AR Issues? Use MEAL to solve your problem.

Recently, I received a call from a local department armorer that had attended a course I a taught several years ago. He needed my help. He explained his problem: During qualifications they suddenly began experiencing malfunctions with several carbines while qualifying. The armorer described that he had found a piece of the bullet inside of the lugs on the barrel extension. They tried different types of ammunition and were still experiencing the same issue.

I asked him to stop by the range and bring the carbines and ammo in question.
When he and his partner came by, I looked at the carbines and immediately disassembled the weapons. I felt we should change out the gas rings on one and the extractor springs on both. However, I wanted to shoot the carbines before making any changes so I could diagnose the specific problem.

When I went to assemble the bolt with the the suspect gas rings into the BFG it began to bind. I removed the bolt and put on brand new rings. I cleaned the bolts with an M4 Cat tool and applied a new product called Fire Clean. The ammunition was an excellent and reliable duty round.

When the officers began loading mags, I got a bit edgy. The magazines had clearly seen better days. “These aren’t your duty magazines are they?” “Yes,” they replied. OH BOY.

I shot one full magazine without an issue. On the second magazine I experienced a double feed. The officer told me that this was the exact failure they had been getting. I cleared it and then examined the rounds. I continued to fire the weapon and then suffered a malfunction. I was able to clear the malfunction. However the selector safety switch would not engage. Clearly A popped primer or piece of of debris had fallen under the trigger. The magazine was long over do for the crap pile. The spring had no power and the feed lips had been dinged up from use.

I quickly removed the trigger group and selector and found a piece of metal. It appeared to have been sheared off the nose of the bullet. A certain amount of geometry needs to be correct in order to feed rounds into the chamber of a AR Carbine. Damaged feed lips can cause the round to not angle properly and strike the lug. The round needs to move clean into position on the feed ramp.

At this point I brought out several brand new magazines. Tango Down ARC , MagPul and Troy Battle magazine. I had those magazines loaded with the duty ammo and the replacement ammo. The weapon worked flawlessly with the brand new magazines.

My friend, and fellow Colt Factory Armorer Instructor, Dean Caputo developed the acronym to what we have been teaching for years. MEAL: Magazines, Extraction, Ammunition and Lubrication.

The culprit: the magazines. They were original issue Colt mags and were used for duty and training. I like Colt magazines as they are made to the Military TDP (Technical Data Package). But like every mag, they have a shelf life. We tend to get attached to them. Once they go bad get rid of them. Don’t put them in your training kit to help in training for failures. That is what dummy rounds are for.

Change your extractor springs every 5000 rounds. Inspect the extractor. Dragging it over the back of your hand as a field gauge. Feel for the two corners to bite into your hand. Also, visually inspect it. Keep spares. Quality ammo. Avoid steel case ammo. Try and stay with US manufacturers. Lubricate your bolt. BreakFree CLP.

Whatever ammunition, lubrication, or gear you choose, make sure you test it in all environments they you work in. I am trying out FireClean. That is for another article. The area of friction is the gas rings. Two drops in the exhaust holes and working the bolt carrier well lubricate nicely before a job. Don’t over lubricate. Avoid what I call the Valdez Oil spill.

Remember that magazines have a shelf life. My agency runs 25 rounds with the supplied four magazines. Why 25? Magazine shelf life and officer involved shootings. We know how many rounds were in the weapon at the start of the gunfight. Most officers won’t remember how many rounds they fired. Makes it easier to figure out later on.

LEO’s tend to store magazines over a long period of time. Some agencies store them for a year. In and out of the trunk during work. I feel all you military folks gripping your coffee cups. Relax. Many trainers with military background call for fully loaded the mags. I understand that. However they work in an environment where the magazines are constantly being employed.

LEO’s domestically problem-solve with several presses of the trigger. In extreme cases they may need more. Thus the reason Patrol Rifle Officers are issued four mags. SWAT officers are issued six. Additionally we have a milk crate filled with magazines on response vehicle.

Keep a round count on your weapons. Annual inspections. Change out extractors as needed. 5000 service life on extractor, hammer and trigger springs. Check the buffer or action spring. Storing the weapon with the bolt to the rear shortens service life on the action spring. Cycle your mags. Keep your powder dry, and remember MEAL the next time your M4 or AR pattern gun begins to choke.


This entry was posted in AR15/M4, Weapon Maintenance by Frank Moody. Bookmark the permalink.

