Custom Guns - Ammo Performance and Compatibility
Over the 27 odd years I’ve been building handguns; and at least half of that time competing professionally, I’ve developed this indelible image in my mind of a shooter clearing a malfunction in the middle of a stage. You can tell the shooters who seldom experience malfunctions from those who live with them on a daily basis. The former is momentarily paralyzed before he (or she) figures out what actually happened and proceeds to clear the stoppage. The latter is so efficient at clearing malfunctions that the spectators hardly notice the ‘happening’ at all and it’s only after they clear the second malfunction, in the same stage, that anyone figures out what the first one was. I’ve even seen shooters win stages after one of these blinding recoveries. The fact is, the only way to avoid a malfunction in your lifetime is not to shoot. All you can do is prepare for it and limit the probability. When I hear a statement like, “my gun never malfunctions”, it’s a clear sign that unless this person gives up shooting immediately they’re in for a shock. Anyone with any experience in the business just doesn't even go there. It’s like a person saying they’ve never had an AD. All the ‘oldtimers' in the room immediately cover their ears.
On the other hand, pistols intended for use in a practical environment such as IDPA, IPSC and even more intense stuff like LE and military applications are more likely to be affected by varying conditions and ammunition types. Mags get dropped in the sand and we tend to fiddle with our loads and bullet types. Some shooters have different ammo for practice and match. Cases get reloaded until they split and all of this can contribute to a malfunction. Part of the solution is obvious. Make more headspace for the inconsistent case lengths. Move the bullet seat forward. Push the throat and ramp on the chamber enough without adversely affecting case support. Retard the barrel lock time, snug up the extractor and push the recoil spring weight a bit. But there’s a price to be paid for this increased ammunition tolerance. Because of the deviation from some of the mechanical enhancements that made it so accurate in the first place, we trade a small portion of that accuracy, and there’s no way around it. The other part of the solution is what the pros habitually do; they find a couple of compatible loads for their pistols and stick to them.
In the case of a dedicated fighting handgun for those who actually use them, these function enhancing techniques need to be pushed even further, effectively negating the whole reason for building a high end custom gun. Target engagement distances are close and 1.5” at 50 yds is not an issue. A 3" gun at 50 yds is more than adequate, let alone the fact that a lot of the ammunition these guys use won't carry that kind of accuracy. What's left is a working tool that doesn’t need to have tedious hand checkering and a grade ‘A’ polish job or even fancy grips for that matter. It’s a well-fitted close quarter gun that will function with some ugly stuff if it needs to. The fact is that the majority of these ‘Operators’ and SRT dudes do an interesting thing i.e. exactly what the money shooters do; they find an effective load that is compatible with the system and they stick to it. This eliminates many of the variables that could cause a malfunction, but with the peace of mind that should they need to fire some suspect stuff, the likelihood of the gun working is good. Here’s the rub, because your ammo head-stamp is that of one of the 3 or 4 best ammo companies in the world it doesn’t mean its ammo worthy of including in your system. Some factory ammo, and in particular the bullets, look like they were deliberately designed to malfunction the gun.
By all means experiment with loads and bullets and the other things that make shooting fun. If you get free ammo that’s not totally compatible with your system, send the gun to your gunsmith and ask him to tune the pistol for it. But there are just too many ammo products out there nowadays to make a broad statement like “the gun will digest everything”; many more than just a few years ago. The more variables introduced - the higher the probability of failure. The ultimate solution to all this is common sense. If we review the preceding opinions and observations on the subject then there should be a glaring constant. Although we build guns with a focus on the intended use, the experienced user almost always identifies and uses no more than a couple of ammo combinations that have been well tested. There are a number of reload formulas and a lot of traditional boxed ammo that can be relied on implicitly. The reward is the hassle free enjoyment of shooting your custom gun without those frustrating ammo related glitches.