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Thread: General Thoughts on DA/SA Pistols

  1. #1
    We are diminished
    Join Date
    Feb 2011

    General Thoughts on DA/SA Pistols

    A few folks have asked me to talk about why I like DA/SA guns so much.

    First, I'm incredibly biased. The guy who took me to the firing range for the first time in my life was an Army officer, a Ranger, and a fan of the M9. When I first got serious about competition, I was using a Beretta 92FS Brigadier. For eight formative years of my shooting life I worked at Beretta USA and SIGARMS (now SIG-Sauer). With a few exceptions while I tried out various DAO or DAO-like systems, my career with both companies revolved soundly around DA/SA guns. I was paid to advocate them and spent a lot of time thinking about their benefits.

    The flip side of all that, off course, is that I have a reasonable amount of experience running DA/SA guns. I've shot literally hundreds of thousands of documented rounds through DA/SA guns of all shapes, sizes, and calibers. I was lucky enough to befriend (and be teamed with) some of the most talented and knowledgeable experts on the system like Ernest Langdon, Rob Haught, Dave Harrington, and Rich Verdi. And that, to me, is the key aspect in all of this. People who really understand the system appreciate its benefits. Many people -- including folks who purport to be experts, who've carried them on duty, or even teach on a nationally recognized level -- don't actually know how to run a DA/SA optimally.

    I've shot and carried, at various times and in order of experience: DA/SA, SFA, LEM, DAK, DAO and SAO pistols. Nothing in this set of posts is intended to suggest that I think the DA/SA is the only option or even universally the best option. My goal is simply to point out that it's a much better option than many people give credit.

  2. #2
    We are diminished
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Like any system, the DA/SA has pros and cons. Let's start with the cons, because they're far more popular on the internet.

    1. The DA pull is harder to shoot well compared to SFA/SAO/DAO/whatever. I cannot say that's wrong. All else being equal, having an 8-10# first pull is, from a pure performance standpoint, a disadvantage over having a 3-5# first shot. You can train to overcome it -- both IDPA and USPSA have had multiple national titles won with DA/SA guns -- but it does require proper training and as mentioned previously that training can be hard to find even among otherwise well known instructors.

    2. The "DA-to-SA transition" is harder to shoot well compared to SFA/SAO/DAO/whatever. Again, I cannot say that's wrong. In fact, in my experience it's actually the first SA shot, not the DA shot, that tends to be the most trouble for DA/SA shooters and especially for experienced DA/SA shooters. Again, it's not massive nor impossible to overcome, but even a small disadvantage that requires dedicated time to answer is still a disadvantage.

    3. Shooter needs to remember to decock. I almost hate to list this because I honestly believe it is 100% the fault of the instructor when it happens, but still in fairness it is a step that SFA/DAO guns do not need.

    Now for the pro's:

    1. Safety coming out of the holster. A DA/SA gun is always ready to fire as soon as the trigger is pulled with no need to disengage a safety (no need... that doesn't prevent some people from carrying safety-on or being mandated to carry that way). But by dint of a trigger pull that is both longer and heavier than most other actions, there is far more tactile feedback that the trigger is being pulled in between the start of inadvertent unintentional movement and the Big Loud Noise. We've lost sight of this as a community with the prevalence of ever lighter and shorter SFA triggers and candidly I doubt we'll see the pendulum swing back any time soon. Performance on the square range -- particularly by those folks who don't really know how to shoot a DA/SA well -- is real while responding to an unknown assailant in the dark is, for most folks, merely hypothetical. The shooting community always blames the operator for every accident and never considers the role that equipment plays in making some guns more or less likely to facilitate those accidents. So for the most part, I'm barking at the moon on this. I believe it's a huge benefit. When I say it aloud in front of the mirror, there are two of us.

    2. Safety going into the holster. While not unique to DA/SA guns, the benefit of having an exposed hammer that can be trapped and controlled during holstering is a significant and demonstrable safety advantage. This is undeniable. I've spent far too much time with far too many departments that have switched from DA/SA guns to SFA guns and seen first hand the result of people who holster too fast with their fingers too close to the trigger, or gear that gets inside the trigger guard, etc. Again, some will argue that it's a training issue and that mistakes are always 100% the operator, but I believe the redundant safety benefit of thumbing the hammer during holstering is huge.

    3. DA/SA guns are very shootable with proper instruction and training. As mentioned above, quite a few people have delivered tremendous success with DA/SA guns. While opponents like to harp on the long, heavy first shot they seem to forget about the long string of shorter, light followup shots. Let's compare an average Glock to a typical SIG. The Glock has ~5.5# trigger pull for each shot. The SIG shooter needs to work through a ~9# first shot... and then he's got ~4# trigger pulls until he decocks the gun. With some tuning, the DA pull will still be longer and heavier than the Glock (and thus safer imo) but the SA can easily come down to the 3# range. The first shot is harder, ok. But all the rest are easier.

