Many folks — cops included — load up their self-defense sidearms, and from there, those tools silently serve and protect their owners from bad people with evil in their hearts. Unfortunately, too many of us don’t think about rotating out the ammunition we carry on a daily basis. Don’t let that be you.
How long ago did you put the cartridges you’re carrying in your defensive pistol? Six months ago? A year? Two years even? “I don’t remember” will count as “sub-optimal.” After all, you carry that gun to defend your life. It behooves you to keep up with a little preventative maintenance.
Why do we 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 I taught guns on the weekends. He asked a favor: His niece found herself detailed to Darfur, Sudan (or a similar less-than-desirable destination) 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 could spend a day with them. Clyde himself trained plenty of cops in his day with guns. 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. After an intensive day of training, they felt a lot better. We started with the gun basics and firing the first shots. From there, we covered movement off the “X”, communication, learning to shoot around barricades, malfunction drills, and much more. Clyde pretty much stayed out of the way, but complemented what I taught them nicely with his real-world experiences. By the end of the day, the pair each fired 250 rounds and laid in a fairly decent foundation in skill sets using my guns for the cost of ammo, lunch and a steak dinner for me.
At the end of the day, we shot recreationally. The woman asked her uncle about his .357, the same gun he’d carried for a million years at UIPD and later as a part-time security guard at a off-track betting facility. He pulls out his S&W from his duty belt. Then he carefully lined up his sights and squeezed the trigger. “Click!”
Some say there’s nothing louder than a “click” when you expect a bang, or a “bang” when you expect 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 learned about twenty years later 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. His reloads worked fine from his belt.
While he regularly cleaned his revolver, he did not regularly rotate his defensive ammo. He admitted carrying those particular hollow-points for at least a couple of years. I have little doubt that excess lubrication spoiled those rounds. Excess oils in revolver cylinders will work into the cartridges through capillary action and neutered the primers. Just another reason not to over lubricate the chambers of revolvers or semi-auto pistols.
Oil contamination does not pose the only risk to your ammunition. Your magazines may acquire all manner of crud and debris, creating an opportunity for Mr. Murphy to appear. Corrosion may occur on the cartridge cases. It may be an old wive’s tale, but I’ve always been taught not to tumble loaded ammunition. Moving 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?
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 that 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 defensive ammo?” you ask, incredulously.
To which, I reply, “How much is your life worth? Or the lives of your spouse and kids/grandkids?”
Remember: ammo is 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 everyday, 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 flawlessly. 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 defensive ammo regularly, you can eliminate a potential failure of your defensive system. After all, most defensive gun uses take place at under six feet. While you can always pull the trigger a second time in a revolver, that’s not the case with a pistol. A bad guy can cover that six feet far quicker than anyone can perform a malfunction clearing drill on a semi-auto.