Most Pistols Can Handle More Abuse Than You Think
December 18, 2018
Photos by Mark Fingar
As much as we’d all like to have the time and money to put 50,000 rounds through our pistols, I know of very few people who can and do. They all carry a gun as part of their job description, so Uncle Sam is picking up at least a good chunk of the ammunition tab. That’s one of the very few ways it’s possible to fund such a habit.
Competitive shooters also shoot a lot, but those guns tend to be highly specialized and cost much more that what us average folks are going to have in the nightstand or stuffed in our pants. Lastly, gun rental shops probably shoot more rounds through more guns than anyone else. They are an invaluable source of information about what works and what doesn’t.The Internet and Physics
Never trust an internet forum post or source that states, “I have at least xx,xxx rounds through my pistol and it has been flawless.” There’s a better than average chance they are lying. The internet is a breeding ground for exaggeration and outright lies; proceed with caution.
There are certainly plenty of folks out there who do a ton of shooting, but few of them live on the internet. They’re usually out shooting instead of posting online. The louder the proclamation, the less likely it is to be true.
I’ve shot a lot of guns, and my experience over the last five years has been that almost all full-size pistols have no problem getting through hundreds and maybe a couple thousand rounds without a hiccup. Getting past 2,000 rounds takes more time and devotion than I can currently offer any one pistol, so I don’t know how the guns I currently shoot will do after that.
The smaller concealed-carry pistols are the wild card. If you want a pistol for the zombie apocalypse because it’ll be the only pistol you carry, do not get one of these. It’s hard to get good data on concealed-carry pistols because they are small and less comfortable to shoot than their full-size cousins. No one wants to shoot 10,000 rounds through a pocket 9mm.
In addition to the absence of data on the smaller pistols, my reason for avoiding them in a “this is the last pistol in my life” scenario is that small guns have to cycle quickly. They shoot the same ammunition as the bigger guns but don’t have the slide mass to slow the cycling.
Increasing slide speed accelerates parts wear and breakage. It’s science, yo. Lighter slides travel faster and hit harder. The parts that break on full-size pistols will break sooner on concealed-carry guns.
This is in no way an indictment of concealed-carry pistols. They are reliable and the most purchased and used firearm in existence. It is just very hard to know how they’ll hold up to 50,000 rounds. I think that is unnecessary anyway. Personally, I’m happy with a new concealed-carry pistol after it goes 500 rounds trouble-free. If it can do that, it’ll most likely make it through a magazine if or when the time comes to defend myself.Real Data — Competitor
Everyone has a different definition of what constitutes a high round count, but for this article, that means 50,000 rounds or more. I took a quick spin through the Rolodex (that’s a contact list, for the children following along) and reached out to a handful of folks who shoot for a living. Their experience is pretty revealing.
I spoke with a good friend of mine who is a professional competitive shooter and has won more matches and championships than anyone else I know. He also trains the majority of the top-tier special operations forces. If he’s having a bad day, I can only name one guy that I’ve seen beat him.
His pistol with the highest round count is an STI factory gun that has 530,000 rounds through it. He’s had new barrels put in it every 100,000 rounds, replaces recoil springs every year and replaces extractors when they break. He’s on his fourth and final extractor.
“STI wants to put a new barrel in it because the rifling is gone, but the frame is so worn it’ll need to be welded up, too,” he said. “I just put it in the safe and got a new one.”
One of his secrets to a long-lasting pistol is to not necessarily replace factory parts just to add parts. This is most common with Glocks.
“The only reason the STI has a match barrel is it comes with one from the factory,” he said. “None of my other pistols have match barrels because they are not necessary. My Glock has a factory barrel.”
He uses a Glock 17 for training, and it has over 100,000 rounds through it, too.
“Detailed cleaning of a pistol does far more damage than actually shooting it,” he added. “The chamber pressure of a 9mm is right around 33,000 pounds per square inch (psi). That’s going to clean out anything that shouldn’t be there. Removing and replacing pins for a detailed strip does more damage than it does good.”
When asked about his cleaning regimen, he said, “I’ll soak a gun internally with oil and let it sit for awhile and then blast it out with Gun Scrubber. I let it dry and then hit the lube points again with oil. That’s it.”
My buddy has pushed another STI pistol, a Glock 17 and two European American Armory Witnesses beyond the 100,000-round mark. One of his pistol break-in tricks is to put Flitz metal polish on all the contact points and shoot the pistol for 500 to 1,000 rounds. It polishes all the contact surfaces and makes them very smooth.
“Most pistols don’t get really broken in until the 10,000-round mark,” he said.Real Data — Battlefield Las Vegas
Gun rental shops are also a great place to find information about pistols that see a lot of rounds. One of the most active rental shops in the country is Battlefield Las Vegas (BLV).
The guns that BLV rents are mostly the guns the military uses or that are popular in video games. New shooters or people who don’t own guns are often enticed to their first shooting experience through those two mediums.
By putting multiple guns through hundreds of thousands of rounds, BLV is able to develop a great picture of what types of pistols last and what don’t. The verdict: full-size pistols are where it’s at.
The pistols that get shot the most at BLV are the SIG Sauer P226, Glock 17 and Beretta 92. Based on BLV’s experience, each of those pistols will go 50,000 to 100,000 rounds before there is a parts failure. It is not uncommon for these guns to continue to function reliably even with a cracked frame or slide. The point of impact might shift, but they still shoot reliably. Many parts failures are only detected during cleaning and maintenance sessions, not from a malfunctioning pistol.
A couple of examples of the above phenomenon are a Beretta 92 that they noticed had a cracked slide during cleaning. It had over 100,000 rounds on it and operated fine. An armorer noticed a small crack in the frame of a SIG Sauer P226 at 150,000 rounds, and it also functioned just fine. Both were pulled and repaired for liability, not because they malfunctioned.
For the 1911 fans in the house, BLV shoots mostly SIG Sauer and Rock Island Armory 1911s. The armorers are very happy with the performance of both and are amazed at how well the Rock Island guns do considering their friendly price point.Real Data — Lawman
Most police officers don’t shoot that much and even fewer keep detailed records. However, a good friend of mine has been a Diplomatic Security Service agent and an FBI agent for over a decade, and he shoots more than any other person I know. This is the same guy that shot 20,000 rounds through his issued M4 every year and was issued a new one every year.
He has pushed several of his pistols up to the 40,000-round mark and one to 60,000, but he doesn’t shoot any single gun much more than that. He keeps multiple copies of whatever he’s carrying and rotates through them. When one develops a problem, it gets turned in to the armorer and he moves to the next one. We both feel this is the right answer if shooting is part of your job description and you have armorer support.
On his way to running several pistols up to 40,000 rounds (mostly Glocks and SIG Sauer — he’s a big fan of SIG Sauer), he said that it’s not unusual for small parts to wear out or break, but most pistols can still keep shooting even though they are no longer at 100 percent. As an example, he said he’s seen barrels wear to the point that groups open up noticeably, but the gun was still functional. Also, sight dovetails can work loose and occasionally need to be re-tightened. This is preventive maintenance and not pistol failure.
While we all want the eternal pistol that never malfunctions and never breaks, that gun doesn’t exist. However, we are fortunate to live in a time when pistols have never been more popular, manufacturing has never been more advanced and there’s never been more quality choices. Odds are you can pick a full-size pistol from just about any of the big manufacturers and be just fine until you get tired of shooting it.