Stoppage Clearances | Are You Wasting Time?

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A common idea is when a shooter encounters an interruption in the cycle of operation, he or she should perform SPORTS.  If the shooter observes an obstruction during the observe portion of that action; he or she should then perform remedial action.  I am offering that one can get to the appropriate action much faster and I am outlining what that action is for a double feed/failure to extract.

In the comments of the video below and other discussions on the internet I have ran across numerous people who have said, “no thanks, I will stick with SPORTS for my double feeds.”

Many circles on the internet feel that SPORTS is the solution to any stoppage.  Lets take a look at SPORTS in more detail.

Slap

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Double feeds can come in a various forms.

Slapping the bottom of the magazine is often a necessary maneuver to use when one experiences a failure to feed/fire. Potentially an issue has occurred where the follower has become stuck or tilted, the magazine was not seated properly to begin with or it becomes unseated in the course of firing.   Slapping the bottom of the magazine does absolutely nothing for a double feed or failure to extract.

Pull

Pulling the charging handle to the rear is also the right step for getting a bad round out of the chamber for a failure to feed/fire. Simply pulling the charging handle to the rear with a magazine in the rifle will do nothing, but possibly cause the stoppage to become worse. A shooter with a double feed or failure to extract can rack the charging handle as much as he or she desires, but the stoppage will not be cleared until the rounds are able to be removed from the rifle.

Observe

This is a good step to do first, so the shooter does not waste time applying the remedies for a failure to feed/fire when the stoppage calls for a different procedure. Even on a failure to feed/fire, there is no need to observe for ejection. A simple standard response to ‘click with bolt forward’ of tap, rack, and reassess will work.   Had the stoppage been a failure to feed than there would be no ejection to observe anyway.

The feel of the trigger alone can tell the shooter that tap rack bang isn’t going to work. Why waste time adding in unnecessary steps when the shooter could simply identify the stoppage and apply the appropriate action to clear the stoppage?

Release

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A manufactured DF for training. Allowing the bolt to slam forward with a small amount of force on the involved rounds can increase the realism of the stoppage.

With the failure to feed/fire, this step would be the one that chambers the next round and is absolutely necessary. With a double feed or failure to extract, it is the exact same technique I use to make a double feed more difficult and realistic in training. If SPORTS is followed properly, this would be the time when the shooter begins remedial action to clear the double feed/ failure to extract.   Time has been wasted with unnecessary steps.

 

Tap

Let’s say we followed the Internet definition of when and how SPORTS is to be applied when we had a double feed or Failure to extract and we got all the way to this step. Picture the bolt forward on two cartridges trying to occupy the same space, now tap the forward assist… It does absolutely nothing and is a complete waste of time. Additionally, there is no need to tap a forward assist after clearing a failure to feed/fire if the bolt and carrier were allowed to go home on 100% of the buffer spring’s energy.

Shoot

I even disagree with this one in most contexts. The threat may have changed his or her behavior in the course of the time it took to clear the stoppages or he or she may not be visible or even present anymore. That is why I stress a reassessment instead of training to always shoot after any reload or clearance.

SPORTS will work for a failure to feed/failure to fire, but even then it’s less efficient than a simple tap, rack, and reassess. SPORTS does not clear a double feed, failure to extract, stovepipe, or brass above bolt. Each of those actions has their own action that needs to be taken to clear the obstruction, usually referred to as remedial action.

The action I teach to clear a double feed is not something I came up with on my own, it doesn’t belong to me, nor did I have any part in its development. I have made small tweaks as to how I perform and teach the steps, but at its core, the steps are the ones taught to me many years ago by men more seasoned than I.

There are devices that can help the shooter perform stoppage clearances and reloads with more efficiency and you will see that some steps can be skipped at times. I am always looking for a better way, but the following is the best I have found to fit the majority of worse case situations involving a double feed or failure to extract.

Observe

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Skip the S. and the P. and simply observe unless the stoppage is already identified by other means.

While adequate vision is not always available the eyes are a human’s largest source of sensory input, so the first step in clearing a stoppage is to observe what caused the interruption in the weapon’s cycle of operation. Once the cause is determined, the corrective action for the stoppage can be applied.

One who knows his or her firearm well and trains often may be able to diagnose most stoppages by the feel of the trigger. For example, if the shooter feels and hears the click of the hammer falling, the stoppage is likely a failure to feed/fire. Likewise, a mushy trigger felt when the bolt locks to the rear on an empty magazine might feel similar to the mushy trigger felt on a double feed, failure to extract or brass above bolt.

Additionally, lowlight and darkness situations may not allow the shooter the ability to see the stoppage, so between the trigger’s feel and the sense of touch, the shooter must determine the problem and apply the solution.

Lock

In most double feed or failure to extract cases, the rear of one of the rounds involved is still stuck under the lips of the magazine holding the magazine in place resulting in the magazine becoming unable to drop free on its own. Locking the bolt to the rear reduces the pressure on the round holding the magazine in place in cases where the bolt is riding above the lowest round. Even with the bolt locked to the rear, the magazine will likely need to be removed with more effort than its own weight. Even without locking the bolt to the rear, the magazine may be tight, but still removable.

The main reason that the bolt should be locked to the rear is to allow the shooter to clear the cartridges when they do not fall free after the magazine is removed. Having the pressure off the rounds as the magazine is removed can result in the rounds following the magazine out of the mag well.  Even when the bolt is not locked to the rear, there is still potential for the rounds to fall free when the magazine is removed.

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This picture was caught as I was setting up a DF for this post. The round sticking out of the magazine was not staged.

A double feed that has been manufactured for training purposes will often result in the rounds falling free when the magazine is removed. This is not always the case in a realistic stoppage. Some would also suggest simply ripping the magazine out and immediately racking the charging handle to clear the stuck rounds. This will work some of the time, but not every time. Interestingly, the afore mentioned method is the exact method I use to create a hard, realistic double feed to work through on the range.

Rip

Get a solid grip on the magazine while depressing the magazine release and pull hard and fast to remove the magazine. If only one magazine is available, the magazine should be kept close. The magazine that was in the gun may have been the cause of the double feed, but it could also have a round sticking out in a way that causes an additional step or two to make the magazine ready to be seated in the mag well again. It is important to rip the magazine out in a way that allows gravity to help clear the stoppage.

Clear (Fingers in)

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Rounds stuck with bolt locked to the rear and magazine removed.

On a hard double feed and some failure to extracts, the rounds are stuck partly in the chamber and/or pressing against each other and the inside of the receiver. If the rounds fall free when the magazine is removed, skip this step and go to the next step immediately. If the rounds do not fall free, clear the rounds by pressing upward on them through the magazine well. I typically shove my first three fingers up through the mag well and press hard against the rounds. In some cases a little more finesse and/or violence is needed to get them to come loose and fall.
Rack

If during the previous step, the chamber becomes known to be clear and there are no other obstructions, go directly to the next step and finish the procedure with a reload. If there is a round stuck in the chamber then the shooter should pull the charging handle to the rear and let it go home on 100% of the buffer spring’s energy until the shooter observes the round being ejected. In low light or when the shooter has not observed a round in the chamber, the shooter should rack three times keeping in mind that if he or she observes ejection, no additional racks will be necessary.
Reload

If available, reload with a different magazine from that favorite speed reload pouch and reassess.

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Daniel Shaw is a retired US Marine Infantry Unit Leader and is currently the Director of Training for Thunderbird Firearms Academy in Wichita, Kansas.

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