Gun Care

How to Correct Pistol Malfunctions: 5 Tips

Pistol camber with a cartridge jammed

Semi-automatic pistols, which make up about 20% of the guns owned in the United States, have a lot of benefits. They hold more ammo, fire faster, and can be more accurate with practice. Unfortunately, creating a more complex mechanism means they can be more prone to malfunctions as well. Understanding what to do in various circumstances will keep you, your firearm, and everyone around you safe. Here are five common pistol malfunctions and what you can do to prevent, or quickly correct, them.

Tip-Up (Misfeed)

If the next round from your magazine doesn’t make it into the chamber, you may find it with its nose lodged against the barrel hood. This awkward positioning will lock up the action and jam the weapon. Inexperienced shooters may tell you to pull the side back and jiggle the stuck round loose. However, this could make things worse. Instead, remove your magazine — which might take a bit of extra work if the jammed bullet prevents the ejector from dropping it automatically — and rack the slide to clear it. Once cleared, insert a new magazine and get back to shooting.

Woman receiving instructions while shooting a handgun at an indoor shooting range
Pistol malfunctions can be properly handled if you follow the right protocol and safety precautions. Don’t endanger yourself or others by acting on impulse.

These malfunctions can have various causes, from poor quality ammo to worn magazines or problems with the firearm itself. Preventing tip-up malfunctions requires diagnosing the underlying cause.

Double Feed

Generally, you only want to fire one round at a time when shooting a pistol. However, your pistol may have other ideas. On occasion, the magazine will try to feed two rounds at once, jamming the action. This is known as a double feed. When a double feed happens, fixing it is usually straightforward. Remove the magazine and cycle the action until your double-fed rounds fall out — always keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction of course.

Thankfully, these malfunctions normally happen when you cycle the action when there’s already a round in the chamber. It’s a problem that is easy to avoid with practice. Keep closer track of your ammo count, and ensure you’re not cycling the action unless the chamber is clear.

Stovepipe (Failure to Extract)

It isn’t always the unfired rounds that jam up the works, but on occasion you may suffer a piece of brass that has failed to fully eject. A stovepipe malfunction, also called a failure to extract, occurs when the spent brass is stuck upright in the ejection port. It gets its name because it looks like a little smoke stack or chimney sticking up. This malfunction often occurs when there isn’t enough force to move the slide back while hitting the case to expel it from the gun.

A failure to eject problem is also called a stovepipe.
A stove pipe is when the gun fails to completely eject a spent cartridge, causing the slide to fail to go back into battery.

These malfunctions are often caused by a worn-out recoil spring. Most manufacturers recommend replacing the recoil spring every 3,000 to 5,000 rounds. You may be able to get away with more, but expect problems when you exceed these recommendations.

Misfires and Hang Fires

It’s the one malfunction every gun enthusiast dreads — the click! without a bang! You pull the trigger and the firing pin moves, but the cartridge doesn’t fire. If not properly handled, this can be extremely dangerous. Managing misfires on the range, or in the field, starts by waiting 30 seconds, preferably a minute, to ensure it isn’t a hang fire instead of a misfire. If the bullet doesn’t fire, eject the cartridge and leave it. Do not pick it up to inspect it. Then, continue shooting.

Misfires are usually caused by poor-quality ammo or cartridges stored improperly. If you experience the same issues with new ammo, you may need to look into having the firing pin checked. For the former, try not to store ammunition for long periods in hot or humid environments that could corrode the casing or interfere with the primer and powder. For the latter, keeping the firearm clean and well maintained can help prevent this problem.

Pistol being fired with a cloud of smoke and a spent shell casing in the air
Ideally, this is what will happen when you pull the trigger. However, when you pull the trigger and nothing happens, keep the gun pointed in a safe direction for a minimum of 30 in case the round slowly cooks off and shoots.

