William Haskell served four years in the Marine Corps and worked as a Combat Marksman instructor. He spent his entire life around firearms, whether it was with his grandfather who collected and modified firearms, or when he and his brother used to beg to clean his father’s rifles. William joined the police force in 1997, and after 21 years of service, his passion for firearms has never diminished. One of his friends and fellow officers had completed SDI’s associate degree program and brought the school to William’s attention. A few weeks later, he encountered a Google ad for SDI, and decided he really needed to check it out.
William remembers his grandfather, who adamantly denied being a firearms collector despite buying two of every military-style rifle. One he would modify for hunting and one he would put into original condition as a keepsake. When his father inherited those rifles, William and his brother would beg their father to clean them. Hi dad was a safety-oriented firearms owner and believed that the teaching of firearms was essential if he was to own them around children. Letting his boys clean his rifles was bonding experience, an education, and a benefit: he never had to clean his own rifles.
Today, with more than two decades on the police force under his belt, William works as a detective. And he is also the firearms guy in his department. If something is broken or cannot be identified, his number is on speed dial for his fellow officers. His reputation and enthusiasm for firearms is part of why he sought out SDI.
After starting and not completing an associate program in Criminal Justice, William was a bit hesitant to enroll in school. He knew the time commitment that it required, and his free time was devoted to his family. He also knew that the schedule of a police officer can lack in consistency, so he wanted to make sure he would have the time to fulfill his obligations. William had enjoyed his Criminal Justice classes, but he didn’t have an overall enthusiasm for them like he did with firearms. Still, he had a drive to complete the college education he had started years ago, and after several phone calls with SDI’s Mike Olson, William decided that finishing his education was something he really wanted to do. He had finally found an education that he was passionate about.
Finding a solid time to study was William’s primary challenge. With a family, kids, and a full-time job, it can be difficult to book time to hit the books. He decided that putting time in early in the week so that he was finished by mid-week was his best use of time. “Some of the classes were pretty easy for me. I had a lot of experience with firearms, which was helpful, and those breaks were needed because some of the classes were really challenging. Writing papers was really difficult at first, but by the end of my classes, I was pretty good at it,” said William. The challenge of writing was not unexpected for him. “The reading and writing could get pretty daunting, but this was college and that is expected for higher education.” While William had a lot of experience working on firearms, there were always new things to learn. “Metalworking and checkering were parts of gunsmithing that I had never experienced. It was really interesting, and it took some effort,” he said. “Luckily, my credits transferred from my previous college education, so I didn’t have to retake all of my core classes. That was a huge help to me.”
One of the events unique to William’s education was his meeting with SDI’s President, Traci Lee, SDI’s Vice President, Wes LeMay, and SDI’s Director of Faculty Services, Sara McGilvray. He had decided to attend the Certified Firearms Specialist training in St. Louis, Missouri, where SDI’s staff were also attending. It was a chance encounter, but one that stuck with William. “I saw an SDI shirt and asked the gentleman about it. He said he worked with SDI but did not tell me immediately he was the Vice President. I was really surprised when they asked me to lunch and had even inquired about my grades. Traci Lee told me she was really impressed with my grades. I was pretty surprised that they took such an interest in one of their students.”
Having graduated in November of 2017, William is grateful to now have more time to spend with his family and to take his kids to their competitive trap shooting meets. Initially, he planned on utilizing gunsmithing as a part-time income source in retirement. He imagined that it would be difficult to get his foot in the door in the firearms industry, so he wanted to give it time to develop. Adding to his hesitation to jump right in were his experiences with SDI’s course in business management. “Man, I realized how much goes into starting a business and how precious my time is now. I don’t have the time between my work and my family to do a business correctly,” said William. Fate, however, had different intentions for William. With his reputation as a tinkerer of firearms and being newly graduated from SDI’s program, he was referred to a job opening as a part-time gunsmith. “I realize there are parts of the trade, like machining, that require some significant hands-on time. With what I learned at SDI, combined with my previous experience, I can work my way through most of the problems that I find with firearms. I also have the mental tools to find out how to fix the problems I haven’t encountered.”
William did have a few takeaway pointers for SDI. “I really wanted to learn more about the business side of the industry. The business management course I attended left me hungry for more information, like how to keep a business up and running in years one, five, and beyond, as well as inventory management.” William learned to be proactive with his professors, who he said were transparent about their availability and let him know if there would be a delay in their response. “I was pretty surprised that those instructors, who no doubt have to grade hundreds of papers, typically responded within 24 hours. I just had to be proactive and not sit around waiting for them to contact me; I reached out to them. I even got my questions answered on quiz questions that I felt I missed even though I fully understood the topic.”
William is now an SDI graduate and a part-time gunsmith. He showed grit when the reading was, in his words, like pulling teeth. “Reading and writing papers is hard, but college isn’t supposed to be easy,” he said. The classes he took set him up with a knowledge base that put him on a path toward gunsmithing as a source of employment. William’s passion for firearms has taken him far.
What will you do with your passion?
