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Release Triggers

Release Triggers by Derek Partridge

An Allen Timney release trigger for the Remington 1100. It works like a charm and is cleverly “uncocked” by just pushing a button he installs.

Release triggers are enjoying a constantly growing popularity, so we’ll examine the reasons for their use and present some expert views on their technical requirements.

The release trigger was originally designed in America to overcome a tendency among some trapshooters to flinch when pulling the trigger. Flinching seems to be virtually unknown among bunker shooters in the rest of the world, so it seems flinching is in some way peculiar to American trapshooting. Release trigger specialist Allen Timney of Cerritos, California, defines the reasons for flinching as, “…the combination of recoil, noise of the gun and perhaps the gun not fitting properly and kicking the shooter in the face.” While I don’t totally disagree, it must be pointed out International trapshooters used to shoot far heavier 3-3/4-drams, 1-1/4 oz. loads and still frequently fire two shots at bunker targets as opposed to trapshooting’s single shot, 1-1/8 oz. load and various lighter loads. I agree more when it comes to gun fit, for many American shooters are obliged to make do with standard factory guns, while European shooters have always been more inclined to have guns fitted to them.

Another reason for the difference is ATA targets travel at about half the speed of bunker targets (around 100 mph) and, consequently, are shot about twice as slowly. The bunker shooter usually gets off his first shot between 5/10 and 8/10 of a second, whereas a trapshooter takes around 9/10 to 12/10 seconds. This means while the fast shooter is firing mostly instinctively, the slower shooter is firing deliberately. The combination of deliberation, conscious aiming and the time taken for them gives the trapshooter’s mind time to consider that his gun is about to go off, make a lot of noise and possibly thump him in the shoulder and/or face. For the bunker shooter, it all happens too fast to have time to think about it. When such a thought does enter the trapshooter’s mind, his brain sends a message countermanding the “pull the trigger” instruction, effectively freezing the finger’s imminent action…the “flinch.”

Release trigger specialist Allen Timney of Cerritos, California, defines the reasons for flinching as, “…the combination of recoil, noise of the gun and perhaps the gun not fitting properly and kicking the shooter in the face.”

Why does the release trigger resolve this problem? Here I am venturing into pure theory and can only suggest possible answers. The pulling action is a muscular contraction which causes a certain degree of tension. Anxiety about the results of pulling the trigger causes further tension – tension of a more powerful nature than the trigger-pulling tension. The greater tension (particularly being caused by fear) outweighs and stops the lesser, meaning you don’t pull the trigger. On the other hand, releasing is a muscular relaxation and is far more easily executed than pulling. Such relaxation possibly contains a relief factor, too, further facilitating the job of firing the gun via the release method. Because the releasing action is faster muscularly, this would also make it harder for the brain to countermand a “release the trigger” instruction.

Whatever the reasons for flinching, use of the release trigger to overcome it is valid. Most bunker shooters have no flinching problems. However, when the American military bunker shooting teams were at their peak, almost all the USAF team shot release triggers and many of the Army team wanted to. At the time, their C.O. wasn’t convinced of the advantages, but later he started using one! These men were top flight shooters who shot every day, training for International bunker competition. They had access to every available system in the field of shooting and the time and facilities to experiment with them. It is significant many choose the release trigger and credited it for marked improvements in their performance. In some cases, the release trigger took them into the “superstar” category. Shooters such as Tom Garrigus, who in his first-ever International level competition, won the Silver Medal at the Mexico Olympics with 196/200 and Terry Howard who blasted the awesome unofficial World Record of 299/300. Ken Jones, who won the World Championship in 1966 with the official World Record score of 297/300, also subsequently turned to the release trigger.

They turned to release triggers not to avoid flinching, but because they believed the triggers were an advantage in good shooting. They had me conduct a simple but dramatically effective experiment. With a snap cap in my gun, I called for a target and pulled the trigger as if for a normal shot. It was impossible not to notice how the barrels flipped downwards as I jerked the gun on firing by pulling the trigger. Other people did exactly the same. Then we tried the same operation with a release trigger. The barrels remained perfectly stable and continued their swing through the target without the “dip”. Former U.S. Army bunker shooter, World Champion and Olympic Bronze Medalist Dan Carlisle adds that when releasing a trigger the finger follows the same direction as the target, rather than moving in exactly the opposite direction… a plus in gun handling.

They turned to release triggers not to avoid flinching, but because they believed the triggers were an advantage in good shooting.

