So you’ve got a brand new firearm, and you’re excited to get out and shoot it, but does it need to be properly “broken in” before it operates at maximum efficiency? Well for one when a firearm comes off the assembly line, it is purposefully designed to be “tight” in certain elements, and if you think about it, the alternative would be undesirable. After all, you don’t want a new firearm with extremely loose parts. In addition to this factory “tightness,” most barrels are said to have microscopic portions that are slightly raised from the rest of the barrel. Can these microscopic imperfections affect the performance of your firearm if not properly broken in or conditioned?

While many people approach or regard the break in process differently, there are some general rules everyone can follow to get the most out of their new firearm. As for whether or not it is needed, well everyone will have their own opinion, but we’ll try to arrive at a decent middle ground on the subject.

Methodology

When you allegedly begin to break in a firearm, you’re essentially gently wearing down the parts and the barrel. It is not uncommon for a firearm to be a bit stiff or its barrel to have some microscopic imperfections, and again given the production process this makes sense. You goal is to bring the firearm from “rigid” status to a happier medium. Modern firearms should work right out of the box (after an initial cleaning), and if they don’t, then something is likely wrong with the gun.

However, we think it’s reasonable to wonder if firearms don’t always work at their optimum level right away. Note, optimum level does not mean operate at all, but rather it should be thought of as an extra 5% or an extra little boost when compared to the brand new gun. Of course, you shouldn’t have to worry about a break in period for high dollar custom guns either. All said, this is where the controversial break in process comes in, and those who subscribe to it expect their firearms to perform at maximum efficiency only after firing several rounds through the gun.


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Initial Cleaning

There is debate as to whether a gradual firing and cleaning process matters when it comes to breaking in a firearm, or if you just need to fire a whole lot of rounds through it and call it good. What everyone can agree on is that every new firearm needs an initial cleaning before it is ever fired. Most firearms coming from the factory are coated with a grease that resists rust and ensures a long shelf life at the store or warehouse. You want any firearm you purchase to come coated like this, but as soon as you own it, you’ll want to remove it before you ever fire a shot. So the first and definitive step in any firearm break in is a thorough cleaning. Once the grease is removed, gun oil should replace it and thoroughly cover any moving parts. Now the next part is somewhat debated, but most find that a trade off of firing and cleaning is the best way to approach it.

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Naturally, a good cleaning kit should be viewed as a necessary accessory to any gun break in.

Break In By Firearm Types

Rifles

In rifles, the process begins with firing a shot, cleaning the barrel, and then repeating the process for several rounds. In the beginning of this process, the bore patch should come out fairly dirty, but after a while it shouldn’t be as gunked after each shot. After alternating shots and cleaning swipes for several rounds, the frequency of shots before cleaning should be increased, usually 5-10 rounds. After a couple more of those sessions, most will agree the rifle has been “safely” broken in, and you may see a slight increase in accuracy and bullet velocity afterwards.

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Handguns

The break in of a handgun is somewhat similar, but the amount of rounds fired before cleaning varies a bit. Some will fire a single round out of the handgun and then clean the barrel to start, while others will fire a magazine or cylinder worth of rounds before cleaning the handgun. Either way, the firing and cleaning process should be repeated a couple times, and then the frequency of rounds fired through the gun before cleaning should be increased.

In any self-defense firearm, a break in and test period is very important, and there is no debate about that. If you’re going to trust your life with a handgun, you’ll want to run several hundred rounds through it before you can truly rely on it. Most will agree at least 200 is the right number to break in with, and this can be done with bulk ammo. However at the end of the process, a few clips of high-quality defense rounds should be used to finalize the break in period.

Shotguns

Of all the primary firearm types, shotguns are generally regarded as needing the least amount or no break in period before they’re ready to perform at peak efficiency. They should still receive a thorough cleaning and disassembly before use and then thorough lubrication afterward.

The Bottom Line

Many manufacturers include break in procedures with their firearms, and unless you’re a seasoned pro with a tried-and-true method, you’re probably best off following the manufacturer’s instructions. Other manufacturers say nothing on the subject, potentially because they believe the whole process is overblown and not as necessary as most think. They may be right, but one factor that seems wise to pay attention to is the initial build up of copper in rifle barrels. Since most agree there will be imperfections in most new barrels, it seems likely that copper could build up on these imperfections until they are worn down, and cleaning after the first shots to prevent an excess build up of copper sounds prudent.

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One thing we can all agree on is a thorough cleaning before the first range session with products like these from Hoppe’s.

Firing a bunch of rounds through a handgun that has stiff parts also makes sense, as how else are you going to make those parts operate smoothly. And when it comes to a self-defense handgun, well you have to know it works, period. The only way to truly do that is to run a couple hundred rounds through it.

Those who object to the break in process claim that it is too expensive. It’s easy to see why some think that, especially after they’ve just spent a lot on the firearm and accessories. However, who can in their right mind claim that they wanted to buy a new firearm and not test it out thoroughly to start? So in that vein, a generous supply of ammunition should be factored into any new firearm purchase, and those buying a self-defense handgun should set aside even more money for hundreds of rounds.

Other shooters regard a break in period as “an old shooters tale.” When you think about it like that, a break in period makes sense given that firearm tooling and construction has changed over the years, and older firearms probably needed a thorough break in before they operated as the shooter preferred.

What do you think? Do Firearms really need “broken in?”

Image two and thumb courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.