In Gunfighter Cast episode GC-149 I talk about how to identify carbine stoppages and reload methods. Stoppages are an important part of training because if you shoot enough, you’re going to have to deal with them. There are a few different types of stoppages that can happen, and in the podcast, I cover what made the stoppages occur and how you can identify which kind of stoppage you’re dealing with.
I also cover a couple of different reload methods, in-depth. A lot of people use the charging handle to send their bolt forward after a reload. In this podcast, I discuss why that’s not my favorite method, and I talk about a couple of other techniques that are more likely going to help you prevent stoppages and be more useful for you in a real fight.
Host: Daniel Shaw
Guest: Andy Padea
Introduction/Timeline: Stephanie Kimmell
Identify and Clear Carbine Stoppages
0:23 Why is stoppage clearance an important part of training?
Daniel focuses on stoppages a lot in his training classes. Beyond the skill of clearing stoppages, it’s important that people understand their guns at a higher level. Training for stoppages facilitates this learning, especially when students didn’t set the stoppage up properly. Sometimes, just the act of setting up a stoppage helps them understand how things occur and how their gun actually functions.
Daniel mentions that he’s got a new class he’s going to be teaching, a one-day carbine problem-solving course. It’s going to be a class that makes you think — with a rifle in your hands. In the class, he’s going to use the stoppage as a tool to help students solve problems and work through really complex issues with a rifle.
“You shoot enough times eventually, you’re going to run into problems with the gun.” Daniel says, “When we’re not just shooting on the range, we’re actually fighting around cover, next to the ground. We’re in thick vegetation, whatever you may find yourself in, we start seeing stoppages increase when we’re fighting around cover because of awkward shooting positions, slings covering ejection ports, hands covering ejection ports…”
Daniel had a student recently that kept covering the ejection port with his hand. He was using cover, shooting at 150 yards, and moving from cover to cover. He never would have covered the ejection port with his hand, standing on a flat range. But in that high-stress drill he caused three stoppages for himself when he used his hand to support his position by holding on top of the scope. It kept hitting his wrist and hand area.
Stoppages increase drastically when using cover and in high-stress situations. Any time you have to fight with your gun, it’s going to be a high-stress situation, so it’s important to understand your gun and be able to clear the stoppages.
3:49 What are the types of stoppages?
Stoppages in a handgun aren’t that different with a rifle, there’s just another one.
Out of Ammunition
If you shoot the gun enough times, you’re going to run out of bullets. If the gun is operating the way it’s supposed to, the bolt locks to the rear. When that happens, you conduct your action for clearing that out-of-ammo problem and reload the gun.
If you’re out of ammo, the indicator is that the bolt locks to the rear, but you can’t always feel that bolt lock to the rear. You may continue to press the trigger, not knowing the bolt is locked to the rear. Eventually, the brain catches up to the fact that the gun isn’t working.
So, the feel of the trigger is the first line of observation. If you have a mushy trigger, you know that you have one of a few stoppages. You do not have a failure to fire (that’s a standard click of the hammer falling and hitting the firing pin.)
If the stoppage is due to a stovepipe the bolt is forward enough on that spent cartridge that’s trying to be ejected. You get a click but it’s not a normal one, it’s an awkward click. It’s the sound the hammer makes when it hits the bottom of the bolt carrier, not the hammer striking the firing pin. It doesn’t get all the power of a full extension of the hammer. It is a very different click when you get a stovepipe than the click that you get when the hammer is striking the firing pin. It’s an awkward click, which indicates a stovepipe.
A standard click tells me I should tap, rack, and get back on the gun. So that’s our failure to fire.
But for the Out of Ammo stoppage, the bolt locks to the rear and you feel a mushy trigger. If light conditions allow, determine that you don’t have a double-feed or any other stoppage and your gun is, in fact, empty. Drop the mag and reload.
Failure to Fire
7:42 With a failure to fire, you get that standard click from the hammer falling on the firing pin, that click when we expect a bang. It’s always bad when you get a bang when you expect a click and it’s bad when you get a click and you expect a bang.
7:56 In a double feed, the bolt is back far enough that we’re going to experience a mushy trigger with most of our guns. “When I experience that mushy trigger and I see that I have rounds stuck in the chamber or if it’s low-light conditions and I have a mushy trigger, I may begin to reload the gun and when I start racking, if I feel that the bolt is not going all the way forward I know that I need to get the obstruction out of the chamber because the rounds are stuck there.”
Brass above Bolt
9:04 There are a few names for this one: Brass Above Bolt, Bolt Override, in the Marine Corps they called it “God Hates You.”
In this stoppage, the brass is above the bolt. You’ll feel a mushy trigger, and sometimes it’s forward enough for an awkward click. If that happens and you attempt to clear the stove-pipe or rack the charging handle to the rear, the charging handle doesn’t move.
Now, if you have a charging handle impingement, which is a little bit different, the charging handle may move freely but there’s still a round stuck up in the chamber. It doesn’t allow the bolt to go all the way forward, but the charging handle may move back freely for the charging handle impingement.
In the Brass above Bolt stoppage, generally, the bolt carrier is stuck and you cannot pull the charging handle back without using a lot of strength or some different techniques to get it back to the rear.
You’ll see the cartridge, generally, looking in through the ejection port from the right hand side of the firearm. Looking at the bolt carrier and the bolt, you’ll see just behind the neck of the cartridge pressing against the bolt itself. The back end of the cartridge will be pressing against the charging handle, and the front of the projectile angles down toward the chamber just below the charging handle, just beginning to cover the front of the bolt face.
