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Tactical Briefs (Volume 2, Number 5)
May 1999 (Updated 17 April 2001)

Due to lack of software resources in May 1999, we were unable to publish Part IV, Confidence Testing, in fault isolation tree format, which was our intention. Part IV has now been reformatted and is now available in the intended layout. Adobe Acrobat Reader is required. A link to download free Acrobat Reader is provided.

Personal Defense Ammunition Functional Reliability Test  for Semiautomatic Handguns

This procedure provides an example test plan to perform functional reliability testing of personal defense ammunition with self-loading firearms. The intent of this procedure is to present a carefully planned test process that thoroughly assesses handgun/ammunition functional compatibility, and offers reasonably defined performance based accept/reject criteria.

Because it is designed to deal with many different fault contingencies, the procedure appears more complicated to perform than it actually is. Most modern firearms will probably complete testing with little or no problems.

Although designed specifically for testing semiautomatic handguns, the procedure can be modified to test semiautomatic rifles and select-fire weapons. It can be used as is or customized to suit the needs of the user.

The procedure consists of four parts. Part I verifies functional reliability of a newly acquired handgun prior to attempting ammunition function testing. It is intended to mechanically exercise the handgun and provide shooter familiarization before attempting to undertake ammunition functional reliability testing. Part II is a full-dress rehearsal of the actual ammunition function test procedure. It is intended as a pre-test check of both the shooter and handgun, and allows the shooter to resolve failures in a cost effective manner using less expensive FMJ ammunition.

Part III is the personal defense ammunition functional reliability test procedure. It was developed to quickly identify ammunition that is not functionally compatible the handgun. Part IV, Confidence Testing, directs additional testing to investigate failures encountered during performance of any test event.

The test procedure is designed to provide a methodical step-by-step process to minimize factors that can cause failures. Each test is intended to build upon the success of the preceding test. Part I exercises a newly acquired handgun to minimize the possibility of weapon and maintenance faults, and ensures the gun is ready to support functional reliability testing. Part II is a test rehearsal to give the shooter experience with performing each test event, in attempt to minimize the possibility of costly operator errors during the actual test. Analysis and disposition of failures that occur during test rehearsal are performed in the same manner as during the actual test. By the time the shooter progresses to Part III, the potential for failures caused by weapon faults, maintenance faults and operator error should be greatly diminished.

The procedure also considers the possible effects gravity might have on weapon operation by directing the handgun to be fired in different attitudes. The ability of the gun and ammunition to cycle reliably during rapid-fire is also tested.

The Fault Analysis section provides a structured approach for investigating test failures. It directs the shooter to closely observe and examine the details of a fault condition, and to record this information in a notebook for later use, if necessary.

Accept/Reject Criteria

If the test procedure is completed with no failures encountered, the ammunition is considered acceptable for use with the handgun.

If a failure occurs, Confidence Testing (Part IV) is performed in attempt to reproduce another fault under the same failure conditions. Confidence Testing directs extensive testing to produce either of the following results:

Up to two failures of the same type are acceptable if, after the second failure, the failing test event is repeated three times with no additional failures.

These criteria provide a reasonable level of tactical confidence based on the amount of testing required to produce acceptable results.

Assumptions and Limitations

This procedure is limited to addressing the following failures:

A misfire (failure to fire) is not symptomatic of a functional compatibility problem. Whereas, a double-feed (failure to extract) is a weapon or maintenance fault, and is not indicative of a functional compatibility problem.

Failure to eject is defined as any condition in which a spent case is not ejected clear of the action, and which interferes with the slide and prevents it from locking into battery to fire the next cartridge.

Failure to feed is defined as any condition in which a fresh cartridge is not successfully stripped from the magazine and completely chambered.

The procedure assumes that a failure to eject is caused by inadequate recoil impulse produced by the discharging cartridge. The recoil impulse is insufficient to propel the slide to the rear with sufficient velocity to energetically expel the spent case from the action.

