Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Biweekly Gun Shots 19 - Use Only The Proper Ammunition In Your Firearms

No, not any talk about a favorite gun tonight, nothing about a gun I want to buy, or one I'd love to shoot or one that looks pretty fancy. Tonight I thought I would give you something else, some information and my opinion about ammunition and how to avoid getting hurt or even killed because of simple mistakes you can make with it. Before you read on I insist you read my disclaimer on the right side of my blog and read the disclaimer that follows this sentence: What I am about to say is my opinion - it is not advice. If you follow what I am about to say you do so at your own risk and hold me harmless. If you tell anyone else this information you also hold me harmless and you indemnify me if they use it or they pass it on and someone else uses it and so on ad infinitum. It is not that I think the info I am about to give is bad or weak, it is that I don't trust your lawyer, or another guy's lawyer, to leave me alone should you ever hurt yourself or someone else hurt himself, then you or he mention to a lawyer you or he did just what I said I would do.

The first bit of advice I can give you about ammunition is to always use the correct ammunition for any firearm you intend to shoot. This may seem like advice for the simple minded or for the bran dead but in truth it is one of the cardinal rules of firearms safety and has been at least since shortly after the cartridge was developed for firearms. Now you may think that it would take idiots to try to use the wrong sized ammunition in any particular firearm they were shooting but it is actually a common mistake - an all too common mistake. So how does it happen? Well let's use an example. John Q. Gun-enthusiast goes to the range to shoot some trap. He brings along his fancy 12 gauge O/U with engraved silver receiver and his equally elegant and engraved 12 gauge semi-auto bird gun. He also brings along junior and his brand new 20 gauge semi-auto shotgun.

They get to shooting. Dad shoots away and shows junior how it is done. Junior watches intently as his dad grabs round after round from his ammo pouch and feeds them into the O/U, then fires away as each clay bird is shot arching fluidly through the air. Then it is junior's turn. He goes to the line and follows suit. Much like his dad, whom he has paid attention to during his lessons, he shoots down disc after disc. Those clay birds just did not stand a chance with an eye like his. He is eager to shoot more and during a break between rounds he asks his dad if he can shoot the 12 gauge for one set. Dad says sure and gives him 25 rounds of 12 gauge shells for his ammo pouch.

When the time comes, junior steps to the line and loads the O/U. He shoots at the first target. Then at the second. There is no bang, no recoil, no anything. Apparently the round misfires on the second shot. He unloads and then feels ashamed, only one round is ejected and there is not another round in the other chamber. he must have only loaded one. He loads again in anticipation of the next round. A double is released. He fire and boom the first clay disc is shattered. He fires again but this time the gun goes KABOOM, junior drops the shotgun and falls to the ground clasping his face. Dad and the range officer run to him - they see his face is bleeding badly but his safety glasses have saved his eyes. His left hand and arm are also bloodied. The shotgun barrel has burst. What happened?

What happened is that John Q. Gun-enthusiast failed to remind junior to take all the 20 gauge rounds out of his ammo pouch. All he needed in there was one 20 gauge round to get mixed in with the 12 gauge rounds. He loaded the last time that he loaded, then as they do on some ranges he stood at his point with muzzle down awaiting his turn. When the muzzle pointed down, the 20 gauge round slid passed the chamber into the barrel where it wedged. When he later loaded the same chamber with a 12 gauge round and fired it, that load hit the 20 gauge round and the gasses in the barrel had nowhere to go except to burst the barrel. It happens folks - really it does.

Another example of the wrong ammo put into a shotgun actually involves the correct gauge shell being used for the gun you are firing but yet it is the wrong ammunition. I am not talking about trying to fit a 3" shell into a 2 3/4" chamber either. I am talking about use everything of the correct size, for instance a 2 3/4" 12 gauge round in a shotgun that takes that size shell. I am also talking about trying to fire a shell using modern propellant (gunpowder) through a barrel that was made for black powder or for shells that had less of a charge than does modern ammunition. That to which I am specifically addressing myself is a situation whereby someone obtains a Damascus steel barrel shotgun. They are things of beauty folks and the temptation to fire them is great but truth be told if you fire modern ammunition through one of them you are risking loss of limb or maybe even life. Damascus steel was never meant to withstand the pressures given off by modern shotgun ammunition. DO NOT FIRE MODERN AMMUNITION THROUGH A DAMASCUS STEEL BARRELED SHOTGUN. Heck do not fire any ammunition through one unless you first have a shotgun with any parts made from Damascus steel certified as safe by a qualified gun smith. Those Damascus steel barrels have a way of corroding between the layers of metal (which is basically how they are constructed) so that the barrels become unsafe over time and a danger to not only the shooter but to others nearby.

