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3 Types of Ammunition Malfunctions


Ammunition Malfunctions

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Malfunctions of equipment happen “they happen, and you can get blown away –Lee Paige”.

Depending on the type of class, and the instructor teaching the response will differ.  Responses range anywhere from raise your hand and an instructor will fix it to “what the heck are you doing, fix it and get back in the game”.

We talked about the reason for the difference in the post on handgun malfunctions.

We also talked about how important it is to know how your handgun functions so that you can clear those malfunctions.

Today we will talk about ammunition malfunctions and how best to deal with them.

When you pull the trigger there are generally 4 basic things that can happen.

  • The round can go off normally and be propelled to where the barrel directed it to go.
  • The round can go off with reduced force and “dribble” out or get stuck in the barrel
  • Nothing can happen.
  • You think nothing happened, but the round goes off with a noticeable delay.

We are not even going to address the round going off normally – that’s not a malfunction.

Squib Load

If the round does not fire with the normal noise, recoil, or muzzle flash.  Basically whenever a round is fired and it does not develop the normal force it is supposed to it is called a squib load. Normally this is found in reloaded ammunition where the reloader did not put in enough (or any powder). This can occur in factory ammunition.  However, in my experience every squib load I have had has come from my own reloads where I did not pay sufficient attention to detail.

The problem with a squib load is that the round does not always generate enough pressure for the round to fully exit the barrel. If a round is stuck in your barrel and you fire again – there WILL be an extreme buildup of pressure as the full power round strikes the plugged barrel – (think Looney tunes when the rabbit sticks his finger in the end of the hunter’s shotgun – BAD DAY for the Elmer).

Obviously this is something to take seriously, and if you notice a difference between bullets in the same lot (or box) or just a round in general if you have some experience, you should clear the gun, and dissemble it enough (field strip) to run a cleaning rod down the barrel to ensure it does not have any obstructions.


The next malfunction is a misfire. A misfire occurs when you pull the trigger on a loaded firearm and nothing happens. I have seen this occur most often when shooters over lubricate their firearms and/or use things like WD-40 instead of gun oil. WD-40 is a penetrate and not a lubricant, and it has a tendency to penetrate the gap around a centerfire primer and deactivate the explosive compound. Common sense would dictate that the way you remedy a misfire is to eject the round and charge the firearm with a fresh round. However, before you do that you need to know about the third type of ammunition malfunction.


A Hang Fire starts out like a misfire – loaded gun, trigger pull, nothing…. But just when you think it is safe to go back in the water – BANG. A hang fire is a noticeable delay between the primer strike and the round firing. Imagine what would happen if you tap rank assess a hang fire thinking it is a misfire, and you have a cartridge spinning past your head when it goes off. Because the round is not in a chamber it won’t develop the same force as it does in the gun, but I don’t want to risk it.

You can’t immediately determine the difference between a miss and hang fires.  Therefore, it is best to treat both as a hang fire.

To do this, simply keep the handgun pointed in a safe direction and wait 15-30 seconds. If the round does not fire in that time, you are safe to assume it is a misfire and perform your immediate action.

Hang fires generally also come from reloaded or extremely old ammunition. In most instances I have witnessed it comes from a reloader that did not ensure the primer pocket is clear of cleaning media and the primer flame has to burn through a piece of corn cob before it can get to the powder. I am sure it could also come from factory loaded ammunition, but either way, this is a pretty rare malfunction.

In Conclusion

The last thing I want to say is something I touched on in the handgun malfunction video, use some common sense and good risk management. If you are on a gun range then ALWAYS use extra caution.  The worst thing that can happen by taking extra caution is that you ingrain good safety habits.  If you rush and have a negligent discharge you may end up killing someone.

On the other hand, if you are in a defensive situation, and someone is shooting at you, and your round misfires it is different.  Which is more an immediate threat, the gunman or the risk of a misfire?  No one but yourself can make that assessment, so you owe it to yourself to know the risks.

In closing, I don’t want anyone to think I am against reloading.  Don’t assume that the average reload is any better or worse than the average factory round.  However, in my experience, I have had much more ammunition malfunctions in reloaded rounds. That is because when I started reloading I did pay close enough attention.  After a few close calls I stopped reloading completely until I was ready to learn the correct ways of doing things.

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