Shooting Skills: AR15 Trigger Choice

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A better AR15 trigger means a different AR15 trigger. Which essential type is right for you?


Glen Zediker


Good triggering mechanics aren’t wasted on a bad trigger, but a good trigger can quickly increase triggering skill. And, no kidding, it’s way on easier to control a shot break with a trigger that’s consistent and at the least not “heavy.”

So you have an AR15… We don’t really much talk about stock AR15 triggers. They’re bad. They’re safe and reliable, but it’s such a “mousetrap” design that it’s really not likely to make improvement using conventional approaches, namely files and stones. The metal is heat-treated and the hardness is shallow. Any intrusion beneath the surface of the sear (the nose-end of the trigger bar assembly) or the hammer hook reveals soft metal, too soft to maintain a geometry change.

One of the first to address improving the AR15 trigger system, the JP Ent. solution is essentially standard-form architecture with precision revisions. Notice the adjustment screws, lightened hammer, and proprietary springs. It’s a clean, light single-stage. It’s been a favorite of some of the speed demons in practical rifle and 3-Gun events.
One of the first to address improving the AR15 trigger system, the JP Ent. solution is essentially standard-form architecture with precision revisions. Notice the adjustment screws, lightened hammer, and proprietary springs. It’s a clean, light single-stage. It’s been a favorite of some of the speed demons in practical rifle and 3-Gun events.

So. We rely on aftermarket trigger systems. There are a good many. Problem is that not a many are good. This article will address trigger systems from a more “general” or overview approach. Yes. I have favorites. Yes, also, there are a few I don’t like. I’m more liable to name names in my books than I am here over the interweb in front of God and all the neighbors, and that’s because my preferences are largely subjective.

The aftermarket began addressing AR trigger issues a good long while ago, and the first idea was to produce essentially the same hammer and trigger pieces, but with improved precision and better geometry, mostly improved precision, in the mating surfaces, plus some mechanism adjustment means. The next steps were total redesigns, including adaptations from other systems. I’ll focus this rest on one of those designs.

Now I hope also to answer a question that I get time after time after time. It would be hard to have shopped AR15 replacement triggers and not come across “two-stage” triggers. So, the question is, “What’s a two-stage trigger?”

Here’s the original AR15 two-stage, and how it works. Developed by Charlie Milazzo and John Krieger, the MKII changed life for competitive AR15 shooters. There is still no better trigger for these rifles, in my opinion. Just a little difficult to find. This is a true two-stage (primary and secondary sear). There is zero question in my mind that two-stage triggers are safer, and even less question that they’re easier to develop triggering skills with. You’ll see.
Here’s the original AR15 two-stage, and how it works. Developed by Charlie Milazzo and John Krieger, the MKII changed life for competitive AR15 shooters. There is still no better trigger for these rifles, in my opinion. Just a little difficult to find. This is a true two-stage (primary and secondary sear). There is zero question in my mind that two-stage triggers are safer, and even less question that they’re easier to develop triggering skills with. You’ll see.

What it is, is, well, it is what it does: there are two separate and distinct stages or steps to the trigger pull. In a true two-stage, the first stage is free-run, of varying distance and resistance, taking up the secondary sear, and then there’s a stop, which is the primary sear engagement. Then any more pressure drops the hammer. So it pulls back, stops, and from that point, the shooter decides when to loose it. Or not. Shooter can let the trigger back forward, regroup, and go at it again. Being able to get on and off the trigger, and feeling it stop against the second stage, makes for a more competent, confident shooter. We know with certainty when the shot is going to fire. We’re in full control of it. We’re already holding some tension on the trigger. Makes the next bit easy. A two-stage doesn’t have the “delicate” feel of a single-stage.

Here’s another take on the two-stage from Arnold Jewell. It’s different. Very good trigger in action, but a little sluggish in its hammer fall. It’s one of the best feeling triggers I’ve used, and it’s nicely and easily adjustable. If you get a two-stage, make double-dang-sure you “stage it.” Feel the stop and learn to exploit it. It can transform your skill level.
Here’s another take on the two-stage from Arnold Jewell. It’s different. Very good trigger in action, but a little sluggish in its hammer fall. It’s one of the best feeling triggers I’ve used, and it’s nicely and easily adjustable. If you get a two-stage, make double-dang-sure you “stage it.” Feel the stop and learn to exploit it. It can transform your skill level.

This style is the preeminent design used in serious purpose-built competition rifles, and this trigger type has also been integrated into previous U.S. Armed Forces rifles, namely the M1 and M14.

Safety is the primary reason a two-stage was incorporated into service-rifle designs. As said, the two-stage gives the operator a clear signal. Unintentional shot release is far less likely.

There are a number of two-stage triggers available for AR15s. They vary widely in cost, and also in quality. Any and all, though, are a radical improvement over stock. For those looking primarily to fire focused, accurate shots, I very strongly recommend a two-stage. They are the bomb for “common” shooting circumstances.

But. They’re not for everyone, not for every application. Here’s what’s bad about two-stage triggers. First, foremost, and most noticeable, is the relatively huge distance-to-reset compared to a single-stage. Trigger “reset” is when the disconnector (which has captured the hammer as the carrier cycles) hands off the hammer to the sear. The hammer can’t fall again until the trigger resets, so the trigger can be pulled again. The trigger resets when it’s let back far enough forward to activate the sear. There is some amount of reset distance in any semi-auto trigger, and the AR15 already has a significant amount. The amount of movement from being pulled fully to the rear and let back forward until reset is what I’m talking about here.

Rapidly successive shots are a challenge with a two-stage. 3-Gun-type shooters, or any who are in wants or needs to fire shots in very rapid succession, are more effective with a good single-stage. All that swing in the trigger, back and forth, back and forth, is not conducive to best performance in hosedown-mode. It’s harder to ride the trigger at higher and higher speed when the trigger travels so far.

Next time I’ll talk more specifically about options and also the “modular” or “drop-in” AR15 triggers, plus a few tips and tricks to make any AR15 trigger better.

Okay. I’ll tell you. All of my competition rifles carry one of these, self-tuned. It’s a Geissele Automatics two-stage. There are several different versions from Geissele. This is the “match” variety. It’s very tunable, if you know what you’re doing, and the hammer hits quickly. Bonus.
Okay. I’ll tell you. All of my competition rifles carry one of these, self-tuned. It’s a Geissele Automatics two-stage. There are several different versions from Geissele. This is the “match” variety. It’s very tunable, if you know what you’re doing, and the hammer hits quickly. Bonus.

The preceding was a specially adapted excerpt from The Competitive AR15: ultimate technical guide. Available from Midsouth Shooters Supply, for more information visit Zediker Publishing.

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6 thoughts on “Shooting Skills: AR15 Trigger Choice”

  1. I have an original Colt AR15 SP1 I bought new in 1979. Haven’t shot 1,000 rounds through it because I rather shoot M1A and M1, but AR stock trigger is really hard. I do not shoot competition but can you recommend s trigger assembly for a lighter and more cinsistabt pull? I just started shooting this rifle with a new Fulton upper and 18′ 1 x 9 barrel

    1. You’re okay with the “small” pins, but remember to get the “big pin” trigger versions for the Colt-brand made after 1991! Std. is 0.154, Colt-spec is 0.170

  2. I love the AR Gold trigger from American Trigger Corp. Lots of the top pros use it. It’s toward the top end of the price range, but easy to install and adjust and amazing feel to it and fast lock-time.

    1. I agree. It’s a very good trigger. Just got one… So far, I’d call it the best of the single-stage triggers. It seems durable also, and I’ve heard that’s true.

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