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Ammo Malfunctions: A Close Call!

Range Time Can Be Great…But Keep Your Wits About You!

In posts earlier on this site, I’ve mentioned ammunition issues and problems.  A recent experience at a concealed carry class reminded me of the importance of being aware of ammunition malfunctions, especially with new shooters. 

The three main ammo malfunctions are mis-fires, hang-fires and squibs.  This one involved a squib that occurred BEFORE the class.  The persons involved had borrowed a Glock 19 and a Springfield XD-9 subcompact from a friend.  Both are in the 9mm Luger caliber.

The class was just before the New Year.  It was a large group with all levels of skill.  The particular incident began with the woman attempting to load the XD-9 with CCI Blazer 9mm Luger ammunition.  As she attempted to chamber the first cartridge, the round hung up on the barrel’s feed ramp.  We removed that one and tried again.  It would not feed, so I attempted to load a third cartridge with the same result.  I checked the rounds and all three bullets were visibly pushed deeper into the cases.  I could see no reason for that with the firearm, so I checked the magazine and found nothing amiss.  Her husband handed me the Glock, which when loaded with the Blazer rounds, worked perfectly.  At this point the husband mentioned they had borrowed the firearms from a friend.  His wife completed the exercise with the Glock19 and had no further problems.  The Springfield XD, a handgun I personally know to be extremely reliable, was set aside to be returned to the owner with an explanation of what had happened.  My first thought was shooter error, but the woman had performed the loading sequence correctly, then I checked the firearm, and saw no VISIBLE reason for the stoppage, I checked the magazine, no problem noted with it, and finally the ammunition was checked in another firearm, again, we found no reason for the stoppage.  It was one of those situations where I could not find the cause of what happened.  A couple of days later an email arrived which is included with some minor editing for spelling, etc.:

“My wife and I participated in your CFP class on Tuesday night and a good friend of ours loaned us the firearms for the range portion of the class.  I’m sure you’ll remember that when my wife went to shoot the Springfield XD the cartridge wouldn’t chamber.  You tried two subsequent rounds with the same result.  Now the rest of the story…Last night, I returned the pistols to the owner and related what had happened.  I also showed him the round I got from you at the end of the class.  He compared it to a factory hollowpoint he had and it was noticeably shorter.  He tried to chamber his round, got the same result.  (Tuesday night we thought it might be incompatible ammunition for the pistol).  We disassembled the firearm and upon inspecting the barrel found a bullet lodged inside.  It was far enough in not to be seen or felt, but close enough to prevent a round from chambering.  Thankfully it wasn’t far enough to allow another round to be fired!  We cleared the barrel and reassembled the pistol.”

His wife then recalled that the last time they were practicing with the gun it had mis-fired.  (They were using reloads for practice).  She took it out of service immediately and continued to practice with other arms they had.  Because the mis-fire wasn’t addressed immediately and pistol cleaned upon returning home, the incident was temporarily forgotten.  We were all fortunate.  “I currently own no handguns, but can imagine the difficulty for someone that owns multiple guns to remember something like this if it’s not handled immediately.”

What is called a mis-fire in the email was a squib, where not enough pressure is generated to expel the projectile from the barrel.  In this case, it was just far enough in forward of the chamber to prevent further rounds from chambering and being fired.  It was not visible until the barrel was removed and checked.  That is extremely dangerous, and as my friend said, we were fortunate!  An obstructed bore can at best, cause a bulged barrel if another round is fired, or at worst, the gun can blow apart…right in your hands.  This is NOT a pleasant experience! 

If you hear an unusual report or feel less then normal recoil, stop immediately, unload the firearm and use a cleaning rod to check that the barrel is free of obstructions.  If you drop you firearm, check to see that the barrel is clear before attempting to fire.  More than one shotgunner has tripped and planted the muzzle in the mud and then attempted to shoot the mud clear.  I have several barrel ends provided by gunsmith friends where water, in one case a cob- web and in a couple, mud, was present when the shooter tried to clear them by firing.  It causes the muzzle to bulge, split and make what is know as a “steel flower” at the end of the barrel.  Some can be rather spectacular looking, but I for one would NOT want to be around when it happens.  As always, check before you shoot.  If the firearm, especially a shotgun has been stored for a length of time, run a cleaning patch through it to make sure there is nothing blocking the passage of the projectile(s).  This is one more, short step you can take to prevent problems and close calls.  Later I’ll cover some of the issues of other types of ammunition malfunctions.  Until then, stay safe, aware and at this time of year warm.

Steve Beckstead

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