The Cornered Cat

A double feed happens when two rounds try to enter the chamber of a semi-automatic at the same time. Because there is not enough room for both, the gun locks up with the slide partially to the rear. It cannot be fired again until the problem is cleared away.

Often, a double feed is caused by the gun’s failure to extract the empty case of the previously-fired round. The extractor does not yank the old case out of the way as the slide travels back, so the spent case remains in the chamber as the slide on its return journey tries to stuff a new round into the same space.

Another common cause of a misfeed is user-induced. The shooter tries to clear a misfeed but forgets to tap the magazine into place first before racking the slide. Oops.

Learning to clear a double feed can be very confusing at first. The steps must be done in the correct sequence, and it is easy to lose your place until you fully understand what it is that you are doing and why you are doing it. Here’s the short version: if you have trouble with the gun, and “tap, rack” does not fix the problem, you need to unload the gun, be sure it really is unloaded, and reload it.

Do not get discouraged! With repeated practice, it becomes much easier.

Double feed

Double Feed in Place

Step One: Tap, Rack …

Upon experiencing any malfunction, immediately begin the procedure for clearing a misfeed. You are doing this because a misfeed is the single most common type of malfunction, and because your hands are faster than your eyeballs at diagnosing what is wrong.

So even though Tap, Rack won’t do anything to clear away your double feed, don’t omit this step in practice. It’s important for diagnosing the problem under stress or in the dark — two situations you might someday find yourself in if you need to use the firearm “for keeps.”


Step Two: Lock the Slide Back

Even though it appears the slide is already locked back, it is not. It is being held back by the rearward cartridge. This means there is a lot of pressure holding that cartridge in place. Since the cartridge is still attached to the magazine, it will be very difficult to remove the magazine until the pressure is relieved by locking the slide back.

Some people who have super-strong hands (or weak gun springs) can omit this step. Personally, even though I have really strong hands, I find it so much easier and more certain that I will never skip this step in practice — because under stress, I may not be able to do the next step if I skip this one.

Apparently locked back

Even though the slide appears to be locked back in this photo …

Closer look - not locked back

… it is not locked back.

Truly locked back

To make the rest of the steps easier, the slide should be locked back, and the slide release lever should be in the notch and holding the slide to the rear.

Step Three: Strip the Magazine Down and Out

Hit the magazine release and pull the magazine out of the gun. When a double feed is in place, the magazine will usually be held in place by a lot of tension. This means it may be tough to pull out and you may have to yank on it hard. Don’t be afraid to manhandle it a little. Guns are very strong and there’s not a lot you can do with your hands to hurt them.

Glock owners: be careful not to block the opposite side of the magazine release.

Remove the magazine

Remove the magazine.

You may have to yank hard to get it out of the gun.

Important Safety Reminder: Even if you struggle with the magazine, be very, very conscious of where your gun’s muzzle is pointed at all times, and do not allow it to point at anything you are unwilling to shoot. Although the gun cannot fire while the double feed is in place, it is very possible to fire an unintentional shot the moment the magazine comes free.

No matter how awkwardly you must hold the gun, keep it pointed in a safe direction with your fingers far away from the trigger and trigger guard area.


Step Four: Rack, Rack, Rack

Once the magazine is out, rack the slide at least three times. The double feed was very likely caused by a stuck, stubborn case that did not want to be extracted from the chamber. So a single rack may not clear it out. Rack it three or more times.

Rack Rack Rack

Rack … Rack … Rack

Now that the chamber is clear, you’re simply going to reload. That’s all the final steps are.


Step Five: Insert New Magazine

Don’t put the old one back in if you can help it, because there’s a chance that it was the cause of your woes.

Even though you may feel flustered at this point, be sure to seat the magazine firmly. The last thing you need is to start this cycle over again!

Insert new magazine

Insert new magazine. Seat it firmly.

Step Six: Rack the Slide

This puts a new round into the empty chamber.

Rack againRack the slide again.

Step Seven: Assess

Even if you are well-practiced, you may have taken ten seconds or more to clear the double feed. You might have taken a lot more than that, especially if you had difficulty getting the magazine out. In that amount of time, the situation may have changed substantially. If you were doing this “for keeps,” there’s a chance your attacker ran away, or grabbed a hostage, or moved behind concealment.

Take the time to check! Do not get in the habit of blazing away without checking your target first.


Step Eight: Bang

If your target is still there, and still needs to be shot, shoot it.