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2-stage triggers: often derided, they are growing in popularity and quality.

A century ago when armies were equipped with bolt-action rifles most had 2-stage triggers. The Lee Enfield rifle has a wide sear and engages a wide surface of the cocking piece. This substantial sear engagement provides a safety margin against the cocking piece being jarred off the sear by impact.

A military rifle must function under adverse conditions. In the trench warfare of WWI a soldier might be firing his rifle and the next minute have to use bayonet or buttstock in hand-to-hand fighting.



In the Lee-Enfield action the first stage ("first pressure") moves the sear down and partially out of engagement with the cocking piece. In every example I've seen the engagement surfaces are angled so first pressure actually moves the cocking piece back slightly--just a little extra safety margin. The second stage pulls the sear fully down and releases the cocking piece to fire the rifle.

American hunters have generally expressed a preference for single-stage triggers. As the shooter places the trigger finger and begins building pressure there is no trigger motion. Pressure builds smoothly until the sear releases. Certainly there has to be some movement or the gun couldn't fire, but properly adjusted the trigger movement is so small you have to pay close attention to see it.

Most post-WWI American bolt-action sporting rifles use single-stage triggers. Notable examples include the Winchester 70 introduced in the late 1930s and the Remington 721/722 series. Many a military action had its trigger mechanism altered or replaced so as to have a single-stage pull. As a result there's a misconception that 2-stage pulls are just a military expedient, while single-stage triggers are inherently superior. In fact good and bad triggers can be made with both styles.

Self-Loading Rifles

Semi-auto rifles often have 2-stage pulls, or at least pulls with considerable take-up, along with a generous sear engagement. Full sear engagement helps prevent the firing mechanism from being jarred off the sear by impact as the bolt cycles.

On a superbly accurate Les Baer .223 I have a Jewell trigger with a 2-stage pull, total pull weight about 1.5 pounds. It's lighter than I'd use for 3-gun competition, but fine for a rifle used exclusively for target and varmint shooting.

I've noticed several 3-gun competitors using 2-stage Geissele triggers. They tell me the pull doesn't slow them down at all for fast close-range shots, yet gives the option of a crisp pull when a precision shot is required.

Modern 2-stage pulls operate a little differently from the original military style. With all I've tried, the first stage does not move the sear. The only resistance to first pressure is the trigger return spring. The trigger moves a short distance against spring pressure, and then comes to a definite stop. Further pressure releases the sear.


The advantage to the shooter is dividing pull weight into two steps. With practice the shooter learns to index the rifle on target, take up the first pressure, refine the sight picture and then smoothly press through the remaining pressure.

Let's say first pressure takes up a pound. From the shooter's perspective he can then refine his sight picture and release the shot with an additional, crisp 2.5-pound press. Yet the rifle has the safety of full sear engagement and a total pull weight of 3.5 pounds.

The Savage Accutrigger takes two distinct steps, one to clear the safety lever built into the trigger face, and a second step to press the trigger. On my Savage heavy-barrel .22-250 it takes .5 pounds for initial pressure, another 1.6 (2.1 total) pounds to fire the shot.

The 2-stage pull on my Ruger 77 .204 Ruger requires a pound of pressure for the first stage. An additional 1.66 pounds (2.66 total) fires the shot. Since these rifles are used for target and varmint shooting these relatively light pulls are acceptable.

A bit more pull weight is a good idea on a big-game rifle, which is more likely to be used in cold weather. The trigger on the new Weatherby Vanguard $2 is just superb. With a 3-pound trigger I tested the first stage required .6 pounds pressure, then an additional crisp, virtually motionless 2.4 pounds pressure releases the shot.

The first two rifles I owned as a teenager were a Lee Enfield with 2-stage pull and an Anschutz .22 with a crisp single-stage pull. As long as the pressure releasing the sear is crisp, clean, and reasonably light I really have no preference. I think a competent rifle shooter should be proficient with both. Most good shooters can pick up a strange gun, dry-fire it a dozen times, and do a decent job of shooting with it.
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Title Annotation:RIFLEMAN
Author:Anderson, Dave
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Oct 17, 2012
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