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Getting comfortable with a firearm is an important survival skill, but where many people fail to practice is the misfire. Unfortunately, you never know when a round may misfire, and even with an impeccably cleaned firearm, it can happen. Trouble is, if you’re in a situation where your gun is needed, a misfire can catch you off guard. So, you freeze, panic, and struggle to know what to do. That is, unless you know the right way to handle it.

Because, in the next few seconds, what you do now could very well save your life.

Take a breath and regain control

In any crisis, being able to remain calm is one of your best assets. Especially once your gun stops working, so take a breath and remember to stay calm. If you give in to panic, you’ve lost the battle, and that’s when you may make a mistake that costs you your life. Because panic invokes fear, and that’s when you do something stupid. You either freeze up, or give up, and that when you’re going to get shot. Take a breath, and regain control of yourself.

Don’t try to bluff

Unless you’ve got a professional-level poker face, your attacker will see it in your eyes that something has gone wrong, and that gives them the upper hand. Don’t try to bluff your way out of the situation or pretend you’ve got them in your sights. Because if you’re pointing a gun at someone, you better be ready to face the consequences, that is, they will be responding with deadly force. And if your gun isn’t currently working, you’re at a massive disadvantage. Bluffing is the worst thing you can do in this situation.

Start moving fast for cover

Without a working firearm you need to be heading fast for any cover you can find. Look for something solid that will stop any incoming bullets and also get you out of sight while you clear the jam in your weapon. Move fast, looking quickly for an escape route or the best cover available, while keeping the shooter in your sights. The hardest part is overcoming the split-second of initial confusion, and starting to move. If you move first, you’ve the best chance of surviving once the shooter realizes your weapon has malfunctioned.

Don’t stop to clear the jam

While you’re moving you need to be figuring out the jam and clearing it. You’ve got seconds, literally seconds, to get this done. If you stop moving, you’re an easy target for your opponent, so don’t stop to clear the jam. Bang the magazine back into position, pull and rack the slider to eject the defective round, and get your finger back on the trigger. The faster you can do this, the better your chances of coming out on top of this confrontation.

Stopping a misfire in the first place

I’ve shot thousands of rounds through most of my firearms and there’s a trick or two I’ve discovered over a lifetime of responsible gun use. And while not entirely foolproof, there’s a few things you can do to stop a misfire from happening in the first place.

It starts with keeping a clean shop. You need to clean your gun after it gets used, because each time you go shooting the residue from firing starts building up again. Left alone and untreated, this residue solidifies and will eventually cause key mechanisms to stop working inside your firearm. That’s when a misfire is most likely to happen. Of course, you don’t need to do a full cleaning after every session at the range, just make sure you’re cleaning it regularly, even just a quick field strip, a few dabs of solvent, scrubs and lubrication works wonders on reducing the problems you will face shooting it.

Next comes maintenance. Cleaning alone isn’t enough to keep your firearm working smoothly. Just like servicing your car every year, or every 12,000 miles or so, you need to do the same sort of maintenance on your guns. I take mine in for a service with my local gunsmith about every 10,000 rounds. He takes them apart, screw by screw, carefully inspecting every part of my guns and replacing whatever is needed. If you want to rely on your firearms to save your life, it’s important that you keep them in good working order.

Finally, is your ammunition. Yes, ammo is expensive and there is always the lure of the cheapest ammunition on the shelf. But cheap ammo has a cost of its own. To keep costs down the production is usually done in poor, third world nations, which means quality standards aren’t always up to par. And you can guess what misaligned, poorly seated bullets result in right? Misfires. Then add cheap gunpowder and steel casings instead of brass, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. If you want to trust your gun works when you pull the trigger, you need to put your money into high-quality ammunition.

Don’t forget to practice

Ultimately, remember this. With a firearm it’s not a matter of “if” a misfire will happen, but “when.” Your job is to practice, so it becomes almost a second nature to clear a jam. So your muscle memory knows exactly what to do without stopping your rhythm and momentum while you’re shooting. And the only way to develop this is to practice.

Having a gun is a good start to being prepared, but if you’re not able to correctly handle a misfire you could find yourself stumbling when you need your firearm the most. Knowing what to do, how to prevent a misfire in the first place, and how to clear it quickly and effectively in the heat of the moment is critical to staying alive. It’s never too late to start practicing.

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