Recently I was at the range testing out a few loads and trying out my new chronograph. I was firing off some factory ammo, curious to see how consistent the velocity was from round to round, when I experienced a malfunction. The recoil after pulling the trigger was noticeably less than normal and the semi-auto action failed to eject the spent case. Situations like this can leave a new shooter scratching his or her head. How does one assess the problem and safely get their gun back in action? Here are a couple of common malfunctions and how to address them.
When your gun goes “pop”
The malfunction described above is called a squib. A squib occurs when the primer goes off but the powder is absent or doesn’t ignite. You will still feel recoil, but it will be noticeably less than normal and you will hear more of a pop than the full report of your rifle. The danger here is that the primer ignition didn’t provide enough force to propel the bullet all the way out of the barrel. If such a situation occurs and the bullet is not cleared before the next round is fired, your gun could catastrophically fail, potentially causing serious injury—and ruining your favorite gun to boot. To clear the barrel, unload your firearm and use a push rod to remove the stuck projectile from the barrel.
When your gun goes “click”
Another dangerous malfunction is what’s called a hangfire. With a hangfire you will hear a click from the trigger releasing the firing pin, but no report nor any recoil—at least for a few seconds. Then, suddenly, the gun may go off. A hangfire occurs when the firing pin is released and strikes the primer of the round in the chamber, but the primer does not immediately ignite. This could be caused by a defective primer or one that has become wet or rusty. The danger here is that a primer that has been struck could still go off for some time. Make sure to keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Wait 30 seconds to be sure the round won’t ignite, then clear if from the chamber. Set it aside away from other ammo.
Fortunately, both of these malfunctions are relatively rare, especially with factory ammo. For somebody new to firearms, simply becoming acquainted with your gun can be intimidating enough, let alone having to consider malfunctions. But being aware of what to look for and how to address them is essential to ensuring safety on the range and in the field.