To determine whether a pistol or revolver is reliable you must eliminate human-caused error and build up a data set with your ammo of choice.
If you’re carrying a handgun for self-defense, it is critical that it be reliable.
And by reliable, I mean that when you pull the trigger there is a 99.99 percent chance it will fire and cycle properly. (One hundred percent would be better but we can never be 100 percent sure of anything.)
Many think the road to determining reliability is through a 1,000 round test fire.
While this may seem like the most assured way to establish reliability, the truth of the matter is that it is mostly a way to waste money.
Understand that the ammunition you need to establish reliability with, is the ammunition you will carry in your handgun for personal protection.
It’s true that if a handgun is reliable with practice ammunition, the chances that it will be reliable with carry ammunition are increased.
However, we cannot count on chances. Reliability must be established with carry ammo. And carry ammo, on average, can cost you as much as a dollar every time you pull the trigger.
Why Handguns Fail
The four most common reasons for stoppages with a semi-automatic handgun are shooter error, the magazine, level of cleanliness, and the ammunition.
You’ll find certain handguns that do not like certain loads, but this is less common than bad magazines, poor shooter technique, and dirty guns.
Any evaluation of ammunition reliability needs to limit the use of bad magazines, poor shooter technique, and fouling.
If that is not done, you cannot make a proper decision regarding whether a certain load is reliable in your handgun or not.
To reach that 1,000-round test ceiling, some might suggest trying a carry load during a firearms training class.
At least that way you’re not just shooting to shoot. This is not a good idea.
Partly because from a reliability standpoint, if you have a stoppage, you should immediately investigate the reason it happened.
During a firearms training class you will be expected to immediately clear that stoppage and forge on.
It’s also partly because if you find the load your testing is not reliable, dealing with stoppages will interfere with your training, and you’ll have wasted a lot of money on ammunition incompatible with your handgun.
Shoot With Proper Technique
A more reasonable approach is to select the load you would like to use for carry and purchase a single box.
Then take the time to precisely shoot that box of ammo, making sure you do not do anything on your part to negatively impact reliability.
Don’t ride the slide with your thumb, don’t inadvertently push up on the slide lock during recoil, and don’t shoot with a limp wrist.
Many ultra-compact pistols require a firm grip and a locked wrist to function properly with any ammunition.
If you experience no issues with that 20-round box, purchase another 50 or 75 rounds and continue the evaluation.
How Clean Is Your Gun?
But before further testing, here is something else to consider. At what level of cleanliness will you carry your defensive handgun?
Will it be just cleaned, will it have had several boxes of ammunition fired through it, or will it ride in your holster uncleaned even after several hundred rounds?
Every round fired through a handgun makes it dirtier and at some point, it will be too dirty to function.
Test your carry ammunition, in your gun, at the level of cleanliness at which it will be carried.
If you can fire 100 rounds through your handgun without a stoppage that cannot be attributed to shooter error, filthiness, or a bad magazine, you can consider the ammunition you’re evaluating to be 99.99 percent reliable in your handgun at its current level of cleanliness.
If you have even one stoppage, and you’re sure it was caused by the ammunition, find a different load.
The other thing you can do is rotate your carry ammo at least annually.
This gives you a chance to shoot the loads you’ve been carrying for the past six months or a year and this adds to establishing a higher level of confidence in the reliability of that particular load.
Test Revolver Ammo Too
Also, don’t assume that a revolver is stoppage free or that any load will work perfectly in one.
Bullet set out can happen, especially in lightweight magnum revolvers, and if it happens it can lock the cylinder.
Also, it is possible for case rim dimensions to be slightly off, and cases can jump the ejection star during extraction.
Test carry ammunition for a revolver just as you would with a semi-automatic.