Pistol Triggers: The Ultimate Guide Home / Pistol Anatomy / Trigger

Pistol Triggers: The Ultimate Guide

Image of Bryan Hill, Founder of Pistol Wizard Bryan Hill / March 10 2021

Trigger on a Glock 19

A pistol's trigger is one of the top factors in accuracy for beginner pistol shooters, and can be a major factor in Gun Safety. In this guide, we'll show you how to tell good triggers from bad with data from real shootings, and case studies from police and competitive shooters.

On This Page:

  1. Why does a Good Trigger Matter on a Pistol?
  2. What Makes a Good Trigger?
  3. Flat vs. Curved Triggers
  4. Trigger Weight and Safety
  5. Should I Upgrade My Trigger?
  6. Which Pistol has the Best Trigger?

Why does a Good Trigger Matter on a Pistol?

A case study by a USPSA Grandmaster Karl Rehn found that upgrading the stock Glock trigger improved shooting speed/accuracy 20%.

What Makes a Good Trigger?

  1. While maintaining strong grip technique, you can touch the trigger with the lower half of your index finger's tip:
    The part of the trigger finger that presses the trigger
    This lets you pull the trigger straight back, increasing accuracy.
  2. The trigger breakscleanly, like snapping a carrot or candy cane.
    This makes it predictable and easier to master.
  3. Its wallfeels solid and predictable, not spongey.
  4. The wall takes 3-6 lb. to break.
  5. Its resetis just 2-3mm. This lets you fire fast without risk of a dead trigger.
  6. The reset has a clear feel to it and an audiable click, increasing predictability.

Even with a great trigger, you can still miss shots if you lack good technique. Learn How to Press a Trigger The Right Way


Flat vs. Curved Triggers

A Sig p320 Compact, with a curved trigger, vs. a p320 X-Compact, with a flat trigger.
Most shooters prefer flat triggers. Why? On a curved trigger, if you grab too high or low on it, your figger can slip and pull wrong. Flat triggers give a smooth, even trigger pull across the whole face of the trigger, and let you pull lower on the trigger if you want more leverage.

Still, hands come in all sizes. Some prefer curved triggers, and the performance difference of flat vs. curved triggers is small.

Trigger Weight and Safety

Many in the firearms community advocate for heavy triggers to prevent negligent discharges (NDs). But can a heavy trigger be less safe?

Yes.

Negligent Discharges

Would a heavy trigger have prevented this?

A 2018 study looked into whether heavy triggers reduce the risk of NDs:
Conventional wisdom suggests heavier trigger weights reduce the chances of a [ND]. For example, some advocate for the heavier weight New York trigger for Glocks claiming, “Accidental discharges, sometimes with tragic and fatal results, have been clearly and convincingly related to very light trigger pulls over the years by countless police departments" (Ayoob, 2012). However, Heim (2006a,b) demonstrated that the force exerted on the trigger was sufficient to overcome heavier trigger weights (i.e., 10 lbs)...The present data substantiate the claim that [NDs] occur across firearm types, trigger actions, and trigger weights.
I have great respect for Massad Ayoob, but I have to disagree with his quote above. The plural of opinions isn't data. Do officers involved in NDs have an incentive to try to pass their own responsibility onto their tool?

There are tons of reasons why opinions can fool us. The first step towards the truth is often stepping back and looking at the broad data. Take perceptions of crime:
Pew Research graph of public perception of crime rates vs. real crime rates from 1993-2017

If we only based our opinion of crime rates on what we're told by the news (who make more money by reporting sensational crimes), we would be at odds with the facts diligently recorded and reported by law enforcement. Sadly, law enforcement isn't so diligent in recording their own NDs. Until that changes, there's no data.

Data gives a clearer picture, but it can't guide us so well when dealing with just one person at a time. A heavier trigger may be the right choice for someone you know, but I'd first try training good habits.

There is no substitute for obeying the rules of gun safety.

