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Trigger Test

The pros and cons of different pistol actions are still a matter of debate for police officers.

March 01, 2003  |  by Paul Scarlata - Also by this author

DAO pistols require a long, revolver-like trigger stroke to fire each shot. Note the absence of external safety devices. All test firing was performed with Black Hills 9mm 115-grain +P JHP ammo.

Double Action Only (DAO)-combines the safety and simplicity of the DA revolver with the benefits of the modern semiauto pistol. The trigger must be pulled through a long, deliberate stroke for all shots, greatly reducing-its partisans claim-the chance of accidental discharges. To make it safe all you must do (as with the Safe Action) is remove your finger from inside the trigger guard. Two types are generally encountered: those on which the trigger can be pulled multiple times (Ruger and Beretta); and those that, when they are dry fired, their slides must be retracted slightly to partially cock their hammers before they can be fired again (S&W and Kahr). The major argument against this trigger action is that the long, heavy trigger pull hinders accuracy.

The Competition

The Safe Action Glock 17’s only external safety control is a small, trigger block lever on the face of the trigger. The trigger stroke is shorter than traditional double-action pistols and longer than single action.

Despite supporters' claims regarding the practicality and safety of their favorite trigger mechanism, the question still remains: which one shoots the best? While I have used pistols with all four of these trigger mechanisms, I have never done a side-by-side comparison of how well they shoot. I decided to remedy that. So I assembled four 9mm sample pistols-a Browning HiPower (SA), a SiG P226 (SA/DA), a Glock 17 (Safe Action), and a Ruger KP95 (DAO)-and went to the range.

I decided that for me the best way to judge the potential of each pistol was to run it through some standardized drills to evaluate how the different trigger systems affect accuracy, ease of operation, and speed. To remove magazine capacity from the equation, each string of fire was limited to eight rounds. Also, to standardize ammunition, only Black Hills 9mm +P Parabellum ammunition loaded with 115-grain JHP bullets was used in this test.

In order for the user to get off a fast, first shot with a traditional single-action pistols, such as this Browning HiPower, he or she must carry it with the hammer cocked and the safety lever engaged, a condition called “cocked and locked.”

The test consisted of targets set up at seven yards and the following drills:

  • Draw pistol and fire eight slow fire rounds-"head" shots only.
  • Draw pistol and fire four sets of rapid fire double taps, reholstering between each two-shot string.
  • Repeat double-tap drill firing the pistol weak-handed.
  • Draw pistol and fire eight rounds as fast as a flash sight picture can be acquired.

The Scorecard

So how did the four trigger actions stack up in my little test? Here are the results broken down into three categories, with the top-scorers listed first:

Accuracy: Safe Action, SA, DA/SA, DAO.
Overall Ease of Operation: Safe Action, DAO, DA/SA, SA.
Speed: Safe Action/SA (tie), DA/SA, DAO.

Because of their ease of handling and built-in safety features, my vote goes to the Safe Action triggers, with the DA/SA systems as a runner up. And while, as a long-time revolver shooter, I feel the DAO deserves serious consideration, I believe that gaining proficiency with such a pistol requires much training. As for the SA pistol, while there can be no denying it is a very effective combat handgun, it is a bit unwieldy, as you have to manipulate/engage various safety devices both before and after shooting. Consequently, I agree with those who feel it is best restricted to highly trained personnel.

But this is just my educated opinion. There is no substitute for hands-on experience. Consequently, I suggest that you or your agency try pistols with all four types of triggers and, after extensive practice, decide which system best suits your needs.

Paul Scarlata has served as an auxiliary police officer and writes for several firearms publications.

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