Squib load- getting past the psychology


April 20, 2009, 06:56 PM
I have been reloading for about 20 years. I started with a Lee hand reloader for .357 mag. (the kind where you actually hammer on the dies!) on to the "nut cracker" style single stage, and have since moved on to a couple of different single stage setups, a progressive shotshell press and a progressive Dillon set up... and, of course, all of the peripherals....

I have reloaded a LOT of ammunition.... not by the standards of a HUGE shooting enthusiast, but well beyond the average shooter... many thousands of rounds...

I have never shot someone elses reloads, and I seldom let anyone else run my press (I and one friend are the only two to have run them... we learned together and I trust his diligence more than my own)...

I have never had a squib round, or any oddball behavior from a round.

Well, we broke protocol the other day reloading and brought along a friend who wanted to learn to reload.... a trusted, intelligent person... it seemed like a good way to help him see what it was all about, and I am still glad I did.... sort of.... lol

I set up the press (pregoressive Dillon) and chugged out 100 rounds of 9mm +P JHP and showed him how it all worked, while he helped in the monotonous task of resizing and recapping... I always use my own bullets and recipe for my SD gun....

When I finished with the JHP's, I had him help me reset the equipment to load some 9mm lead plinkers and I set him to task after punching out about 30 rounds. He cranked out 100 or so rounds of that, which is all I wanted because I had not tested this recipe yet (these would be my testers)... light load... plinkers.... perfect place for him to learn some....

Well.... I bet you guessed already but when I went to test those rounds.... *ppsssssfffftt*, and I now have a bullet lodged in a 9mm barrel.... no big deal there as I think I can drift it out with a brass rod I have.... but it incapacitates my gun.... with that bullet in there you aren't shooting again until you have time and a punch to get the other one out....

I have always felt confident in this gun.... it is my standby and has been for many many years and many many rounds and has never failed me.... sure there have been occasions where it had some slight malfunction, but nothing that couldn't be cleared by just racking the slide.... I liked that about the gun... the confidence in something you have used so many times and knew....

Now I am battling with this issue.... can I rely on my own ammo?.... I have no idea whether this round was put together by me or this friend... all I know is it is a problem that can occur.... I just always put it off as "if I haven't messed up yet, odds are I'm not going to now".... I check every round for powder seating and crimp, even on the progressive (I'm a slow progressive operator... lol).... or at least I thought I did.... and thats what I told him to do as well... (note that I didn't trust a newbie on my SD rounds.... I didn't even think about it really, I just knew I wanted to be the guy who made those rounds... like always)...

Should I pull apart all the others as well?
Just the plinkers or my JHP's too?
Should I write it off as a newbie making a mistake I wouldn't?
Should I just ram the old bullet out and shoot the rest of the 100 or so plinkers and see if there are any others?

How do you go back to being as confident in your rounds as you used to be after a mishap like that? (one that not only doesn't work, but disables your gun too?)

*sigh*.... what would you do?

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April 20, 2009, 07:19 PM
First of all i would say that reloading ammunition can be very methodical as well as quite dengerous. As you know, the squib is only one situation that can arise from improper use of a loading press. The blown primer in the eye or if you are very unlucky or just plain carless, possibly a hand with a few missing fingers can result.

The bottom line is count your lucky stars and either break down those 100 or so handloads and start throwing charges from scratch, or just throw them in a bucket of motor oil and let them marinate for a few weeks prior to throwing them in Tuedays rubbish pickup.

I would not risk taking the chance of dropping another squib or blowing off my hand. I already have lost my foot in an accident and don't plan on losing any more body parts.

As far as confidence building, get your experienced reloading buddy to join you in loading up some rounds. Start slowly. Plan to put in two to three sessions together within a short period of time. Then go together and shoot your handloads. Shoot all your handloads. You should not experience any problems and i believe that will help you overcome the nervousness you are experiencing. Hope that helps.

Mal H
April 20, 2009, 07:24 PM
Before I can answer, I would need to know if a double charge of the plinking loads would either overfill the case or, if not, would it be a serious overload that could damage the gun. (IOW, 10% or more over the max load of the powder/bullet combo.)

iburnpowdah - I think the OP is the experienced reloader.