The procedure assumes that a failure to feed is caused by the physical contours of the bullet and/or the overall length of the cartridge, which prevents the cartridge from being successfully stripped from the magazine and guided by the feedramp fully into the chamber.

It is important not to confuse a failure to eject as a failure to feed.

Operator error can be an initial factor at the beginning of Part III, Personal Defense Ammunition Functional Reliability Test, Test Event 1, due to differences in recoil dynamics between the personal defense ammunition and the FMJ ammunition used during test rehearsal. But as the shooter gains experience with the chosen personal defense ammunition, the possibility of operator error should diminish. Additionally, operator error can be an initial factor during the first few cartridges fired in each test event. It is the tester’s responsibility to determine if a fault is caused by operator error or the ammunition.

The procedure assumes ammunition that is incompatible with the weapon will produce persistent failures. An intermittent failure that occurs only once or twice during the test routine is most likely caused by operator error.

Accuracy Testing

Accuracy testing of personal defense ammunition can be accomplished during the slow-fire portions of the test.

Weapon Maintenance Concerns

You should thoroughly clean your new handgun prior to attempting personal defense ammunition functional reliability testing. Unless otherwise directed by the owner’s manual, it is important that you remove factory lubricants and preservatives and replace them with the products you intend to use to maintain your handgun. This practice permits you to verify that the cleaning and lubrication products you’ve chosen, as well as your techniques of cleaning and lubrication, are compatible with the proper functioning of your handgun.

Aerosol cleaning agents like Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber, Midway Insta-Clean or automotive carburetor cleaner offer quick and easy methods for removing grease, grime and propellant residue from the trigger mechanism, breechface and other hard to clean areas. However these cleaning solvents can completely strip the gun of vital lubricants needed for proper operation. This condition might not be readily noticeable when the firearm is re-assembled after cleaning because residual solvent fluid remaining in sensitive areas may not have fully evaporated, and can act as a lubricant during post-cleaning function check of the gun. As time progresses, and the solvent evaporates, your weapon may not function correctly due to lack of adequate lubrication in critical areas.

Therefore, meticulous cleaning of a new or previously owned firearm prior to, and during, personal defense ammunition functional reliability testing is good tactical maintenance discipline. The gun is in a known operator-level maintenance condition, and the effort permits you to validate your maintenance practices and materials.

Function Check

Function check is a manual verification of all the weapon’s mechanical features, usually after cleaning and assembly, to ensure the gun is in proper working order. After verifying the chamber is clear, a typical function check might include:

  1. Rack the slide to cock the hammer/striker.

  2. Position the safety lever, if equipped, to the engaged position.

  3. Press the trigger to verify the hammer/striker does not fall.

  4. Position the safety lever to the disengaged position.

  5. Press the trigger to verify the gun operates in single action mode.

  6. Press the trigger to verify the gun operates in double action mode.

  7. Press and hold the trigger to the rear while racking the slide to verify the sear engages and holds the hammer/striker.

  8. Press on the rear of the hammer to verify it does not drop.

  9. Release trigger, retract slide approximately 1/4-inch, press trigger and verify hammer/striker does not drop.

  10. Release slide and verify it locks into battery.

  11. Insert an empty magazine into the magazine well, retract the slide and verify the magazine actuates the slide lock to lock open the slide.

  12. Remove the empty magazine, retract the locked-open slide, verify the slide lock disengages and ease the slide forward.

  13. Point the muzzle upward, insert a wooden pencil down the bore, rubber eraser end first, until it rests on the firing pin hole of the breechface. Press trigger and observe the pencil jump slightly when struck by the firing pin (for large bore autos you might have to wrap tape around the pencil to center it on the firing pin hole)

Additional function checks may include verifying proper operation of:

If your owner’s manual does not include a function check procedure, you can develop your own procedure using this paragraph as a guide.

Marking of Magazines

You should mark your magazines in a manner that will permit you to identify each magazine individually. If you have two magazines, you should mark them "1" and "2," by using a scribe to permanently engrave these numbers into the magazine body. Marking of magazines can aid in fault isolation by linking failures to a potentially faulty magazine.