    4. Shooting DA/SA guns trains you to shoot just about any trigger system. I consider this a minor benefit for anyone outside of the professional training realm, but the reality is that if you can master a DA/SA action and maintain your skill level with it, you can pick up just about anything else and shoot it well.
    Last edited by ToddG; 05-23-2012 at 12:33 AM.

  3. #3
    We are diminished
    Join Date
    Feb 2011

    Practice Tips for Running a DA/SA

    Above, I maligned some other instructors -- albeit anonymously -- for their lack of understanding when it comes to DA/SA pistols. I've experienced this first hand many times. Especially during my employment with Beretta and SIG, I had opportunity to attend quite a few training events where experienced and/or famous instructors regularly bad-mouthed the DA/SA system. For the most part, the single biggest common trait shared by those people was that they put all of their personal effort into shooting cocked & locked or striker-fired guns. Even the ones who carried DA/SA pistols on duty would regularly opt for Glocks or 1911s for their off-duty guns, their competitions guns, etc. In other words, they didn't put as much effort into mastering the DA/SA as someone who used one exclusively.

    One of my favorite stories involves Ernest Langdon, myself, and some other accomplished shooters attending a private 3-day pistol class from a well known instructor and competitive shooter. Every single student in the class was shooting either a Beretta or a SIG. The instructor, who favored 1911s and Glocks, began class by explaining how the DA/SA was impossible to shoot well and even went so far as to recommend shot-cocking the pistol on the draw, throwing the first (DA) shot into the dirt as fast as possible so as to get to the easier (SA) shots. Listening to the interchange between the instructor and Langdon for the next 30 minutes was one of the highlights of the class.

    Nonetheless, with the benefit of some DA/SA-specific training, it's fairly straightforward to master the gun as compared to SFA or other actions.

    Get confident with the DA shot. If you read that and thought "no duh!" then skip to the next section. But the single biggest problem I see is with people who put far too little effort into the DA part of the DA/SA combination. They load the pistol, keep it in SA mode, empty the magazine without ever decocking, and repeat... never once firing a DA shot. Try to shoot long range groups DA-only. Shoot doubles (first shot DA, second shot SA, then decock) whenever you're doing serious marksmanship work. That longer, heavier trigger is teaching you excellent trigger control. Take advantage of it. Get confident that you can hit what you want regardless of whether the hammer is down or back on your pistol.

    Corollary: never be afraid to decock. When I run a DA/SA gun, I decock whenever the gun comes off target with no immediately obvious target to engage next. In other words, every time I "dismount'" the gun and it moves from extension to my ready position, I decock. This follows through even into my practice. Unless I'm starting with my finger on the trigger and the gun aimed at a target (or something simulating a downed threat), every single repetition of every single drill begins with a decocked hammer down DA condition gun.

    Corollary to the corollary: make decocking a habit. Whenever I hear an instructor complain that DA/SA guns are trouble because people forget to decock before holstering, I roll my eyes. The best way to fix that problem is to take the ritual you've already created for putting your gun away and purposely changing it through slow conscious repetition. When I'm on the range with new shooters -- or shooters who are having problems remembering how to operate their guns safely -- I don't say "holster." I say "decock and holster." When I'm running a DA/SA gun myself, I never think "holster," either. I always think "decock and holster." If you make decocking the gun part of coming from extension to the ready/transition position as discussed above, it's even easier. And if you ride the hammer with your thumb as you holster, you'll have immediate tactile feedback if you forgot to decock.

    Practice the press-out. The press-out was literally developed around DA/SA guns. Not only will it make you faster from the holster and your ready position, every time you practice the press-out you're getting in another rep of working the DA stroke for an accurate shot. (if you don't know what a press-out is, follow this link)

    Practice the reset. People talk about the DA-to-SA transition but really if you think about it, every single time you reset the trigger it is going to SA mode. So once you learn how to reset the trigger properly, you always follow that up with a light, short, smooth SA trigger stroke regardless of whether the previous shot was DA or SA. While a lot of people get wrapped up on trying to guarantee they reset as short as possible, the most important thing is to maintain contact between your trigger finger and the trigger throughout the string of fire. When people let their fingers move all the way forward to where the trigger would be in DA mode, they lose contact with the trigger and become far more likely to slap it on the next shot.

    One particular drill that I find very helpful involves shooting pairs but at different targets. For example, put up a pair of 3x5 cards a few yards away. Fire a DA shot to the first card, then a SA shot to the second card. Be sure that you maintain contact between your trigger finger and the trigger throughout the entire 2-shot drill, from the moment you begin to press the DA shot all through the reset and transitioning to the next target and through firing the SA shot. Repeat ten times. You should have a 10-shot group on each card. If you're struggling to keep them all on the card with the DA shot, slow down. Practice, work it out, and make it work.

    Drilling short bursts from the ready (2-5 shots maximum), always beginning in DA mode, is another great way to habituate yourself to a consistent short light-pull reset. This works your press-out, your DA marksmanship, your reset, and your SA marksmanship.

