Ammunition

Malfunctions: Feed, Extract, Eject — How to Handle Them

A failure to eject problem is also called a stovepipe.

Mechanical malfunctions are usually caused by dirt, rust, damaged parts, poor maintenance procedures, out of spec parts, etc. Within this category, we have some subcategories as well. Let’s look at some of the malfunctions that fall within those parameters.

A failure to feed, due to a mechanical problem, is caused when something prevents a cartridge from properly feeding into the firing chamber. One cause is when the magazine isn’t properly seated in the firearm. Another possibility to be examined is whether there is a buildup of dirt and fouling causing rounds to not feed properly. Damaged or out of spec parts also needs to be investigated.

Colt Government Model 1911 .45 ACP with a stovepiped shell casing malfunction
The stove pipe, with the case failing to clear the ejection port and getting caught, forming the classic appearance responsible for the name.

At the opposite end of the operating cycle is the failure to extract the fired cartridge case properly. When that happens, a second cartridge will attempt to load into the chamber, without the first one being removed from it. This causes the type of stoppage that is referred to as a double feed.

Another common type of malfunction is the failure to eject. In this situation, the cartridge fired. However, due to a mechanical problem, it is extracted but failed to completely eject out of the firearm. Instead, it gets caught in the ejection port. The stovepipe type of jam is a classic failure to eject. It is the one most commonly seen and the easiest to clear.

The most disconcerting malfunction occurs on very poorly maintained firearms that causes the safety device to fail. This may cause the firearm to fire unintentionally, without the user expecting it. That, of course, is the most dangerous type of malfunction.

Let’s look at all of these malfunctions in more detail to better understand their causation, correction and possible prevention. The first of these malfunctions we will look at is failure to feed, also known as FTF. A failure to feed is defined as the cartridge failing to seat completely into the chamber for some reason.

In a semi-automatic or automatic firearm, a FTF means the cartridge does not properly travel from the magazine to the chamber and the action remains partially open. When this happens, the weapon is said to be out of battery.

Colt Government Model 1911 .45 ACP with an improperly seated magazine
This failure to feed was the result of the magazine not being fully seated. Note the space indicating the magazine is not properly seated. Consequently, the chamber remained empty when the slide went forward.

When hollow point ammunition first became commercially available, failures to feed almost always occurred because the feed ramps and throats on handguns were not designed for the shorter, truncated projectiles. Up until that time, pistols were designed to accommodate the only available ammunition of the time — ball.

If you wanted to shoot the new hollow point ammunition, it was a common practice to take your gun to a pistol smith. The smith would ramp and throat the pistol to accommodate the new truncated shape.

Today, the reasons why this might occur could be as simple as a faulty magazine, the accumulation of dirt in the firing chamber, or the magazine not being fully inserted into the firearm, which prevents the cartridge from seating properly in firing chamber.

Troubleshooting

The magazine is one of the first items to examine after a failure. Dents, bulges, damaged lips, or a weak magazine spring could result in the cartridge being misaligned as it exits the magazine and attempts to feed into the chamber and result in a failure to feed. Additionally, there is always the possibility the magazine is in good shape, but it may not have been seated all the way into the firearm. This would cause the cartridges to not enter the chamber.

Colt Government Model 1911 .45 ACP with a failure to feed malfunction
Here we see a failure to feed resulting in the cartridge prohibiting the action from going into battery.

A damaged cartridge with dents or bulges could also cause a failure to feed, as the slide may not pick the cartridge up correctly. Likewise, it may not fit into the chamber correctly because of the dents or bulges.

This next issue really falls more under the heading of ‘operator error’ than firearm malfunction and that is riding the slide. This is when the user holds the slide as it is moving forward and impedes its speed. When this happens, the slide may not have enough momentum to properly seat the cartridge into the chamber.

If you need to retract the slide, bring it fully to the rear briskly. Then, let it go (like a slingshot), and let the recoil spring do the job of loading and seating the next cartridge. Slingshotting the slide is something new shooters seem to take some time to get used to.

In most cases, a failure to feed can be easily corrected. For example, dirt in a firearm can generally be easily cleaned. An improperly loaded magazine can be pushed into place. Damaged cartridges can be removed from the magazine and discarded, etc. All of these are easy for the average user to do and do not incur any expense at all.

In other cases. (e.g., a damaged magazine or a weak magazine spring), the magazine spring may need to be replaced, or the entire magazine may need to be replaced. The cost of replacing a magazine is usually very affordable, as magazines are considered expendable.

The next type of failure we should examine is the failure to extract. A failure to extract occurs when the slide or bolt moves backward, but the empty cartridge case remains behind in the chamber. In this situation, a new live cartridge may sometimes be forced into the base of the fired cartridge. The slide stays open, and the firearm becomes jammed.

A failure to extract causes a second cartridge to attempt to occupy the same space in the chamber holding the slide partially opened. The magazine may get stuck and refuse to drop out of the weapon as well. This type of jam sometimes requires some effort to correct.

Colt Government Model 1911 .45 ACP with a double feed malfunction
This jam occurred due to a failure to extract that resulted in a double feed. This was most probably the result of the extractor failing.

