I’ve got a surefire way to tell who can shoot like Jerry Miculek and who’s a novice.

Here’s the trick: you just have to look at their concealed carry gun. If it’s all beat to hell in the right places, the odds are pretty good you’re dealing with an accomplished shooter.

I appreciate a pristine carry handgun as much as the next guy, but if it stays that way for more than a couple of days after purchase, it’s not getting used enough—or at least not in any productive capacity. It’s more than likely a safe queen.

Here are five areas where you might just notice a bit of extra wear and tear on a well-used concealed carry gun and its attendant gear. Keep in mind, I’m talking about wear from use here, and not wear from poor maintenance. You can do a masterful job of cleaning and maintaining your gun, but it it’s well-used, it’ll still develop signs of wear and tear. That’s OK. Just think of these marks like scars. Someone without any scars probably hasn’t experienced a whole lot of adventure, right?

1. Slide baldness

With my very first carry gun (a Beretta 92FS), I began to get heart palpitations when the Bruniton finish began to wear off the leading edges of the slide. When you holster a gun a few thousand times, pretty much any surface coating or metal treatment is going to start to wear through until you see shiny spots. While I haven’t done any scientific study on this, it seems like leather holsters are more aggressive when it comes to wearing finish. Maybe that’s because they rely more on friction than shape for gun retention. No matter, I love a good leather holster and will happily accept the wear penalty for its long-term use.

This tiny bot of slide baldness from holster wear is nothing! You ought to see some of the Army's M9s...
This tiny bit of slide baldness from holster wear is nothing! You ought to see some of the Army’s M9s…

I know that your brand-new carry gun is pristine any shiny, but for your own well-being and benefit, be sure it develops some muzzle or slide wear marks. That means you’re practicing drawing from a holster—a lot!

2. Scratched and scraped magazines

If your carry gun magazines aren’t hitting the ground on a regular basis, you might not be practicing enough. If the sides of those magazines still have an unblemished finish, then maybe they’re not going in and out of your gun quite enough.

Admittedly, you have to keep “beat to hell” within reason for magazines. That’s the part of a semiautomatic pistol most likely to fail, so by “beat to hell” I’m really referring to cosmetics more than metal deforming damage. Wear marks? Absolutely! Scratched up base pads? Definitely! Bent feed lips? Not a chance. Use your magazines hard, just keep an eye on them so you catch function-impacting damage. Think of magazines as consumable and replaceable components. With use, you’re going to need to throw some out once in a while. That’s OK, though, as your life is worth the cost of a few magazines every couple of years.

3. Holster stains and lesser abuses

A good leather holster should be really nasty looking after some use, although a Kydex inside the waistband holster may remain beautiful well into its golden years. A well-used leather version will acquire creases, dents, and especially stains. What’s more attractive on a gun holster than some CLP and sweat stains after all?

As you can see, these holsters have been used more than once. In the rain, snow, sleet, humidity, avalanches, and the occasional volcanic eruption.
As you can see, these holsters have been used more than once. In the rain, snow, sleet, humidity, avalanches, and the occasional volcanic eruption.

Like magazines, you’ll have to keep an eye out on your carry holster. Stains, nicks, and dings are all fine and expected, but if your holster ever softens up to the point where it no longer reliably retains and supports your concealed carry gun, then it’s time to retire it. Give it a good Viking funeral—it should burn pretty well with years of soaked in gun oil.

While it may look a little worse for wear, this CrossBreed still has plenty of life in it.
While it may look a little worse for wear, this CrossBreed still has plenty of life in it.

4. Rail chips and dings

We’re blessed with access to a plethora of tiny rail-mounted devices. They’re so small and durable nowadays that it’s feasible to mount lights and lasers on rail-equipped carry guns. Most holster companies have tuned into this good idea and are now offering holster models compatible with said rail-mounted lights and lasers.

That rail up front is there for a reason! Make some use out of it and don’t get depressed when the addition and removal of lights or lasers starts to nick the finish. It’s just gonna happen.

5. File marks?

I have a classic carry gun in my collection. It’s a Colt 1903 Automatic chambered in .32 ACP. While I don’t use this one for concealed carry, it’s obviously participated in the concealed carry life for a very long time under a previous owner’s care. That person took a file to the fixed front sight, lowering it just a tad. I can only assume that was done to calibrate their specific ammo to the sights. That’s a serious concealed carry gun owner right there.