    Don't get frustrated. In a world of Glock shooters, it can be difficult to keep your faith in a DA/SA gun. Every time a Glock shooter beats you at a match or in a drill at class, someone will tell you it's because you've got a DA/SA gun. But when you beat someone at a match or in a class, no one will say "it's that DA/SA gun, it's an unfair advantage!" No, then it's skill, etc. Well guess what? It's always skill, etc. And if you want your skill, etc. with a DA/SA gun to improve, you need to commit and focus and practice.
    Last edited by ToddG; 05-23-2012 at 12:36 AM.

  4. #4
    We are diminished
    Join Date
    Feb 2011


    Again, nothing in the above posts is intended to suggest that the DA/SA gun is the only decent type of pistol on the market or the best choice for any particular person. I freely admit that a DA/SA gun takes a bit more time, effort, and proper instruction to master than striker fired, DAO, or cocked & locked pistols; and, it requires a bit more practice to maintain your skill level. But it's so much easier than conventional wisdom tells us, and has enough other benefits both in terms of shooting performance and safety, that I think it's a very good choice for many people.

  5. #5
    Thanks for posting this, Todd. I can say from personal experience (what little of it I have), that DA/SA isn't as bad as so many people make it out to be. Not when I shoot a SIG measurably more accurately than either a Glock or 1911. Not sure if it's my lack of experience, but barring something really out there (once fired a cheap .22 cal 1911 that had a trigger that had to weigh 14 lbs and stacked like none other), I don't why aforementioned people whine about trigger systems (or bore axis, grip angle, etc).

  6. #6
    Nice write-up, Todd. Here is a question, and I understand it is likely unanswerable since it could be just an individual idiosyncrasy, sample of one shooter, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by ToddG View Post

    4. Shooting DA/SA guns trains you to shoot just about any trigger system. I consider this a minor benefit for anyone outside of the professional training realm, but the reality is that if you can master a DA/SA action and maintain your skill level with it, you can pick up just about anything else and shoot it well.
    Why do you think JV couldn't get it going to his satisfaction with LEM while he is obviously doing so well with DA/SA? I know he said he couldn't adjust to trigger; what are your thoughts? It seems like LEM would be an easy system for a proficient DA/SA shooter, yet we have this one sample of an opposite outcome.

  7. #7
    We are diminished
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Quote Originally Posted by YVK View Post
    Why do you think JV couldn't get it going to his satisfaction with LEM while he is obviously doing so well with DA/SA? I know he said he couldn't adjust to trigger; what are your thoughts? It seems like LEM would be an easy system for a proficient DA/SA shooter, yet we have this one sample of an opposite outcome.
    Hopefully, JV can come in and answer for himself.

    Speaking in generalities rather than about one specific person, I think the biggest hurdle most people face when beginning with a new system is that it's easier to change hardware than software. I've had students on the range who insisted they were doing Todd's Technique XYZ but clear as day they were really still doing it their old way. Often, it's not enough to want to create a new habit. You purposely have to let go of old habits.

    The LEM is closer to a Glock than a DA/SA. The DA/SA is sort of slap-you-in-the-face different. No matter how hard you try, you can't simply run a DA/SA like a Glock. But the LEM, since it has a consistent trigger pull, can be run identically to a Glock. So while someone might think he is working hard at learning the trigger, he's not really being forced to.

  8. #8
    Nice write up. I have to agree with you. I like the safety factor. And I have personally noticed that I have better trigger control on my other firearms as a result of practice on a DA/SA trigger.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Central Florida! Land of Mickey Mouse.
    I am tempted to put my TDA hammer and decocker lever back in the personal 229 I have and play some.

    You explained that in a way that I understand it better than back in the day when we argued on the Beretta Forum. Of course my job still requires the DAO for our Berettas and SIGs.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by YVK View Post
    Why do you think JV couldn't get it going to his satisfaction with LEM
    Quote Originally Posted by ToddG View Post
    Hopefully, JV can come in and answer for himself.
    I'm a better shooter now than when I shot the P30. When I say "better", I'm not necessarily talking about my current ability to drive the gun, it's about having a diverse mental bank of techniques to pull from - those techniques are needed to help tune my performance. The vast majority of the variations are not ones that I developed, I picked them up from watching other shooters or talking to better shooters like ToddG and joshs.

    Here is an example. With my Sig, I struggled with my first shot accuracy. I was trying to use the same technique that I use with Glocks, which often resulted in breaking the shot before full extension. With the Sig, that shot would go high. To remedy that, I try to prep 80% of the trigger on the press-out, and once I get to full extension I quickly cleanup my sight picture and finish the shot. I must have gone through 4 or 5 different variations to find the one that worked best, but I did find it. I'm not using that new technique 100% of the time, sometimes I revert back to breaking it early, but trying for that 80% technique has tightened up the results.

    To successfully transition between guns, I can't assume my current techniques will transfer over with equal results. I have to be committed to trying different variations and putting in the trigger time to make that my go-fast/default action. If I'm not willing to put in the time and try different things, then switching guns is something that's fun rather than a search for something that's truly better.

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