Accuracy and Safety

Headline: NYPD fires on suspect 27 times, hits 2 bystanders. Most gunfights are over in 3 shots.
Headline: NYPD hits 9 bystanders while attempting to shoot suspect. Accurate shots don't hit bystanders.
What would have mitigated this? Do you want this to be you?
A shot that doesn't hit your target keeps going until it hits something, or someone.
Thus, a trigger that impedes your accuracy is making your pistol less safe anytime you use it to deliver judicious deadly force.

Let's go back to the NYPD's choice of heavy triggers. How does their accuracy compare with other departments? A 2003 study found:
NYPD hit rate (1990-2000): 15%
Baltimore PD hit rate (1989-2002): 49%

At the time, Balitmore PD was over 3 times more accurate than NYPD in gunfights. They also had some of the best training in the US. How much of that difference is training, and how much is due to NYPD's triggers?

An Experiment

Pistol pointed at a target, point of view
Unfortunately, there haven't been any published experiments on the effects of trigger weight on accuracy. I invite you to do your own:
  1. Go to your local gun store and ask if you could dry fire their pistols. Pick a pistol with a good trigger (CZ p-10, VP9, PPQ, etc.).
  2. Pick up the pistol. Point it in a safe direction. While focusing on sight alignment, dry fire it 8 times at a rate of 1 shot per second. Record results.
  3. Repeat the drill at a rate of 2 shots per second. Record results.
  4. Repeat the drill at a rate of 4 shots per second. Record results.
  5. You're now finished with the pistol. Pick a double-action revolver with a heavy trigger. The heavier, the better. Repeat steps 2-4 with the revolver.
If you can do this with laser-equipped pistols and have someone observe and record, the differences will be most clear. If you find your accuracy suffering with the heavier trigger, think about what could happen if you had to use that pistol to defend yourself.

Should I Upgrade My Trigger?

Yes. But if one of our our recommended pistols says it has a "great trigger", or "best trigger", you don't need to.
Choose the heaviest trigger that maintains your accuracy; 3-6 lb. works for most.

No matter your choice, treat the rules of gun safety like you would a sacred vow, and remember, technique is most important.
Learn How to Press a Trigger The Right Way

Which Pistol has the Best Trigger?

2011 pistols (based on the 1911) have the best triggers, but I don't recommend them. Why?
  • Grip safety can cause jams in real gunfights
  • Jams more than other designs
  • A good 2011 costs $2,000-5,000
A 2011 is the best competition pistol, if you spend the cash to get a good one and the time to tinker with it to get it to run just right.

For most people, there are better values for the money.
The CZ Shadow 2 is almost as good for home defense or competition, but costs much less:

Updated hourly


For duty carry or concealed carry with a belt holster, the Canik TP9 series (based on the Walther PPQ) has the best trigger:

Century Arms TP9SF Elite
$409.99
@ Guns.com
Compare Prices
$409.99 @ Guns.com

Canik TP9 Elite Combat
$779.99
@ Impact Guns
Compare Prices
$779.99 @ Impact Guns
  • Like the Walther PPQ, but with upgraded Fiber-Optic sightsand a match-grade barrel
  • If you can't find it near you, try a Walther PPQ to see how it fits your hand
  • Worst recoil
  • Upgraded Fiber-Optic sights
  • Upgraded match-gradethreaded barrel
  • Upgraded magwell
  • Deep optics slot
  • If you can't find it near you, try a Walther PPQ to see how it fits your hand
  • Worst recoil
  • Mounting an optic means removing your rear sight


For pocket carry, the Sig p365 has a slight edge over the Springfield Hellcat, and the S&W 380 EZ is the best for those with small hands, low grip strength, or who have trouble racking pistol slides:

Disclaimer: I get a small commission on purchases through the price links above, at no extra cost to you.


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References

  1. 5 facts about crime in the U.S. (2019)
  2. Do Aftermarket Mods Help You Shoot Better? (2019)
  3. Flat or curved trigger (2018)
  4. 2 bystanders hit by crossfire in NYPD gun battle (2018)
  5. Further analysis of the unintentional discharge of firearms in law enforcement (2017)
  6. NYPD: 9 shooting bystander victims hit by police gunfire (2015)
  7. Flat Triggers (2013)
  8. Officer-Involved Shootings: What We Didn’t Know Has Hurt Us (2003)


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