Moving on: Another example of using the wrong ammo in a gun would be such as when a pistol shooter at the range is shooting a 40 caliber and another shooter is shooting a 9mm. If they reload their magazines at the same table there is a chance that the 40 cal shooter may inadvertently pick up and load a 9mm round into his magazine. He then steps to the line and loads the chamber, then fires. Yes the weapon can fire. Will it hurt the gun - not likely. How could it hurt the shooter? Well you see the thing is that the 9MM round will likely not extract properly because the shell casing has expanded further than it should have and becomes wedged in the chamber or because the extractor claw slips off of the smaller round. This is a silly mistake to make at the range and is one best kept at the range where it causes not much more than embarrassment when a range officer has to help the shooter dislodge the spent casing from the pistol. It can be a much more serious problem on the street or in the home in a defensive shooting situation. A jam like that in the heat of the action, so to speak, can be all it takes to get you killed as you are trying to defend yourself against an armed bad guy who now has an advantage that you will most likely not overcome too easily.

Use the right ammo folks - make sure of it. Never mix different calibers of ammunition - it could get you badly injured or maybe even killed. Shoot one caliber at a time, put that ammo away before you shoot another. Look at the ammunition you are loading into your magazines. Make sure it is the right stuff. A few extra seconds while you are loading in the safety of your home, or while at the range, can save you a lot of grief later. This applies to pistols, revolvers, rifles and shotguns and any other firearms of which you can think. If using black powder firearms make sure to use not only the correct projectile but the proper propellant and the correct amount of it. If reloading ammunition be careful to follow all of the correct specifications.

Of course there is yet another reason to pay attention to the ammunition you are loading. Each time I open a box of ammo, or am about to use any ammo in a firearm, I give it a visual inspection. Sometimes this means I turn the round, each round, in my hands to examine it - this especially before 'loading for the street'. Why do I do that? Not just to make sure the ammo is the correct caliber, heck all I need to do for that is look at the stamp on the casing. So why take the extra effort to turn it around and look at it from all angles? I am looking for malformed casings, split casings, bullets not seated properly, for high or low primers, or even for bullets with no primers. This is a frequent occurrence among ammunition, even ammo from reputable manufacturers. Ammo can be damaged during manufacture, during boxing, or during shipment. It can also be manufactured with defects. if you are going to put your life on the line by defending yourself with a firearm - you may as well make reasonably certain that not only your firearm will work but that your ammo will feed, go bang, extract and eject - then do it all again. There can be some manufacturing effects that are hard to see, you might miss them, but rest assured that you will be doing yourself a favor by looking for the defects that you will see.

You also want to listen to your shots when you are firing. What you are listening for are squibs. This is something you have to learn at the range from experience because if you do it while in a shootout - well let me just say your ears can fool you when under stress and you may misinterpret not hearing your shots come out loud as a squib while in a stressful situation. A squib occurs when the ammunition is loaded with only a primer and no gunpowder (that is technically but I would think it could also happen with too little gunpowder). What happens is you fire the gun, it goes bang instead of BANG and the recoil is virtually nonexistent for that shot. Then what do you do? Do not fire again. Examine your firearm. make sure there is not a bullet stuck in the barrel, it does not always get stuck but sometimes the squib round will not clear the muzzle. This can happen because the primer did not give off enough force to push the bullet all the way the length of the barrel. The thing is that most people do not know what is a squib let alone realize when one has happened. So what they do is they keep on firing. In most instances, as I understand it (based upon word of mouth from other shooters) the squibbed bullet that remained in the barrel is simply pushed out by the next one that you fire. That is if you are lucky. If not, the gun's barrel could potentially explode as with the shotgun above; this is reportedly less likely though because both of the bullets are the correct diameter for the gun. What sometimes does happen though, probably more often as I have been told by others, is that the barrel is ringed. In other words the is now a ring shaped bump around the perimeter of the barrel due to momentary excessive pressure cause by one round blocking the path of the other. If you ever are buying a used gun and see that it has a ringed barrel my advice is to walk away from the sale. If you ever fire a gun, and see the barrel has become ringed, stop firing it and have the barrel replaced or just stop using that gun.

