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Understanding Handgun Actions: A Guide to Sriker-Fired, Double/Single Action, Single Action Only and Double Action Only

Understanding Handgun Actions

In the world of handguns, understanding the different types of actions is crucial. The action of a firearm refers to the mechanism that handles the loading, firing, and extraction of the cartridges. This article will focus on four primary types of handgun actions: Striker-Fired, Double/Single Action, Single Action Only (SAO), and Double Action Only (DAO).

1. Striker-Fired

Striker-fired handguns, popularized by brands like Glock, have become increasingly common due to their simplicity and reliability. These handguns do not have a hammer; instead, they use a spring-loaded firing pin or "striker" that moves forward when the trigger is pulled, impacting the cartridge primer and firing the round.

The lack of an external hammer gives striker-fired guns a sleek design and fewer snag points, making them ideal for concealed carry. They also typically have a consistent trigger pull weight, which can lead to improved accuracy.

However, these pistols typically lack a manual safety in many cases, relying instead on built-in safety mechanisms to prevent accidental discharge, which some shooters might find less reassuring.

2. Double/Single Action (DA/SA)

Double/Single Action, often abbreviated as DA/SA, describes firearms that can be operated in two ways. On the first trigger pull (if the hammer is not cocked), the action is double: the trigger pull both cocks the hammer and releases it (hence "double action"). After the first shot is fired, the slide's movement cocks the hammer, and each subsequent shot is in single action mode, requiring a lighter trigger pull. The DA/SA action is one of the most popular action types featured on some of the most popular pistol models including the Beretta 92FS, H&K USP and Sig Sauer P226.

This design offers versatility, allowing for a quick first shot (in double action) without the need to manually cock the hammer. However, some shooters find the transition from a heavy first trigger pull to lighter subsequent pulls challenging to master.

Understanding Handgun Actions

3. Single Action Only (SAO)

In Single Action Only (SAO) handguns, like the iconic 1911, the trigger performs one action: releasing the hammer. This means the hammer must be either manually cocked or the slide must be racked before the first shot can be fired. With semi-auto pistols the hammer stays engaged after the first shot but with SAO revolvers the hammer must be recocked after each subsequent shot.

SAO handguns typically have a lighter, shorter trigger pull, which can result in greater accuracy. This action type can make these handguns less suitable for high-pressure situations where speed is critical but are very popular with target shooters and 1911 enthusiasts.

4. Double Action Only (DAO)

In Double Action Only (DAO) handguns, every trigger pull performs two actions, just like the first pull on a DA/SA handgun: it cocks and then releases the hammer. This means that the trigger pull is the same for every shot, and there's no need to manually cock the hammer.

DAO handguns are appreciated for their consistency and simplicity, and they often feature a longer, heavier trigger pull that can act as a form of safety. However, some shooters find the heavier trigger pull less conducive to accuracy, particularly at longer distances.


In conclusion, each type of handgun action has its advantages and potential drawbacks, and the best choice often depends on the shooter's preferences, and skill level. Understanding these different types can aid in making an informed decision when purchasing a firearm or improving your shooting technique. Online gun dealers like Hinterland Outfitters are a great source to learn more about what action type will best suit your needs. Whether you prefer the simplicity and consistency of a striker-fired or DAO handgun, the versatility of a DA/SA firearm, or the precision of an SAO model, there's a handgun action type for all applications including self-defense, target shooting, hunting and concealed carry.

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