Use of a Chronograph

A chronograph is not required to perform functional reliability testing, but it can be a useful aid for detecting a fault caused by a defective cartridge or faults caused by a defective lot of ammunition with extreme velocity variations, and eliminate the need for costly Confidence Testing.

Notebook

The notebook is used to record detailed information about any failures that you might encounter during testing. It provides a means to document empirical data about your handgun’s operating history, and allows you keep track of, and compare, fault indications. It can also be used to tally the number of rounds you fire during each shooting session, total number of rounds fired over the life of the gun, the calendar dates of when you shot the gun and other pertinent information, as well as log information about any repairs/modifications.

A hardbound composition-type notebook is recommended.

Fault Analysis

There are four fault conditions that can occur during testing: 1) failure to fire, 2) failure to extract, 3) failure to eject and 4) failure to feed. These failures can result from the following causes:

When a failure occurs, you should:

  1. Stop.

  2. Immediately examine your grip and shooting stance for indications of operator error.

  3. Don’t tamper with the gun in any manner until you’ve examined the failure.

  4. Comply with all gun handling safety rules.

  5. Visually examine the fault indications closely using the following inspection points:

  1. If the fault is a failure to feed, observe the location and orientation of the cartridge:
  • Did the cartridge nose-dive in the magazine?

  • Is the bullet tip lodged against the feed ramp, breech or chamber wall?

  • Is the cartridge partially retained in the lips of the magazine?

  • Does the cartridge feed angle appear normal?

  • Where is the cartridge case head making contact with the breechface? (e.g., is the aft edge of the extractor rim contacting the breechface above or below the firing pin hole?

  • Has the extractor interfaced with the cartridge extractor groove?

  1. If the fault is an ejection failure, observe the location and orientation of the spent case:
  • Did the case stovepipe?

  • Is the case mouth jammed against the breech?

  • Is the extractor in contact with the extraction groove of the case?

  1. Log all details of your findings in the notebook. Identify the failing test event, record the number of the magazine involved with the failure, the shot number when the failure occurred, the lot number of the ammunition, and, if applicable, the bullet’s velocity as measured by the chronograph.

  2. If the fault is a failure to feed, recover the jammed cartridge and place it in a Ziplock bag for later inspection. (If more than one misfeed occurs, use a separate bag for each recovered cartridge.) Use the Sharpie marker to annotate the bag with information as needed to identify the cartridge’s involvement with a specific failure. Perform Confidence Testing (Part IV of this procedure). If more than one failure has occurred, review your notebook entries to determine if the same magazine is involved with the failure. If a magazine is suspect, remove it from service. When convenient, use a dial caliper to measure the dimensions of the failing cartridge (overall length, diameter at case mouth, bullet diameter, etc.). Compare these measurements with measurements taken of other cartridges of the same load to determine if the failing cartridge has a dimensional anomaly. Also, examine the case mouth crimp for irregularity.

  3. If the fault is a failure to eject, clear the failure and perform Confidence Testing (Part IV of this procedure).

Equipment Required:

Determine minimum ammunition requirements as follows:

    Personal Defense Ammunition
    If performing Functional Reliability Test events 1 through 4 only, enough personal defense ammunition is needed to shoot handgun 16 times with magazine filled to capacity plus a cartridge in the chamber (e.g., a handgun with a ten round magazine will require a minimum of 176 cartridges to complete the test [10 + 1 capacity times 16 = 176 rounds of personal defense ammunition required]).

Notes

  1. Additional ammunition will be required if optional test event 5 is performed.

  2. Additional ammunition will be required if a failure is encountered during testing.

    Full Metal Jacket Ammunition
    An equal amount of FMJ ammunition as above for personal defense ammunition, plus an additional 100 cartridges (e.g., 176 + 100 = 276 rounds of FMJ ammo required).

