Monday, May 6, 2013

Checking Your Hand Guns for Feeding Problems: Round Nose vs Hollow Points

Don't forget to check out ALL of my Last Man On Earth Studies posts!

To any avid gun collector, this may seem to be old news. For those of you that this ISN'T old news, it may save your life. You should take great care in your personal protection firearm and the ammunition you have loaded in it.

If you are like me, shooting your firearms is a hobby that has had to take a back seat because of today's economy and political climate. For a couple of years, it was nothing to go out and shoot a thousand rounds of ammunition for fun. It wasn't even that long ago! I remember back in around 2006-2007, I could go to Wal-Mart and buy all the .45 ACP ammo I wanted  for $12 a box of 50 rounds. But today is a different day. You can't find .45. If you can, you are limited to 1 box a day and you will pay $26 for it. Period. And that will be for cheap ammo. Sure, you can buy in bulk on the internet for a lot cheaper. But, it's still costly, no matter how you look at it.

But, to the point, I am not even talking about shooting cheap ammunition.

Collecting firearms has finally become a reality to me...or it had...and despite the relatively high prices and scarcity of quality firearms, I am still fortunate enough to be able to buy a little here and there. Yet, despite having a little extra money to buy the gun itself, being able to go about and pop off 500 rounds isn't feasible for me. As a result, I have done something that I hear is very common....and dangerous....these days.

I buy the gun, 50 rounds of cheap ammo, and 20 rounds of good defense rounds. I go to the range and shoot off the 50 rounds to make sure the gun runs, than I stick the good rounds in it, stick in in the holster, and call it a day.

Believe it or not, this is a life-threatening mistake.

This past weekend, the rain was beating down outside which caused all of my family outdoors activity to be canceled. Desperate for something to do, I decided to clean all of my pistols. In particular, I was cleaning two of my carry pistols, a Taurus PT-145 Millenium Pro .45 ACP  and a Taurus TCP .380.

As I was saying, both of these guns are recent purchases...both within the last year. I have put less than 50 rounds of ammo through each of them. I have put ZERO self defense rounds through them. Both are loaded with Hornaday Critical Defense for self protection.

They make a fantastic round, but when I ran a few round through the guns by hand , I had a couple of hang ups.

I picked up my SA 1911, which has had a good bit of work in massaging the feed ramp and it had zero problems feeding the rounds.

Ok. So, now what? Well, jacking the slide to check for feeding problems isn't exactly all. But, it got me thinking.  There is only one thing to do to verify whether or not your firearm will feed the self defense rounds: Go fire it. Now, I know that's easier said than done. A box of 20 rounds for any common caliber is going to cost you $25 dollars. And you really need to shoot several boxes through it. $100 is a lot of money to most people, not to mention the time to go out and do it. But, it's a necessary thing. Your life depends on it.

I have hinted around at it, and surely you have figured it out by now. If you haven't, consider the situation (heaven forbid it actually happen, but in today's world, you better be ready) where you have to defend yourself and others against an assailant. You pull the gun out, take aim, get a shot off. Maybe it hits. Maybe it doesn't. In either case, you should always shoot until the mag is empty. But, to your surprise, the spent casing ejects and the next round hangs on the feed ramp. It takes about 3 seconds, best case, to dislodge and reload. What do you think will happen in those 3 seconds? Anything. And that's the point.

I am as cheap as the next person, but this reality really hit home for me. Why? Because I have to think of myself and others I protect....and, what about my wife who also carries. What will she do if her gun hangs up? Cheap or not, money is a stupid reason to get yourself or a loved one shot, especially if $100 is what you "saved".

The question you may have is "why does it jam up?"

First off, I want to shake off a common misconception. A gun hanging up hollow points isn't a sign of a defective or cheap gun. Take the 1911, for example. The 1911 is one, if not the most, sought after hand guns. There are more of them on the planet than any other hand gun. It won 2 World Wars. It's still used by many armies all over world. It is a favorite of gun collectors everywhere. But, it was also designed to shoot ball nosed ammunition. You go buy a nice 1911 and try and cycle hollow point ammo through it and more often than not, a 1911 will have issues. Let's be honest, even 90% success ratio isn't going to make any one feel good in a live fire situation.

These feed ramps, and the mating surface to them, are all made on different machines by different operators. Because of this, some of the pieces don't mate up just perfectly. Sometimes there are tool marks from the machining processes. Maybe there are some imperfections due to what-have-you. While many gun companies out there do their due diligence and spend the extra time working on these finer points, the cost is passed on to the consumer. You. So, if you are like me and you are staring at the gun case wondering if you should get a Smith&Wesson or a Taurus, keep in mind that one of the reasons (other than the name) that one cost more than the other is usually the fit and finish. I know that's an over used phrase, but it's accurate in this case. Are the surfaces matched perfectly? Are the surfaces cleaned and massaged? Maybe. Maybe not.

So, you go out and you shoot up a bunch of expensive ammo. The gun hangs up. Now what? Well, this is the crux of this post, really.

You have several options:
  1. The most common fix that I have seen is that people will massage the feed ramp and related pieces of the gun by light sanding and polishing. A quick search on the Internet will unearth a LOT of information about how to do it. But, I caution any of you to go sanding and polishing on your firearm unless you REALLY know what you are doing OR you have enough money to go buy a new gun. There are a lot of things that you must also consider, like lined barrels. Even if you do a terrific job, you may destroy the coating that came on the barrel. It's very easy to ruin a gun, period. A little too much sanding...or uneven sanding....and you have misshaped the critical parts of your firearm.  
  2. Take it to a gunsmith. You know the saying "you get what you pay for". You may have to be without your gun for a long time. It may cost you more money. But, you will get a much more  reliable piece back. If you only have one defense gun, or don't have much money, this can present a problem. But, in the end, this is really the best solution to fixing it. It's a value adding addition too.
  3. Shoot 500-1000 rounds of ball nose ammo through it in order to smooth those imperfections out. Now. I know many of you are laughing. Me to. Yesterday when I was doing some research, I came across this solution. It is absolutely a viable solution that works MOST of the time. But, I thought..."how in the world could I even find that much ammo, much less afford it". Then I looked at the date of the article....2006. Again, if you are well off enough to still be able to shoot...this is a great solution! The passage of the round will knock down and smooth out the mating surfaces, as well as coat the imperfection with copper jacketing.
  4. Don't carry auto loading pistols. Men, mostly, will laugh at this. But don't think of yourself...think of your wives. If they are like mine, they already don't want to carry a chambered round in their auto loader. Which means that in a shooter situation, they have to pull it out of their purse, chamber a round, and fire. Why not do what millions have done before and buy her a revolver. I will be honest. This was my solution for my wife.
  5. Only shoot ball nose ammunition through the gun. I know...everyone wants fancy ammo. Does it make a difference? Sure. Absolutely. But ball nose ammo can injure and kill just as much. If you plan on filling an assailant with half a dozen holes, it really won't matter whether they came from ball nose or hollow point. Going back to our 1911 example, this gun and ball nose ammunition has killed a LOT of people. Now, if you only get 1 round into your perpetrator....then yeah...I would rather have a hollow points.
So, in summation: Don't be like me and buy a gun, try it out, then throw fancy HP ammo in to it. It's a dangerous proposition that will always have a bad ending. Know how your gun will react in all situations and take steps to rectify any potential issues. It could save your life. And saving your life is worth  a lot more than saving a few dollars.