About Frank Moody

Frank Moody is a 32-year LEO veteran on a major Northeast Agency. He has worked Patrol, Traffic Motorcycle, Narcotics Organized Crime, Fugitive Operatons and SWAT. During his career, he has become an authority in Firearms Tactical Training and is a Force on Force instructor. Frank is a Factory Armorer Instructor on AR/M16/M4 platforms, the 1911 Pistol and the 203 Grenade Launcher.

18 thoughts on “AR Issues? Use MEAL to solve your problem.

  1. Good information, but all the misspellings make the article a difficult and distracting read.

    • I apologize. That was my fault. I started proofing at 0300 in the morning and thought I finished getting through it!

      Some comments regarding the above article: I learned MEAL from Dean years back and it is an easy way to teach end users to identify issues. As for lube, I hate BreakFree. It turns to black goo in short order. Almost any modern lubrication is better than BreakFree CLP. Also, for general range use, I typically tell students and shooters just to put oil on the bolt. In most domestic environments, more lube is always better than less. It will keep your gun running. I have never seen a gun stop due to “overlubrication” despite the mess it makes…

  2. Great article, but I have a couple questions. Mr. Moody have you witnessed issues with over lubricated quality M4s? I never have, but I’m curious to further my learning/understanding.

    I don’t understand, why 25 rounds per magazine? We teach 18 or 28, per mag, depending on the magazine capacity. What made you guys settle on 25?

    I fully understand the issue of attempting to determine the number of rounds fired from different rifles during an OIS investigation. I’m not sure how 25 rounds per mag policy would help this. Though we have a policy, I’ve found as many as 31 (ugh) to 23 rounds in a 30 round magazine. Stuff happens I guess.

    I’m very interested in hearing your experiences.

    • Jake,
      All good questions.
      Over lubricated quality M4’s. Yes and all variety of AR15 and M16 variants.
      The worst case was a military unit were service men had just kept squirting CLP in the mistaken belief that it would “float” debris out of a bolt. Over lubricating attracts debris, sand and other sundry particles. The excess CLP eventually found its way down onto the trigger assembly. When the weapon cooled it turned into a gummy substance. This combination of CLP, and foreign debris then prevented the disconnectors on the burst configuration from properly cycling in the burst mode. A complete disassembly was required of the hammer, trigger, selector and sear. The parts and were cleaned along with the lower and the weapons all functioned properly.

      25 Rounds. We have found with quality magazines that if left stored that the springs will take a set if left fully loaded. Mags are left Ioaded in many agencies for a year at a time. Some even longer. We utilize training mags for both Patrol Rifle and SRU. It prevents damage of duty mags. At the end of the year all duty ammo is shot off from the duty mags. Weapons and mags are inspected by the armorers.
      New ammo is issued. Thus the Armorer/Instructors know that the mags are loaded properly. Our Patrol Rifle members shoot quarterly. SRU shoots once a month.

      We have found that 25 seems to be the magic number that prevents the magazine from taking a set. You are right we’ve found that officer will stuff a 30 round magazine with 33 rounds and then wonder why the carbine won’t chamber. Training issue that needed to be addressed and enforcement of the 25 round rule.

      So the agreement was reached by the Firearms staff with reliability and accountability coming into play. Reliability being the major factor. This is not something with just my agency but many agencies. We balanced it by issuing enough magazines and ammo to settle anything that might occur. That was based on historical shootings involving the agency.

      Bottom line, shoot your weapon, clean your weapon. I emphasize light coat of lubrication on the high wear areas. Lots of friction on the gas rings. Two drops will keep it running. Whatever you use for lubrication, make sure it works in all conditions. Pay attention to your mags. Hope that helps.
      Be safe.

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  4. Thanks for the article. I’m a fan of fully loaded magazines and heavily lubed ARs. I understand that some folks have trouble inserting a fully loaded (30 rounds) GI mag on a closed bolt, but I haven’t noticed too much of a problem using magpul mags. You mention that compressed springs shorten their life. I’ve been taught that cycling a spring is what leads to weakening of the spring. Maybe it is a chicken and egg type thing!

    • If a spring is deformed beyond its normal range of travel (such as compressed to solid spring height), the life of the spring will be greatly diminished. That is why keeping an 8-round 1911 magazine fully loaded can shorten its useful life.

  5. My Colts have had zero issues with running the various steel cased Russian ammo. OTOH, I have seen several guns blown up while using US made factory reloads.

    For training I have no issue with using the steel cased stuff.

  6. Steel cased ammo is tougher on extractors, so their condition should be monitored if you use it. Also if the shooter is not diligent about cleaning the lacquer build up from the chamber, extraction issues will arise once the weapon gets hot.

