First up in a series of about eight AR-15 drop-in trigger reviews are the Elftmann Tactical ELF Match and 3-Gun triggers. I’ve been playing with these since early November and — spoiler alert — I like ’em a lot. That said, I have no way of testing out claims such as “incredibly fast lock time.” Actually, this may be changing as we’re working on borrowing a Dvorak TriggerScan to objectively compare all of these AR triggers back-to-back, so stay tuned. Regardless, the ELF triggers have a couple of features that set them apart from the pack . . .
Want to know what it feels like? The video above, complete with close-up trigger pulls, is your best bet.
Completely unique to Elftmann is the use of roller bearings in the trigger and hammer pivots:
This is supposed to result in smoother and faster operation. Again, I can’t measure whether it’s faster, but the trigger and hammer certainly do move smoothly.
Speaking of faster, “lock time” is the delay between the trigger breaking (the sear releasing the hammer) and the round igniting. A faster lock time generally means better accuracy. The concept becomes crystal clear if you imagine something like a flintlock rifle, where a meaningful delay exists between trigger break and projectile leaving the barrel (slow-mo footage). Even counting in milliseconds, it doesn’t take many of them to give you enough time to screw up a shot by moving the muzzle from “perfect” to “not so much” during the lock time delay.
Elftmann originally said that its 3-Gun trigger has the shortest AR-15 trigger lock time on the planet, but they’ve scaled it back to “incredibly fast lock time” until they can scientifically prove just how fast it is. They are quite confident, however, based on the fact that it has a particularly lightweight, skeletonized hammer, a full-power hammer spring, and the aforementioned roller bearings. Many or most aftermarket triggers use lighter hammer springs to reduce pull weight, so it makes sense that a full-power spring swinging a light hammer would be quick. If the TriggerScan loan pans out, we’ll actually be able to measure lock time accurately (as well as take-up, creep, overtravel, and pull weight).
That full power spring, whether with the skeletonized 3-Gun hammer or the solid Match hammer, should also ensure reliable primer ignition. I did shoot NATO-spec 5.56 as well as Russian steel stuff, both of which have hard primers, and had zero issues.
The ELF and the Wilson Combat (which I’m hoping to add to the mix) triggers are the only AR-15 triggers I know of with a half cock hammer notch:
This half cock notch is why Elftmann claims to be “100% Drop-Safe.” Should an impact to the firearm cause the sear to slip or otherwise release, the hammer will stop on the half cock notch or “drop safety” and will not strike the firing pin. This may let ELF get a little more aggressive on the height of the hammer hook in order to reduce creep without compromising ultimate safety.
Other features of the ELF 3-Gun and Match triggers include:
- Set screw adjustable trigger pull weight from ~2.5 lbs to ~4 lbs. Adjustable with the trigger installed.
- Set screws to tension the trigger unit inside of the receiver. This eliminates any wiggle and effectively turns standard pins into anti-rotate, anti-walk pins (although that isn’t an advertised benefit).
- Full 1/4″ width disconnector
- Trigger shoe, hammer, disconnector are wire EDM cut from hardened, A2 tool steel
- Body is anodized aluminum
- Easily swap between skeletonized or solid hammer, and/or curved or straight skeletonized triggers
I don’t really envision many folks actually switching back and forth, but you can if you want to. The precision of the wire EDM process means hammer hooks don’t have to be individually hand fit to sears, which makes hammers and trigger shoes interchangeable. Sure enough, I’ve swapped mine around a few times and couldn’t feel or measure any difference with any combo (I have two hammers and three trigger shoes).
Not gonna lie, I love a straight trigger shoe (or “blade” or “bow”). It’s almost always my aesthetic preference, and I like how they feel.
Elftmann’s anti-walk, anti-rotation pin kit is effective and simple. No screws to deal with and no tiny C-clips. On one end, the pins are ground to a half moon sort of a shape and the protective plate has matching holes, locking the orientation of the pins. A “master link” clicks into place on top of that plate and prevents the pins from backing out.
The wafer thin, rectangular metal plate seen in the photo above is optional and can be placed between the trigger unit and the lower receiver. It’s sort of a sacrificial piece so the set screws for tensioning the trigger unit don’t scratch or dent the receiver. Mostly a non-issue, but on a polymer receiver it’s strongly suggested.
On The Range
We’re now experts on the inner workings of the ELF, but how does it fare on the range? In a word, it’s flawless. In evaluating any trigger, we’re looking at the following fundamentals:
- Take-up, which is also referred to as pre-travel or slack. This is rearwards trigger movement prior to the trigger causing the sear to move. It could actually be intentional as in the case of a 2-stage trigger where that first stage is designed take-up, or it could be a necessary evil as in the case of a firing pin block that must be moved out of the way before the trigger can release the sear. On a single stage trigger, though, it’s undesirable. No slack and no play is the target, and the ELF hits the mark here. With the hammer cocked, pulling on the trigger feels like pulling on a wall. It’s simply rock solid without a hair of wiggle or movement at all, whatsoever.
