With the advancement of modern weaponry and ammunition, misfires are becoming less and less common, but do still occur. Whether it be a bad primer, weak firing pin, damp powder, old powder, etc. in the event of a misfire it is very important that you know exactly what to do to avoid an accident. Follow these simple steps and you will be able to determine the cause of the problem and everyone will remain safe:
- Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction – Once the misfire has occurred, there are any number of factors that could have contributed to the round or weapon’s malfunction. Before you begin to investigate, leave the muzzle of the weapon pointed in a safe direction in case a delayed ignition should occur. I like to wait a minimum of 10 seconds, but longer times are always better than shorter. When shooting a muzzleloader, especially on a damp or rainy day, I would suggest extending your wait time just in case there is a slow burn.
- Check the primer – The primer from a fired round should have a strong impression or “dimple” that indicates a proper operation of the weapons firing pin. A bad primer would result in a simple “click” sound when pulling the trigger. This is most typical with rifle/handgun cartridges and shotgun primers (often used with in-line muzzleloaders).
- When firing a muzzleloader or a percussion weapon, the cap may have fired with a loud “pap” sound without powder ignition. In this situation you know the firing pin/hammers are working properly and the primer was good.
- Should the primer have a shallow dimple, the problem may be that your firing pin is damaged, the spring is weak or fouled. In which case, disassemble and inspect the firing mechanism ONLY IF you have the expertise to do so. Otherwise, unload it and take it to a gunsmith.
- If the firing pin is functioning properly and you have primer ignition, it is very rare, almost impossible, for rifle, handgun, and shotgun rounds to not fire because the powder within the round is sealed from the elements. But muzzleloaders on the other hand are susceptible to moisture and heavy fouling. Damp powder can occur from any number of scenarios, loading it in the rain, fog, perhaps a little too much oil during the last cleaning, etc. and each shot results in heavy accumulations of spent powder and projectile remnants that can quickly clog the path between the primer and powder. The best thing to do is to fire an additional primer(s) to see if you get ignition. Typically, if the powder is only slightly damp, a second or third primer is usually enough to do the job. Remember to always keep the muzzle pointed down range and wait between any additional misfires. Once the weapon has fired, clean it thoroughly before firing another round.
- Finally, if a muzzleloader still does not fire after multiple primers, the powder is either too wet or the pathway is too clogged and the projectile must be pulled. ALWAYS refer to the manufacturers recommendations for how to “pull a ball,” as some require the ball/sabot to be pulled from the muzzle while others allow for a breach extraction. Once the weapon is clear, clean it thoroughly.
Frequent misfires should be a rarity so long as the weapon is cleaned properly after use and is maintained in good working order. Should you continue to experience misfires or non-typical operation, take your weapon to a gunsmith for professional assistance or call the ammunition manufacturer and alert them to the problem. It may lead to a recall and save others the headache or possible injury.
Be safe and shoot straight!