Shotgun Triggers

When it comes to shooting shotguns, if anything goofy is in your head, it will likely show up in the trigger.

Recoil aversion, doubt over the break point, longings for banana-nut pancakes and bacon drenched in warm maple syrup -- whatever distraction or bugaboo that causes you to miss a target can easily manifest as a fickle trigger finger.

Even then, assuming the target has your full concentration, the trigger is the place on the shotgun where you commit: if the trigger pull is too heavy, too light or too long the results are likely to be the same: a target that just keeps on going.

When it comes to trigger-pull weight, the ideal is between 3½ to 4 pounds for single- trigger shotguns. On a side-by-side shotgun that has two triggers, the front trigger should set at about 3½ pounds. The rear trigger can be slightly heavier due to the fact that it rests on a slightly stronger part of your finger.

Shotgun Triggers and Your Local Gunsmith

If you have any doubts about the weight of your trigger pull, you can purchase a trigger-pull gauge for anywhere between $20 and $70 -- or you can visit your local gunsmith. A trigger-pull gauge is standard-issue equipment for gunsmiths.

The next problem with your trigger could be the length of pull. If it’s slightly too long or too short, you could find yourself shooting prematurely or flinching because the trigger is simply too far back for you to exert the proper pressure.

The first thing to do is check to see if your trigger is adjustable. These adjustable shotgun triggers generally come in two flavors: notched and variable. The notched variety will let you move the trigger in preset increments. The variable has no preset increments -- providing a more accurate fit.



Is Your Shotgun Trigger Adjustable?

The give-away as to whether or not you have an adjustable trigger is a tiny Allen-screw in the trigger (or you could just read the manual). And if your gun did come with an adjustable trigger, the proper Allen wrench should have been packaged with your shotgun.

After adjusting the trigger, if the gun still doesn’t fit right, then its time to consider adjusting the length of the stock. You can either cut the stock or get any number of adjustable recoil pads.

One thing about shotgun triggers that may surprise you is how your efforts to combat recoil could impact your trigger performance.

Shooters with recoil problems try to address the predicament by either going with low-recoil shells or inserting tubes that allow you to shoot a smaller gauge with reduced recoil. Suddenly, you find that your trigger won’t reset on the second shot.

Here’s what happened…

Shotguns With Inertia Triggers

Most shotguns are manufactured with inertia triggers. That term is derived from a mechanism where the recoil from the first shot actually enables the trigger to get off the second shot. The prerequisite recoil set by the factory takes into account a standard off-the-shelf load that would be used for the original gauge of the shotgun.

When you manipulate the recoil, you’re also manipulating the inertia necessary to cycle the trigger for the second shot. So if you develop trigger malfunctions as you experiment with low-recoil and subgauge loads, it could be that you’re not generating enough pressure.

At that point, your recoil problems become more complicated. Do you buy a smaller gauge shotgun? Do you reload your own shells to custom-tailor your own load? Do you take the trigger to a gunsmith to see if they can adjust the trigger to a lighter load? Or do you replace the inertia trigger with a different type of trigger?

(Actually, there could be one more incredibly easy solution. Change the selector on your shotgun to reverse the order of which barrel shoots first. Most shooters want their bottom barrel to fire first. But if you select your top barrel to shoot first, it could conceivably solve the problem with inertia triggers.)

Mechanical or Release Triggers for Your Shotgun?

If you opt to replace the trigger entirely, that leaves you with two alternatives: mechanical triggers or release triggers.

With a mechanical trigger, both hammers are cocked when you break open the shotgun. By eliminating the inertia factor, the second barrel will fire when the first barrel fails to fire.

Then there are release triggers. They sound counter-intuitive, but shooters who use them can’t go back. Think of a release trigger as drawing back the string on a bow. To fire the arrow you simply release the string. It’s similar with a release trigger.

To set the trigger you pull on it as though to fire it. But the trigger won’t fire until you take your finger off it. Release triggers were originally designed for single-shot trap guns -- the idea behind it that you were less likely to flinch on targets that generally flew straight out.

Over time, release triggers migrated to skeet and sporting shotguns. And the technology has grown more sophisticated. You can now either order, or have customized, just about any configuration of a release trigger.

You can have release-pull, release-release, pull-release -- pretty much whatever your heart desires.

Look for the Big R on the Shotgun

Be advised: release triggers can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. In fact, any responsible shotgun owner with a release trigger will affix a sticker that sports a big R on a fluorescent background as a warning. It is highly advised not to let new shooters try release triggers, since instinctively they want to pull the trigger to fire the shotgun.

