U.S. Forest Service: Bullets Cause Forest Fires

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ABC in Denver, Colorado is reporting on a study by the U.S. Forest Service that apparently concludes that bullets cause forest fires. Needless to say, reports like this add fuel to the fire (pun intended) for those looking to outlaw hunting and further restrict Americans’ right to own firearms. The argument, or so it goes, is that hunting is “outdated” and “barbaric” and puts lives in danger. Add to that the idea that bullets cause wildfires, an especially incendiary claim so soon after nineteen firefighters lost their lives in Arizona. But there’s one problem: the study is a steaming pile of horse hockey . . .

From ABC:

“We designed an apparatus that consisted of a steel deflector plate and a box at the bottom called a ‘collector box’ that we could fill with various materials that could be tested for ignition,” said research forester Mark Finney.

They found once certain bullets fragmented, they would ignite the moss in the collector box.

“The bullet by itself isn’t very hot until it strikes something very solid,” Finney said. “The process of deforming it….is what heats it up.”

Anyone remember those fire starter kits from your Boy Scout days? The ones with the flint and steel? Striking one metal against the other caused sparks, which can in turn be used to light a campfire. It’s kinda the same principle here: the kinetic energy of the bullet flying downrange is instantaneously stopped by the steel plate and that energy needs to go somewhere. Some of the energy is translated into moving the steel plate, some becomes sound waves (making that “GONG” sound) and some is converted to heat.

The problem with this study is that people rarely have a solid steel plate as their backdrop when they’re shooting out in the woods. Most of the time the bullets smack into a tree or a dirt-covered hill. In both of those cases, the bullet slows down more gradually meaning less kinetic energy is translated into heat. That’s why the tree pictured above didn’t burst into flames when it was hit. The projectile didn’t produce enough energy over a short enough period of time to spark a fire.

The U.S. Forest Service seems to have ignored this little issue, instead opting to bounce rounds off of a steel plate and deflecting the fragments into a pile of dry tinder. Gee, it’s almost as if they were trying to start a fire. Considering that the overwhelming majority of shooters – let alone hunters – aren’t out in the woods shooting at steel targets, that renders the conclusion drawn by this report utterly useless. Not to mention inflammatory. And likely politically biased.

In summary, I call bullshit.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

117 Responses to U.S. Forest Service: Bullets Cause Forest Fires

  1. avatarMurrDog says:

    Only YOU can prevent gun control.

  2. avatarpeirsonb says:

    I agree on the overall call of BS. What I’m having trouble buying is that lead, even hitting steel, generates enough heat during deformation to cause ignition….must be those lead free hunting rounds….

    I also enjoy the argument against hunting that “hunting is “outdated” and “barbaric”.” Because a pneumatic hammer is so much more civilized…..

    • avatarJT says:

      I doubt it was even the lead free hunting rounds. It was probably steel jacketed Eastern European ammo.

    • avatarB says:

      A lot of people don’t like to think about where their food comes from. The thought of vegetables with dirt on them or bacon with faces horrifies them. I was watching a youtube video on a dad teaching his son on butchering a wild hog and the comments were all “look at the next Dalmer” and stupid things like that. They want this sterile plastic wrapped life and they don’t seem to realize that fetishizing natural acts is what creates these messed up people, not the acts themselves.

    • avatarRuss Bixby says:

      Actually, everything heats about the same. It’s a matter of deceleration time and the kinetic energy of the bullet.

      Pound lead with a hammer and it’ll heat up, just like steel.

      A lead bullet already at 95° C hitting a rock face at 3700 feet per second would liquefy.

      While no lead bullet is that fast, the singe temperature of tinder is below the melting temperature of lead.

      • avatarpeirsonb says:

        Absolutely true, but according to my back of the napkin calculations (actually, 4 sheets of paper, I must be getting rusty) it only takes a fraction of a second for the heat added to projectile to dissipate below the ignition point of most tinder (according to a US forest service study I found…..I nerded out on this a bit).

    • avatarWilliam Burke says:

      I’m not sure if even a tracer round could ignite dry brush. Need experimental data. I think there’s a remote chance it could, but I’ve never seen it happen, and I’ve fired tracers into dry brush to SEE if I could ignite it.

      NADA.

  3. avatarJohn says:

    Figures :-/

  4. avatarVenator Magnus says:

    Studies like this tend to overlook that forest fires are essential to a healthy ecosystem. Aside from that, human-caused fires are far more likely to start because of a hot undercarriage on a vehicle, somebody tossing out a cigarette in dry grass, or somebody stupid enough to think that simply letting a campfire “burn itself out” is the best way to go. The deadliest wildfires I’ve seen here in the Intermountain West have been sparked by lightning, to be honest.

    Ban electricity.

    • avataruncommon_sense says:

      Ban lightning!!!

      • avatarmark_anthony_78 says:

        Duh, just ban forest fires. The lightning will have no choice but to comply with the law.

      • avatarRuss Bixby says:

        I’ll put up signs proclaiming a lightning-free zone. Hell, I’ll do tornado-free as well just for good measure.

      • avatarAlphapod says:

        You know, every time we have to do the gun control “conversation”, I hear about how you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than protect yourself with a firearm. I also hear that you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than be killed in a mass shooting. Considering that, I have to wonder why Senators Feinstein and Schumer don’t spend more of their time championing bans on “assault lightning”. As distinct from lightning used by generations of law abiding Americans for hunting, of course.

    • avatarripvw32 says:

      So as not to inflame the off road crowd.. it isn’t hot undercarriages.. it is the Catalytic converter on gasoline fed engines, or improperly installed/maintained exhaust systems that cause the fires when cars/truck roll over very dry grasses..

      • avatarVenator Magnus says:

        No offense intended for the off-roading folks. I’m definitely not advocating that we cut off public vehicle access to BLM/Forest Service lands.

