How to Diagnose (& Fix) Failures to Feed and Fire

Keep your muzzle pointed downrange, keep your finger off the trigger, and keep this article handy!

posted on February 13, 2023
Stovepipe Round

Just bought your first gun? As a firearms instructor, I’ve noticed that nearly every new shooter that I’ve ever worked with has intimated that they are terrified that they won’t know what to do when (not if) the gun jams. Of course, the easiest jams are the ones that don’t happen, so in this article, we’ll cover some of the most common mishaps, how to clear them, and what you can do to keep them from happening again.

Light strikes

Light strikes are when you know that you chambered a round, hear the distinct click of the striker or hammer moving forward, but then nothing happens. Upon ejection, you notice that the primer has a small dimple, but not nearly as deep as the ones on the cases that fired. Light strikes on the range are fairly common and are handled by keeping the gun pointed downrange for 30 seconds before opening the action and discarding the round. Conventional practice used to be to rechamber it and try again, but ammo is cheaper than a visit to the gunsmith (or the doctor), so my advice is to trash the “dud” round.

There are a few causes of light strikes, one being ammunition. Some primers are harder than others. If you notice the issue happening with a certain brand, simply avoid that brand and you are all set. The others causes revolve around the firing pin. In many cases, it’s a matter of the firing pin channel being dirty or greasy. Disassemble this area of the gun, clean it thoroughly, and reassemble it without any grease or oil. If your pistol is striker-fired, change the spring in the process. It only costs a few dollars and typically doesn’t require any tools. While you are at it, you can also research if an “enhanced power” spring exists. That could be your ticket to getting hard-to-ignite ammo to run.

Double Feeds

Did you press the trigger only to look down, and see that two rounds are contending for your chamber at the same time? We call that a double feed. Step one, take a deep breath. Step two, lock the action to the rear. Next, pull the magazine out while depressing the magazine release (this might take some effort), then clear any brass or live cartridges out of the action. Don’t get nervous if you have to do a little poking or picking that is less than gentle. As long as you avoid hitting the primer area, ammunition can take a fair bit of objection without inadvertently going off.

Double-feed diagnosis can typically be traced back to a bad magazine, specifically one with loose feed lips. In this instance, the lips are worn, stretched or damaged. While some folks like to try to reshape them, I have found it’s far easier to replace the magazine and see if that solves the problem. If not, the next place to check is your extractor, especially if the problem presents itself with fired brass in the chamber and a fresh round butted up against it. A damaged exactor simply won’t get the case out of the way in time for the new one to enter. Don’t fret; this is another user-replaceable part.

Stove pipes

A stove pipe is some form of a failed ejection, presenting itself as a fired piece of brass hanging out of the action. This one has a tendency to drive new shooters nuts because the trouble can come from several different areas. The first thing to do is clean your gun, particularly the chamber, slide and guide rails. Excessive friction in any of these places can be enough to slow down case extraction to the point where it can’t get out of the way of the slide coming back fast enough. A thorough scrub followed by proper lubrication might be all it takes. If you find that to work, keep track of how many rounds it took to get to that point and clean in half that amount.

If that doesn’t solve the problem, again, see if you can narrow it down to one type of ammunition. Some rounds are built to create less pressure than others, which in some cases might not be enough to completely cycle the slide. If it is just that one type, shoot it up, practice clearing these jams in the process, and never buy it again.

The last common cause of stovepiping is user error. If your pistol is recoil-operated (most are), then it needs something firm to recoil against to do science to the slide. That “something” is your hand. Make sure that you have a full presentation, a firm but not overly aggressive grip, and that you learn to control any flinching as you press the trigger. If you have any questions as to whether or not your grip is correct, spend some time with a certified instructor before sending your gun back. It’s also an excellent way to make sure that you aren’t holding the gun in a way that can hurt your hand.

Dealing with malfunctions at the range doesn’t have to be terrifying. As long as you keep the gun pointed downrange and your finger off the trigger, very little can go wrong. Furthermore, there is no better way to learn how to clear these jams other than experiencing them firsthand and rectifying the issue unaided. Lastly, there is an indescribable sense of pride that comes with diagnosing and fixing mechanical issues without the help of a gunsmith. It also teaches us that with a little knowledge and a basic cleaning kit we can handle darn near anything!



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