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How I Learned to Shut Up and Love Double Action Pistols

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I prefer double action/single action pistols for the real world.

It’s not that I think striker fired pistols are inferior or anything. My first pistol was a Beretta 92A1, but I bought it telling myself that it was practice for the M9 I would deploy with. I later picked up a striker pistol, the FNS-9, for competition and eventually daily carry.

I thought the FNS was great!

You certainly gain benefits from a single trigger pull to master. Many striker pistols on the market have well-earned reputations for reliability and accuracy. Some writers and instructors out there proudly proclaim the death of double action and celebrate the new striker-fired overlords.

Beretta 92A1 double action and single action pistol
The Beretta 92A1 I started with for competition and self defense

But I also don’t confuse the popularity of a pistol style or brand to mean it’s the best one out there.

Glock is a great example of this. It found its way into so many police departments not because it is objectively better than every other pistol, but because they have an aggressive pricing structure and good marketing to police departments. That popularity filtered down to everyday owners who wanted what their local police were carrying.

That particular history is well-documented in Paul Barrett’s Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun. I read that book on a friend’s recommendation and the history always stuck with me. It made me very cautious about believing hype just because everyone else is bought in.

Selecting a pistol should be based on objective criteria of what works for you. Don’t base it on a bunch of fanboys spewing marketing materials from the first and only pistols they ever really used.

The Double Action Pistol

So what does my dislike of Glock’s popularity have to do with my preference for double action pistols?

Maybe I’m just being a gun hipster and doing something different for the sake of being different. I do carry a CZ after all.

Isn’t that like double hipster points?

The reason I prefer to carry double action pistols comes down to two factors:

  • Safety: If the hammer is down, the pistol will not fire. I can observe and feel the state of the hammer during reholstering. I never felt unsafe holstering my FNS, especially since it has a manual safety, but I do enjoy the extra security given that I usually carry AIWB.
  • That sweet single action trigger: Once the pistol cycles after the first double action shot, the single action trigger is mighty fine

The biggest reason that people hate on double action/single action is the two different trigger pull weights.

The double in double action means that the hammer cocks as you pull the trigger. Completing the trigger pull releases the hammer to fire the pistol. One action to cock the hammer, one to release it.

The extra spring tension you need to overcome for cocking the hammer adds to the weight of the trigger.

The action of the slide cycling cocks the hammer again. If the hammer is already cocked, then the trigger is in single action mode. This only releases the hammer and the pull weight is significantly lighter and crisper.

In most circumstances, the single action trigger is lighter and crisper than that of a striker fired pistol.

The complaint is that to effectively use the double action trigger, you must master both the heavier first shot and the lighter follow on shots. Sure, you can always cock the hammer manually with your thumb, but that’s an added extra step and movement in what could be a life threatening situation.

Bridging the Divide

This is where the marketing materials for Glock start to fly around. Why learn two different trigger pulls when you can learn one? 

Death to double action! It’s obsolete! All hail Glock!

If that’s your opinion, then have at it. I’m not going to change your mind.

If you genuinely want to improve your pistol marksmanship, though, read on.

I have two favorite sources to discuss this topic: Earnest Langdon and Pete Lessler. The reason I like them is that they both offer slightly different, but compatible points of view.

Earnest Langdon

Ernest Langdon holds the distinction of being the only person ever to win major IDPA national trophies shooting with Traditional Double Action, Striker-Fired, and Single-Action pistols. He’s an eleven-year combat veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and former Chief Instructor at the prestigious USMC High-Risk Personnel School.

He is also one of the biggest advocates for double action pistol designs. Earnest does a lot of consulting work with Beretta and is responsible for a lot of their designs. The famous Beretta 92 Elite II series, PX4 Compact Carry, and the new 92 Elite LTT all grew from partnerships with him.

Wilson Combat worked with Langdon while standing up its Beretta customization shop, which I still want to leverage some day.

In short, the guy knows double action.

Earnest wrote an article for titled Fear Not, The Double Action Shot!Here is an important excerpt:

The key to double action accuracy is keeping the trigger moving. Don’t try and stage the trigger to the point right before the hammer drops. This is a bad habit and will cause what is often called “Now Syndrome!” This is when the shooter stages or preps the trigger to the point right before it is going to break, then cleans up the sight picture so it is perfect and tries to make the shot break “NOW.” The “Now Syndrome” almost always causes the sights and the shot to move off the intended target. Keep the sights in your “aiming area” and keep the trigger moving. (Obviously, if the sights move way off or out of your aiming area, stop pulling the trigger) Try and think of the trigger pull as a “trigger stroke,” and pull through with one smooth stroke of the trigger.

Earnest Langdon, Fear Not, The Double Action Shot!Takeaways

Below are some videos about mastering the double action trigger pull.

