This article, "'The Spares Box," appeared originally as a Handguns column in the October 2017 issue of Shooting Illustrated. To subscribe to the magazine, visit the NRA membership page here and select Shooting Illustrated as your member magazine.
The discussion started, as so many do these days, on social media. I was in a shooting-oriented Facebook group when one of the members posted a familiar lament. He’d been detail-stripping his gun, a Glock in this case, and as he popped the slide-cover plate off, the extractor spring launched the plastic spring-loaded bearing across the room. Of course, the part became air-soluble on impact and vanished from human ken forever.
He was griping about how things like this always happen on a Friday or a holiday and how that would delay getting a fresh part in. “Post the shaming pictures!” I typed, reaching over to the shelf next to my desk for my little plastic compartmentalized tray of spare Glock parts, so I could snap a gloating picture of it with my phone. (I also made a note to order a couple spring-loaded bearings myself because, of course, that’s a part I didn’t happen to have in my tray. D’oh!)
I actually have two spare-parts trays for my Glocks. One is a larger tray that stays at home and has all the things that came off guns when replaced by aftermarket bits, as well as routine-maintenance parts like recoil-spring assemblies and such. There’s a spare set of uninstalled night sights in there in case the ones on my carry gun start leaking tritium or spit their little vials or inserts out.
That tray is also the repository for Future Project Stuff, and has a long compartment big enough to hold a few conversion barrels, as well as a spare slide that’s cut for an optic, just in case I ever get around to making that alteration to my carry gun or its backup.
The other tray is much smaller and slides into my range bag and is full of the sorts of things that break and might need replacing while I’m away from home at a class or match or something. Having had to fit the extractor on a shotgun at 3:30 in the a.m. at the second Crimson Trace Midnight 3-Gun match with a combination of the file on my nail clippers and a bit of “prison filing” on the concrete out in front of my hotel room, I don’t ever want to get caught out like that again.
Sure, if I’m someplace like that now, I’m going to have a spare gun to finish out the day, but I want to be able to fix my regular gun that night to finish out the class. With that in mind, I try and keep a small suite of tools and the things that are most likely to break in that spares tray in my range bag.
With Glocks, it’s generally trigger-return springs or extractors that break, and I’ve got a couple of each in the tray. And, thanks to the reminder in the discussion that started this train of thought, it’s going to have a couple spring-loaded bearings in it now, too.
When I used 1911s, I generally had a second, fitted extractor, as well as a recoil-spring plug. With revolvers…well, there’s not too much that’s likely to break or fall off on a revolver, and what there is generally can’t be fixed while watching TV in a motel room.
A small tube of thread-locking compound can often solve myriad problems.
Each brand and model of gun will have its own idiosyncrasies, and if you want to put together a kit of the things most likely to break the best advice for a particular brand is often found in a brand-specific fanboy forum. Most of these will have a section where the certified armorers and gunsmiths hang out, and they’re there to help. Just ask “Hey, I’d like to put together an emergency spares kit for my Blastomatic 2000 to keep in my range bag. What do you recommend I put in there?” And then just head to Brownells or Midway USA or wherever and order you some parts.
You can probably get fancy gun-branded plastic compartmentalized trays, too, but I imagine that the ones from the hardware store or electronics parts shop work just as well. The one I keep in my range bag is a little thing, maybe 5x7 inches. The one at home is bigger and lets me arrange the dividers to suit. I think the big ones were three bucks a piece on sale at Big Box Hardware Co. (I can’t remember if I got them at the big orange box or the big blue one.)
Remember, while some of the bigger, nicer training facilities have their own pro shops and gunsmithies on site, most of the classes and matches I’ve been to have been way out where the buses don’t run. You don’t want to be out at Beyond The Pillars Of Hercules Sportsman’s Club and have your extractor pick that day to shear the claw clean off.