barbaric? I always get a hoot out of people like you. You’re obviously so cognitively virginal when it comes to raw soulless combat that you probably still differentiate between War, and ‘War Crimes’, when the grim reality is that ALL war is a crime…against all of humanity.

      So Who would you rather learn from, when it came to actual combat tactics, someone like you who was one of the ten non-direct-combat support vets for every one infantry special forces guy?

      That’s like having a nurse fresh out of nursing school try to teach med students brain surgery instead of someone like Dr.Ben Carson.

      And as far as ‘boasting’. How can it be boasting if he really did it, or ‘can do it’? It’s just establishing some advanced teaching credentials to give you the assurance you that you are getting tried and true empirical knowledge.

      Instead of being a jealous chairborne ranger, Tyler, learn to admire men like Clay for what they went through and risked so you could still have the right to use your free speech to be an asshole.

      • Rick December 26, 2016, 12:41 pm

        Mahatma Muhjesbude – the real kicker of course, being that “Clay” accomplished all his heroic deeds .. using a milspec trigger, right? Don’t misunderstand, I like a good trigger too. I, however, have a disdain for those who so casually throw out these sorts of desperate ‘Look at Me!” type phrases, whether or not they might have actually done so .. once … in their dreams. Wanna call someone a ‘chairborne ranger’? Fits this “Clay” dude perfectly. Get a life my man ….. and ease off on the time you spend playing “Call of Duty”.

    • Bob A March 2, 2018, 12:02 pm

      Why do you think he should feel guilty about killing very bad people? Comments such as your are patronizing at best. I am pro gun and a vet but my opinion is worth the same as yours. But killing bad guys does not require penance if you are not MURDERING people. Also, 15 years and killing bad guys does not make you an expert! Because you pulled the trigger 10,000 on the battlefield does not mean you did clinical research and testing on your trigger pull consistency, barrel support, ammo lots, condition of barrel etc.
      Not trying to insult the man’s service to our country at all! Thanks God for men like him. I just am tired of the sales pitch of buying stuff the vast majority of AR owners do not need.

  • Rick December 26, 2016, 9:15 am

    This Martin guy sounds like he has a real vendetta against the military. I imagine he was kicked out for being too smart and knowing so much more than his superiors.

  • Ben December 26, 2016, 5:50 am

    Clay you got some ass backwards priorities. Let’s see… $300 on a good reliable light so I can see what I’m shooting or a $300 trigger so I can be a “sniper.” Hmm, which of these two am I going to need more realistically. I’d say the light. Really how far are you thinking you readers are going to be taking these precision level shots under stress? 500 yards, 100 yards, 30 feet? Probably closer to the latter.

    A rifle needs a good sight, a light, and a sling in that order. Good furniture is a nice to have, but still more important than s trigger. Really having the gun fit is almost a necessity. If you can’t get behind the sight consistently then what difference does it make how fast the trigger is if you don’t know where the round is going to go?

    Maybe you should take $300 and invest in a gym membership so you’re not huffing and puffing just to install a trigger. Nah being physically fit has nothing to do with self defense. It must be all about that trigger.

  • IanVill December 26, 2016, 4:48 am

    Who is this Joker?
    Sounds like the kind of cat I would enjoy running a course with and having a beer with afterwards!

  • Michael M. Bystrzycki, Sr. December 26, 2016, 4:48 am

    Listening to Clay reminds me of the swag my Uncle Henry used to sling around us kids. Uncle Henry (1SG William Henry Garrison) was a Green Beret who went to ‘Nam under JFK and didn’t come home until Ford cut and ran. His job for quite a few years was to get caught. On purpose. Then break out, go find his buds and they’d break back in, usually with a suppressed S&W M39 stuffed under their shirts. Can you say badass? Remember the early G.I. Joes with fixed hands, and hard plastic hair? The blonde haired version looked just like Henry, no shit.
    Anyway, After I enlisted in ’82, Uncle Henry showed up at my OSUT grad and received quite the welcome tour from a few old buds, which included a range trip. Uncle Henry, by choice, did ‘Nam with an M14 when a long arm was needed, and, according to him, had not put any “thoughtful” trigger time on an M16; meaning he had scarfed battlefield litter in a moment of need to get some papasan to unass an a.o., but otherwise never gave a 16 a second thought. So at the range, he squeezes a round off through my A1 and he calmly looks at me and says “That’s the worst god-damned thing I’ve ever fingered, Mikey. No wonder you went artillery”.
    RIP Uncle Henry.
    My hero and a superman amongst supermen.

