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Jams and failures happen, even to careful reloaders. It can be a temporary, relatively safe situation like a casing that does not eject or something more dangerous that can damage your gun and potentially injure you. This section will look at some of the most common issues and fixes.

Cartridge malfunction, which is the failure of the powder or primer to function properly, can be caused by a number of different things.

  • If the walls of the casing are fatigued or thin, the case will separate in two pieces close to the head. This is referred to as case head separation and it commonly occurs with brass that has been reloaded too many times.
  • If you pull the trigger and nothing happens, the powder or primer may have malfunctioned. Failure to discharge, or a dud, can be very dangerous and must be deactivated and properly disposed of immediately. (You can also recock the hammer and fire again, but it is usually best to remove and discard the round.)
  • If there is an unexpected delay between the pulling of the trigger and the ignition of the propellant, known as hang fire, keep the weapon pointed in a safe direction for at least thirty seconds to a full minute. Then, remove the round and discard it.
  • An incomplete discharge, or squib round, occurs with the shot does not have enough force and gets stuck in the barrel of the gun. When this occurs, don’t fire again. Drop the mag and check for a bullet in the barrel. If you do have a bullet in the barrel, you can try to tap it out, but it would be best just to pay to take it to the gunsmith. Do not continue to use any reloads from that lot.

Other problems that you may encounter include:

  • Failure to feed, eject or extract a cartridge
  • Failure to fully cycle after the weapon has been fired
  • Failure of a gas-operated or recoil-operated gun to lock back when the clip is emptied
  • Overloaded rounds
  • Blocked barrel

In these case, always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction. Put on the safety before investigating.

If the empty cartridge fails to eject and becomes vertically jammed in the ejection port, known as a smokestack, simply pull the slide back and allow the empty shell to fall out of the gun. If it is a feeding jam and two live bullets attempt to occupy the same space, drop the mag, pull back the slide and let the bullets fall out of the gun.

In the event of an expanded shell casting, unload the gun and insert a wooden dowel until it hits the stuck shell. Then, gently tap the shell out with a rubber mallet. In some cases, you may have to take the firearm apart in order to clear a jam.