Troubleshooting and kickstarting an AR-15

If you are at the range or in the field and you find that you can’t open the bolt carrier group of your AR platform rifle, please—please—do not automatically resort to sticking a cleaning rod down the barrel of the gun. I say this because that is exactly what a friend of mine witnessed an employee do recently at a local gun range.

As reported to me by my shooting friend, a novice shooter, who admittedly did not know much about AR-15s, bought a nice-looking Daniel Defense rifle and took it to the range to get acquainted with it. After shooting about 60 rounds the man took a break then later returned to the gun range for another session.  This time, the first round got stuck in the chamber.

Puzzled, the AR noobie sought out a range employee and told him about the problem. The employee got a cleaning rod and jammed it down the barrel, pushing the bullet into the casing. When the bolt carrier group still didn’t come loose, the employee told him to get a cleaning rod and hit it with a hammer towards the buttstock. Thankfully, there was some hesitation over this point.

It was then that I got a text from my friend (who had left the range right after the hammer and rod “solution” was floated) asking for my help. I arrived on the scene and performed a quick diagnosis.

It was clear to me from the get-go that the challenge was to remove the stuck round from the chamber. The wrong ammo can get a casing stuck in the chamber though I figured his Daniel Defense would take both 5.56 and .223, as virtually all rifles chambered in .223 do, so I could easily deduce by the ammo they had with them that this was likely not the issue.

The young man with the new AR told me that he had heard the round go “click,” though I would find out later that the primer was not dented. I’m guessing the gun was on safe.

I pushed the collapsible buttstock to the zero position, got a firm hold on the charging handle and simultaneously hit the buttstock on the ground while pulling downward on the charging handle. The bolt unlocked and opened with ease while the casing spewed gunpowder all over the place.  It was then that I found the likely culprit of the stiff bolt carrier group: the gun was incredibly dry.

ARs need lubrication

After removing the round, I showed my new friend how to break down his AR, how to clean it and where to lube it.  I also cautioned him against trusting some people at gun stores, gun ranges or those who make videos online. As a man, I really respect what’s said: “Any idiot can put something on the Internet and any idiot can believe it.”

I’ve seen some catastrophic, gummed-up problems involving stuck cartridges in my days and jamming a cleaning rod down the barrel of a rifle when there could be a live round in the chamber is not the go-to move. If you ever find you cannot open the bolt carrier group on your AR, you may want to try the following options.

First, try hitting the buttstock on the ground while holding the charging handle (be sure your head isn’t over the barrel). In order to not break your collapsible buttstock, put it in the zero position. You may also consider placing the charging handle on a corner of a vertical pillar and slam the buttstock forward. Chances are this will not work quite like hitting the buttstock on the ground, but it’s an option.

A final option is to kickstart your AR, which ends up looking just like how it sounds. Hold the barrel up and away from your body. Muzzle awareness is always important when handling a gun but particularly so when performing this technique, so maintain safety at all times. Place your foot on the charging handle on the side that unlocks it, then shove your foot straight down, taking care to control the barrel direction at all times.

Kickstarting does run the risk of bending the charging handle, but I think it’s a better option than shoving a cleaning rod into your gun and hitting it with a hammer.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

Safety warning: Jeffrey Denning is a longtime self-defense professional and any training methods or information he describes in his articles are intended to be put into practice only by serious shooters with proper training.  Please read, but do not attempt anything posted here without first seeking out proper training.

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