It’s no secret that firearms are dangerous.
But so long as we treat them with respect, with proper gun safety protocols, we can continue to enjoy them down the range, without unwanted incidents or injury.
And in this article, we’re going to take a look at how to deal with the dreaded squib load.
What is a squib load? How do you recognize it? Is it preventable?
We’ll answer all these questions and more, so read on, as it just might save you and/or your loved ones from a serious accident.
This just might be the most important article you’ve clicked on, today.
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How to Deal With a Squib Load in Short
In the interests of keeping things short and to the point for people in a rush, here’s the answer upfront:
A squib load is what happens when a bullet gets lodged in the barrel of a weapon. It can happen for any number of reasons that we discuss below.
If a second projectile were to be fired, it can result in the firearm exploding, potentially causing injury and even fatalities to anyone close by.
Most notably, the shooter themselves.
It’s identified by a difference in sound when you pull the trigger – a ‘click’ or ‘pop’ instead of a ‘bang’.
If you suspect a squib load after firing your weapon, you should take the steps below to prevent any unwanted incident from occurring.
Keep reading to find out how to deal with this situation, as well as some more useful safety information thrown in for good measure.
What is a Squib Load?
There are many things that can go wrong with firearms – incorrectly loaded magazines, case-head separation, failure to eject, and any number of other mechanical failures.
The list is as long as it is concerning, and squib loads are part of it. Some of them are arbitrary, others can cause serious injury and fatalities.
And unfortunately, a squib load is one of the most dangerous malfunctions that can happen with firearm use.
But what exactly is it?
Also known as a squib, a squib round, squib fire, insufficient discharge, and/or incomplete discharge, a squib load is what happens when a bullet is fired but doesn’t have enough force to exit the barrel.
As such, the projectile becomes stuck – often unbeknownst to the firearm’s user.
Keen to continue shooting and hit their mark, the shooter pulls the trigger again, and a new projectile strikes the one that’s blocking the barrel.
Now you have the buildup of excessive pressure, and you’re essentially trying to fire two bullets at the same time, instead of just one.
The structural integrity of the firearm fails in spectacular fashion, and the shooter, and anyone else who happens to be close by, can be seriously injured, and even killed.
Perhaps the most famous case of a squib load death, was the actor Brandon Lee, who died on the set of the 1994 movie The Crow.
Gross negligence had caused a dummy shell to be lodged in the bore of a prop gun during a previous scene. This is the squib load.
It was ejected when the weapon was next fired, by the unfortunate late actor, Micheal Massee, straight into Lee’s abdomen.
Of course, these accidents don’t always happen at the business end of the weapon, as the shooter is commonly the most at-risk person in the whole scenario, following the explosion of the firearm.
You can watch any number of YouTube videos of this incident happening, but be warned – viewer discretion is advised. Hence, why I’ve not included any here.
While serving as a cautionary tale, watching guns explode in the user’s hands might put people off from using firearms in the first place – but it is entirely preventable, and not at all common.
So, how does this happen? Let’s find out.
What Causes a Squib Load?
Squibs can happen with any kind of ammunition, although they are usually as a result of faulty powder charges, from an inexperienced reloader, or someone who simply doesn’t know what they’re doing.
Even factory ammo can result in a squib round, so even if you’re using the very best products, you need to remain alert at the range.
Damp or wet gunpowder can be at fault, which is why you’re always told to “keep your powder dry.”
But the most common cause of a squib round is insufficient or no powder in the shell as a result of improper reloading. (More on this, below.)
How to Recognize a Potential Squib Load
When you’re down the range, you need to be paying attention at all times.
Stay awake, be alert, keep your eyes open – even if you’re not shooting.
It’s everyone’s responsibility to prevent accidents from happening, and I highly recommend you build yourself a quality tactical first aid kit, too – so follow that link for professional advice on how to do so.
Incidentally, you can check out this article if you want to know more about tactical gear, and why it’s so much better than basic equivalents – for just about anything.
Being observant is the best way to avoid unwanted situations, and it’s the only way you’re going to be aware of a potential squib load.
And when it comes to identifying one, you need to be using your ears.
Instead of a bang, and the projectile hitting your intended target, you’ll notice a marked difference in the sound the weapon makes.
A squib load will pop, ping, or click when you pull the trigger.
This can be loud, or it can be quiet. It might be high-pitched, it might be low. It might be barely noticeable at all – which is when things can get particularly dangerous and the shooter attempts to continue firing.
Should this occur, were you to pull the trigger again, you can say bye-bye to that firearm (as the best case scenario). You might as well be holding a live hand grenade.
You might also see smoke coming from the gun, so keep an eye on your weapon and notice if it’s doing anything out of the ordinary.
And if you have a projectile that hasn’t exited the barrel as it should, you will likely have little or no recoil following your shot.
So, to sum up – if you see, hear, or feel anything that causes concern, stop what you’re doing immediately, put the safety on, lower the weapon, and be prepared to take the next steps.
