Proofing Self-Defense Guns

By Dave Dolbee published on in Safety and Training

Here is a little tale that teaches a good lesson. While at the local gun show, I found a sweet deal on a new compact handgun. Having plenty of experience with the brand, I decided to offer it a home. The safe where it would primarily reside ensured it would be in good company. Due to its diminutive size, I planned to ensure it received plenty of time in the fresh air filling a role as my BUG (Back-up Gun). My new BUG looked so great, two of my buddies decided they needed to buy its siblings, so after a bit of paperwork and a few days, we walked out with three identical handguns.

malfunction clearance drills

A word to the wise—at some point practice malfunction clearance drills.

About a week later, I headed to the range with a handful of different loads. I needed to proof the gun before carry. My two buddies showed up, each carrying their new guns—unfired, loaded, and concealed. I did not agree, and wondered (silently) whether that was a smart idea…

Shrugging off the worries of what others were doing, excitedly I loaded up the BUG and started punching holes in the target. I made it through the first two rounds. After that, the gun would fire the round in the chamber, but failed to eject and therefore load a new round. I fieldstripped, cleaned, and lubricated the piece to no avail. I tried my spare magazines as well as proofing my magazines in the other two pistols.

A new pistol with a failure is a shame, but certainly not unheard of. While disappointing, I discovered the problem and quickly shipped it back to the manufacturer for repair. That is not the point of this story though, neither is the particular make or model.

How many times have you heard a friend or relative talk of owning a gun they had never fired, yet relied on it for defense? They bought the gun, loaded it, and locked it away for an emergency. Or, just as bad, they carried the gun for self-defense without function firing it to ensure it would tolerate a steady diet of the intended self-defense ammunition.

Walther CCP handgun showing a failure to feed

Any gun can have a failure. To mitigate some of the risk in 9mm, stick with 115- and 124-grain loads to reduce the chance of a malfunction. In any case, the high velocity 115- and 124-grain loads are excellent defense loads, or you can go all the way with a 147-grain load.

In manufacturing, failure rates are a fact of life. In fact, it is such an important part of reliable manufacturing; it is represented by the Greek letter λ (lambda) and calculated during the design process. This is important when we think of carrying a new gun before properly proofing or dumping it in a handgun safe by the side of the bed for home defense.

When the SHTF, you’ll be the one whose carcass is on the line, so be sure you are comfortable with the testing you perform. If you are unsure of how to, or how much, you need to test your handgun, the following regimen is a good minimum.

First, let me back up and caution you to not give up on a new gun too soon. While most firearms today are good to go out of the box, others will require 50-200 rounds to properly break them in and work off any rough edges. For this, I use less expensive range ammunition. It has the quality I need to trust the ammunition, without the added expense. Besides, to be dependable, the gun should shoot inexpensive ammunition as well as it does premium self-defense ammunition.

Practice trigger control at home with dry fire drills, and plenty of live fire at the range to proof the gun and hone your skills.

Practice trigger control at home with dry fire drills.

I start by loading all magazines to capacity with the ammunition I plan to load for defense. I fire the first 10-20 rounds one at a time, and check the gun and my grip after each shot. Next, I fire at least 10 rounds of double taps. After that comes at least 10 rounds fired while rotating the gun from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock to ensure the pistol fires at any angle. All magazines are tested by shooting each, fully loaded, to ensure the magazine release holds when fully loaded and the last round feeds as well as the first did.

After passing, without a single failure to feed, fire, or eject, I give the pistol a thorough cleaning and proper lubrication. Finally, I fire a couple more rounds, just to ensure everything went back together properly, and before topping of the magazine and relying on the pistol for self-defense. Remember, this is a minimum. You’ll need plenty of practice to ensure you are fully comfortable with the handgun’s controls, reloading and sights. Live fire is always best, but dry fire practice is a critical element to developing these skills as well, and its free!

Have you ever carried or kept a firearm for self-defense without properly testing it first? How do you test your firearms? Share your testing procedure in the comment section.