  5. avatarensitue says:

    The Old Hands, who grew-up rural have been replaced by Ivory Tower brainwashed, agenda driven, Progressive Punks

    • avatarAvid Reader says:

      A family member, long deceased, was career USFS. He retired in the 1980s from a very senior position. One of the reasons he chose to retire early was due to the pressure from above to hire from non-traditional fields. For example, an anthropologist would be given preference over someone with a degree in forestry, range management, biology, or botany. Don’t even get me started on affirmative action hires.

      Not that anthropologists don’t have their uses, but they aren’t trained to manage forests and rangeland. This story would have him spinning in his grave.

  6. avatarCharlieKilo says:

    Your tax dollars hard at work. A logical, intelligent mind wouldn’t have let this past the discussion hypothesis phase. But, instead they opted for testing and then a report with conclusions. Mad yet?

    • avatarArdent says:

      You nailed It Charlie. . . this wouldn’t have entered the testing phase if the people involved had a combined IQ above zero. It’s a blatantly dishonest attempt to interject. . . something into the offensive against the RKBA

    • avatarRich Grise says:

      These are the exact same tactics used by the Church of Antismokerism, the Church of Warmingism, or Climate-Change-ism, or whatever they’re calling that these days, and the Church of Gun-Controlism.

  7. avatarJeremy S. says:

    Hahaha I’m ALWAYS out in the woods shooting at steel targets. Seriously. Nearly every review or video or whatever I’ve done for TTAG here or put up on my own YouTube channel has involved shooting at steel targets in the woods. And way, way before that… I’ve been doing this same thing for 15 years and multiple hundreds of other people have been at the very same place for much longer without one single sort of issue even remotely close to starting a fire. It would have to be a really unique and specific set of circumstances, indeed, to cause fire.

    I’m sure I could make it happen if I shot incendiary tracer rounds at a steel plate angled to deflect all of the splatter into ideally-chosen tinder material, though… WTF does this prove? I can also start a forest fire with a match, lighter, flare, torch, mirror, etc. Ban mirrors! …hot car exhausts can cause fires…

    But seriously, just because a bullet could cause a fire doesn’t mean they do cause fires or ever have caused a fire. Ridiculous bit of anti-gun/hunting drivel this is.

    • avatarBob says:

      Right. I have never heard of any forest fire that was started by a shooter.

      Maybe it COULD happen, but since it never HAS happened, I don’t think we (or our government) should worry about it. Fire the idiots behind this study.

  8. I have found that news sites often misrepresent study findings, note:

    “Experiments were conducted to examine the potential for rifle bullets to ignite organic matter after impacting a hard surface. The tests were performed using a variety of common cartridges (7.62×51, 7.62×39, 7.62x54R, and 5.56×45) and bullet materials (steel core, lead core, solid copper, steel jacket, and copper jacket). Bullets were fired at a steel plate that deflected fragments downward into a collection box containing oven-dried peat moss. We found that bullets could reliably cause ignitions, specifically those containing steel components (core or jacket) and those made of solid copper. Lead core-copper jacketed bullets caused one ignition in these tests. Ignitions of peat also occurred with a small set of tests using solid copper bullets and a granite target. Thermal infrared video and temperature sensitive paints suggested that the temperature of bullet fragments could exceed 800°C. Bullet fragments collected from a water tank were larger for solid copper and steel core/jacketed bullets than for lead core bullets, which also facilitate ignition. Physical processes are reviewed with the conclusion that kinetic energy of bullets is transformed to thermal energy by plastic deformation and fracturing of bullets because of the high-strain rates during impact. Fragments cool rapidly but can ignite organic matter, particularly fine material, if very dry and close to the impact site”

    Note: “Lead core-copper jacketed bullets caused one ignition in these tests.” One.

    “A total of 469 rounds were fired for the tests, with 433 against the steel target and 33 against granite”

    The data is in the appendices and it appears that lead core, copper jacketed rounds were very unlikely to cause ignitions. While steel jacket or solid steel was highly likely as was solid copper.

    So, maybe not such a good idea to get rid of FMJ lead bullets afterall…

    • avataruncommon_sense says:

      I don’t know about you, but I have never observed “oven-dried peat moss” in nature. Keep in mind that I have hiked countless miles in forests over the years.

      I would like them to repeat their test with real ground cover below their steel targets.

      • I don’t think that part is that much of a stretch. They did it to simulate sun baked rotting organic material (dead leaves and such). They also basically said it was intentionally chosen to be the material that had the highest chance of igniting. So a ‘worst-case’ scenario. The steel target set at an angle to bounce the bullet directly into the peat was also done to give a ‘worst-case’ scenario, it didn’t work so well with granite.

        All-in-all the actual study was a test to see what rounds could cause ignition, and if there was any variance due to round type. Personally I would have preferred a minimum of 1,000 rounds of each and every one, instead of under 500 rounds in total (who wouldn’t?).

        The bottom line tho is that the rounds most everybody uses, copper-jacketed lead-core had almost no instances of ignition, while solid steel, solid copper, or steel jacketed had significantly higher.

        Also, I believe their results would indicate that in nothing but the driest of conditions would it even matter. But as far as any regulations would go I could see a recommendation of “No steel jacket, no solid copper” when conditions are extremely dry.

        Unfortunately, the study is going to be blown out-of-proportion and misrepresented. As usual.

        • avatarBob says:

          Well all of the things you said plus the ridiculous unlikeliness of shooting a steel plate while hunting. Not just that, but shooting a steel plate at the right angle such that it deflects heated projectile parts into extremely dry, ideal tinder that’s close enough to the steel that the bullet parts don’t have time to cool down. Plus the things you said. Making the likelihood of this… um… small. Very, very small. In fact, you’d probably have to do it on purpose like they did hahaha

  9. avatarRalph says:

    The U.S. Forest Service is a steaming pile of moist compost.