  • jay November 30, 2016, 9:58 am

    Seems like a long article for a sales pitch! I think the real meaning is conveyed though as, to each their own! There are many good trigger combinations out there and for a good reason, they sell. I have never had any problems with just sitting down and polishing parts up on factory or so called Mil-spec parts be it rifle or pistol. Now when I pick up any of mine they all feel the same no matter which one I grab to use! Not to mention no money spent, just some quality time!

  • bill November 23, 2016, 3:44 am

    Isn’t a heavier buffer an important addition to an AR, also?

    • jay November 30, 2016, 10:09 am

      Bill, I see no one has given an answer for you but ill be brief! That’s a whole article or two in itself. The buffer is there to absorb the weight of the moving mass of the bolt carrier group and the spring pushes it back forward to cycle the firearm. There are many weights of Bolt Carrier Groups as well as different weights of buffers and now even different springs. If you don’t know what your doing you might just cause problems with an already functioning firearm. People changing BCG, buffers and or springs, just for the sake of being able to, has made smiths a lot of money repairing cycling problems in Ar’s. Do a lot of research but keep in mind that many articles are out there, including video’s, to convince you to buy a product, not help your firearm function! Function problems should be handled by a gunsmith that understands AR’s!

    • Ben December 26, 2016, 5:15 am

      I have found a heavier buffer has lowered recoil and has thus far not affected my reliability. I would put it in the nice to have category but not absolutely necessary. It’s an easy swap and if it does affect reliability just put the originals back in. The only time I could conceive it affecting reliability is with poof loads.

  • Del November 22, 2016, 2:29 pm

    Great article and I like your writing style! Keep up the good work!

  • Mark N. November 22, 2016, 12:14 am

    If I had known this was a very long advertisement for the AR Gold trigger, I probably would have skipped it. There are a large assortment of very high quality drop-in triggers at a much lower price point, several of which are on my wish list if reduced power springs do not lighten up the pull on my basic ALG QMS trigger. The ALG is a single stage trigger, which I prefer, with no take-up, a crisp break, and a very very short reset. Its only downside is an 8 lb pull that can be remedied for 5 bucks with a reduced power hammer spring. If that doesn’t cut it for my paper punching, a Velocity drop-in is one of my favorites and only costs $150.

  • William Trexler November 21, 2016, 2:01 pm

    The review by Clay Martin really hit the bulls eye for me. I agree the barrel quality and trigger are the most important elements in taking a solid platform to the next level to make accurate and quick killing hits on moving targets at all ranges. With the right set up and many hours of practice you will be shocked by the skill level you can achieve.

  • Shaking my head November 21, 2016, 1:47 pm

    I stopped reading at chucklehead bondage jacket.

    I guess you don’t know that a lot of those chucklehead bondage jacket guys are prior military (with a LOT of combat experience).

    • clay martin November 22, 2016, 1:25 am

      easy turbo. I did address that they have done a lot for our nation regarding marksmanship, and we all know that was also Carlos Hathcocks favorite hobby, besides wasting VC. my point is, technology has changed, and we should change with it. Service rifle class also uses iron sights, but I don’t see anyone saying we need to remove optics from the battlefield.