Now when shooting under stress, such as in a home defense situation where your life depends on it, you may not notice a squib round has been fired. Then again, on the other hand, you may think you have had one when in fact you have not. Sometimes when shooting under stress loud noises are seemingly reduced in volume to the person who is stressed. You have to determine what to do if you think you fired a squib, and there is not much I can really do to guide you as to whether or not you have had one under such circumstances. If you find yourself thinking that you actually have fired a squib in a combat situation there are a couple of things you can do. Before I mention them, allow me to remind you that what I am about to say is my opinion - it is not advice. If you follow what I am about to say you do so at your own risk and hold me harmless, if you tell anyone else this information you hold me harmless and you indemnify me if they use it or they pass it on and someone else uses it ad infinitum.

One thing you can do if you think you have a squib round during such an encounter is to continue firing if the situation calls for continued firing. In other words if the bad guy is still posing a threat of death or serious bodily harm to you or to another innocent whom you are protecting you can keep shooting if the law where you are allows for such, hoping that the squib round will be expelled from the barrel by the next one and that neither will be an obstruction for yet another shot if needed. If you are too afraid of the consequences of firing a round with a possible squib round stuck in the barrel what can you do? You can examine your firearm. This is up to you but remember a bad guy is still posing a threat of death or serious bodily harm to you so you have to judge if you have the time to check your weapon for a squib round and to determine if is your body's reaction to a stressful situation playing a trick on you or not. Note I am not talking about the wrong sized ammo being used as in the example of a 20 gauge round going down the barrel of a 12 gauge. In such a case, if I reasonably believed such had happened, I might use the gun as a club or a spear or just run away - and about that I am dead serious.

I can tell you this: I have shot one person in my lifetime so far. It was during a holdup attempt - yes he was trying to rob me. When I fired, I immediately thought my gun must have jammed because I felt almost no recoil and the shot's bang seemed awfully low in volume. I glanced at the pistol saw it was in battery (I may have even tapped and racked but it was long ago and I don't recall for sure) and fired a second shot at a second bad guy. The first guy had been hit already and was not a threat at that moment; the second guy was getting out of a car with a revolver in hand. That shot was deflected by the windshield but was enough to send them both out of there at high speed. If I am ever in such a situation again I will keep trying to fire so long as the threat presents itself and so long as my gun keeps shooting no matter how light the recoil feels to me. If the gun stops firing I will reload or clear the jam. Again that is my opinion on what I will do - it is not advice. The only advice I will give you here is that you have to be able to decide what to do in any such situation - there likely will not be a range officer or tactical instructor looking over your shoulder screaming "gun" or "shoot" or "clear the jam" or "seek cover" or "run away" or whatever. So get your training now from a qualified instructor before you find yourself in a situation for which you are ill prepared.

Of course there are other things you can do if your gun jams and you cannot clear it but that is for another discussion - back to the possible problems with ammo and how to avoid them.

There is another way to mix up ammo that I did not mention above when talking about loading 9mm ammo into a 40 cal pistol, the following is a fictional example but has happened to people whom I know:

Shooter-X was at qualification recently where he fired with two different caliber pistols. One was a .40 caliber pistol, the other a 9mm pistol. Shooter-X used different holsters for each pistol, but used the same magazine pouch for the magazines of both, this despite the fact that one pistol was a full sized H&K and the other a Glock 26. Shooter-X used the H&K and Glock mags in the pouch at the range because each fit well enough for the range where they do not need to be as secure as they would on the street. Well, when shooting was done, Shooter-X loaded all his mags for the street. He got the right ammo into the right magazines. He loaded the H&K up on the line, then he loaded the Glock. No problems at all - each gun was loaded correctly in the chamber as was each mag in each gun – as was each spare magazine. So where was the problem? Shooter-X did not notice it until a day or two later so maybe you don’t see it either.

