Testing your EDC: How many rounds?

Whenever you get a new firearm, there’s a strong temptation to mount a light, throw it in the holster, and start carrying it. Even worse, some folks get out the rotary tool and start grinding and polishing. It’s very important to remember that guns require more than just oil and ammo– much like a new engine, there’s a break-in and evaluation period that must  be completed before a new firearm is considered ‘reliable’ for self-defense. The procedure I outline below will help give you an idea of whether or not your Glock has teething issues, or if your new Hi-Point is really gonna give you the performance you need.

I take a new pistol and clean it thoroughly according to the manual, inspecting it for any visible flaws, chatter machine marks, that sort of thing. It’s lubricated according to the instructions, usually with Slip2k or a blast of RemOil if it’s got a lot of nooks and crannies. Then I dry fire it a bunch because I think I have a compulsive need to play with my toys, while ensuring that nothing is mechanically out of tune that I can detect with a tactile examination. If it grinds, feels gritty, if the trigger is inconsistent, or if the slide binds, then I put on my gunsmith hat and examine it again very closely. With very, very few exceptions, dry-firing CANNOT damage a handgun. 

Phase 1: I’ll take it to the range and put 100 rounds of my handloads or target ammo through it. The first 100 rounds or so I consider part of letting the gun settle out stacking tolerances– I’ll notate any malfunctions to see if they crop up again but it’s not a dealbreaker. I also note any problems with the trigger resetting, retardation in slide movement, uneven trigger press, or erratic actions that don’t seem to clear up after the ‘break in’ is over (plenty of triggers smooth out during this process). Be extremely sensitive to how the gun ‘feels’ in your hands, including the muzzle flip, perceived recoil, and sluggishness or too much velocity in the slide.

Phase 2: At this point clean it and start a fresh round count. Put 100 rounds of target/plinking ammo through your gun, at a bullet weight and velocity that’s close to your preferred carry ammo. Don’t just waste ammo— give it 20 rounds from the draw to a single A-zone hit at 7 yards, then 10 shots to a B8 target at 10 yards from the draw, two Bill Drills, a few El Presidentes and Accelerators– good metrics that evaluate how you can effectively handle the gun and drive it on a clock. Write down your results and compare them against a gun you know you can run effectively. Spend at least 20 rounds at your maximum accurate range; most modern guns are mechanically capable of at worst a 4″ group at 25 yards, so if you see an extreme spread on a target beyond that, you might have a serious issue with the weapon or your ability to handle it. A 3″ group at 10 yards is probably a comfortable metric for most shooters to easily do from a bench. If you get any failures here you can’t immediately diagnose (obviously faulty ammo or mishandling the weapon) then it’s either a mechanical issue or a shooter incompatibility; seriously consider exchanging it. Examine your brass diligently for signs of bulging, scrapes, gouges, or excessive damage to the rim. Bulged primers mean overpressure, and damage to the rim can indicate a very over-strength extractor. Gouges and scratches on the brass indicate an improperly finished chamber.

Phase 3: Do not clean your weapon! Part of what you’re testing is how sensitive it is to fouling and buildup. Get out your preferred defensive handgun load, whatever that is, and put 100 rounds through the gun. Repeat Phase 2 but with your carry loads, and pay particular attention to vetting it for accuracy; you are striving here to ensure that it can deliver good hits on demand. This is also where you tune your sights in. If you run into a failure here then you can either start your round count over or return the gun.

Phase 4: You’re at 200 rounds now. I recommend at least 300 more rounds of target/training ammo through the gun without cleaning it. This covers two possible eventualities: environmental factors retarding the function of the gun, or prolonged use with very dirty ammo and lack of proper maintenance. Either way, it can’t hurt. If you start feeling the slide really chugging to get into battery or ejection getting weak, you can quickly field strip it and wipe out the worst of the buildup, but don’t do a full ‘cleaning’. It’s important to know that your handgun won’t lock up the first time it gets dirty, fouled, or cold.

Phase 5: Clean the weapon very thoroughly. I usually detail strip mine and examine it closely for signs of excessive wear, unusual peening, or cracks forming. Reassemble it, test fire it with 10 carry rounds, and then you’re good to go.

That’s my 500 round evaluation.

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