Often derided, they are growing in popularity and quality.
A century ago when armies were equipped with bolt-action rifles most had 2-stage triggers. The Lee Enfield rifle has a wide sear and engages a wide surface of the cocking piece. This substantial sear engagement provides a safety margin against the cocking piece being jarred off the sear by impact.
A military rifle must function under adverse conditions. In the trench warfare of WWI a soldier might be firing his rifle and the next minute have to use bayonet or buttstock in hand-to-hand fighting.
In the Lee-Enfield action the first stage (“first pressure”) moves the sear down and partially out of engagement with the cocking piece. In every example I’ve seen the engagement surfaces are angled so first pressure actually moves the cocking piece back slightly—just a little extra safety margin. The second stage pulls the sear fully down and releases the cocking piece to fire the rifle.
American hunters have generally expressed a preference for single-stage triggers. As the shooter places the trigger finger and begins building pressure there is no trigger motion. Pressure builds smoothly until the sear releases. Certainly there has to be some movement or the gun couldn’t fire, but properly adjusted the trigger movement is so small you have to pay close attention to see it.
Most post-WWI American bolt-action sporting rifles use single-stage triggers. Notable examples include the Winchester 70 introduced in the late 1930s and the Remington 721/722 series. Many a military action had its trigger mechanism altered or replaced so as to have a single-stage pull. As a result there’s a misconception that 2-stage pulls are just a military expedient, while single-stage triggers are inherently superior. In fact good and bad triggers can be made with both styles.
By Dave Anderson
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