What happens when a normally safety-conscious shotgunner is distracted on the firing line?
What you may not know, and thus can seriously injure and/or kill you, is that safety is never to be relegated to a ‘now and then’ state of mind. Safety, in all its forms must be consistently utilized at all times during a shooting session. Be it air rifle, pistol, rifle or a fine double shotgun- safety is paramount.
The pictures were provided by Mr. Steve Ellinger, President of Abilene Clay Sports in Abilene, TX. Steve and I discuss this issue periodically as it pertains to participants who shoot skeet, trap, 5-stand, ZZ trap and sporting clays courses at the local range. While Steve assures me they have not had this happen in many, many years- he is VERY consistent in communicating the issue at every event held by the club and its agents. People do get careless from time to time, and as a result, the above pictures prove that safety must be of paramount importance over fun- otherwise, the consequences can be deadly.
I’m happy to report that the individual who carried this weapon was not seriously injured. He is embarrassed for sure, and remains anonymous to the club members.
Evidently, someone working at the club was tidying up the Sporting Clays course, emptying trash cans and making sure the traps were turned off when he spied an unmistakable butt stock telescoping out of a trashcan. Upon closer inspection, he found the blown action and the peeled barrels of a Browning Citori Superposed 20-ga shotgun. At the bottom of the trashcan were the components that set the chain of events in motion.
Steve believes that the shooter inserted a 20-ga. shell on top of a 28-ga shell in the bottom chamber during the excitement of the shooting action. It’s not uncommon for someone using a shell pouch to carelessly have different loads for different guns if one is the owner of several shotguns made for differing gauges.
Most shooters I know handling a double gun will drop one shell in at a time - instead of training your hand to drop two simultaneously. If the shooter was in a rush, and loaded one barrel at a time without looking at his hands, it is conceivable that upon closing the breach he noticed that the bottom barrel was empty as the 28-ga shell would have slipped down into the barrel out of sight until it engaged the narrower area just ahead of the breach. Realizing his ‘mistake’, the shooter reached in his bag for another shell and stuck it in the bottom barrel- thus loading that barrel twice! In the above scenario, the firing pin engaged the closest shell, a 20-ga., which then sent all of its energy into the 28-ga. shell lodged in front of it. The 28-ga shell fired accordingly, setting off a chain reaction within the forcing cone area of the barrel. The walls of the barrel slim down narrowly at this point to accelerate the lead or steel shot pattern being thrown by the powder charge. In this case, the combined force of both shells exceeded the maximum force the steel alloy can consistently absorb and the walls of the barrel and the action failed. Metallurgists call this failed condition in metals ‘compromised’. (You think?)
Here’s another theory: the shooter unintentionally inserted a 28-ga. shell in the bottom barrel and a 20-ga. shell in the top barrel. The action closed correctly as the 28-ga. shell is quite a bit smaller and shorter than the 20-ga. shell thus the shooter was not alerted to the problem prior to firing his weapon. When he pulled the single selective trigger, the gun’s barrel selector was set for the bottom barrel to fire first, then the top barrel. The firing pin engaged the 28-ga shell and induced enough force to actuate the primer. That’s when all hell broke loose- literally! The unsupported 28-ga shell sent 100% of the resultant energy out the sidewalls (made of plastic) of the shell instead of the mouth or open end of the shell - and thus down the barrel- in an unrestricted fashion.
We know this because the yellow shell in the picture above shows a lengthwise split down both sides of the plastic wall - indicating the force went sideways instead of exiting at the end of the case mouth.
The erratic, unsupported energy was enough to pierce the barrel wall sending enough force backwards to set off the mainspring in the action turning loose the top barrel’s firing pin to engage the 20-ga shell within milliseconds of the first shell’s firing. The combined energy of the two shells then separated the joined barrels and peeled the already compromised barrel’s wall towards the muzzle and blew the solid, one piece steel action block sideways- in both directions! Friends, that was some kind of energy force!
The reason we can pretty well deduce that the backward force was sufficient enough to break the sear’s engagement on the top hammer/firing pin is by looking at the picture below and seeing the long cracks flowing horizontally from the tang of the action where it meets the wood stock. The force traveled backward to the extent that it whipped the small, thin metal of the tang with enough energy to break the softer wood cradled around it. I’m thinking the shooter was black and blue at the shoulder for several days- the recoil must have been tremendous! Kind of like firing both barrels on a .600 Nitro double rifle, simultaneously.
(Note the brass colored shell head that looks like a coin in the bottom of the action. The backward force of the energy welded the brass to the steel block!)
Either way, a lesser shell was definitely inserted into a weapon it was not designed for and caused havoc to both the firearm and the shooter. The shooter is fortunate that the tolerances of the manufacturer’s (in this case, Browning Firearms) design and engineering specifications proved stout enough to absorb most of the energy before it was imparted to the human subject. The consequences could have easily been deadly.
What lessons are to be learned from this incident?
1) Always be aware of your surroundings when handling a weapon
2) Always assume a weapon is loaded- checking often that you are following the prescribed, recommended loading procedures for the individual weapon you are using
3) Never mix different calibers or gauges of ammunition where you can easily access them on the firing line. Use only one gauge or caliber at one time- leave the rest at home or in your car.
4) When shooting with a group- be EXTRA cautious about Rule #1. It’s OK to have fun, but do your part to ensure your safety and that of your group you are shooting with!
5) Never, ever take drugs and/or alcohol of ANY type or amount when handling a weapon.
6) If you are involved in a shooting accident at a public range, the range officer or manager must be notified before you leave the range so that range management knows the actor(s) are safe and sound.
7) If you are part of a group where someone is injured and the injured person does not have the capacity to notify the range/club management of the incident- it is then YOUR responsibility to do so as a citizen and range participant. (Embarrassment is not a defense to others’ liability or assumed responsibility!)
Good luck and good shooting. Keep it safe out there- for you, and for the rest of us who like to keep our bodies intact!
(This is an X-ray of my skull taken Feb. 3rd, 2006 in the middle of Quail season. The dark spot in the middle of the halo is a # 7-1/2 copper plated lead ball buried in the muscle tissue of my neck below the base of my skull. I believe I can speak of safety from a rather unique and personal perspective...)