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The Basic Drill


  1. Unload the weapon. Remove the magazine and check the chamber, and then check the chamber again. With the bolt closed, pull the charging handle to the rear and release. Place safety selector on SAFE. Pull trigger. No matter what, that hammer should not fall. If it does, that weapon is not "mission capable". Furthermore, it is just as unsafe as possible, and by no means should it be loaded until it has been serviced by a qualified professional.
  2. Place selector lever on FIRE. Pull trigger and hold to rear. The hammer should fall. While still holding trigger back, pull charging handle to the rear and release. Now release the trigger - you should hear a click as it moves forward. If no click is heard, the hammer is sticking on the disconnector and needs servicing. The hammer should not fall at this time. If it does, this is another very unsafe condition and should be checked by a qualified professional. Do not fire the weapon until it has been serviced. If you heard the trigger click as it moved forward, move on to:
  3. Pull the trigger, the hammer should fall. If you don't hear the hammer fall at this time, it fell before and the weapon needs servicing. Or, the hammer is stuck on the disconnector and the weapon needs servicing. Either way, something is very WRONG - seek out a qualified gunsmith.


At this time, we can go to the extended troubleshooting list. Remember, the steps of operation are;

  1. Firing
  2. Unlocking
  3. Extracting
  4. Ejecting
  5. Feeding
  6. Locking

We'll take them one at a time:

