Single Action vs Double Action… What’s It All Mean?

by | Mar 20, 2018 | Education, Featured

Single or Double Action… Semi-Automatic or Fully-Automatic… what’s it all mean? When it comes to jargon – regardless of the industry – it’s easy to get confused. Let’s take a look at some of the more common terms and break them down in a way that’s easy to understand so when you’re watching your next news segment, you know the difference and what those newscasters are really telling you about guns.

Single Action

Single Action Only, sometimes referred to as “SAO”, requires that the shooter manually cock the pistol by pulling back on the hammer or by pulling back the slide in order to fire the weapon.

The difference between a single action revolver and a semi-automatic, (or “autoloader”), is that the revolver must be cocked before every shot taken. You see this in old west movies – it’s why they look like they’re slapping their arm.

Conversely, semi-automatic firearms generally only need to be manually cocked for the first shot due to the energy from the initially-fired round. The pistol slide cycles the action to fire subsequent rounds.

Double Action

You may see the abbreviation “DAO” or the other common term “double action only” in reference to this type of operation. Double action means that the trigger has two jobs.

  1. Cock the firing firing pin
  2. Release the firing pin

These two things repeat on every pull of the trigger. DAO pistols do not use a traditional hammer striker, instead they use a firing pin. Whether using a hammer or a firing pin, the action of striking the casing is what ignites the powder within which forces the bullet out of the chamber of the pistol.

Double Action / Single Action

You may sometimes see Double Action/Single Action represented as “DA/SA”, meaning that the pistol can operate in both ways. When used in this way, every trigger pull requires you to squeeze harder than required in single action pistols. DA/SA revolvers can also be fired by pulling the hammer manually, then pulling the trigger to release the hammer. This action can be completed by your thumb or with the use of your other hand. Doing it this way makes for a shorter trigger pull.

DA/SA semi-automatics need a long initial trigger pull, much like double action revolvers but the slide automatically extracts and ejects the spent casings and then cocks the hammer – meaning you only need a short trigger pull on the following shots.

My Thoughts…

The DAO is generally thought to minimise accidental discharges and be an overall better carry pistol thanks to the longer trigger travel that’s required to fire in conjunction with additional safety measures put into these pistols by their manufacturers. But some think that single action pistols are better for home defense because of the shorter trigger pull it requires which usually results in better accuracy.

Regardless which pistol you use, it’s just good practice to exercise care at all times. This is why the rules of safety must be trained and practiced so often that they become part of your muscle memory; so the chances of an accidental discharge is greatly reduced. This is why we recommend following these safety rules  every time you’re dealing with a firearm:

  • Act as every firearm is loaded
  • Always keep the muzzle pointed away from anything you don’t want to damage
  • Keep your finger off of the trigger until ready to fire the firearm


What about you? Do you have a preference for the action-type in your pistols? Let us know what you think in the comments below!


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