Budget For The Basics
September 23, 2010
There's more expense to owning a firearm than the price of the gun. Know what you'll need at the outset--and what can wait.
As the country braced for the incoming presidential administration, there has been an unprecedented run on guns. While experienced shooters are well represented among the anxious buyers, there are more than a few people in line who have never purchased a gun before. To those folks, I say, "Welcome."
The problem with buying a gun is the same as when making any other major purchase for the first time: It's hard to figure out exactly what all you need--and what you don't.
When you were a teenager, you may have saved up just enough money to cover the purchase price of a car, only to learn about additional costs such as fuel, insurance, maintenance, etc. The sticker price was only the beginning.
If used regularly, a BoreSnake, Break-Free CLP, and a few other items are all you need to keep your gun clean. However, a neglected firearm may require additional solvents and cleaning tools.
Much the same holds true for buying a firearm.
What do you really need when purchasing a firearm? It's more than you'd think but less than you're likely to be told by a typical sales associate. A gun, regardless of its intended use, is part of a system and is far from self-contained. All require ammunition, safety gear, cleaning and maintenance equipment, and some method of secure storage.
That is not to say that additional firearm-related products and accessories aren't useful. Many are Godsends when it comes to making shooting more enjoyable or maintenance more effective, or enhancing a gun's utility. The nice thing is that such products and accessories will likely always be available, regardless of who's in office, so there's no urgency to buy them now. You can get started shooting without them and make judicious decisions as to what else you'd like as you get more involved in the various shooting disciplines.
Of course, the type of shooting you intend to do largely determines what products and accessories will eventually benefit you, but as I said, there are certain universal basics that you need to include when budgeting for a firearm.
Affordable, Available Ammunition
The first additional item people think of is ammunition. If you're purchasing a firearm chambered in .22 Long Rifle, it's not much of an issue. You can purchase bricks of decent rimfire ammunition inexpensively and conveniently.
It's the rare calibers that create a problem. You may be getting a good price on the gun, but how much does the ammo cost and where can you buy it? And what varieties are available in that chambering? Match-grade target ammunition and premium self-defense ammunition are nice when needed, but you'll save a lot of money in the long run if there are cheap, generic reloads available for routine practice.
Eyes & Ears
Range safety gear is essential equipment you may or may not have to purchase. How so? Well, if you do your practicing at a commercial range, it will typically provide eye and ear protection as part of the range-use fee. If you like high-end equipment, you can purchase the latest condition-specific tinted eyewear, sound-canceling/amplifying electronic muffs, or custom-molded ear plugs. However, you can shoot just fine with the rental stuff at no additional cost and without having to haul extra gear to the range. Of course, you may want to bring some sanitary wipes with you.
Keeping It Clean
Believe it or not, gun cleaning is one of the most hotly debated topics in firearms. It seems everyone has a theory on frequency, products, and techniques when it comes to cleaning guns. A lot of it has to do with personality type--from laid back to anal retentive--but it also has to do with the kind of shooting you do.
A home-defense gun placed in a corner of the closet is all right for some, but many would do better with a rapid-access vault. They keep children or thieves from the gun while providing the owner quick access to it in an emergency.
My personality type is "lazy," so I hate cleaning guns. Nonetheless, early in my professional career I purchased a dizzying inventory of cleaning supplies and studied myriad cleaning techniques. That was until I had the otherwise pleasant experience of talking to Rob Leatham, holder of multiple world shooting titles, who disillusioned me by saying he virtually never cleans his guns.
Yep. As long as they fire reliably, Leatham said he leaves them alone.
Strange as it may seem, the sludge of grease, oil, carbon, etc., that accumulates in a gun can act like a gasket of sorts, filling gaps and creating a consistent fit, which in turn leads to consistent accuracy. Disassemble a gun and clean it, and the parts never go back together the exact same way. By the time you fire it enough to regain the same level of consistent accuracy, the gun is dirty again, so why clean it?
While that may be an alright philosophy for target guns--not everyone agrees it is--I cannot hold with it for self-defense firearms. Though it may be okay to gamble on winning a trophy with a dirty pistol, risking with your life with a dirty carry or home-defense gun is another matter entirely. Carry and home-defense guns should be cleaned and lubricated immediately after every use, and they should also be checked occasionally to make sure they remain lubed and free of dirt, dust, and lint. Those who use a pocket holster know what I mean.
