Weapons that fire projectiles “eat” ammunition – cartridges specifically. It is beyond the scope of this post to cover all weapons that fit into this category. I am going to focus on the two the folks I work with have to contend with most frequently – a Double Action Revolver and a Semi-Automatic Pistol. (I don’t care if it’s a single action, double action or safe-action – the malfunction and its clearing process is the same.)
Double Action Revolvers: DA Revolvers are “fed” by a rotating cylinder. Each chamber in the cylinder holds a single cartridge. A “Failure to Feed” malfunction would imply that the cylinder or the frame is damaged enough that the cylinder can no longer rotate. In the midst of a fire-fight, where your life hangs in the balance, this is a “holy crap” of the highest order and would demand immediate retreat or the rapid deployment of either a BUG (Back Up Gun) or a secondary weapon system – knife, flashlight, tactical pen.
A Failure to Eject, while certainly possible (a casing expands so much that it refuses to be ejected from a cylinder), it is not a common occurrence. A very firm strike of the ejection rod is usually enough to unseat a stubborn casing. (If it does not – see the above paragraph.) If this does not result in the ejection of the empty casings, a rod can be used on each individual chamber of the cylinder until the ceased casing is found and hammered out of the chamber.
The final result ends up that clearing a Feeding or Ejection malfunction in a Double Action Revolver is very rare and misfires are usually resolved with the simple press of the trigger to rotate the cylinder to put a fresh round in firing position.
Semi-Automatic Pistols: When dealing with a Semi-Automatic Pistol, there are a number of mechanical processes that must occur, in the proper sequence, for the weapon to function properly. The magazine must properly push up a new cartridge each and every time a new one is stripped off its top, the magazine must be properly seated in the magazine well contained in the grip of the weapon, the throat into the chamber must quickly and easily guide the cartridge into the chamber, the ejection rod must firmly grasp a spent casing for ejection, the gas from the expended round must fully cycle the slide to eject the spent casing and strip off a fresh cartridge from the magazine and jam it up the throat and into the chamber at the rear of the barrel. A failure – in any of these areas – will result in either a Failure to Feed or a Failure to Eject.
Failure to Feed: The overwhelming cause of a “Failure to Feed” is that the magazine is not fully seated into the magazine well contained in the grip of the weapon. The “Slap” portion of the “Slap, Rack, Shoot” clearing drill will resolve this issue. Next is a chamber throat that is full of GSR. This varies from weapon to weapon but if you notice that the magazine is fully seated and the slide cycles fully, yet your next round does not fully seat in the chamber and requires a tap on the rear of the slide to put your weapon back in battery – it’s a good bet a bit of scrubbing on the throat that feeds the chamber will resolve your problems.
Failure to Eject: Once a round has been fired the gas generated blows the slide reward, the ejector rod grasps the rear of the casing, yanks it from the chamber and throws it out the ejection port. Should this fail to happen one of two failures occur. The empty casing remains firmly planted in the chamber of the barrel or the casing is partially ejected through the ejection port sticking out like a “stovepipe”.
If the result is a stuck casing in the chamber, when the slide cycles forward again it will strip a new round off the top of the magazine and attempt to load it into the chamber. This malfunction is called a “Double Feed” and is the ONLY malfunction that can not be cured by the “Slap, Rack, Shoot” clearing drill. Your cure is to:
- Lock the slide to the rear
- Eject the magazine
- Rack your slide three times
- Insert a new magazine
- Complete the “Slap, Rack, Shoot” drill
The “Stovepipe” failure is typically cleared with the “Slap, Rack, Shoot” drill with the hand that racks the slide sweeping the extended casing out of the ejection port. Multiple occurrences of this malfunction can be caused by a dirty weapon that results in the slide not being fully cycled. A little TLC will cure this problem. Or, it may be that your stance and grip are not quite firm enough and that part of the energy typically used to blow back the slide is expended in physically moving your dominant arm. This results in not enough energy being available to fully cycle the slide and a “stovepipe” occurs. This happens much more in today’s polymer composite weapons than those that are made total of steel. A firmer grip and a more rigid dominant arm will quickly cure this issue.
Revolvers and Semi-Automatic Pistols are mechanical devices. Failures happen. You will experience both “Failure to Feed” and “Failure to Eject” problems on the range and in your everyday carry. On the range – pay attention to why the failure occurred. FIX THE PROBLEM!!! As for everyday carry – if you are unfortunate enough to have a failure while fighting for your life – know the “Slap, Rack, Shoot” clearing drill. Inject problems on the range with dummy rounds loaded in your magazine or cylinder. Practice clearing these failures on each and every range visit. Carry secondary weapon systems – a knife, flashlight or tactical pen. Carry a BUG.
Because . . . . in the real world . . . . failure really is NOT an option.