Loading a round into the chamber

Bullet Setback: Is It A Myth? Why It’s Important To Rotate Your Chambered Round


Not too long ago, we did an article discussing rotating the round that goes into your everyday carry gun’s chamber.  What we didn’t expect was how prevalent a concern this was in the concealed carry gun community.  In this article, we’re going to talk in a little more detail on what happens to the round that gets chambered into your concealed carry gun — and further guidance on how you might go about rotating it.

Ease Up On The Upper Receiver

Everyone likes that “clink-clunk” noise an upper receiver makes when it slams down on a round.  That said, the lighter you set down the upper receiver onto the round in the magazine, the lighter the impact on the cartridge casing.  If you’re at the range and planning on expending that ammunition — there’s very little to worry about.  Modern munitions and most handguns are designed within those tolerances.  The biggest obstacle we run into is the repeated impact of the upper receiver onto the same bullet casing multiple times.

One or twice?  No problem.  You can potentially keep the same round chambered in your handgun for several months (or longer) depending upon how gently you chamber that round.


Here’s the ugly part: every time a handgun bullet gets loaded into the chamber, it is going to take the force of the slide hitting it.  Every handgun is going to be slightly different in terms of wear-and-tear on the bullet itself.  There’s no all inclusive set of rules governing when a round should be cycled out.  So, we’re going to have to use common sense on this one.

Weekly Assessment Of Cycle Round

Concealed carriers tend to use specialized self-defense rounds.  These are rounds designed to expand when they hit soft tissue and, thus, have a greater impact on potential bad guys in a self-defense situation.  These rounds are usually quite a bit more expensive than standard full metal jacket rounds so gunowners are understandably more hesitant to “throw away” (shoot at the range) an expensive self-defense round.

When we unload our carry guns, we have a tendency to eject the round and then put it right back in at the top of the magazine.  It’s time expedient and convenient.  Before you throw that round right back at the top of the magazine, take an honest look at it.


Three Things To Look For In An Ejected Round

The back of the casing is pretty resistant to impact but, after awhile, you will see dents start to form on the back of the casing.  You may also notice dents along the side of the case.  These are especially important to note.  Dings, cuts, carves, and dents are all signs that round needs to be cycled out.

Inspect the following points on the round:

  • Back of the bullet case
  • Sides of the bullet (full 360° turn)
  • Indents or scrapes on the primer

Once the round starts showing signs of wear and tear, don’t wait — cycle it out.  If you’re at home or some place convenient, cycle the rounds out of the magazine and then put the “most frequently chambered” round in first.  Stack the rest on top.

Ideally, take the round out of circulation altogether.  Throw it in a safe container where you keep rounds you intend to shoot at the range.

If it’s heavily degraded or bent, decommission it.  If you’ve never had to decommission a bullet, talk to the guy or gal at your local gun shop that handles the reloading.  He’ll know more about the proper way to fully decommission a bullet that’s been severely damaged.  This doesn’t happen too often.

In conclusion, as annoying as it may be to ditch an expensive self-defense round, it’s far better to stay safe.  The biggest threat isn’t the round going off on its own, it’s usually a failure to fire or failure to eject.  None of the above are ideal for a concealed carrier using his or her handgun in self-defense.

About James England | View all posts by James England

James England is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has served as a defense contractor in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His daily concealed carry…

James England is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has served as a defense contractor in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His daily concealed carry handgun is a Glock 36 in a Lenwood Holsters Specter IWB or his CZ-75D PCR in an Alien Gear MOD holster.

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  • ReallyOldOne

    Good article, well written and timely. I really learned a few things from this one. That doesn’t happen often at my age. ;-)

    • Master Pistol Trainer

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      • Sez Eye

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  • Karl Sparn

    Very Good Advice! Heed this lesson, it’s a warning to all semi-auto carriers. ~NRA Instructor.

  • beenice

    We try to hit the range at least every 2 months and do dry fire at home in between. We go ahead and use what we carry at the range, as well as ammo that is less expensive. Then we reload with fresh carry ammo. Is that a good idea?