There are a few reasons why a failure to extract may occur. If it has not been a problem in the past, I would first examine the cartridge to see whether it is defective or damaged around the cartridge rim. If damaged or deformed, the extractor claw may slip off the cartridge head, allowing it will remain in the chamber. Bulges in the cartridge could cause excess friction with the chamber walls, and that extra resistance could cause the cartridge to slip the extraction claw.

If the cartridge appears fine, I will look for dirt and corrosion. Dirt or corrosion in the extractor claw or firing chamber can cause the empty cartridge to not be picked up with enough grip to extract the cartridge. The final culprit can be a damaged or bent extractor claw that may not grab the cartridges correctly. A weak extractor spring could also cause this malfunction to happen.

A failure to extract will cause a stoppage, and the weapon will cease to function until the problem is corrected. The cost of fixing any of the issues mentioned is usually not costly, in either time of parts. In fact, proper maintenance, which should be a standard practice carried out routinely with any firearm, could avert any of these issues. Damaged extractor claws and extractor springs can be replaced inexpensively, as these parts are readily available for most firearms.

.45 ACP cartridge with a bulged cartridge case
This cartridge shows a distinct bulge caused by poor quality control during the manufacturing process, which caused a failure to feed.

Defective cartridges can be disposed of. If it is the cause, a better quality of ammunition can be purchased — even during these difficult times filled with cheap foreign imports and poor quality control.

If you have old or obsolete firearms, there are good sources for parts that are no longer produced. Two venders that I have had good luck with over the years are Jack First and Numrich Arms. Parts for currently produced firearms are readily available and reasonably priced, so don’t skimp on routine maintenance.

What was the last malfunction you experienced when shooting? Share your answer in the comment section.

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Comments (12)

  1. I think the number one reason for a malfunction in a striker fired pistol is poor grip and poor recoil management. I believe that if most folks fix their grip they will avoid most malfunctions.

  2. My love for C&R pistols invariably means I have issues with the magazine or extractor and the older the pistol the worse it gets.
    My Beretta 1915 is a nightmare to feed and even new built mags from Numrich give the same issue.
    I also just bought a French RR51 that came with its original matched numbered magazine. That works fine, but the two spares I bought from a dealer in France just do not want to work.
    Guess i’ll have to buy a Glock 🙂 someday…maybe.

  3. One easily overlooked cause of malfunctions, especially in older bolt-actions and shotguns, is poor stock fitment. Some gun designs rely on the stock to keep certain parts in place. In one case in the shop, a gap that had formed between the stock and action on a bolt rifle allowed the thumb safety to be massaged into the off position by pulling on the trigger several times.

  4. As always Mr.LaPorta writes with experienced knowledgeable and straight talk .Good gear is the key , good maintenance is the way . Thank you Sir .

  5. The.message I take from this article is to make sure to clean the gun thoroughly after every use and if not used for a while clean thoroughly again before use and locate and use a smith to correct damaged parts. Thanks again Ed. I always learn from your articles and look forward to the next one. Dale

  6. From my experience I have learned, in blow-back systems, Failure To Extract, the extractor does very little, as the force of the casing being violently forced rearward do to firing, moves the slide rearward, but the extractor should be able to hold onto a loaded round, when unloading is necessary. In other words, the slide cannot move reward unless the brass case is pushing on it, so it is going to extract, but just not far enough to complete the ejection cycle. The issue I have found is the buildup of crud in the camber where the bullet leaves the brass case, results in hanging onto the case, slowing the process. A bore brush is typically too small to scrub this area efficiently, and is why they make CHAMBER brushes, sized like bore brushes, only slightly larger in diameter for cleaning JUST the CHAMBER. On the other hand, it seems Failure To Feed, seems to be more magazine related, which is usually cured by routine magazine maintenance, cleaning, and yes some lubrication. In the FTF area for .22’s, I highly recommend watching the Glock video on their webpage for the Glock 44. Basically when loaded, no matter what brand, if the top bullet in not sticking up a little, there is probably going to be FTF issues. Ironically on the G44, if the top round is down, behind the front wall of the magazine, not only will the first round jam, but also each one behind it in that magazine, unless the stack issue is corrected, usually by relieving a little pressure on the follower, and lightly tapping or shaking until the top round is oriented correctly. For necked cases, I suggest cleaning the small part of the chamber, where the bullet leaves the brass, using a bore brush a size or two larger than the bore. For AR magazines, enough pressure on the nose of the magazine follower is critical. I usually just take the top coil and bend it way upward, under the nose of the magazine follower, and it has always worked for me so far. Oh yeah, if you don’t use it, it will gum up.

  7. Ed, this article was not only VERY WELL DONE but especially valuable to all of us who use magazine guns as all the above has happened over time. Thanks with the clarifications which obviously shows the importance in CLEANING our pieces as necessary and often. Thanks again. Dave

  8. Stovepipes also occur when the shooter fails to grasp the pistol securely. Here in Tennessee we call it “limp wrist.” Failure to provide enough grip resistance to backstop the slide recoil will cause the case to not quite clear the slide port during ejection. We once had a Walther PPK (in 380!) which my wife could hardly keep from jamming as she got older. The PPK straight blowback recoil mechanism required a hard, firm grasp for proper operation.

  9. Another superb article written by Mr. LaPorta. I anxiously look forward to the next article, I have learned something from each of them.

  10. Since that Colt malfunctioned you should send it to me and never have to worry about it again.

    Least I can do.

    Spot on!

    Bob

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