A man loading ammunition into his gun

What Is a Squib Load? How Do You Detect One?


Modern ammunition cartridge is a marvel when compared to the days when you had to manually assemble everything inside the gun. Even though today's cartridges are dependable, well-made, and precise, a few poor apples can slip through. Squibs are unusual but deadly malfunctions in weapons. Let us find out more about them!


What Are Squib Loads?

 A squib load occurs when a bullet's force is insufficient to exit a barrel

Credit: Tactical Training Center


A squib load, often known as squib rounds or just a squib, occurs when a bullet's force is insufficient to exit a barrel. A squib round is lethal. It can result in serious injury to the shooter as well as a catastrophic failure of the gun.

A modern round of ammunition has four components:


1) The Bullet


The bullet shoots out the barrel's end and hits the target.


2) The Powder


The powder burns quickly and propels the bullet forward.


3) The Case


The case (made of brass, steel, or aluminum) holds everything together.


4) The Primer


The primer is at the end and is struck by the firing pin and sets everything in action.


A squib load occurs when there is insufficient powder inside the casing. When the firing pin strikes the primer, the primer burns, and there is either no powder within the cartridge or only a small amount that isn't enough to send the bullet downrange quickly enough to approach the acceptable muzzle velocity.

As a result, there's no certainty that the bullet actually left your gun's barrel. If you shoot another cartridge while a bullet is trapped in your barrel, the results can be disastrous. At the very least, your gun will be ruined. In the worst-case scenario, people can be seriously injured.

A squib load on its own isn't a major deal as long as two factors are in place:


1) No more rounds are fired until the bullet has been removed.


2) You are not using your firearm for defensive purposes.


Causes of a Squib Load


All black powder and smokeless powder projectile weapons can fire squib rounds. They're usually caused by incompetence in the powder loading process (insufficient or no powder load), or by the primer failing to ignite the powder.

Squib loads are known to occur even in respected factory brands and are most typically caused by unskilled reloading. Other causes can include deformed bullets and attempting to fire a bullet that is slightly too large for the barrels, however, both of these scenarios are more likely to result in catastrophic failure rather than a squib.

Squib loads can also be caused by exposing a gun to moisture due to the rust that will form on the primer. As a result, the bullet will not be pushed out of the barrel by the primer which will cause a squib load. In order to avoid this from happening, keep your gun away from moisture.


Identifying a Squib Load

 The front of the gun with two bullets sitting next to the gun

Credit: The Firearm Blog


There are a few crucial points to remember here. The first is that even high-quality factory ammunition that has been carefully stored and cared for can squib. Let's take a look at how to spot a squib load.


1) Reduced Recoil Force


Reduced recoil or nonexistent recoil force can be an indicator that there is a squib load. If this happens, stop immediately and inspect your rifle.


2) Quiet Bang and Strange Fizzling Noise


In some cases, you might be able to hear a small "bang". Whereas in other cases, there might be no "bang" at all; instead there might be a strange fizzling noise. If you notice a diminished or unusual sound, inspect your rifle!


3) Strange Smell or Smoking Gun


If there is a squib, you may notice an unusual odor. There may be substantial smoke coming from your gun and not the muzzle. This should be a red flag. Any of these should be enough to cause you to pause and evaluate your weapon.


4) There Was No Hole in the Target


The bullet could be stuck in the barrel or dropped to the ground after departing the weapon. In either case, you won't see a hole in your target when you anticipated seeing one due to a stuck bullet.


5) The Gun Is Leaking Loose Gun Powder


If the powder charge fails to ignite, it is usually discharged down the barrel behind the bullet. A bunch of loose gun powder may tumble out when you open the cylinder. This is a pretty solid indication that you have a blocked barrel because it would have blown out the other end.


What to Do If You Have A Squib Load


If you suspect a squib load, follow these steps:

  • Stop shooting.
  • Unload the barrel while keeping it pointed in a safe direction.
  • Make sure the firearm is empty and secure.
  • Check for obstructions in the barrel.


Unload the gun and check the barrel for any obstructions. If the bullet has become lodged in the barrel, you have a squib load. To detect where the bullet is trapped, slide down the barrel of the rifle with a cleaning rod. You can push the projectile out with your rod. If it doesn't work, you may need to disassemble the gun for a more thorough repair.

If you experience squib loads frequently with your ammunition, it's likely that the squib load is caused by low-quality ammunition or a lack of pressure in your chamber. If you're a reloader, you'll want to use alternative ammo or make sure your remanufactured ammo is properly checked.


How to Avoid Squib Loads

 Some ammunition on the table ready to be loaded into the gun

Credit: iStock


To avoid squib loads, make sure you're shooting with high-quality factory ammo. Squibs are commonly caused by a lack of gun powder or a problem with the primer.

Another thing that you can do is to make sure that the rifle barrel is free of any obstacles or debris. You should also check that your barrel and cartridges are correctly aligned. To address this issue, clean your pistol more frequently and use some type of muzzle protection when firing in unclean places.




Squib loads can be extremely dangerous. They happen because there isn't enough propelling powder. Keeping a close eye on the ammo is the greatest strategy to avoid squib loads. Using quality and factory-made cartridges are also a good tactic.

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