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Handgun Prep

by Mark Freburg

This is my basic routine when buying a new gun that I eventually want to use for defense:  
1) Detail strip it.  
Field stripping is not really enough, although depending on the gun it may suffice. With a 1911 for example, you simply cannot access all the nooks and crannies without a detail strip. Revolvers must have their "innards" exposed. A Hi-Power or Beretta 92 on the other hand can be thoroughly cleaned and degreased with only a field strip. Apply this to the gun you're considering.  
Detail stripping info can be had. NRA has books on this, as well as the Gun Digest disassembly series from Krause Publications (who have taken over the gun book publishing role previously held by DBI Books).   
Image2) Thoroughly remove all oil and grease.  
The slick stuff on your new gun is factory preservative, NOT shooting lubricant.  (An exception is the gold-colored lube that comes on new Glocks.  This is actually a shooting lube--leave it on.) 
Any good nitro-solvent will work for most routine cleaning of handguns. Handguns will experience powder and lead fouling, but rarely copper. Save your expensive Shooter's Choice or other copper solvents for your rifles and their more serious jacket fouling.  For the majority of your handgun cleaning nothing is as good as Hoppe's #9 (at right).  

Don't confuse powder solvents with degreasers. When addressing your new handgun, it may need to be cleaned AND degreased. Guns are normally test fired at the factory but not always cleaned afterward. If it has powder fouling in it, clean it with solvent.

Once cleaned, degrease it with a product like Birchwood-Casey Gun Scrubber, Shooter's Choice Quick Scrub, or standard automotive brake cleaner. (Do not use carb cleaner or other nasty solvents, especially indoors.) If you don't need an aerosol, Acetone works well to degrease small parts, but do use proper ventilation with Acetone, which is toxic.  
3) Properly lube your new gun.  
ImageGrease is best used for areas that will cause oil to be flung free during operation. Grease slide/frame rails, hammer/sear connections, etc. Oil places you can't get to with grease--pivot points or between fitted parts for example.  
I prefer white lithium grease like Lubriplate, specifically Lubriplate "Aero," at left. This is a combination of the best yet least expensive. Wilson's Ultima-lube grease is a variant of white lithium made for guns that is quite good, but many times more expensive than Lubriplate by volume. Also, Wilson's DOES dry out a little easier than Lubriplate in my experience.  
ImageNOTE: Using grease is 90% of the battle against malfunctioning with semi-auto pistols.

There are many good oils. I do think the multi-products should not be expected to do the best job when used as cleaners AND lubes, so I use solvents to clean and oils to lube. I like Shooter's Choice FP-10 lube.

