Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ballseye's Firearms Training and Tactics - Breaking In A Pistol (and Glock 26 Range Report)

Old timers probably remember, in years gone by, that when you bought a new car it came with a break in period. During that period you were supposed to drive the car moderately with regard to speed, distance, and braking. It was new and it needed to get settled or broken in. Cars today are not the same. You drive em out of the showroom ready to go. Still though, I think there is a break in period for new cars, and that would be the first several hundred miles (driving here in the NYC area) or maybe the first one thousand miles elsewhere with less traffic, less stop and go, less potholes, and so on. Its not a time when I baby the car either, but rather one wherein I give it a good long once over test drive to see if it is truly road worthy for say a vacation trip, daily commuting and so forth with my family in it. What I am driving at is that if it does not show itself as having problems in that time, well then nothing catastrophic - like a wheel falling off, the brakes failing, the steering failing - is likely to happen afterwards when I am driving it with my wife and kids in there with me. My testing it like this is a prudent thing to do with a new car instead of just blindly depending on it as being truly road worthy for all road conditions.

I do likewise with guns, especially with firearms that are meant for self defense purposes. If I am going to trust my life to a pistol, or revolver, or shotgun, or rifle, well you can be darned certain that I have tested it before betting my life on it working when I need it to go bang. Of course that goes out the window in an emergency when I might just grab any gun at hand, but my regular carry pistol or revolver, or my regular home defense shotgun or rifle, has had a good deal of ammunition run through it before I will use it to defend my life or that of another.

Now many a shooter buys a new gun, and buys a box or three of ammo, then takes the gun to the range to shoot it. They shoot up a box or two and save the other box to have enough ammo to load up the gun for self defense purposes with some left over. So it turns out that maybe they fired 50 to 100 rounds through a new pistol or revolver, and probably less through a new rifle or shotgun. If they encounter repeated failures to feed, to fire, to extract or to eject - they usually guess that there is something wrong with the gun. That is a good guess, but not always right. On the other hand, if they had just a jam or three they usually attribute them to the firearm being new, and to it needing the kinks worked out of it. They, like on the other guess with more jams, may or may not be right on that one too. Some of them may even guess it is the ammo that is at fault, and they too could be right. On the other side of the coin, they may have no malfunctions at all, and therefore arrive at the conclusion that the firearm is in perfect (relatively speaking) working order. Again they may be right, but again they may be wrong.

As far as pistols go, the thing is though that running just 50 rounds, or even a hundred, through a pistol to run it through a break in period, is just not enough ammunition to test its reliability. Sure it may seem like a good amount of ammunition to shoot, but it is often not enough to make something go kerplunk when instead it should have gone click, bang, rack, click, bang, and so on. What I am driving at here is that I have, in my almost 35 years of pistol shooting, seen many a pistol fail, and most of them that I have seen fail have either failed after having many thousands of rounds of ammunition fired through them, or have failed after only having a few hundred rounds shot through them at most. What that translates to is this:

A pistol, that has been fired again and again with proper maintenance will usually fire many many thousands of rounds before it fails. When it fails, it usually fails due to things like a broken part, metal fatigue, a worn piece, a weakened spring and so on. This is actually to be expected as a pistol gets older and older and is fired more and more. Parts need to be checked and replaced as needed. Of course all of this relates to a pistol that has been broken in and that has proven itself reliable from the start.

There are problems that arise with pistols, like all of those I mentioned above, that can start happening anywhere from the first round fired through the first hundred rounds fired, or in fact anywhere after that. While I just mentioned they can happen at anytime, they are less likely to happen, to a pistol that has proven itself reliable during a break in period, before you have reached the point where several thousand rounds have been put through it. What I am saying is that the break in period is the time during which many a problem due to faulty manufacture of the pistol's parts, or due to improper assembly, will become evident.

So what does one do to properly break in and test fire a pistol to check its reliability. Well first of all, and I am talking a newly acquired pistol that is either new in the box or used, you get the manual for it and read it. After doing that you ascertain that the pistol is safe, then disassemble it as recommended by the manufacturer for a good cleaning. After cleaning it, lubricate any parts that the manufacturer recommends lubricating, then reassemble it. Now the fun begins because now you take it to the local range with at least 400 to 500 rounds of ammunition to test fire it; and that ammunition should be the same ammunition you plan on carrying in it when you use it for self defense purposes.

Why so much ammo? Well because firing that many rounds through a pistol usually makes something go pppffffzzzt or kerplunk, or splat when it should being doing otherwise. If there is a weak part, something that is likely to break, well then that many rounds through the pistol will likely bring that problem to your attention whereas 50 rounds may not be enough. In other words, from my experience in over 35 years of shooting pistol and 14 years as a firearms instructor, and from what I have been told by other instructors, putting 400 to 500 rounds though a new pistol is a fairly reliable way to make it break if it was manufactured in a faulty manner. Another thing about using that much ammo is that the gun gets kind of dirty with that many rounds through it. So if it was put together to specs that were to tight and the guns starts to action slowly after say 300-400 rounds, it may also be a good indicator that the gun will not tolerate dirt and fouling as well as one would hope. Now while you are shooting 400-500 rounds at a single range session to break in a pistol, you can bet that if you were firing at a good steady pace, the gun is prone to get hot. This will also provide another indication of if it will function properly when needed in a tight spot. Some pistols begin to seize up when they get hot. If you fire this many rounds through it and yours does not, well bravo. One other reason to fire this many rounds, doing so will smooth out the operation of almost any pistol that was properly manufactured. What I means is that when a standard commercial pistol is manufactured there are bound to be tool marks and burrs on the metal. maybe not ones visible at first glance without magnification but they are likely there. Firing a pistol several hundred times, after having cleaned and lubricated it properly will smooth off many of these imperfections. This will allow the pistol to operate more smoothly. In addition if the pistol was finished to very tight specs, firing 400-500 rounds through it should also help to loosen things up just enough to help assure smoother and easier functioning.