  • Dave November 21, 2016, 1:30 pm

    Clay hit the nail on the head when he said the 2 best accuracy upgrades (to any firearm) are the trigger and barrel. I would say upgrading the trigger is far and away the first and best upgrade to an AR that comes with a crappy mil spec trigger. I build my own ARs and work on Friend’s and Family’s firearms. Currently my Bench/target heavy barrel AR has an Elf match straight shoe drop in 2# single stage with a long reset (nice but $$$$), my all around AR has a Jard fully adjustable single stage ($140) with a 2.5# pull and a sweet 10oz or so reset and JP reduced power springs, also used for mostly target shooting. My latest 300 BO build is currently wearing a Hyperfire Hypertouch ECLipse NiBH coated non adjustable single stage with the JP reduced power springs for testing (not recommended by Hyperfire but necessary to get it down to 3# pull). This is my most expensive trigger to date and it’s nice but no better than the ELF. For the money, the Jard is far and away the best trigger I own but is not for the beginner to install or adjust. The latest upgrade was to my Sister’s AR and her budget for a trigger was $150 so I chose the Rock River Arms 2 stage match trigger with the JP reduced power springs. It was a little rough at first but I installed it in a test lower and dry fired it around 500 times or so. It broke in nicely and one will probably go in the 300 BO build (or maybe an AR Gold). I have heard really good things about the AR Gold and Giessle basic triggers. Some of the manufactures are finally wising up and installing better factory triggers. With any AR purchase the first thing you need to do is completely disassemble and do a thorough detailed cleaning, especially the fire control group. Reassemble the fire control group using Rydol sear grease and a $12 JP reduced power spring kit (not for LE or actual life or death operators) available from JP enterprises. Then clamp your lower in a vise using the plastic tool with the hammer stop that fits in the mag well. Dry fire 500 times or so to break it in (much cheaper than wasting ammo) and then decide if you need to upgrade. I like the NiBH coating option on Fire Control groups and Bolt Carrier Groups as it is super slick and easily wipes clean.

    Love your reviews Clay, I for one enjoy your salty language, inside jokes, and ACTUAL operator insights, plus your pretty damn funny. Keep up the good work!! The only thing your missing is one of those awesome ex-operator super tactical beards!

    • clay martin November 22, 2016, 1:27 am

      Thanks brother. I refuse to grow a beard solely based on the fact that all the tactical wannabies base their culture around them. I left my beard in the desert, were it belongs.

  • john November 21, 2016, 1:13 pm

    thanks for your review, and I appreciate your opinion. thanks for your service, I might add to the opinion thing with my favorite quote,
    opinions/excuses/whateveryou want here/ are like armpits, everybody has a couple and they both stink.
    thanks again

  • Joe P November 21, 2016, 12:49 pm

    Ha, kate Upton is my preferred trigger as well.

  • Steve G November 21, 2016, 12:40 pm

    Wow, there are more hurt butts on this comment thread than on the Yale campus after the election. How anyone could argue that a good trigger enhancement isn’t worth it is beyond me. I don’t think Clay ever said to not practice by the way. And let’s face it, if you can afford an AR you can figure out how to budget for a good trigger AND ammo for range time. Just lay off the lattes from Starsucks for a month. Good work Clay.

    • clay martin November 22, 2016, 1:28 am

      Thanks brother. This seems to have gotten people pretty fired up. You would think I had proposed a NY trigger.

    • Bob A March 2, 2018, 12:07 pm

      Another comment from a manly man! Lay of the latte, puh-leez! The true butt hurt comes from those defending their cash outlays to try and shore up their poor marksmanship with expensive parts.
      Wanting the best trigger is great for a small amount of AR owners shooting for accuracy at distance. The vast majority of shooters will their money on these triggers. FUNDAMENTALS will take care of most so-so triggers. Polishing will clean up the rest.