Hang fires are why you wait after hearing the click! With a hang fire, there is a delay between the firing pin striking the primer and the ignition of the powder that causes the discharge of the firearm. Treat it like a typical misfire — waiting 30 seconds to a minute. If the cartridge fires, eject the casing (if necessary) and continue firing as usual. If it doesn’t fire after the waiting period, treat it as a misfire and act accordingly. The prevention of hang fires is the same as a misfire.

Squib Load

When you pull the trigger and hear a muffled pop or poof, instead of the gun’s normal report, you may have a squib load. These are fairly rare but can be dangerous if you don’t handle them properly. Squib loads happen when the cartridge fires, but there isn’t enough force to move the bullet out of the barrel. If this happens, stop firing immediately.

Two semiautomatic pistols with the slides locked open next to their magazines
With semi-automatic or automatic firearms, a squib load can cause the following rounds to impact the projectile obstructing the barrel. This can cause a serious failure of the firearm’s structural integrity.

The bullet from the squib load is blocking the barrel. In the best-case scenario, pulling the trigger again would only damage the barrel. In the worst scenario, it could cause severe harm and significant injury when the pressure buildup causes the gun to essentially explode. Do not look down the barrel of the gun (ever!). Instead, look from the action end to determine whether the barrel is blocked. If it is, stop firing and seek the help of a gunsmith to remove the bullet without damaging the weapon. Thankfully, these malfunctions are rare, but it is important to be aware of them and ensure you don’t continue firing with a blocked barrel thinking one round will clear the bullet that is stuck.

Stay Safe

A pistol malfunction can range from a mild annoyance to a downright dangerous condition. It could happen when you’re target shooting for fun, hunting for dinner, or protecting yourself. Understanding what can cause these malfunctions is the first step in preventing them and staying safe should a malfunction occur. Ensure you are using high-quality ammo and maintaining your firearms regularly. You can’t always avoid every potential pistol malfunction, but these simple steps can help prevent them from becoming a regular thing and interfering with your hobbies.

What types of failures have you experienced? Any that were not covered here? How were they handled? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • Woman's arms holding a pistol bellowing smoke
  • Mands holding. Glock handgun
  • Fieldstripped Taurus 1911 .45 ACP handgun
  • Glock 19 handgun with a loaded magazine and loose bullets
  • Semiauto handgun with two loaded spare magazines
  • Two semiautomatic pistols with the slides locked open next to their magazines
  • Woman receiving instructions while shooting a handgun at an indoor shooting range
  • Pistol with a spare loaded magazine on a hunter green jacket
  • Pistol being fired with a cloud of smoke and a spent shell casing in the air

About the Author:

Oscar Collins

Oscar Collins is the managing editor at Modded where he writes about gear, the outdoors, survivalism and more. Whether you're interested in ice fishing, building a rooftop tent or the best hiking trails, Oscar has you covered. Follow him on Twitter @TModded for frequent updates!
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (18)

  1. Last time I went shooting I experience tip-up (mis-feed) several times. I cleared it incorrectly. Reading your tip reminded me that I saw Mac on She Equips Herself stated the same way as you did as the correct way to clear the gun. Thank you for the reminder!

  2. Ingraining the procedure you mention for misfire or hangfire can get you killed in a defensive situation.

    Instead the reflexive action should be tap – rack – flip, back on target, back on trigger.

    An ejected hangfire poses little threat.

  3. Squib load is not a malfunction.

    It does however result in a broken gun that should be resolved by a competent gunsmith.

  4. Malfunctions, best way to clear those is don’t let your ex wife touch things apparently. Or is it don’t get married for a few times?🤣

  5. The ejection port is not on the left side. It’s a reverse image.
    Take a selfie with printing on your tee shirt, is it backwards?

  6. Yeah, as an also retired LEO instructor/RSO/rangemaster… some of those pictures just… say it all. Excuse me while I lean back while pointing my pelvic area forward while waiting on that loud noise.
    One of the reasons my ex wife is my ex. Could NOT convince her that a .22lr against her nose wouldn’t actually break it. Showed her. Nope. So I said fine, here’s my .17HMR… THAT scared her even more because it was louder. Keep in mind we had ears and eyes on. SERIOUSLY?! Just shoot the d*** thing. My God, it’s not like it’s my 12ga stuff. There’s literally a reason she’s my ex.