Whether or not you’re looking to solve a problem with your shooting, some shooters simply prefer different kinds of triggers to make them more successful.

Side-by-side owners really go for the original double trigger. This system predates screw-in chokes. Since early side-by-sides were mostly field guns, the barrels were choked to hit birds at different distances.

If you missed the first shot on an outgoing bird, then the assumption was that the second shot would be further away and you would need a tighter choke. For incoming birds, a wider choke ensured bagging the bird on the second shot.

To remedy the problem with fix-choked shotguns, the early side-by-sides (and the modern English variation) are fitted with two triggers in one tang. The front trigger fires the right barrel and rear trigger the left.

Shooting double-trigger shotguns is definitely an acquired skill -- especially if you’re a vintage shooter.

Most shooters are happy with the standard inertia trigger. If you want to experiment with your shotgun trigger, though, you’d be pleasantly surprise at the different options available to you.

Shotgun Tubes

What’s the difference between a choke and a tube?

The choke controls the constriction at the muzzle. The tube (or subgauge insert) is a sleeve that fits inside the barrel in order for you to safely shoot different gauges from a single gun. Each tube is machined to a specific gauge -- like the gun barrel itself.

These tubes don’t work with pumps or semi-autos because the receivers are gauge-specific. For example, you can’t load a 20-gauge shell into a 12-gauge pump or semi-auto receiver under any circumstances. With your over/under or side-by-side, however, the shells are loaded directly into the chamber. Crack open the gun, and the proper set of tubes can turn your 12 gauge into a 20-, 28-gauge or .410 shotgun.

There are plenty of options when it comes to finding the perfect tube set for your shotgun.

Some shotgun manufacturers bundle tube sets with a new gun. For retrofitting, tube sets can be purchased over-the-counter while others have to be sent to the tube manufacturer where they are fit to your gun. You can go with a full-length set of tubes or shorter chamber-length tubes.

Your decision is usually based on price and weight.

Full-length tube sets can weigh 5-12 ounces, affecting the balance of your shotgun. But if you’re a nose-heavy kind of shooter who believes the extra weight improves your swing, then these tubes are for you. Other shooters balk at the extra up-front weight, and may opt for shorter tubes.

Into the Chamber

Chamber-length tubes let you reduce your gauge preference without going for a full-length version. When you fire, the subgauge shell then patterns with a 12-gauge barrel. How does that affect your shooting? Some manufacturers swear that there’s no penalty whatsoever -- or even go as far as to claim an improved pattern compared with an original subgauge shotgun.

Given their size, these chamber-length tubes are less expensive than the full-length alternatives and are obviously lighter (3-4 ounces).

Regardless of which tubes you ultimately use, there are a few cautionary measures to consider. Make sure your shells eject properly and your chokes still fit. If you’re using chamber-length tubes, you also have to examine if the ejectors start moving them out of the gun. Hunters will want to verify that their tube sets can accommodate 3-inch shells as well as steel shot.

Clays and Wingshooting

If you’re accustomed to rifles or pistols, or simply a new shooter, you’ll be surprised to know that shotguns generally require both of your eyes to be open while shooting.

All About Shotguns

There are two challenges to finding a great shotgun -- fit and suitability.

The shotguns section of Shotgun Life is dedicated to helping you recognize the perfect shotgun (that you’ll want to keep for the rest of your life, and then hand down to your family for generations to come.)

For some people, finding a great shotgun is simply love at first sight. For others, a great shotgun grows on them -- and they find themselves down in the basement cleaning it for absolutely no other reason than just to be in its company.

But for every shotgun owner who falls in love with their pride-and-joy, there are teams of engineers and craftsmen toiling away behind the scenes to bring your gun to fruition.

As you’ll see, shotguns are generally designed for a particular sport. Some shotguns have composite stocks and fore-ends to withstand the travails of duck hunting. Then there are single-shot trap guns with high ribs that help you intercept rising targets. And skeet shooters find that their beavertail fore-end is particularly adept at bringing about a smooth, quick swing.

So let the search begin. Here is what you’ll find in our shotgun section…

Shotguns for Clays and Wingshooting Shotgun Actions Break Actions Over/Under Side-by-Side Single-Barrel Shotgun Semiautomatics Pumps Skeet Shotguns Trap Shotguns WaterFowl Shotguns Upland Shotguns

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