Part I. Handgun Performance Evaluation Test

Notes

  1. If failures to feed occur while shooting FMJ ammunition, examine the breechface for machine burrs around the firing pin hole. A burr can be easily removed by honing the breechface lightly with a hard Arkansas stone.

  2. If your handgun has already passed Performance Evaluation testing, and you are function testing different personal defense ammunition, it is suggested that you proceed to Part II and perform Personal Defense Ammunition Functional Reliability Test Rehearsal and then proceed to Part III, Personal Defense Ammunition Functional Reliability Test.

  1. Clean handgun thoroughly. Unless otherwise directed by the owner’s manual, remove all factory lubricants and preservatives. Lubricate handgun as instructed by owner’s manual.

  2. Inspect and wipe down magazines. Examine magazine follower for damage and verify freedom of movement within the magazine body.

  3. Slow-fire 100 rounds of FMJ ammunition. This should be accomplished systematically to verify that the handgun and magazines are free of defects. For example:

  1. Load magazine with one FMJ cartridge, chamber and fire. Perform this single-shot drill three times for each magazine under test.

  2. Load magazine with two FMJ cartridges and fire both rounds. Perform this drill three times for each magazine under test.

  3. Load magazine with five FMJ cartridges and fire all five rounds. Perform this drill three times for each magazine under test.

  4. Load handgun to full magazine capacity plus a cartridge in the chamber (henceforth this condition will be referred to as "battle-carry capacity"). Slow-fire handgun until all rounds are expended.

  5. Repeat step 3D, alternating magazines, until 100 rounds total have been fired.

  1. Ensure handgun is unloaded. Inspect all piece parts (screws, grip panels, front and rear sights, control levers, etc.) to verify security of attachment. If required, make adjustments/repairs.

  2. Field strip handgun. Inspect ejector and extractor for damage and security of installation. Clean, lubricate, re-assemble and function check handgun.

  3. Inspect and wipe down magazines. Examine magazine follower for damage and verify freedom of movement within the magazine body. If necessary, disassemble magazines and clean internals.

Part II. Personal Defense Ammunition Functional Reliability Test Rehearsal Using FMJ Ammunition

Notes

  1. Prior to commencing test rehearsal it is recommended that you review the Fault Analysis section to familiarize yourself with the actions that should be immediately performed to aid in isolation of any failure(s).

  2. If any failure to eject or failure to feed occurs during Functional Reliability Test Rehearsal, discontinue test event and consult Fault Analysis section for instructions.

  3. If feeding failures occur while shooting FMJ ammunition, examine the breechface for machine burrs around the firing pin hole. A burr can be easily removed by honing the breechface lightly with a hard Arkansas stone.

Test Event 1 Rehearsal

Load handgun to battle-carry capacity (full magazine capacity plus a cartridge in the chamber). Slow-fire handgun until all rounds are expended. Perform this drill four times (twice per magazine).

Test Event 2 Rehearsal

Load handgun to battle-carry capacity. Fire handgun until all rounds are expended. Begin with a slow-fire tempo and progressively increase cadence of fire until the last few shots are controlled rapid fire (e.g., a handgun with a battle-carry capacity of 10 + 1 cartridges should be fired in the following cadence: shoot........ shoot....... shoot...... shoot..... shoot.... shoot... shoot.. shoot.. shoot. shoot. shoot). Perform this drill four times (twice per magazine).

Test Event 3 Rehearsal

Load handgun to battle-carry capacity. Acquire a shooting stance that allows you to provide solid support to the handgun (this test can be sensitive to operator error). Tilt handgun 90 degrees to the RIGHT to shoot it in a sideways orientation. Before firing, ensure your shooting stance allows the trajectory of your bullets to terminate in the intended backstop. Fire handgun in this orientation until all rounds are expended. Perform this drill four times (twice per magazine).

Test Event 4 Rehearsal

Repeat Test Event 3 Rehearsal, except tilt handgun 90 degrees to the LEFT.