For some reason - just habit maybe – Shooter-X reached over and felt his magazine pouch wondering if the snaps were secure. Yes they were closed but something felt wrong when he did that. Shooter-X took another feel and knew what it was, then he looked to confirm what was wrong. Have you guessed it? He was carrying his primary sidearm for work - the H&K - but he had Glock 15 round magazines in his magazine pouch. Luckily for him he had his spare H&K magazines in his tricky bag (if you do not know what is a tricky bag find and politely ask a Border Patrol Agent). Also luckily for him he had not been involved in a shooting incident during which he had to depend on magazines to reload his H&K. Get the picture? He sure did. Had someone asked him - he would have sworn he put the right magazines into the pouch - that is right up to the moment those magazines either did not fit or function properly into the gun at hand. For Shooter-X, it would have been ugly! For the bad guy – it would have been an opportunity not to miss (no pun intended – this is serious business folks)!

That is enough for you to take aim at now. Safe shooting my friends.

All the best,
Glenn B

Today In History - WW I German Soldiers Attacked By Monsters

It may sound incredible and the Germans who saw them advancing probably did not believe their own eyes but indeed monsters - of a sort - were advancing on their positions in Battle of Flers-Courcelette an offensive in the Battle of the Somme. The Germans had been expecting a British infantry advance but indeed had never imagined what was coming at them. As a German war correspondent reported it:

"Two mysterious monsters slowly approached us, over the cratered landscape. The monsters approached slowly limping, swaying, swinging but they kept moving towards us. No obstacles could stop them, a supernatural force seemed to drive them forwards. Our machine gun fire and our head weapons ricocheted off them. So they had no trouble wiping out the crews of the advanced shell
holes." 1

What the Germans were seeing, on that Sept. 15, 1915, were not monsters out of a science fiction novel. Yet, for all practical purposes, they could have been because the Germans though valiant were as helpless against them as they would have been against an invasion of alien spaceships. You see the things that they saw advancing on them, the things that wiped them out, were a new type of war machine the likes of which the world had not seen before and that thing came in good numbers. It was a division of troops supported by tanks, about 21 of them that actually made it into warfare that day. What they saw was probably a lot like the one pictured, a British Mark 1 male tank (they also had a female model with less firepower). Even though faced with monsters the Germans showed great bravery in the face of such beasts. As reported by a British war correspondent:

“They were very courageous. Despite the tank’s machine gun fires, they attempted in desperate rage to assault the wandering tank fort and to kill its crew, They hauled each other up in the air, climbed on the roof, searched for hatches and openings and fired into the slits with pistols." 2

Despite the valiant attempts of the Germans the tanks helped achieve a feat that had been virtually unheard of during the trench warfare of the War To End All Wars. The British forces advanced about 3,500 yards in one day - this during a war where victory was claimed after advances of a mere few feet.

There were drawbacks to the tank. For one thing they were notoriously unreliable. many broke down, others got mired in mud and so on. Yet the British and french believed in them and hurried to improve and develop more efficient models. The Germans believed that artillery would master tanks - a mistake they paid for with defeat. How things changed by WWII when the German Army through use of air forces, artillery and tanks followed by huge infantry advances heralded a new form of warfare known as the Blitzkrieg.

Today we have the M1 Abrams Tank here in the USA. Just compare the specs for it to those of the British Mark 1 and you will realize that we have come a long way since the first use of tanks in warfare on this day in history in 1915. I imagine though if I was in an infantry unit and was armed with only a rifle, even in today's world of warfare, and saw an antiquated Mark 1 advancing on me all guns firing away, I probably would not be as valiant as were those German soldiers way back then.

All the best,
Glenn B

1. & 2. http://www.todayinhistory.de/index.php?what=thmanu&lang=en&manu_id=1580&tag=15&monat=9&weekd=&year=2009&weekdnum=&dayisset=1&lang=en