Always Check Your Ammo!

In this post, I’m going to share some examples of faulty ammunition that I’ve encountered in training, and highlight the importance of inspecting your ammo and proactively replacing carry ammo. Many malfunctions can be attributed to either faulty magazines or faulty ammunition. By inspecting your ammunition, you can minimize the chances of an ammo related malfunction.

Faulty ammunition can take many forms. Despite modern quality control measures in place on factory ammunition production lines, mistakes can and do happen. While you may not be able to see whether a cartridge is missing a powder charge, problems with primers, overall length (OAL), and case walls are readily and immediately apparent.

An obvious manufacturing defect... Look at the primer! This was new factory loaded ammunition from a reputable manufacturer...
An obvious manufacturing defect… Look at the primer! This was new factory loaded ammunition from a reputable manufacturer…

Whenever you take ammo out of its factory packaging, look at the rounds as they sit in the tray to inspect for any apparent defects. Examine the ammo prior to loading to make sure that all of the cartridges are the same length, with no primers protruding or depressed.

Ammunition in a factory packaging tray...
Ammunition in a factory packaging tray…

Overall length is not only a concern with new ammunition. Bullet setback is a term that refers to a bullet being pushed further into a case due to repeatedly striking the feed ramp as it is being fed from the magazine into the chamber during repeated loading sequences. This setback can result in a round that is overpressure when fired, or a round that simply will not chamber and causes a malfunction. There have been instances when overpressure rounds have damaged guns, and you don’t want to be holding the gun when that happens!

Obvious bullet setback...
Obvious bullet setback…

I was able to cause the bullet setback shown above in less than ten loading sequences, chambering the round from the magazine by releasing the slide stop. At the point of failure, the round shown above did not chamber, instead resulting in a malfunction that cannot be cleared with a tap and rack. Notice that the ammunition does not have a bullet crimp.

To avoid bullet setback, alternate the top round in your magazine during your loading sequences, and frequently inspect your rounds against others in your magazines to check for bullet setback. Some people even go so far as to discard any round that has been previously chambered. I personally am comfortable with retaining the round, but to each their own. I would also suggest using carry ammunition that has a bullet crimp to help prevent setback.

You should also pay attention to the walls of the cases, as defects are possible and can induce malfunctions. Some people choose to remove the barrel from their gun and individually drop each cartridge into the chamber to ensure that each and every round will indeed chamber without difficulty.

chamber check fail
This round would not drop easily into the chamber…

The round drops smoothly into the chamber without resistance...
The round drops smoothly into the chamber without resistance…

Below are a couple of examples of cartridges with defective case walls. Both of the cartridges below caused malfunctions during a class… In full disclosure, the rounds were factory reloads, but nonetheless illustrate the problem well.

The round on the left prevented the slide from returning to battery, while the round on the right caused a failure to extract...
The round on the left prevented the slide from returning to battery, while the round on the right caused a failure to extract…

In my article “Choosing a Concealed Carry Handgun,” I suggested replacing carry ammunition on an annual or semi-annual basis. Stored in original packaging and in a climate controlled environment, the shelf life of premium factory loaded ammunition is probably nearly indefinite. Your carry pistol, however, presents a far different environment for that ammunition. In your concealed carry gun, your ammunition is exposed to temperature extremes, moisture, dust, sweat, and gun care solvents. Over time, all of these factors can potentially degrade the reliability of your ammunition.

Ammunition from the same package... The difference is that the round on the right was carried in the gun for several months while the round on the left remained as extra in the box...
Ammunition from the same package… The difference is that the round on the right was carried in the gun for several months while the round on the left remained as extra in the box…

While discoloration and tarnishing is not necessarily indicative of an immediate problem, it is a sign that the ammo has been in the gun and exposed to the elements long enough to exhibit surface corrosion. A good way to replace it is to shoot the discolored ammunition on your next range trip and reload your magazines with identical fresh ammo. This practice ensures that your gun is reliable with your carry ammunition and also with your magazines dedicated to carry, and it allows you the opportunity to proactively replace the ammunition that you carry on a daily basis.

It’s said that a picture is worth 1000 words… I hope the above examples show why it is vitally important to inspect every round that you load into a gun for defensive purposes! Remember, a malfunction while training is just good practice… A malfunction in a gunfight can range from being merely inconvenient to potentially fatal!


01/22/2016 – Here is yet another example of an ammunition defect that caused a malfunction on the range. This time it was again “training” ammunition, new factory loaded FMJ from a major reputable manufacturer. The slide failed to fully return to battery, and it required significant force to open the action and eject the faulty cartridge.

IMG_3035
This defective cartridge briefly locked up my gun during a practice session at the range…

If you will, imagine this scenario in the middle of a gunfight. Gun doesn’t go bang. Tap, rack yields no change, and in fact you are alerted to a more significant problem since you CAN’T rack the slide. Ultimately, I wound up dropping the magazine and forcefully racking the slide to eject the offending round before reloading and continuing my practice routine, but imagine if this had happened in the middle of a gunfight! What are your options if you don’t have a second gun? Moral of the story? Always check your ammunition!

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