Hangfire: The delayed reaction

in Outdoors and more2 years ago

Safety: The condition of being protected from, or unlikely to, cause danger, risk, or injury.

As someone who has operated firearms for over thirty years and done a great deal of shooting I've learned many things with the most important aspect being firearm safety.

Firearms are dangerous, there's no question about it; Of course a firearm in isolation is harmless; But put one in a human hands and it becomes a very dangerous tool...Much like a car in the hands of a drunk driver or a knife in the hands of a crazy person with murderous intent...Harmless inanimate objects, until a human comes along.

A round ready to go into the chamber and the next waiting to push up.

So, firearms are dangerous when in the hands of human beings and safety is a very important element of firearms use; When done well firearms are enjoyable and when not done well people can get injured and killed.

Over the years I've seen many dangerous and unsafe things occur around firearms; Some so shocking that they begger belief and there's several that reoccur all the time...All of which are stupid, unacceptable and avoidable through common sense and proper training. Some though are a little less common but equally dangerous.

The firing process

In very simple terms, when an operator triggers a firearm the firing pin is released and it strikes the base of the primer; The resulting explosion is forced through the flash-hole into the case of the round which is full of gun powder. It also ignites and the expanding gases push the projectile along the path of least resistance, the barrel and out the muzzle to head down range.

That all happens safely within the chamber; All those explosions would be extremely dangerous if they occurred out in the open.


The term hangfire is used when that process does not happen correctly; When there's a delay between the trigger-pull and the ignition of the propellant and subsequent firing of the projectile. When it happens the delay could be unnoticeable or even up to several seconds. It generally occurs through a light primer-strike or bad ammunition but a damaged firing pin, failure to close the bolt down properly, reloading issues and even using the wrong grease can cause it.

Of course, there's many reasons a round may not fire which are not hangfire's such as malfunctions, faulty primers, dud rounds and so on, however unless the firearm has clearly malfunctioned the safe course of action is to wait...Simply wait, and this is where many people go wrong either through inexperience, ignorance, lack of training or sheer stupidity.

Handling a hangfire

The correct process, if the operator is sure the firearm has not malfunctioned, is to keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction for thirty seconds waiting for the round to actually fire which it may, or may not. After that time the round should be removed from the chamber and dismantled, or destroyed. Of course, when in combat this never rarely happens as a working firearm is much more important. In these cases the round would be ejected, firearm reloaded and operations would continue within a second or two...One doesn't want to be waiting around for hangfire's whilst in a firefight.

A couple of my handguns making shapes on the ground

The idea behind the hangfire rule is to keep people safe which is why the firearm is pointed in a safe direction like down range. The round is left within the chamber for that half-minute period as that's the safest place for it to go off. If ejected immediately and it then ignited it could cause serious injury to the operator or others around. Keep in mind when laying prone behind a rifle ones head and face is only a few centimetres away from where the round ejects. It could easily take an eye or worse. I've seen people eject and pick up rounds that haven't gone off...A nice way to lose some fingers and an eye.

Hangfire issues were very common in the days of inconsistent powder-quality and firearms with open primer-pans however it happens still with modern firearms and ammunition; Not often, but it happens. This why I put so much effort into teaching new shooters about it, and the other safety elements prior to letting them do live firing at the range. Safety is the key focus with new shooters, most of whom just want to start banging away on the guns. They laugh and joke until I pull out some photos of people who got it wrong.

I had one person pull the trigger on a handgun and nothing happened, they spun on their heel, firearm now pointing at me, and said, it didn't go off. I hit the deck and yelled at them to turn around and point the handgun down range. It was my fault of course. I'd gone through the safety requirements, but clearly not well enough. I've heard stories of people turning the gun around and looking down the barrel too, which you do not want to be doing.

Me doing some shooting. If you look carefully you can see the ejected case still in the air just to the edge of my hand

I've also had hangfire's of my own of course; Only three or four in thirty years but all were only very slight delays of under a second...It seems like a long time when behind the gun and expecting it to fire immediately though. Naturally I handled them as per procedure...There was no looking down the barrel.

