Knowing how to clear pistol malfunctions

Knowing how to recognize and clear different types of Handgun Malfunctions


We all love going to the range and firing our handguns, but with any piece of machinery comes the occasional problem. Knowing how to address different types of handgun malfunctions is crucial to your safety, the safety of those around you, and will minimize any potential damage to your handgun.

In this article, we are going to go with the standard method of clearing your firearm. There are different methods of clearing in a self-defense situation, but for the purposes of this article, we will be clearing in a range environment.

We’re going to outline the 4 most common types of malfunctions. Before you handle any firearm, make sure that you are aware with how that particular firearm operates.


1. Hang Fire

If you pull the trigger and it doesn’t go “Boom”, you may have a Hang Fire situation going on. A hang fire is a delay in the propellant being ignited. If this malfunction is suspected, the procedure is to keep the firearm pointed down range for at least 30-60 seconds. This will ensure that the propellant won’t be ignited. After that time has passed, you should clear the firearm of the dud and drop it in some water as a precaution.

In modern firearms, the round is more likely a dud (a round that will never fire), however the above precautions should always be followed.

squib load


2. Squib Load

A Squib Load is an extremely dangerous type of malfunction. This occurs when a bullet does not have enough force to exit the barrel, instead getting lodged inside the barrel. If this happens and you were to fire a second round, the second round would run directly into the first round inside of the barrel, causing the barrel to either bulge or break apart. This can lead to serious injury and even death. The dead giveaway of a squib load is this: It doesn’t sound like a normal shot being fired and may be much quieter or muffled in sound. If something doesn’t sound right, clear your firearm and check your barrel for any obstructions. *Note: DO NOT look down your barrel. Find something that won’t scratch your barrel, such as a pencil, to place inside the barrel to ensure that is indeed clear.

A Squib Load is usually caused by a round having a primer, but no (or very little) powder. Reloaded ammunition usually the culprit of this type of malfunction.


3. Failure To Feed

A Failure to Feed (FTF) is when a firearm fails to feed the next round into the firing chamber. This can happen due to many reasons. To identify a FTF, your slide will not be all the way forward (not in full battery), because the cartridge has not traveled the distance needed to become chambered. To correct this, clear your firearm by removing the magazine first, and then the round (which will likely drop down the magazine well once the slide is locked back).


4. Stovepipe

A Stovepipe occurs when the spent cartridge fails to be ejected properly, causing it to get trapped vertically in the ejection port. This malfunction typically occurs by not holding the firearm correctly, or “limp wristing”. If you experience this type of malfunction, clear your firearm by first removing the magazine, and then locking your slide back to expel the cartridge.

Categories: Beginners Guide, General
About Brandon Curtis | View all posts by Brandon Curtis

Brandon is the founder of Concealed Nation and is an avid firearm enthusiast, with a particular interest in responsible concealed carry. His EDC is a Glock 27 that holds Hornady…

Brandon is the founder of Concealed Nation and is an avid firearm enthusiast, with a particular interest in responsible concealed carry. His EDC is a Glock 27 that holds Hornady 165 gr FTX Critical Defense rounds, and rides comfortably in an Alien Gear Cloak Tuck 3.0 holster.

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  • ChuckD

    Good tips!

  • These were all good tip as ChuckD said. Just got to pay close attention and know what to do for each.

  • Jon Klingenfus

    Thank you! Clear and to the point.Its good to read every now and then to keep fresh.

  • ArchAn6el89

    Well covered! A piece of trivia.. the situation you described with the squib is how the famous actor, Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee’s son, was accidentally killed. In a catastrophic set of errors, a squib was used in a stunt to simulate the gun battle.. the prop master’s people didn’t properly check the barrel, which had jammed a bullet in the barrel.. In a subsequent scene, the actor playing the bad guy was supposed to shoot “the crow” with the same .44 magnum.. They used a full power blank in the chamber. Tragically, the combination of the .44 bullet stuck in the barrel, and the powder of the blank cartidge, came together to propel the bullet with lethal force.. fatally injuring Lee.

    • Jesse Owen Azizeh

      Very true,…gave the blank the same amount of force as a real bullet,….soooo sad and the actor that did it never actually recovered from the accident.

  • Under stress, cortisol gets released along with adrenhlin. The cortisol inhibits cortical function. In reality, being able to diagnose correctly a malf and then plug in the proper clearance procedure doesn’t work. You end up with people stuck in a goofy loop.
    Larry Mudget was the first person that I saw address this. I did the above vid after seeing how Glock handles failures

  • What about double feeds?

    • Marc janson

      Lock slide to the rear, remove magazine (forcefully if necessary). Double rack the slide and then reassess.

    • Donna Abell Vernier

      You have to lock the slide back, remove or stripe out the mag, then rack the a couple times, to get it to clear.

  • Bill

    I’ve simply never experienced any of these type “malfunctions” with any of my Glocks.

    • Marcus Jones

      I guess it’s better to be lucky than good.

      • Bill

        Not luck, just an excellent firearm using only the best ammunition and kept spotless.

        • Marcus Jones

          Uh huh. Like I said, better lucky that good.

          • Bill

            You’re kind of retarded, aren’t you?

          • GlockJunk

            Actually Bill, Glocks aren’t all that. I love my G22 but my G42 is the most unreliable firearm I’ve ever owned. It’s been rebuilt by Glock once and the slide still locks back with rounds in the magazine. I never buy another Glock again. And yes, I spare no expense on my ammo and my guns are spotless.

          • Bill

            A lemon can be found in nearly everything. Doesn’t make the brand junk, if it’s good enough for the vast majority of law enforcement across the country, it’s good enough for me.

    • Donna Abell Vernier

      Never?! Really? We are a Glock family and while a
      very reliable firearm, if you do a lot of training you WILL get a
      malfunction. We train to clear malfunctions under time pressure.

      • Bill

        Yes, really. Why is it so hard to believe? I put thousands of rounds downrange every year with my two Glocks and have never once had a malfunction of any type. If you keep your weapons clean, use only the best quality ammo and don’t have a limp-wristed grip you won’t have problems.

        • Donna

          Well, count yourself lucky. :) I occasionally have a stove pipe and on rare occasion a double feed. Happy to report I just returned from a 4 day training with about 800 rounds with no malfunctions.

  • You don’t need to drop the mag for a stove pipe or a FTF – simply rack the slide….. geeze!!! You only need to drop the mag for a double feed, that’s it, period.

  • nunya biznatch

    You forgot one type of failure: failure to extract. This is not the same as stovepipe where the round was extracted from the barrel but did not eject properly before the slide closed onto it. a Failure to Extract is where the casing is actually still IN the barrel. This is almost always a symptom of a problem with the gun itself, not the rounds used.

  • Mike

    What about a double feed? That wasnt addressed….but a good read.