Checking Your Handguns for Feeding Problems: Round Nose Versus Hollow Points, by Z.T.

To any avid gun collector, this may seem to be old news. For those of you that this isn’t old news, it may save your life. You should take great care in your personal protection firearm and the ammunition you have loaded in it.

If you are like me, shooting your firearms is a hobby that has had to take a back seat because of today’s economy and political climate. For many years, it was nothing to go out and shoot a thousand rounds of ammunition for fun. It wasn’t even that long ago! I remember back in around 2006-2007, I could go to Wal-Mart and buy all the .45 ACP ammo I wanted  for $12 a box of 50 rounds. But today is a different day. You can scarcely find .45 ammo. And if you can, you are limited to 1 box a day and you will pay $26 for it. Period. And that will be for cheap ammo.

But, to the point, I am not even talking about shooting cheap ammunition.

Collecting firearms has finally become a reality to me…or it had…and despite the relatively high prices and scarcity of quality firearms, I am still fortunate enough to be able to buy a little here and there. Yet, despite having a little extra money to buy the gun itself, being able to go about and pop off 500 rounds isn’t feasible for me. As a result, I did something that I hear is very common–and dangerous–these days:

I buy the gun, 50 rounds of inexpensive ammo, and 20 rounds of good defense rounds. I go to the range and shoot the 50 rounds to make sure the gun runs, than I stick the premium rounds in it, stick in in the holster, and call it a day.

Believe it or not, this is a life-threatening mistake.

This past weekend, the rain was beating down outside which caused all of my family outdoors activity to be canceled. Desperate for something to do, I decided to clean all of my pistols. In particular, I was cleaning two of my carry pistols, a Taurus PT-145 Millennium Pro .45 ACP  and a Taurus TCP .380.

As I was saying, both of these guns are recent purchases, both within the last year. I had put less than 50 rounds of ammo through each of them. I had put ZERO self defense rounds through them. Both are loaded with Hornady Critical Defense for self protection.

Now, quoting from their web site:

“The patented Flex Tip® technology used in Critical Defense® ammunition eliminates the clogging and inconsistency that often plagues hollow point bullets. ?”

They make a fantastic round, but despite the claims, when I finished up reassembling each gun, I cycled a few rounds through it. Guess what. They jammed. Both guns. Multiple times.

I picked up my Springfield Armory 1911, which has had a good bit of work in massaging the feed ramp and it had zero problems feeding the rounds.

Okay. So, now what? Well, racking the slide to check for feeding problems isn’t exactly exact, so there is only one thing to do to verify whether or not your firearm will feed the self defense rounds: Go fire it. Now, I know that’s easier said than done. A box of 20 rounds for any common caliber is going to cost you $25 dollars. And you really need to shoot several boxes through it. $100 is a lot of money to most people, not to mention the time to go out and do it. But, it’s a necessary thing. Your life depends on it.

I have hinted around at it, and surely you have figured it out by now. If you haven’t, consider the situation (heaven forbid it actually happen, but in today’s world, you better be ready) where you have to defend yourself and others against an assailant. You pull the gun out, take aim, get a shot off. Maybe it hits. Maybe it doesn’t. In either case, you should always shoot until the mag is empty. But, to your surprise, the spent casing ejects and the next round hangs on the feed ramp. It takes about three seconds, best case, to dislodge and reload. What do you think will happen in those three seconds? Anything. And that’s the point.

I am as cheap as the next person, but this reality really hit home for me. Why? Because I have to think of myself and others I protect….and, what about my wife who also carries. What will she do if her gun hangs up? Cheap or not, money is a stupid reason to get yourself or a loved one shot, especially if $100 is what you “saved”.

The question you may have is “why does it jam up?”

First off, I want to shake off a common misconception. A gun hanging up hollow points isn’t a sign of a defective gun. Take the 1911, for example. The 1911 is one, if not the most, sought after handguns. It is one of the most popular handguns on the planet. It helped win two World Wars. It’s still used by many armies. It is a favorite of gun collectors everywhere. But, it was also designed to shoot full metal jacket (“ball”) round-nosed ammunition. You go buy a nice 1911 and try and cycle hollow point ammo through it and more often than not, a 1911 will have issues. Let’s be honest, even 90% feeding success ratio isn’t going to make any one feel good in a live fire situation.