  10. avataruncommon_sense says:

    I wonder how many thousands of man-hours they spent trying to find a configuration that would actually start a fire?

    I am going to submit this to MythBusters.

  11. avatarArdent says:

    I like what Venator said about forest fires being necessary for a healthy eco-system, because they absolutely are. What we’re doing with fire prevention is creating a massive tender bundle that eventually has to be ignited by something, which then turns into a massive conflagration because of the unnatural conditions we’ve created in the first place. I call BS on forest fire-fighting in general. It’s a failed idea, it’s dangerous and it’s an enormous waste of money.

    I also call BS on the test method being that there are no steel back drops in the forest. It’s an absolute absurdity.

    Having fired tens of thousands of rounds into steel, often resting on desiccated grass so flammable that discarded cigarettes would result in dancing and stomping to extinguish the small fires they created I have yet to ever see a bullet start a fire. I once set a dead bush on fire with muzzle flash but until people start hunting with belt-fed weapons running at full cyclic this wouldn’t seem to be a common problem.

    I’ve also shot up many wrecked cars, gas cans, road flares and all sorts of highly flammable materials, including using tracer rounds and was only once ever successful in igniting a fire this way despite the fact that it was my intention to do so. (That incident involved an old Honda a gallon of loose gasoline and a heck of a lot of tracer fire).

    Can a bullet strike start a fire? Sure, so can the sun shining through a glass bottle. Will bullets start enough fires to be relevant to discussion of forest fire prevention? If you even have to have such a conversation you’ve encountered someone woefully ignorant of both forest fires and small arms.

    I call shenanigans. . . this is nothing more than a contrived issue that is by design meant to propagate restrictions on the RKBA. The sooner we defund these agencies the better. “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” said Judge Gideon J. Tucker. It was as true then as now, but I would point out that the unelected and thus unaccountable bureaucrats and apparatchiks are a greater hazard to liberty today than the legislature even could be.

    • avatarBruce L. says:

      I recall several firefighters saying on the news that the Rim Fire this year was so bad because we had stopped all fires there for many years. Tinder built up and when it started, it was a fire storm.

    • avatarMatt in FL says:

      “Can a bullet strike start a fire? Sure, so can the sun shining through a glass bottle. Will bullets start enough fires to be relevant to discussion of forest fire prevention? If you even have to have such a conversation you’ve encountered someone woefully ignorant of both forest fires and small arms.”

      This is the answer right here. The rest of the talking is interesting, but this paragraph could stand on its own as a response to anyone who tries to promulgate this BS.

  12. avatarThayneT says:

    1. If it were true we would have fires all the time during hunting season, which we don’t. Although the Marines on Camp Pendleton start fires on the base all the time with their artillery. :)

    2. I kind of wish they would find ways to outlaw hunting. I want to see the reaction when the animal populations expand off the charts, especially coyotes and feral pigs. In fact, I’m hoping for that result here in CA if (when) they ban lead ammunition for hunting and no one bothers to hunt here anymore.

    • avatarArdent says:

      Fear not, if they do manage to ban hunting it won’t take a generation before someone cries we must to something ‘for the children’ about all the starving, diseased whitetail deer staggering into the road and causing more traffic fatalities than drunk driving.

      Of course they wont bring back hunting, that’s ‘barbaric’. They’ll spend a billion dollars a year to have someone euthanize the millions of excess deer, peacefully (and wastefully) out of sight and out of mind.

      • avatarB says:

        Deer abortions are a right.

      • avatarDaveL says:

        Nah. Remember that, when all is said and done, anti-gun people, and their related anti-hunting counterparts, aren’t willing to sacrifice their money or convenience for the cause. They won’t spring for highly expensive, marginally effective solutions like contraceptives. My prediction is they’ll demand the re-introduction of large predators.

        Then we’ll get a surge of farmers losing livestock, which the urbane, sophisticated non-farmers will ignore. They’ll wake up real quick when the pets and small children start going missing, however. Maybe then they’ll realize why we thinned the predators out in the first place.

      • avatarropingdown says:

        Or they’ll do what they do in my charming suburban world: They ban any hunting whatever, even in larger tracts of forest. Then, when the deer overrun the place, they call in a USDA hunting team to bait the deer with corn, and shoot one hundred a night, at 3 a.m., using night vision and silenced .308′s. It’s a fairly spooky scene.

        My inference from the report is the California must go back to legalizing lead-core bullets, because copper and steel are simply too dangerous from the ground squirrels’ point of view.

  13. avatarready,fire,aim says:

    i say we have mythbusters look into this one and then send these boneheads the results….

    • avatarArdent says:

      Mythbusters already did this one, but they did it with tracers and gasoline! It took them a whole day to set a gas tank on fire with tracer ammo. If you can’t light gas with tracers (you can but not without oxygen) when you’re trying, what are the odds that you’ll start a forest fire with a hunting round? Utterly absurd.

      I’m going to repeat my insistence that the results produced in the study were faked, or else they are lying.

      • avatarMichael B. says:

        The results weren’t faked. Steel jacketed bullets throw a ton of sparks when they hit a steel backdrop. If you put nice dry tinder beneath it and keep shooting it you’re going to start a fire.

        But again, trees and hills aren’t made out of steel and most hunting bullets don’t contain any.

    • avatarMatt in FL says:

      Mythbusters would just come back with a “Plausible.” Could it happen? Sure. Is it likely to? No.

      • avatarWilliam Burke says:

        I saw the episode in question. They could prove nothing beyond, “plausible”.

        Is it possible? I suspect it is, but could not get it to happen. This is one for the Journal of Irreproducible Results.