  • Don’t try and  quickly “yank” through the double action
  • Avoid staging and then squeezing “right now”
  • Pull through in one continuous movement, being smooth about it
  • Use the first joint of the index finger to pull rather than the tip
Many people have never actually been taught to pull a double action trigger
  • After the transition to single action, many people are too aggressive on the trigger
  • Treat the double action and single action movements the same, not as different triggers
  • Train the brain by working the transition over and over again
Combine the movement of the gun, finding the sight, and pressing the trigger into one fluid motion rather than three separate steps
  • Double action allows a more aggressive movement of the trigger that isn’t possible with striker or single action only pistols
  • The draw and presentation has different speeds, avoid aggressively snapping the pistol out in front

Pete Lessler

Pete is the author of the excellent Gun Digest Shooter’s Guide to Handgun Marksmanship. He’s also an expert graduate of Gunsite, having trained with Jeff Cooper himself. Pete is an avid outdoorsman, hunter, and competitive shooter with an emphasis on practical shooting.

In his book, Pete actually gives somewhat contrary advice to that of Earnest Langdon. He advocates both the long smooth pull or the staged technique, situation dependent.

…There are two ways to deal with the pull. You can have either a long, steady, continuous pull until the hammer drops, or it can be a “staged” pull. The staged pull brings the finger about three-quarters of the way back, or to the point just before the hammer is released. There the finger pauses for an instant, while the shooter steadies the gun and verifies the sight picture. At this point, the small remaining part of the pull is applied, which has minimal effect on the sight picture. With a great deal of practice, staging can be done at a speed almost as fast as that with a straight-through pull.

Pete LesslerYou could look at these two viewpoints and wonder how to bridge the divide. Especially on the question of staging the double action trigger.

I don’t think they are that far apart, though. When I first pointed out this difference, Pete had this to say:

The staged pull is a way of turning a double action trigger-cocking pull into a nearly single action pull. The “Now Syndrome” that he describes implies to me, a jerk or flinch of the trigger when executing the second half (after the hesitation) of the pull, due to a mentally forced timing issue which applies equally to any short crisp pull, whether a staged trigger-cocking pull, a single action pull, a rifle trigger, etc. Bad trigger management is the issue here, not anything solely exclusive to staging a double-action trigger-cocking movement.

The compressed surprise break cures all of the above, including the “Now Syndrome” of staging a trigger-cocking pull. The hesitation in the staging puts you into start-the-pull-from-scratch mental and physical mode, which is

Avoiding the Flinch

The common thread from both Earnest and Pete is avoiding flinching.

What is the flinch? I’ll let Pete answer that.

The single greatest impediment to fast and accurate shooting, in my opinion, is the anticipation of and premature reaction to recoil. This is known as a “flinching.” This happens when, as soon as we press on the trigger to discharge the shot, our subconscious mind, anticipating the recoil to come, starts our hand dipping downward to counteract it. Our subconscious knows that the recoil impulse arrives pursuant to the press of the finger. The result is that the shot goes low. If the whole hand clenches convulsively at the same time, the shot will often go to the side, as well, usually left for a right-hander.

Pete LesslerHow do you avoid flinching? You need to practice. 

A great method for breaking yourself of the flinch is the ball and dummy drill. Have a friend randomly insert a snap cap or dummy round into a live magazine at the range. If you are anticipating recoil and flinch, the movement is glaringly obvious when you have a dummy round in the chamber.

Talking about flinching is a discussion for another day.

Double Action Experiment

This is all great in theory, but what about actually squeezing the trigger? It’s more valuable for me to show you what can be done with even just a bit of practice.

I attached my MantisX to a few pistols in my collection for this experiment. I wanted to see if I could find a difference in performance between the different trigger styles. As a baseline, I used my FNS-9 striker fired pistol and dry fired 10 shots from the low ready.

For double action/single action, I attached it both to my Beretta 92A1 and CZ P07. For each of these, I fired 10 shots single action, 10 shots double action with a single smooth squeeze, and 10 shots with staging the trigger shortly before the break.

The MantisX Trainer

Trace data from MantisX. The blue line represents the hold. Yellow is the trigger pull. Red is the shot break and recoil. This shot was during dry fire, so there isn’t recoil to speak of.

If you’re not familiar with the MantisX, let’s get you up to speed.

The MantisX is a small device that attaches to a Picatinny rail. For my pistols, I mount it just forward of the trigger guard where I would put a weapon light.

It has a series of accelerometers that measure the movement of the pistol before, during, and after a trigger pull. It records a trace and predicts how accurate that shot would have been. 

After each shot, the MantisX reports the score, shows the trace, and gives you advice on what you might have done wrong. It’s a handy little gadget for providing feedback when you can’t make it to the range on a regular basis.

They are available on Amazon.