These feed ramps, and the mating surface to them, are all made on different machines by different operators. Because of this, some of the pieces don’t mate up just perfectly. Sometimes there are tool marks from the machining processes. Maybe there are some imperfections due to what-have-you. While many gun companies out there do their due diligence and spend the extra time working on these finer points, the cost is passed on to the consumer. You. So, if you are like me and you are staring at the gun case wondering if you should get a Smith & Wesson or a Taurus, keep in mind that one of the reasons (other than the name) that one cost more than the other is usually the fit and finish. I know that’s an over used phrase, but it’s accurate in this case. Are the surfaces matched perfectly? Are the surfaces cleaned and massaged? Maybe. Maybe not.

So, you go out and you shoot up a bunch of expensive ammo. The gun hangs up. Now what? Well, this is the crux of this post, really.

You have several options:

  1. The most common fix that I have seen is that people will massage the feed ramp and related pieces of the gun by light sanding and polishing. A quick search on the Internet will unearth a lot of information about how to do it. But, I caution any of you to go sanding and polishing on your firearm unless you really know what you are doing or you have enough money to go buy a new gun. There are a lot of things that you must also consider, like lined barrels. Even if you do a terrific job, you may destroy the coating that came on the barrel. It’s very easy to ruin a gun, period. A little too much sanding…or uneven sanding….and you have misshaped the critical parts of your firearm.  
  2. Take it to a gunsmith. You know the saying “you get what you pay for.” You may have to be without your gun for a long time. It may cost you more money. But, you will get a much more  reliable piece back. If you only have one defense gun, or don’t have much money, this can present a problem. But, in the end, this is really the best solution to fixing it. It is value adding, too.
  3. Shoot 500 to 1,000 rounds of ball round nose ammo through it in order to smooth those imperfections out. Now. I know many of you are laughing. Me to. Yesterday when I was doing some research, I came across this solution. It is absolutely a viable solution that works most of the time. But, I thought…”how in the world could I even find that much ammo, much less afford it”. Then I looked at the date of the article….2006. Again, if you are well off enough to still be able to shoot…this is a great solution! The passage of the round will knock down and smooth out the mating surfaces, as well as coat the imperfection with copper jacketing. [JWR Adds: Successively hand-cycling but not firing 1,000 cartridges through your pistol will also help. But because this will put a lot of wear on the cartridges, it is best to use the same 50 cartridges repeatedly, and then actually shoot them, the 20th time that you cycle them through the gun. And, needless to say, it is absolutely essential that you use a safe backstop when hand-cycling the cartridges, in the event of an accidental trigger press.]
  4. Don’t carry autoloading pistols. Many men will laugh at this. But don’t think of yourself. Think of your wives. If they are like mine, they already don’t want to carry a chambered round in their auto loader. Which means that in a shooter situation, they have to pull it out of their purse, chamber a round, and fire. Why not do what millions have done before and buy her a revolver. I will be honest. This was my solution for my wife.
  5. Only shoot ball nose ammunition through the gun. I know…everyone wants fancy ammo. Does it make a difference? Sure. Absolutely. But ball ammo can do nearly as much damage. If you plan on filling an assailant with half a dozen holes, it really won’t matter whether they came from ball or hollow point. Going back to our 1911 example, this gun and ball ammunition has killed a lot of people. Now, if you only get one round into Mr. Perpetrator, then yes, I would rather have a hollow point. In some cases though, you may be better off with ball anyway. Take the case where an assailant has body armour. A hollow point will expand on contact and won’t penetrate. Ball will hold together better and give you the best chance at penetrating.

So, in summation: Don’t buy a gun and just try it out with ball, then throw fancy hollowpoint ammo in it and assume that it will function. It’s a dangerous proposition that may have a bad ending. Know how your gun will function in all situations and take steps to rectify any potential issues. It could save your life. And saving your life is worth  a lot more than saving a few dollars.

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