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Things were a little different this week at Gunsite than they’d be at your typical product demos. Take the SHOT Show’s media day at the range for example. While it’s held in the desert outside Las Vegas, the exhibitors don’t exactly encourage writers to roll around in the dirt with their guns. But by the time we were done with the exercises each day at Gunsite, our heaters were absolutely filthy, and that translated into some reliability issues…

Ruger kindly brought along enough guns so that all 10 writers could have an LCR, an LCP, an SR-1911 and an SR-556 of their very own. Those 40 guns were brand new, fresh out of the box, and still had that (ahhhh) new gun smell.

But after the first day of shooting, we already had a few casualties. Firearms casualties, that is.

Handguns were the first to go down, with the SR-1911 hit hardest. I know my own holster was completely full of sand when I went to take it off, and I can’t imagine anyone else’s being much better. And thanks to that sand, two handguns stopped running and needed a little TLC to get firing again. The Ruger guys were so concerned about the condition of the rest that they demanded a cleaning session before setting out for day two.

The LCP also became a bit unpredictable as the day wore on. We were carrying them in pocket holsters, which accumulated plenty of sand over the course of the day. My own LCP began to double feed despite the good quality ammo we were putting through it.

The rifles didn’t make it through the event either. At least one actually began to slam fire, and was “red tagged” back to the factory for repair. My own SR-556 had an issue with a failure to feed, most likely caused by a problem with the magazine catch (a tap-rack-bang put it right).

The moral of the story here isn’t that Ruger’s guns are unreliable. My own Frankenstein 300 BLK AR-15 choked on the desert dust in Oregon a while back and required some heavy lubrication to put right. The lesson here is that proper maintenance is the key to everything, even if you’re using the magical cure-all that is a piston powered AR-15 (which is neither magical nor a cure-all). Especially in dusty environments, extra vigilance is required to keep your guns running.

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  1. Sand will choke just about anything. Add tight tolerances and casual cleaning and your bangstick won’t.

    I’ve never been a huge fan of the AK or AR. But in truly uncivilised environments I’d pick the AK.

    • This, in fact, may be a flaw of the piston as the linked video below suggests. In my experience in the sand, and experience of gurus like Pannone, the DI AR is actually the BEST option in gritty environments. The over-pressurization of the DI system actually blows dirt out of the action. There are youtube videos of similar tests with AKs that failed to achieve the same reliability. Sand in the action is bad for all weapons. The DI AR actually mitigates this.

      • im sure wouldnt conclude that the AR is necessarily the best solution in that environment based on that post.

        Sure, perhaps the internal piston AR does force debris out of the rifle, but the same can be said for the violence of the AK action.

        The external piston still has the advantage in that it keeps the bolt carrier cooler, thus keeping the parts lubricated longer.

      • Interesting. It does make sense but I just don’t know how much pressure is left over in the chamber after the bolt carrier separates from the gas tube.

        The Sig 516 has multiple positions for the piston gas valve. One of them is for “extreme environments” with higher pressure going through the system and is not recommended for normal use because of excessive wear. So at least one manufacturer is aware of the issue with piston rifles.


  2. Interesting.As I recall S&W’s M&P15 Sport-you know,the direct impingement AR without a dust cover-passed the ‘desert test’ with flying colors when this very blogsite ran it at Gunsite.


    • I have a buddy with a Sport that shoots the crap out of it. And barely maintains it. A bore snake and that foaming cleaner stuff. I think he takes it apart to clean the rest every few thousand rounds. We all yell at him to clean it…but it keeps ticking.

  3. It takes a lot of sand to stop a Ruger. But just one grain in a guy’s underwear and it’s low speed, high drag for the rest of the day.

  4. It’s good to see results of a real world abuse test that comes from actual use, not the standard “dunk it in a bucket of mud and pull the trigger” thing that people do to try to approximate real world use.

    • I’ve heard stories that if you pour molten lead into a Glock filling up all the air spaces letting the lead dry and harden, then you can still count on the gun firing reliably and perfectly.

  5. SR1911 was hit hardest? Aren’t 1911’s generally intolerant of dirt? Just want to make sure we’re comparing apples with apples here. Also, and I didn’t read the prior posts about total shots fired, what kind of round count / usage are we talking about?

    How did the LCR’s fare?

    • 1911’s are plenty tolerant of dirt – as originally built 100 years ago. The tolerances were quite generous in the original 1911’s.

      Today, everyone has a fixation on ultimate accuracy, and to get that from a 1911 means that you need to tighten the slide to the frame (dust failure point #1), the front bushing to the slide & barrel (not usually a failure point) and the barrel hood to the slide (which, if dirt gets in there can prevent the barrel from going up into the slide, which prevents the pistol from going into battery).

      • Yeah, when I was in the old government issued 1911a1’s where very tolerant of dirt. You could hold one in your hand and shake it and it rattled. No close fitting to speak of, but they worked in all the environments I was in.

