Primer Misfires

Dear Technoid,

While quail hunting last week, my setter got lost. I couldn’t hear his beeper collar and he wouldn’t respond to the whistle so I decided to fire the gun. Well, I heard a click but no fire. I examined the shell (20 gauge Remington Premier) and the cap was dented but did not appear to have been struck hard enough. I put the shell back in and it fired.

When I got home, I took the bolt out and everything was clean and in order. What could have caused this? With so few quail in Virginia, I would have hated to have this happen on a wild bird!


Dear Dennis,

You never know about the odd misfire. It could be the shell, it might be an odd bit of dirt in the gun. The fact that it fired on the second try really doesn’t mean much.

Mechanically, it could be a low primer, damaged firing pin (unlikely as Beretta’s are very durable) or even a broken firing pin return pin.

As to the latter, look inside the bolt at the spring which surrounds the firing pin. If this spring is broken, it will not force the rear of the firing pin out the back of the bolt, where it can be struck by the hammer. A broken spring here will result in intermittent failures to fire. It was a standard problem on high mileage 1100s and 11-87s. The firing pin return spring on one of my 303s is totally shot now (45,000 rounds), but fortunately the gun doesn’t miss a beat while I await the new part from Beretta. When it does misfire, I will know the cause.

One thing to be careful of- don’t misread the primer indentation. When a primer is struck and ignites, the rear of the primer is forced back into the firing pin by the ignition. This makes the firing pin indentation appear to be very heavy and deep. When the pin hits the primer and does not ignite it for any reason, there is not rearward force against the nose of the pin and the dent from the firing pin strike always appears more minimal.

You can check primer depth by holding any flat metal edge across the base of the shell over the primer. Every now and then a manufacturer will seat a primer too low and it is easy to spot if you compare it to others in the box.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid
(Often in error, never in doubt.)

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