Stay Calm and Keep Shooting: Clearing Malfunctions

By Suzanne Wiley published on in How To

If you shoot a semi-automatic rifle or pistol, it is inevitable that you will have a malfunction—when you pull the trigger and nothing happens. Well, something happens, but it is not what you expected. The gun does not go bang. Many people call this a “jam,” but the correct term is malfunction. And you can fix most malfunctions yourself. The problem turns into a jam when you cannot clear the issue and need the service of a gunsmith.

A problem with the ammunition, mechanics of the gun or the shooter causes a malfunction. To get the most out of your training, familiarize yourself with the types of malfunctions and how to fix each. To do this, you will need to perform those actions quickly in a self-defense situation.

Your first fix for most malfunctions is tap-rack-bang!

  • Tap — Slam the bottom of the magazine with the palm of your hand to make sure it is seated properly.
  • Rack — Rack the slide a few times to clear the chamber and load a new round.
  • Bang — Pull the trigger.
Your first fix for most malfunctions is called tap-rack-bang.

Your first fix for most malfunctions is tap-rack-bang!

Squib

A squib is a round that does not have enough powder charge to send the bullet down the chamber and out the barrel. Therefore, the bullet gets stuck in the barrel. A squib can be a danger to you and your firearm. It is important that you are aware of what happens after you pull the trigger. A squib will only go pop as opposed to bang, and you most likely will feel less recoil than normal. If you do not notice a squib, you might be able to load and fire another round. But that can really damage your gun. If you suspect you have a squib, stop shooting. Clear the action, make your gun safe and check the barrel. Squibs occur most commonly with handloads, but factory ammunition can produce one as well. Clearing a squib with tap-rack-bang! is not possible. You may be able to remove the bullet with a barrel cleaning rod; however, if you are unsure, take your gun to a gunsmith or call the range officer to remove the bullet.

Failure to Feed

A failure to feed is when a cartridge will not load into the chamber. A round that fails to feed is normally associated with a magazine problem—the spring needs cleaning, or possibly it is a bad follower. It also is possible that the magazine was not inserted properly. In my experience, a little lubrication on the feed lips of the magazine and in the chamber fixes this issue. After checking to see if your magazines are in good working order, your next step would be to switch ammo. Some guns are finicky.

Failure to Eject

A failure to eject, sometimes called a stovepipe, means the case has not come out of the chamber after the guns fires.

A failure to eject problem may also be called a stovepipe.

A failure to eject problem also may be called a stovepipe.

This is when the case gets stuck standing up, preventing the slide from returning to battery. To fix a failure to eject, use tap-rack-bang!, but first roll your gun 90 degrees to the right. That will allow gravity to aid in removing the case. The experts at Magpul teach students to swipe at the stuck round with your hand to remove it.

Hangfire

A hangfire is a delay between the time the firing pin hits the bullet’s primer and the round going off. Keep your gun pointed in a safe direction for at least 30 seconds to see if the round goes off. After that—with the gun pointed in a safe direction—rack the slide to eject the malfunctioning round.

Slamfire

A slamfire is when a new round loads into the chamber and the bolt return causes the firing pin to hit the primer hard enough to cause the round to fire without the trigger engaged.

Double Feed

You have a double feed when two live rounds attempt to feed into the chamber. To fix a double feed, first remove the magazine. Then, rack the slide to eject both rounds. Once both rounds are ejected, insert a fresh magazine.

You have a double feed when two live rounds attempt to feed into the chamber.

You have a double feed when two live rounds attempt to feed into the chamber.

Short Stroke

A short stroke is when the gun does not complete a full cycle after a round has fired. The round will successfully leave the barrel; however, the slide will not have gone all the way back so the gun did not load a new round. There is usually no indication that a short stroke has happened.

Misfire

A misfire is when you pull the trigger and the gun goes click. A misfire normally is due to a faulty primer. It may also be an issue with the gun’s firing pin. If tap-rack-bang! does not correct the issue, remove the bad round and dispose of it safely.

Shooter Problems

There are two common shooter issues that may also cause a malfunction. One is being too gentle when you rack the slide. This was my problem as a noob and caused persistent issues with getting a round to chamber, known as failure to feed. Another shooter problem is when you do not have a firm grasp on your gun; this is called limp-wristing and may cause any of the previously discussed problems.

You also will see malfunctions labeled Level I, Level II and Level III. A Level I malfunction is the easiest to clear; for example, a misfire is a Level I malfunction. Level II is a failure to eject, such as a stovepipe. A Level III is a failure to extract or a double feed.

It is important to practice clearing malfunctions and learning to do them quickly—especially with your self-defense gun. You can safely use snap caps to practice. Caleb Giddings’ video and blog demonstrate the importance of thinking and clearing malfunctions quickly.

What is the worst malfunction you have encountered? Tell us in the comments section.

