The word ‘squib’ is used in other applications, but for the purpose of this article the term is known and used in relation to firearms. A typical round of ammunition is made up of four components, the outer casing or ‘shell‘, the primer, the gun powder, and the projectile or ‘bullet‘. This will only be a general outline of production; When these components are assembled at the factory in mass production, the primer goes into the casing, the casing moves to the next step where a measured charge of gun powder is funneled into the casing, then the casing is moved to the next position where the bullet is seated. Next they are all boxed and sent to the store for you , the consumer.
In the event of a squib load, the casing goes through the same steps mentioned above, but when it gets to the position where the gun powder is supposed to be funneled into the casing, there is a glitch or malfunction, the automated powder drop does not work properly and very little, or no gun powder is put into the casing. (This is more apt to happen to people that reload their own bullets at home by not paying proper attention to detail). But for the purpose of this example we are at the ammunition factory. So now, with no gunpowder in the casing it is automatically moved to the next position where a bullet is seated. The ammunition is boxed up and sent to various locations for sale.
Now you enter the store, looking to buy a box of ammo, you buy a box of .38 caliber ammo for your revolver and off you go to the range. The round without the gunpowder just happens to be in that box, but you don’t know that, how could you, you just want to do a little target practice. All the rounds look the same from the outside to you. You set up your targets load the gun with six rounds, (unknown to you one of them is the squib load) you start shooting, BANG!, BANG!, pop! What the heck was that you think? What you just heard was an audible ‘pop’, it was the primer detonating, but with no gun powder in the casing you do not hear the loud bang that you would normally hear. DO NOT TAKE ANOTHER SHOT!!
The primer, (that ‘pop’) can generate just enough pressure within the shell casing to ‘push’ the bullet into the barrel of your gun, this creates a blockage in the barrel, this can be a very dangerous situation if you attempt another shot. With such a blockage in the barrel, the next bullet you might fire, with all of the pressure generated going down the barrel, (for a .38 caliber around 52,000 psi, or 26 tons!) you could easily kill yourself and others around you. The firearm is not rated to contain that kind of pressure and will violently come apart at the seams like a grenade. All that pressure needs to escape ‘yesterday’ and it will take the path of least resistance, back at you, not good. All that energy will be transferred to the shrapnel going in every direction at 900 + feet per second in the case of a .38,,,,much higher pressures and velocities with rifle cartridges!
NOTE: You may hear a ‘pop’ sound, but not in all cases, a gun range can be a noisy place, your wearing hearing protection, (initially you may think it is a misfire, so treat it like one) but if you hear it you know that ‘pop‘ sound is not typical, or now you should know, in all cases stop what you are doing , if you think its a misfire count to ten anyway, unload the gun, check it twice, if a shell comes out minus the projectile you know it is a squib.
Now you can put a cleaning rod down the barrel, chances are that you will not be able to push it through to the other side due to the bullet lodged in the barrel. Take the cleaning rod and tap the bullet gently out of the barrel, once that this is done you now have a rare, but also now harmless squib load souvenir, set it aside, reload , and resume shooting. You may have just saved your own life and the lives of those nearby. It is the follow-up shot that makes this situation so dangerous, and is what we must all avoid!
We must all be alert for abnormalities while shooting, it is all part of staying safe. My reason for telling you about squib loads, misfires, and hang fires is not to make you paranoid, it is simply to give you the knowledge that will help keep you safe.
I have been shooting on formal range settings since the age of 8, I have been a member of many gun clubs, rifle and pistol teams, I also like to hunt. In my work as a Nuclear Security Officer since 1987 I have been required to qualify at the gun range many times with different types of weapons/ammo. My point is this, I personally, with all that shooting, have only encountered a squib load once, no hangfires yet, but I know that they do exist, and now you will know how to handle one with confidence if it occurs.
NOTICE: This is a very serious suggestion, when you go to the range with your family/friends, before you all start shooting, take 5 minutes out of your lives and discuss misfires, hang fires and squib loads. Make sure that you are ALL on the same page about this information, don’t assume people somehow automatically, magically, know this stuff, you will be surprised at how many do not fully understand it. Now, do you think this will give you some piece of mind as your standing next to them shooting? it should. Read Gun Sense #5 about misfire and hangfires, and pass GS #5 and GS#6 around to your family and friends. Thank You.
Remember, Firearm Education Will Save Lives, Firearm Ignorance Can Take Lives. Please shoot safe, firearm safety is no accident, sincerely,
Mark Shean, Knowledge through Experience
Former NRA Law Enforcement Firearm Instructor,
Your comments/insights are welcomed.