If you shoot often, chances are you’ve run into some malfunctions. Learning to identify what they are and what you do to clear them is important. Some malfunctions are easy to clear and continue, while some can cause some serious damage if you continue. Keep in mind the tap, rack, and roll technique. When certain minor malfunctions happen, tap the bottom of your magazine hard, rack your slide while rolling your firearm sideways so your ejection port is facing downwards. Here are some common malfunction, what causes them, and how to clear them.
Stovepiping is when brass fails to eject from your firearm and gets stuck when your slide comes forward. There are several reasons this happens. The first is if there’s a buildup of carbon or something else on the ejector spring. Make sure you’re cleaning your firearms regularly, properly, and see a professional gunsmith if this continues. The second reason is there could be an issue with your extractor. If it happens regularly, it’s a sign that something is amiss with your firearm. The last reason is your ammunition could be underpowered. When I was having an issue with stovepiping, I noticed it was because I was using a different factory reloaded ammunition than I had previously used. Switching ammo solved my issue.
The way to clear this malfunction is to keep your dominant shooting hand on the gun with your trigger finger on the side of the gun. Place your non-dominant hand on top of the slide over the stuck brass, pull back on the slide while sweeping the brass away, and chamber a new round.
A squib is when you pull the trigger and hear a “click”, but no bullet is fired. The reason this happens is because your primer malfunctioned or there isn’t sufficient powder loaded. When this happens, keep your firearm aimed downrange and DO NOT SHOOT AGAIN. Occasionally the bullet can still eject, which is called a hangfire, so I wait at least 30 seconds before taking my firearm apart to inspect what happened. Unload your magazine and disassemble your firearm to get to the barrel. A quick inspection of the barrel will show the bullet lodged somewhere in it. Using a rod and a hammer, you carefully place the rod on the bullet where it won’t scratch the inside of your barrel, tap once or twice, and it should come out. The majority of the times this happens because of reloaded ammunition, but I’ve had factory rounds do this as well.
3. Failure to Feed/Seat a Magazine
Checking your magazines is so important especially if you’re in a shooting competition. This has happened to me and it is not fun. I had a P-mag that I thought was seated in my Daniel Defense V7 so after I shot the pistol portion of a match and ran to the rifle, all I got was “click”. I tried seating the magazine again, but it would not feed ammo. I had to “down the gun” and take the maximum time penalties. Test out your magazines before and after shooting and look specifically at your magazine feed lip. There are tools you can purchase to bend them back into place, but I typically just look for a better or new magazine to purchase. Springs in your magazines also get old so replacing those can really help out if your rounds aren’t feeding properly. If you’ve never cleaned your magazines before, I do recommend doing that as well. This is especially important if you shoot a lot of matches and reload magazines on the go. Mine have been known to collect clay, grass, and water from being dropped on the ground.
4. Double Feed
Double feeds can happen for several reasons, but the most common is if your magazine is defective or worn down or if you’re using the wrong sized ammunition. My Uberti rifle shoots .38 special just like my Ruger Vaquero’s, but I cannot use the same ammunition in both. The Uberti rifle requires the ammunition to be a specific length or else it double feeds. I learned this the hard way. Try the tap, rack, and roll technique first. If that doesn’t work, lock your slide back, drop your magazine, shake out the round, release your slide forward, and rack three times to clear the double feed.
5. Riding the Slide
When you shoot a pistol, it’s hard to know what to do with your thumbs. When you “ride the slide”, that means you are putting pressure on the slide stop that locks back your slide. Two things can happen – either your slide is locking back when you don’t want it to or it’s going forward when you’re out of rounds and not locking back. The thumb that is on the slide lock needs to be repositioned to be on top of your other hand ever so slightly.
It’s never a matter of “if”, but “when” one of these malfunctions will happen to you. Be sure to identify the malfunction and learn how to clear it. Not all situations require you to stop shooting, especially in a competition. Learn to roll with the issue, clear it, and keep on going!