Gun barrels are, by design, capable of taking serious beatings. But a bit of carelessness could quickly become disastrous for you.

I recently had a rifle pass through my hands, which I was supposed to test fire and do some forensic work on. It was a fine looking piece with a custom stock, all of which usually indicates an owner who takes some pride in his firearms. However, experience has taught me never to shoot a gun, especially someone else's, without first looking down the barrel to see if it's clear.

Speaking of shotguns, check out this shooting tip!

I checked this one, but there wasn't so much as a sliver of daylight to be seen at the other end of the bore. That brought out the Hawkeye bore scope and, sure enough, the barrel was constipated—plugged up. A bullet was stuck at about the midpoint, and trying to fire a shot would have been bad news.

Not long after that incident, I encountered the shotgun barrel shown here. Again, a barrel obstruction, this time at the muzzle, was the cause. But this one went undetected and caused the common banana-peel effect. Because of the lower working pressures inside a shotgun barrel, the location of the obstruction and some luck, the shooter was uninjured.

These aren't the first plugged barrels I've seen, and I'm sure they won't be the last. But every one serves as a reminder to check for obstructions before shooting and then take steps to prevent them while in the field.

A Very Preventable Problem
A good routine to follow starts when readying gear for a hunt. When your firearm comes out of its storage location and is on its way to a gun case, open the action and look down the barrel to ensure it's clear.

Then, put a wrap of black electrical tape over the muzzle to keep it that way. If you always follow those two steps prior to taking a gun on a hunt, the tape across the muzzle serves as a visual indicator that you've checked the bore. And, of course, it also serves to keep the barrel clear while in the field. Keep some extra tape in your pocket as well, or just wrap some around the barrel 4 inches back from the muzzle. Then, after a shot is fired in the field, you can follow the same routine—check the bore and then tape the muzzle.

A simple wrap of tape prevents the most common of obstructions—debris inadvertently jammed into the muzzle—and will have no effect on accuracy. Plus, pressures ahead of the bullet will force gas to blow off the tape before the bullet ever reaches it.

However, it won't prevent stuck bullets or using the wrong type of ammunition. Preventing those situations requires using our heads and paying attention. If a shot sounds much quieter than it should, or if it misfires completely, wait a few seconds before opening the action. Again, check the barrel to make sure it's clear before resuming shooting. And always make sure you're using the right kind of ammunition in your firearm.

Constipated barrels are much more than uncomfortable: They are dangerous, and taking steps to prevent them can save us a ruined gun and perhaps a trip to the hospital.

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