SLRule

Growing up in Pennsylvania’s game-rich Allegany region, Dave Dolbee was introduced to whitetail hunting at a young age. At age 19 he bought his first bow while serving in the U.S. Navy, and began bowhunting after returning from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Dave was a sponsored Pro Staff Shooter for several top archery companies during the 1990s and an Olympic hopeful holding up to 16 archery records at one point. During Dave’s writing career, he has written for several smaller publications as well as many major content providers such as Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Outdoor Life, Petersen’s Hunting, Rifle Shooter, Petersen’s Bowhunting, Bowhunter, Game & Fish magazines, Handguns, F.O.P Fraternal Order of Police, Archery Business, SHOT Business, OutdoorRoadmap.com, TheGearExpert.com and others. Dave is currently a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

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Comments (26)

  • mj

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    I used to go to the range every couple of years. My x carry was either a G27 or a KelTec 380.

    It would take me about a dozen rounds before I felt any kind of comfort. A few years ago I started taking my conceal rights much more seriously.

    Honestly speaking, I thought I would be ready if needed…I would not have. Between heavy trigger pulls, not such user friendly weapons and mostly my lack of training, I likely was NOT prepared. I now know I need more ‘tactical’ hi stress type training. However, in terms of range time, I go almost weekly. I am extremely comfortable with my C&C, knowing how to aim (well), feeling very comfortable with trigger pull and the such.

    By the way… X x 3= 15 X=5 (:

    Reply

  • Retired Navy Spook

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    I can’t imagine buying a gun and not firing it, especially a carry gun or one you keep in the night stand. With a couple short-term exceptions I’ve only carried 3 firearms since the mid 1970’s; a Browning Hi-Power from 1976 to 1991, a S&W stainless model 60 .38 revolver from 1991 to 2015, and a Sig P938 mini-9 from 2015 to present. The Hi-Power would eat any kind of ammo I put through it, same for the .38, but the Sig is a different story, not just on what it likes and doesn’t like, but on the huge difference in accuracy. The day I bought the 938, I headed to my cousin’s rural range with a couple boxes of Sellier & Bellot 115 gr. FMJ that I had gotten a deal on as well as a box of Freedom Munnitions XTP 124 gr. hollow points that I had decided would be my carry ammo. I went through 5 or 6 mags (7 rounds ea.) of the S&B and had one or two FTF from each, with an average of 5-6″ groups at 10 yards. Every FTF fired on the second try, and I suspect S&B just uses a harder primer. I switched to the XTP, going through the entire box of 50 without a single malfunction, and the groups tightened to under 2″. Fortunately the S&B works fine in my Glock 17 and my Hi-Power, so I’ll shoot it up at milk jugs or cans.

    Reply

  • Scott

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    Good article thank you. I always put 50 rounds of carry ammo through a new gun as a test. I vary shooting speeds but the 9 to 3 angled shooting was new to me and my “golden nugget” of the article. I also put some junk ammo through it too. See if the gun can handle it and better on my wallet but 50 rounds of the good stuff is a must. I try to remember that some guns go through manufacturers quality control on a Monday morning and others on a friday afternoon. We are all human and things get missed.

    Reply

    • Dave Dolbee

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      Great points! Thanks for the read. ~Dave Dolbee

      Reply

  • Chuck Cochran

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    Great story, and one I will reference whenever working with someone and their new gun or new ammo. While I’ve never experienced that scenario with a new gun, I have had cohorts that have done exactly that with a new carry ammo. Both are not good, and the potential for disaster is way up therr.

    Reply

  • Pete in Alaska

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    I’ve been trying to think of ANYONE I know who has acquired a firearm and not taken it out to the range or in my case my “backyard” to
    Shoot, “proof”, or otherwise become familiar and comfortable with it. Seems more than counter productive and unwise to me.

