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Double Action Auto – The Long Pull

Double Action Auto — the Pros and Cons, Plus Tips on How to Better Shoot the Long-Pull Trigger!

Photos by Shin Tanaka

Nobody’s perfect! Before reading this article, take a moment and remember the time you accidentally dropped your phone, stubbed your toe on the wall that had to have moved, or made a mistake that you thought was right. Yes, you’re human — it happens. When it comes to handguns, the extra margin of safety in the traditional double action semi-automatic handgun (DA Auto) is driving its resurgence. Far from it being a handicap, many of the top Production division competitors are using double action/single action (DA/SA) handguns in national and world practical competition, against guys running the latest striker-fired handguns. Is that pure coincidence? I don’t think so.

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With a clear division between striker-fired handguns and double action autos, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of a DA system and some the of the reasons I’ve chosen to stick with a DA Auto. Then we’ll discuss ways to master that long pull trigger, and what to look for in a DA pistol.

The Cons

Common reasons people choose not to use the DA auto include:

“I don’t want to train to use two trigger pulls.” You have to make it a point to focus on training for that first double action trigger pull, but it’s by no means an insurmountable task.

“The long first trigger pull is too difficult for an accurate first shot.” No, the long first trigger pull isn’t too difficult to achieve an accurate first shot; with correct training and technique it can become second nature. The first pull is longer, which requires the shooter to stay focused on aiming the gun and the intent of the first shot. Not only does this decrease the odds of anticipating the first shot, but it often results in better accuracy than a single action pull.

“It’s hard to train people to de-cock before holstering. We don’t want them holstering with the hammer back.” Let’s take a step back here. So we believe we can train people to always keep their finger straight and outside the trigger guard unless they’re ready to shoot, but supposedly teaching them to de-cock is too difficult? Most trainers believe that carbines and 1911s should be put back on safe if you’re not actively engaging, and we train to that standard all the time. This same standard should be applied to your manual of arms training for a DA Auto. The truth is that holstering a DA Auto with its hammer back isn’t much different than holstering many striker-fired guns on the market. Look closely at the inner workings of many striker-fired pistols and you’ll see that most of the newer, most popular striker-fired guns have a fully cocked striker, essentially making it a single action gun with no external safety apart from the one in the trigger face. You know, the one that gets disengaged if you shove it in a holster with a bit of your shirt in there ….

Langdon training a group of civilians and law enforcement personnel at a class hosted by Performance Firearms Training.

Langdon training a group of civilians and law enforcement personnel at a class hosted by Performance Firearms Training.

The Pros

Confidence under extreme stress. Let’s face it — the first shot is the one that usually gets people in trouble. I’ve traveled the world, training shooters with varying skill levels. I still have to tell people all the time, “Keep your finger straight!” Even the elite and most well trained shooters often need this reminder. Most of the guys I work with consider themselves to be well-trained, yet when I say “finger straight at the ready,” they have to look down at their own hand to realize I’m talking to them. In structured force-on-force training, it’s alarming to see the number of people who put their finger on the trigger when they get scared and amped up. Under extreme stress, people resort to putting their finger on the trigger when they shouldn’t, and the phenomenon of “finger checking” is well documented. The distance of the trigger travel is what helps keep people out of trouble with a DA gun.

A sexy example of a full custom Wilson Combat Beretta 92A1 build. Features a shortened barrel with recessed crown, carry bevel, and ARMOR-TUFF finish.

A sexy example of a full custom Wilson Combat Beretta 92A1 build. Features a shortened barrel with recessed crown, carry bevel, and ARMOR-TUFF finish.

Aggressive to the trigger, with confidence! The first shot with a DA handgun has an advantage for most practical, real world shooters. Once the decision has been made to shoot, a shooter can be really aggressive to the trigger and start pulling it much earlier in the presentation to the target than would be possible with a single-action or striker-fired gun. For me, the biggest difference is that I have confidence that the gun won’t fire before I’m ready. Real success with a DA gun comes from combining the presentation of the pistol, aiming the gun, and pulling the trigger at the same time. The last part of the presentation to the target combines aiming and pulling through the rest of the double action trigger pull. With a single action or striker-fired gun, I have to wait until the last millisecond of the presentation and aiming to start pulling the trigger. Getting on the trigger early on a striker-fired mechanism leads to bad things happening.

Wilson's G conversion makes the slide-mounted safety/decocker lever function like Beretta's G models — as a decocker only. Anyone who's unintentionally put their 92 on safe when manipulating the slide may appreciate this modification. Additionally, the single side Wilson lever dispenses with the ambidextrous lever on the right side.

Wilson’s G conversion makes the slide-mounted safety/decocker lever function like Beretta’s G models — as a decocker only. Anyone who’s unintentionally put their 92 on safe when manipulating the slide may appreciate this modification. Additionally, the single side Wilson lever dispenses with the ambidextrous lever on the right side.

