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How to inspect your duty ammunition

The process only takes a few minutes, and it’s cheap insurance

When you get issued a new box of duty ammunition at the completion of training, take the time to inspect the cartridges before you put them in your magazines and weapon.


Manufacturers go to great lengths to produce quality ammunition, but it never hurts to double-check your equipment.

Photo/Mike Wood

Remove the tray from the box, and look at the base of the cartridges from a couple of different angles to see if you detect any anomalies, like a high, missing or backwards primer. These major flaws are easier to pick up when you’re comparing all of them to each other at the same time.


It’s easier to detect possible flaws when you inspect the ammunition as a group. Look here for backwards or missing primers, damaged case heads or rims, and missing extractor grooves.

Photo/Mike Wood

Once you’re done, put the tray back in the box, flip the box upside down, place the box on a table and carefully slide the tray back out of the box.


After the top side inspection is complete, turn the box upside down and carefully remove the tray to stack the cartridges upright for another look.

Photo/Mike Wood

Gently lift the tray off the cartridges, to leave them standing in formation on the table. Now, you can perform the same inspection on the other end, looking for things like a creased case rim, a bullet that’s not seated properly, or a damaged or missing hollow point cavity. Once again, these defects should be more noticeable as your eyes scan the entire group.


Look for possible irregularities in the hollowpoint cavities, bullets that aren’t seated squarely, or damaged case mouths.

Photo/Mike Wood

As you pick up each individual round, give it another look and let your fingers feel for defects, like a rough edge on a case rim or a dent in a case. Give the cartridge a shake to ensure you’ve got a dry powder charge in there (if you’re really motivated, you can weigh each round to check for consistency, to ensure the powder charge is appropriate).


The best way to check for a proper powder charge is to weigh each cartridge individually.

Photo/Mike Wood

Lastly, remove your barrel from your pistol, and test to ensure that each individual round will properly fit in the chamber.


Each round should be checked to make sure it will properly fit in the chamber.

Photo/Mike Wood

Dump the round out into your hand and set it aside for loading in the magazine.


The final inspection is tactile and visual, as you handle each cartridge prior to loading it in the magazine.

Photo/Mike Wood

It sounds like a lot to do, but the process only takes a few minutes, and it’s cheap insurance. As good as the ammo companies are at making quality products, there are still defective cartridges that sneak through, and you don’t want to discover one the hard way when it counts.

Mike Wood is the son of a 30-year California Highway Patrolman and the author of “Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis,” the highly-acclaimed study of the 1970 California Highway Patrol gunfight in Newhall, California. Mike is an Honor Graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, a graduate of the US Army Airborne School, and a retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with over 26 years of service. He’s a National Rifle Association (NRA) Law Enforcement Division-certified firearms instructor, senior editor at, and has been a featured guest on the Excellence In Training Academy and American Warrior Society podcasts, as well as several radio and television programs. He’s grateful for the opportunity to serve and learn from the men and women of law enforcement.