Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ammunition Malfunctions: Misfires, Hangfires, and Squib Loads

An ammunition malfunction occurs when a firearm fails to operate as designed because of an issue related to the loss of potency of a cartridge's constituent powder charge. Accordingly, ammunition cartridges should be properly stored under proper environmental conditions to reduce the likelihood of a malfunction.

Proper storage conditions would include leaving the ammunition in its original packaging, without the presence of extreme temperatures - hot or cold - in a dry and non-humid environment. Not doing so, could lead to foreign material (e.g. excreted sweat from fingers, water or other liquids, or condensation) that could seep into and break down the powder charge's ignition integrity via the crevice where the bullet is crimped into place by the casing's open rim.

Three common ammunition malfunctions, typically taught in a Firearm Safety Class, are misfires, hangfires, and squib loads.

One ammunition malfunction is called a misfire. A misfire occurs when the trigger is fully pulled and the firearm fails to discharge. In other words, the cartridge's powder charge has deteriorated so much that it fails to be ignited from the generated spark caused by the firing pin's striking of the primer cup.

At the exact moment that the trigger is pulled and a failure to discharge is noticed, it is too early to diagnose the malfunction as a misfire; it is possible that a hangfire is about to occur.

A hangfire is an ammunition malfunction that is best described as a "delayed discharge." In this scenario the powder charge in the casing had some difficulty in being ignited before being able to achieve a normal discharge. A misfire ammunition malfunction can delay a firearm's discharge as long as thirty seconds.

Thus, when a shooter pulls a firearm's trigger and there is no immediate discharge it is undetermined whether the malfunction is either a misfire or a hangfire. So, it is imperative that fundamental firearm safe handling rules are followed until 30 seconds have elapsed.

For example, if a firearm fails to discharge when the trigger is pulled the firearm should be kept pointed in a safe direction. Every year there are at least a few people who have undiagnosed misfires who manage to shoot themselves in the face while looking down the barrel of their firearms. A shooter's face is not a safe direction.

Accordingly, if the loaded firearm with the pulled trigger does not discharge within 30 seconds, it is safe to assume that a misfire had occurred. A correctly diagnosed misfired round can then be safely removed from the firearm. Otherwise, the firearm while still pointed at a safe target will discharge (via a hangfire) safely.

Finally, another type of ammunition malfunction is a squib load. A squib load occurs when there is both a noticeable difference in the amount of felt recoil and the level of noise generated when the firearm is discharged. In other words, the cartridge's powder charge had broken down such that the generated force of the discharge failed to fully propel the separated bullet completely through the barrel; the gun's barrel is blocked.

In this scenario, a dangerous condition exists. If a firearm with a blocked barrel is fired one of three things can happen: a broken handgun, or a serious injury to the shooter that may cause death, or both.

Thus, a shooter should pay attention to his firearm while shooting it. If the discharge rings in as a low "Pop" instead of a high "Bang," and there is a big drop-off in felt recoil a squib load should be assumed. The handgun should be safely opened, unloaded, and inspected. If there is a bullet in the barrel, it should be poked out with a tool.

Most ammunition malfunctions can be prevented by using proper storage techniques. Improperly stored ammunition could have broken down powder charge in the casing. As a result, a misfire, hangfire, or a squib load could result. However, in the event of a ammunition malfunction a knowledgeable and safe shooter will notice and take the appropriate action.

Practice firearm safety every single time you handle a firearm.

Be safe.
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