  • Mark November 21, 2016, 11:33 am

    Seems like a lot of nit-pickers in here. Clay is the real deal…you can think that “he lost all credibility” because you don’t like his writing style…but that would be your loss! Lots of either or propositions in here…either new trigger or practice. You can have both! I invest in my equipment because it can make what little time I have to practice more effective. If you are trying to make a 400 yd shot on a 10″ plate, you are going to do it more often and faster with a better trigger. You could spend tons of time getting great with a bad trigger, but don’t you need to spend that time on getting better in another aspect of shooting? If I have a good trigger I can focus more time on shooting the move, improvised shooting positions, difficult offhand shots, etc. I have been using an AR Gold trigger for the last 4 years. I love the way they feel. I would not trade mine for any other trigger, but that said, triggers are like ice cream…everyone likes a different flavor…so figure out what you like and then shoot it! But, all triggers are not created equal. Many people love Geissele triggers, but I have seen more of them fail than any trigger…by far! Maybe it’s caused by dimensional differences in the lowers that they are used in…just another reason why I prefer drop in trigger units that don’t rely on the trigger pins for their geometry.

    • Pierce Colman November 21, 2016, 12:29 pm


      • Dave Emery November 21, 2016, 1:49 pm

        Have you seen Clay shoot hopping on one foot? They teach that in SF and he’s really good at it. Hop, hop, Bang! Bang! Ha, ha, ha. As long as we have ruffians such as Clay hopping and bangning, we’ll be good to go.

        • clay martin November 22, 2016, 1:29 am

          thats actually a classified tactic, some guys in a black helicopter flew out to tell me to knock it off with the trade secrets and all

  • Big John November 21, 2016, 10:29 am


    You almost lost me at “Gran-pappy when he was killing heathens back in Beirut/Mogadishu/Grenada/ Tal Afar”, then I looked in the mirror and said “HOLY SHIT…he’s right”. You did however scared the crap out of me when I saw you with a vice and a lower receiver again.

    Listen if you want to look like a real Bravo fill your ghetto vice block with “Marine-tex” or “Acraglas” (donor Thermold mags work the best) so you can actually clamp the vice; then dump the “Craftsman” screwdriver and buy some hollow grounds…”Chapman” makes a nice kit that are almost Echo proof. Keep up the good work, listening to you talk and reading your article reminds me of the endless banter around the table in the team room. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, to you and your family!

    Grandpa Big John

    • clay martin November 22, 2016, 1:33 am

      Thanks brother, Happy Turkey day to you too. Thanks for the tip! I see that you share my disdain for plastic magazines, good man.
      Seems like just yesterday the war started, doesn’t it? I got the shock of my life when some high school kid told me he wrote his senior thesis on The Surge back in 07!

      Echo proof = Delta resistant.

  • Mack November 21, 2016, 10:05 am


    If you are going to use acronyms then you must tell the reader what it means, otherwise it’s just gibberish. I quit reading when I got to the second undefined acronym. You limited your audience to only those who have very similar backgrounds as you.

  • Chuck November 21, 2016, 9:33 am

    After the first ten “I did this, I did that”, the writer lost ALL credibility with me.

  • JohnR November 21, 2016, 9:01 am

    The first AR I brought was a Bushmaster that came with an excellent 2 stage trigger. That was followed by 3 more AR’s with mil-spec triggers.
    At first, being spoiled by the Bushmaster trigger, I was disappointed with the triggers in my other AR’s.
    In spite of that I wasn’t ready to spend close to a grand to upgrade and decided to work with what I had. Thousands of rounds later I still have the mil-spec triggers. They have all smoothed out over time and wear and I inherently know how how each one will react to my trigger pull.
    I won’t knock trigger replacement for those who choose to do it. I know a good trigger makes all the difference in the world. I put Timney triggers in two of my Mosin’s and turned them into tack drivers. If I can see it I can hit it.
    My Weatherby Mark V .308 came with a excellent trigger, it’s not broke and I’m certainly not going to fix it.
    Surprisingly one of the best mil-spec triggers I’ve ever owned was attracted to a Swiss K-31. Amazing that a 70 year old rifle was built for precision shooting right out of the factory and puts some of its modern counterparts to shame.
    Work with what you have and in the end if it doesn’t meet your standards change it for your own personal satisfaction and not because a battle guru recommends it, because face it, 99.9 percent of is will most likely never encounter the conditions described in the article.