        Spell check likes “reproducible”, but flags “irreproducible”. Cute.

        Interesting that the U.S. Forest Service could not quote an example to support their “findings”.

  14. avatarBruce L. says:

    “a collection box containing oven-dried peat moss”. Lets ban oven-dried peat moss. That will solve the problem.

  15. avatarMark N. says:

    Umhmm. Call BS all you want, but we just had an 18 acre fire over at the shooting range on BLM land just out of town. The FS is pretty sure it was started by a bullet hitting a rock. You wouldn’t think it could happen, as there’s not a whole lot out there but rocks and dry grass. But it happens often enough that you can’t shoot out there after 12 p.m., See, here, it’s like west Texas–summer temps in July and August are usually over 100 and often enough between 105 and 110, with humidity in the single digits. Much of the hilly terrain, before you get up into the pine, is grass, scrub oaks and manzanita, plus a scattering of digger pines. Stuff burns really good–you may have seen our most recent big fire in the national news, called the Clover fire–and the shooting range is six miles due north of there, same terrain.

    Oh, and logging activity causes fires too. How? Treads on caterpillar tractors striking rocks and throwing sparks. The standard of care in the industry calls for a three hour patrol after ceasing activities for the day because of this very risk of fire. A bullet can do exactly the same thing, and pine duff is an excellent material for starting fires.

    So that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. In wet areas, like the north east, your mileage may vary–but that is what its like here in the desert west and southwest.

    • avatarBDub says:

      I would bet half a paycheck it was steel core ammo and/or a tracer round – neither of which should be used for hunting.

      • avatarropingdown says:

        Do ranges in BLM-land areas allow M855?

        • avatarMark N. says:

          I don’t know what the BLM allows, but California absolutely prohibits tracers. AP rounds are also banned. So maybe if the steel core round is not AP, but I wouldn’t know since I only shoot .22s and pistols. I’ve heard plenty of .223s going at it out there. Oh, and the site is posted requiring shooters to have either a shovel or an extinguisher. Why oh why could this be? Maybe fires started by ammo are not all that unusual? Hmmm. Inquiring minds want to know. Maybe it’s because the rocks around here are full of iron? Personally I have no clue, I just know we get fires associated with shooting.

        • avatarRich Grise says:

          Around this time of year, all of California is one big tinder box. You can start a brushfire with the flare from your bifocals.

    • avatarArdent says:

      I’ll give you that, here in southern Ohio its damp pretty much everywhere all the time. Our humidity here in the river valley has probably never been in the single digits in recorded history. People sweat and guns rust just looking out the window most of the summer.

      However, bullets igniting fires has got to be statistically insignificant as a cause of forest fires over all. If you consider how many rounds an plate or a popper on a range takes Vs the number of rounds fired by hunters the likelihood of a hunter starting a forest fire has to be very nearly zero.

      The problem I have is all the regulation and legislation that is apt to follow such a ridiculous study attempting to prevent something that’s entirely unlikely to ever happen. They will want to ban hunting and shooting in forests when camping and smoking are without exaggeration millions of times more likely to cause a fire.

      Some people would likely want to ban smoking and camping as well, never mind that the vast majority of forest fires are started by lightning strikes.

      In my defense, I didn’t say a bullet strike couldn’t start a fire. What you’re describing is a perfect storm of steel core ammo, steel plate and extremely dry tinder, much like the study.

    • According to the study chances are any fire started would have been by steel jacked, solid-steel or solid copper rounds. Apparently very unlikely with copper jacketed lead core.

  16. avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    The real problems are steel-cored ammo in tinder-fueled environments, where the steel cored ammo can strike rocks. We’ve seen it several times in the west. It invariably turns out that someone is shooting Commie-surplus ammo out of one of their Commie-type weapons. I’ve never, ever seen lead or copper-jacketed lead ammo cause a fire, even when shooting in areas where the backstop was a pile of rocks in dirt covered with dry cheatgrass.

    As for this summer’s forest fires: There’s also some people starting to wonder whether these have an al Qaeda involvement. It’s a nice, low-intensity way to cause the US government a big fiscal impact: light fires in steep terrain at the right time of year to get the flames fanned on the winds of an oncoming front. Oh, and they proposed the idea last summer in their very own online magazine:

    http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/al-qaeda-calls-massive-forest-fires-montana/story?id=16263981

  17. avatarBillF says:

    Another example of divide and conquer. First, placate the hunters so they scoff at the assault weapon bans–”who needs those things anyway?.” Now hunting is under assault.
    Same thing with the LE carveouts. Off duty and retired LEOs and corrections officers aren’t under the same restrictions as the rest of us. So, a lot of them aren’t too concerned with what happens to the rest of us.
    Carveouts and selective bans and attacks have successfully fragmented the gun owning population. If the hunters lose their rights, and then the remaining non LEOs lose theirs, then the LEO carveouts will be diminished and slowly repealed. Bloomberg doesn’t want his cops bringing their guns home now.

  18. avatarBDub says:

    That happens to me all the time!! Of course I’m using depleted uranium rounds out of my trusty GAU-8 Avenger. Its just the trick for squirrels.

  19. avatarJohn says:

    If you really want to stop Forest Fires ban Lighting !! TBT More than 83% of forest fires in 2006 were started by human activities, accounting for the burning of nearly 4.4 million acres. However, lightning-caused fires burned more total area – nearly 5.5 million acres. *

    * Source: http://www.arborday.org/replanting/firecauses.cfm

  20. avatarfrank says:

    There’s also, of course, that the KE converted into heat ignites some of the steel fragments causing them burn ala firesteel. It’s almost as if they watched the Bourne Identity and saw the scene where a bullet sparks off a wooden rail. WOODEN rail. And thought to themselves “OMG sparks from wood OMG. MUST BE STOPPED.”

