Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Trigger: Heart of the Elk Rifle

More than twice the perfect hunt becomes the perfect learning experience. Deep snow and sub-zero temps force ruminants like deer and elk to keep warm in the only way they can—grazing. That recipe makes hunting easier. More snow, lower temps and more grazing makes simple work for the elk hunter.

An experienced guide takes advantage and moves the hunter into the edge of the herd. We kneel in the snow and wait for the last, the big bulls.

When the drags wander 50 yards away, you whisper, “The third one back is the best. He’s a good 6x6. Take your time. Relax. Place one shot in the front center of his shoulder.”

The guide peers through binoculars and waits to see the shot placement. Seconds drag as if hours. The guide sneaks a sideways glance and notices the hunter looking at the trigger on his rifle.

The guide slowly lowers his glasses, and in a slightly louder tone says, “What’s up?”

“I can’t pull the trigger,” the hunter replies.

”Is the safety on?”


The bulls trail out of sight. The guide motions to move, and leads the hunter on a one-mile forced march that ends with a small campfire. The winter wonderland is transformed into a gunsmith’s shop. The guide removes the barreled receiver with a Leatherman, and gently warms the receiver/trigger until accumulated oil and water flow out. The bolt is disassembled and given the same treatment. After reassembly, the rifle is dry-fired and the two return to the elk tracks at a speedier march.

The sun is up, temps have warmed and the elk have drifted across the river to the Game Preserve.

It’s not just “more than twice,” but usually more than once or twice per year. As rifles have become more technologically advanced, and hunters become less riflemen, the line of occurrence creates a crescendo.

Technologically, the older and simpler triggers found on Mausers, Springfields and Winchester Model 70s (not the “new” “Winchester Model 70s”) have been replaced by smoother, more adjustable and more complex triggers found on today’s rifles. The older triggers were more of a lever that forced (nearly) disengagement of the sear. The newer ones don’t act as directly on the sear.

A simpler-type trigger on a Winchester Model 70 short action (push-feed).

Simpler-type trigger on Springfield M1903A3.

More complex-type trigger on Remington 700. Note the two side plates that totally enclose the mechanism.

Additionally, the older style triggers are open, whereas the newer-style are enclosed in two metal plates. The metal plates discourage people from cleaning them. They also encourage moisture and frost, its sub-zero successor, to form.

Montana elk hunts experience severe swings in temperature and moisture levels. Hunting for bull elk can begin in bitter temperatures in the morning and end in near shirt-sleeves by 3 p.m. Dry Indian Summer can deteriorate into wind, snow and cold of elk hunting heaven. With little thought hunters may move their rifles from house to field, truck to field, or tent to field without thinking of the consequences. Think of you or your friends experience with eye glasses or binoculars that went from heat and moist to cold and dry. The same fogging happens to steel rifle parts, only the effects aren't as visible.

Those same hunters may not realize that oil that keeps mechanisms lubricated and rust-free in humid area quickly becomes sludge and ice when the mercury plummets.

If you are building or buying an elk hunting rifle, look for the older style mechanism, or at least know that the newer mechanisms will need more TLC. If you have a rifle with the newer style trigger, become a rifleman and take care of the mechanism correctly. (Maintenance link later)

Although an elk hunter isn’t a soldier, both live in difficult and changing weather conditions. In that respect it is important to remember the adage, “A soldier can take heat, cold, wet and dry, but a weapon needs constant TLC.”

For more info on trigger control go to:


hodgeman said...

Great article and spot on. I can tolerate a lot of faults in a rifle. A bad trigger isn't one of them.

Nice to see an article on how inclimate weather affects trigger mechanisms.

Dennis A Carroll said...

I would imagine since you live in Alaska you might know about inclimate weather.

hodgeman said...

It's not as bad as you'd think. Our dry air goes a long way to drying out actions. I've had more trouble with oil gumming up than ice.
Our seasons also tend to be earlier- late August and Sept. generally.