        • Exactly – they rattled when you shook them. And they were reliable – for the same reasons as the AK-47: Huge, sloppy tolerances give lots of room for dirt to get in… and get back out. Dunk an old GI 1911 into a bucket of diesel fuel, slosh it around a couple times, pull it out and whip off the excess or blow it out with an air hose and you’re GTG.

  6. We have the luxury of a free outdoor range in my region. Our last trip out, a friend dropped my wife’s brand new Ruger 22/45 in the mud. I was grateful, actually, because he ran into problems with dis-assembly and reassembly . He’s always prepared though, with his cleaning kit and a few tools…

    • No, no, no, no, no!

      You do NOT want to run things too wet in a dusty environment. Trust a vet of Afghanistan and Iraq, AR+Dust+Excessive lube=horrible reliability.

      In dusty environments, its quality, not quantity.

      You need to the minimum ammount of high quality synthetic lube. I recommend Miltech and especially Slip 2000.

      Too much oil attracts sand and dust and dirt like a magnet. It will stick and gum and shut your gun down in a heart beat.

      Trust me, use a high quality lube, and not too much of it, and your results with an AR or anything with tight tolerances will be far, far better than if you squirt CLP or any petroleum based lube into it.

      • another vet disagrees strongly.

        the AR system needs to be wet, especially in a dry, dusty environments.

        and those high speed synthetic lubes dont behave measurably better than any synthetic motor oil and certainly not better than automatic transmission fluid. Save yourself some money and get away from the stupid snake oil gun lube schemes.

        mark is absolutely correct.

      • As someone who used to live in the high desert of Nevada (and shot a lot there), I used to run my guns either dripping wet (literally dripping wet – as in “pour in the lightweight oil and shake off the excess) and oiled twice or three times a day, or I’d use dry, powdered lubes.

        On my AR and other semi-autos, I ran them with dry lubes. My dry lubes were a combination of graphite and moly powders. I didn’t use the stuff peddled for the purpose. I had graphite dust by the box full for seeding grass.

        The gas system in an AR (at least my AR) couldn’t operate effectively with the amount of lube it took to flush out the dust.

        The “dust” in Nevada isn’t just dust. There’s a lot of salts flying through the air, especially near playas. Sometimes you can watch dust devils take the salt off a playa and loft is 2,000 feet into the air… much of the dust is as fine as talcum powder and will accumulate on anything that has even a hint of oil or grease on it.

        I could always spot a hydraulic leak or oil leak on farm equipment and trucks after a dust devil blew through. The dust would stick fast to any oil.

        • I used to do day work on the ranches along the Alvord Desert, a large dry salt lake bed north of Winimucca, dry lube is prefered

      • Two tour Iraq vet here and I concur. Too much oil in a sandy environment equals a jam-o-matic. Joe’s always seem to over lube their weapons in order to make them easier to clean after a range trip, but in actual fighting application, it is a flawed strategy.

        • Isn’t it cheaper to just buy a AK? With one of those POSP 2-6x scopes. You will get decent accuracy 2-3 MOA with a heavier barrel 1-2 MOA, and the POSP has a BDC reticle for 100, 200 and 300 metres( zero at 100)

  7. Wait till you can get into a clean environment. Otherwise for anything more serious than punching paper, you out of luck. Never got to pick a clean spot for a firefight.

  8. All depends on the weapon I know of shooter who hate Olympic Arms ARs but Ive seen men out shoot Colts and Bushmasters with Olympic arms the brand war is bull crap if it works for you its fine.

  9. Given an LCR in the above picture and no mention of them in the article means they did fine. Guess I can go ahead with my upcoming purchase.

  10. Hey, anything can jam under conditions that are nasty enough, although my SR-556 has yet to choke in the CA or AZ desert.

  11. I didn’t see a mention of the LCR. How’d that fair in reference to the LCP? Any noticeable difference between the two in terms of sensitivity to sand?

  12. This is kind of silly. If you put sand in the action of any gun (and put it in the wrong place) you will get malfunctions (yes, even Glocks and AKs).

    Why do you think that many old military issue pistol holsters had flaps that went over the gun – To keep it Clean – so it would Work.

    Why does the safety on the AK act as a dustcover? Why does the AR have a part specifically named “dustcover” – to keep dirt out.

    The moral of the story should be “Don’t put sand in you gun and expect it to work.”

  13. Late to the party, but this is a top search result for oil vs dry firing.

    In dusty environments ( read: raghead terrritory ), run dry, use rubbing alcohol to clean weapon and remove moisture. If you are heading for a firing range where you are going to be running a lot of ammo through. lube away prior to use. No need to add wear and tear for practice. BUT, remove all lube afterwards and clean thoroughly again with rubbing alcohol. In battle, the dry weapon will be more reliable. the first round tends to blow much of the dust out of the weapon, what remains of this dust is very dry and does not tend to interfere with the action. since it is dry, you do not get clumps of grit ( ever seen lapping compound? that’s oil/grease and grit.). cleaning after a dry run can be as easy as canned air and a q-tip.

    two years “over there” and never a misfire that wasn’t a dud round.

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