  1. FAILURE TO FIRE: The most probable reason for this is bad ammunition. Wait 30 seconds with the weapon pointed in a safe direction, remove the magazine, then pull the charging handle to eject the round, and examine the primer. If it has a good, deep primer strike, the ammunition is probably no good. If it has a light primer hit, it may be a hard primer, or the hammer spring may be defective or installed incorrectly, or there may be debris between the hammer and the forward wall of the lower receiver. A quick look in the lower will tell you. If it doesn't have any mark at all, the firing pin isn't reaching the round. The firing pin retaining pin may have been installed incorrectly (in front of the collar instead of behind it), the firing pin may be defective (short), or the hammer is not hitting the firing pin for some reason (not falling, hitting bolt carrier instead, debris in front, etc.). If, when trying to eject the unfired round, the charging handle is difficult to operate, the bolt may not have been locked fully forward due to an oversized round, or debris in the chamber. Riding the charging handle forward may also cause this problem. Remember, pull it back, and let go. NOTE: All AR-15 type rifles dimple the primer during feeding. This is completely normal for this type of weapon.
  2. FAILURE TO UNLOCK: Very rarely does this occur, however, it's usual cause is either a bullet stuck in the barrel behind the gas port (a squib load) or the gas tube has been installed incorrectly. If your weapon did not unlock, CHECK THE BORE FOR OBSTRUCTIONS!! Do this BEFORE you fire another round. Remove the magazine, pull the charging handle to remove the spent case, let the bolt go forward, and push out the takedown pin. Open the receivers, remove the bolt carrier, and look down the barrel. If there is no obstruction, replace the bolt carrier, close the weapon, push in the pin, and take a look at the fired case. If the case looks normal, try another round. If the same thing happens, assume it is a defective part somewhere in the gas system (probably gas tube or gas key), and have the weapon checked out by a competent gunsmith.
  3. FAILURE TO EXTRACT: This is a more common problem, usually shown by the fired case remaining in the chamber, while the carrier comes back to pick up another round, driving it into the fired case and stopping things up good. It is usually caused by a dirty chamber, a rough chamber, a weak extractor spring, a defective extractor, or bad ammo. A dirty chamber is self explanatory and only needs cleaning, while a rough chamber needs a careful polishing. Both can exhibit the same outward signs - light scratches on the fired cases, almost like a coating of frost. If the extractor is good it will usually rip a chunk out of the rim and you'll have to drive the fired case out with your cleaning rod. If the extractor is no good, then the rim will be intact - the spring is probably weak. A weak extractor spring is usually caused by overheating, another good reason to leave the bolt open after firing until the barrel can be held in your bare hand. This cools the bolt head at the same time, and keeps your extractor spring from cooking itself. The only cure is to replace the spring - a very inexpensive procedure. A bad extractor is a little more difficult to diagnose, but if you have already replaced the spring, replacing the extractor would be the next step. Bad ammo usually won't extract easily even if it is unfired, or the fired cases will show uncommon marks.
  4. FAILURE TO EJECT: This looks much the same as failure to extract, except that the fired case is removed from the chamber. The bolt will either jam the fired case back into the locking lugs on the barrel extension (crushing it), or pick up a round from the magazine and try to stuff both of them into the chamber at the same time (looks like a double-feed, except one of the cases is fired). There are a few possibilities as to the cause of this problem, and one is the ejector. For whatever reason, the ejector is weak or sticking and just not clearing the round out of the receiver. A good cleaning might solve the problem, or it may require replacing parts. Try the cleaning first. The other is that the extractor is letting go prematurely. A new extractor spring will usually solve this right away. Lastly, the bolt carrier might not be traveling back far enough, but if it is in fact picking up a new round from the magazine, this isn't the problem. If it isn't picking up a new round, you probably have a gas leak somewhere. The best thing to do is to call us. We can go over it with you in detail, on a case by case basis. Our Customer Service number is 1-800-883-6229 (Mon- Fri, 8:30 AM - 6:00 PM EST).
  5. FAILURE TO FEED: In our experience, 70% of feeding problems derive from bad magazines. Magazines have a service life just like any other part, and will wear out in time. For some reason, people never throw out their old magazines, even when they know they are no good. Some good signs of a bad mag. are: when the magazine starts to spread at the top when fully loaded; when it starts to double-feed 2 live rounds at a time into the receiver; when it fails to feed the last 2 rounds in the magazine. If you encounter any of these situations, trash that magazine. Another possible problem is an accumulation of dirt in the receiver extension, or buffer tube. Removing the buffer and spring and giving the inside of the tube a good cleaning will solve this problem. Failure to feed is not the same problem as failure to retain the magazine properly. This is either a bad magazine or a bad mag catch. Replace the offending part. Cleaning the inside of your magazines from time to time isn't a bad idea, either. If a rifle has had no cycling problem before and develops a feed problem, the cause is usually a broken or loose Bolt Carrier Key screw. Check to see if screw are tight. If a screw is broken or loose, the key must be removed. The top of the carrier and bottom of the key must be cleaned before re-installing the screw and restaking them.
  6. FAILURE TO LOCK: What usually happens here (assuming that the ammunition is not at fault) is that something prevents the bolt carrier from moving fully forward. AR-15 type rifles have a safety notch cut into the top of the hammer which engages the collar of the firing pin to prevent slam firing in the event of disconnector failure. A faulty "trigger job" can lead to this condition, as can an out of tolerance receiver, or a missing or stuck disconnector or disconnector spring. This condition will exhibit itself even when the weapon isn't being fired. Another problem that can cause much the same symptoms is a damaged gas key or gas tube. If the carrier cycles fine when not being fired, but jams when being fired, you can be pretty sure the problem is either in the bolt or the chamber. An ejector that protrudes beyond the front surface of the bolt will usually create an intermittent jam that can drive you nuts, and requires replacing the ejector. An extractor whose slot is not level with, or slightly below the bolt surface may cause the same problem. If the weapon has the same problem even when using a bolt of known reliability, then you can be sure that the problem is in the barrel somewhere. Remember that a failure to lock will also cause a failure to fire, so check things over carefully before ejecting the unfired round.

A SPECIAL NOTE: Lately we have been noticing that primers have been blowing out of their pockets at a much higher rate than usual. This seems to be a result of a diminished primer crimp applied to most .223 or 5.56 ammo by the manufacturer (probably to ease reloading). These loose primers can wreak havoc inside the receivers, causing all manner of binding, jams, and general mayhem. If you've got a jam that's driving you crazy, one that comes and goes, this might be the cause. A small rifle primer is just the right size to drop down inside the pistol grip screw hole and hide until the vibration of firing shakes it out, jamming the trigger but good. Compressed air will usually get these little suckers out, but sometimes you'll have to pull your hammer and trigger to get at it. It's something to watch for, anyway.

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