Note

Test Event 5 is optional. Some shooting ranges may not be equipped with the facilities to permit performance of this step, or their rules prohibit such activity. When in doubt, request permission from range officials. Firing a handgun-upside down can be sensitive to operator error. If you do not desire to perform step 5, proceed to Post-test Rehearsal Maintenance section.

Test Event 5 Rehearsal (optional)

Using a shooting mat or old blanket, prepare a shooting position that will allow you to lay flat on your back, with your head oriented toward the target. Do not lay down at this time. Load handgun to battle-carry capacity. While maintaining strict compliance with firearms handling safety rules, place handgun on ground forward of your firing position so it will be within reach when you lay down on your back. Lay down in your shooting position, flat on your back, with your head oriented toward the target. Tilt your head back until you can see your target. While maintaining strict compliance with firearms handling safety rules, pick-up your handgun and acquire a two-handed isosceles grip that will allow you to shoot the handgun upside-down while lying flat on your back. Before firing, ensure your shooting stance allows the trajectory of your bullets to terminate in the intended backstop. Fire handgun in this orientation until all rounds are expended. Perform this drill twice (once per magazine).

Post-test Rehearsal Maintenance

  1. Ensure handgun is unloaded. Inspect all piece parts (screws, grip panels, front and rear sights, control levers, etc.) to verify security of attachment. If required, make adjustments/repairs.

  2. Field strip handgun. Inspect ejector and extractor for damage and security of installation. Clean, lubricate, re-assemble and function check handgun.

  3. Inspect and wipe down magazines. Examine magazine follower for damage and verify freedom of movement within the magazine body. If necessary, disassemble magazines and clean internals.

Part III. Personal Defense Ammunition Functional Reliability Test

Notes

  1. Prior to commencing test it is recommended that you review the Fault Analysis section to familiarize yourself with the actions that should be immediately performed that will aid in isolation of any failure(s).

  2. If any failure to eject or failure to feed occurs during Functional Reliability Test, discontinue test event and consult Fault Analysis section for instructions.

Test Event 1

Load handgun to battle-carry capacity. Slow-fire handgun until all rounds are expended. Perform this drill four times (twice per magazine).

Test Event 2

Load handgun to battle-carry capacity. Fire handgun until all rounds are expended. Begin with a slow-fire tempo and progressively increase cadence of fire until the last few shots are controlled rapid fire (e.g., a handgun with a battle-carry capacity of 10 + 1 cartridges should be fired in the following cadence: shoot........ shoot....... shoot...... shoot..... shoot.... shoot... shoot.. shoot.. shoot. shoot. shoot). Perform this drill four times (twice per magazine).

Test Event 3

Load handgun to battle-carry capacity. Acquire a shooting stance that allows you to provide solid support to the handgun (this test is sensitive to operator error). Tilt the handgun 90 degrees to the RIGHT to shoot it in a sideways orientation. Before firing, ensure your shooting stance allows the trajectory of your bullets to terminate in the intended backstop. Fire handgun in this orientation until all rounds are expended. Perform this drill four times (twice per magazine).

Test Event 4

Repeat Test Event 3, except tilt handgun 90 degrees to the LEFT.

Note

Test Event 5 is optional. Some shooting ranges may not be equipped with the facilities to permit performance of this step, or their rules prohibit such activity. When in doubt, request permission from range officials. Firing a handgun upside down is sensitive to operator error. If you do not desire to perform step 5, proceed to Post-test Maintenance section.

Test Event 5 (optional)

Using a shooting mat or old blanket, prepare a shooting position that will allow you to lay flat on your back, with your head oriented toward the target. Do not lay down at this time. Load handgun to battle-carry capacity. While maintaining strict compliance with firearms handling safety rules, place handgun on ground forward of your firing position so it will be within reach when you lay down on your back. Lay down in your shooting position, flat on your back, with your head oriented toward the target. Tilt your head back until you can see your target. While maintaining strict compliance with firearms handling safety rules, pick-up your handgun and acquire a two-handed isosceles grip that will allow you to shoot the handgun upside-down while lying flat on your back. Before firing, ensure your shooting stance allows the trajectory of your bullets to terminate in the intended backstop. Fire handgun in this orientation until all rounds are expended. Perform this drill twice (once per magazine).

