Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Just the Basics – BLAMM!! BLAMM!! Click . . . . . . Cartridge Malfunctions


“A gentleman rarely needs a pistol, but when he does he needs it very very badly.”
–Winston Churchill

And . . . . it NEEDs to go BLAMM!!

A while back I spent a number of posts going through what, exactly, makes a firearm go BLAMM!!!! We covered everything from the development of gunpowder to the actual culprit – the shooters finger!

There are, however, three different categories of malfunction that I want to chat about – Cartridge Malfunctions, Feeding and Extraction Malfunctions and Weapons Malfunctions. This first post will cover my thoughts about malfunctions in general – then focus specifically on Cartridge Malfunctions. I’ll cover the remaining two – Feeding and Extraction Malfunctions and Weapons Malfunctions in succeeding posts.

I confess to being an active voyeur of my fellow man. I love to people watch – restaurants, airports, movie theaters, shopping malls – I love to people watch. And, of course, on the shooting range. You see all kinds of folks (BTW, I realize folks watch ME as well and could easily point a finger and say “Will ya look at THAT guy!!). There’s the “expert” with his/her tricked out everything, carefully laying out his hardware on the shooting bench.

There’s the newbie doing their best just to “fit in” and not look silly.

There’s the parent coaching the child, the husband coaching the wife, the mom coaching the daughter . . .

There’s the “instructor” helping anyone who will listen (honestly, I gotta watch myself on this particular one!)

In other words, a pretty good sampling of the human race shows up on a shooting range. Most are there to “work” on something – sighting in a rifle, slug gun, new pistol. They are there to “practice” – but not really sure just what it is that they should practice. And yet, they all share one common expectation . . . . that when they press the trigger – their firearm should go BLAMM!!!!, that does not always happen. The following process usually occurs in one fashion or another . . . .

  • Shooter looks at their weapon in disbelief!!
  • Scratches their head, racks a round or pulls a trigger again . . .
  • Hopes that it goes BLAMM!!!!
  • If it doesn’t or if something becomes “jammed” (said with a knowledgeable tone in their voice) perhaps “Fred” is called over, a confab is held, solutions reviewed and tried, the firearm is cleared and shooting resumes.

This hesitation, this “disbelief”, this calling in the “expert” fosters and develops a very bad habit – a switch in focus from the threat meaning to send you home in a Ziploc to “what the hell is wrong with my gun?!?!?” This is BAD!!! Honestly, it doesn’t matter WHY your gun stopped, only that you need to make it go BLAMM!!!! as soon as possible.

Yet, before you can really understand why the “fixes” work, you need to understand the failures first. In this post, we will focus on the Cartridge Failures – what they are, what they mean and how they affect the operation of your weapon.

There are three primary failures and a fourth we will chat about a bit. They are the Misfire, the Hang Fire, the Squib Load and a fourth – Casing Failure.

Misfire: A misfire happens when a cartridge received a solid strike (note I said a SOLID strike – we’ll cover other types of strikes later on) on the primer or rim of the cartridge and . . . . . nothing! Not a BLAMM!!!!, not a whisper, not a peep . . . . nothing!

The standard response for this type of cartridge failure is to keep your weapon pointed in a safe direction, wait 30 seconds – then clear the round and re-engage the target. Obviously, in a defensive situation, you would clear the round immediately (or press the trigger again in the case of a revolver) and simply not wait the 30-seconds for the round to “cook off”. We will cover the words “clear the round” when we go through the methods to clear the most common malfunctions in a future post.

A misfire, after the primer or rim receives a solid strike from the hammer or firing pin, is virtually always due to a defective primer. While this happens with factory loaded ammunition, honestly it is fairly rare in center-fire ammunition – and “common” in the much cheaper .22 rim fire ammo.

[Proper disposal of misfires: Many ranges have “tubes” that the misfires are dropped into. Periodically either oil or saltwater is poured down the pipes and eventually the ammunition degrades. For a simple portable solution take a a 20 oz pop bottle, fill it about ½ full of water and add a healthy dose of salt to the bottle. Shake well until all the salt is dissolved. Carry this in your car or range bag. In the event of a misfire – drop the offending cartridge in the bottle. Over time the salt water degrades the ammunition. You can either store these bottles or after a year to two, find a safe spot to bury the contents.]

Hangfire: You press the trigger, the cartridge receives a solid strike on the primer or rim of the cartridge and . . . . . . .BLAMM!!!! There is a noticeable delay from the time the primer is struck and the weapon goes BLAMM!!!! A failure of this type is usually due to a defective primer or defective powder. It is much more common in reloaded ammunition and in the black powder community. If you have a box of factory loaded ammo and experience a number of these at the beginning of the box, I would suggest you stop using the box and return it to the retailer. I suspect they will replace it at no cost to you in the vast majority of cases.

Squib Load: A squib is a small firework that burns with a hissing sound before exploding. When the cartridge receives a solid strike on the primer or the rim of the cartridge a loud hissing noise is heard that is either followed by a muted or non-existent BLAMM!!!!. The worst-case result of a squib load is that the bullet (or shotgun wad) is left part way down the barrel. In the event the shooter fires another round without clearing the bullet or wad and insuring that the barrel is clear – a catastrophic failure of the barrel nearly always happens. This falls under my continuing mantra on the range and in the field of keeping your head in the game. If something “funny” happens – be aware enough to KNOW it happened and be clear on what it takes to clear the cartridge malfunction.

In the case of a squib load, you will need to empty your weapon, take a rod and insure the barrel is clear from muzzle to chamber. Failure to do this could lead to a very bad day when the next round is fired.

Case Failure: When the cartridge receives a solid strike on the primer or the rim of the cartridge the casing experiences a catastrophic failure. This can look like the casing splitting, the primer being blown out, the rear of the casing separating, or a hole being blown in the side of the casing. These types of failures seldom occur in factory loaded ammunition. However, when a spent casing is cleaned and reloaded multiple times they become fatigued and will eventually fail. If you do reload, carefully examine each casing prior to inserting the primer and assembling the cartridge. If it “looks funny” – pitch it, the damage a Case Failure can cause is simply not the risk or the savings a reloaded round offers.

Cartridges are a mixture of mechanical pieces and chemical elements that depend of a specific chain of events to successfully go BLAMM!!!! As in all things, “shit happens” – pay attention, keep your head in the game, expect to have failures and know how to clear them.

Just because you press the trigger . . . . there is absolutely NO GUARANTEE that it will go . . . .



  1. The Tap and Rack training has the 'potential' to get someone hurt in the case of a hang fire, but a good 'scenario' for training purposes is to have someone else load a snap cap somewhere in a mag and then hand it to you. Or I put one in three mags and then 'blindly' pick up a mag.

  2. Good suggestions - dummy ammo is a great training aid and should be part of every shooter's routine. While the potential is there for injury in a hang-fire, training your body to wait 30 seconds is simply wrong, IMNSHO, of course. :) It's a risk I am willing to take to make sure my body "works right" if the SHTF. Hope your travels are going well!

  3. True eia, and the trip is 'going'...