  • Igor

    Why would anyone constantly load and unload (or chamber and unchamber) a round? Why?

    • Andrew

      You should regularly train with your defensive firearm so that you are comfortable with the way that particular weapon handles. Since you generally want to use target rounds at the range and carry self defense rounds in the chamber and magazine the rest of the time, it makes sense that you would at least semi-regularly chamber and unchamber a round.

  • Bob McGeorge

    Does anyone have any facts? If so, how about posting some researchable information. So far all I’ve seen is Internet opinions.

    • ddbaxte

      Yes. Why would anyone think it’s a myth? anyone with even the basic knowledge about handloading knows that pressure increases as seating depth increases. The safest way to check would be to get a cheap set of calipers and compare the COAL with published reloading data. It’s easy to get published data on bullets that are available as reloading components (Speer Gold Dot, Hornady XTP, etc), but I don’t think published data is available for cardtriges like Winchester Ranger-T or Federal HST.

      Dings, dents, and surface scratches aren’t anywhere near as dangerous as too much setback, especially with high-pressure rounds like .357 SIG or .40 S&W.

      • Bob McGeorge

        After reading your reply, I reread the article to see if I missed something. What I got from the article was that they were discussing wear and tear to the casing caused by putting the same round in battery multiple times. I still haven’t found any research or documentation that addresses the negatives of casing wear and tear. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, just that I haven’t seen anything yet.
        But, your reply did raise an interesting question in my mind. That would be, what effects does chambering the same round over and over have on setback? Time to get out the micrometer and do some research with multiple types and caliber of ammunition.
        Thanks for your reply.

    • MrApple

      The constant re-chambering of a round can cause bullet setback as well as generally leading to the round failing when you most desperately need it to work. Constant re-chambering nearly cost this Cop his life.

  • Urbane Redneck

    When I buy new defensive ammo I measure 10 rounds, average the overall length and subtract .005″ . I write that measurement on the box. When a round hits that length, I shoot it, if a round gets below that length I disassemble it. I.E. My current supply of 147gr HST average 1.126″ O.A.L., 1.121″ is written on the box.

    A mark made with a Sharpie helps me keep track of the rounds that have been chambered so I don’t have to measure all the rounds in the magazine. Even so, it only takes 2 minutes measure 15 rounds.

    IIRC, Federal used to recommend firing or discarding any round that has been chambered three times.

  • Just Another Guy

    I just drop the magazine of my SD rounds at the range but fire off the “one in the pipe”.
    Means I have to replace it every time with a new SD round when I go to the range, but that’s not a significant cost.

    I do it mainly so I can remember what that round feels like going off before I use the ammo I use in practice.

    Turns out it could just be a good thing overall…

  • Dr Dave

    Wouldn’t a better solution be to stop removing and replacing rounds in the chamber????
    If you carry a daily EDC why would you take the round out to begin with? I wear it all day long then it goes intact into the sofa table for “evening safety” then it goes intact into the nightstand drawer for “night protection” then back on my arse for the next day. Ammo gets removed in two ways: into a bad guy or on occasion I fire some hollow points downrange. I am 100% sure that the over seating of a bullet is deadly and needs far more attention then we currently give it
    The issue if scratches and the like is parallel to reloads if brass is reloaded too much it goes bang but in a bad way why risk it?
    I pay $10 for a box of 9mm that my G-19 eats no reason then spend 4 hours cleaning and preparing and reloading it to save $3. I get it if we are talking about Lapua Magnums but handgun ammo is dirt cheap. Re-chambering a round for a handgun to “secure” a gun is simply asking the brass to do something it wasn’t meant to do.
    Dr D

  • Ken

    ” . . . the lighter you set down the upper receiver onto the round . . .” and ” . . . how gently you chamber the round.” ?? Are you kidding me? Riding the slide forward is more likely to cause problems. I’ve never met ANY firearms instructor, even the questionable ones, that teach their students to gently let the slide down on a round.