Post-test Maintenance

  1. Ensure handgun is unloaded. Inspect all piece parts (screws, grip panels, front and rear sights, control levers, etc.) to verify security of attachment. If required, make adjustments/repairs.

  2. Field strip handgun. Inspect ejector and extractor for damage and security of installation. Clean, lubricate, re-assemble and function check handgun.

  3. Inspect and wipe down magazine(s). Examine magazine follower for damage and verify freedom of movement within the magazine body. If necessary, disassemble magazines and clean internals.

Part IV. Confidence Testing

The Confidence Testing procedure is available in two formats: 1) fault isolation tree format available in Adobe Acrobat, and 2) step-by-step procedure in text format (below). The fault isolation tree format is easiest to use, and we recommend users print it out for use at the shooting range.

Any failures encountered during Confidence Testing should be scrutinized in accordance with the guidelines of the Fault Analysis section (above). The Fault Analysis section provides a structured approach for investigating test failures. It directs the shooter to closely observe and examine the details of a fault condition, and to record this information in a notebook for later use, if necessary.

Fault isolation tree format

Click here to go to Part IV, Confidence Testing in fault isolation tree format.

Step-by-step procedure in text format

  1. A failure to eject or a failure to feed occurred during performance of Personal Defense Ammunition Functional Reliability Test or Personal Defense Ammunition Functional Reliability Test Rehearsal. Go to step 2.

  2. Enter details of failure in notebook. Go to step 3.

  3. Repeat failing test event. Does test pass?
    YES: Go to step 4
    NO: Go to step 11

  4. Ensure all details of your test activities, including steps that passed and/or failed, are recorded in notebook. Go to step 5.

  5. Repeat failing test event. Does test pass?
    YES: Go to step 6
    NO: Go to step 11

  6. Ensure all details of your test activities, including steps that passed and/or failed, are recorded in notebook. Go to step 7.

  7. Do any test events remain to be performed in Personal Defense Ammunition Functional Reliability Test or Personal Defense Ammunition Reliability Test Rehearsal?
    YES: Go to step 8
    NO: Go to step 9

  8. Return to Personal Defense Ammunition Functional Reliability Test or Personal Defense Ammunition Reliability Test Rehearsal and perform remaining test events (e.g., if you entered this procedure because you encountered a failure during Test Event 2, you may continue testing at Test Event 3). If a failure occurs during performance of a different test event, re-enter this procedure at step 11. If no additional failures are encountered while performing remaining test events, go to step 9

  9. Repeat failing test event. Does test pass?
    YES: Go to step 10
    NO: Go to step 11

  10. Confidence Testing successfully completed. The ammunition under test has demonstrated acceptable functional reliability performance. Ensure all details of your test activities are recorded in notebook. If a failure occurs at a later date while shooting this particular ammunition, which appears to have been caused by an ammunition fault, perform Part III, Personal Defense Ammunition Functional Reliability Test to determine if failure is intermittent and acceptable or persistent and unacceptable.

  11. Is fault a failure to feed or a failure to eject?
    FAILURE TO FEED: Go to step 12
    FAILURE TO EJECT: Go to step 13

  12. Enter details of failure in notebook. Go to step 14.

  13. Enter details of failure in notebook. Go to step 15.

  14. Review notebook entries from initial failure to current failure. Have three failures to feed occurred since initial failure?
    YES: Go to step 16
    NO: Go to step 3

  15. Review notebook entries from initial failure to current failure. Have three failures to eject occurred since initial failure?
    YES: Go to step 16
    NO: Go to step 3

  16. The ammunition under test has demonstrated unacceptable functional reliability performance. You should consider choosing and testing different ammunition. If you experience persistent failures while testing different ammunition, you should have your weapon inspected by a competent gunsmith.

Procedure developed by Firearms Tactical Institute

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