This could have ended a LOT worse

J-B welder

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As I mentioned in the Free Components for Kids thread, I let my friend borrow my .243 for his daughter to try out, and gave them some reduced load rounds as well as some full-strength (not max) loads. Well, Monday morning I got a text from Stewart with the words “We had a little problem” and this picture.

IMG_0497[1].jpg
I called him right away and was relieved to learn that nobody was hurt. In fact, he said nobody noticed anything until his daughter opened the bolt and the spent case did not come out. Wisely, they put the gun aside and moved on to shooting his wife’s .308. Later in the day, a cleaning rod easily did the trick and they were able to get the case out of the chamber with just a couple of taps.

When I met Stewart to get my gun back, we took a look at the bolt face. Here are a few pics from different angles, before and after cleaning it with some Hoppe’s No. 9 solvent.
20210726_211632[1].jpg 20210726_211625[1].jpgcleaned.jpg20210728_212105.jpg

I did not see anything that stood out to me, but those with more expertise and experience might notice something important that I missed. I don’t have a bore scope and therefore can’t really get a good look at the chamber. I think it might be a good idea not to shoot the gun again until I have a gunsmith take a peek in there and tell me if there was any damage.

Stewart’s wife happened to be videoing her daughter shooting, and she sent me a slo-mo of the shot. In it, you can see a puff of smoke come out near the bolt. Nobody, not even the shooter, noticed the puff of smoke as it happened; they only saw it when they looked at the video later. Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to attach the video, but if I did you'd see she's a lefty shooting my right-handed gun, without safety glasses, so the fact that smoke was the only thing expelled around the bolt is doubly lucky.

So after profusely apologizing to my friend repeatedly, and thanking whatever supreme power in the universe it was that saved me from a lifetime of remorse for maiming a child, I naturally started to think about what caused the incident. The two most likely things would seem to be too much powder or faulty brass. Here are the particulars of the load:

Bullet: Hornady #2430 80 grain FMJ
Seating depth: 0.035" off lands
Powder: 25.0 grains of H4895
Primer: WLR
Case: Winchester Super-X

The powder charge was based on load data from the Hodgdon and Sierra websites, since my Lyman 50th edition didn’t list H4895 for 80 grain jacketed bullets. Hodgdon showed starting and max loads as 35.0 and 38.0 grains respectively, and Sierra indicated 32.8 and 35.4. As many of you know, H4895 is a powder specifically noted by Hodgdon as being suitable for reduced loads. Using the instructions from their website, I multiplied the maximum load (38.0 grains) by 60% to get 22.8 grains as a starting load. I actually started my load work up at 23.5 and eventually found that I got good results between 25.0 and 25.3 grains.

The brass was purchased online from an individual, not a retailer. The seller indicated they were new primed brass, but they varied quite a bit in their condition. Some were shiny bright like new, and some were corroded inside. In fact, during load development about a quarter of them failed to fire, which I attributed to primer corrosion. Of the remaining brass after that, I set aside the worst of them, and the ones that had what I judged to be mild corrosion I decapped, wet tumbled in Lemi-Shine and Dawn (no media) and put fresh primers in them. Since then I have fired 30 rounds of this load in this gun without incident.

I use a single stage press to reload and weigh each charge with a Lyman Micro-Touch 1500 digital scale. When loading fired brass, I inspect each case before sizing/decapping, after tumbling, and after bullet seating with a small hand lens, rotating the case a full turn each direction while checking the neck/shoulder area and again looking at the base. Because these were supposedly new cases, it’s quite likely that I did not give them the thorough inspection I normally give to fired brass. I honestly don’t recall. As I noted above, the corrosion was on the inside of the cases, not on the outside. Would an inspection of the outside of the cases have made me reject any of them? Can’t say for sure, but I still should have given them a thorough look. Maybe I should have discarded them immediately, as I couldn’t really get a good look inside. Several people told me they should be good to shoot, but they were going on my description of the corrosion, not first-hand observation. It may be unlikely that the corrosion created a weak spot in the case, but it’s not impossible. If it was enough corrosion to make the primer go bad, who knows what it did to the case?

After weighing a powder charge and pouring it into a case, I immediately seat the bullet, as recommended in the Lyman reloading manual. Some people like to charge all their cases at once and then seat their bullets, but I feel the Lyman procedure makes it less likely to double charge a cartridge. Does that mean I couldn’t have put a double charge in one or more of them? Absolutely not. In this instance, a double charge would have been 50 grains, 12 grains (32%) over book max. Not as bad as doubling a max load, but still a significant overload.