  21. avatarDave says:

    The only bullets I have seen start fires are tracers, and then it was only out of a M-60 running cyclic. I suppose those dragon breath shotgun rounds could start a fire as well. If the Forest Service would go out and conduct more controlled burns there would be less fuel for the major fires to feed off of.

    • avatarRuss Bixby says:

      There was a story on TTAG awhile back about a moron who burned down an indoor range with tracers.

      M’self, I don’t hunt with tracers.

  22. avatarAnmut says:

    If you pour molten led on a wax candle it will start on fire. True – but no round out there is hot enough upon impact to go to a liquid state. The whole purpose of using lead and it retains it’s weight after being plunged into a body instead of turning to liquid is WHY WE USE LEAD.

    • avatarRuss Bixby says:

      We use lead because it’s plentiful, inexpensive, dense, very effective and easily worked.

      It also happens to be reasonably safe.

  23. avatarRuss Bixby says:

    Bullets?

    Tracers, I’ll grant. RPGs as well.

    Ordinary bullets? Well, they come out hot, but somewhat below Fahrenheit 451. They travel at about Mach 2.5 initially (assuming a 30.06 or equivalent), which at sea level should cause a friction temperature rise of about 275° C above ambient.

    A bullet which travels maybe 1500 yards, is decelerated rapidly without being absorbed (say by a rock face) and immediately lands in dry tinder just might start a smoldering nasty that could become a fire, but it ain’t very likely.

    It’s more of a “can conceivably happen” rather than a “does happen.”

    Use of 1800 FPS or slower ammunition would obviate this comcern, as would limiting hunting to days sporting fire condition yellow and below.

    I use plastic-tipped Hornady. Were the hollow core filled with water and sealed with a thin layer of paraffin, this would evaporatively cool the round in flight.

    Hmmm… Which ammunition maker wants to introduce fire-preventative ammunition? I just told you how, and ask only a small royalty.

    Russ Bixby, rocket scientist in Kansas

    • avatarWilliam Burke says:

      Russ, I always thought the potential was there with tracers. I really did. But several experiments with small, full camp fuel containers in dry leaves (with a fire extinguisher a few feet away) and M855 and M856 tracers never could even spark the slightest flame. Not in the fuel canister, not in the dry leaves, ZIP. NADA.

      I’m not one to say it can’t happen, because I think it’s remotely possible. But I was not able to get any sort of ignition whatever. The bullet passed through the fuel canister, tracer glowing, and had embedded itself in a bank of soil before the fuel started hissing out of the canister.

      And isn’t camp fuel supposed to be more volatile than just propane?

    • avatarpeirsonb says:

      “Were the hollow core filled with water and sealed with a thin layer of paraffin, this would evaporatively cool the round in flight.”

      At 275 above ambient? The water would flash boil and blow up the round before it ever found the target….

      • avatarRuss Bixby says:

        The idea would be to keep the core at 100° C and the outer jacket hotter only by conduction difference, say 180° C or so.

        • avatarWilliam Burke says:

          You lost me, Russ. Could you please explain? I’m fairly scientifically savvy, but somewhere I got lost in this.

          I’m not being facetious. I’d like to know the science behind this.

  24. avatarropingdown says:

    I’ve never used more than two bullets to bring down a deer. Even bullets which pass completely through don’t come out with much energy. I’m not surprised that high rates of fire at a range can, especially with steel-core ammo, eventually start a fire under bone-dry conditions in the Southwest. I don’t believe for a second that hunting is involved. And yet, it’s hunting they go after.

    The ridiculous glorification of college degrees in random subjects have led to the worship of cited research articles, of which people tend to read only the precis.

    • avatarMark N. says:

      I surmise that it isn’t the hits, it’s the misses they are concerned about.

    • avatarWilliam Burke says:

      I’m not buying this for one second; what does the number of rounds fired have to do with it? Each round is a separate, distinct event, independent of the others.

      You’re relying on generalizations. Please cite a single example of a bullet starting a forest fire. I don’t think you can do it.

  25. avatarWilliam Burke says:

    , DIDDY, PLEASE!! DON’T GO a-huntin’! THINK … snif… snif… THINK A THE FOREST!

    DIDDY, DON’T GO!!! BWOOOOOO…

  26. avatarNevadaSmith says:

    Guys, I love hunting, but bullets do start fires in the dry western mountains. Maybe not in Ohio, but in Colorado to California, and New Mexico to Montana. Almost half the country. Not when you’ve plugged a deer, but when you’re sighting in or plinking or whatever. We have a lot of these fires in Nevada, where relative humidity goes below 20% every day in summer, and there’s plenty of rocks for bullets to strike, and dry grass everywhere. Every year you get fires started by target shooting in this area. Scoff if you want, but the reality is bullets nearly melt when they hit a steel plate or rock with a glancing blow. A direct hit spatters the bullet. How does solid turn into “splatter”, the answer is it melts. That splatter is liquid lead, at least for a couple milliseconds. Look at the deformed shapes of lead pills on the backstops. KE deforms the lead, doing work to it, most of the energy turns into heat due to the “friction” of coming to a stop, or ricochetting. There is the story of an old blacksmith who, at the age of 70, could hit a pure iron rod (old fashioned wrought iron had no carbon, and is softer than mild steel) so hard and fast with his hammer that the rod would heat up and he would light a cigarette with it. If you do much lead collecting, you’ll see bullets where the lead has squirted out the tip of the hollow point (target style) that hit the backstop at a low angle; that lead was plastically extruded, and it got darn hot in the process. Doesn’t stay hot for long, but plenty long enough to ignite dry duff.