It’s a good idea to pause for at least 30 seconds, as you might be experiencing a hang fire instead (this is addressed in our FAQ section, coming up).
If you’re a new shooter, or if you’re not yet confident/competent at firearm maintenance, you should call the range safety officer or instructor.
Even if you’re a more experienced shooter, it’s highly recommended you still let the range safe know what’s going down, then you can follow the squib load clearing guide, below.
Either way, your finger should be nowhere near that trigger, so take a breath, allow the adrenaline to subside a little, and practice patience.
You’ll be back shooting soon enough – so long as you have a hand to shoot with.
How to Clear a Squib Load
While clearing most squib loads is relatively easy, it is going to take you out of the game for a while.
Depending on the severity of the blockage, you might have to call it a day, or you might be able to fix it yourself.
Under no circumstances should you simply start jamming a rod down the barrel to try and clear the jam.
And please, for the love of all things, don’t down into the bore with the gun still loaded – you’ll be amazed at how often this happens.
Like going back to a firework that didn’t ignite.
Instead, move to a safe maintenance area, keeping the weapon pointed down at all times. Unload the gun, remove ALL the ammunition, not forgetting the chamber.
The only thing left inside the firearm should be the lodged projectile – if there is one.
Take the weapon apart as per the manufacturer’s guidelines. Only then should you be looking through the barrel (preferably from back to front) to locate the issue.
Alternatively, you can use your cleaning rod, and if it doesn’t pass all the way through the bore, you know you have a problem.
Next, you can try to clear the lodged bullet by using a wooden dowel the same size as the weapon’s bore. A pencil can work well for pistols, for example.
Once you’ve located where the blockage is, you can attempt to tap it out via the shortest route possible – by sliding the dowel through the end of the barrel that is furthest from the squib.
Brass and aluminum squib rods are commercially available – so check them out as part of your kit.
Of course, not all guns are made equal, and this technique might not work on your particular firearm.
Furthermore, the blockage might be so severe that it’s going to take a hammer and special rod to try and tap the bullet out on a firm surface.
You might have to take it to an experienced gunsmith to have the blockage cleared by a professional – especially if you find yourself out of your comfort zone at this point.
And/or you don’t want to risk long-term damage to the bore, and thus adding an expensive paperweight to your collection.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it – getting a pro to take a look and not losing a hand (or worse) is more important than damaged pride.
How to Prevent Squib Loads
There are a few techniques you can utilize in order to prevent this from happening in the first place.
Keeping your gun well-maintained should be second nature to anyone using firearms, and you should have a dedicated cleaning kit close to your hand.
Stash one in an attractive tactical backpack next time you’re heading down the range.
Aside from a firearm in pristine firing condition, you need to address the squid-load possibility at the source – reloading the ammunition.
This accounts for the vast majority of squid load accidents – improper loading of gunpowder. Most commonly, not putting enough in.
As such, before you even attempt rolling your own ammo, you should be aware of all the pitfalls that come with it.
The excellent video below will help get you started and will prepare you with plenty of reloading information, so you can decide if it’s for you.
It can also be the case of what kind of ammo you are using since there are some important differences between steel and brass ammo.
How common are squib loads?
Thankfully, squib loads aren’t that common, and accidents are rare – particularly with the proper training and the shooter is alert and paying attention (which they should be at all times with a firearm).
However, the longer you’ve been shooting for, the more likely it is that you’ll come across a squib load in your life around firearms.
So, even if it is still rare, you need to be switched on to the possibility and know how to act if you suspect a blockage in the bore.
Although fatalities are rare, they can occur, and at the end of the day – you can still destroy a perfectly good firearm.
What is the purpose of PPE at a firing range?
PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is essential at a gun range, as any number of accidents can happen if shooters are careless.
Eye and ear protection is non-negotiable and should be worn at all times. In the event of a squib, having good eye-pro could well save your sight.
While tactical shooting gloves are not mandatory, I still highly recommend using them, as guns can run hot, and thumbs can be protected when you’re reloading. Follow that link for some of the best.
Your PPE should be the first thing you throw in as part of your range bag essentials, and you can go to that article for more expert advice on what else you need to include.
Knowing things like these overall can be also helpful in everyday life, just like many other transferable military skills do.
What is a hang fire?
Not to be confused with a squib load, a hang fire is when there is a delay between the pulling of the trigger and the detonation of the gunpowder. You pull the trigger – but nothing happens.
It’s far more dangerous than a squib – but thankfully even less common.
For more information, including a visual guide on how to deal with squibs and hang fires, watch the video below.
Guns go boom – that’s just what they do.
But to prevent them from going boom in a manner that wasn’t intended, you need to understand what is a squib load, and how to prevent it. And remember, practicing gun safety is just one of many shooting range tips you need to know about.
Also, to know more about how your gun may react in different situations, take a look at our comparison of Lancer vs PMAGS.
I hope this article has helped clue you in on what to look for. Let me know if you have any other comments or questions, below, or any advice and experience you’d like to share with the community.
Stay safe out there! And happy shooting!