Typing all that out, checking my reloading notes, etc. helps me to go over things in my head and get them all straight. Having done that, here are the decisions made and lessons learned:
  1. Always inspect every case, regardless of it’s initial apparent condition. Even new cases can have flaws that made it past the Quality Control department of the manufacturer.
  2. I can no longer trust this particular bunch of brass, because I can’t definitively determine the cause of the case rupture. Accordingly, I’m going to put my new-to-me collet-type bullet puller to use and disassemble all these rounds, re-use the powder, bullets and primers, and chuck the brass. It’s just not worth the risk. If after pulling the bullets it’s obvious which cases are virgin brass I might save those, but any that don’t look brand new are out.
  3. Re-double my efforts to make sure I am not interrupted or distracted during loading, especially during the charging/seating process. I don’t recall any interruptions that may have caused me to double charge a cartridge, but my memory sucks these days so it’s a very real possibility.
  4. I’m having serious second thoughts about letting other people shoot ammunition I reload, at least until I’m more experienced. It felt awesome to think I was helping a youngster choose their first gun and shoot their first deer; I don’t even want to imagine how I would have felt if Caleigh had been disfigured, blinded or worse.
I would be interested to hear what other things jumped out to people that they think I should be considering or changing in my reloading habits. Any thoughts are welcome.

Thanks for reading. Hopefully others pick up something useful from my experience.
 

GLTaylor

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That's an odd place and way for a case to fail/rupture. Not a typical case head failure (would lean toward a headspace problem from uncertain brass fired in another chamber).
I assume you also blew the primer? Can't tell. No gas cutting damage visible (to me) on your bolt face.
I got some old military loads once that apparently had corrosive or other primer type in them. After some misfires I opened several and found severe corrosion inside the cases. Both around the base and up the side walls for a ways,and also around the necks and base of the bullets.
Thats all that makes sense, but those aren't military cases? Are they?
 

J-B welder

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Sorry, should have posted pics of primer. Here are the five cartridges she shot. The one that ruptured is on the far left. While it looks a little darker than the others, it's not really. It's aggravatingly difficult to get even lighting on all five at the same time, so they don't all look the same. Looking at them all with a bright light and hand lens it doesn't look to me like anything blew past the primer. I don't believe these are military brass.

20210728_223303[1].jpg
 
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Ross1147

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Had this happen to me 2 years ago or so. I was using factory ammo that was around 30-35 years old. I knew it happened the second the gun went off, got a face full of hot gasses. Good thing the girl was ok! I dropped the gun off a Smith to look at but they had it for over a month and didn’t touch it. Ended up just picking it up and took it shooting. Probably not the best idea but deer season was coming up and it’s my dads only rifle!
 

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Hard rock

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Had this happen to me 2 years ago or so. I was using factory ammo that was around 30-35 years old. I knew it happened the second the gun went off, got a face full of hot gasses. Good thing the girl was ok! I dropped the gun off a Smith to look at but they had it for over a month and didn’t touch it. Ended up just picking it up and took it shooting. Probably not the best idea but deer season was coming up and it’s my dads only rifle!
Looks too me bad brass corrosion from inside out
 

MagnumManiac

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Glad everyone is ok.
That is similar to a head saparation…no damage will be visible other than a carbon mark.
It is caused by either brittle brass or brass that has corroded.
It is not a fault with your rifle, that much I am 100% confident with.
I have had that with old PMC brass, it is purely a brass fault.

There’s no need to have the rifle inspected, should be good to go after a quick clean of the chamber.

Cheers.
 

Black Hat

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Glad no one was injured!

Very low density loads of fast powders in larger cases, under varying environmental conditions can create up to four times the normal chamber pressures and may cause a light load rupture to occur.

Use extreme caution when playing with reduced loads, best to go with an absolute know, otherwise guessing and working one up can be costly and dangerous.
 

Pdyson

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I’ve loaned rifles to friends and family but always left them to supply their own ammo. I’ve never had an issue with my hand loads. I’ve seen or heard about many accidents, two or three from reloading friends of mine many years ago. Those experiences have made me extra careful when reloading. but still there is no guarantee that I didn’t miss something. I don’t want my granddaughter to experience my first mistake.
 

Hugnot

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My idle thoughts are (like not enough info):

Somewhere in the brass history the head of the cartridge was annealed making it too soft and it split upon firing.

Defective brass.

H4895 is often used with reduced loads but occasionally a detonation effect vs. progressive burning with pressure increase might occur with some reduced loads including real slow burning powders.

I once sold a rifle and included some of my loaded ammo (.308 W, 42 grains H4895, 168 Si MK, GI match brass, 600 yard load) with it, upon firing it on a hot day the new owner experienced a blown primer. A real bad memory - no more of my handloads to be used by others - I am not licensed to manufacture ammo.
 

Hard rock

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I’ve loaned rifles to friends and family but always left them to supply their own ammo. I’ve never had an issue with my hand loads. I’ve seen or heard about many accidents, two or three from reloading friends of mine many years ago. Those experiences have made me extra careful when reloading. but still there is no guarantee that I didn’t miss something. I don’t want my granddaughter to experience my first mistake.
The area the case ruptured in multiple places has nothing too do with over pressure this is bad brass unless he has holes in his chamber and I doubt that throw that brass away or do a thorough inspection inside out
 

MagnumManiac

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I can assure everyone here that this incident was NOT caused by an excessive pressure situation.
The reduced load was used EXACTLY as the powder manufacturer says it should.
The incident was a bad piece of brass failing just above the web…it happens, brass gets inclusions, go’s brittle over time etc, ad nauseum.

Cheers.
 

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