Pistol 1: FNS-9 Baseline

The Marksman's FNS-9, striker fired pistol
My FNS-9, purchases when they first hit the market as a “gift for my wife.”

I purchased the FNS-9 in 2012. It has around 5,000 malfunction-free rounds through it and the trigger pull is around 5.75 lbs. I’ve used it in several matches, and it was my primary carry gun when I first got my carry license.

I haven’t practiced with it in a while, though.

MantisX score sheet after 10 dry fire shots with the FNS-9
The average score after 10 dry fire shots with the FNS-9. The trace records are in the 10 lower squares. In all honesty, I feel like I actually did better than the score indicated. My guess is that the very light weight of the FNS mixed with a 6 lb trigger made for a bit more “tremor” than I have with a heavier pistol.

Pistol 2: The Beretta 92A1

The marksman's Beretta 92A1 used for the double action test
My Beretta 92A1, old faithful.

I’ve had my Beretta since 2010. It has somewhere around 12,000 rounds through it with zero malfunctions of any kind and an untold number of dry fires.

I competed with this pistol for several years. The double action trigger pull comes in around 8 lbs and the single action is about 4 lbs. The double action trigger weight is lower than stock since I installed a ‘D’ spring.

Here is the score breakdown.

For not having fired this pistol in at least a year and a half, I was happy with the scores. Several of my shots were in the 96-98 point range, which is great.

The first photo is firing single action only. I cocked the hammer before each shot to produce a baseline for the Beretta. The second photo is following an Earnest Langdon style single movement pull. The third photo is with a half squeeze to stage the trigger followed by a final break when my sights were settled.

The scores speak for themselves, really. 

Pete Lessler’s staging method clearly offers an accuracy advantage, but it comes at the price of speed.

You should know that I adjusted my grip for double action shooting. I normally squeeze triggers with the middle of my fingertip. For double action, I hooked it into the final joint of the index finger.

Pistol 3: The CZ P-07

The Marksman's CZ P07 used for the double action test
The CZ P07

My CZ is the most recently purchased of the pistols in this test. I bought it in March of 2018, and it has about 500 rounds through it. I’ve done zero work to this pistol, so it is pretty close to bone stock.

Factory specification on trigger pull is 7 lbs for double action and 3.5 lbs on the single action. That said, the numbers on the internet are all over the place, ranging from 6.5 to 10 lbs for the double action. To my best guess, it feels about the same as my Beretta.

I was surprised by the single action score since it’s the highest of the test. Go CZ!

But you probably noticed a significant drop in performance when it came to the double action modes.

I wouldn’t read too much into the lower double action numbers. This really just tells me that I need more practice. With only 200 rounds through the CZ, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I don’t do as well with it as I do the Beretta.

If anything, this shows you the value of practice.

If you’re wondering, the red lines on the target score indicate the direction the muzzle moved while firing. It appears that I have a tendency to pull the pistol up and to the right slightly during the smooth trigger squeeze. This might be due to my hooking the trigger in the joint of the knuckle.

Wrapping Up

So what is the big takeaway from all of this?

As the numbers show, being good with double action is about practice. I have about equal performance with both the FNS-9 and the Beretta 92A1, despite the trigger differences.

The kind of people who throw a fit about the different trigger weights are being lazy and don’t want to practice.

I’m not telling you that double action is absolutely the way you should be going. On the contrary, I’m saying that you should at least give it consideration and not rule it just because the internet says so. 

I realize the experiment I ran with the MantisX is far from conclusive, but it’s a start. It’s enough to at least make me question the accepted wisdom out there.

What’s your preferred configuration these days? Double Action/Single Action, Double Action Only, Single Action Only, or striker fired?

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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Ethan wilding
Ethan wilding

I can’t recommend Jerry and his instructors enough for DA/SA training. 229 edc

Marc McKibben
Marc McKibben

Matt, not sure if you’re aware of how off-putting your title is to someone who’s unfamiliar with you and the site. I googled something to the effect of “what’s with all of Beretta’s handguns having two triggers?” I’m sure you mean well but you “learning to shut up” and deal with it sort of implies the reader is ridiculous for even wanting to understand it. It’s whatever, and I’m not trying to be a sensitive smart-ass here, just thought you should know how your story is reaching people. I’d probably want it pointed out if I was in your shoes. Okay, now I’m actually going to read it, despite the risk of being ridiculed into submission for my stupid thoughts/questions. I’m kidding. Cheers bro.

Chris Jackson
Chris Jackson

I came up using DA/SA guns, my fathers P89 and later the M9 when I was in the army. I’ve since owned DAO, strikers, and SA. None is any better than the other, they all work if you work them, but after all these I’m going back to the DA/SA, I just shot better with them. I think DA/SA will always have a following even if its smaller.

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