From left to right: a .40-caliber round, brass from a .40-caliber round fired in a .45-caliber chamber and a .45-caliber round. Photos Jeff Chudwin
Here’s a series of bad primers in rounds straight from the factory. Photos Jeff Chudwin
The case mouth on this round is rolled over.Photos Jeff Chudwin
On the upper right is a cracked feed lip.Photos Jeff Chudwin
Check out these chipped and broken Colt .45 auto extractors.Photos Jeff Chudwin
FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
An officer’s life depends on serviceable equipment. It’s the responsibility of all officers to properly care for and check their gear, especially firearms and ammunition. A few minutes spent on inspection, cleaning and maintenance go far toward reducing the possibility of failure at a critical moment.
This article illustrates different methods to ensure proper function by inspecting and testing ammunition, magazines and firearms. All mechanical devices are prone to failure, usually at the worst moment. Always develop a backup plan and backup equipment. The old saying “forewarned is forearmed” is more true today than ever.
Do not presume a factory-loaded metallic cartridge or shotshell is serviceable simply because it came out of a factory box. Do not load ammunition into a magazine or cylinder without visually and physically inspecting the following.
Make sure the caliber is correct for the weapon. Photo 1 illustrates the result of loading and firing a .40-caliber round in a .45-caliber chamber.
Make sure each primer is fully seated, flush with the case head and right-side up (see Photo 2). Run your finger over the primer to make sure it’s fully seated. If it’s not, you will feel the raised primer cup, and you will need to dispose of the round because it will likely fail to fire.
Primers can prove faulty and fail to ignite. The solution: Cycle the action and chamber another round. Do you train your officers on failure-to-fire malfunction drills?
Do not use WD-40 or other penetrating lubricants on or around ammunition. Such lubricants can penetrate into the primer pocket and contaminate the primer. Ammo does not require lubrication.
Firearms inspections require the officer to have basic skills with their firearms and accessories. Performing the above inspections without first clearing a firearm of all ammunition puts the officer and others at risk of serious injury or death. If unsure of how to inspect your firearm or ammunition, contact your department range master or armorer.
The Case Head
Make sure the case head is round and without dents or overstrikes. I have .38 Special rounds that were double-struck on the rim during the case-forming process, which caused the rim to be deformed and out of round. These cartridges would chamber in an open cylinder, but because of the raised case rim, they prevented the cylinder from locking into the frame. In an emergency, an officer reloading with this defective ammo would find the revolver useless.
Inspect shotshells at the top of the brass base to check for rollover, which occurs when the loading die catches the thin edge of the brass and rolls it over. This will cause the round to fail to fully chamber and can lock up the shotgun. I’ve not seen the brass base of a shotshell torn away by a shotgun’s extractor, even after a shotshell has been reloaded many times. However, I have seen the rim of totally plastic shotshells torn away by extractors. This is true of imported shotshells that don’t have a metal support inside the rim area of the base. Street ammo for shotguns should have a brass base.
The Case Mouth
Check the case mouth or crimp. On metallic cases, check the case mouth for cracks or rollover. I have examples of factory handgun ammo in which a portion of the case mouth rolled over during the bullet-seating process (see Photo 3). These rounds fit in the pistol magazine but upon chambering will not fully chamber and will cause a stoppage.
With shotshells, make sure there’s a heat-sealed star crimp if you use buckshot. If it’s not heat sealed, any buffer material in the shell that surrounds the pellets will work its way out of the crimp when carried under spring pressure in the magazine. The buffer material gets inside the magazine and action, inviting problems.
Check for powder in centerfire rifle cartridges by shaking each one. You can hear and feel the movement of powder inside the case. I once did a check and found no powder in a .223 round.
Unfortunately, you can’t do this with most pistol ammo or shotshells.
Check for stubbed rounds. After a pistol or rifle round is fed into the chamber, the force of the bullet impact with the feed ramp can push the bullet back into the cartridge case. Dispose of such rounds without shooting them. The manufacturers state that chamber pressure is greatly increased upon firing due to the compression of powder and reduced air space. More importantly, if you reload the stubbed round back into the magazine, it will very likely not feed correctly and cause a stoppage.
Avoid charging the weapon by repeatedly chambering the same round. Repeated chambering can loosen the bullet in the case and batter the case head. After several chamberings, I dispose of a round.