How it Works: Single-Action vs. Double-Action

Ruger Super Redhawk .44 Magnum. (Author image.)

Whether you’re new to the world of handguns or a seasoned veteran you might have some questions about the different hammer-fired guns on the market. Before we delve into that, let’s do a quick refresher on how hammer-fired guns work in general.

Hammer-fired actions perform as the name suggests. When a hammer-fired semi-automatic gun is cocked a spring is compressed. As the trigger is pulled that spring moves the hammer, rotating it forward. When the hammer is propelled forward it strikes the firing pin which then strikes the cartridge’s primer, igniting it.

Revolvers are similar but have varied designs. Some manufacturers make their revolvers with firing pins located in the frame between the hammer and the uppermost chamber of the cylinder and others put the firing pin on the face of the hammer itself. Regardless of firing pin placement the end result is the same.

Odds are you’ve read through the specs on a gun and noticed there are different triggers available including single action (SA), double action (DA), double-action only (DAO), and a combination of the two (DA/SA).

Single-Action

Ruger New Vaquero Single-Action Revolver

Ruger New Vaquero single-action revolver

Single-action guns require the hammer to be cocked before the gun is fired; a single-action revolver requires the shooter to manually cock the hammer before the first shot can be fired and for each subsequent shot as well.

The single-action skeletonized trigger on a custom Republic Forge 1911. (Author image.)

Conversely, a 1911 needs only to have its hammer cocked once which can be accomplished by racking the slide. The semi-auto action of a 1911 then continues cocking the hammer automatically after each shot is fired until the gun is empty.

Double-Action

Nighthawk Custom Mongoose .357 Magnum. (author image)

Double-action guns have triggers that both cock the hammer and release it to fire the gun. Because the trigger is performing the work of cocking the hammer prior to getting down to the business releasing the hammer for firing, the trigger pulls on these guns are long. (Sometimes they’re incredibly long trigger pulls.)

Some guns, a well-known example being the Beretta 92, can be fired either single action or double action, giving the shooter options. Others can only be fired one way or the other.

Vintage Colt Python Revolver

Colt Python courtesy NRA News and Logan Metesh

Perhaps the nicest double-action trigger I’ve run was on a Colt Python. The Colt Python is a masterpiece in and of itself – if you aren’t familiar with them you’re missing out – and they are hard to come by. The particular Python I shot had trigger work done by Grant Cunningham, a man with amazing gunsmithing skills.

Learning to master firing a double-action trigger can take time but is well worth the effort. Trigger control is a skill all handgunners should master and your skills should reach beyond the trigger of your personal gun.

A custom Cabot from the collection of Tom Walls. (Author image.)

I admit I have a love of good 1911 triggers. There’s just something about a beautifully put-together 1911 with a smooth, crisp trigger and a short reset. But I don’t spend all my time running single-action triggers whether on 1911s or revolvers; there are some fantastic double-action guns out there (such as my newest .44 Magnum double-action revolver for hunting). Broaden your horizons by learning to run a variety of guns. It’s both fun and an important skill to hone.

Now, if you’re wondering about striker-fired GLOCKs, that’s a story for another piece.

comments

  1. avatar MilitantCentrist says:

    Wow, that is one striking looking Cabot.

    1. avatar Leighton Cavendish says:

      Prepare to pony up thousands for one like that…

    2. avatar JasonM says:

      But why is it in the double action section? Or is the article just really poorly organized?

      1. avatar Kat Ainsworth says:

        Could be because I mentioned loving a good 1911 trigger right under the picture…

  2. avatar GS650G says:

    I see my super redhawk up there. An excellent trigger and a helluva deer gun.

  3. avatar Hoyden says:

    Or Double Action on a SA. Hold (or wire) the trigger fully back, DA with the hammer.

  4. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    I like hammers. I prefer SA/DA semi-autos and revolvers. I’ve had a couple strikers and I just don’t see the point other than to stash one in a toolbox or something just in case the SHTF or something. I really like my GP 100s and appreciate the DA trigger for self defense, but my Vaquero and Blackhawk sure are purdy and I highly doubt it would make a difference in a self defense situation. I figure DA is fine inside 15 yards, where almost all DGUs occur, but if I need a longer shot that SA trigger is pretty handy.

  5. avatar el Possum Guapo Standartenfuher " they think we're making pizza's Oberst von Burn says:

    It’s not as fun playing with a double action revolver as it is playing with a single action revolver. I’ve got all the pistol twirling of Johnny Ringo ( Tombstone) down except the sideways spin. I keep slinging the pistol across the room.

  6. I’m looking forward to your article on striker fired Glocks etc. Why do you thing some people prefer one kind over the other? (I like reading everyone’s opinions.)

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