I'd love to chat with the original owner of this Colt 1903. A little home gunsmithing with a file set the sights to the desired point of impact for their ammo.
I’d love to chat with the original owner of this Colt 1903. A little home gunsmithing with a file set the sights to the desired point of impact for their ammo.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any way advocating that we all whip out metal files and start removing metal from our carry guns, I’m just making an observation of how this concealed carrier deliberately applied a little tender loving wear to make this gun more effective for their specific use. While I never met this prior owner, I probably wouldn’t want to tangle with them.

Trust me, I know exactly how hard it is to use a brand new gun to the point where it begins to develop scars. It’s no different than spilling that first Big Gulp Mountain Dew in a brand new car. And, like the baptismal drink spill, it gets easier after the first damage is done, so get that gun out and use it like the tool it is.

Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.

Images courtesy Tom McHale

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15 thoughts on “5 Signs You’re Practicing with and Shooting Your Carry Gun Enough

  1. With a concealed weapon Should you have the round chambered or un-chambered? This has never been made clear to me and Would like a better understanding on the subject.

    1. best answer is an empty chamber means a dead you, when SHTF you do not want to complicate the process anymore than you have to. which is why i advocate a loaded chamber and a decocked DA/SA pistol. draw and fire no safety to worry about just pull, acquire, fire.

    2. I have no idea of your knowladge of guns. So I will try and help with pissin you off. Or dumning you down. Yes! Always carry with a round in the pipe! Chances are you won’t have time to rack in a round. Always be careful of reholstering. I am happy for open carry, but it gives you away. The other guy knows you are armed. I like to keep it a secret till the very second incase I need to use the gun. Another thing, buy the best defenceive ammo you can find. I like Hornady Critical Defence. But there other great brands. Don’t use reloads for concealed carry. Remember, rack one in the pipe! What type of weapon do you use?
      Let me know.

    3. Always carry with the weapon loaded, that means one ready to fire when you pull the trigger, not after you manipulate the weapon.

      More importantly to me, is why did your instructor not cover this extremely important subject?
      If whomever you took a concealed class from did not explain just how dangerous things become very quickly and how you too often barely have time to draw the firearm. let alone rack the slide or in some other way load it, they are worse than horrible as and instructor!

      The only weapon needed to be carried with a round not under the hammer/striker/etc… is a single action revolver with a fixed firing pin and no transfer bar. Then one carries 5 out of 6 chambers loaded. However revolvers like the Rugers with a transfer bar set up are safe to carry with all 6 chambers loaded. That being said, a single action is not the best choice for a concealed carry, but always better than nothing!!

      My suggestion is go and find a quality instructor! One that understands much more about carrying concealed than who you have been exposed to. One capable of showing you just how little time one can have in a very bad situation and strategies for dealing with you carry method and possibly suggestions of better ways to carry.

      Also spend some time and read about concealed shootings. Learn from examples what actually happened and the problems encountered for the person carrying, along with what kind of injuries people suffered, even though they were able to shoot their weapon, or not.

    4. Chambered! I watch an educational video on Concealed carry and it showed an attacker with fake knife. The young girl who was Concealed was able to pull and use her firearm quicker and with less “wounds” . My husband always reminds even if I’m going to carry then I need to chamber a round. We use self defense ammo always.

  2. yes you should have a round chambered. Some reasons for doing this are, at the very critical time of engagement , where seconds count, you may not have time to rack one in, it could jam on you, your mind and body may not let you do it then in any reasonable amount of time. You can bet that if someone wants to shoot you or a loved one , their gun will be loaded.
    Food for thought.

    1. Ditto that. Always chambered. Can come a day when you need to get that gun out silently and be able to pull the trigger before the bad guy knows you’re armed.

      1. More importantly, it’s a handgun, not a HANDSgun. You may only have one hand available as you could be using the other to directly prevent the BG from killing you.

  3. My thoughts. Always carry condition 1 for a few reasons. One, when most weapons failures occur it’s during the ejection/feeding cycle. When a round is chambered it will most always go bang. Two, as stated above, when time is critical you may not have the seconds needed to work the action. Three, if you do need to draw your weapon your adrenaline is going to be pumping which plays hell on your fine motor skills. This could cause you to short stroke the slide and at best not chamber a round and at worst jam your weapon.

  4. One more thing you often see on well practiced with firearms, is the shiny spots covered with black felt marker.
    I found long ago, if you have a shiny sight or place on the barrel or slide that is bothersome, painting it with a felt pen periodically makes things better. 🙂

  5. Another sure sign of a weapon being used is the black felt pen markings on it to cover up the shiny spots that interfere with a decent sight picture! 🙂

  6. Empty chamber is like keeping the battery out of your smoke detector until you have a fire and need it… Not to offend you but that is a dumb way to carry a gun! TV might show someone racking the slide but that is TV for Effect.. Lock and load!

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