Gun Skills: Setting Up Stoppage

posted on July 28, 2022
handgun stoppage
Photo: Peter Fountain

There are, of course, many kinds of stoppages you might encounter in shooting semi-automatics, but ultimately they boil down to two basic types: simple and son-of-a-!!!

That is, most stoppages are fairly easy to clear, but some are more complex and thus take more time to resolve (and frequently involve some creative language use).

A non-operational firearm isn’t much help in a self-defense scenario (beyond the sight of a gun being a deterrent in itself), so it’s worth your time to practice clearing stoppages. One of the problems here is fooling your mind—you’re setting up the stoppage, so you know it’s coming, but you must practice as if you don’t. Even if you’re working with a friend, you know you’re working on stoppage drills, so you might expect issues more than usual. The only solution is to focus on your practice as if you had no idea the problem was coming.

Follow all NRA safety rules throughout this and all exercises, of course; particularly, be careful to keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction and your finger off the trigger any time you’re working the action to clear a stoppage.

Simple Stoppages Setup
Simple stoppages include failures to feed, misfires (dud rounds) and failures to eject (stovepipes). Failure to feed means a round didn’t go into the chamber even though the slide closed, often because the magazine wasn’t seated well enough or perhaps because of a tired spring in either the gun or the magazine. A misfire is when the cartridge went into the chamber but didn’t fire for some reason—such as insufficient powder or a dead primer in reloaded ammunition. A failure to eject (stovepipe) is when a piece of brass doesn’t eject from the chamber all the way, thus stopping the action from cycling again.

All three of these can usually be cleared with an immediate tap-and-rack. To set up both a failure to feed (or a stovepipe if you prefer) and a misfire round for the same practice session: 

1. Load a magazine as normal except for putting one dummy round somewhere in the mix. Leave the magazine out of the gun for now.

2. Close the slide, and then load the magazine into the gun. (Leave the slide closed without racking it.) If you prefer to set up a stovepipe instead of a simple failure to feed, insert a used piece of brass in the ejection port as you close the slide.

3. Now perform any standard shooting drill. Keep your focus on your fundamentals and on your time to engage, as usual.

4. When you encounter a dead click, as you will at the beginning of, and sometime during, the drill, take your finger off the trigger.

5. Instructors disagree with each other here about whether to take immediate action or assess the stoppage. Assessing takes a moment when you could be clearing, and that moment could be all it takes for a bad actor to get the upper hand. You make the determination about what’s best for you, but I submit that you can do both—assess even as you clear.

6. If the stoppage is not a double-feed, tap and rack: give the magazine a good thump to seat it fully and then rack the slide to cycle the action.

7. Get back on target immediately and fire the next set of shots for the drill.

Complex Stoppages Setup
Now for the stoppages that require more time to resolve—usually double-feeds. A simple tap-and-rack can clear a double-feed if you’re very lucky, but in many cases, it can make the situation even worse. This is why some instructors argue for assessing first. “There are symptoms and there are solutions,” NRA Training Counselor Doug Davis likes to say. Either way, at some point, you’ll need to realize your stoppage needs more than just a tap-and-rack.

1. Load a magazine as normal and put it into the gun. Do not close the slide.

2. Insert a round directly into the gun’s chamber.

3. Close the slide. The gun should try to load one round from the magazine into the chamber, but of course a round is already there, so now you have a double-feed.

4. Perform any standard shooting drill, keeping your focus on your fundamentals and on your time to engage, as usual. (Remember, you’re trying to train as if you didn’t know a stoppage was coming.)

5. When you encounter the stoppage, as you will at the beginning of the drill, take your finger off the trigger. Identify the double-feed. Move to cover, if possible.

6. Lock the slide open and remove the magazine.

7. With the magazine out (and your finger off the trigger), quickly rack the slide three times. This should dislodge any obstruction.

8. Insert either a fresh magazine or the one you previously removed. If you retained the magazine you previously used, quickly look to ensure the top round is still seated correctly before re-using it.

9. Rack and roll: Cycle the slide and get back on target immediately to fire the next set of shots for the drill.

The very best scenario for these complex stoppages still has you losing several seconds as you clear and reload. That’s a bad thing in a self-defense scenario, and no amount of creative language will save you. So keep your gear as close to perfect as you can get it and practice, practice, practice clearing stoppages to decrease your response time. 


AR15 NRA Photo Snyder W0976 SI GB 0006
AR15 NRA Photo Snyder W0976 SI GB 0006

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