Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Misfires and Hangfires and Squibs, oh my!

While working on a segment for Assorted Calibers Podcast, I realized that it's likely not all of our listeners there, or our readers here, would be familiar with the three main ammunition failures and how to safely resolve them.

There are overlapping potential causes of these issues, so it's not a simple linear list. For example, ammunition contaminated with a liquid (water, oil, solvent, etc.) can result in any of the three malfunctions, so I'm not going to focus on root causes.

The basic definitions of these ammunition failures are:

  1. Misfire: the round doesn’t fire, resulting in a click but no bang. This could be due to (among other things) a bad primer, no primer, or a light firing pin strike.
  2. Hangfire: a perceptible delay between pulling the trigger and firing. This usually results from contaminated gunpowder or primers, which causes the powder to ignite slowly.
  3. Squib: the round is underpowered and the bullet gets stuck in the barrel. This could be due to a more advanced contamination issue as with a hangfire, or an improper load with little or no powder.

The squib is the most dangerous of the three ammunition malfunctions due to the possibility of firing a following round into a blocked barrel. However, it is fairly easy to detect a squib if the shooter is paying attention: due to the reduced pressure, recoil will be softer, muzzle blast will be quieter, and (if fired in low light) muzzle flash will be minimal if it's even visible at all.

The nose of a squib is just visible in this barrel

For all three situations, the immediate action is the same: Stop! After that, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, finger off the trigger, and remove the magazine (if appropriate).
  • For a misfire, wait 30 seconds to make sure it's really not going to go off, then eject the round, being careful to keep fleshy bits like hands away from the ejection port. 
  • If a hangfire occurred, check to make sure the empty case ejected and the barrel is clear. In both cases, assuming everything looks fine, reload and continue shooting.
  • With a squib, the gun is out of service until the blockage is removed from the barrel.

There are several processes that can be used to remove the stuck bullet. What follows is mine:

  1. Remove the barrel from the gun.
  2. Secure the barrel, muzzle down, in a vice with soft jaws.
  3. A couple of drops of penetrating oil in the barrel can help.
  4. Place a brass rod just smaller than bore diameter in the barrel.
  5. Only an inch or two of the rod should protrude from the chamber.
  6. Using a rubber, rawhide, or dead blow mallet, tap the rod to get the bullet moving.
  7. Once the rod is nearly flush with the end of the barrel, replace it with a longer one.
  8. Repeat until the bullet is clear.
  9. Clean the barrel, then check it inside and out for any damage.
  10. If everything looks good, reassemble the firearm and test fire.

If the barrel can't easily be removed, such as with revolvers, secure the barrel muzzle up and follow the same steps. Be extra careful not to mar the barrel crown, as this will likely negatively affect accuracy.

Stay safe and keep your ammunition dry

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