Hangfire's are reasonably common, but not as common as poor firearm safety; The rule of thumb is to get educated and properly trained. I know people who say they read books and learn about firearms in that way and I agree that some knowledge is better than none, but some knowledge can also get a person into a lot of trouble too...I mean you can read a book about brain surgery but it doesn't make you a brain surgeon right?

With firearm safety there should be no compromise and there's nothing better than instruction from a qualified person; Lives depend on it.

Design and create your ideal life, don't live it by default - Tomorrow isn't promised.

Be well
Discord: galenkp#9209

This is not designed as a training document or exhaustive text on the subject and the information contained here should not be relied upon. You are strongly advised to do your own research on the subject matter.


I don't believe I've ever had a hangfire with a rifle.

Maybe half a dozen on pistols, particularly wheel guns in my youth. My father and uncle were NOT particularly fastidious loaders and maybe made a mistake every 1000 rounds or so.

Probably 10 trap rounds over the years. I only remember one that was a loading problem. All the others were bad primers.

I have one step more, and probably because of the guns I use. I look at the hang fire to see if there is a dimple on the primer. No dimple is a faulty firing pin and the round is safe to handle. That is after the 30 seconds and before it hits my hand.

I've hit the deck several times. Rookies always seem to turn towards me on the trap line, no matter which side I'm standing on :)

I'm always frightened breaking open the shotgun. I point it down range and hold it at arms length with a finger up to open it. I do not want a hangfire to eject to the ground...

Ah yes, the checking of the round part was deleted on purpose as it would have made the post far too long; That's a post for another time and will touch on investigating the fault, trouble-shooting, reloading and the disassembly of the round as well. This post is about 1100 words so I figured I'd get to it next time. Come to think of it, all of that above might be three posts. Lol.

I've had a few close calls with new shooters over the years and I'd rather not have any more, but it'll probably happen. Hopefully I don't get my face shot off.

My hangfire's have all been rifles of some sort and I can put it down to shoddy supplied ammo, never with my own reloads. It happens I guess.

Lastly, breaking open a shotgun with a shell that failed to fire should make anyone nervous! 🙄

I think I've had 3 failed primers (that I remember). I always used CCR primers, they were really good that way. I don't know, maybe 3 in 100,000 rounds? I remember 2 at least where there was no powder. Loaders are wonderful things but even the best will hang up once in a while.

All the rest were firing pin problems. I shot an Ithaca a lot, and had to rebuild that link twice in the life of the gun.

The old Smith and Wesson pistols with direct firing pin (rather than a hammer block) tended to break a pin every now and again.

Primers are generally pretty good these days. I use Federal which are great, but I've still had a few issues. Broken firing pins can do it as can ones worn down also. It doesn't take much I guess.

You ever had a squib round? I've been luck and never had one in my sport shooting. I do so much run and gun handgun shooting I'm surprised I haven't. It's not something It want to happen though considering I'm often unloading rounds pretty quickly. My rifle reloads are all hd led and rechecked, precision hand loads, so never had one. I weigh each round after loading and have two check-steps in the loading process.

I've never had a squib round. I've had a couple of 'puffers' but they always got the wad out of the barrel.

We weren't that precise with our shotgun rounds. The doctor that stitched up my eye suggested that I never use dynamite to blow stumps and that I not load shotgun shells. I didn't, but I had a partner that had a high end loader and I'd help him with everything but the actual lever pull.

We would occasionally have a powder charge or a shot load fail to drop. Most of these we'd catch right away but I had at least two make it into my gun with no powder. We used a light charge (.75 oz) and it wasn't easy to tell when the shot was in. I was in charge of gathering and loading the boxes so I KNOW exactly who to blame :)

I have never loaded a shotgun shell, all my ammunition production has been rifle and handgun. I guess the process is the same. Just different.

The biggest difference is the crimp. Gotta have the machine/collets for that.

Yeah, it's different in that way. The projectiles are encased. I don't shoot much shotgun really, so just buy my shells off the shelf.