April 20, 2009, 07:31 PM
RR -
You didn't mention it, but I assume you took the time to research the plinking load before taking any action. This is the first safety precaution, as you probably already well know, and is a invaluable safety teaching device for the novice loader. (If we were talking about teens, I'd call it a "teachable moment".) Maybe even compare this load to other similar loads from your reloading notebook.

Everybody has had a slip-up; everybody has had a fizzled cartridge now and again. I experienced a bad primer just last week. My son has experienced a squib load from a box of factory Winchester. Although we try, there's simply no way to be 100% perfect. In truth, there is only one way to answer your question and that is to shoot some more of them and see what happens.

I'm faxing you a beer right now to help you feel better.

Mr. Creosote
April 20, 2009, 07:43 PM
Do you think by weighing each round you might be able to tell if there are more squibs or double charges? My brother was over last weekend reloading some .45 colt. He did all the work. I verified the measure was adjusted correctly. randomally weighed one occasionally and before he seated the bullets I looked inside each round on the tray to make sure it was filled properly. I dont have to much of a problem letting a friend use my reloading bench, but I'll watch and double check the work through each stage. As a tripple check we weighed each finished round. Now if there was a squib load, where did that powder go? into another round? Or did it just not get filled?

April 21, 2009, 03:49 AM
Thanks for the input-

First off, yes, I am an experienced reloader, but I have a friend who I reload with who is just as experienced. We let someone else come and reload with us who had never reloaded before.

Before I can answer, I would need to know if a double charge of the plinking loads would either overfill the case or, if not, would it be a serious overload that could damage the gun. (IOW, 10% or more over the max load of the powder/bullet combo.)

4.8 grains Unique on a 125 grain RN lead.

I didn't even consider that two charges could fit in one load because I thought it couldn't, but better to check than to "thought it" into being less a few digits. I guess I can do some math and see what they should weigh.... but these were 'plinkers' and the brass does not all match....

Could different manufacturers brass be different by 4.8 grains or more? 4.8 gr = 0.311035 g (if not, I can do a weight check on them)

I doubt that a double charge of 4.8 grains of Unique would fit in a 9mm case.... but my gear is at my friends house and I can't actually check.... there was no mishap where we had to clean powder out of the press, so it definitely never overflowed a case and was missed...

I don't consider a squib load in my plinker ammo a dangerous thing. I will be shooting it all through a semi-auto and a squib not only sounds quite different (never heard one before), it won't run the action on the gun. I am experienced enough to know better than to just chamber one more and let fly. In fact, my son was shooting when it happened, and he knew better than to shoot again as well, although he had no idea what had happened.... I thought "hmmm, that must be what a squib sounds like"... he thought, "that doesn't sound right, better let dad check it out"... bright kid...

My nervousness stems from the fact that I always reloaded my own SD ammo because I felt it was better ammo, and in some way more reliable... now I wonder.... although I have had more problems with manufactured ammo (primers poping out, or jams of one sort or another) than I have with my own (until now nothing).... If that happened in an SD situation, my gun would not only have failed to do what I needed, it would be no more useful than a brick until I had time to push the bullet out...

April 21, 2009, 04:02 AM
I would do as Mr Creosote has said and weigh each round you have left and look for any inconsistencies. Those I would tear down. If you have a round you know to be good that would be the first one I would weigh and go from there!

April 21, 2009, 04:10 AM
That will only work if the inconsitency of the brass is less than 4.8 grains.... I probably have to wait until I have a chance to weigh the various brass myself and check the variance...

Oh well, I have a bullet jammed in that barrel to deal with anyways... lol

Do you guys throw your charges from scratch even when you're working on a progressive press?
Before or after flaring?
Pull the case out at that step or just go progressive from there on out?

I visually check every round and then weigh random samples here and there along the line.... my Dillon auto charger on the progressive never deviates more than a small fraction of a grain... although I recall that it hung up a few times during that reloading session, failing to drop a charge (I repaired that issue, but I suspect at least one must have gotten by before that was repaired).

