Auto pistols are maintained so that their condition and appearance are preserved and so that they work properly when put to use. Your pistol maintenance should follow the manufacturer’s guidelines, and be modified according to how much you use your pistol. Regardless of how much or how little you choose to maintain your auto pistol, always make sure the gun is unloaded when cleaning or performing inspections, and to wear safety glasses and rubber gloves when handling solvents and lubricants.
Daily auto pistol maintenance is so you can reasonably expect the pistol to work if you need it, and to a lesser extent preserve its appearance. With the gun unloaded and all ammunition removed from the area, begin with a simple visual inspection. Are both the sights still there and are they tight? Is anything obviously broken or missing?
Following that you should do a quick mechanical inspection. This is also a good inspection to do when buying a used pistol. Does the safety engage and disengage properly and keep the hammer from falling when you pull the trigger? If your gun has an external hammer, pull back the slide to cock the gun and try to push off the hammer. It shouldn’t drop. Make sure the magazine drops free and look at the feed lips to see if they’re damaged. Cycle the slide a few times feeling for any binding and to make sure the slide returns to the fully forward position and that the barrel rises into the fully locked position. Pull the slide to the rear and let it fly forward under spring pressure while holding the trigger fully depressed to see if the hammer follows the slide down to the fired position. It shouldn’t. If your gun features a last shot hold open, put an empty magazine into the gun, pull the slide back and see if it stays back. Finally, check that lubricants haven’t run out or evaporated and for lint accumulation in the bore.
As for cleaning, a pistol that is carried and not shot need only be wiped each day with a rust preventative. Excess oil should always be removed. At the same time, you need to make sure there is lube in the right places.
If you go plinking once in a while or compete in club-level matches, your gun is probably stored much more than carried or used. Do the same regimen above for daily maintenance, but when you’re readying your gun to take to the range, take a moment to mop excess oil out of the bore.
After you fire your pistol, you should clean it to remove fouling that can lead to corrosion, poor accuracy, and malfunctions. It isn’t necessary or recommended to completely disassemble a pistol for a detailed cleaning after each trip to the range. All you need to do is remove the slide assembly from the frame to clean it and the slide components. A nylon cleaning brush wetted with solvent will easily scrub off powder and carbon build-up followed by a bore brush with copper or lead solvent down the bore. After a few passes with a solvent soaked brush, you should be able to finish cleaning the bore by alternating between tight-fitting patches wetted with solvent and dry patches to dry the bore. Finish cleaning by wiping all surfaces with a lightly oiled cloth or other rust preventative, relube, then reassemble.
When storing a pistol until the next trip to the range, I like to keep it in a bag treated with vapor corrosion inhibitor (VCI) or wrapped in VCI paper. I also like to give my pistols and their magazines a once a year detail cleaning. If you’re not familiar with your pistol enough to do that, it’s money well spent to take it to a gunsmith for an annual cleaning.
There are a few top-level pistol shooters who fire more shots in a single season than many active shooters will fire in a lifetime. World-class shooters such as Todd Jarrett fire as many as 25,000 rounds from a single gun in a single year. On average, Jarrett fires 75,000 to 80,000 total rounds per year. That level of dedication requires more knowledge about his pistols than a casual gun owner has, and more thorough inspection for wear and damage.
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