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Upgrading Your AR-15’s Trigger

Despite its futuristic look and “space age” technology for the time, the Black Rifle`s trigger/hammer group almost certainly draws its origin from John Garand’s battle-proven M1 rifle. It may go even further back to the early 1900s, utilizing the Browning design of the famous Auto-5 semi-automatic shotgun.

Along with the stock and sights, a trigger, as the key interface between the shooter and the gun, is vital for the accuracy of the firearm. And it can take much credit - or blame - for the old adage “Only hits count.”

Should I Upgrade or Not?

The US military rifles based on the AR-15 platform feature proven and non-adjustable single-stage triggers known for their rock-solid reliability, robustness and low price. As you already know, most service rifles and issued carbines come with a trigger pull of between 5.5 and 9.5 pounds.

That’s good enough for tactical or military shooting with lives at stake. Unfortunately, the trigger on the M-16A2 or M-4 is stiff and gritty. It doesn’t have great trigger pull, making it less than ideal for shooting at targets a few hundred yards away.

We believe in the axiom that the trigger is the heart of the shooter's interaction with his rifle. And while trigger control is everything, the marksman with more control and confidence in a trigger is more likely to get accurate hits. Controlling the trigger is a mental process but pulling the trigger is a mechanical process.

AR15_A3_Tactical_Carbine_pic1

Every serious shooter knows that a good shot starts with the trigger and that any trigger upgrades can drastically improve accuracy. With that in mind he will look for the best trigger option adequate to his ambitions.

Much of this depends on whether their gun will be used predominantly for hunting, target shooting or defensive purposes. The AR-15 owner then has to decide if he will take his tool to a gunsmith and get a trigger job or if he will install a new drop-in trigger.

The first option of trigger modification occurs on existing triggers and consists of polishing and honing the sear surfaces to remove trigger creep. That gunsmith’s treatment results in the trigger pull being about 3-6 lbs. The alterations are relatively affordable at a cost of $50-100.

Should I Tinker?

We don't recommend that anyone other than an experienced gunsmith does trigger improvements There's always the possibility that a perfectly-adjusted trigger somehow slips out of adjustment. This can lead to a nonfunctioning trigger or even worse a dangerous one that can accidentally fire.

Another alternative is installing a new single or two-stage trigger. This is also a great way to upgrade the accuracy of an AR-15. However, aftermarket triggers can range from dismal to game-changing. You don’t want to look for the cheapest thing out there. Here again, it’s possible to end up with a big black stick instead of a reliable battle-tested rifle.

Most people are well-served by a quality mil-spec trigger. But there are a lot of AR owners who want to get a smoother and more accurate trigger with a minimum pull weight. But trying to undertake a trigger job alone may lead to problems. It’s essential to remember how triggers work on firearms, and how everything in the rifle interacts with something else. For instance, filing through the standard AR-15 trigger's hardened surface will accelerate the wear of the parts, making that perfect trigger one day become a really scary trigger.

In a situation of a non-intended discharge, you put others and yourself at risk. That’s not only a legal issue but an ethical one. On a less-grave level, replacing the fire control group usually will void the warranty on your parts.

Flat or Curved

Web forums are full of discussions regarding the relative strengths of straight versus curved AR-15 triggers. But we would lean more on the shooting type you intend to use your Black Rifle for. This is what can help dictate what will work best.

According to some claims, a traditional curved trigger provides an ergonomic advantage. This makes it better for tactical use. But it can be a drawback for precise shooting. The bent bow offers greater surface area for the trigger finger. It also provides better "purchase" for a shooter’s finger in combat or slippery conditions. As a drawback, some people say that a curved trigger gives a shooter less finger sensitivity, which means you may not always get the same placement on the trigger.

The other type has a flat, wide shoe. The flat trigger offers less surface area to the trigger finger. It provides a different feel. However, the overall effectiveness seems to have much more to do with feelings than physics. Since the trigger in both cases has to travel in an arc, there’s a tiny and nearly imperceptible difference between the two styles.

ar15 sketch

Try both, and stick what you like best. There’s no clear winner here. But when you feel more comfortable, you’ve got a far greater chance of making a great shot.

Also, for anyone who wants to compromise, there is a hybrid trigger. This has the best of both worlds. The hybrid trigger features the curved top part while the bottom is flat. The face of the trigger is serrated.

Flat or curved triggers are a hugely personal preference and leaning to the aesthetics than the performance side of both types.

Single Stage or Dual Stage Triggers

As you know the majority of the factory lever guns, bolt-action rifles and service arms come off the production lines equipped with a single-stage trigger. The AR-15 is no exception.

Not so long ago, the adjustable trigger was an expensive custom operation, but that has fortunately changed. Modern technological processes and firearms manufacturers’ timely response to consumer preferences have led to better triggers. The aftermarket is overflowing with excellent single and dual-stage trigger options. A shooter’s choice really comes down to personal preference. Both types have their merits and drawbacks. Regardless of which kind you use, be sure to practice with it to grow accustomed to the difference.

When we are looking at the timeline, the single-stage trigger comes first. With early firearms, the only thing expected of the trigger was to trip the mechanism and made the gun go bang. But with the development of precision shooting, an obvious solution was to lighten the existing single-stage trigger. This modernized single-stage trigger is a vast improvement over the original design, and it works very well for accuracy-driven work. But it’s less suited for high-stress situations where a feather-light pull weight can get you into trouble.

Suggested: CMC AR-15 Tactical Trigger Group

cmc single stage trigger

To overcome the problems of both the old heavy trigger and the new, super-light ones, somebody came up with a compromise: the set trigger. A set trigger allows a user to have a substantially reduced trigger pull while maintaining a degree of safety in the field. There are two sorts: single set and double set. The Double-Set Trigger - DS - initially got its initial from Deutscher Stecher, a German set trigger which is widely used by Central European hunters as the standard precision shooting trigger.

However, hunters and marksmen in the US were not satisfied with that compromise. Their answer was to give the trigger the safety of a heavier pull with the accuracy of a lighter break.  Two-stage triggers usually have a longer and heavier portion of the pull in the first stage, followed by a moderate area of travel with little resistance followed by trigger break. While the overall force required to release the firing mechanism is the same in both, dual-stage triggers work and feel smoother and lighter than single stage because the final amount of pressure needed is much less than with the single-stage trigger.

Suggested: Geissele Automatic AR-15 Super Dynamic Triggers

geissele dual stage

A commonly accepted view is that two-stage triggers are a better choice for long-range accuracy. In other words,  it is better for slow, medium-precision shooting. The flip side is that many people believe that the single stage is better for fighting rifles used in close quarters or rapid firing in 3 Gun competition since it resets more quickly.

Conclusion

The invention and development of different trigger groups for the AR platform rifles were focused on two needs: accuracy and rapid fire. These kinds of improvements led to the newest trend for gun enthusiasts that want selectable firing from their AR-15.

The best AR-15 triggers rarely come on stock Black Rifles. Swapping a standard trigger for an aftermarket one often facilitates better accuracy. However, you need to choose wisely up to your requirements and your wallet.

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