How to Remove a Bullet Stuck in a Firearm Barrel

posted on August 30, 2020

A Delrin rod, some lubrication and the proper application of a mallet will help remove a bullet stuck in your barrel. 

Today, I was testing several different types of carry ammunition in my brand-new SIG Sauer P320 compact pistol for accuracy and reliability. During the test, a very unusual condition occurred that I have never seen or heard of before. I had five magazines loaded with 10-round samples of name-brand defensive ammunition for testing to help me decide which I wanted to stock in quantity.

After shooting the first magazine successfully with outstanding results, I loaded the second for the next firing sequence. When I pulled the trigger, I remarked to myself the felt recoil was somewhat less than the ammunition I had previously fired. The slide cycled sufficiently to reset the trigger for the second shot. When I pulled the trigger a second time, all I got was a click. I ejected the chambered cartridge only to discover an empty nickel case that was as black as midnight. I tried to chamber another cartridge, but it would not seat because the bullet portion of the first cartridge was stuck in the barrel just in front of the chamber. How does something like this happen, and how do I get the bullet stuck in the barrel removed without causing any damage to my new pistol?
G.A. Barr, via e-mail

The condition you describe is quite unusual when shooting factory ammunition. Your description indicates to me there was no powder in the case to drive the bullet down the bore and on to the target. This phenomenon is not so unusual for reloaded ammunition, but for factory ammunition with all of the built-in quality and safety checks, it is exceedingly rare.

The first indicator was the heavy sooting of the cartridge case. Normally, when a cartridge is fired, the pressure generated by the combustion of the powder expands the case to seal the chamber until the bullet is on its way to the target. Once the pressure subsides, the cartridge case is extracted and ejected as the pistol travels through its cycle of operation. The blackening material on the outside of the nickel case indicates the pressure generated by the primer alone was not sufficient to seal the chamber, therefore leaking a portion of the gas created by the primer to discolor the case’s exterior.

The bullet, having been pushed out of the case into the barrel, but not far enough to allow another cartridge to chamber, indicates that the gas created by the primer alone was only sufficient to separate the bullet from the case, causing it to enter and stop in the throat where the lands and grooves begin.

The recoil you felt was most likely the rearward slide movement as a result of the gas pressure created by the primer, even though it was not sufficient to cause the case to be extracted and ejected. When this takes place, the extractor holds the cartridge case in line with and against the breechface as the slide opens partially and then closes with the empty cartridge case still in the chamber, never having contacted the ejector.

The trigger was able to reset because in the SIG Sauer P320, the slide only has to move rearward approximately 18 inch to ready the trigger to fire the next shot. Given the stuck bullet, sooted cartridge case and felt recoil, it is certainly reasonable for the trigger to have reset by the slide’s movement caused by the gas created by the ignition of the primer.

When removing a stuck bullet from the bore of a firearm, always drive the bullet in the direction of least resistance whenever possible. I prefer to use a wooden mallet and a bore-fitting Delrin rod to drive the bullet from the bore. This maintains alignment of the rod under force and prevents possible damage to the barrel. Soft-metal rods or wooden dowels that are near bore diameter can be used for this task as well. Pre-treating the stuck bullet with some penetrating lubricant is helpful in this procedure.

A word of caution: Any time something out of the ordinary happens when firing a gun, it is usually prudent to stop and investigate why. You were lucky a fresh round could not be chambered and fired. Had the bullet stuck in the barrel farther forward, with another cartridge fired behind it, the barrel would have been damaged and in all likelihood need replacing. 

Although a rare occurrence, always be aware that a bogus round of ammunition can appear when least expected. 


Sheriff Jim Wilson
Sheriff Jim Wilson

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