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The Story Behind Ian’s Shrapnel Kaboom

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About 6 years ago, I had an accident at the range. We talked about it at the time, but didn’t say what the gun involved was, in order to keep the discussion focused on safety and first aid issues. Well, I think it’s been long enough now that there’s no reason to keep it obfuscated.

The rifle I was using was a reproduction 1860 Henry in .45 Colt. I loaded the magazine tube about half way to get a few shots on camera for b-roll, and just dropped the follower instead of gently lowering it down onto the top cartridge. When it hit the rounds in the tube, the top two detonated, spraying powder and some brass shrapnel out the open slot in the magazine tube. I got a bunch of powder sparkling up my face, but my shooting glasses protected me from any eye injury. One piece of cartridge case about a centimeter long hit me right about at the top of the sternum, and embedded itself in the flesh. We weren’t filming at the moment, so there is no video of this happening.

We had a first aid kit on hand, and knew how to use it. Fortunately, the injury was actually pretty minor, although we didn’t know that at the time. I was fully conscious and responsive, and I held pressure on a bandage over the injury while Karl drove us to the nearest hospital.

One hears unpleasant stories about hours-long waits in emergency rooms, but if you walk in with a trail of blood down your chest, someone tends to take a look at you right quick! After an x-ray and a CT scan, they determined that the shrapnel was not in a position to do any real damage, although it would cause more tissue damage to remove than to just leave it alone. So I got a couple stitches, and was sent on my way. It’s a small enough piece (and non-ferrous) that no, I don’t set off metal detectors. 🙂

While my experience here is simply a single anecdote, it does bring some significance to the periodic trials reports of tube-magazine detonations in trials or in service. The ammunition that exploded here on me had flush-seated primers, and flat-faced bullets. This was not a pointy bullet lined up with a proud primer. “Not only can malfunctions be stranger than we think, they can be stranger than we can think.” (Werner Heisenberg, probably)

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