Maybe I should switch back to hand charging (I thought I got past that tedium with the progressive.... *sigh*... it never let me down before in thousands of rounds)

April 21, 2009, 04:24 AM
Sorry cant help you there as all Ive ever used is a RCBS single stage press. I use RCBS uniflow measurer and weigh every eighth or tenth round to make sure everything is still on track. Then I look inside the cases while in the loading blocks with a flashlight and make sure they are all uniform! Been reloading for over 30 years and never had a squib!

April 21, 2009, 07:10 AM
I'm new enough to the reloading gig that I don't want to tell you what to do. I started typing the answer "Go shoot them," but then the nagging "What if?" popped up. Right now your self-confidence as a reloader is shaken. If you were to shoot another dud, what would that do for you?

Welcome to the world of falability. You have just made a recoverable mistake. Recoverable, because no one was hurt and you learned two lessons: One, when teaching a noob, 100% focus & attention on what he's doing; two, it can happen to the best of us. Thank God it was an undercharge and not the other way!

FWIW, I had my first squib while trying to watch my kids and reload at the same time. I had just gotten my new Lee rig and got it set up during the day while the kids were at school. That night, while they played in the driveway, I worked on loading up a batch of light .38 Specials. Too many distractions...and I wound up with one cartridge that had a spent primer in it and one that had no powder. Fortunately - like you - this was a small run of 25 or so, so I took my remaining 10 or so and dropped them in the "hot ammunition" lock-box at the range and walked away. I will re-size brass while watching them, or other "mindless" parts of reloading. I will not completely manufacture a round while they are running around and needing my attention.

IMHO, your "sin" was doing something else while the noob worked the reloader - it was not trying to help someone else get into the hobby.

Absolve te. "Go and sin no more."


C.F. Plinker
April 21, 2009, 11:41 AM
You and your friends loaded up a squib round and you were the one that discovered it. No one was hurt and no guns were damaged because you were alert, realized what happened, and stopped right there. Now your confidence in your ability as a reloader is as low as it has ever been. I have a pretty good idea where you are coming from because I pulled the trigger on a kB in the winter of 2004 and had many of the questions and doubts that you are probably having now. Right now you have to question whether or not there are any more squibs in the batch of plinking ammo you loaded. The only way to find out is to pull all of the bullets. My personal belief is that there can be enough variation in the weight of the individual components, especially if you are using mixed brass, that a heavy bullet and a heavy casing could mask a squib when compared to loads with lighter bullets and brass with a full charge. Once you are done take the decapping rod out of the sizer die and you can reload them again using your now primed brass.

You don’t have to do this right away. In my case, it was over 2 months before I could sit back down at the Dillon and start reloading again. During that period of time, I thought long and hard about my loading procedures. I realized that a very critical step in the operation of a progressive press is checking to see that the case at station 2 is empty before you lower the handle, and that it has powder in it when you finish raising the handle and rotate the shell holder plate. If there is powder in it before you lower the handle you will get a double charge (kB) and if it doesn’t have powder in it when you finish raising the handle you will get a squib. ( I know that you now understand this better than most, but I wanted to write it for all of the readers and lurkers out there.) I have now mounted one of those LED lights with the flexible neck on the press so it shines down into the case at station 2 so I can check this better. With a progressive you only have one time to check each case for powder because you set the bullet on the filled case at station 3 and with the next pull of the handle the bullet is seated. When you load with a single stage press you generally fill a loading block with 50 cases and check all of them using some type of flashlight. You can take whatever time you want to verify the levels in all of the cases before you set the bullets on top of them.

If it were me, I would also pull all of the bullets on the jacketed rounds because I would realize that my concentration may not have been what it should have been when I loaded them. You might even weigh each powder charge on these to reassure yourself that there were no double charges.

In my case, I pulled over 300 bullets and then reloaded them. This may have been due to my Scots upbringing as I didn’t want to waste the primers. However, this brass was old (WCC 69 Match) and had been reloaded about 30 times, This may have contributed to the kB so as I fired each one I crushed the empty and “retired it with honor”.