So what all does a lazy person use to clean a gun? Well, that answer is a lot simpler than it used to be. In the old days, you needed solvent, oil, cleaning rod, caliber-specific jags, caliber-specific brushes, and a stack of patches just for starters. But we now have two products that greatly simplify cleaning: CLP and Hoppe's BoreSnake.
CLP stands for "cleaner, lubricant, protectant." It was created for the military as an all-in-one product to ease logistics and the soldier's burden. Just as the name implies, it combines three functions in a single, simple-to-use product. While i
t may not be the absolute best at any of the three tasks, it performs each just fine for most shooters.
The BoreSnake is a caliber/gauge-specific, flexible length of woven floss in which is embedded a bronze bore brush. A leader of thin cord tipped with a brass aglet is slipped down the bore and caught at the muzzle, then the whole thing is pulled through the bore. It is so fast and simple that you'd assume it would do just an "okay" job, but in fact, it does an outstanding job on anything short of a badly neglected barrel.
After inspecting the bore of my most frequently used pistol, a gun dealer once asked me if the gun had ever been fired. The bore had only ever been cleaned with CLP and a BoreSnake. I like to use CLP on the pre-floss ahead of the brush bristles and saturate an area near the end of the floss to leave a thin film protecting the bore.
The efficacy is excellent, but it is the ease of use that is the real beauty of the system. It is so fast and easy that it eliminates most of the hassle of gun cleaning, meaning you're more likely to keep your gun clean and are even likely to shoot more often.
You may not require anything as large or elaborate as this fireproof safe, but get what you need to keep your gun(s) from unauthorized persons. Safes come in a wide range of sizes and prices.
The only other items I routinely require are a brush--an old toothbrush will do--a steel pick, some cotton swabs, and a few paper towels. I can keep everything in a zip-lock bag, which is convenient and controls the odor from the CLP. If you are sensitive to fumes or worried about toxicity, M-Pro 7 is an excellent non-toxic, odor-free cleaner, but you'll need to buy a separate lubricant/protectant.
Now, it's entirely possible you'll neglect your cleaning regimen at some point or acquire a gun in dire need of attention. In that case, you may have to purchase more labor-intensive, time-consuming products, such as rods and brushes, degreaser, copper solvent, bore paste, and Kroil. Such products do an excellent job, but as I said, I'm lazy. If you regularly give your guns a quick going over with the few items I previously mentioned, you can avoid such heavy cleaning down the road.
Keeping It Safe
Secure storage is perhaps the most overlooked yet vital consideration when purchasing a firearm. You may have bought a firearm for safety and security, but it can't provide those things; it's just a tool you use to ensure them. A gun doesn't know if it's being held by its owner, a child, or a burglar. If you purchase a gun and think you can just leave it in a bureau drawer or the back of your closet with no worries, well, you may have to think again.
Consider your living situation. Do you live alone or with only other responsible adults? Are there children around, even infrequently? Do you have and use a burglar alarm? Do you intend to use a firearm for home defense, or is it exclusively for hunting or target shooting? Do you need to access your firearm daily? How many guns do you intend to eventually acquire?
All of these questions and more need to be considered when buying a gun. A person who lives alone and who uses a burglar alarm may be fine storing a gun in a nightstand. However, someone raising a family may need a safe to keep children away from their gun(s). Not just their own kids, but their kids' friends, too.
Whatever your situation, know that others have been in similar circumstances and that manufacturers offer the right products to address your needs.
There are full-size gun safes; affordable, space-saving gun cabinets; mattress-mounted holsters; rapid-access gun vaults; cable locks, etc. Get what's right for your situation so that unauthorized access to an operational firearm is absolutely physically prevented. That can be accomplished by anything from a secure home with sound locks and a burglar alarm to the use of the trigger lock included with most new guns.
One thing not to rely on is concealment. Children can find an unsecured gun, no matter how cleverly you think you've hidden it. And so can a burglar.
I'm a big fan of rapid-access gun vaults. They are available for handguns and long guns and are offered with either mechanical or electronic locks (including biometric) that can be operated in the dark. Some even alert you to failed attempts at accessing the gun. I've recently seen keyless, rapid-access electronic handgun safes retailing for $39.99. That's less than a 50-round box of premium self-defense handgun ammunition.