    • avatarWilliam Burke says:

      Please see my test results above. This was tested at above 8000 feet in northern NM elk country, in very dry leaf and brush litter, with a TRACER, at about 50 feet. The round was glowing orange both before it hit the canister, and after it exited, then went through very dry leaf and litter, and into a hard pack of high-elevation, ancient alluvial soil.

      I believe you that it happens. I just demonstrated to myself that the fire scenario is EXTREMELY hard to reproduce.

      • avatarDave says:

        It’s really not that hard; you’re just over thinking it. The key to starting a fire with tracers is to keep shooting tracers until something catches fire. When we did night fire in the desert we would eventually catch the scrub brush on fire; especially if it was M-60 or M-240B qualifications.

        I’m not condoning the intentional starting of fires. I just witnessed almost every time we shot at night. That being said, I’ve never seen a “normal” bullet cause a fire.

        • avatarWilliam Burke says:

          Hmmm. Do I understand this correctly: the flammable liquid is not not what caused the failure. It was that I didn’t keep shooting?

          Not to be rude or dense, but it seems to me that if a tracer wouldn’t ignite flammable vapors, it would be unlikely the brush wouldn’t either.

          Anyway, I don’t think I proved it was impossible, but very unlikely. From that viewpoint, we’re both right; and we’re both wrong.

  27. avatarSkyMan77 says:

    I hope this resonates with all the fence sitting hunter out there… Our rights are under attack… All of them…

  28. avatarNevadaSmith says:

    I love hunting. But bullets really do start fires. If a 150 gn lead projectile hits a rock with a KE of 2500 ft-lbs, and all that kinetic energy is converted to heat, with half dissipated in the target, and half in the projectile, the temperature rise of the bullet is about 1950 degrees F. That’s why direct hits on steel plates liquify. For a glancing blow, if only 15% of the total KE stays in the lead, the lead temp will rise 585 deg F above ambient, enough to light dry tinder. Just sayin…

    • avatarmiforest says:

      I am an engineer too, and you methodology is badly flawed:
      to simplify the problems with it , there are 2 main problems.
      first is that you assume all the energy is retained in the buller ,
      when most of it is transfered into the object struck.The rock or
      plate struck experiences movement , deformation , and heating. The energy for this is transfered from the bullet to the object. By far the majority of the impact energy is lost to the bullet this way . A tiny portion of the enery remains in the bullet in the form of ricocheit velocity , mechanical deformation of the metal, and heat.

      and even if the projectile retain some heat , the ignition temprature of a material is time dependant.
      here is a link to a us forest study on the temprature / time relationship with ignition temperature
      of various woods:
      http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fplmisc/rpt1464.pdf

      so even if the bullet got to the temperature you suggest, the heat loss woud cool the bullet long before the ignition temperatur of any wood products would be reached.

      So no, bullets cannot cause forest fires.

      that won’t stop the USFS from outlawintg shooting on any federal lands of all firearms an BB guns though . can’t take any chances ya’ know.

      • avatarWilliam Burke says:

        WOW! Not only is your analysis spot-on, this is the bitchinest blank verse I’ve read in YEARS!

        I already wrote you a melody for it, if you’re interested.

      • avatarNevadaSmith says:

        Respectfully, sir, my methodology is not flawed. Look up “conservation of energy”. Does your rifle not kick when you shoot it? If you launch a bullet with 2500 ft lbs of KE, you get a 2500 ft lb kick in the shoulder. Only the fact that your rifle has ~350 to 400 times the mass of that little bullet, thus reducing the rifles’ recoil velocity, prevents your shoulder from getting blown off. When a projectile is fired, or impacts a target, energy transfer occurs equally in both directions. It doesn’t “mostly go forward”. One half the energy goes forward, one half goes back. Equal and opposite reactions, etc. The bullet may retain some forward velocity. And some energy goes up, down and sideways, but that’s like chalk dust blowing off the baseball when struck by the bat, it doesn’t count much in the main equation. By the way, I re-checked my spreadsheet, and my calc’s were actually for a 2000 ft*lb projectile, but I wrote 2500 by mistake, so thanks for making me check my work. I divided the KE by 2 for the energy dissipation that will occur only in the bullet to get that 1950 degree temperature rise. Sure, it’ll likely be less, for a lot of reasons. Depending on mechanical properties of the bullet and projectile, and the specifics of the impactee, impact angle, etc., some of the energy is transformed into some heated air, sound, some movement in the target, etc. But deformation to bullet is a big player that you shouldn’t so quickly dismiss; it heats up really fast. Talk it over with a physicist and I think you will adjust your position. I agree that a bullet doesn’t weight very much, and it cools off quickly to the air, and it likely won’t start a fire every time. But it does every now and then, once every 10,000 or maybe a million rounds. If you’ve got 25 million people (1 out of 4 gun owners) shooting 500 rounds per year, that’s 12.5 billion projectiles. Let’s say half are shot in random plinking, and half of these are out west in the dry western ranges. Thats about 3 billion pills getting hot if they hit a rock. It may be a one in a million kind of occurrence, but that still makes for 3 million hot pills that could light dry tinder. I’m a volunteer fire fighter, and we’ve had two fires in the last 2 years in my county that were lit by plinking. It might have been sparks from steel jackets, or sparks on steel in the target area, but they were shooting copper jacketed lead pills, so the ignition could have been caused by a hot one landing on dry grass. Of course, it’s total BS to use this factoid as a rationale for land use/access policy. Reduce the fuels, you reduce the fires.

