Accurizing Your Firearm: Part 4 - Triggers
The instructor who told soldiers in training to keep pulling back on the trigger until the gun went off must have fired one too many relics from WWI. It's good advice if you happen to be shooting a mass produced, military rifle that dates back almost three quarters of a century-those guns were made quickly and they were expected to do duty even after they'd been tromped into the muck of the trenches for a week. Nobody cared much about the tightness of the group they would punch at a 100 yards; the important thing was that, in the face of the enemy, the guns would fire.
As big game hunters, we've swung the emphasis back on accuracy, on the gun's ability to drive tacks at 100 yards and to reach out for a one-shot kill on a bull elk or moose at 350 yards. We've learned that the way we squeeze the trigger can make the difference between a clean hit and a complete miss. Trouble is that not all the gun manufacturers are aware of that fact; some think they're still making guns for soldiers off to do battle on the European front.
Production line guns like the out-of the-box pre 2006 Winchester Model 70 we used in this accurizing series typically have triggers that break between three and-a-half and six pounds of pull to release the sear. In applying that degree of pressure on the trigger, the right-handed shooter will inadvertently pull the muzzle slightly to the right; southpaws tend to pull to the left. To correct for this shift, the shooter subconsciously applies pressure in the opposite direction and, as a result, the bullet exits the gun off target. This process of correcting and overcorrecting will definitely open the grouping under bench rest conditions; in the excitement of a hunting situation, it can pull you off target just enough to require a messy tracking job.
Fortunately, this is fairly easy to deal with. Triggers are set at the factory to break on the heavy side supposedly to make the firearm safe to use and, at the same time, avoid liability when someone pulls an asinine stunt and decides to sue the manufacturer. Three pounds is somewhat heavy but still manageable. Six and a half pounds, on the other hand, is definitely detrimental to accuracy.
The trigger needs to be crisp, with minimal creep in order to achieve consistent
shooting accuracy and that means having the mechanism either replaced or polished.
The safety angle makes good sense and many higher end rifles, particularly European rifles, come equipped with single or double set triggers. A single set trigger works just like a regular trigger in its basic mode, but if the trigger is first nudged forward, then squeezed, it breaks with virtually no creep and minimal pressure. On a double set trigger, one trigger-usually the back one-can be used as a regular trigger with normal trigger pull or as the setting trigger which sets the other trigger-usually the front one-to break with no creep and light pressure. Typically, the unset trigger breaks at between three and four pounds while the set trigger goes off at a touchy one and a half pounds.
While set triggers can tremendously improve marksmanship when used as intended, I'm not in favor of them on hunting guns. It's true that the gun can be discharged by using the setting trigger which usually has a pull of three to four pounds, but that amount of pull is detrimental to accuracy. Yet it's the one most likely to be used, either by choice or in the excitement of the moment. After almost 50 years of chasing big game throughout North America as well as in South America and Africa, I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather use a regular single trigger for my hunting guns since it's one less thing to think about.
The trigger mechanisms on most North American hunting rifles can be set to a desired degree of pull with screw settings that allow the shooter to choose the degree of pull. Many hunters find this setting satisfactory, but if you are looking for consistent accuracy in the field and tight groups at the range, you'll find the trigger somewhat stiff. I like a two and a half pound break since it's just sensitive enough to provide accuracy on those long shots and yet falls far short of what can be called a hair trigger.
While it's possible to set the degree of trigger pull yourself on these guns, I strongly recommend that you take it to a reputable gunsmith and have him adjust it to a precise level using a trigger pull gauge. It makes good sense since having a gunsmith adjust the trigger should cost you about the same as the $40 price tag of a half decent trigger pull gauge.
The second problem with triggers on production line hunting rifles is that they are… well, scratchy. Just like an old phonograph record. As we discussed earlier in this series, in order to keep the prices on firearms low, manufacturers try to eliminate as many marginal processes as possible. Yes, it is true that the company could have done additional work on the mechanism, but that would entail an additional production process requiring manpower, machinery and materials, adding substantially to the cost of the firearm for a nonessential and largely unnoticed improvement. Price rules.
In all fairness, the trigger mechanism installed on the test gun for this accurizing series was actually quite acceptable, even if it was a bit on the raspy side. Fortunately, the trigger mechanism on the Model 70 can be removed to expose the matching metal faces, but leave the dismantling of the trigger and polishing procedure to a qualified gunsmith. The operation consists of polishing away the roughness on the metal surfaces of the trigger mechanism to mirror finish and properly truing the mated metal surfaces. Figure on a $75 to $100 tab to get this done, but it is money well spent since the trigger travel will be silky smooth. This is also a good time to have the trigger creep adjusted so that the break is crisp rather than mushy.
Over the years, a number of independent trigger manufacturers have emerged in response to the demand for better triggers on both competition and hunting guns. Usually, these can be installed in place of the old trigger mechanism with almost no modification required, provided the make, model and caliber of the rifle is specified. But before you invest good money, talk it over with your gunsmith. In some cases, simply polishing the existing trigger might be more than sufficient to improve the gun's performance, in other cases, the trigger simply cannot be replaced and a good polishing might be the only recourse.
On the other hand, if you feel that you absolutely need an aftermarket trigger mechanism and your firearm does allow for a switch, a Timney trigger will set you back about $120 while a Jewell trigger mechanism for the Model 70 costs about double that. It's adjustable for creep, pull and also backlash suppression-creep is the amount the trigger travels before the sear releases the firing pin, pull is the amount of pressure required and backlash is the trigger's tendency to return to its firing position, a movement which could affect accuracy to some degree. With the mechanism, pulling the trigger can be compared to snapping an icicle - it's crisp, clean and sudden.
But do you really need this degree of refinement? A good friend of mine maintains that the answer is definitely yes, with the proviso that you plan to shoot groundhogs at 400 yards or plan to compete in an Olympic shooting discipline. Otherwise it's actually going overboard. Some of the best trigger mechanisms for hunting situations as well as casual benchrest shooting are already installed in the guns you own. All they need is a bit of fine tuning to improve them and give your marksmanship an additional boost at the same time.
It's an improvement that you'll come to expect from all your big game rifles you currently own and will own in the future. Did it tighten the tightly clustered group of shots resulting from the previous accurizing steps? Not noticeably, but it will likely work hand-in-hand with the next step in the process and that is dealing with recoil.
The .270 is more than enough gun for caribou out in the barrens, provided
you can place an accurate shot at ranges of 100 yards and sometimes more.
Pronghorn antelope frequently require accurate long-range shots and confidence
in both the gun and the shooter's ability, tremendously enhance the odds of success.
George Gruenefeld has been hunting big game for over four decades and his travels have taken him to several continents. Most of the time, though, he concentrates his efforts on the Prairies and mountains of Western Canada.