Monday, September 20, 2021

My First Squib Load

 So I've been shooting and handloading regularly for some 30 years, and just had my first squib load this past weekend. Technically, my eldest son had the issue, but it was one of my handloads. Fortunately no harm resulted to either my son or his pistol.

    For those that aren't familiar with the term, a squib load is one where the round fires but the power of the burn is not enough to push the bullet out of the barrel. This may be because of a reduced powder load, no powder (just the primer going off as apparently happened in this case), or powder that for some reason does not fully burn (i.e., contamination or moisture). The result is a bullet stuck somewhere in the barrel. Obviously, if you try to follow this up with a full power round, you could wind up with the barrel bursting or some similar catastrophic failure of the weapon. 

    Below are a couple photographs showing what could happen if you have a squib load and you follow it up with another round:

From "Hang Fires and Squib Loads – Dangerous Ammunition Malfunctions" at Practical Defensive Training. Great article on the subject of squib loads and hang fires, why they can happen, and showing a gory photograph of what it can do to the shooter.

From "The Explosive Dangers of a Squib Load – How to Identify & Fix" at Locked Back. Another excellent article on the topic including videos demonstrating what a squib load looks like when it is touched off.

    The two most commonly cited methods for determining whether you just fired a squib load are (1) a reduction in the volume of the shot--instead of a load "bang" it might be more of a "pop"--and (2) less recoil than normal or that you have had with other rounds you have been firing. The Locked Back article (above) has a couple more tips to spot the problem.

    But what if you weren't the one firing the weapon, as happened in my case. The symptoms we had were:

  1. The pistol failed to eject the case.
  2. When the case was manually ejected, there was a substantial amount of carbon--almost a soot--all around the case. While I didn't grasp the significance of this right off the bat, it indicates that the case didn't expand sufficiently to fully seal off the chamber and/or the bullet blocking the barrel forced the carbon around the cartridge.
  3. In our case, because the bullet had barely lodged into the barrel, there was insufficient room to feed another round.
Examination revealed there was an obstruction because I could not see light through the barrel. Using a flashlight, I was able to see that the obstruction was the lodged bullet.

    I would note that we initially had followed the standard malfunction clearage, which is to manually eject the case while racking the slide to feed the next round from the magazine. If the force of the burn had been sufficient to push the bullet farther into the barrel, we could have ended up with a catastrophic failure instead of simply being unable seat the next round for enough for the weapon to go into battery. Thus, it seems that in addition to the sound and feel of the round being fired, a look at the ejected case is called for. If there is an unusual amount of carbon or the carbon is sooty, it may well behoove you to check for a barrel obstruction.

    As for removal, I didn't have anything with me that I could have used to remove the bullet. I used a brass drift punch I had once we returned home. Fortunately, the barrel was short enough for it to work. Hopefully I will never have this issue again, but I am considering buying a set of longer brass punches or perhaps a longer brass rod that I could use if this ever comes up again. 

    Below is a video from Hickok45 on squib loads that is also worth watching. He deliberately loaded a round to act as a squib load so he could show you what it looks and sounds like.

VIDEO: "Squib Load Danger"--Hickok45 (17 min.)


  1. I have a friend who is a welder. He cut a 12" piece of 1/4" brass rod and gave it to me. Works quite well.

    1. Great tip. I'll see if I can track a piece down. Thank you!

  2. Yikes! More common in pistol, I assume??

    1. I have *NEVER* heard you give a two word answer on weapons . . . please, share more!!!

    2. Since a squib is simply a lack of sufficient powder burn to force the bullet out of the barrel (or no powder at all, just the force generated by the primer), it can occur in any type of casing, from pistol, to rifle, to cannon. In fact, one of the photographs I came across when I was trying to find an example of a burst barrel was that of what appeared to be a howitzer or anti-aircraft cannon.


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