Complete control of firing mechanism when holstering. For years, I’ve taught shooters to put their strong thumb on the hammer when holstering a DA Auto. This accomplishes two things:

  • You know and can feel that you’ve de-cocked the gun when you holster.
  • You have total control over the hammer and the firing mechanism.

If anything gets into the trigger guard, you’ll feel the hammer move long before the gun fires, allowing you the opportunity to stop and fix the problem before something bad happens. With the popularity of appendix carry, many people have switched back to double action handguns for this type of carry due to the added safety a hammer fired gun provides. I’ve personally been on the range when someone holstered a striker-fired gun with a shirt in the trigger guard, ending with a loud noise and a trip to the ER.

The front strap is hand checkered, with clearance for a SureFire DG pressure switch. Note the ultrathin Wilson Combat G10 grips, great for those who find the 92 too chunky.

The front strap is hand checkered, with clearance for a SureFire DG pressure switch. Note the ultrathin Wilson Combat G10 grips, great for those who find the 92 too chunky.

Better trigger pull after the first shot. One of the reasons that many people love the DA Auto is that after that first shot, you have a great single action trigger. The triggers on traditional DA/SA handguns have crisp, consistent trigger pulls each time in single action, while most striker-fired guns have a spongier, less consistent pull for every shot — the way they break isn’t as consistent pull after pull. A consistent trigger leads to faster and more accurate follow up shots no matter the shooter.

Training for Success With the Double-Action Shot

One of the first things to learn is trigger finger placement. The double action trigger pull often requires the shooter to put more trigger finger on or past the trigger than you would with a 1911-type single action. When learning to pull a double action trigger, try sticking more trigger finger in and past the trigger, providing more leverage for you to pull the trigger straight to the rear. Test this in dry fire, with the goal of the hammer falling with no movement of your sight picture at all.

The key is to pull through the double action trigger at a constant speed. It can be very fast, but it needs to be consistent. The trap that many DA Auto shooters fall into is trying to finish the DA pull by speeding up at the end. We start to pull the trigger smoothly and consistently, and then try to accelerate at the end of the pull to finish and get to the shot. For proper double-action trigger control, you want to focus on stroking the trigger. Keep a constant, consistent speed.

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Real success with a DA gun comes from combining the presentation of the pistol, aiming the gun, and pulling the trigger at the same time.

Real success with a DA gun comes from combining the presentation of the pistol, aiming the gun, and pulling the trigger at the same time.

What Do I Look for in a Double-Action Auto?

One of the key features in a DA Auto is where the trigger pull breaks. The point at which the trigger breaks in double action mode and single action mode should be as close as possible. This allows you to train your trigger finger to go back to the same spot to release the trigger and cause the gun to fire, whether in double action or single action. Some DA autos release the hammer in double action mode at a much earlier point in the trigger pull than in single action mode. This causes an excessive amount of overtravel in double action and makes the shooter hunt for the trigger prep point in single action. I believe this makes it much harder to learn to shoot well with such a handgun.

One reason Langdon favors the Beretta 92 is that the positions at which the trigger breaks in double action and single action modes are very close.

One reason Langdon favors the Beretta 92 is that the positions at which the trigger breaks in double action and single action modes are very close.

One of the reasons I’ve chosen to run the Beretta 92 platform is that I feel it has the best double action pull and the closest release points for both double action and single action trigger pulls. In his new book, Gun Guy, Bill Wilson, president and owner of Wilson Combat says, “If you look where the trigger is when the hammer falls on a Beretta, the trigger is in basically the same place double- and single-action. When you come back to the trigger for the second shot, the trigger is in the same place. You don’t have to search for it. That’s why you can transition from double to single so easily with a Beretta.” There are also many other great DA Autos out there in many different sizes, shapes, and calibers.

Give it a try

The reason the double action auto came into existence was to give users a more forgiving trigger option in a semi-auto pistol. Users, mainly law enforcement and the military, wanted the capacity and shootability of the single action auto with the safety of a revolver. I think those reasons still stand true today and the DA Auto is still a very safe and logical answer for many users. At the very least, it’s worth a try. It might even make you a better more, well-rounded pistol shooter by practicing on a DA auto, no matter what gun you ultimately choose.

About the Author

Ernest Langdon has 12 years active duty as a U.S. Marine and 19 years in the firearms industry. His duties in the Marine Corps include participation in military operations all over the world, including Panama, Cuba, Philippines, and the Persian Gulf. He served as the Chief Instructor of the Second Marine Division Scout Sniper School and the High Risk Personnel Course as well as the Platoon Sergeant of a Close Quarters Battle (CQB) and Designated Marksman (DM) teams and a Scout Sniper Platoon.

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Ernest is a graduate of 40 formal shooting schools and four anti-terrorism schools with instructor certifications from the FBI, NRA, US Army, US Marine Corps and is a California POST Certified Firearms Instructor. Langdon has accumulated over 1,500 hours of formal instruction on the use of firearms since 1985. He’s also a graduate of US Army Ranger School, Navy SCUBA School, US Army Airborne School, US Army HALO School, and both USMC Scout Sniper School and Scout Sniper Instructor School.

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