How reliable does your gun need to be? This can quickly go through the looking glass, and cause doubt. Doubt causes pause. Pause causes panic. Panic leads to bad decisions. Having a gun that you have proven reliable, helps give peace of mind, so you can live your life and not have lingering doubts in your subconscious.
The simple answer is fire 200 rounds of FMJ through your gun and magazines. Clean and lubricate it. Then load each of the magazines you carry, in conjunction with the gun, to capacity with your duty rounds. Fire one magazine in a two hand hold, slow fire for accuracy at various ranges. Fire 2/3 of the second magazine with your primary hand in 2-3 round bursts. Fire the last 1/3 of the second magazine in a retention position with your primary hand. For the third magazine, use your non-dominant hand to fire 2-3 round controlled bursts for the first 2/3. For the last 1/3, fire from a point half way between hip and full extension.
If your gun, with duty mags, and duty ammo will go through all of this, without a malfunction/stoppage, while locking the slide to the rear after the last round; then you are most likely good to go.
Some have recommended 2,000 rounds of FMJ and 200-500 rounds of duty ammo without cleaning or a malfunction/stoppage to proof the gun. What if you fire that through it with perfect function, but decide to fire 1 more and on round 2,501 you have a malfunction? Is the gun no longer reliable? What if you get to 2,499 and have a malfunction? Is the gun not reliable? What about 2,498, or 2,502?
Are you going to repeat this process every time you replace your magazines or recoil spring? Why not, the test is only valid with the mags that you initially used in it. What if you change your duty round? Do you repeat the test with the initial 2,000 rounds of FMJ, then 500 of duty? You have to repeat it every time for it to be valid. You can’t have it both ways.
200 rounds of new, factory, brass cased FMJ is reasonable, and affordable for the average person. (stay away from reloads, aluminum or steel cased, foreign made ammo for testing). Same goes for 50 of duty ammo. Also, you can shoot multiple practice drills and/or courses of fire with 250 rounds, and gain actual skill as opposed to ballistic masturbation. I get that you can get in good practice with 2,500 rounds, but most people do not have the time to do this, especially with a duty/carry gun that they need the same day or the next. If they do shoot 2,500 rounds over a couple of days, those rounds are rushed, and you are simply not getting quality reps. I am very familiar with saturation training, have done it, and have taught it. It is applicable for certain people in certain situations. Regardless, after the initial testing is passed, every time you get new mags, new recoil springs, change or change ammo types; at the least, you should run three mags of duty ammo through the gun in the manner described above.
Lets throw in some variables! Certain guns will need more ammo to vet them, and some will require less. Tightly fit 1911 format pistols may require up to 1,000+ rounds before the slide to frame fit and barrel lock up have loosened up enough to easily cycle the slide by hand. This is not the case for ALL 1911’s, just match grade ones.
Revolvers do not, practically, need 250 rounds to proof them. They do need about a box of FMJ/Practice ammo through them, and an additional couple or three cylinders of duty ammo to complete the evaluation. With the duty ammo, you need to make sure that under recoil, none of the other bullets jump out under recoil, keeping the cylinder from rotating. You should also be looking to see where the bullet hits in relation to the sights. This is important on all guns, but especially so on short barreled revolvers with fixed sights.
Bolt action-precision rifles, and slide action shotguns are also not immune from ammo problems. These, like the revolver, require less than a self loader to vet. What you should be checking for on these guns is that the rounds cycle under brisk action, and extract easily, without pause.
One way to extend the life of your duty magazines, and help to ensure the reliability for longer is to isolate them for duty. Once you fire the 200 rounds of FMJ, clean the mags. Do the duty ammo testing with clean mags. Clean them one more time, load them with duty ammo, and leave them alone. Get a duplicate set for training/practice/quals after the initial testing. Use those mags and neglect them until they start causing malfunctions. Clean them. If they still cause issues, throw them in the trash. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you will mark them, and use them to cause intermittent malfunctions on purpose. That will cause subconscious doubt in your gun, that’s a bad thing. Very bad. Don’t submit to the temptation. Mags are cheap, your life is not.
This may sound strange, but use the same solvent and and lubricant every time. Some lubricants interact adversely with each other, and can turn into a glue like substance, shutting the gun down. Some solvents have the same interaction with lubricants. So mix them together on a piece of plastic before putting them on the gun, and see what they do. Make sure you dry all the solvent prior to putting lube on the actual gun. If it is left on, it will dry out the lube. And your gun needs lube, regardless of what marketing the factory has put out about it working with no lube. Drain the oil from your car, and let me know how far you get before your engine blows up. Same with guns, they work better with some type of lubricant. Stay away from dry lubes, silicon, and CLP’s. Stick with something like Slip 2000 (which has it’s own brand of solvent), Mil-Comm (which also has it’s own brand of solvent). There are plenty of others, but those have worked well for me in the desert, in tropical storms, in humid climates, and in weather approaching 10 degrees Fahrenheit. I cannot, personally, speak of how they work in sub zero or in snow; so, I will not offer comment on those conditions. Regardless, clean and lube your gun: when you first get it, after EVERY time you shoot it, at least once per month (minimum), and after anytime it is exposed to inclement weather.