Besides using that many rounds, you maybe wondering why I said to use only the ammunition you plan to use in the gun when you actually use it for self defense purposes. If you were wondering, well good for you, it is a good question. The reason I recommend not mixing ammunition, or simply using a cheaper ammo for practice and a better one for self defense, is this: You want to be absolutely sure that not only does your new pistol shoot, and that it shoots reliable, but YOU WANT TO MAKE DARNED SURE IT SHOOTS RELIABLY AND ACCURATELY WITH WHATEVER YOU PLAN TO USE TO DEFEND YOUR LIFE AND THE LIVES OF YOUR LOVED ONES. You can take a pistol to the range, and then shoot Winchester White Box ball ammo (an inexpensive type of ammo sold for plinking and informal target shooting) though it for the 400 to 500 recommended rounds. The pistol may handle it flawlessly. They you leave the range, clean the pistol, and then load it with 115 grain Speer Gold Dot Plus P ammunition. You put the gun up on the closet shelf in the bedroom and that is that.

Well that was that at least until a few days later when you are awakened in the middle of the night by strange noises downstairs. Your wife is awake too and she is scared, she says she heard glass breaking and footsteps crunching the broken glass. You are sure it is a burglar. You have the wife call the cops and you get the pistol loaded with the hollow points (yes the ammo I described is HP ammo). Suddenly the bedroom door is hit and an armed intruder bursts into the room in a rage. You see him pointing a shotgun at your wife and you fire, the first shot going god knows where, and you try to squeeze off another shot, but for some reason the pistol has gone kerplunk instead of bang/rack/bang. When the police arrive they find you dead in a pool of your own blood. You wife has also been shot but she has survived. The bad guy has fled. When police examine your pistol they discover that the hollow points you were using would not reliable feed into the pistol and the somewhat rather rough feed ramp caused the jam. Too bad for you. that you tested your gun with ammunition that you did not depend upon to save your life; and too bad you assumed that if cheaper ammo fed in your pistol then more expensive ammo would feed too. Think that was too dramatic? Don't believe it could happen to you? I have seen it happen, that is the jamming thing, with many people's guns at the range. I'd rather not see the results, firsthand when it happens in a bad situation - though I have read accounts and seen photos of guns that have jammed for various reason, all when they were needed most. That is why I highly recommend using only the ammo with which you will defend yourself as your break in ammo for a new pistol, and why I recommend a break in test in the first place. Of course you can fire other types of ammo through your gun, but be darned sure you can fire the ammo with which you plan to defend yourself, that your gun operates reliably using that ammo, and that you can shoot accurately with that ammo.

There is another reason to go to the range and fire off about 400-500 rounds of ammo with any new pistol. It helps to assure that you are familiar with the pistol, and it should let you know whether or not you need to correct any bad shooting habits or if you need to adjust the sights to achieve accuracy with the new gun. Yes new guns are sort of like new cars, they are both machines, each make and model of both a car and a gun have a distinctive feel about them that you need to get used to, and they can offer quite the fun experience to use - as in drive or shoot while at the same time can also offer pure utility to the user.

Did I just mention fun, why yes I did. Shooting is good old American style past time that is lots of fun. The more you shoot, the more fun you have, well up to a point and dependent upon caliber anyhow. If you go out and shoot a .454 Casull 400 to 500 times in a day - well either you are a man of steel or are out and out nuts. Why? Well because you are bound to be hurtin bad if you are a mere mortal like me and fire that many of those big rounds in one day. Some pistol and revolvers require a few days break in period to shoot that many rounds, and those days may be spread out over weeks. With the lowly 9MM round however, it is a different story. You can probably easily shoot 400-500 rounds in a single trip to the range if you are a shooter of average build and strength.

Heck I did it today even though I have not been feeling my best lately. The truth is I had fun, and I was quite satisfied with my new Glock 26's operation at the range. I fired at least 400 rounds, and think it was actually 430 rounds I put through her today. I had a blast both figuratively and literally. I found out the new Glock 26:

1) Is an accurate shooter, probably more accurate than I can be with it.

2) Was probably made well, and will probably go a long time before breaking, since it fired every round with which it was loaded without a failure to feed, to fire, to extract, or to eject. (I had once failure to feed but only because I had not fully inserted a mag - shooter error - no fault of the Glock. I did have about 4 or 5 ejections where the shell casing came back at my face, and one or two that actually went to the left of the gun, I need to check on the ejector and make sure it is not bent at all; though most shell casings ejected properly.)

3) Can cause a blister on my trigger finger after firing 430 rounds within an hour.

4) Gets my fingers really dirty. I have to check into that, I don't remember that happening with other Glocks I have fired.

Here are the pics of some targets I shot. The one at 7 yards is the second magazine ful of round I fired from my new Baby Glock. The first 7 were shot into an already used target, I had been shooting my Ortgies Pocket Pistol in .32 ACP also. That first group looked to me to be a slightly better group, but a pic of that would have made a poor pic with .32 caliber holes and 9mm holes mixed together. All the targets are annotated to show at what distance they were set, and all have a U.S. quarter to sow scale for group size.

As you can see, there was probably some shooter error. I don't mean as to group size, that was more than good enough for me; but you can see I am shooting a tad to the left of center of paper (where I aimed) when shooting at anything further out than 7 yards. I'll have to work on that.

All the best,
Glenn B