Getting a Jump on the New Year
by Bob Londrigan, published in Front Sight Magazine, January 2008
Most shooters take at least a couple of months off during the winter either just to rest and re-energize or because weather conditions make shooting difficult. Even if you are not taking any time off, there are not any major matches in December/January so this is your opportunity to step back and evaluate your equipment, make sure everything is in top working order, and make a plan for coming shooting season. This is also the time of year to repair your equipment, test new loads, test new equipment, and set things up so that you can hit the ground running when you start practicing again.
Begin this process by going through your equipment to make sure everything is in working order. Since youíll need to repair/replace anything that is not working or broken, itís best to get an early start. If anything is going to require gunsmith repair, an early evaluation will help ensure that all is fixed by the time you start up again. Although I will be focusing this discussion on STI/SV style guns, the idea is basically the same for any competition gun.
Start by completely disassembling your pistol. Click here for the article on taking the gun completely apart. As you disassemble the gun, check each component closely for wear and breakage. Make notes on what needs to be replaced. I will address specific problem areas that are the most common but keep your eyes open for anything that does not look right.
When disassembling the gun, take the top end off first. Check the barrel for any obvious problems such as a cracked barrel link, cracks in the compensator, cracks in the lugs, etc. Check the crown and make sure it does not have any dings in it. Clean the barrel and set it aside. Now check the slide. Look for cracks especially around the ejection port. Inspect the breechface for unusual wear.
|Next take out the firing pin stop and check it for cracks. Examine it very closely especially at the inside corner. Cracks to the firing pin stop are very common and, if found, a new stop must be fitted.|
Examine the firing pin to make sure the tip is intact and that there is no peening on the end of the pin that is struck by the hammer. If you note any problems, replace it with a new firing pin. I would also replace the firing pin spring at this time so that you know you have a new spring. The spring is different at each end. The smaller end goes on first (facing the rear of the gun).
Now check the extractor. Pay really close attention to the hook portion of the extractor. If you see a groove worn in the back of the extractor hook or notice that the tip of the hook has been worn down, replace it. Lately I have been replacing extractors at around 30,000 rounds. Brass and powder residue make a really abrasive combination and, believe it or not, can wear even the hard steel used in extractors. Place the extractor back in the gun along with the firing pin stop and check the extractor tension. If needed, adjust the tension. If you have an Aftec, replace the springs and check the tension again until it is satisfactory.
If you have a limited gun check your front and rear sights. There should be no play. If you see some play, the sights will have to be removed and fixed or replaced. If you feel confident in your gunsmithing skills it is not a bad idea to remove the rear sight, clean and degrease it, and then put it back on locktiting it securely to the frame. Make sure you locktite and tighten the set screw securely. If you have a fiber optic sight, replace the fiber at this time. Once you are satisfied that all is in good working condition, clean everything and then reassemble the slide.
Now, on to the bottom end of the gun. Disassemble the frame completely including removing the grip if you are comfortable going that far. As you are disassembling the bottom end, check all parts for unusual wear or breakage. I would not remove the ejector, but check the tip to make sure it is intact. Also try to wiggle the ejector. If you notice any motion or if the tip is broken, it must be removed and fixed or replaced.
Check the hammer, sear, and disconnector for any unusual wear. If you have a lot of rounds on the hammer/sear, you might want to consider sending the gun back to your gunsmith for a tune-up on the trigger job during the off season.
Take the mainspring housing apart and make sure the spring looks OK and that the mainspring cap does not have excessive wear. If you dry fire a lot or shoot a lot of rounds, the mainspring cap may develop a groove in it. If so, it needs to be replaced. If you notice this groove, also check the bottom of the strut to make sure it is OK.
Remove the mag release and take it apart Ė check the spring to make sure it is intact and replace if needed. Look at the trigger bow closely to make sure it is not cracked and that the trigger is firmly attached to the bow. Take a close look at the grip to check for cracks. It is very common for grips to crack, especially if you dry fire a lot and practice mag changes, shoot a lot of rounds, or force a tightly loaded mag into the gun on a regular basis. The most common places where cracks occur are at inside corners at the top of the grip and the area around the mag release.
If you have a scope, check all mounting screws to make sure they are tight. If not remove, locktite, and re-install the screws and mount. I prefer to use blue locktite for all sights because the red tends to be too strong and can cause disassembly problems later.
Once you have checked out the entire gun and have replaced/repaired as necessary, it is time to put it all back together. Clean everything thoroughly and lube everywhere needed as you go. While reassembling the gun, it is a good idea to check the thumb safety for proper operation as well as the grip safety. It is easier to do this while the gun is partially disassembled. Check the thumb safety with the grip safety removed and it will be easier to see if everything is working properly. Also make sure the overtravel adjustment on your trigger is set properly and that the half cock notch works as intended. This is also a good time to put in a new recoil spring.
Once the pistol is reassembled, test fire the gun for function and make adjustments if needed. Also use this opportunity to sight in the gun. Then you can be assured that when you pick the gun up to begin practicing again everything will be ready to go and be in tip top shape.
Inspect all of your other equipment Ė magazines, gun belt, holster, reloading machine, shoes, glasses, etc. for any worn or broken parts and replace as needed. Replace all your magazine springs at this time so that you will know you have fresh springs in every magazine and wonít have to find out the hard way at a match.
Since the off season means you canít 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. 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 and give you a headstart on a great year.