Ever fire a used gun and notice that the action and the trigger feel super smooth with every shot? That’s almost always because it’s been well worn-in through continued use.
There tends to be some debate on whether firearms really need an actual break-in period to be able to function properly and what the method may be to achieve this. For my money, any time you have a piece of equipment with moving metal-on-metal parts, it’s going to require some conditioning. Even polymer parts need some pre-wear to get them just right. For as much as a manufacturer can do to optimize the mechanical tolerances of their products, there will always be a certain level of necessary break-in.
In a past blog post, we discussed the merits of practice to help ensure that you as the shooter would be prepared for whatever may come your way. In this case, we’re considering your weapon and what it needs to be able to produce the best results. There will be a difference of course between rifles, handguns and whether you’re looking for better range results vs. personal defense. If you experience a few jams or your groups aren’t quite as tight as you might like at the range – that’s just aggravating. If you rely on your weapon as part of your profession or for the protection of yourself and your home – that’s quite another matter. Would you ever consider buying a new gun and holster and then simply go about your business thinking you’re safe? I don’t think so.
Ultimately, you want your firearm to work flawlessly and be as accurate as possible with every shot. That may not always be the case, but there are things that can be done to help minimize risk and maximize performance. I would propose that no matter your intended use (recreation / hunting / defense) that you make the effort to break your weapon in properly. What’s the downside really? Who wouldn’t want smooth operation, reliability and improved shooting precision?
In its truest sense, breaking-in any gun basically involves shooting it enough so that any potential burrs, rough spots or manufacturing machine marks are smoothed out or completely removed. It would also account for spring compression and the overall efficient movement of the firing mechanism. Other benefits would include easier loading, a better ‘feel’ with the trigger and a well-conditioned barrel.
Here are a few things to consider for your break-in period:
Opinions vary on the number of rounds that it takes to thoroughly condition your weapon at the outset. Some say that 100 rounds is sufficient while others suggest numbers as high as 400. Best to check your owners manual to determine what’s right for your particular model.
The general thinking is that you can use a less expensive ammo type for your initial shots. No sense wasting them on the ultra-premium stuff. Just be sure that it’s still factory stock though. Aside from the benefit for your gun, this will also give you an opportunity to experiment with different loads and tip designs. Some will work better than others for you for sure. It will also be better to go with a higher quality ammo once you go through the process (and be sure to test it too).
The springs and internal surfaces of your magazines will also benefit from some work as part of the break-in routine. It will help to ensure that loading and feeding will go easier and with fewer issues in the future. Always keep them clean and dry, and go through a series of loading and unloading steps to work them in.
Rotate through all of your magazines while breaking-in your weapon to help trouble-shoot, and ensure that the release gets worked often.
Like a ball glove or a pair of good boots, a leather holster will require some time to form to you and your gun. Even synthetics can use some time for a proper fit. Storing your weapon in the holster at first can help.
Be sure to practice drawing your firearm to ensure that you can do it efficiently every time with no snags. Get a real feel for it and seek out some instruction if you have any doubts. Shame to have your gun in shape if you cant effectively free it.
Expect some jams or malfunctions throughout the process. This is perfectly normal. Better to discover any issues at this stage though, especially for defensive guns.
Be sure to clean and lubricate your weapon, both before you start and after each set of groups. This helps to eliminate any debris or fouling that may be produced through the initial shots.
Vigorously work the slide with a new gun and consider storing it in slide lock for a short period to help compress the spring.
It’s probably not all that important to spend a ton of time zeroing through the break-in period. Wait until you can shoot consistently with no issues, and have your preferred ammo in-place, before you make your final adjustments.
Read your manual and talk with a reputable dealer or gunsmith to get details on what your break-in process should look like. You may never have to actually use your weapon for personal defense, but why take the chance?
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