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How Much Does Trigger Overtravel Matter?

Reset Your Preconceptions

Illustrations by Sara Westman

There are a number of products on the market designed to change the characteristics of polymer framed, striker-fired handgun triggers by reducing overtravel. Some firearms have overtravel reduction mechanisms built into the trigger (or the trigger guard, like the Beretta APX), and many accept drop-in components that purport to make the user a faster, more accurate shooter by reducing trigger travel.

While many of these products are marketed toward competition shooters, there are several that are frighteningly popular among defensively focused shooters. The very existence of overtravel reduction means that a sizable portion of the handgun shooting population believes that reduced overtravel widgets are worth spending money on; the truth is that they’re bullshit.

First things first; I’m not talking about your triple stack 3011 ultra-comp space blaster with an insanely light trigger that only moves 1/64th of an inch (you know who you are). I’m talking about modern, polymer-framed handguns for defensive applications fired via strikers/spring-loaded firing pins and have inherently longer trigger travel due to internal safety features that intentionally loose tolerances. Several of these handguns also have practical limitations on trigger press weight due to concerns such as reliable primer ignition — this is important to note as it’s relevant later on in this discussion.

Let’s start by defining our key terms, so that we can argue more accurately about this on the Internet tonight:

Overtravel is the characteristic of a trigger to continue its rearward motion after the sear releases the hammer/firing pin/striker.

Overtravel reduction is the attempt to eliminate post-release movement of the trigger, through a variety of components and/or assemblies.

Trigger reset (aka reset) is the distance the trigger moves forward in order to reset the sear or trigger bar, at which point a subsequent shot can be fired.


Caveat Emptor
“Bruh,” they say, “Maybe you say overtravel reduction is dumb, but I like it, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy.” They say the ultimate shooting cop out, “Well my [widget/universal nylon holster/Israeli carry .22 derringer/fill in the blank] works for me.” Let me give you some reliability and safety reasons so that I can say I told you so when you ignore me.

As overtravel is reduced, we get closer to the theoretical limit of a trigger’s reliability. Most of the commonly available polymer pistols are designed with loose tolerances within the frame, with very few truly critical dimensions. They’re made this way to be reliable and inexpensive to produce, and there’s not a damn thing wrong with that; it’s good business.

That being said, reducing overtravel is, by its very nature, an exercise in precision, applied to firearms that are imprecise by design. The closer we take a trigger to zero overtravel, the closer we get to not releasing the firing pin and to preventing reset. These are simply the facts, and that’s why aftermarket overtravel reduction mechanisms require fitting or adjustment to the firearm; the loose tolerances and variations from gun to gun (even from the same production batch from the same manufacturer) demand it (See Figure 1 and Figure 3).

Without “proper” fitment the firearm may fail to fire altogether, an obvious reliability issue — but wait, there’s more! Serious safety issues can arise from these ill-advised attempts to eliminate overtravel. A common example is found in overtravel reduction products for Glock handguns. Nearly all of the overtravel reduction systems in Glocks can contribute to uncontrollable, unpredictable, fully automatic fire. Ask me how I know.

This type of malfunction occurs because overtravel can be reduced to the point of preventing the trigger mechanism from properly resetting (See Figure 2). This results in the trigger bar catching the firing pin engagement surface just enough to load the firing pin spring, but not enough to hold it to the rear, as it normally would.

Because the trigger bar is already positioned to the rear, the trigger, firing pin, and drop safeties are necessarily deactivated, and the partially cocked (but not properly engaged) firing pin slips off of the trigger bar’s engagement surface, causing the firearm to discharge as the slide moves into battery. The result is essentially a slam fire, or a series of them — a runaway handgun. It goes without saying, but this is an incredibly bad, super dangerous, and easily avoidable situation.

All of the above issues can be exacerbated by fouling, wear and tear, and environmental factors. Any or all of these can impede the movement of the trigger assembly, and reduced movement in a system designed to require a small amount of movement at a crucial point (trigger bar/sear disengagement) is a recipe for trouble. But hey, do what you want to do, just make sure you get it on video.

chris cerino fn pistol

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