» QUESTION: I’ve been a gun owner for a few years and, like many of my associates, have accumulated a fair amount of guns, ammunition, accessories, range gear, etc. In a recent discussion, the subject of maintenance came up, and I came to the startling realization that I was deficient in knowledge and action on that subject. I understand maintenance from a household or automobile perspective but never gave much thought to my guns and gear more than a cursory wipedown now and again, mainly to prevent rust. My biggest concern is my defensive pistol and ensuring its reliability, when and if it is ever needed to defend me or my young family. I’d be interested in hearing a professional perspective just to make sure I am taking care of the equipment that someday might have to take care of me.
» ANSWER: My friend, you are not alone! One of my pet peeves in the training business is that not enough time is spent learning to maintain, handle and get to know one’s equipment prior to loading up and sending ordnance downrange. We encounter way too many people who don’t know how to field strip, maintain and function check their firearms, much less how to take care of the rest of their equipment.
I am not recommending you slack off on maintaining your recreational gear, just that priority should be given to tools that your life might depend on.
It is unfortunate in today’s society that most of us are in a hurry to cram so much into a given timeframe that we don’t take the time to learn about our new acquisition thoroughly enough to use it anywhere near its capability, not to mention taking care of it to ensure its longevity. Some learn quicker than others, but the bottom line is to take the time to read and understand the instructions that came with the products being used.
Even if we buy an item previously owned, in the age of the internet, maintenance and handling information is readily available from a multitude of sources. The manufacturer’s website is always the best place to start, but there are other places to explore as well.
Beyond the firearm itself, holsters, safety gear, ammunition and accessories all have maintenance suggestions on their packaging. These tips are worth reading and perhaps filing away for a future reminder as to the recommended way to take care of your equipment.
More specifically, I recommend spending a little more time on your defensive equipment than equipment used for recreational purposes. Please understand that I am not recommending you slack off on maintaining your recreational gear, just that priority should be given to tools that your life might depend on.
I like to use the phrase “maximum operational readiness” when referring to weapons and equipment that are of a defensive nature. What this means is the firearm, ammunition and associated gear are maintained regularly to operate at peak efficiency should the need arise.
For the firearm, this means that the gun is free of firing residue, chemical contamination (such as perspiration) and any other extraneous material like lint, dust or foreign liquids. In simple terms, you should regularly field strip and clean your gun to the recommendation of the manufacturer. Magazines in semi-automatic pistols should always be included in this process, as they are part of the operating system and can cause stoppages when dirty or otherwise not working properly. Lubrication is, in my mind, the most important aspect of firearms maintenance.
An often-overlooked facet of maintenance is a function check after cleaning, lubrication and reassembly.
Lubrication not only reduces friction in moving parts and protects the surface finish of the gun but aids in the cleaning process as well. Much like changing the oil in your car, firearms lubrication gets contaminated and needs to be removed and reapplied periodically for maximum effectiveness. Do keep in mind as well that liquid lubricants and even greases will dry out over time and become less effective than when originally applied. Dry lubes usually have greater longevity, but even they need reapplication periodically.
An often-overlooked facet of maintenance is a function check after cleaning, lubrication and reassembly. In order to ensure maximum operational readiness, we have to validate the mechanical function of the gun by way of a function check. Again, the owner’s manual is a good place to reference for a function check. Essentially what needs to be checked are the safety features of the gun, smoothness and ability of the moving parts to operate freely, ease of trigger operation, and an overall inspection for anything loose that shouldn’t be, such as sights, screws and pins.
How often cleaning, lubrication and a function check are recommended is purely subjective. Every time the gun is fired goes without saying, and when the gun is exposed to harsh conditions is another consideration. For me — and most average everyday carriers — several times a month is sufficient. It’s a personal call, but rest assured that it is unlikely you will wear the gun out by cleaning and lubricating it, particularly if you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
After the gun is cleaned, lubricated and function checked, it is ready to be loaded with fresh ammunition and put in service.
Many gun owners draw a blank when it comes to the subject of ammunition maintenance. To them, it’s buy a box of ammunition, load it into the gun, shoot it and call it a day. That will usually work for the recreational shooter, but there are additional considerations when it comes to personal defense.
Never use chemical cleaners or lubricants on ammunition, as there is a risk of ruining the primer or propellant.
Although it’s more inspection as opposed to maintenance, when each cartridge is handled to load in a magazine or cylinder, a cursory look to see if the primer and bullet are seated properly and in the right direction is a good start to ensuring proper function of the firearm. For defensive purposes, I recommend a closer visual inspection for irregularities and a chamber check (with the barrel out of the gun) for pistols and (with the cylinder out or open) for revolvers.
If you buy ammunition in quantity, it’s always good to rotate your stock and keep the surplus in a cool, dry location out of direct sunlight as the manufacturer recommends. For ammunition used in semi-automatic pistols, repeated chambering of the same round will eventually loosen the bullet, which can cause function problems from a variety of directions. My recommendation for carry ammunition after two or three chamberings from the top of the magazine is to put that round in the practice container and use a fresh one to hedge your bets on bullet set-back.
Should your ammunition become dirty, wipe it off with a clean, dry cloth. Never use chemical cleaners or lubricants on ammunition, as there is a risk of ruining the primer or propellant, and guess what? That’s the kind of damage you don’t realize until you’re trying to shoot.
More often than not, holsters and ammunition pouches — depending on what they are made of and how they are made — can be cleaned with compressed air or a damp cloth. If you follow the manufacturer’s instructions, it will be hard to make a mistake.
Maintenance of your firearm is similar to any other mechanical device. Take the time to maintain your equipment and it will give you good service for a long time.
Range gear is often forgotten while discussing maintenance … that is, until something essential involving the visit to the range is missing or doesn’t work. Carry extra batteries for your electronic ear protection and replace the foam inserts annually. Inspect and clean your eye protection prior to going to the range to ensure their serviceability.
Don’t neglect the range bag in which you carry all of your gear. With all of the movement of material in and out of the bag, it can’t help but accumulate unused and unnecessary items. Dirt seems to find a home in the bottom of the bag, which in turn contaminates items carried in the bag. It’s a good idea — every few trips to the range — to empty the contents from the bag, use a vacuum or compressed air to remove the dirt and debris and then put only the necessary items back in the bag. The leftovers can be stored or discarded and the bag will retain some semblance of order for the next trip to the range.
Maintenance of your firearm is similar to any other mechanical device. Take the time to maintain your equipment and it will give you good service for a long time; ignore it and it will likely fail you when you need it most.