In this resource, we will cover the difference between Single Action and Double Action which we touched on briefly in other resources like Hammer vs Striker. As it pertains to Single Action and Double Action, these terms mostly fall into the world of hammer-fired firearms, though there are some exceptions to this rule. But for now, we’ll only concern ourselves with hammer-fired firearms.
An easy way to remember the difference between Single and Double Action is to remember that a Single Action trigger performs just a single action, dropping the hammer, which fires the round and a Double Action trigger performs two actions in one trigger pull: cocking the hammer and then releasing it.
It should be noted that in semi-automatic pistols the hammer is cocked by the recoiling slide and does not have to be manually cocked after the first shot.
We’ll begin with Single Action because this is where firearms got their start historically speaking. Using the technical definition of Single Action, black powder rifles and muskets that predate revolvers were single-action where the shooter had to manually pull the hammer back before pulling the trigger. So it’s easy to understand that in regards to revolvers, single-action means that one trigger pull equals one fired round, and that’s it. The shooter then has to cock the hammer to be able to fire the next round.
If you’ve seen any old western films that depict showdowns at high noon then you’ll recognize these revolvers as usually being single-action where the shooter had to pull the hammer back before firing each round. The benefit of a single-action firearm is that the trigger pull is both light and short. This allows you to squeeze the round off without having to exert much force through your hand which could affect your accuracy. Due to this benefit, many people find single-action triggers to be easier to shoot and a smoother experience. The downside is that if you are using a single-action revolver you will need to cock the hammer before every single shot.
Single Action semi-automatics are still the same as far as 1 trigger pull = 1 fired shot and needing to have the hammer manually pulled back before the first shot, but they differ from single-action revolvers in that the recoil from the fired round will cock the hammer for follow-up shots. This allows the shooter to remove the step of having to manually pull the hammer back before each shot which allows for subsequent shots to be put down range quicker than with a single action revolver. Due to the light trigger pull of single action, many people who have trouble with the heavier pull of double actions find these firearms much easier to shoot because the trigger pulls don’t require them to exert their hands as much.
With double-action triggers, the difference between revolvers and semi-automatics become more apparent because of how follow up shots are handled.
A double-action revolver will have a trigger that both cocks the hammer and releases it in one pull and this will occur for every shot unless the hammer is pulled back manually before the shot. If the double action is used every time with the revolver, then the trigger will be uniform and the same pull length and weight with every shot. This allows the shooter to grow accustomed to the trigger quicker because it’s going to behave the same way every time it is pulled.
However, with most double-action semi-automatics, they are built to be DA/SA which is Double-Action to Single-Action. This means that the first round fired will be a double-action trigger pull, where the trigger both cocks the hammer and releases it in one pull, and then every follow-up shot will be single action. The way this works is that the firing of the round causes recoil which pushes the slide back, ejects the spent casing and chambers a new round. At the same time though, this recoil is resetting the hammer and arming it for the next shot, so the shooter does not have to cock the hammer manually or revert back to double-action trigger pulls again. This allows all shots from the 2nd onward to be shorter and lighter single-action pulls.
There are some firearms that are DAO (Double Action Only) but you will not run across them all too often in the semi-automatic world. Just understand that any semi-auto that states it is DAO means that every trigger pull will be double action. That is, heavy and long because it is doing both actions as described above.
Like most things that are as varied and diverse as firearms, there really isn’t such a thing as “best” when discussing something like single action vs double action. It’s mostly up to personal preference since everyone is built differently. Much in the same way that someone incredibly tall might have trouble enjoying the drive inside a tiny car, there will be individuals who will not enjoy one action type over the other. On top of this, the action types will have a different feel and it’s up to you to determine what feels best in your hands so that you can practice correctly and efficiently with your firearm in order to become proficient. You don’t want to purchase something that you are having to change your routine or relearn a habit every time you venture to the range.
Some people find a DA/SA trigger to be difficult to acclimate to because that first shot always requires more force than all the other ones which can throw them off their initial shot. Others however enjoy having a DA/SA firearm because they like carrying a firearm that takes a more deliberate initial trigger pull so they are more confident carrying with a round in the chamber without having to have the hammer ‘locked and cocked’ at all times.
On the other hand, single-action can be good for if you’re practicing your accuracy and shot placement and want to make each individual shot a deliberate action that you have to ready before each shot. And as was stated before, a single-action trigger pull is much easier to manage and normally will allow for better accuracy because the hand is making less movement during the pull.
Overall, it’s always best practice to try out many different styles of firearms to determine which one fits best with your hands, style, and needs. You want to ensure that you are able to practice with your firearm in order to become comfortable and proficient with it – and to do that you have to both enjoy shooting it and feel confident operating it every time you take it out.
Stop by Triangle Shooting Academy today, and our team of firearm experts will be happy to assist you in choosing the correct firearm for your needs.