An Overlooked Cause of Stovepipe Jams

Another useful tip for 10/22 owners came out of last week’s Appleseed shoot. After the first few stages, one student complained that her rifle was suffering nearly constant “jams.” She had a brand-new 2nd Series Collector’s Edition 10/22. She was a beginner to rifle shooting – of course, she isn’t any more.

Now when you hear or read someone complaining of “jams”, the first thing is to ask a series of questions to correctly define what sort of malfunction it is.

  • Does the first shot (in which you manually chamber the round from the mag) fire ok?
  • What exactly is happening? You may not get a clear answer to this open-ended question. If you don’t, then –
  • Is the empty case being thrown clear out the ejection port?

Nineteen out of twenty times, the answer will be “No.” The spent case is getting stuck inside the receiver.

The knee-jerk answer from many experts on internet forums is “You need to buy a [insert brand] extractor because the Ruger OEM one is junk.” This may be controversial, but I don’t believe that. The rationale for the advice is that the extractor holds the case in position on the bolt face until the case hits the ejector on the magazine feed lips. But the case is actually pushing the bolt straight back. Unless the rifle is moving, the case will hit the ejector and spin sideways out the ejection port.

I once did an experiment to test the “extractor is needed to hold the case in position” theory. I removed the extractor from my bolt and fired 50 rounds. Every single case ejected properly and there were zero jams. So much for that theory.

I believe that in many cases the real problem is that the rifle is moving immediately after the shot. Movement of the rifle can prevent ejection as the case either misses the ejector, or the breech face of the barrel or the magazine hits the case before the case can clear the ejection port. It doesn’t take much rifle movement to interfere with ejection.

What can cause the rifle to move inappropriately after the shot breaks? I encounter three common causes:

  • Pulling the trigger too hard or quickly (from “jerking” or flinching) moves the rifle as the shot is fired.
  • Holding the rifle too loosely in the shoulder allows it to move rearward under recoil (the rifle equivalent of “limp-wristing” a pistol).
  • Failure to properly follow through on the trigger by releasing it immediately (known as “bouncing” the trigger),  lifting the head, or other movements. Also, poor follow-through moves the rifle while the bullet is still in the barrel, making the chance of hitting your point of aim quite random.

The second of these was the problem for my Appleseed student. Once she adjusted her sling and placed the butt firmly in her shoulder pocket, the malfunctions magically cleared up for the rest of the weekend.

So if you have stovepipes or cases stuck in the receiver, check your shooting technique before you spend any money.

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1 Response to An Overlooked Cause of Stovepipe Jams

  1. John S Landbeck Jr says:

    Taking a number of younger family members shooting over the holidays; this is good stuff!
    Expect there will be instances of this happening, as there will be several 10/22’s/chargers in use.
    Thank you!
    John in Maryland


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