Check Your Ammo!

7-Sep-11 – 09:08 by ToddG

As long time readers of and will know, I am a believer in using ammunition manufactured by the Big Three: ATK (Federal & Speer), Remington, and Winchester. These companies spend more money on quality control than their smaller competitors make in a year. They have capabilities — like sealing primer pockets and case mouths against environmental contaminants — that the little guys usually don’t, too.

They also do more testing and development. Years ago, a small company called Triton Ammunition sent me some 357SIG hollowpoints to test. The copper washed bullets were not properly constructed for the pressures and velocities of the 357SIG. The “jacket” literally shredded itself in the barrel and the malformed projectile then flew out into the world in a nearly random direction. Out of 20 rounds fired on a 15×18″ target at 25yd from a seated rest only one bullet managed to hit the paper. Five rounds fired at 15yd measured well over 12″. The same gun (a custom Beretta 96G rechambered for the 357) averaged 1.72″ 5-shot 25yd groups with six other loads from Federal, Remington, Speer, and Winchester. Clue.

Triton never could have test fired this ammo through a gun. They just loaded it and sent it out to gunshops. Even after the problem had been identified, they did nothing to recover or recall the affected ammo. Triton went out of business almost as quickly as it started up. Clue.

But even top brand ammunition is not immune to production mistakes. As demand increases, output increases. We also tend to shoot a lot more than previous generations so each of us is likely to see ten or even a hundred times as many rounds. The odds of finding some bad ammo, then, has increased pretty substantially. It’s important that we check each round of ammo before it goes in the gun. That’s especially true with the ammunition you keep in the gun for duty, home defense, or concealed carry.

For practice ammo, primarily I rely on a quick visual check in the box. This happens before I load up a magazine or dump the whole box into an ammo can. I’m looking for two things: are the rounds all about the same height and do they have properly assembled primers? A round that sits so tall or short in the box that it’s noticeably different probably needs to be culled. Missing or damaged primers also tend to be pretty noticeable.

Ammo I put in my gun for off the range gets a more serious examination. In addition to the in-the-box check above, I quickly inspect each case to be sure it’s properly formed and has no cracks, dents, or other imperfections that could affect function. You can find some pretty whacky stuff this way. The photo at left shows an improperly extruded case (R) compared to a properly formed case of the same ammo (L). The bad round fed into the gun and fired properly, but because the extractor groove and rim are in the wrong place there was no way for the extractor to grab the case and it had to be punched out from the muzzle. Obviously, that’s a problem you cannot expediently address in a fight. This wasn’t from a round of crappy off-the-shelf ammo, either. It was a round of name brand top of the line JHP ammunition issued to a high profile federal law enforcement agency.

I also chamber check my carry ammo. I take the barrel out of the gun and drop each round into the chamber one at a time. If the overall length is too long or there is some deformation of the case, it will often show up here. It only takes a few minutes and can be done along with the visual inspection. A round that looks perfect might still stick due to some dimensional abnormality undetectable to the human eye.

Of course, even if you check everything you can still run afoul of bad luck. The photo on the right is a fairly unusual squib load in which the bullet had just enough momentum to reach the muzzle but not leave the gun. There is no practical way to test for that in advance. A squib is just the Gods of War telling you, “Take a break.

Take the time to check your ammo. Whether it’s a few seconds in a match, a blown up gun, or having your defensive tool turned into a bookend at the worst possible moment you really don’t want to have a problem that could have been prevented with just a little time and effort.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG


  1. 22 Responses to “Check Your Ammo!”

  2. I had a round of Winchester White Box that had the case folded down around the bullet. It looked like the 9mm was wearing a little copper turtle neck.

    By Jesse on Sep 7, 2011

  3. If you are going check each round so thoroughly why not establish pass/fail criteria for the total weight of various factory loads.

    By James on Sep 7, 2011

  4. I’ll add one more reason to check your ammo:

    If your gun doesn’t run for whatever reason, but you pre-checked your ammo, then you can rule that out and start looking for the real culprit.

    By Andy S on Sep 7, 2011

  5. James — If you have the time and equipment to do that, sure. Just be careful because many factory loads use small powder charges. So slight variations in case weight, bullet weight, etc. could lead to a false reading.

    By ToddG on Sep 7, 2011

  6. I think this little write up is especially valid and important for the masses to read. With the slow but steady increase in ammo prices, more and more (including myself) are drawn into reloads/commercial reloads or cheaper factory runs. Unfortunately not many dimes can be crunched or saved when it comes to the production side of the house so the first thing to be cut is the quality care

    By MikeMan on Sep 7, 2011

  7. I might include Black Hills in with the big three, simply for the fact that they are a military ammo supplier. They KNOW how to make ammo to a standard, and implement statistical process control.

    By Jason on Sep 7, 2011

  8. Good post, Todd.

    I’ve got three mags of duty ammo I’m going to chamber check right now.

