Winterizing Your Gun

by Bob Londrigan, published in Front Sight Magazine, November 2004

It’s the end of the season and you are ready to put your guns up for the winter, but before you relegate them to the safe till next season take time to do some planning and preventive maintenance.  The off season is the best time to tune up your equipment, plan changes to your equipment for the coming shooting season, do major repairs, and maybe purchase new equipment.

The first thing to do is break down all your equipment.  Take your gun completely apart including the grip and all small component assemblies.  Then do a detail strip and clean.   Also at this time inspect for broken parts, parts that are cracked, and parts that are worn to the point where they need to be replaced.  

Following are some specific things to check for:

Slide/frame – Closely inspect the slide and frame for cracks at major stress points. The most common problems are cracks in the slide at the corners of the ejection port and breechface erosion.  Evaluate if either the slide or the frame need to be replaced.

Brazos Custom slide

Barrel - Check your barrel for cracks on the lugs and link, dings to the crown, look for any unusual wear, and evaluate the bore for erosion and wear.   Shoot groups from a rest and make sure the gun is grouping to an acceptable standard for you. As a barrel wears groups will gradually increase. If you keep track of what a normal group is for your barrel, you will be able to spot problems early.  A pistol that suddenly starts shooting significantly larger groups is an indication of trouble, but you will never know unless you have a baseline for comparison.   If any of these conditions exist replace the link or the barrel.

Brazos Custom barrel

Compensator – Like you did with the barrel, check the compensator for cracks and port erosion and make sure it is firmly attached to the barrel – there should be no play.  Port erosion is not a serious problem unless it has progressed to the point where it has eroded the entire baffle and is enlarging the bore significantly. If it has, the compensator will continue to work, just not as well.  You’ll need to decide if it is worth the expense to replace the compensator.  Usually it is most cost effective to replace the compensator and barrel at the same time.

Hammer/sear – Evaluate the hammer and sear for wear.  Has the hammer followed… does the pull weight vary?  If “yes,” is may be time for a trigger job or new parts? Also check/adjust your overtravel and pre-travel and make any necessary adjustments.

Extractor/ejector – Check extractor tension and make sure the hook is intact.  Also make sure the ejector tip is OK.  Repair or replace these parts as needed.

Firing pin – Check the length of the firing pin to make sure there are no broken pieces or peened ends.  This is an inexpensive part, so replace it if there are any problems whatsoever.

Firing pin stop – Check the firing pin stop for cracks, broken pieces, or unusual wear.  Again replace if any irregularities exist.

Firing Pin Stop

Safeties – Check all the safeties for proper function.  Make sure the grip safety works or is pinned solidly, the halfcock notch works, the thumb safety engages, and the hammer does not fall when the trigger is pulled or when safety is released.  Fix or replace anything that is not functioning properly.

Sights- Check your sights for loose screws, broken pins, brightness of the dot, etc.

Grip – Closely inspect your grip for cracks and check the magazine catch and the channel in which it rides for excessive wear.  Cracked or worn grips can cause malfunctions so replace the grip if necessary.

Screws – Tighten and locktite all screws.

Magazines – Check magazine tubes and basepads for cracks, and replace anything that is cracked.   Measure the lips for proper dimensions and make sure they are centered on the feed ramp.  You may find you need to adjust the lips a little.   Inspect the followers to make sure they are still tightly attached to the spring.  Springs should be replaced once a year.  Replace them all at the same time so you know how long you’ve been using each spring in your set of magazines.  This makes it much easier to keep track of when a particular spring was replaced. 

Magazine Lips

Firing pin stop – Check the firing pin stop for cracks, broken pieces, or unusual wear.  Again replace if any irregularities exist.

Other equipment – Inspect your holster, mag pouches, shoes, belt, shooting glasses, hearing protection, etc. for problems.  Replace or repair any components that have problems.   

Since the off season means you can’t shoot as much (if at all), also use this time to experiment with new products or ideas and to evaluate new equipment.  Maybe you have a new load to try out or maybe you want to try a different sight or comp.  Now is the time to do it.  Take a good hard look at your performance for last year and decide what changes might have a positive impact on your shooting.  The off season is also a good time to set up a dry fire regimen.  If you dry fire a lot, be sure to check your firing pin stop and firing pin spring often.  Dry firing puts additional stress on these two parts.

At the earliest possible point in your off season, evaluate all the fixes and changes your gun needs and make a final decision on the setup that works best. This will help avoid having to change things in the middle of the season.  Your time during the season needs to be devoted to productive practice, not evaluating equipment.  Starting early will give you plenty of time to work out the inevitable kinks that will occur.

Hopefully winterizing your gun will involve only some minor tweaking that you can do yourself.  However, if your gun requires more extensive repairs, get it to your gunsmith now so you will have it back in plenty of time for next season. When all is done and before you put the gun to rest in the safe for the long hard winter, properly lube it, test fire it, and make sure it is sighted in.

Prior to the start of the new season replace all springs – recoil, Aftec, firing pin, hammer.  If you didn’t replace your magazine springs before you put your gun up, do this now.   This gives you a fresh start and you don’t have to wonder in the middle of the season whether you replaced them or not. You’ll know you replaced them all. One thing that can help you keep track is to keep a maintenance log of all the work you do to your gun.

If you follow this program, you will find your match performances becoming more consistent because you will be concentrating on your shooting during the high season and not on problems with your equipment.

  1911 parts at Brazos Custom