There’s a lot of friction between the back of that cartridge pressing against the charging handle and the front area of the cartridge pressing against the bolt carrier. This is what makes it so the bolt carrier can’t move back to the rear. It’s really, really tight in there.
Those are the most common carbine stoppages.
Clearing carbine Stoppages
12:04 The bolt locked to the rear and you’re out of ammunition. The next step is to extend your index finger, press the magazine release, and drop the magazine out of the gun. Preferably, you press the button in a position that allows gravity to help the magazine fall free. If it falls free like it’s supposed to, your non-firing hand is already looking for the next magazine. So, pull the magazine out of the pouch and place it in the magazine well.
Daniel likes to cant the gun sideways slightly if he’s doing an in-the-shoulder reload. He finds that he reloads faster when he leaves the buttstock in his shoulder. He cants the magazine well in toward his chest and brings the next magazine. He explains that it’s important to observe the initial seating of the magazine. Take that fraction of a second when it just barely goes into the magazine well to makes sure it goes in right. You don’t want to miss, bounce, or bobble around on the magazine well. You want it to go straight in till you get that click.
Sometimes a round sticks forward or out the top of the magazine. Get it out of the way so the mag will fit into the magazine well. If you’re observing the initial insertion, you’ll be able to identify this.
Once the magazine is seated in the magazine well, the next step is to get the bolt forward.
14:38 There are a couple of ways to get your bolt forward. Many people will use their charging handle to send the bolt forward but that’s Daniel’s least favorite method. He sees more stoppages on the range when people send their bolts forward with the charging handle than any other shooter-induced stoppage that exists.
This technique causes problems when it’s time to start working in awkward positions. Several problems arise in that situation. For instance, the sling can be where the charging handle rides forward to go into a seated position. Maybe you’re sideways, on your left side without a lot of strength. Or you can’t move your arm because you’re on your left shoulder almost upside down shooting underneath a vehicle. There are all kinds of possibilities for problems to arise.
And Daniel says he sees problems with it constantly, noting that there are very few commonly practiced techniques out there that he completely disagrees with. This one, however, is one of them. Sending the bolt forward with the charging handle is a technique that he believes should not be a tool in the toolbox. He says, “The problems it causes are far greater than the problems it can potentially alleviate.”
Bolt Catch Release
16:08 Eugene Stoner designed the Bolt Catch Release to send the bolt forward, and that’s the method that Daniel likes. It’s a little button on the side of the gun, sort of like a ping pong paddle. If you press the bottom of the button, it locks the bolt to the rear. Pressing the top of it sends the bolt forward. Often, people don’t understand what that device on the left-hand side of the gun does. The top of it is the bigger part that’s a bit serrated for better pressure. Pressing the top sends the bolt forward with the spring tension that’s needed to get the next round chambered after a reload.
Daniel says this is an issue that gets a lot of debate. A lot of folks explain that there’s no possible way they can press teh bolt release with their thumb. He uses the same argument that he does with the handgun, saying,
“Somehow I was able to press this trigger thirty times with a high level of precision while holding a dot or sights on the line. Then I was able to flick my safety off and on. I was able to press my magazine release with my index finger. I was able to do all of those things but for some reason — I just can’t press that big button that’s almost the size of my thumb, with my thumb. I don’t buy that either.”
17:55 He does recognize that the thumb shouldn’t be just traveling to the bolt catch or bolt release all buy itself. There has to be a reference point.
So here’s what he does for a reference point.
Make sure your rifle is unloaded, place the magazine in the gun, and as that magazine gets seated, continue to let your hand travel up to the handguard. On an old M16A2 it would be where the third knuckle of your index finger contacts the bottom slip ring of the gun where the handguard meets the upper receiver and where the front detent pin is.
Now, extend your thumb out. You’ll find that your thumb, for most humans, is very close, if not right on top, of the bolt release. It may be a slight adjustment for some people but it’s going to be very close. That knuckle is in contact with the underside of the handguard right there at the receiver and that’s your reference point. When you extend your thumb, it’s in a position to press the bolt release. Then, just move your hand right back out to where you need it to be to fire.
19:32 Another technique uses the same action. Insert the magazine and continue your hand up to the magazine, across the front of the magazine, into that same position where your knuckle is in contact with the underside of the handguard where it meets the receiver. Then, close your hand like you’re trying to clap the heel of your hand against the receiver of the gun. The heel of your hand covers the bolt release and sends the bolt forward. With this technique, your hand is already in the position to fire, or you can press it out forward into a better firing position.
With either of these two methods, Daniel says it is very, very difficult to miss the bolt release.
I have seen marines reload guns in combat with their thumb pressing the bolt release and they didn’t miss it ten times. They didn’t die in combat. Lightening didn’t strike them. You can reload this gun.
The situation you’re in can dictate which technique you use. Sometimes’s it’s best to use your thumb and sometimes it’s better to use the heel of your hand. It depends on what position you’re in.
It’s a problem when folks decide what techniques they like and use based on a standing position from lazy-training on the range. When they get into an awkward position like side-prone on their right shoulder underneath a vehicle, they find they can no longer collapse the heel of their hand to run up the side and slap it. But, the thumb is right there, and can work perfectly.
Daniel’s a believer in training in many shooting positions, not just standing all day long. Try to understand the basic fundamentals of what you need to do and then layer on some complexities. Throw in some things that really suck, some awkward shooting positions, and things we hate. Add some stress and cardio and find what works then. What works in that situation is more likely to work in the fight — not just what works in a standing position plinking at the range.
*To see it for yourself, watch Daniel’s Speed Reload Demonstration.