Trigger Terms

By Dave Anderson

Every activity has its own language. Triggers and trigger control are critical components of accurate shooting. Trigger lingo is to some extent subjective; but here’s what some of the terms mean to me.

Break, Release: The instant when the sear releases the hammer or striker.

Takeup, Trigger Slack: Trigger movement which does not impart movement to the sear. Semi-autos almost always have some trigger slack; taking up the takeup typically requires only a few ounces of pressure.

Creep: Trigger movement which does impart movement to the sear. Since the sear is under load from the mainspring, creep requires trigger pressure measured in pounds. Creep can be smooth and consistent, and is not always a hindrance. Some semi-auto triggers are built intentionally with smooth creep, sometimes called a sliding pull. A double-action revolver pull, strictly speaking, is all creep.

Steps: Irregular movements of the sear as it creeps; as pressure is added to the trigger, the sear moves suddenly, then stops until pressure builds further.

Mushy, Gritty: A trigger pull with inconsistent, unpredictable creep and steps.

Crisp/Clean Break: Sear release without perceptible creep.

Pre-travel: Amount of trigger movement (takeup and creep combined) the trigger moves from at-rest until the sear breaks.

Overtravel: Trigger movement after the break.

Trigger Stop: A mechanical component used to stop trigger movement after the break.

Reset: Forward movement of the trigger to allow the sear to re-engage with the hammer or striker. Speed of reset is a function of how far the trigger has to move, and the weight of the trigger return spring. A trigger with a fast reset is called snappy; one with slow reset, sluggish.

Freezing, Choking, Double Clutching: Failing to move the trigger finger forward far enough to allow the trigger to reset before starting the next trigger press. Leads to tying up the gun. Whether in a match or on the street, tying up the gun is a Very Bad Thing.


Weight of pull can be measured with actual weights, or as here, with an
electronic trigger gauge. Weight on this ‘60s era Ruger is 3 lb 10.5 ounces.
Weight is an important component of pull but by no means the only one.


Note hole in trigger face to access overtravel stop screw on this single action auto.
Semi-auto pistols also typically have a small amount of movement called trigger slack
or takeup, which doesn’t move the sear and usually requires very light pressure.

Manipulating It

Slapping: Used incorrectly as a synonym for jerking — which it isn’t. Also used incorrectly to describe the trigger finger coming off the trigger face during reset — which contrary to what some say, is not a fault.

As used by world class shooters it means moving the trigger finger back and forth as fast as physiology and training allow, while maintaining acceptable accuracy. Think of it as a continuous pressure release done very quickly. How to tell the difference between jerking and slapping? Look at the target. Clean target = jerking. Eight A’s in one second = slapping.

Press/Squeeze/Surprise Break: Terms to describe good trigger control; the shooter focuses on maintaining an acceptable sight picture while the trigger finger adds pressure until the sear breaks, without trying to isolate the exact instant it breaks.

Yank, Jerk, Gotcha: The opposite of good trigger control, in which the shooter focuses on an acceptable sight picture, thinks “Gotcha!” and yanks the trigger, usually with the eyes closed. Followed by baffled surprise because they missed cleanly.

Flinching, Anticipating: A defensive physical reaction to the noise and recoil of a shot, occurring before or during the trigger press, causing the gun to move before the bullet has exited.

Blinking: A mild form of flinching in which the shooter’s eyes close during the interval between when the sear releases and the bullet exits the muzzle. Some blink all the time; all, even world champions on rare occasions. They may deny it but I have the photos and video to prove it.

Continuous Pressure Release: Pressing the trigger by building pressure at a constantly increasing speed, with no stops or hesitation. Can be done over a period of seconds, or with practice, in fractions of a second.

Graduated Release, Staging: Pressing the trigger in a series of starts and stops, stopping each time the sight picture is deemed unacceptable. In practice it leads to a slow, tentative press usually capped by a “gotcha.” Should be used only by experienced shooters in extraordinary circumstances, for example in a strong wind causing the gun to move unpredictably.

Weight Of Pull: Amount of weight (in the US, measured in pounds and ounces) required to press the trigger until the sear breaks.

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