They’re easy to recognize. They come to their local gunsmith with a sheepish look and a white complexion. They lay their AR down and say something along the lines of, “I think I messed up.” The firearm looks perfect except the trigger is missing. This is typical when someone has done their own trigger work and has taken too much off the sear, creating a fully automatic firearm. Fully automatic firearms are highly illegal and this person is now facing jail time and a hefty penalty for their mistake. That’s because legally you may only modify your existing trigger or purchase an aftermarket trigger for your AR-15. The following dialogue is meant to give you some guidance on your choice.
Kip Carpenter of Sonoran Desert Institute told this story with a chuckle when talking about the previously mentioned situation, but he then switched to a serious tone. “First off, I ask if they have destroyed the faulty trigger. You don’t want any part of that liability.” Kip has worked on firearms for decades and has seen the results of shaving the sear on a trigger several times. The results are rarely good. “Honestly, it’s so easy to mess up and take off too much. As a business person, I won’t even touch a trigger if it involves taking off metal. Once you modify the mechanism, the liability switches to you as an individual or as the gunsmith involved. Even having a modified trigger that goes full auto can get you into hot water. You also void any kind of manufacturer warranty once you modify the mechanism, which is bad for your customer.”
In terms of trigger modification on your AR-15, Kip does support the buffing of the sear. “There’s no problem with buffing out the sear. In most instances, it will make it a smoother action for the shooter and can increase accuracy. Just as long as you aren’t removing metal,” said Kip. As a note, Kip followed this by stating that even this modification can void your warranty with the manufacturer should something fail, and that somebody without training should not attempt it. He stated, “It’s just one of those things. You have to weigh your risk versus your reward.”
Most shooters want the most effective mechanism possible when it comes to triggers on their AR-15, or any firearm for that matter. When it comes to ARs, your options will fall between a single stage trigger and a two stage trigger. What is the difference?
With a single stage trigger, you have a steady pull in one fluid “or sometimes gritty” motion that disengages the sear and releases the hammer. These triggers can vary in weight (the amount of pressure that it takes to disengage the sear). Sometimes there is a bit of walk in the trigger, meaning that there is movement in the trigger at a steady or increasing pressure until the sear disengages. This is the most common type of trigger found on rifles directly from manufacturers as well as military issue firearms. The weight on these manufacturer rifle triggers, especially military models, varies between 5.5 lbs. and 8 lbs. Rifle triggers can also be found with weights between 3.5 lbs and 5.5 lbs for more precision shooting needs. Kip Carpenter stated, “You really don’t want to take a trigger below 3.5 lbs. It can create an unsafe situation with an unfamiliar shooter. The slightest amount of pressure can cause a discharge and I like to play it on the safe side.”
Two stage triggers are a different story. As Kip states, “These are precision firing mechanisms. They are great for competitive shooters.” They operate on a principle of a crisp release after some slack on your trigger pull. The initial trigger pull will be light, typically half the weight of the trigger’s weight. For instance, on a 5 lb. trigger, the initial weight may be 2 – 2.5 lbs. until you feel it stop. This is often referred to as a “wall.”At this point, the pressure is increased to the full 5 lbs. for the shooter, “the wall,” and the sear will release with very little additional movement. This enables the shooter to know exactly when the rifle will fire.
Outside of your choice on trigger types (single stage or two stage), your options are almost too many to count. These options can be categorized into two different types: standard trigger assemblies and drop-ins.
Aftermarket, standard trigger assemblies can be purchased with innumerable options at varying weights. The name of these triggers describes what you need to know. You will receive the trigger parts and assemble them in your AR. This is a fairly simple process if you are familiar with the assembly of a trigger, but for those less experienced with firearm mechanisms, you should take this to a professional.
Drop-in triggers are an altogether different story. These function like LEGO blocks. They come in a unit and are fully assembled. You simply drop these into your AR and secure them with a pin. These are very difficult to mess up, but as Kip stated, “You can run into problems if you have not verified that the drop-in unit is compatible with your lower receiver. In this case, the pins might not line up.”
Kip Carpenter is enthusiastic when discussing drop-in triggers. “I highly recommend drop-ins to my customers. Unless you have blatantly not followed the directions, you will know exactly what the trigger will do and what weight the trigger is.” When choosing a drop-in, Kip has this guidance, “Make sure it is compatible with your receiver, make sure it is within your budget, get help if you are not confident in your install abilities, and make sure to use a reputable manufacturer. Choosing parts for a rifle is serious business. Your life can be at stake, so you definitely want to use something produced by a reputable source.”
Choices of trigger, as previously stated, are numerous. Will choosing an aftermarket trigger make you a better shooter? “Lordy, no,” said Kip. “Technique will trump your trigger every time. But you can see a good amount of improvement on your existing technique with the use of a precision trigger. What it all comes down to is personal taste.” Choosing the right trigger for you depends on the type of shooting that you do. More importantly, it depends on your own technique and which type or trigger helps you to be a more accurate shooter.
Two stage triggers are often recommended for shooting that requires single, precise shots. Single-stage triggers are often recommended when one wishes to use rapid follow-up shots. Even in these instances, a shooter may choose the opposite use for these triggers. The most important part in choosing a trigger is trying out different styles until you find a weight and trigger type that fits you as a shooter. So get out there and get shooting, because even if you don’t find the right trigger, there is no substitute for experience and technique.