So, it was smoother. Why? Because it is difficult to make a sudden muscular contraction without jerking the object held. Add the undeniable stress of competitive shooting and there’s a lot of tension going into that “pull”. On the other hand, to release a trigger is merely a muscular relaxation. As such, it’s an easier function for the body, it’s faster and involves the use of less muscles – the seats of tension. Take any game where a ball is struck or thrown – all are releases rather than contractions of muscles. The nearest sport to shooting, archery, is also a release of already contracted muscles – a release of tension instead of its creation. Is there a message there?

Want other benefits? A release trigger can aid concentration at the vital moment of calling for the target. In cold weather, when your frozen finger is insensitive to the feel of the trigger, the release trigger has no problem and you can also wear warm gloves for comfort. You just pull back until you hear the setting click, then relax the finger muscles to fire.

If you’re going to try one, it’s a good idea to do some dry firing first. This way you get the feel of it without embarrassing yourself by inadvertently letting off a couple of shots at the trap house. That brings us to the consideration of safety. Although a release trigger will occasionally be let off inadvertently, I have seen many conventional guns also let off unintentionally. If shooters follow the most basic safety requirement of always pointing the gun in a safe direction, there is no more problem with a release trigger than with a normal one.

Release Triggers by Derek Partridge

The Ljutic release trigger is “factory” built and just slips into the receiver. It’s extremely rugged and dependable.

The functioning of a release trigger is generally very simple and a typical example can be seen in the accompanying pictures. When the trigger is pulled, the sear drops out of the bent in the normal manner, but the hammer is then detained by a form of detent hook engaging a platform cut into the hammer. When pressure on the trigger is released, the detent slides off the hammer which then strikes the firing pin in the usual way.

On the over & under, many shooters have a release on the bottom barrel and a standard pull on top. For doubles, though, some people shoot a double release system – setting the top release trigger during the swing from the first target to the second. On an automatic or pump, once converted the system is release only either for singles or doubles. If your release trigger is set and you don’t want to fire – because of a broken target or slow pull – there is no problem to unsetting it. On an over & under or single, keep the pulling (setting) pressure on the trigger and, while holding the gun back into the shoulder, reach over with your left hand and break open the action. It may seem difficult at first, but it soon becomes second nature. With an automatic you can open the action, but it is easier to have a disconnector fitted. Pump gun users merely open the action with the normal slide release.

The release system is primarily applicable to trap (and bunker), with a few shooters using the double release system for doubles. Some skeet shooters have adopted it and, to my amazement, I even know an International skeet shooter whose scores improved greatly after turning to the release despite the fact the gun must be brought into the shoulder from the hip! It is neither practical nor safe to use for hunting.

Al Timney adds the following comments. Many non-flinching, long-yardage shooters favor the release as they say it gives them a faster, smoother swing than a pull trigger. Al feels many shooters are over concerned with the speed of their releases, generally wanting them very fast. The type and speed of release varies with the type of gun. There is an area for adjustment of the release speed, but it takes a very experienced release shooter to know what’s right for his particular gun and style of shooting.

The release system is primarily applicable to trap (and bunker), with a few shooters using the double release system for doubles.

For many years the release was considered an “old man’s” system, but more and more shooters, regardless of the age, are taking to them. Al has found many women have trouble using the release, but he’s not sure why. In common with the other experts in this specialized field, he stresses how important it is for anyone wanting to convert to a release system to take his gun to a gun to a gunsmith specifically qualified to undertake this delicate work. Some models feature release adjustment with an eccentric cam screw and there’s even a special one for Model 12 Winchesters which incorporates both pull and release systems depending on which way you push the safety.

“Mac” McDaniel of Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, was once entrusted by Ithaca Gun Company with the conversion of all release trigger mechanisms on their imported Perazzi guns. His 29 years of gunsmithing also included experience in tool, die, instrument and even watchmaking, along with laboratory research into metallurgy. He feels the release trigger, properly fitted and tuned to gun and shooter, can be of considerable help to the competitive shooter. Like Al Timney, he has come across many so poorly designed and fitted they are more hindrance than help. He says all parts should be made for good steel suitable for heat treatment, wear resistant and maintaining original dimensions. This allows the shooter to develop his own technique, with a certain “feel”, without fear his release will change from wear or springiness. Also, the trigger should not bind through the raised temperatures of constant firing which would give the shooter more unwanted variables.

For general use, “Mac” suggest a “set” (equivalent to the pull poundage on a normal pull trigger) of 40 to 50 ounces and “release” of 10 ounces. To slow the mechanism, he advocated a longer hook engagement with considerably more setting power. He is not in favor of screw adjustments, as he feels they are prone to vibrating loose with prolonged firing.

Release Triggers by Derek Partridge

(Above) Bruce Bowen release trigger (with some extra metal welded on top of the release hook) on a Perazzi flat or V spring assembly in the unset position. (Below) As above, in the set position. Under normal flrlng conditions the release hook would be further forward on the hammer platform; this position was due to it being artiflcially held in place for photographic purposes.

