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Safety – Why Protective Gear Is Important; A Personal Story

Sixty eight degrees, sunny, and clear. The perfect range day! Working with good folks on some skills and having a great time. What could go wrong? Wellll …..

I was asked to attend SHOT Show again this year in Las Vegas to assist a friend at his booth. After the show, we spent a few days on his ‘ranch’ located about 75 miles NW of Las Vegas, testing some new guns, and running some drills.

Another friend, his wife, and I were on the range and my friend wanted to shoot his Walther P99 (.40 cal.). As he began to load the gun, the slide was locked back, and his finger was off the trigger in register - as it should be. I was standing to his right rear watching as he inserted the magazine. When he pulled the slide back to charge the gun, there was a loud BANG (probably even louder due to the fact none of us expected it). Simultaneously with the bang, I felt something hit my chest - HARD! Initially I thought it was an ejected case, but it hit much harder than that. I looked down at where I had been hit and saw a tiny hole in my shirt with a bit of blood around it but didn’t think anything of it. I had been hit by cases and ricochets before and some had left a mark, but I wasn’t concerned.

As we walked over to a table to examine the gun, my friend said, “You’re bleeding!” I said, “I know, It’s nothing”. He said again, “But you’re really bleeding!” When I looked down and saw the front of my shirt I got a bit concerned (See pictures). My host took me back to the house where were able to take a closer look at the ‘wound’. The ruptured case had hit me right on the sternum and went about as far as it could through the skin making a pencil lead size hole (See pictures). That area, being quite vascular, bled for a while but all was eventually taken care of.

As you might expect, the first thing I thought was that an ND (Negligent Discharge) occurred. However, as I said, I know my friend’s finger was not near the trigger. My initial cursory examination told me the primer had not been struck by the striker as the depression in the primer was too big and oblong and there was also some damage to the case rim (See picture). I immediately thought it may have been struck by the ejector or extractor, but further investigation determined that it was struck by the trigger bar guide.

As best we could determine, when the magazine was inserted, the top round managed to ‘jump’ past the feed lips of the magazine and when the slide was retracted to charge the gun, the slide pushed the top round back into the trigger bar guide and the cartridge detonated. I was also concerned as to where the bullet may have gone but due to the range make-up (fine western Nevada sand), we were unable to locate it.

So, what are the take-aways from this? First, ALWAYS wear your eye-pro! This is especially true if you are shooting steel or If you are anywhere close to anyone shooting steel (One of my scars is from a bullet jacket that bounced off a dilapidated steel target and came back up range about 25 yards before burrowing into my left arm.) If this had hit me in the face, the damage could have been significant. I’ll wager if it had hit my glasses, it would have broken them.

Second, be prepared for the unexpected. On the range cases are flying all over the place and many of us get hit by them routinely and think nothing of it.

Third, ALWAYS follow ALL safety rules. Like I tell my students, they are always in play and are not negotiable.

So, I wound up with a pretty cool ‘war story’ and a new scar added to the inventory. While those present were a bit shaken by the whole incident, I assured them it was a one in a million incident and they would probably never see anything like it again. For the next couple of days before we left everyone kept asking how I felt (I went out there with a raging sinus infection and wasn’t 100% anyway). But all is well and I’m back home in one piece.


(NOTE: The incident described here was not preventable in my opinion. It was one of those freak things that happens from time to time. All safety rules were being observed and the gun and ammunition were in perfect working condition.)



The Director's Desk

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