As technologically advanced as modern guns are, you’d be hard-pressed to find any shooter who hasn’t had an issue here and there with equipment failure to some degree. It’s inevitable if you shoot long enough, but the key is to be able to quickly identify problems as they occur and safely remedy the situation.
Often referred to as a jam, there is a real risk to your safety when (not if) your gun malfunctions. Beyond just being inconvenient, you may be relying on your weapon as part of your role in the military or law enforcement, or for personal defense for that matter. Clearly an operational failure at the wrong time can be very costly. Moreover, particularly serious mechanical issues can cause catastrophic incidents that can result in serious injury to the shooter or those in close proximity.
Types & Solutions
Some of the more common malfunctions would include:
Misfires & Hangfires
A misfire occurs when the gun fires, but the round fails to ignite properly. A hangfire scenario is somewhat similar, however the ignition is noticeably (and sometimes dangerously) delayed. This can happen due to a variety of reasons, such as a faulty primer, a firing pin issue, a light strike or a mis-aligned round. In these cases, it’s important to keep the gun pointed downrange with the action closed and to wait at least 30 seconds before attempting any fixes. After 30 seconds, the gun can be safely opened and the round can be removed. If the problem persists, the gun should be thoroughly cleaned and/or inspected by a qualified gunsmith. You can also try different (or better quality) ammo to see if that may be the culprit.
Failure to Feed
Simply put, a failure to feed occurs when a cartridge will not load into the chamber. This is normally associated with a magazine problem or if you unintentionally block the slide as it moves forward. Magazine issues could include overall damage, weak springs, dirt or grease accumulation, faulty cartridges or the fact that it may not be seated properly. If you experience a feed problem, remove the magazine and clear the chamber completely. More often than not, regular cleaning and proper lubrication will resolve the issue.
Another issue that can be caused by a faulty magazine is a double feed. As the name would suggest, you end up with two live rounds contending for your chamber at the same time. Similar to the above fix for feed concerns, you’ll have to remove the magazine and (carefully) clear the chamber. In these cases, it’s likely that the magazine is faulty and may need to be replaced.
Failure to Extract or Eject
With this issue, the firearm mechanically fails to extract or eject the spent cartridge. This can result in a type of double occupancy with the next live round and will obviously cause a potentially dangerous situation. A stovepipe can also occur when the fired brass doesn’t completely eject and is left hanging out of the action. With these at least you can see what’s happening, although it can still be frustrating.
Extraction and ejection issues can be caused by a variety of elements, with some potential cross-over between them:
- Low-quality, damaged or dirty magazines
- Dirt and/or corrosion within the action or slide which causes excessive friction
- Poor-quality or low-pressure ammunition
- Faulty or damaged internal parts
- Too loose a grip or a weak stance which doesn’t allow the recoil action of the firearm to properly engage
In order to offset these issues, it’s an easy-enough process of elimination to be able to knock them off one-by-one. Keep your gun clean and lubricated, maintain or replace magazines as necessary, practice a little trial-&-error with your ammo, utilize good shooting fundamentals and visit a qualified gunsmith if the situation calls for it. There are also some specific techniques for clearing ejection issues on-the-fly, but you may want to get some professional instruction for these.
A squib load occurs when the gun fires, but the round fails to exit the barrel completely. This typically happens because the projectile doesn’t have enough force behind it and it becomes lodged or stuck. While it is possible for this to happen with factory rounds, this is more commonly seen with bad handloads or in the event of a primer failure.
This type of malfunction can be extremely dangerous for obvious reasons. By failing to notice that the projectile has become stuck, the shooter fires again and that next shot blasts straight into the obstructed barrel. Consequently, the increased pressure will build to extreme levels and it’s the barrel that typically pays the price. In some cases, you may get a ring or a bulge that can be felt or seen clearly, while there have also been many incidences of dramatic bursts that completely destroy the barrel and that have the potential of causing grave injury.
Recognizing a squib load occurrence is critical for maintaining safety, and ideally you won’t make any assumptions, even if you’re distracted. Know what ‘normal’ feels like for your firearm and if a shot doesn’t feel or sound right, then there could be an issue. This is especially true if the shot sounds more like a ‘pop’ than a bang and there is less felt recoil. You’ll want to stop firing immediately and keep your gun pointed downrange, wait for minute, clear the chamber and remove the magazine. At this stage you would need to at least partially disassemble your gun (depending on the type) to be able to inspect the barrel safely. Keeping a bore light and a cleaning rod handy is usually a good idea for inspection and dislodging any obstructions. If there appears to be any real noticeable damage, your best bet would be to pack it in for the day and get a more thorough assessment.
Malfunctions can occur for a variety of reasons and can have serious consequences. It’s always important to know how to identify and handle these issues in order to ensure the safety of yourself and those around you.
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