Release Triggers by Derek Partridge

After having had many different release triggers built for me that were either too fast, too slow or merely inconsistent, Bruce Bowen of Custom Shooting Products, Omaha, Nebraska, finally built a robust release trigger I like (see photo). I ended up with the trigger setting at 3-3/4 lbs. and releasing at 3/4 lbs. All American trapshooter Frank Hoppe also has a Bowen release trigger, but his set at 2-3/4 lbs. and release at 1-1/2 lbs. and, therefore, is faster than mine. Some people contend the speed of the release trigger is calculated by the difference between the set and release figures, and they also claim the set is quite critical. They say if the set figure is very light, e.g. 2-1/2 lbs., it requires very little pressure to hold it and the resultant release will be very fast. The other side of this is if the set poundage is very heavy, requiring more muscular effort to hold it, it will take longer to release, thus assuring a slower release. One danger of having too heavy a set is – believe it or not – a shooter can develop a release flinch. Once again fearing the impending discharge of the gun, he does not sufficiently relax his finger on the hard-set trigger and no bang!

Another school of thought says only the release poundage matters. Either way, the higher the release poundage figure, the faster the release will tend to be, while the lower this figure, the slower the release will be.

How do you measure the set and release poundages? Preferably with the type of trigger pull gauge with a sliding ring which records the poundage at which trigger sets (or the poundage of a normal pull trigger). Once you’ve heard and felt the click of the trigger setting, you then very slowly relax pressure on the trigger, which is now holding the hook in place. The hook will start to slide off the platform and, if you are carefully eyeball the trigger gauge pointer, you’ll see it indicate the poundage at the point the hammer flies forward.

For your interest, here are some of the well-known All-American trapshooters using release triggers and who makes them: Frank Hoppe, single and double release by Bruce Bowen; Frank Little, Guy Daniels release; Joe Ljutic, his own release (surprise!) and release/pull for doubles; Kay Ohye, double release by Tony DeSimone; Gene Sears, a Tom Seitz designed release; Phil Shirk, Herb Orre release; Betty Johnson, single release by Bruce Bowen and double release by “Mac” McDaniel.

Release Triggers by Derek Partridge

Pachmayr-bullt release trigger on coil-spring Perazzi trigger group showing, after trigger has been pulled and release trigger is in “set” position: a) sear disengaged from bent; b) t-bar jointly under the “lifter portions” at the back of the sear and the release hook; c) the release hook place on the “platform” specially cut into the back of the hammer.

If you already own a release trigger or a considering getting one, you should know as much about it as possible, but it is inadvisable to try to work on it yourself unless you happen to be specifically qualified to undertake such delicate and skilled work. Experts in this highly specialized field do not consider release triggers suitable for home repair work, as their structure and tolerances are more intricate, sensitive and critical than standard trigger mechanisms. Basically, they agree with Jack Farrar, who used to be responsible for the high-quality workmanship coming out of Pachmayr’s renowned Los Angeles gun works. Jack says, “Personally I feel there is very little a home gunsmith can do toward servicing a release trigger beyond an occasional thorough cleaning of the entire trigger assembly in a good grade solvent, followed by a light oiling. (Never use grease.) To some extent, this is because there are parts used in release mechanisms which are finished from investment castings, while others are made from solid tool steel. Some areas of the frames have to be heliarc-welded and reshaped to provide stops for the release hooks.” The other reason is explained by his closing comment, “All the final fitting and assembly is a high precision job and must be done by a very competent gunsmith.”

I want to stress another safety consideration. At most gun clubs there are often many identical, mass-produced guns and there is the danger a shooter may pick up someone else’s gun fitted with a release trigger. When it fails to fire as the unsuspecting shooter pulls the trigger, the gun is likely to go off as he lowers it from his shoulder to see what went wrong. The gun could then give him a nasty kick in his chest, waist or groin. For this reason, I think it is imperative for all release trigger makers and converters to mark every gun fitted with a release trigger with a universally agreed-upon, tastefully designed sticker incorporating a red lightning bolt and the words “Release Trigger”. To emphasize this vitally important point, the situation described above once happened at a hand-thrown pigeon shoot with fatal results to the thrower.

If you decide to try a release because you flinch or because, like me, you feel it will be advantageous to your shooting, make sure it is fitted by a proven, highly competent specialist and, unless you are exceptionally skilled yourself, let the same man do any tuning or subsequent alterations to it.


This article was written by Derek Partridge and originally published in Shotgun Sports, June 1989 issue. Republished with permission.