Safety First

Having finished that data-gathering “work” I settled in to have some fun. Loading the 10-shot magazine as rapidly as possible I started plinking. At the range where I was shooting a number of targets were begging to be pinged. A metal ram silhouette at 200-yards attracted most of my wrath. Holding just over its back I sent one 17-grain bullet after another screaming into its metal hide.

I also spied a number of clay targets that had been scattered across the hillside at different ranges. Those standing on their sides presented fat, easy targets and I soon reduced them to bits of orange shards. The clays lying on edge and in the grass proved to be much tougher quarry. Happily, with the weight of the bull-barreled rifle I was able to see where my bullets were striking and could quickly make adjustments to my hold.

No target there was safe.

I had taken a bead on one clay out there on the hill and as I shot I heard an extra loud bang and felt a stinging sensation on my face. Looking down I noticed the rifle was no longer in one piece. The magazine had blown out of the stock and smoke was curling ominously from various points on the rifle.

My first thought was “this ain’t right.” My second was “thank god I’m wearing shooting glasses.”

To cut to the chase, it appeared that the amount of fouling generated by the .17 HMR, which is considerable indeed, had built up to the point where the cartridges were unable to fully chamber. The head of that last cartridge was protruding just enough so that when I fired it exploded and instead of those gasses sending the bullet down the barrel they blew the head off the cartridge and shot the magazine out of the rifle. Why the rifle fired when it wasn’t in full battery is a good question and one that the rifle maker—who I won’t name here because the rifle is a prototype after all—needs to settle before going into full production.

One good piece of news from this is that the rifle at least failed in the correct manner, directing the gasses down and away from me. I consider myself very lucky, however, that I wasn’t gripping the stock with my hand placed underneath the magazine.

Recovered empties, which showed considerable signs of bulging around the head, confirmed that pressures had been progressively building in the chamber. I extracted the bullet from the barrel—it had lodged about a half-inch up the bore—and plucked a number of small bits of plastic from my face after the fact.

All in all it is great object lesson in why one should never shoot without proper eye and ear protection.

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—John Snow