Breaking In Or Breaking Bad? What To Expect When Breaking In Your Pistol

‘New In Box’ refers to when you purchase a new firearm that comes fresh out of the box from the manufacturer. Some companies rigorously test their firearms in manufacturing sampling to ensure that a batch runs to its specifications. But, just like a new car or any other high-tolerance mechanical device, there can be a ‘breaking in’ period where the owner may run into issues.

One of the scariest things that many gun owners do is simply buy a gun, throw in some high-end ammunition, and start carrying without so much as testing it out at the range.

That won’t necessarily be a recipe for disaster but it can lead to conditions such as a person pulling out his or her pistol and being completely shocked when the second round out of the chamber gets stuck on the feed ramp of the barrel… Or worse… The person didn’t think to disengage the safety of his pistol.

Take any firearm you purchase to the range. You don’t need to crank out hundreds of rounds to figure out if it’s working properly but definitely shoot the rounds you intend to carry.

This article is dedicated to helping you figure out if that recent jam you got from that new pistol is part of ‘breaking in’ or it’s a sign that you may need to send it back to the manufacturer.

There’s a couple factors to consider when breaking in your new pistol:

  • Ammunition choices
  • New magazine springs
  • Magazine properly seated in magazine well
  • Proper lubrication

Every new gun you get — whether it’s the pistol you intend to carry on you everyday or just a prize for the gun safe — should be tested at the range prior to carrying.

You should ALWAYS test with the ammunition you intend to use.

This may cause some gun owners to wince because the protective ammo we may choose for ourselves may not come cheap.

That’s okay, you shouldn’t have to fire a lot of rounds to figure out if that ammunition is going to give you trouble. Typically, something to the order of 100 rounds should give you a solid idea of whether or not your gun will fail to feed a round or chamber it properly.

If you want to go even deeper, we wrote up an article on what one of our writers thought was a good way to figure out if his gun has what it takes to make it the long haul.

But if you’re someone who likes to carry, for example, over-pressurized jacketed hollow points (+P JHP), you want to know that what you carry will reliably work in your gun.

The reason I bring this up is because not all ammunition is shaped the same way. For instance, I was recently switched from Winchester 124 gr Rangers (FMJ) to Hornady Critical Defense 135 gr +P. I noticed that in my Glock 43, this caused a few rounds to get stuck nose down underneath the feed ramp of the barrel.

This was more than a little annoying.

It wasn’t anything I couldn’t quickly correct by either ejecting the magazine and reinserting it or manually pulling the slide back. But, in a life or death scenario, that’s the last thing I want to deal with.

I ended up switching to Speer Gold Dot 124 gr GDHP +P. That ended up working well. I have a friend who carries a Ruger and he uses Hornady and he has no issues with the Critical Defense rounds. In this particular case, I got lucky and traded him the rest of mine for the Gold Dots. That worked out. But, in general, I’d never recommend carrying a round that doesn’t reliably work in your everyday carry handgun.

This also brings up another point: not all guns of the same make and model work the same.

As much as most gun manufacturers pride themselves on producing consistent, high quality firearms, there is always going to be some variance between guns. Guns are usually produced in batches. Who knows if the day your gun was made, there was an inexperienced machinist milling the slide or barrel? Who knows if that particular day, for whatever reason, the barrel was made a 64th of an inch tighter than the rest?

The only way we can know for sure is to test the gun ourselves and work out the kinks.

That’s why we have to reduce variables.

With a new gun, there’s four major factors at play:

  • You
  • Your gun
  • Your magazine
  • Your ammunition

If you can rule even one of those four out, you’re on your way to figuring out if it’s just part of the honeymoon phase of new gun ownership or if you may have a more serious problem.

Generally speaking, almost any pistol should be able to handle full metal jacketed, non-pressurized rounds. Easy. If you can run through, say, four magazines of non-pressurized FMJs, you know the gun handles basic rounds without an issue.

If you run into issues during that part, it’s time to take a look at you, your gun, and your magazine.

When it comes to you, the shooter, make sure your finger placement on the pistol grip isn’t accidentally pushing down on the magazine release. We all have different hand shapes and that means each of us has to figure out how to hold a particular pistol so that it’s comfortable, accurate, and operates reliably.

Test out your magazines by depressing the follower. The follower is the polymer or metal plate that is between the spring and the bullet. It should keep a uniform amount of pressure while rounds are stored in the magazine. With an empty magazine, you should be able to press down on it and have it naturally spring back up.

If your gun cannot consistently run any time of ammunition without a hiccup, chances are good that if you can eliminate the magazine, your grip on the pistol, and the ammunition, you’re dealing with a gun-related problem.

The next step is to figure out where the gun is malfunctioning.

Rule out of the following:

  • Safety is not engaged while attempting to fire.
  • The gun is properly lubricated to manufacturer’s specifications (check the Owner’s Manual).
  • When loading in a full magazine, lock the slide to the rear and watch the magazine seat itself. Is that first round pushed up the feed ramp and towards the barrel? Is it getting caught on something?

Every pistol has a basic level of disassembly that the owner should be familiar with. Anything above that level is best left for someone with advanced knowledge of guns. If you believe there’s something truly wrong with a gun’s operation — and it came new out of the box — you should get in contact with the manufacturer.

Take pictures. Log what it is you do that gets the failure.

Above all else — don’t be embarrassed if you end up discovering you may have caused the malfunction due to improper usage. Everything in gun ownership is about continual learning and growth. We all make mistakes. The point is to learn from the mistake.

That gun can save your life. Your job is to do your due diligence to ensure it handles the ammunition you want to carry and you can operate it safely and reliably.

Malfunctions will occur. And they will certainly occur with a new-in-box gun. It’s important to work out those initial hiccups so you can carry your gun with the full knowledge you can make it work for you in an emergency.

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