Many folks — cops included — load up their self-defense sidearm, and then those tools silently serve and protect their owners from bad people with evil in their hearts. Unfortunately, most of us don’t think about regularly rotating the personal defense ammunition in our carry gun. or think we need to.
Don’t let that be you.
How long ago did you put the cartridges you’re carrying in your EDC pistol? Six months ago? A year? Two years even?
“I don’t remember” will count as a sub-optimal response. After all, you carry that gun to defend your life. It behooves you to keep up with a little basic preventative maintenance.
“Ammunition lasts for years,” you say. “Why do we need to do this?” Here’s but one reason why you should rotate your defensive ammunition.
Years ago, a retired cop at the police union building where I worked knew that I taught firearms classes on the weekends. He asked a favor: His niece found herself detailed to Darfur, Sudan in her job for the State Department.
Knowing the city’s reputation, she and her hubby both though it wise to seek out some pre-deployment training on the Beretta 92. They knew the Marines there would have M9s. If things went badly, they hoped to acquire a Beretta or two from the security contingent. In their minds, the Beretta surely beat a sharp stick.
So Clyde, a retired University of Illinois police lieutenant, asked if I would spend a day with them. Clyde had trained plenty of cops in his day. Wisely, he sought outside help to teach family members. He joined the niece and her husband, both novices to shooting, for a Saturday at the range.
We started with safety and gun basics and fired their first shots. From there, we covered movement, getting off the “X”, communication, learning to shoot around barricades, malfunction drills, and much more.
Clyde pretty much stayed out of the way, but added to what I taught them with his real-world experiences. By the end of the day, the pair had each fired 250 rounds and laid in a fairly decent skill set foundation using my guns for the cost of defensive carry ammo, lunch and a steak dinner for me. After an intensive day of training, they felt a lot better about their gun-handling and shooting skills.
Toward the end of our time at the range, we shot recreationally. The woman asked her uncle about his .357, the same gun he’d carried for about a million years at UIPD and later as a part-time security guard at an off-track betting facility.
He pulled out his Smith & Wesson from his duty belt. Then he carefully lined up his sights and squeezed the trigger.
Some say there’s nothing louder than the “click” you hear when you expect a bang…or a bang when you expect to hear a click. I’ll never forget that look of abject horror on his face.
“Ho-leee [bleep]!” he said, shaking his head, looking at that old workhorse.
He had fired that gun defensively more than once in his career. In one instance in the late ’60s, while pulling up on a shooting in progress on campus, he came under fire from a carload of Black Panthers. He returned the favor, emptying a cylinder on them. He hit a couple of them around the edges.
On this day though, three of his six cartridges failed to fire from that cylinder, including the first two rounds. Reloads from his belt worked just fine.
While he regularly cleaned his revolver, he didn’t regularly rotate his defensive ammo. He admitted carrying those particular hollow-points for at least a couple of years.
My guess is that excess lubrication spoiled those rounds. Oil in revolver cylinders can work into the cartridges through capillary action and neuter the primers. Just another reason not to over-lubricate the chamber of a revolver or a semi-auto pistol.
Oil contamination doesn’t pose the only risk to your CCW carry ammunition. Your magazines may acquire all manner of crud and debris over time, creating an opportunity for Mr. Murphy to make an unwelcome appearance. Corrosion may occur on the cartridge cases.
Then there’s the issue of bullet setback. If you load and unload your pistol frequently — when you get home, when you put your carry gun in your safe, whatever — bullet setback can become an issue over time. That can lead to over-pressure rounds and a possible ka-boom.
It may be just an old wive’s tale, but I’ve always been taught not to tumble loaded ammunition. Moving around through life over long periods of time may replicate those issues. Thankfully though, Popnfresh at Arfcom has pretty much shown that tumbling for even a couple hundred hours does not cause powder or primer degradation. At the same time, old wive’s tale or not, why not eliminate that risk by rotating your ammunition?
How often should I do it?
For revolvers, check to ensure your loaded cartridges do not feel “oily” 24 hours after cleaning the gun. If they do feel greasy, pull those rounds out of service. Run a dry patch or three through the cylinders, then reload with fresh ammo and repeat.
Once the cartridges come out dry the next day, I would recommend rotating them out every three to six months. Replace them with the brand and style of ammunition proven to run reliably in your handgun.
“Have you seen the price of self defense ammo?” you ask, incredulously. To which, I reply, “How much is your life worth? Or the lives of your spouse and kids?”
Remember: ammo is (relatively) cheap. Life is precious.
For semi-autos, perform the “cartridge in chamber” test after each cleaning. Then rotate out the round in the chamber every three to six months.
For rounds in the magazine carried in the gun or spare magazines carried every day, rotate that ammunition annually or after about 12 months of carry. All of this rotated out ammo should find a home in a box or bag in your range bag.
Test fire the rounds to ensure they fire and function. If they misfire, hangfire or have malfunction issues, investigate further to find and fix the causes. You may need to clean more often, or use (significantly) less lubrication after cleaning.
By rotating out your self-defense ammunition regularly with fresh rounds, you can eliminate a potential failure point of your personal defensive system. After all, most defensive gun uses take place at close range. While you can always pull the trigger a second time in a revolver, that’s not always the case with a semi-automatic. A bad guy can usually cover that distance far quicker than anyone can perform a malfunction clearing drill.