Saturday, December 21, 2013

The 500-Round Handgun Break-In for Self-Defense...

As a long-time firearms instructor and even many more years as a firearms enthusiast, I am often asked about breaking in a new gun... is it needed, what ammo, how many rounds, etc. Over the decades, I've read a lot of information, spoken to dozens of instructors, heard from many gunsmiths... and there is no single answer, or even overall consensus... so I have developed my own recommendations, and what follows is my recommendation for breaking-in handguns for self-defense.

First of all, I am always amazed at how many people I've met that are carrying guns for self-defense that have less than a hundred rounds of ammo through them. I am further astonished at how many folks have shot their handgun, but never with the personal defense ammunition they've selected, often because it is too expensive to shoot.

You need to understand that the 500-round handgun break-in for self-defense I recommend is as much about breaking-in the gun as it is about breaking-in the shooter to the new gun. Not only will you break-in the gun, but the you will have had significant practice with the new handgun before trusting your life with it.

The 500-Round Handgun Break-In for Self-Defense requires 400-rounds of practice ammo for your gun, usually some FMJ or "Ball" ammo and 100-rounds of your selected ammunition for self-defense, often some type of hollow-point or other personal defense type of bullet and cartridge. Usually, by the time you've fired 500-rounds of the ammunition I suggest, you will either trust your life with the handgun or be parting with it as soon as possible.

This is not an inexpensive undertaking, but what is your life worth? Depending on your caliber, you are probably looking at $100 to $150 of practice ammo and $100 to $150 of your personal defense ammo. You don't have to do all the shooting on the same day.  Here are the basic steps I recommend:

  1. Thoroughly clean your new handgun as recommended by the manufacturer... yeah, read the manual. Most folks over-lubricate their handguns and many semi-autos only need a couple of drops of lubricant in strategic places.
  2. Use all your magazines and speed-loaders... number or mark them so you know which is which in case you ever have a problem.
  3. Shoot the first 100-rounds of practice ammo practicing loading and reloading. Get to know your gun. Adjust the sights if needed. Try a few shots one-handed with each hand. Learn the operation and manipulation of the gun.
  4. Shoot the second 100-rounds of practice ammo. Load your magazines to capacity if you haven't yet done so. If you haven't had any malfunctions, try randomly loading an occasional dummie-round and practice clearing some malfunctions to better acquaint you with the gun. If you've had a couple of malfunctions with the gun, not the ammo, at this point, I'm usually not too worried because the freshly machined parts of the new guns are starting to wear and work together.
  5. If you haven't cleaned your gun thoroughly since you started the break-in  process, give it a good cleaning at this point. Just like that first oil-change on your new car, this cleaning will get rid of any initial build-up of grime, residue, and/or left over gun-grease you missed with the first cleaning and and grit or microscopic shavings left over from the manufacturing process. This is also a good time to do a thorough inspection of the gun. Anything coming loose? Screws needing tightened? Something needing some blue-medium thread locker to hold it in place? Any pins backing out?
  6. Fire 20 to 25-rounds of your personal defense ammo to check feeding, function, reliability, and accuracy. You don't often see a lot of change for the point of impact when switching between a lot of handgun ammo, but sometimes you do. Adjust sights accordingly if needed. If you have feeding problems, you may want to try some different personal defense ammo. I have seen some semi-autos that just do not like feeding hollow-point bullets.
  7. Fire your third set of 100 rounds of practice ammunition. Practice drawing and reloading from concealment if you can. Use a timer and start really refining your accuracy and precision with your new gun. If you are having significant reliability problems at this point (like a malfunction every few rounds), then it's time to contact the manufacturer and send it in.
  8. Fire your second set of 20 to 25-rounds of your personal defense ammo. Check your accuracy and precision against the clock. If you're shooting 9mm 115gr. FMJ for practice and switch to 9mm+P 124gr. JHP for personal defense... is the recoil affecting your accuracy and precision? Your handing of the gun and follow-up shots?
  9. Now comes my final test. I like to be able to run through the last 100-rounds of practice ammo and then the remaining 50 to 60-rounds of personal defense ammo with no, make that ZERO, problems or malfunctions that are gun-related.
  10. At this point, you and your gun have had plenty of time and practice to adequately break-in and get used to operating with reliability and consistency for every-day use and carry. If you've reached this point and are still having any regular or periodic malfunctions that are gun-related and not ammo related... it's probably time to have the manufacturer take a look at it, if that didn't occur at step 7.
I have numerous handguns, like our multiple Ruger SR9's and SR9c's, SR1911, LCP's, LCR, and Glock 19, that have passed through this break-in process without a problem.  We're currently working our Glock 26 and Ruger LC9 through the process. On the other hand, I've had some handguns, like our Kel-Tec 3AT, that can't make it through this process reliably... even after two trips back to Kel-Tec.

Now, have I ever carried a gun for self-defense that didn't have the 500-rounds of break-in through it... sure... but I have never carried a gun on duty or for self-defense that I hadn't shot enough, including with my personal defense ammo, to have confidence in it's reliability. I have one Ruger SR9 that I used for Todd Green's 2,000-round challenge.  It came out of the box without even being cleaned and ran for 2,619-rounds without any cleaning or lubrication before a stove-pipe caused the first malfunction. That is not how I recommend breaking-in a new gun.

Well, you have my recommendation for breaking in a handgun, what's yours?  Or do you have any thoughts on... The 500-Round Handgun Break-In for Self-Defense...


  1. Good post indeed. Many people have been surprised over the years to find that their older semi-autos--particularly 1911s--don't like to feed the snazzy new self-defense hollowpoints reliably without a throat polishing. Better to spend a few bucks and burn a couple boxes on the range than to scrimp and find out the hard way when you draw that weapon because you need it to save your live only to have it choke and jam after one shot.

  2. Or you could just buy a gun from Germany or Austria and save the "made In Detroit" bullshit.

    1. Anonymous... not sure if you're inferring that only American-made guns need a break-in... or something else...

      Dann in Ohio

  3. Dann, Thanks for a great article. There is good wisdom here.
    --Matt R.