    By boat3 on Sep 7, 2011

  9. Had a big-name commercial 38 special round with a sideways primer. brand names are no guarantees against anything.

    By Dan on Sep 7, 2011

  10. I’d like to mention CCI/Speer as a quality major manufacturer. According to the HK45 final report, Todd fired off some 26K rounds of CCI Blazer w/o a single problem. Great practice ammo in my book.

    By SRG720 on Sep 7, 2011

  11. I’m working on a very similar article for Police magazine.

    Many guys I know don’t QC their own ammo unless you make them.

    I have seen JHPs with no hollow point, flipped primers, missing primers, case mouths folded over (makes for an actual “jam”), brand new premium LE duty ammo with split cases, .40 ammo in 9mm boxes (and .40 fits right into a G17 magazine)……

    By Chuck on Sep 8, 2011

  12. I’ve seen a bunch of Winchester stuff with no flash hole. On top of the other ailments like folded mouths, deformed bullets etc, but the lack of flash hole really surprised me. That and no powder are things you just can’t check for.

    By Rob Engh on Sep 8, 2011

  13. Years ago even before the ammo rush, I came across a fully loaded Federal 38 Spl case were the rim wasn’t fully formed and their was no grove above the rim. To this day I can’t figure out how it got through the loading process. Strange things happen, keep your powder dry and check your ammo.

    By RSA-OTC on Sep 8, 2011

  14. Great post – checking carry ammo can’t be emphasized enough, especially rounds that have been chambered and then ejected unfired. I’ve run informal tests indicating significant bullet setback after repeated chamberings.
    As a side note, wasn’t Triton Ammunition run by convicted felon/fraudster Fernando Coelho? I seem to recall his involvement in the .40 Super debacle.

    By Bennett on Sep 8, 2011

  15. Bennett — Yes, Triton was Coelho’s first foray into the firearms/tactics industry to the best of my knowledge.

    By ToddG on Sep 8, 2011

  16. Never thought to drop the carry rounds into the chamber to make sure they are in spec, great idea…more thinge to add to my OCD CCW checks. In all honesty, I do think it’s time well spent.

    I have found quite a few rounds that were defective out of the box. If you shoot enough you’ll find these rounds, and it’s better to catch them before they enter the mag.

    Great post.

    By DJ on Sep 8, 2011

  17. I’ve gotten two primers inserted upside down in a case of Wolf ammunition that I’d bought for a class Apparently their quality control guy was at lunch or in the bathroom when that case rolled past his station. Such stuff does get out of the Wolf plants and it can happen to good ammunition too.

    By Murphy's Law on Sep 11, 2011

  18. You should also test fire the ammo in the specific firearm you’ll be carrying.
    I purchased some CCI Blazer 38spc LRN that worked fine in a steel Ruger SP101, but jammed in an aluminum S&W 642 after the 2nd or 3rd shot because the recoil would unseat the bullets enough to lock the cylinder.
    Now the CCI Blazer wasn’t carry ammo, but it convinced me to test fire my ammo in each gun that I plan to use for defense or competition.

    By Mycroft on Sep 11, 2011

  19. I’ll second the warning about bullet setback. Especially in .40s&w, in Glocks. Checking with a G27, I found setback in factory ammo, and in one batch of re-manufactured stuff, an eyebrow raising .069″ of one round. This is from simply chambering from the mag one time. Each time a round was chambered, including factory, the bullet moved.

    If you need to administratively unload/load your duty or carry Glock, I would suggest you hand chamber the round. Lock the slide back, drop a round into the chamber, and then slowly run the slide to contact with the round. Smack the rear of the slide with your palm to snap the extractor over the rim, and insert a full mag.
    WARNING: do NOT do this with a 1911 type, as the extractor is not designed to be able to snap over a rim.
    If you are unwilling/unable to do it this way, try chambering the round from the mag, but holding the slide all the way to fully closed. You want the speed of the slide to be slow.

    If you can’t make it work, use a fresh round, not the same one you took out when you unloaded. Re-chambering the same round, by dropping the slide every time you load up, is possibly the main factor in Glocks going Kaboom!

    By Will on Sep 11, 2011

  20. The one on the left jammed a Glock 19 most-of-the-way closed quite securely:

    Military-issued .38 PGU and 5.56 (M193) ball ammmo:

    .357 SIG (case too long, bullet too deep on middle one):

    Various .357 Magnum case/rim defects:

    Your weapon is only as good as what you feed it.

    By DJ Niner on Sep 12, 2011

  21. hey guys i was just wondering what you guys think about wolf ammo i found a good deal but im not sure about the quality. thanks your input is appreciated

    By green on Sep 13, 2011

  22. Green: It’s dirty, but I’ve always found it to function well. 500 rounds of Wolf make’s my gun look like 2K rounds of other generic ammo. Also, Wolf is really really dirty, did I mention that?

    By Billy Ng on Sep 13, 2011

  23. thanks billy i guess im just going to shell out some more cash tanks for the info

    By green on Sep 13, 2011

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