Modifying the Glock – Mission dictates the mod

As I mentioned when we first started talking about modifying the Glock a few weeks ago, the aftermarket for the Glock family of pistols is massive. Whatever you choose to do with your Glock, there’s probably at least a dozen different options on the market for it. That can be a double-edged sword.

On the one hand it’s great that you can do almost anything to a Glock because it allows you to really tailor the pistol to your specific environment and needs. On the other, it’s very easy to do silly, counterproductive, or even very dangerous things with your Glock. There are any number of aftermarket gadgets thought up by someone in a very specific set of circumstances that make sense only in that context…if they make any sense in the first place. To wit:

That may be a very useful modification for the .000001% of the population that regularly has a need to drag someone out of a vehicle while holding a pistol. Most, however, will find no practical benefit to making their Glock magazines sharp and pointy. That’s the test you should apply to your intended Glock modifications: What practical benefit do you get from the modification? What problem are you trying to solve? In the previous writeups I’ve made a careful point of explaining why I was making the modifications to my pistol, laying out the benefit each change had for my particular needs. I would encourage you to use the same sort of process when considering modifications to your pistol: do only those things for which you can identify a specific benefit for your circumstances.

One of the things that new Glock owners seem to get worked up about most (generally after experiencing less-than-stellar results at the range) is the inherent accuracy of their new pistols and that leads them to considering one of the plethora of drop-in barrel replacements on the market. Replacing the barrel is one of those modifications that is a good idea in some circumstances, and a terrible one in others. Generally speaking, if you aren’t hitting the target as well as you’d like then the fault, dear Brutus, isn’t with your Glock…it’s probably you. The fundamentals of shooting a pistol are fairly well documented but at least in my experience aren’t widely understood. This is especially true among those who have had no formal training. Careful attention to those fundamentals often helps improve your results on target considerably.

If your core problem is a lack of fundamental skill, a new barrel is just going to be an expensive diversion away from fixing the real problem. It would be positively daft to buy a new barrel for your Glock if you can’t hit a 3×5 card at 7 yards on demand. If you fit that description, I promise that the barrel in your pistol isn’t the reason. You can fix that problem with good dryfire training or attending a good basic handgun skills class. All of that being said, there are times when it makes sense to put an aftermarket barrel in your Glock.

1. Lead ammunition

Let’s say that our great uncle Filbert passed away and left us a small fortune in the form of hard-cast lead bullets in 9mm, a progressive Dillon reloading press, a mountain of brass, a similar sized mountain of primers, and enough gunpowder to send Mount Rushmore into orbit. (NOTE TO HOMELAND SECURITY: This is a metaphor meant to convey the idea of a sizeable amount of gunpowder, not a threat to blow anything up. Please don’t shoot my dog.) In the current market the smart move would probably be to sell all of that and buy a private island…but let’s say we are terrible at math and we want to shoot it all in our Glock 34.

An overpressure situation can result in catastrophic failure of the weapon. Picture found on one of the gun forums some time ago...
An overpressure situation can result in catastrophic failure of the weapon. Picture found on one of the gun forums some time ago…

The Glock family of pistols (along with the H&K family of pistols) uses polygonal rifling. The barrel of the pistol as it ships from the factory does not have the traditional lands and grooves, which means that theoretically there’s no place in the barrel for lead to deposit without obstructing the bore. The theory goes that if you shoot enough lead ammo you can eventually create enough of an obstruction that the bullet cannot pass freely down the bore, leading to an overpressure situation. This is otherwise known as a “kaBoom”. In the owner’s manual, Glock specifically warns against using cartridges with lead bullets to prevent catastrophic failures due to overpressure.

Like just about anything else in the gunniverse, opinions vary as to the real danger posed by shooting lead through Glocks, but I’m one of those guys who likes to abide by manufacturer’s instructions when it comes to the potential of turning my handgun into a grenade. So if I was determined to use Uncle Filbert’s gift in my Glock 34, I would replace the barrel with one of the aftermarket options that is lead safe.

2. Accuracy

Wait…didn’t I just dismiss accuracy concerns a few paragraphs ago? And now I’ve got it broken out as one of the good reasons to replace your Glock’s barrel?