  29. avatarPaelorian says:

    Don’t shoot or harm live healthy standing trees on public land unless it’s necessary in an emergency/survival situation. I don’t peel bark off of live trees or chop them for firewood. It’s easy to find dead or downed wood in the forest. Anyone who goes around killing trees for target practice is a jackass. A fundamental principle of being a good outdoorsman is to leave the natural environment as intact as possible. Responsibly shooting dirt or steel plates is fine. Yes, there are plenty of trees in a forest- but I don’t want to see a whole grove of dead or damaged shot-up trees when I go into the wilderness. It’s totally irresponsible and selfish to go around doing damage willy-nilly. Don’t litter garbage, either. I even go so far as to favor subdued-colored clothing and equipment to minimize the impact of my presence.

    • avatarWilliam Burke says:

      HUH? Are you under the impression that we were talking about shooting trees, on purpose, to kill them, so we could harvest ‘em for firewood?

      If you do choose to visit our beautiful planet, please DO contact a representative of our culture, so that we may clue you in to the ways of our people. MMMMkay?

    • avatarRich Grise says:

      I’ve heard that you’re supposed to wear blaze orange or so so that you don’t get shot, and the animals don’t really notice you by sight anyway.

      • avatarWilliam Burke says:

        Okay, Rich. That does it. You owe me a bottle of aspirin.

      • avatarPaelorian says:

        If it’s hunting season and I’m in an area where there are other hunters around, yeah. Unfortunately I can’t trust that every hunter is not a trigger-happy idiot who doesn’t follow the four rules. And I’d be extra careful to not damage the environment in a commonly used environment like that. But outside of hunting season, when I’m hiking, backpacking, and camping I’d rather not wear unnatural colors. When I’m out in the wilderness, I don’t want to be able to pick out blaze orange on distant hills, I’m not heading out there to notice people. I don’t always have the time to get to very remote wilderness, sometimes where I go I know there will be other people fairly nearby. I’d prefer that those people not be loudly using chainsaws or wearing neon colors so that I’m aware of their presence from miles away. It disturbs my tranquility. There are campgrounds and places where it’s fine to do that kind of recreation, but it’s not where I go. I try to practice what I preach and blend into the natural environment, and not be an eyesore upon or distraction from the natural beauty.

    • avatarJohn D says:

      I don’t know of anyone that goes into the forest to shoot trees. Did you think that is what this article is about? You need to work on your reading comprehension.

      • avatarPaelorian says:

        From the article: “The problem with this study is that people rarely have a solid steel plate as their backdrop when they’re shooting out in the woods. Most of the time the bullets smack into a tree or a dirt-covered hill.”

        That, and the photo chosen for this article, are what I’m commenting on. I’m just saying I disapprove of shooting at live trees for the same reason I disapprove of peeling bark off of or cutting firewood from live trees. Why damage live trees when you can just as easily burn or shoot something else and cause less damage to the environment? This is not a controversial opinion, I think this is accepted by most responsible hikers, park rangers, outdoorsmen, hunters, etc. This article doesn’t advocate shooting trees, but it doesn’t mention that shooting trees can be bad, either. Look, it’s not a huge deal if a live tree catches a bullet, but I wouldn’t have a live tree as my target, and I’d prefer to place my target (tin can, paper, steel, anything) in front of a mound of dirt or a hill if it’s available. You could definitely kill a live tree with some rifle rounds if you used it for target practice.

        • avatarWilliam Burke says:

          You’ve already dug yourself a big hole; it now appears you’re hell-bent on getting in it and covering yourself up.

    • avatarAnmut says:

      FLAME DELETED

  30. avatarRoadrunner says:

    Actually, shooting into dry brush can cause fires. In New Mexico they closed outdoor shooting ranges for weeks during our really bad droughts the last few years. Heck, a spark from the wheel of a train has caused range fires.

    Probably in most of the country this is more of the same gun-hating, foaming at the mouth, lefty verbal poo, but it’s a real issue in the dry southwest the last several years. Believe it or not.

    I never use tracers either.

    • avatarWilliam Burke says:

      HUH? You DO realize none of us were talking about shooting trees ON PURPOSE, right? So you figured we were out in the wild, shooting live trees, so we could harvest ‘em for firewood?

      If and when you choose to visit our lovely planet, I am going to have to rather sternly suggest that you contact some of our people, so that we may help you to understand what our planet is actually okay.

      MMMMmmmmmm?

  31. avatarJAS says:

    I think I get it. The study shows that it might not be safe to shoot non-lead bullets traveling at high velocities at steel bullet collectors when the bottom of the collector is filled with tinder. Did I get it right?

    And this is correlated to hunting how?

  32. avatarchivilryman2 says:

    http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/national-international/Mt-Diablo-Morgan-Fire-90-Contained-223465071.html

    Did you see this story? Apparently a California fire was started by target shooting. I wonder if this story is true

  33. avatarJohn D says:

    Apparently, the US Forest Service is staffed with imbeciles.

  34. avatarCubby123c says:

    These are the same yahoos that said the latest Rim fire in Calif in the National Forrest was started by a hunter,after every one knew it was started by drug cartel illegal aliens growing pot cause they can’t get it in through the boarders.The fire cause a huge air quality problem all summer in Northern NV.So to cover it up ,they came up with a cover story.Let’s see what’s the hunter’s name? And did he get arrested? Is he paying for the damage and cost’s? Can you say Cover up?

  35. avatarWilliam Burke says:

    Mark N: it depends maybe who you ask. The BATFE doesn’t consider steel core bullets “armor piercing” with respect to M855 rounds, unless something has changed recently.

    Last time I checked, the 5.56 NATO round (.223) is considered a “pistol round”, oddly enough. Someone more up-to-date can verify this.

    I don’t believe any pistol round is considered “armor piercing” by the BATFE.

  36. avatarJesus says:

    What if a stray round were to hit say…. A chunk of flint?

  37. avatarJeff says:

    “The ones with the flint and steel? Striking one metal against the other caused sparks,”

    The last time I checked, flint was not a metal, but instead a form of the mineral quartz, I believe.