  7. An instructor showed me how to clear a stovepipe (failure to eject, not failure to extract) by just swiping his support hand over the slide and knocking that brass out to the side. Prety slick. I have found that most stoppages were failure to feed caused by a dirty dry chamber. Scrub your chamber, oil it, wait five minutes for the steel to absorb the oil, then patch it dry. Also, scrub the face of your slide to make sure it’s clean and no lint/grit is under the extractor.

  8. My Canik had a round hang up in the barrel and would not eject. I waited for a few minutes to make sure it was not going to fire. Then ejected the mag. Never could get the bullet out. Ammo was Winchester 9mm. Any ideas . Thanks!

  9. SPINGERAH on OCTOBER 21, 2022. You saw that too? I have never heard of a 1911 slide with the lowered flared ejection port on the left. Totally weird.

  10. Another thought on the Phoenix .25… how hard is it to slide a cartridge into the breach? is the feed ramp nicely polished? Are you maintaining a “stiff” wrist so that the recoil works WITH you to push the cartridge into the breech?? One way to test that is to bench rest the pistol with a brace to see if the problem disappears… or have a shooter you trust fire it and observe both form and function. A “soft” wrist can cause a multitude of problems. Test first… “fix” last/// Good luck~!

  11. Thumb bites should never happen under the watchful eyes of a competent instructor. The left-handed ejection port is probably due to a reversed photo rather than a custom leftie. The Phoenix .25 is a very pick little runt. I have two of their small caliber pistols… Things I found that helped?? Some of their mags are too tight and restrict bullet movement… wasting precious nanoseconds in the cycle. The claim that modern weapons do NOT have “break-in” requirements only holds true for a sainted FEW. I’m currently working on a .22Magnum 1911 which has trigger issues. The manufacturer DOES recognize the break-in due to tight build tolerances. Lots of the BEST oil I have, working it manually and burning SOME ammo, but not 500 rounds is finally yielding some success. Good luck!… Don’t give up~!

  12. I bought a Pheonix .25 caliber that hasn’t enough oomph to slam the round into battery. I tried clean and lube to no avail. I didn’t have enough strength to put it back together. so sent it to the factory. When I got it back it still has the same problem. I also bought three extra springs for the thing but haven’t tried to replace any of them, and a gun smith won’t accept work for a small caliber firearm.
    I’m just about 89 & will be next month.
    the company will not answer or acknowledge any help requests.

  13. I am a retired L.E.O. and have also been a firearms instructor for over 27 years. I read articles like this because I want to stay informed and continue to learn new and evolving information.
    That being said, the female holding the pistol in the top picture, with the braided hair, is an injury waiting to happen. She has her support hand thumb on top of her primary hand behind the slides travel path, with an apparent instructor watching her? Also, in the last picture, the gun that the lady is holding is either to big for her hands or she just isn’t indexing it properly. The back strap should be centered in the “V” between the index finger and the thumb. Over time this can cause her pain and issues in her thumb joint. I am not trying to be overly critical but not catching these issues before publication takes away from your credibility.

  14. Had a new Kimber 1911 in 10mm that was sluggish on follow up shots. Never failed to load, just slow. Upon inspection, I noticed machine marks on the loading ramp. A few minutes with my dremel solved the issue.

  15. I do mot see that in the second photo.
    The 1911 style pistol jas fired, the ejected case is in the air, the slide i returning to battery the hammer is fully retracted. It looks like the shooter has a bracelet made from wooden balls.
    Oddly, the ejection port looks to be on the left side. I’ve never heard of a left handed 1911. Does anyone know what the deal is?

  16. Almost all of the people in your photos have their thumbs in just the right place for the slide to take a huge bite out of the thumb!!!!!

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