    Given the current ammunition situation, we may all be using steel cased ammo for training, but be aware and more importantly make those you teach aware of it’s potential issues. YMMV.

    Keep your AR relatively clean and well lubed. Use quality ammunition and magazines and a quality gun will run.
    Stay Safe

  7. Twenty five rounds in an LE mag that is going to remain loaded for a long period does not sound like a bad idea. I personally just load my mags down two (28 in a 30, etc). and rotate them on a set schedule. As far as CLP I avoid it. Use almost anything else. When it gets hot it loses it’s lubricating ability.
    I have never in my life heard someone state that friction on the gas rings is an issue. I say this after serving for years as a depot level armourer at a major U.S. training facility. We get a lot of hands on with AR platforms than run through thousands of rounds weekly. Keep oil out of the bore of the carrier if at all possible! It will only burn and add more deposits on the assembly.You would not put lube in the gas system of an M14 or a Garand so why would it be okay for an AR?? Lube the carrier where it rides in the upper, lube the bolt lugs and cam pin, and roll. Most people don’t realize that the cam pin actually takes more of a beating than any other part in the assembly.
    Keep a close watch on your bolt lugs for cracking and install a new bolt when you rebarrel regardless of how good your existing bolt looks. Big Army reccomends a new bolt in an M4 at 8k rounds. Remember, those carbine length gas systems are hell on bolt components.

    • Mr, Allligood,

      I started on the platform in 1977. I am always learning something on this platform. Having begun as an Armorer instructor in 2007 I have had quite a bit of face time with the engineers and subject matter experts at the factory. I had the pleasure of studying under Dick Welch. Dick was the most knowledgeable person at the time at the Factory. His career began after an all expense paid tour of the Republic of Vietnam. Dick carried an M-14 with the Big Red One. So he was involved with many of the changes that took place on the platform up until he retired recently. If he wrote a book, it would be a valuable manual for armorers and operators of the system alike.

      The engineers and and factory people all were universal in pointing out that friction and heat will develop in the area of the gas rings. That back and forth motion of the bolt inside the BCG will wear the gas rings. The gas tube handles 15,000 psi and funnels that to the area of the bolt on each shot. Thus the build up on the “tail” of the bolt.

      8,000 is a great life cycle change out for the bolt. Great advice on the 1 and 7 lugs as well. It pays to visually inspect. Another reason I dislike sonic cleaners. (Here we go with all the sonic cleaner users spewing coffee across the table.) Mil-spec and the Technical Data Package rate the bolt at 10,000 rounds. You also provide sound advice on the barrel change and bolt. I go by factory standards for a barrel change. New barrel, new bolt and always head space.

      In addition I always learn something new at each class from students.

      Be safe and thanks for taking care of the Joe’s.

  8. Actually, I am with Frank on this one. When in doubt, I squirt lube into the gas vent holes along with the friction points where the bolt carrier rides inside the receiver. I have never seen an M4 fail due to excess lube but have seen plenty of them choke due to not enough. However, I agree that CLP sucks as a lube. Yes, almost anything else is better.

  9. Excellent article, thank you for the effort at relating this. I get frustrated in relating to students that magazines are a part of a firearm system, which needs to be cleaned and checked for proper operation, same as cleaning barrel, bolt group, etc.. Nice work.

  10. RE: Quantity of lube. When I went to qualify with my M16 at Ft. Benning, the drill sergeant squirted CLP all over the bolt and carrier. My first shot sprayed oil, and a slight breeze deposited it in my eyes and all over my glasses.

    I intentionally failed my qualification, because I knew I could do better. The push-ups were worth the second chance to shoot Expert, but more important was the lesson that you can indeed over-lubricate an M16 or AR-15.

    FWIW, I now use Slip2000 EWL. A drop in each vent hole, and a drop on the lugs, and I’m GTG.

    • Agreed that it is possible to lubricate to the point where the excess sprays all over the place. While that is certainly less than ideal, I have never seen a properly set up M4/AR malfunction due to over-lubrication (within typical environments encountered in the contiguous 48 states). However, I have seen plenty of them choke due to under lubrication. While there is no reason to submerge your M4 in lube, if in doubt, I suggest leaning towards a little more lube vs. minimal lube.

  11. You mentioned not to use steel cased ammo.
    I have shot many of them personally, and found it realiable cheaper alternative to more expensive brass cased ammo.
    I would like to know whats your reason behind you suggesting against it?


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