How do you know if your new handgun is reliable? For three decades I have been reviewing firearms for various publications and media outlets. When it comes to testing a new handgun to determine how well it functions, many years ago I developed a routine exercise for evaluating out-of-the-box guns. During this piece I will elaborate on the new handgun workout that I have been using for a while now.

New Handgun Workout SOTG

The author doing a Handgun Workout and firing with a strong, two-hand grip.

What is the New Handgun Workout?

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The first question we need to ask ourselves is; what do I plan to do with this handgun? If the pistol is a hobby gun, one you will drag out once in a while to kill soup cans or pop bottles, accuracy will be your main concern. Afterall, the cans and bottles are not trying to kill you. You can take your time.

Conversely, if you, like many readers, have purchased a handgun for the purpose of self-defense, our review process needs to be a bit more rigorous and involved. Accuracy is just one part of the overall evaluation protocol. For the rest of this article, let us view whichever handgun you are using as a self-defense tool that you will be using to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Faith and Confidence in your Handgun.

If you are carrying a gun for personal protection or just keeping it at home for defense, you need to have faith and confidence in that tool. No one wants to have a gun upon which they do not feel that they can rely. While all guns are machines and machines can break down, we still want to feel assured that it will work when we need it to. Our new handgun workout will help you here.

One of the many questions that new gun owners have regarding reliability is; how many rounds should I expect the gun to go without a stoppage or malfunction? For our purposes here, we will consider a stoppage to be any unintended interruption in the firing cycle of the gun. As for a malfunction, let us consider a malfunction to be some type of mechanical problem with the firearm. Using those definitions, you can see that a stoppage is something the user can fix immediately while a malfunction requires some type of repair or maintenance.

The answer to the “How many rounds should my gun go without a stoppage?” inquiry should be an entire loaded magazine or two or three. If you cannot get through a full magazine without experiencing one or more stoppages, you have a big problem.

New Handgun Workout: Inspection and Lube.

Let’s set the table for our new handgun workout. Step number one, before you even go to the range to shoot your gun for the first time, open up the included manual and learn how to disassemble and reassemble the handgun. This action will accomplish a couple of things. First this step will give you a chance to get familiar with the workings of your new handgun. Secondly, you now have no excuse not to apply lubrication to your gun.

Firearms are simple machines with springs and levers and metal parts moving back and forth on each other. Machines work best when they are clean and well lubricated. We have been using EDC CLP lately with much success. The basics of handgun lubrication are to apply a light coat (you can see the lube) to any place where metal is rubbing/sliding against metal; the slide and slide rails are the primary area on a semi-automatic handgun.

Any place on the gun that would be subject to rust or corrosion gets a fine coat of lubrication. Apply a few drops and rub in around with a cotton cloth until you can no longer see it. You do not need to have lubrication dripping off of your gun.

While Your Handgun is Disassembled.

While you have your gun apart, take a close look at all of the pieces and parts. Do they look like they should? Ninety-nine point nine percent of all new guns will pass muster, but once in a while you will discover a machining mistake, a cracked part, or even a bit of debris from the manufacturing process.

If your handgun has any type of threaded screws holding the grips, controls, etc. together, this is a great time to apply some threadlocker to them. Some manufacturers use threadlocker compounds, some do not. If you have never used a threadlocker, just go to the local hardware and pick up some “Loctite Blue 242”.

Carefully remove the screws so you don’t lose them. Dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and give the threads a quick once over to be sure there is no residual lube on them. Apply a small drop (you do not need to coat the entire screw) of Loctite to the threads and reinstall them finger tight into the gun. You can thank me for this advice now. Without threadlocker, screws on guns will work loose and sooner or later you will lose one on the range.

New Handgun Workout Disassembled

Complete disassembly, inspection, and lubrication is Step 1 of the Workout.

New Handgun Workout: Range Time

With your new handgun lubricated, inspected, and reassembled and function checked (See Owners Manual) it is time to head to the range for the range portion of the new handgun workout. If you are going to an indoor range or an outdoor range with target backers, I would suggest the Official SOTG Skill Maintenance targets. If your local range has steel silhouette targets, those will work as well.

Open up a fresh box of 50 rounds of handgun ammunition and visually inspect each cartridge. Unfortunately, far too many bad rounds have been slipping through due to the massive demand for handgun ammunition recently. I have discovered factory new rounds with the primer installed upside down, the cases damaged and crimped from the loading process and the bullets seated too deeply. All of these will foul your gun. They can and will create a stoppage or a malfunction.

Depending on the make and model of the gun, you may have one, two, or three magazines that came with it. For this exercise, use only the manufacturer’s magazines, not aftermarket models. Load up all of your magazines.

With the target five yards away, insert a magazine into your handgun and chamber a round. Now insert a fully loaded magazine into the gun. If your gun only came with one magazine, remove it, top it off with one round and reinsert it. Some semi-automatic pistols will run just fine when completely topped-off. However, I have discovered a few handguns, particularly compact and subcompact models, that will fail to feed the second round if topped off. If your gun does not like being topped-off that is not the end of the world, but you need to know.

New Handgun Workout Strong Side

Stoppage issues often appear when shooting the pistol with a single hand.

Now You’re Ready to Work it All Out.

Using a strong, two-hand grip, take aim and the center of the target and slow-fire the entire magazine. Take about one second between shots to ensure that you have reacquired your front sight and have a good sight picture. With 99 percent of all handguns you should not have any issues. If you do, then you can thank us for the new handgun workout. You don’t want to carry a gun that falls in that 1% of firearms that has an issue.

Now, reload your handgun and using only your strong / dominant hand, fire another full magazine into the target. We are not expecting surprises, but if the gun fails to cycle or you end up with a feed-way obstruction, you may not be holding it tightly enough. This is another issue with sub-compact guns. If you had a stoppage. Clear it and continue. If this occurs again, check your grip on the pistol. If you did not have any stoppages, fantastic. Move on.

For your third full magazine of ammunition, load up the gun and hold it in only your non-dominant / support hand. Once more, take your time and fire an entire magazine this way. As mentioned above, many small pistols will have stoppage issues here. If you had a stoppage. Clear it and continue. If this occurs again, check your grip on the pistol.

Using the ammunition that you have remaining from your original box of 50, partially load all of your magazines (if you have more than one). Now, using a solid two-handed hold, fire at the target until the slide locks back on an empty magazine or the gun goes ‘click’. Reload and repeat until you have exhausted all fifty rounds of practice ammunition.

Parting Shots

The majority of handguns manufactured today are of a high quality. Nonetheless, I would never rely upon a gun to potentially save my life until I had established some confidence in it. If you follow the recommendations listed above, by the time you have fired shot number fifty, you should have a solid feeling for the reliability of the gun under normal conditions.

After you have conducted your initial New Handgun Workout, now you are ready to take that gun to training and truly learn all about its capabilities. Good luck. Remember, you are a beginner once, a student for life.

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Paul G. Markel has worn many hats during his lifetime. He has been a U.S. Marine, Police Officer, Professional Bodyguard, and Small Arms and Tactics Instructor. Mr. Markel has been writing professionally for law enforcement and firearms periodicals for nearly twenty years with hundreds and hundreds of articles in print. Paul is a regular guest on nationally syndicated radio talk shows and subject matter expert in firearms training and use of force. Mr. Markel has been teaching safe and effective firearms handling to students young and old for decades and has worked actively with the 4-H Shooting Sports program. Paul holds numerous instructor certifications in multiple disciplines and a Bachelor’s degree in conflict resolution; nonetheless, he is and will remain a dedicated Student of the Gun.