4) Reassemble your gun and function check it WITHOUT AMMUNITION to insure all safeties are still operational.  
Don't bother to hand cycle ammunition through your semi-auto. It doesn't tell you anything useful, only whether it will HAND CYCLE ammo. Some people like to brag that their semi-auto will cycle empty cases. You know, the odds of needing that feature are rare.  Cycling empties doesn't mean it will cycle your Gaping Maw brand JHPs.  
5) Shoot the gun.  
Semi-autos should be broken-in first. Gather up some FMJ "ball" ammo. For 9mms, .45ACPs and most others this will be round nose ammo. For .40S&W the standard is a truncated cone FMJ. Go with standard power and standard weight bullets. I suggest you don't even take any JHPs or lead ammo to the range this trip. You should shoot a minimum of 200 rounds of FMJ for break-in.  
Some modern designs reportedly don't need breaking in, but my philosophy is that any gun made of metal is made on metal tooling. Metal tooling wears as it works, until it reaches a point where it is replaced with new tooling. This means that the parts of a gun will vary by a very small degree, and so it can only help to shoot the gun to allow these parts to mate together. Also, anything made of metal can have inadvertent burrs, and breaking in the gun will often remove these tiny imperfections. CNC manufacturing has gone a long way to minimizing tolerances, but even if tolerances could be kept to one zillionth of an inch, I'd break-in the semi-auto pistol anyway. Why? Because *I* need to be broken in on the particular gun. Once I am familiar and comfortable with how I should hold it, how it operates, and how it shoots, only then will I go to specialty ammo.  
6) Clean and relube the gun.  
7) Choose your defensive ammo wisely.  (see a related article here) 
Avoid off brands and little tiny companies if you want consistent quality. Don't buy something just because the gun shop clerk or GUNS "n" BLAMMO Magazine touts it, or even because the box says "defense ammo" on the side. Do your research. (Which unfortunately is whole 'nother subject.)  
Buy a 20 or 25 round box, or a 50 round box if you can afford it, of several different loads that would be appropriate.  
For example, once when testing a new .45ACP, I decided on 230gr loads only. I chose to test Winchester standard JHPs and SXT ammo, Remington Golden Sabers, Speer Gold Dots, Federal Hydra-Shoks, and PMC/Eldorado Starfire. I could have chosen Hornady XTPs as well but didn't happen to do so. (Since they have been redesigned to pass the FBI ammunition test protocols now I would consider them the next time.) I'm not saying you have to go with 230gr .45s, but note that I didn't use any handloads, no regional suppliers of new or reloaded ammo, and none of the stuff from the little outfits that sell ammo with names like "Afterburner" and the like.  
8) Shoot several magazines of defensive ammo, preferably at the same session under the same range conditions.  
Pay attention to accuracy as well as functioning. I don't recommend bench testing. You'll never shoot a bad guy from a bench rest. Bench resting changes the way both we and the gun shoot, artificially so. Shoot offhand but carefully, taking a good sight picture. Use a small bullseye or other good aiming point. While I recommend defensive practice against unmarked targets shooting just to center of mass, this won't work when accuracy testing. Staple a bullseye to the center of your silhouette target if you'd like. Save your targets and make note of any and all functioning irregularities.  
9) Analyze the results.  
Choose the one, two or three best loads. Purchase more of this ammo and test just those couple loads at another range session. Do more fast defensive shooting and less bullseye shooting. Pay attention to function above all. Choose the ammo that is the most reliable and the most accurate when fired rapidly at a plain silhouette or representative target.  
10) Buy 200-400 rounds of what so far is the "best" defensive ammo for YOU and YOUR new GUN.  
Yikes, that could be expensive! Yes, but you need to do so. Order it mail order or buy it at a gun show to save money. Hopefully get all of one lot number for consistency.  
11) Shoot 200 rounds of this ammo through the (cleaned) gun.

It should have zero malfunctions. Shoot more if you can afford it. Start with a clean gun but the shoot it all in one session without cleaning. You will not normally load or carry your defense gun without cleaning it, but if you come home from the range and have to load it up for home defense before you can clean it, it would be nice to know that the ammo that is so reliable out of a clean pistol is also reliable out of one that has fired 200 rounds through it since the last cleaning.  
12) Pick a practice load.  
Once you have adopted a defense load, find a suitable FMJ or lead bullet practice load of equivalent power. A handload is ideal. Use the same bullet weight so the gun shoots to the same point of aim with both defense and practice loads. The similar power level insures that you are training yourself to handle the same level of recoil that you must handle when shooting for real with your JHPs. Obviously a chronograph is really needed, as there are too many variables to be able to depend on a recipe in a loading manual to perform in your gun exactly as it did in the test guns under test circumstances. Even if you are not a handloader, a $60 Chrony brand chronograph is a great thing to have because you can't expect factory loads to perform exactly like the manufacturer says they will either--all guns are an entity unto themselves.  
NOTE: Much of this addresses semi-autos. While revolvers may not seem to need as much reliability testing since they are not self-loaders, you should still test them to make sure that they will handle certain loads when dirty, that a given load will work well with speedloaders, and so forth.  
One other comment...while primarily discussing new guns here, I take the same approach with used guns. The only difference beyond making sure the gun is thoroughly cleaned after you buy it is to also make sure it is fully operational and doesn't need any parts replaced. A local gunsmith can do this for you if you can't do it yourself.  
If you have questions or comments on this article, please post a message to me on the discussion board in this forum. Thanks for reading.


copyright 2005 by the author, all rights reserved.

Uploaded: 5/17/2006