As more Americans own modern sporting rifles, the use of them in hunting has increased greatly. Despite claims that “no hunter needs an AR-15 to shoot a deer” or “these weapons of war have no legitimate purpose” semiautomatic rifles can be effective tools for hunting. They offer an adjustable length of pull, less recoil, and faster follow-up shots compared to their bolt action counterparts.
While there are many advantages, modern sporting rifles can suffer from some malfunctions due to the more complex action involved in the firearm. Knowing how to clear common malfunctions can keep you safe and prevent missing out on a shot on that once-in-a-lifetime buck if your rifle doesn’t function.
Failure to Feed
You’re out hunting and you have an animal in your scope. Your disengage the safety and slowly press the trigger. Nothing happens. You have experienced a failure to feed—one of the most common malfunctions to semi-automatic rifles. It can have a variety of causes, but the solution is simple. Hit the magazine from the bottom with your hand to ensure that it is seated properly. Once you are confident that the magazine is engaged cycle the charging handle to load a new round and resume firing. This is similar to the “Tap Rack” procedure that is taught in pistol training
One note of caution: If upon pulling the trigger you don’t feel a round was fired, but hear a quiet pop or see a small puff of smoke, do not fire again. This can either be a hangfire or squib round. Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction for 30 seconds. If nothing has happened, open the receiver by depressing the takedown pins and look down the bore to see if a bullet is stuck in the barrel. DO NOT LOOK DOWN THE MUZZLE END. If there is a stuck bullet it is a squib round and will need to be removed with a cleaning rod or similar tool.
Failure to Eject
The second common malfunction you may encounter is a failure to eject. You attempt to fire a round and go to fire another and the shell casing from the first round is stuck in your ejector port. Also known as a stovepipe, this malfunction is fairly straightforward to fix. Again we are going to hit the magazine with our palm to ensure it is seated properly and cycle the charging handle. This will typically clear out the stuck case and load a new round.
The third malfunction that you may encounter is a double feed. This results from the extractor of the bolt attempting to chamber two rounds at the same time. To fix this malfunction you will need to unload the gun. This can be performed quickly by locking the charging handle back, dropping the magazine, and then cycling the charging handle 3 times. Visually inspect the chamber if possible to ensure the malfunction has been cleared, load a magazine back in, and resume firing.
Case Stuck in Chamber
In this malfunction, the rifle will fire, but the bolt will remain forward or only partially come back. The extractor is not able to remove the case that is stuck. This can occur from an overpressure round or deformed brass. It can also occur when a failure to extract happens and then the bolt rams a spent casing back into the barrel. To fix you will need to do what is called “mortaring” the rifle. Keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction, eject the magazine from the rifle, grab the charging handle with two fingers (one on each side), and bang the buttstock while pulling back on the charging handle. A couple of hard taps on the stock will typically allow the extractor to remove the case from the chamber. Sometimes when mortaring the rifle the extractor will rip the rim off the case. If this happens the weapon will be out of service until you can remove the case using tools. Visually inspect the firearm to ensure the case is fully removed and, if so, reload and resume firing.
In a well-lubricated quality rifle, these malfunctions will rarely happen, but a hunter should be prepared for the possibility. Being able to quickly clear a malfunction is going to depend on the amount of practice the user has. Pick up some snap caps or dummy rounds, ensure the weapon has no live ammo in it, and practice setting up malfunctions and quickly clearing them out. Ideally, you want to be able to fix the issue fast and without having to look at the weapon.
Modern sporting rifles are a great option for hunters, but like any firearm, the user needs to understand how they function and be able to quickly fix a problem if one arises.