COMMAND of the trigger is the hardest and the most essential part of marksmanship. Few human operations require one's nerves to be so finely strung and his muscles so instantly responsive, in the face of immediate concussion and recoil. And the slightest blink or balk, quiver or flinch, when drawing trigger, will cause a miss.
The worst fault of cheap rifles is their rough and exasperating locks. Every man who is ambitious to excell with the rifle would gladly pay extra for a superior lock, if he could get it. Rifle makers offer many outside " extras " in the way of plating, engraving, and other non-essentials, up to hundreds of dollars, but the product of skillful handwork that buyers would most appreciate is a first-class trigger mechanism.
A lock made of inferior steel will soon wear out of adjustment. Then the trigger will creep, i. e., will start, stick, require two distinct pressures, and go off unexpectedly at last. The language of anathema, even as perfected by Sterne in his Tristram Shandy, does not suffice to do such a mechanism justice. No man lives who can shoot decently with a creeping trigger.
In a rough lock, the notch into which the sear engages must be deep, lest the metal wear off or snap off. This notch is toothed upward at an angle, so that the sear cannot merely slide out but must lift against direct pressure of the mainspring. If the notch is deep, the trigger cannot let off quick and sharp.
When shooting offhand, it is impossible for anyone to hold without tremor. The best a man can do is to touch off just as his front sight swings to the right spot. This takes the utmost nicety of judgment and instantaneous execution of it. An error of a fiftieth of a second, in firing, is likely to throw the shot wild. In this infinitesimal interval, the eye, and brain, and finger, and trigger, all must work together.
No firing mechanism can be operated, from start to finish, in a fiftieth of a second, except a finely adjusted set trigger. A plain trigger requires that preliminary pressure be applied, to take up all but the last few ounces of strain and that it be steadily held there until the critical instant; then the final release is let off in a flash. Whether the pull be light or heavy, it positively should be smooth in take-up and instantly responsive to the final let-off.
Set triggers are of three types; single, split, and double. The single set is put in action by pressing it forward with the thumb. It is not likely to wear well. The split trigger (called by the maker " double set") likewise has its rear half pushed forward to set. It lasts better, but has a rather annoying backlash. Both of these patterns are slow to operate. Much better than either is the old reliable double set of our earliest frontier days (now trade-listed as " schuetzen double set," because re-introduced by German-American target shooters). This consists of two triggers spaced well apart, as in a double gun. The forward trigger is set by drawing the rear one back to a click; hence the arm can be set and fired very quickly, with gun to shoulder. A well made double trigger can be regulated to a hair, will always stay so, and will not jar off. In the hands of a cool man who is used to it, this is by far the best mechanism for deliberate offhand shooting, both at targets and at game in the open. As a nail-driver with the first shot, it has no equal.
A set trigger is unfit for quick repeating. Of course, the front trigger can be used without setting, but the difference between the one-ounce set pull that one has grown accustomed to and the seven-pound unset pull that he may want to use in an emergency will balk anybody. I have been used to the set trigger for twenty years and to plain triggers for twice that span, yet I cannot change from one to the other without a little practice, nor do I know anybody else who can.
In fine, a set trigger is admirable for hunting small game, and for stalking on the plains or amid thinly forested mountains. It is an advantage when one uses a telescope sight. Yet for average hunting in forest and thicket and for all quick firing, it is out of place. One must choose according to the work he is to do.
At the other extreme is the old-fashioned military pull of from eight to twelve pounds. Very few men can ever be trained to do good offhand work with such a pull; nor does the accomplishment, when acquired, stand for anything meritorious—it is against nature. The modern military pull is better. It has, first, a dragging take-up of enough finger-power to make it safe among massed troops, then a comparatively light let-off. It will balk a recruit, in quick firing, until he gets used to it.
The best all-round trigger for a sporting rifle is a plain one of from two to three pounds. If the lock is well made, there is no valid objection to a two-pound pull, and most men will do better shooting with it than with a heavier one. The lock parts should be of hard but tough steel, ground and polished smooth, and then adjusted by someone who is more of a watchmaker than a blacksmith.
A rifle should balance about four inches in front of the trigger guard. Good balance makes a gun buoyant and quick to swing into position, whereas an ill-balanced arm causes one to boggle and hunt for his sights. A well proportioned gun is less burdensome to carry than a clumsy one that may be a pound or two lighter.
No rifle using modern ammunition need have a barrel more than twenty-four inches long. Exhaustive tests by our ordnance department have proven that the muzzle velocity of a .30 Springfield-Mauser with a twenty-four inch barrel is but eighty-seven feet a second less than that of a thirty-inch barrel, while the accuracy of the short barrel is equal to that of the long one, its weight three-fourths pound less, the balance better, the arm more easily manipulated, and its total length suitable for cavalry as well as infantry. A difference of eighty-seven feet in muzzle velocity does not seriously affect the weapon's trajectory within sporting ranges. It is more than compensated by the merits gained. On the other hand, twenty-four inches is as short as a sporting barrel should be, unless for special service, because a shorter barrel is hard to aim truly without a telescope.