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.