Avoiding the Malfunctions That Can Ruin Your Match

by Tracy Barnes

It was over 90°, and there was a faint smell of dry, scorched earth in the air. For late March in Mesa, Arizona, it was surprisingly hot. Regardless, the masses converged for the 2015 Superstition Mystery Mountain 3-Gun.

For many, this was the first match of the year. Shooters were dusting off their equipment or bringing out something new for its debut. Along with the pasty skin of people wearing shorts for the first time all winter, this made for some interesting sights.

This was not my first match of the year. Still, my story was a lot like those I heard from many other shooters. Equipment malfunctions and failures seemed like the rule more than the exception.

My sister and I had been incredibly lucky up until this match. We didn't have a single equipment upset during a major match. If anything, though, that was the exception. Equipment problems are all too common in a sport where you quite literately throw your guns in a barrel and drop your magazines in the dirt.

During the SMM3G, Lanny and I had three different malfunctions that gummed up our performances. Let's take a look at those here along with some other common malfunctions. You can learn from the trouble we had so that you'll know how to prevent them and what to do if they should happen to you.

The Squib

On stage 6 of the match, we had to utilize all three firearms. It started off with pistol on three close-range paper targets, then eight birdshot falling steel targets with the shotgun. Following this was a rifle array of stationary and swinging paper and steel targets.

On her run, Lanny grabbed her pistol to engage the close-range paper: two shots and then nothing. She racked the slide, but still nothing. She dropped the mag., inserted a new one, but still no luck.

A bullet was stuck just inside the chamber, preventing her from loading another. Looking back, this was very fortunate in a way.

Frustrating as it was, this situation can also be a very dangerous. Under different circumstances, that bullet could have made it further down the barrel, allowing another round to chamber. In that case, her barrel would have likely blown in a catastrophic failure.

This is what's called a squib. It's a round that doesn't have enough force behind it to exit the barrel and so becomes stuck. The cartridge has insufficient or no powder, usually due to improper reloading.

It was just the day before that Lanny and I were discussing what grain bullet we were going to use for each stage. We normally shoot Fiocchi and have never had any problems.

Lanny's husband had loaded up some rounds that had been working well for her, though. So, she was going to give those a try. Not to say "I told you so," but I highly suggested she didn't because (and I quote) "it only takes one" round to cause a catastrophic failure.

If you have a squib of your own, you need to know how handle it if you want to avoid damaging your equipment.


There are tons of people who load ammo—us included—and never run into any issues. Loading your own ammunition is a great way to get a specific load that'll work perfectly in your firearms. You can also get a squib load from factory loaded ammunition.

This isn't about choosing one at the expense of the other. The point is that if you're buying factory ammo, shop for quality instead of just price. If you load you own, be careful and thorough so that every round gets the correct amount of powder. Simple enough, right?


If you fire a round but don't hear the normal sound of your firearm or don't feel the normal recoil, stop shooting! Do not try to load another round. Unload the firearm, put it on safe and point it in a safe direction.

Use a rod to push any obstruction or bullet out of the barrel. If the bullet is really stuck, you might need a professional gunsmith to get it out safely.

If this happens during a match stage, you'll likely just have to continue without use of that firearm. That assumes you can put the gun on safe with the slide or bolt open and place it in the designated safe box.

In some matches, you can engage targets with another firearm to make up for not shooting them with your malfunctioning one. Don't assume this, though. It's best to know the rules before you start.


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