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I couldn't help thinking of cartoon scenes when I read the term hangfire. Also, I never thought about how dangerous the ignition of a round could be, but in perspective I have suffered this delayed detonation of fireworks and have felt my hand hit my the shockwave. So I can imagine it is far worse than that.

I've never had a round ignite outside the chamber but it wouldn't be a lot of fun I'd say and would do a lot of damage to a human being if close enough. I've seen guns destroyed through malfunctions and rounds going off when they shouldn't and it's messy so a human would fare much worse I'd say.

I wasn't even considering the fact of a gun blowing up but I guess that's some chain reaction possibility.

It happens and a little time on YouTube will show the results of such happenings. Of course they don't show those with hands blown off and faces missing although that happens too.

Dear @galenkp, Late but happy new year!
When I see such a high-powered gun, I am afraid. It is a weapon that can endanger one's own life and the lives of others.
However, the Australian continent has a weak public power and a small population, so individuals themselves have to protect their lives and property.

Just like a scene from a western American movie, you have to protect yourself and your family from criminals and beasts. There will also be situations where you will have to hunt to resolve the food shortage.
Maybe Australian farmers and cowboys handle guns like you do?

There are many records of the outstanding abilities of Australian soldiers during World War II. Rommel praised Australian soldiers as being among the best in the world for their desert combat capabilities.

Australian soldiers, like you, seem to have been trained by hunting in the desert.😲


I don't know what to respond here so I'll just leave it.

My English skills are still lacking. I wanted to know if the majority of Australians handle guns like you do well.😄

The majority of Australians do not have firearms and have no clue about how to handle or operate them.

I understand! I asked you because there is a rating that the Australian soldiers' ability to combat desert warfare during World War II was the best in the world.

The Australian soldiers were particularly famous for their amazing shooting skills.
So, I thought that Australians do a lot of hunting in the desert like you do.😄


The Australian soldier was highly regarded on the battlefield in WW1 and WW2, they were able to think independently and creatively and were hardy, adaptable, loyal to their mates and mostly very brave. Moving forward through time Australian soldiers have continued to be trained effectively in respects to modern warfare and with particular attention to the theatres in which they will operate both within and external to Australia. The ability to work coercively as part of a unit and individually towards mission success is promoted also.

It has nothing to do with hunting at all, in the desert or anywhere else for that matter, and it would be nice if you would cease saying so. Sport shooting and hunting is not military-oriented and there's no correlation between the two these days.

I understand.

I don't know about a gone much. You gave me an idea. Thank you.

This is great news, I'm pleased to have inspired an idea in your mind. Thanks for letting me know.

Why would you look down the barrel for any reason while the gun is still in one piece 😱

I wouldn't, except in extenuating circumstances and even then it wouldn't feel right. There's no real reason to do it to be honest. Like you say, the firearm should be dismantled first.

There's another condition that in a way is worse than a Hang Fire, that's when the primer goes off and you have a low-grade explosion in the chamber but it's not enough to clear the barrel with the bullet. I had that happen in a 6.5 mm Swedish once, if you don't notice; you can load Another Round And Fire it with the barrel obstructed! And this is really bad....

So you always need to be aware when you pull the trigger, because you can feel a low-level detonation like that. I actually had somebody else shooting the rifle and I had to stop them from loading another round! When you got friends at the range or newbies that you're training, I always tell him about that low-grade explosion. If they have any questions I tell him to come to me; then I watch him like a hawk!

Guns can be dangerous, but if used properly that can also be a lot of fun. I had a visitor here in Tulsa the flew in from Sweden. Being Swedish, he had never fired a gun; so I started him out on the Swedish Mauser. He loved it, and when he looked at the rifle he said; "I can read this"! Same rifle that had suffered the low grade detonation....

This type of detonation is usually bad ammunition.


We call then squib, or squib rounds. Pretty nasty if the shooter hasn't noticed.

I called them 'hold fire' including flashing red 'downrange' lights, and he stopped with everyone else!

They are also called squib rounds here. But I thought that was a regional term, LOL....

True, bolt explosions are ROUGH


Fortunately I've never had a gun explode on me, I don't want either.

Same here, besides, it ruins a good firearm; not to mention the shooter, LOL!