Still want to be extra cautious? Good for you, and I can relate. Hand inspect each round of duty ammo. Make sure the bullet is at the correct height, make sure the primer is seated correctly, the case mouth is not deformed, and the rim is formed consistently. I have seen bullets loaded sideways, hollow point cavities that were collapsed, primers inverted or put in sideways, rims that were scarred or a different thickness all the way around, and case mouths that were peeled back. All from the factory, all from a sealed case, all from major manufacturers delivered straight to an agency. Doesn’t mean that the rest are bad. Mistakes happen when a factory loads millions of rounds per day. It is cheap insurance, and it doesn’t take much time to look over your duty ammo.
You can also use your barrel as a gauge. Take the barrel from the slide. Drop each round into the chamber, then turn the barrel upside down and see if each round drops out, freely. If one sticks in there, the round is out of spec, and belongs in the garbage.
Check your ammo when you clean your gun every month, and check it after it is exposed to inclement weather. See if it is corroded, if it has debris built up on it, if lube has dripped down into it, and saturated the mouth or primer. Look for dents to the walls of the case, and damage to the case mouth or rim.
Be cautious of chambering the same round over and over. On all but a handful of specific ammunition, the bullet is not crimped in place. Every time you chamber a round, it pushes the bullet back into the case a little further. After about 2-3 times of this, you can actually see that the overall length is shorter. This increases the pressure when the round is fired. Depending on how far it is set back, it can cause the case to rupture when fired. Chambering the same round over and over also causes the extractor to gouge the rim. Depending on the case material, it can cause the extractor to rip through the rim, leaving a fired case stuck in the chamber; or it can scar up the case mouth to the point it hangs up on the feed ramp while being chambered. None of those is a good thing.
To complicate things, when we are talking about the AR rifle/carbine system, there is an additional factor of concern. That gun has a free floated firing pin that lightly taps the primer every time the round goes into the chamber. This will not make the round detonate, however, repeated chambering will eventually deaden the primer, which will give you a click instead of a bang when you want it. If you chamber a round in an AR variant, and do not shoot it, do not put it back in the mag. Take that round, and put it in a plastic bag marked PRACTICE, and shoot it at the range.
Avoid doing stupid things like torture testing your guns. Once you bury them in sand, mud, salt water, or whatever; you will never get all that debris out of them. Even if you use a ultrasonic cleaner. I know this from personal experience. It is simply not worth it to do these things to your weapons. If you want to do that in the initial selection process for an agency, have at it, but don’t do it to your personal or issued guns that you are betting your life on. Also, don’t put too much value on the YouTube commandos that do these “tests.” They are not done scientifically, nor with any kind of repeatable controls. They are not representative of any kind of actual situations, and should be regarded for what they actually are; entertainment.
Also, avoid relying on believing a certain type of gun is “the most reliable one ever made.” I remember reading/hearing all of the following: “A revolver is more reliable than an auto, you get six for sure. A Glock 17 is the most reliable handgun in the world. The Navy SEALs use the Sig P226, it works in the harshest environments on earth. SOCOM uses the HK Mk23, it is the most extensively tested and proven gun, ever. The AK is the most reliable rifle ever made, it never breaks or malfunctions.” I have also heard: “1911’s are outdated, and malfunction all the time. AR’s have to be dripping wet and clean to run, and they malfunction if you don’t hold them right. Slide action shotguns are better than self loaders, because they rely on brute force to cycle.” Every one of the above quoted statements in this paragraph are absolute fantasy.
I have seen every one of them malfunction. I have seen 1911’s and AR’s work with parts flying off of them, and Glock’s, Sig’s, HK’s, and AK’s go down hard. AND vice versa. See for yourself. In God I trust, everyone else gets run through NCIC; as the saying goes. Do not rely on others, media hype, or “common knowledge” when it comes to your life saving equipment.
There are no guarantees in life, and less in a gunfight. Put the odds in your favor by taking these small steps. It is part of being a professional, and gives you added confidence in your equipment. Remember, right now someone somewhere is training to murder you, and will if given a fraction of a second in the right situations. This is a high stakes game, but you have time to get it figured out. How much time? The rest of your life, however long that is.
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