Why You Had A Failure To Feed

feed failure

One of the most common firearm malfunctions is a failure to feed. This is where a semi-automatic pistol - or semi-automatic rifle or shotgun - fails to cycle the next round into the chamber and/or return fully to battery, the state of being ready to fire.

There are a few different kinds of failures to feed, as well as common causes.

We'll go over what kinds of failures to feed you can expect to run into (and hope you don't!) as well as why they happen and what to do about them.

The Nosedive Gun Jam

nosedive feed failure

One of the common forms of failure to feed is called a "nosedive," a form of gun jam wherein the top round in the magazine gets wedged into the bottom of the feed ramp.

What causes a nosedive?

The first of the usual suspects is a bad or worn-out magazine spring or follower. How this happens is that a magazine is supposed to help push the round out once the slide catches the round and starts to slide it forward. If the magazine doesn't produce sufficient tension, the bullet is not assisted forward and gets jammed into the base of the feed ramp.

Also check to see if the magazine is fully inserted. If not fully seated, rounds won't feed properly.

Another cause, more common in older pistols than newer designs but not unheard of, is a problem with the feed ramp itself. This can be caused by a corroded scratched feed ramp, or - in some guns - a convex feed ramp shape. This is why older 1911 and Browning Hi Power pistols are either given a new barrel with a straight ramp or modified so they get one.

Another common cause is the extractor. Extractors factor into feeding of rounds as well as ejecting them, as the extractor feeds the round from the magazine to the chamber. An extractor that's too tight or too loose, or is otherwise damaged, can result in poor feeding.

Ammunition can also be a cause. Steel cases (and bad quality surplus ammunition) may have rough surfaces, creating too much friction to properly feed. Some producers also use slightly shorter cases than others (we're talking less than a millimeter) which can also impact feeding.

To diagnose, use some trial and error. To rule out magazines, try a different magazine or swap out the springs (and/or the follower) and see if the problem repeats itself. If not, then you have a magazine issue. Also try some different ammunition. Guns are known to be a bit picky on some ammo; if you only have issues with one brand, just stop using that brand.

If a change in magazine or ammunition doesn't do it, you may have an extractor or feed ramp problem. If you feel competent to loosen or tighten the extractor, that may do the trick; the extractor may also need replacing. For the feed ramp, a simple polishing (use 1200-grit sandpaper or finer) may do the trick. However, it's recommended a qualified gunsmith be employed for these issues.

Nose Up Failure To Feed

feed failure nose up

You might also experience a nose-up failure to feed. In this instance, a cartridge doesn't quite make it into the throat of the chamber. The causes are virtually the same as a nosedive, but are different.

First is the extractor. An extractor that's too loose or too tight, again, won't feed the round correctly. Likewise, a feed ramp in need of polishing may push the round up and away from the barrel throat.

Second is, likewise, the magazine, but in this case a nose-up is caused by too much magazine spring tension or possibly bent feed lips. If the magazine spring is too stiff, the round won't feed properly. Bent feed lips cause the round to hang up while feeding due to an improper release, causing the round to lift up and jam.

Test a few different magazines to see if that's the issue, or try changing the springs. Extractors and feed ramps...again, you can attempt to fix it on your own, but it's recommended you visit the gun doctor.

Failure To Return To Battery

fail to return to battery

The other most common cause of a failure to feed is a failure to return to battery, which is where the gun stops in the middle of cycling. It's basically where something stops the gun from completing a cycle of the slide, failing to lock up.

Good news: it isn't the extractor or the magazine.

First of the usual suspects is insufficient cleaning and/or lubrication. Carbon buildup on the feed ramp or locking lugs of the barrel will block the slide from locking up.

Another common cause is limp-wristing. If the pistol isn't held with sufficient force, it flaps backward under recoil. This interferes with the cycling of the slide and can cause a failure to feed.

A worn-out recoil spring is also a common cause, as there needs to be sufficient tension upon compression of the spring to return it to battery.

Some pistols are very finicky when it comes to ammunition, as tight clearances in some guns - this is usually only a problem with the highest of high-end guns; usually match pistols - will prevent them from cycling some ammunition. This is more common with handloads rather than factory ammo, as this can cause improper headspacing.

As to cleaning and lubrication...well, you know what to do. The cure for limp-wristing is to hold harder or get a gun you shoot better.

As to recoil springs, they are cheap and easy to change. Spring companies tell you to buy new ones more often than is arguably necessary, but look to change them every 2,000 to 5,000 rounds.

If ammunition is doing it...stick to the rounds your gun likes.

Failure To Feed While Shooting: Tap, Rack, Bang And Other Tricks

feed failure while shooting

Now that we've gone over what the causes of failure to feed and what to do about them when you get home and so on, what about while you're doing some handgun shooting? What if you have an FTF in a defensive scenario?

Clearing a gun malfunction, especially a failure to feed, is almost always doable via a couple of actions.

First is basically forcing the gun into battery. Sometimes, if a gun fails to get into battery, you can knock it into battery by knocking the slide forward. Hit the thing and see if it moves or grab the slide and try the same. If it doesn't budge, don't keep trying to force it. Clear the jam and eject the round.

Next is the method known as "Tap, Rack, Bang," or sometimes shortened to "TRB." It's a three-step process consisting of a tap, a rack and...well, you get the idea. It works like so:

  • Tap: tap the magazine to make sure it's fully seated.
  • Rack: rack the slide, ejecting the (possibly) offending round and chambering a fresh one.
  • Bang: pull the trigger and make it go boom!

Both are proven methods of clearing a malfunction whilst shooting at the range or in combat conditions. That said, do not attempt a Tap Rack Bang or hitting the slide in case of a stovepipe (a failure to eject) and definitely not in the case of a squib. Those require different procedures or a trip to a gunsmith.

Sam Hoober 

About The Author


Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

purchase gun belt