Weird Stuff Happens

Weird Stuff Happens
When it comes to shooting, never say never.
By Patrick Sweeney


The burning question of “What happened?” A loud pop plus scattered Styrofoam equal one surprised—and puzzled—shooter.

Computers, the Internet and modern education have changed so much of the world. Language used to have meaning. "Once in a blue moon" was an actual period of time. Today many of us use the term "one in a million" rather lightly.

A million seconds is just under two years' time. A million days haven't even passed since the cornerstone of the Acropolis was laid down. Your brother-in-law getting promoted at work is not a "one in a million" event. Winning the lottery is rarer than that.

However, if you do something a million times, you can count on rare things happening. If you plan to stick with something long enough, you should protect yourself against even the rare stuff. The following didn't happen to me but to another IPSC shooter, who I have no reason to doubt in the slightest.

Let me set the scene for you: It is a cold winter (they're all brass-monkey cold up here), and my friend is practicing on an indoor range. He's shooting factory .40 ammo through his Glock for practice and to provide more once-fired brass to feed his reloading habit. To make the task easier, he has slid the boxes of ammo open and has the Styrofoam trays laying on the shooting bench with the ammo still in them. Those who have shot on an indoor range know the setup. Those of you lucky enough to have lived in warm climes with plenty of open space might not know it, but each shooting position is sided by barriers. It is like standing in a broom closet and shooting out of the open door with a waist-high bookshelf in front of you.

Things proceed swimmingly, as they always have on these occasions, until one of his shots is closely followed by a loud pop next to him. The Styrofoam trays scatter to the floor like cockroaches in a cheap apartment when you turn on the lights. His first thought is Oh my God, the idiots in the next booth had an AD. The second is They shot my ammo.

Not at all the situation, and you in the back row--don't even think of blaming the Glock. For those who have not leapt ahead, imagine this: You have a shelf full of trays of ammo, primer-side up, with empty brass rattling around every time you shoot. What are the chances that one of them will strike a primer hard enough to set it off? "One in a million." There you go, overestimating the odds.

Every single one of us who has shot on an indoor range has done exactly as my buddy had done. But this time he won the lottery.

Mystery solved: The crescent-shaped impression on the primer was caused by an ejected empty in .40 S&W persuasion.

Now, I know some of you are saying, "No way, I've gotta throw the BS flag on this one." Should I mention the witnesses, all of whom I know and trust? And the evidence, which they sent me?

Look at the bullet in the photo: Crimp mark but no rifling or pull marks. Not fired, and removed from the case not by being pulled. Look closely at the primer of the fired round. Notice the crescent-shaped impression on it. Look at the other case. Notice that the rim of the second case has two gouges on it, exactly corresponding to the primer-pocket size, and the crescent shape in the fired case. No doubt about it--the empty came down with enough force and exactly in the right orientation to ignite a primer. The Styrofoam tray is split in two, with extra pieces busted off, with very slight scorchmarks at one location. When it discharged, the bullet tried to go downward and smacked the Styrofoam tray like a pro cage fighter hits a drunken fratboy, scattering the two pieces of empty brass, tray parts, extra ammo and other gear on the floor. Where Carl had to find it and pick it all up to send to me.

I'm not a trained evidence technician, nor have I been asked to appear on "CSI" (if they do ask me, I'm going to have to insist on appearing on the original, not the Miami version…). But the evidence is pretty clear: It happened, and it happened just as described.

One in a million? Rarer than that. I've shot more than a million rounds. Not all of them have had open trays of ammo lying nearby, inviting primer strikes, but that won't stop me from changing my habits. I'm not leaving ammo laying where flying brass can hit it, not anymore. I'm not tossing loaded rounds into buckets of ammo. I'm not dropping soft-sided bags of loose ammo onto the ground. (I had a round discharge on me in the bucket. Luckily, five-gallon plastic buckets are quite tough. The latter happened to another friend of mine, where a round in the bag discharged.) I could shoot on indoor ranges until I'm as old as Methuselah and still not have this happen, but who wants to take the chance?

As a matter of fact, I'm seriously considering ditching all my loose-ammo range boxes and changing to the MTM boxes that hold each round individually. I used to think shooters who were that detail-oriented were just a tad obsessive, but I'm starting to think I was being just a bit Neanderthal.

If you do something long enough, everything eventually happens to you or someone you know.

2008 Guns&Ammo Magazine

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Over the course of the past 5 years I have burned close to 4,000,000 rounds at work and though I can say I have seen just about all the weird stuff that can happen I cannot believe this story. The only one that I have had that comes close was a dud that what I ejected the round and it hit the floor it went off. When I looked around the projectile was about 4 inches from the fragments of the case itself. There was very little of the case left intact!! Yes, the case head was there but the rest of it was just shrapnel scattered on the floor. I am not going to say this story is total BS but I am sceptical as to just what really happened.

I think it's true that the shell casing impacted the primer. Look closely at the rim of the cartridge, there is a seam. I can see the same seam indented on the primer.

The reason the bullet goes out the barrel is because the casing can't go anywhere. In this case (no pun intended) without a bolt face to stop the casing from going the opposite direction, the casing went up into the other casing. Equal and opposite force, right? That could have been what caused the rim to be damaged. Could have also been from the extractor...

I do have to agree that it seems unlikely the shell would have enough downward force to strike the primer hard enough to set it off... But I haven't tried to set off a primer by itself and don't know how much force it requires.

Stranger things have happened.

I agree! Primer would have definitely been blown out of the pocket! A pro gunwriter like Sweeney ought to know better than this. Really makes one question his expertise...

Don't look right to me, boys.

No way a 'falling' case would have impacted a loaded round, supported only by a styrofoam tray, with enough inertia to crease a primer like that.

I have also cooked a few rounds off intentionally and 99% of the time they will blow the primer out of the pocket- which makes perfect sense when you consider there is no breechface supporting it.

Filed rim looks pretty queer, too.

Human error aside some AD's are just that, a 1 in 10000 freak accident machines made by humans ( guns, ammo, cars, planes, whatever they maybe fail.

This article is entirely bullshit. In my opionion, Mr. Sweeney's credibility went right out the window on this one. He mentions that it didn't happen to him but to a fellow IPSC shooter, who he has no reason to doubt. Well, I think his fellow IPSC shooter played a trick on him and has made him look like an idiot.
Notice the case with the notches...they are not smashed from impact, but obviously FILED. Also, the round that was impacted would most likely have exploded due to to the fact that it was not supported on the sides or rear (like in a gun chamber) and all that would be left is some shreds of brass. Besides, primers are much tougher than this. If an empty case falling a couple feet could manage to fire a primer, then we would have accidental discharges like this happening all the time. In fact, cartridges as we know it would be practically unsafe to use or carry. Look at how roughly ammunition can get treated in combat, or even hunting situations- dropped, bent, smashed, etc. You don't hear about this kind of thing happening - because it doesn't.

stranger things have happend

Bullshit Flag:
Note the force a firing pin exerts on a primer, now look at the dent left in a primer.(any centerfire) Ever let a firing pin hit your finger, it hurts. Next, note the huge dent left by the aleged falling casing. We've all been hit by ejected casings a hundred times, and know that even at the point of leaving the weapon there is not enough force to do this kind of damage. Now lets say it was free falling, from say, 3 feet, table to gun distance. Still no way.
Sorry buddy: You spent entirley to much time going over the "odds" of this being possible, which made it even more unlikley the story was true.