The time to find out if your defensive tools are up to the task is long before you find yourself in a do-or-die situation. For starters, I would bet that none of you would carry a brand-new, unfired gun for self-defense. Of course not. Regardless of how well-made modern firearms are, it just makes sense to be a little better prepared.
Opinions vary, but it is generally agreed that a couple of hundred rounds is the minimum. This amount will usually be enough to expose any problems. Besides, familiarizing yourself with a new gun is always a good idea. Then again, some cops say they don’t feel comfortable until they’ve put twice that number through a gun.
The choice is yours. We understand that even target ammo is not cheap. But you really should fire a sufficient number of rounds until you feel confident betting your life on the reliability of your firearm. Because, after all, you are.
OK, your gun has passed the initial break-in test. Now you need to ensure that your weapon will function flawlessly using the exact defensive ammunition you will be carrying. If you carry a revolver, life is relatively simple. You don’t have to worry about things like misfeeds or failures to eject. Just about any defensive ammo that is designed for your gun will work just fine.
However, even revolvers, especially ultra-light models, can have problems with certain loads (see: “crimp-jump”). Consult the manufacturer’s manuals and websites for warnings regarding such issues. Then follow their recommendations.
Auto-pistols are another matter. While modern auto-loading pistols are designed to handle a relatively broad range of ammunition (e.g., “+P”), defensive ammo varies by bullet weight, powder charge and bullet design. Such variations can affect different guns in different ways. The only way to be sure is to test it yourself.
Testing Expensive Defensive Rounds in Your Auto-Loader
It is not necessary to fire hundreds of rounds to test functional reliability in a defensive auto-pistol. But it is never a good idea to fire off a magazine or two and consider your gun good to go. At a minimum, I would recommend the following basic protocol for testing defensive ammo:
First, take a clean weapon and fire two or three mags of your chosen defensive ammunition. If that produces no issues, fire 50 or more rounds of cheap (OK, cheaper) target ammo. Just fire enough to “dirty up” the gun a little. Then, run through a magazine or two of your defensive ammo again. See if it performs as well as it did with a clean gun.
Don’t Top It Off
Note that a lot of people “top off” their carry magazines (chamber a round, then add one more to the magazine). I generally discourage it. The stress of that last round has caused failures in at least two police shootings of which I’m aware. Besides, let’s face it, if 14 shots didn’t do it, 15 won’t likely make a difference. Reliability trumps one extra round.
Finally, always carry a gun that is clean and properly lubricated. I’ve heard a few folks advocate firing one or two shots after cleaning, just to be sure the user reassembled the gun correctly. But the basic concept still holds: Keep your carry gun in tip-top condition.
The old axiom that “an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure” still holds.