It can be very unnerving to have a squib. Use this as an opportunity to review your loading process, make the necessary changes, and get back into loading again.

Fractal X
April 22, 2009, 07:19 PM
I know where your coming from Roost Rider. I switched over from a single stage press to a progressive a couple months ago and in the first 50 rounds I experienced my first squib (which was also the first problem I'd had with ANY of my reloads). I had loaded 150 rounds on my brand new progressive press and on round #23 I hit my first squib. Fortunately the bullet stuck between the forcing cone and the cylinder - rendering it impossible to put a second round onto the stuck one.

Anyways, I went home a pulled and weighed the rest of that box and then the first 25 of the second box. I found that my powder charges were all right on the money except that 3 of them had virtually no powder (5-10 flakes). So I went and shook all of the rest of the cartridges I had loaded and (by listening to the powder rattle) found 2 more with no powder. I took the others to the range the next week and they all shot just fine. I have since ordered a RCBS lock-out die from Midway and I haven't had any more problems with my loads.

April 23, 2009, 12:07 AM
Yeah, I'm not about to quit reloading (especially with ammo prices the way they are... lol)...

I think you guys are right.... this is what my dad would have called a "cheap lesson"... nothing was wrecked, no one was hurt, and I actually learned what a squib sounds like, how to remove a squib, and to PAY MORE ATTENTION, and to create a more failsafe method...

Gotta toss around the idea of hand charging the cases.... but the idea about the LED light sounds good.... that would keep more attention on that phase... they don't get hot do they?

Millions and millions of rounds are loaded using similar presses... Is the Dillon auto powder charger reliable? As I noted, it had a couple hickups that night where it didn't drop a charge (due to a grove worn in the activator arm which I filed out), but every charge I've ever weighed is pretty accurate....

April 23, 2009, 12:29 AM
I KNOW my handloads will not malfunction, ever. I measure each powder load and use only the finest of components. A squib is a case full of nothing, fired via a primer with nothing to burn. This scenario is pure negligence of the highest order! UNACCEPTABLE ordinance worthy of a law suit at least! cliffy

April 23, 2009, 12:43 AM
Just take the brass rod to the range with you in case you get another one :)

As for weighing the rounds, the lead bullets and brass will probably have enough variation to make it impractical to comfortably determine if the cases empty or full or partial.

I use a Dillon 550. I've reloaded lots of rounds. I'm careful. I've had few squibs on a batch of ammo.

April 23, 2009, 01:17 PM
Do you think by weighing each round you might be able to tell if there are more squibs or double charges?No, it won't.

Don't even consider trying it.

There is enough variation in case & bullet weight to make up the difference in a 9mm powder charge, if you got a light case and bullet together at the same time.

I recently weighed 50 rounds of .38 Special HBWC from a commercial reloader.

There was about 6 grains variation between the lightest & heaviest round in the box.

Pulled them both, and both had exactly 2.9 grains of powder in them.


April 23, 2009, 01:57 PM
Thanks RC... that information will be useful....

I had to wonder myself if that would be an accurate way to determine.... better safe than sorry....

April 23, 2009, 02:28 PM
Im relitvly new to reloding so. If it were me
1 pull the bullet(no sence in taking a chance)
2 check and see if you could by chance dubble charge a rd.

Im using 231 for my plinking loads and i know what a dubble charge looks like in a 9mm case. (almost full ) I hope this helps .

Mr. Creosote
April 23, 2009, 07:58 PM
I prolly would agree with RC on weighing rounds with such small amounts of powder. From my earlier post my brother was loading .45 Colt with 20.5gr of imr 4227. I dont recall the spread exactly but it was 3 or 4 gr from the lightest to the heaviest. So far Ive ony had to pull a batch of 20. I suspected a mistake and pulled all I had done. Better safe then sorry. I'd much rather hear of someone pulling apart their reloads then read of a gun blowing up from someone typing with their left hand. Dont sweat your mistakes. Learn and improve from em

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