While most people who experience poor accuracy at the range lack fundamental skill, there is still such a thing as a pistol that just won’t group. .40 caliber Glocks are notorious for this, which has led to the common myth that the .40 is an “inaccurate” round. At the range I used to belong to, one of the “helpful” members of staff was telling a young woman (a police officer using her issued weapon) that her .40 caliber sidearm was basically useless past 12 yards because of the .40’s inherent lack of accuracy. I have this deep-seated hatred of bad information that is probably the result of having encountered so much of it over the years, and so even with doubled ear protection and people shooting beside me in an indoor range I heard this pronouncement (delivered as if it was Moses reading from some stone tablets) and suddenly found the idea of smacking a sharp pointy Glock into…erm…stuff…quite appealing. I politely approached the young woman and asked if I could fire 5 rounds through her pistol at a target 15 yards downrange. She agreed and I shot a nice tight group right in the center of the bullseye and then explained a bit about the fundamentals. Twenty minutes later, she was shooting the same sorts of groups at the same distance.

The .40’s bad reputation for accuracy is misplaced. The cartridge itself has plenty of accuracy potential, as any number of competitive shooters can tell you. The problem is that the most popular series of .40 caliber handguns on the market, namely the Glock pistols, often exhibit inexcusably poor mechanical accuracy. A friend of mine was issued a Glock 22 by his department exemplar of this problem. When we ran drills together at 3-10 yards, his performance was pretty good. Once we stretched the range out a bit I noticed a steep decline in his ability to hit a target on demand.

To an extent, that drop-off is normal for someone still learning and refining the fundamentals. At 25 yards, though, he was lucky to keep shots on an 8.5×11” piece of paper. At some point during the range trip he asked me to give his gun a go at 25 yards. My first group through his pistol was barely within the confines of the paper. Thinking I had just been completely stupid, I fired another group offhand with even worse results. Then I went prone and rested the pistol focusing all my attention on managing the sights and properly manipulating the trigger. Immediately after I fired my Glock 17 at the adjacent target using the same attention to sights and trigger control. My Glock 17 shot a nice tight group at 25 yards, with only one called flyer straying into the 9 ring. His pistol, on the other hand, just would not shoot. It didn’t group at 25 yards, it patterned.

Unfortunately, my friend’s Glock isn’t the only weapon rolled out by Glock Inc. that won’t shoot to what I consider an acceptable accuracy standard at 25 yards. While some of the 2nd and 3rd generation Glock pistols in .40 have done very well, a significant number of them have exhibited a plethora of issues…unacceptable lack of accuracy being one of them. If you end up with one of the specimens of Glock that has accuracy issues, an aftermarket barrel might be just the ticket to improve the mechanical accuracy of the weapon.

The obvious answer would be getting another pistol, but that’s not always possible. If you’ve been issued the weapon by your employer or if you’ve done NFA paperwork on the weapon, simply getting rid of it often isn’t an option. Sending it back to Glock might result in a fix, but I’ve seen plenty of instances where a pistol with a legitimate accuracy problem has been pronounced “within spec” by a manufacturer and sent back to the customer with no fix. If you can’t just dump the pistol (or for whatever reason don’t want to) and the factory refuses to fix it, then one of the aftermarket barrels might improve things for you. If you don’t find yourself in these sorts of straits, stick to using the factory barrel. The factory barrel, assuming the weapon shoots to an acceptable standard, is a pretty good piece of kit and should be good for something like, oh, 200,000 rounds before you have to worry about replacing it. The aftermarket options aren’t bad, it’s just that in most cases they aren’t necessary.

When you use the practical benefit test to guide your decisions about modifying the pistol, you will avoid wasting money on things you don’t need. You’ll also avoid buying silly gadgets and potentially compromising the reliability and function of the weapon. Money not spent on goofy titanium strikers or barrels that you don’t really need can be better spent on modifications that solve clearly identified problems or even on range time to improve your skill. By focusing on clearly identified practical benefit you’ll get all the good without having to waste time and resources on the unnecessary and goofy.

Stay safe…