    Reply

  • Illanoyed

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    Recently had the similar experience with a new compact semi-auto. We are fortunate to have a tactical range here in Northern IL – plenty of opportunity for the public to shoot from holster, shoot practical “run and gun” scenarios, practice on the fly mag changes, and yes, practice clearing unexpected malfunctions of various types under the “pressure” of a shot timer. The new compact ran flawlessly on +P through it’s first scenario. When I ran the same drill a 2nd time with standard power loads, couldn’t get more than 2 shots downrange without some sort of malfunction. Am a tinkerer and took it in hand to polish the frame rails a bit, and have now tested with every type of round from lowest to highest power, to confirm reliability – problem solved. Never had an issue with any ammo running in full size like Beretta 92, Sig P226 and Glock 17, so I never would have expected the issue on the compact, had I not done the proofing.

    Reply

  • DrewR

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    Equally as important as proofing your gun is proofing your carry ammo. Most people at least check accuracy and reliability of their chosen defensive ammo, but rarely if ever check it’s performance. Most 4 inch barrels and up will have reliable HP performance with most of the ammo out there, but if you are going to run a sub compact you should be testing your ammo. Some very popular carry rounds will exhibit zero expansion from 3 to 3 1/2 inch barrels. If you carry a snub nose revolver, micro 380 or any of the ultra compact 9s, 40s or 45s you need to proof your ammo.

    Reply

  • Secundius

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    @ J. Martinez.

    Tetherless Recoil Simulators from VirTra which allows Shooter to use their Handguns with Real World “Feel” and Real World “Recoil” without the use of Expensive Ammunition…

    Reply

  • 70's Ops

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    I never called it testing or proofing. I call it shooting. If you’re going to own a gun, you have to shoot it. I shoot all 5 of mine weekly at my brother-in-laws range. Its not only fun, it keeps them all maintained. We do different drills also, not just assume the “stance” and put holes in paper. We do firing on the move, jam drills, reloading drills, firing from cover, and providing cover fire. We’re both veterans, so we run it like we’re used to. And ALWAYS range safety is paramount. We’ll have up to 15 shooters all coordinated in both attack and defense drills. We’re not a militia, but I’d hate to run up against any or all of us. Including my wife, daughter and granddaughters. We are all a well oiled machine, as are our weapons. Which is the point. Familiarity with your weapon, its characteristics and flaws.
    Safe shooting to all.

    As always
    Carry on

    Reply

    • J.Martinez

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      Most shooters would LOVE to have the opportunity to practice like that. We have to contend with overly regulated ranges that limit firing to stable stance, slow repetition, no ability to clean, adjust, fix your firearms, etc. No realistic practicing allowed. Liability laws… I do most of that in my bedroom dry firing.
      I can only dream of having enough land in the country to shoot unencumbered… Sigh…

      Reply

  • Secundius

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    I don’t know whether US Small Arms Manufactures have gone to using Air Pressure to “Barrel Proof” Revolvers/Pistols yet. But as I recall an ~130% Powder Charge is used to Barrel Proof Handguns. The Barrel Proof Certificate is sent to the Birlingham Barrel Proof House in Birlingham, UK for Data Storage…

    Reply

    • Wild Bill

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      Interesting. How do they proof rifles? Especially bigger bores. For example I own a 338 lapua and I am starting to look into reloading since you really can’t afford to pay for factory ammo. I scored some on Midway for about $2.40/round. I bought a case so now I have enough brass for a long time. But how would you proof that since 338 lapua loads seem to vary from mid 70s to over 90 grains of powder depends on manufacturer and weight of projectile. I know British proof laws are pretty strict so I wondered how they verify rifles.

      Reply

    • Secundius

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      @ Will Bill.

      Rifles get at 125% Proofing Charge up to .458 Lott (11.6mm). Anything above that is usually 117% Proofing Charge. I don’t know where .458 SOCOM fit’s in the Pecking Order, but I suspect it’s treated as a 117% PC…

      Reply

    • Wild Bill

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      125%. That will find a failure if there is a flaw.

      Reply

    • Secundius

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      @ Wild Bill.

      Better at the Manufacture, then bringing it home and having it Explode in your face…

      Reply

    • Secundius

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      @ Wild Bill.

      Barrel Proof are submitted within 72-hours of Barrel Proofing. It use to be by a Bullet Sample sent to Proof House. Nowadays it’s sent Electronically…

      Reply

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