  • im November 21, 2016, 8:56 am

    Fun article.
    Good comment, Mr. Drider

  • Russ November 21, 2016, 8:33 am

    Interesting article and some good points but I have to ask; Isn’t it splitting hairs in a CQB situation when you also have the option of “select fire”?

    • clay martin November 21, 2016, 9:19 am

      I surveyed troops over a 3 year period about that. Not one soldier had ever shot his m-4 on auto, in combat at all, much less in CQB. And at CQB range, the quarter second it takes to hit the switch over to auto may be life and death.

      • John November 22, 2016, 6:02 am

        This has been my experience as well. Only time most of us went past ‘semi’ was if we were the first stack through the door or if we were spooked by something. Its nice to have as an option, but not totally necessary.

      • Ken Mann December 26, 2016, 9:41 am

        Most squad leaders in Nam would assign one or two guys full auto and the rest semi. In addition there would usually be an M60 in the SAW role. (that’s right Squad Automatic Weapon). Most grunts STAYED on full auto at all times. The result was of course all ammo expended in a few seconds. The troops you surveyed …. well, were not in jungle warefare.

  • Vincent November 21, 2016, 7:43 am

    This entire article is just Mr. Martin’s opinions. Shared by some and the opposite of others.

    • Caretaker November 22, 2016, 10:36 pm

      If you have no interest in “Mr. Martin’s opinions” Why the heck would you read the article?

  • Tom November 21, 2016, 7:42 am

    The stock trigger on my Stag Arms 2 series rifle meets those requirements. For me, because that trigger works well, I can put the extra money into ammo, a nice dinner and a great bottle of wine! :)))

  • Mitch Spence November 21, 2016, 7:11 am

    You are trying too hard to be cute with the verbiage. Back off a little. Use the right noun and the right verb and let the adjectives/adverbs alone.

  • John November 20, 2016, 6:15 pm


    • Kivaari November 21, 2016, 10:53 am

      Agreed for semi-auto rifles. I use the SSA on all mine, and love them.

  • Will Drider November 20, 2016, 1:42 pm

    Skill is acquired through a learning curve. It is improper to berate snapshots (proper training for that stage of development) after your skills evolved beyond a need for them. Grunts know how to use what they have. The basic Service rifile is fielded to meet the requirements of a entry level serviceman though this to has improved with the addition of optics. I have had numb hands from blast concussion where I couldn’t feel them move and only recoil said they were. Trigger pull didn’t matter. If your a super duper special warrior you can buy extra special tools.

    If your Joe Civ but want to emulate Rambo, what matters is that you can shoot minute of bad guy. The faster and more accurate the better. Point being I have never heard of anyone CCW a full race gun. Most barrels shoot groups better then their shooters can under stress. Trigger time with a stock trigger will deliver better results then a better (opinion) trigger seldom used. It is clearly the man that makes the difference not the device.

    The Grunt uses one primary weapon and gets very good with it and intimately knows its trigger. Joe Civ may have one or several weapons he rotates through, each with its own distinct trigger.

    Can you get by with stock triggers: Yes.
    Can the right trigger upgrade deliver better weapon performance: Yes.
    Do you need a trigger upgrade for your usage or more trigger time?

    • Alan November 21, 2016, 1:14 pm

      It’s interesting that after your comments, you act as though and put into question the choice between trigger time or upgrade.
      The answer is why not both?
      For heavens sake, considering the money some put into their AR(s), an upgraded trigger is chump change.

      • Will Drider November 21, 2016, 11:11 pm

        Thanks for your Reply Alan. My sarcasm was lost in translation: that you don’t need to drop $$$ on a trigger to operate the firearm with proficiency. Not everyone can afford or really needs both. Too many folks unnecessary chasing tacticool to keep up with the Jones’s IMHO

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