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Comments (20)

  • Alan

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    I have a sw9sv I have a bullet in the chamber.it will not eject and the rackis stuck closed. I can’t get to it. And am worried about trying to fiddle with it to much to get it out in case of the round going off. Has anyone heard of this kind of jam.also how do I safely get it out?

    Reply

  • Kenneth Beavers

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    i have a reington model 511 scoremaster, some times it will fire the first time and then it will not fire. i have taken the bolt all apart and cleaned i good, and it still misfires, is it the firing pin or the bolt spring? thanks for your help

    Reply

  • Brenda

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    For a Double Feed – in most cases, you need to first relieve the pressure of the slide on the cartridges. This requires you to lock the slide back, then strip the magazine out before your rack – rack and reload the magazine.

    Also for racking, many people find rotating your firing/grip hand to the inside is easier than rotating to the outside.

    Reply

  • Range Report: The 9mm SIG Sauer P938

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    […] to fire, but I recovered quickly with tap, rack, bang! It is important to practice and train clearing malfunctions. I have since read that early model P938s had feeding issues. However, SIG Sauer has sorted out the […]

    Reply

  • Steveb

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    Went to Vegas.
    Shot a AR15 for my first time.
    It jammed on me, so instructor took the clip out checked gun then put clip back in
    He gave it back to me, I tried to fire, but just click click
    He tried, but just click click, no fire.

    He brought the target back, checked the holes.
    There was one hole missing, but one hole was perfectly circular and twice as big as the others.
    He grabbed the other worker and they both looked at each other and just said ‘wow’
    They quickly took that gun away and brought out another.
    I didn’t understand at the time, but maybe I had a squib hanging out the end and then fired again and pushed both bullets to the target, making the front bullet mushroom? Just a guess.
    I have no clue what happened

    Reply

  • grayghostcsa

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    After working as RSO for a long time I have come up with the following reasons for jams in semi-automatic handguns.

    1. Limp Wristing – allowing the firearm to move in your hands. Almost all of the common semi-automatic handguns are powered by recoil. If you allow the firearm to move in your hands, you absorb recoil energy needed by the firearm to operate. In other words it runs out of energy before completing the cycle. Solution, change and tighten your grip. If this fails to help, go to step 2.

    2. Ammo Problems – some firearms, particularly small calibers such as .22’s are sensitive to different brands of ammo. Opinion, not fact; some of the newer ultra small firearms in .380 and 9mm are engineered to close to the edge and definitely need the energy required by hotter loads. Solution, change ammo brands and bullet weights. In today’s market this is expensive so buy the smallest box of ammo you can. If this doesn’t clear the problem go to step 3.

    3. Magazine Problems – most commonly bent feed lips but it can be spring tension or needed lubrication. Solution, change magazines and see if the problem continues. If you firearm did not come with multiple magazines you definitely need to at least obtain a second on. Sometimes on the range there will be someone with the exact same firearm you are having problems with. Ask to borrow on of their successful magazines. If this doesn’t clear the problem, go to step 4.

    4. Problem with the firearm – if your firearm is brand new and you call the manufacturer to report a feed problem, unfortunately you will probably be told to fire at least 500 rounds through the gun and call back when you do. I find this to be a dangerous situation on the firing line. At this point instead I would take the firearm to a reputable gun smith and have him find the problem and write up what he finds wrong and repairs. Then go to the manufacturer. They probably won’t do anything but a least you will have your firearm in working order sooner than later.

    Reply

    • Nitemarestudios

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      Thank you for such a brief and precise explanation to the many problems gun owners often encounter.
      Yes, even a Glock can jam, and when it does this information will be vital. Typically before working on a gun Ill go on the range with the customer or friend, hoping the problem presents itself. Which most commonly, is “Limp Wristing”. Remember its not about strength, its about technique.

      Reply

  • Don Boyles

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    Jamming problem with brand new Taurus .22 PT semi-auto (shoots .22 LR.) Most often–but can happen at any time– when one round is chambered and full magazine attached. The casing from the fired, chambered round will jam up against the newly fed, unfired round from the magazine. (The spring on the slide– to me– seems to be Far Too Strong, and it would take a gorilla to work the slide.) Any comments, ideas ? Does the gun just need to loosen up ? Or is one brand of .22 LR better than any other for this problem ? Help– this is a brand new gun !!!

    Reply

  • Don W. Boyles

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    Am having an awful time with jamming (casing of fired round plus new, unfired round

    jammed together with the slide stuck just halfway advanced.) This is a brand new

    Taurus semi-auto .22 PT, which shoots .22 Long Rifle rounds. This can happen at any

    time, but most often when I have one round already in the chamber, the magazine full

    and attempt firing. I read somewhere that some semi-auto’s require 200 rounds to

    loosen up and quit jamming. One extra thing: the slide is Way Too Hard to operate,

    like maybe the main spring for the slide is Far Too Strong. Help !!!

    Reply

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