I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating, as many shooters either don’t know about this, or get distracted and forget about it.
Semi-automatics are finely balanced devices:
- they fire a cartridge that generates a known force (within certain parameters)
- that force pushes against a slide that is lapped to a frame to a known coefficient of friction
- the slide is pushed back in the opposite direction by a spring of a known strength
Obviously, a $1000 handgun is more finely balanced in these respects than a $200 one, but sometimes that just means that the cheaper one needs more breaking in. The physics is the same.
The unspoken part of this equation is that the balance of these forces depends on the recoil of the cartridge firing. If that force is mitigated, everything else breaks down. Imagine firing a .380 cartridge in a 9mm pistol (don’t do this, BTW). The force would not be enough to push the slide hard enough against the return spring to properly cycle the action, and you get a misfeed. Depending on the nature of the misfeed (double-feed or stove-pipe), it may take more than racking the slide to clear the jam, which is a big issue in defensive shooting.
One factor that often contributes to this problem is lubrication. If the gun is not well lubricated, or you are shooting in cold weather, or both, you may get jams.
Another factor, less often considered, is “limp-wristing“. If you don’t grip the pistol hard enough to keep its orientation reasonably rigid, the flexing of your wrist will absorb some of the recoil, and cause jams. The caliber of the gun also figures into this, as larger calibers have more recoil, and can be harder to control. One of the basic rules of shooting a handgun is, only shoot a gun you can control. That should probably read, “only shoot a handgun you are strong enough to control“. You don’t have to be Rambo, but imagine a person who is 5′ 4”, not very athletic, with small hands and wrists, shooting a .45 or a .357 Sig. That person is probably more likely to have problems with jamming.
What to do? Start with a caliber that is easier to control (9mm is a good choice), and that has a grip that matches the size of your hands. Grip the gun firmly with the strong hand (not white-knuckle, but close), and a little more firmly with the weak hand. Massad Ayoob calls it a “crush grip“. Even as you get more used to shooting, don’t let yourself get too casual about your grip. Treat it like it will fly out of your hands, and you can minimize those annoying jams.