Shotgun Triggers, by Dave McCracken

Something came up on an online forum, and I had a query about proper trigger method. So, here's a few facts, opinions and theories...

While I've been shotgunning for a long time, I've shot rifles even longer, starting with the usual Red Ryder Daisy and proceeding up to some fine benchrest and hunting rifles of amazing accuracy.

One key to good rifle shooting is a good trigger. And while riflemen(and women) are quite diverse, one and all they'll tell you that the best work is done with a clean, light trigger.

So why do shotgunners live with our heavier, roughncreepy, overtraveling triggers?

At this point, some of you might say,"It's quite different, we slap the trigger because we have to shoot fast-moving small targets".

Wrong, most shotgunners YANK the trigger. What we call a slap is usually a convulsive grab to the rear with the whole hand, or at least an attempt to weld the trigger to the guard just by pressure.

Most shotgunners know no better, and the triggers we've had on most shotguns haven't helped. Most are a pound or six too heavy, there's roughness, creep, overtravel,and stacking ad infinitum.

Back when the Brits had an Empire and made wonderful guns for aristocrats, the formula they used was that the front or only trigger on a shotgun should be about half the shotgun's weight.

The back trigger had to be 1/2 lb heavier. Since most Brit shotguns went less than 7 lbs, this meant triggers should be say, 3-4 lbs. And that's in the ball park.

Check out some local legend's shotgun. Regardless of make, or discipline, I'll wager the usual flagon of mead that the pull's clean, light crisp, and would work on a good rifle. Exception, release triggers, but I'm not going there.

Some shotguns need trigger work more than others. 870s usually have decent triggers, a couple of mine came from the factory with weights of less than 4 lbs, and fairly clean. Autos, and shotguns of any design recently made in this age of litigation run up to 8-10 lbs, but can oft be tweaked to a SAFE clean 4-5 lbs. The reason they're not are litigation, it's cheaper,and few of us demand good triggers. Disagree? How many of us KNOW what the pull weight is on our favorite scattergun?

So, why get a good light trigger? First, we don't want a surprise break when we swing on a bird or clay, we want the thing to go bang exactly when we will it.

And, we'll shoot better,and much better with slugs. I've tried a few highly touted slug guns, and except for one, all had lousy triggers. Both of my slug shooters go off at about 4 lbs, a good weight for my big hands.

So, how do we improve our hardware and technique?

The hardware's easy. Find a decent smith and have him/her take the trigger down as far as is safe. Do NOT attempt this yourself, anymore than the average driver should work on his brakes. Darn near all modern, US made shotguns can be brought to a decent trigger pull weight for $50 or less. One local smith charges $35.

Failing a good smith, or in addition to same, there's one or two things to do.

You'd be surprised at how many triggers can be improved by deep cleaning. Grease and gunk oft turn into what looks like dirty varnish, and will turn a good safe trigger into a risky, nasty pull.

Ultrasonic cleaning,dunk into a scrubber solution, etc, will oft do as much as a smith can in relieving the weight. Clean, relube, reinstall.

Another approach or addition is to use a trigger shoe on a recreational shotgun. I've one on my 870 TB trap gun, and it takes that clean, sweet trigger into the sublime. The extra width means a lighter, more controllable "Feel". Not for "Serious" use, it's something else to go wrong in a crisis.

And technique has to be discussed. Most of us shooting shotguns just stick the finger into the guard and yank. Most of the better among us use a fast press, and know exactly when it'll go off because we will it to happen at a particular moment. Fast and accurate presses need practice, but a few moments watching an IPSC competitor going for gold shows it can be done.

And, simply moving the contact point from the middle of the curve in the trigger to the tip will gain leverage, lower the apparent weight and aid control.


Dave McCracken has been shotgunning longer than many shooters have been alive. He regularly posts on TheHighRoad.org and TheFiringLine.com. This article is reprinted here with his permission; reprinting or redistributing this article without his permission is expressly prohibited.

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