Keyless, rapid-access safes for long guns are available for less than $330, and if a regular long-gun safe will do, an 8-gun unit was recently offered nationally for $89.99, marked down from $119.99.
A Kramer pocket holster, Barami Hip Grip, and Bianchi speed strip make for a good basic carry system for those who choose to carry a small revolver like a Smith & Wesson J-Frame.
That covers the universals. There are other items you'll need depending on the gun's intended purpose.
If you are purchasing a personal-protection gun, you'll need a means of carrying it. Don't skimp. The gun carrier needs to be every bit as sound as the gun. You can get any of several types of holster, holster purses, belly bands, and fanny packs as well as Barami Hip Grips, ThunderWear, or Kramer's The Confidant. Figure on getting at least two different types of carrier to allow for different circumstances. Some good products are very pricey; some are relatively affordable. Bite the bullet and get dependable gun carriers that'll work for you, not what's on sale. And just flat-out forget about going without a gun carrier. That stuff about sticking a gun in your waistband or dropping it in an empty pocket is Hollywood hogwash that'll land you in jail, the hospital, or the morgue.
If you carry a revolver, get an HKS or Safariland speedloader or some Bianchi speed strips. The speed strips are much slower but fit flat in trouser pockets. Neither method is as fast as reloading a semiauto, but each is better than nothing.
I'm not one for complicating self-defense firearms. Keeping it simple is always best when planning for a situation in which you'll likely be startled and stressed and perhaps groggy from being suddenly awakened.
There is considerable valid debate about weapon-mounted lights. Advocates point out the necessity of target identification, while naysayers advise against pointing a gun at something until after you've iden
tified it. In any event, a light is a good idea. Buy a flashlight when you buy a home-defense gun, keep them together, and check their condition periodically.
If your range lacks electronic target returns, or you wish to check your bullet placement without having to return the target or having to go out to it, a spotting scope can be a great aid--and a very great expense. While the investment is worth it for serious enthusiasts, an old binocular will do just fine at most handgun distances. Rifle shooters should consider a spotting scope, and they may also want to invest in a shooting mat and shooting roll if they are going to be shooting from the prone and kneeling positions.
It's stating the obvious, but most shooters do better with a scope. Many hunting rifles today aren't even offered with iron sights. The 3-9X 40mm has been the default choice for American deerslayers using centerfire cartridge guns, but that means little.
Many shooters appreciate the simplicity of a 4X or 6X fixed scope. Also, some jurisdictions mandate the use of shotguns, which makes a scope capable of 9X magnification pretty silly.
Muzzleloaders increase in popularity every year and, like shotguns, have different scope requirements than centerfire rifles. And small-game hunters using rimfire rifles have yet another set of requirements. If you intend to mount your own scope and especially if you'll be repeatedly attaching and removing scopes, your life will be eased considerably with a bore sighter. It will take care of the initial coarse adjustment of the scope, then you can make the fine adjustments using the scope's windage and elevation controls.
A full-featured bullseye box mounted with a spotting scope is very nice, indeed. However, unless you plan on getting deep into bullseye shooting, you can often get by with an old binocular at most handgun distances.
The only other accessory that is a virtual "must-have" with a hunting rifle is a sling. There are several good ones on the market, but I've been happy with The Claw. It's simple, tough, and keeps the gun in place on your shoulder.
Paying The Price
While you may be making a bigger investment than you originally envisioned, it is not quite as bad as it seems. Many accessories can be one-time or infrequent purchases that can serve for several guns. A good size cabinet/safe, for instance, can store multiple firearms. Also, most components of a gun-cleaning system are not caliber-specific, and even the ones that are allow for some versatility. For example, a jag, brush, or BoreSnake for a 9x19mm also fits a .380 ACP, .38 Spl., .38 Super, or .357 Magnum.
You have to accept the fact that gun ownership is going to cost money, no matter how cheaply you seek to do it. But, as the Founding Fathers knew and as people all over the world have found out, not owning a gun can cost you a lot more.
In addition to the general basics of ammunition, a cleaning system, and a safe storage method, a hunting rifle typically calls for a scope and a sling. This Steyr ProHunter mountain gun in 7mm-08 is equipped with a Nikon 4X scope and The Claw sling.