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How Often Should You Unload Your CCW Pistol?

when to unload ccw magazine

This is a pretty common question for those who may leave a concealed carry weapon stored with a magazine in it. While compressing a spring will inevitably degrade it given enough time – that time may be a bit longer than gets estimated. Some gun owners strongly advocate for routinely unloading a magazine and reloading it for a pistol that doesn't get fired often. It seems like it may be good practice to check a magazine's operation to ensure it is serviceable.

Here's two techniques you shouldn't use (and why):

Unload CCW magazines and check the spring only after firing

In principle, it's something we should always do after taking a firearm to the range. And especially if that pistol is our primary concealed carry firearm, it's absolutely essential to ensure the springs are in good and working order. However, if we wait until only after firing it at the range – there may be a large gap of time in between. With busy schedules, family outings, and camping trips – people can keep a pistol for a surprisingly long period without ever discharging it.

“How long ago did I fire my pistol last?”

This is not the question you ever want to drift in your mind during a hostile situation. As a concealed carrier, a person's instincts should be acutely aware of where his pistol is located – hopefully inside a snug concealed carry pistol holster. This also leaves a modicum of doubt in your mind as to whether or not your magazine will function appropriately. Worse yet, you are learning that lesson while in danger.

Leave fewer rounds in the magazine

“I bet you're asking yourself, did I fire five shots... or six?...” - Dirty Harry

Well, did we?!

We all know Clint Eastwood's character was asking a rhetorical question. We never want to ask ourselves that question. And especially in a hostile environment, the last thing any CCW carrier wants to ask himself is, “did I pack the magazine with three rounds or twelve?”

While reducing the stress on a spring will make the spring keep its form longer, it's not worth risking. Additionally, most modern firearms build their springs out of sturdy alloys – enabling them to have a much longer shelf life than older weapons. This means that as long as you check your springs regularly, you can see whether or not a magazine is up to task.

Now that we've illustrated two things NOT to do – check out some solutions that make sense.

Incorporate CCW magazines as part of routine maintenance

Routine firearm maintenance should include all loaded and unloaded magazines (yes even the ones you carry in your magazine carriers). It's always good practice to clean a weapon after it's been fired at the range. It also makes just as much sense to include the magazine as a part of the weapon system. Leave it out and it's like not cleaning the barrel. Plus, it's an opportunity to unload each clip, check the spring, and then reload it back up again. This ensures when your clips are stored, you're confident that they will do their part as long as you do yours.

Cycle rounds through with a clearing barrel

In a previous article, the importance of dry firing was discussed. One step before that and equally important to magazine maintenance is having a clearing barrel. A clearing barrel is a sand filled barrel with limited opportunity for ricochet or penetration by the bullet. Especially for concealed carriers, it's a great opportunity to ensure that a weapon isn't loaded. Some even have firing barrels outside their kitchen or front door.

When it comes to routine firearm maintenance, there's no substitute for ensuring that a magazine feeds properly to the weapon system. And as long as the muzzle is safety pointed into a clearing barrel, there's no reason why not. Plus, you will be able to see first hand how your pistol cycles rounds and have confidence in your magazine's capacity to do its job.

James England

About The Author

James England (@sir_jim_england) is the contributing editor for Alien Gear Holsters. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and private defense contracting in Afghanistan.