- Creep. Measured in inches or millimeters, it’s how far the trigger has to travel from when the sear begins to slide off of the hammer/striker hook(s) to when the hammer/striker fires. This is affected by the amount of overlap between the sear and the hammer hook, the shape and angle of that overlap, and the trigger linkage geometry. The ideal creep measurement is zero. Again, the ELF nails it. Pull harder and harder on that motionless wall of a trigger until the break weight is met, and it breaks. There is no movement that I’m capable of feeling before the break.
- Break. This is when the sear “breaks” off of the hammer/sear hook(s) and the hammer/sear fires. The break on different triggers feels different. On some triggers, it’s an instantaneous and sudden release of all tension on the trigger blade. It’s a clean and total break. Imagine snapping a glass rod or a crisp candy cane. On other triggers, the trigger travel after the brake has resistance, grittiness, sponginess, etc. It can feel like more creep and, sure, creep and a bad break can blend together. The break can be vague and it can even happen at slightly different points in the trigger pull. This isn’t good, and makes consistent shooting more difficult. The ELF triggers have a clean, crisp break. If I must find one point where this trigger isn’t perfect, though, it’s here. Sometimes you can feel a decent pop or click as the sear slips off the hammer, and I like that feedback. The ELF’s break is a bit on the gentle side in that regard.
- Overtravel. This is the amount of trigger travel from the break to when the trigger stops as far rearwards as it can go. Like take-up, this is basically wasted motion and the ideal amount is no amount at all. This isn’t entirely practical, though, as reliability necessitates some fudge factor to ensure the trigger is capable of moving rearwards far enough to release the sear. Overtravel distance is an objective measurement, but there’s also a subjective aspect here, and that’s feel. At the rearmost point in a trigger’s travel it can be spongy or it can feel like it stopped up against a solid wall (and in some cases it actually does that, as it butts up against the trigger guard, frame, etc). The ELF has a bare minimum of overtravel and a hard stop at the end.
- Reset. Like overtravel, there is both an objective and a subjective aspect to trigger reset. Objective is, again, the distance measured in inches or millimeters for the trigger to go from its rearmost point of travel forwards to the point where it resets (“reset” being defined as the first point at which you could pull the trigger rearwards again and it would fire again). On the ELF triggers, reset means letting out that short overtravel and bringing the trigger the couple millimeters back to where it started. Measuring as best I can half way between the end of the flat trigger and the horizontal skeleton bar thing, it moves 2 millimeters if not less. The subjective part of a trigger’s reset is the feel and sound of it. Most shooters want a tactile reset — one that can easily be felt through the trigger finger while shooting — and an audible reset — one that can be heard, even while shooting. A tactile and audible reset says, “Halt! Reverse course.” It allows one to “ride the reset,” which means not moving one’s trigger finger farther forwards than necessary or even completely de-weighting the trigger if not necessary. This aids speed, accuracy, and consistency. The opposite of this would be “slapping the trigger,” which means lifting one’s trigger finger completely off of it and then coming back onto it for the next shot. A+ and two trigger fingers up for the ELF units here. They CLACK with authority.
- Pull Weight. This is the force in pounds needed to pull the trigger until it fires. It actually isn’t as important to me as the other fundamentals, but suffice it to say that a light trigger makes accuracy easier when shooting slowly and carefully. On the flip side, it’s a potential safety risk in certain scenarios. Adjustable pull weight isn’t often an option — I believe only one of the other drop-in triggers I can think of is adjustable — but all of Elftmann’s triggers provide an easy way to do this. The 3-Gun and Match triggers are adjustable from about 2.5 lbs to about 4 lbs, and the Service trigger is adjustable from 4 to 7 lbs.
It isn’t really fair to consider this a knock against the ELF, which is designed for a normal AR-15, but it’s worth mentioning that it isn’t likely to work properly with a ramped, 9mm bolt. Two different 9mm AR uppers had the same problem — the ramped bolt didn’t push the hammer down far enough for the trigger to reliably reset. I’ve seen the exact same issue with parts kit hammers that are notched (red arrows in this photo point to the difference), and I expect lots of other triggers would have this problem as well.
T’aint cheap, but the ELF trigger is pretty solid. It looks good and it’s a star on the fundamentals. Adjustable pull weight and set screws to remove any play in the receiver are nice features. A full power hammer spring should ensure reliable function, and I’ve had no issues with it suppressed or unsuppressed.
RATINGS (out of five stars, compared to other drop-in AR triggers):
Fundamentals * * * * *
ELF claims it’s as good as a custom 1911 trigger. It actually is. For a semi-automatic firearm, this is a five star trigger.
Features * * * * *
Pull weight adjustment, receiver tension set screws, multiple trigger shoe and hammer options, needle bearings, half cock notch. More features than any of the competitive drop-in triggers.
Price * *
MSRP of $259 for the Match (and Service) trigger and $279 for the 3-Gun trigger is in the premium segment. The star rating here is not “value,” it’s just price. There are a couple that are more expensive (Tac-Con, Timney skeletonized), but most of the ones I’m checking out are less expensive and these ratings are going to be relative to the other drop-in models tested.
Overall * * * * *
It looks real good and it works real good. (please direct all grammar corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org)