  38. avatarelnonio says:

    I was shooting with my brothers in law in Missouri once, out in the woods near Hermann. One brought his Garand and some surplus ammo he got at a gun show. This was in broad daylight.

    Well, wouldn’t you know it, we had to call the local volunter fire department when a series (3 to 5) of columns of smoke errupted from the general vicinity where said brother in law was aiming. Turns out the umarked ammo was old tracers. We didn’t see the trace, but clearly there was enough heat to start fires.

  39. avatar0822Al says:

    So how many trees in the hunting woods have collector boxes? Dumb! Maybe the Forest Service can find out how to remove moss from trees in hopes that removal would lessen the chance of lighting fires! This just appears to be another back door attempt to ban hunting of federal lands.

  40. avatarDave S says:

    the big problem is that the Public Lands provide the largest national resource for informal target practice.

    If the Antis can eliminate places for us to shoot they can concentrate us on expensive private ranges before eliminating our rights to shoot since there “isnt any safe, legal place to shoot”

    Look for an agency wide rule restricting shooting on FS land and then BLM and so forth

    Too bad the USFS has abandoned the “greatest good for the greatest number” philosophy of resource management.

    • avatarWilliam Burke says:

      I couldn’t agree more. In fact, this attack on bullets as forest fire starters seems to like part of Agenda 21.

    • avatarRich Grise says:

      Eek. They’ll let you keep them, but it’ll be illegal to _use_ them. Which we all know won’t stop the crooks, but what would that do to self-defense cases? “Well, yeah, he killed the perp in self-defense. No problem. However, in so doing, he did violate the “No firing within the city limits” ordinance, so we have to impound the weapon for a year.”

      *shudder!*

  41. avatarDC. says:

    Remember,, Emotional verbiage touting “tests” by experts is an clear example and shows the key to expose non-thinking which begats non-thinking nurdy laws that restrict all those who have brains to make decisions. Rules and regulations are designed to control emotional beings that are not able to think.. If it, he, she or ?? is screaming and cussing you can bet the brain is turned off. Kudo’s to all who think, see and stand up for tested values… Respectfully an old retired Sailor.

  42. avatarDave says:

    I wonder if they realize that flint and steel are still in common use today amongst the prepping / camping/ hiking community.

  43. avatarJinete Largo says:

    The melting point of lead is 621.43 °F. The combustion point of dry shredded leaves, pine needles, grass, moss and other forest floor duff is about 800 °F give or take.

    Anyone who has tried to light a candle, newspaper, splinter of wood, or . . . well anything else, knows that for biological material to ignite you’ve got to hold it in a flame for a sufficient period of time for it to reach it’s combustion point before it will catch fire. It’s not an instant thing.

    I once had a neighbor who was um . . . unbalanced some years back. This unbalanced neighbor didn’t like one of our other neighbors because he let his yard get extremely unkempt and the unbalanced one confided in me that he had used a BB gun to shoot wooden matches onto the offending neighbors mailbox thereby igniting them and ricocheting them off the mailbox into the dried tall grass of the unkempt yard trying to ignite it. He revealed that he had wasted two boxes of wooden matches, (that’s 500 matches) and even though all of the matches ignited against the mailbox, (I checked later as I was picking them up) not a single one of them ignited the mat of tall, brown, dried grass! That taught me that crazy people can be scary and very inventive and we both learned that just because you have a heat source doesn’t mean you’ll get a fire. I convinced crazy neighbor that we should help unkempt neighbor instead, which we both did from then on. Sadly, unkempt neighbor died from cancer about a year and a half later and we can all learn a lesson from that.

    Back to causes of Forest Circus, (it’s not a misspelling, it’s a summary of my experiences involving them) fires, without a heat source lead cools astonishingly fast. When molding lead bullets I use a thick pad of newspapers to drop the hot bullets onto directly from the mold so that they don’t become deformed from being dropped onto a hard surface. I’ve been doing this for over 50 years and have NEVER even scorched the paper! Out of curiosity I recently poured 200 grains, (the weight of a large bullet) of still molten lead directly onto a pad of newspaper. It lightly browned but did NOT ignite the paper! Didn’t even cause the paper to smoke just slightly scorched it!

    Even if a Forest Circus employee swears on a stack of Bibles that it’s so, I still don’t believe that if a bullet did find some hunk of metal in the forest, hit it and was instantly liquified by the dissipation of energy involved that the heat in a bullet fragment sized chunk of lead could be high enough for long enough to raise the temperature enough to reach the combustion point of any material available in the forest thereby igniting a fire. Further lead and/or copper striking steel or anything else doesn’t cause a spark! A legal hunter’s campfire causing a forest fire, unlikely but possible. Hunters bullets, NEVER EVER!

    Why does no one question the integrity of the individuals involved in this “scientific study” by the Forest Circus anyway? Hasn’t anyone else ever been lied to by employees of the federal government? Especially federal employees with an anti-gun, anti-hunting agenda? Remember the recent IRS scandal? The death of four Americans in the terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya with Hilary Clinton asking, “What does it matter now?” Operation Fast & Furious with two dead Border Patrol Agents and thousands of dead Mexican Nationals? and on, and on? I also have had some personal experiences involving lies told me by government employees including major prevarications by Forest Circus employees.

    Finally, if bullets really caused even an occasional fire then wouldn’t Detroit, Los Angeles and all of our other large gang, ridden cities full of gasoline, diesel and natural gas surrounded by steel be ablaze constantly! And darn it, they’re not!

    • avatarWilliam Burke says:

      Nicely put, man.

      As I said, the NFS theory belongs in THE JOURNAL OF IRREPRODUCIBLE RESULTS. This was an actual journal, half of THE WORM-RUNNER’S DIGEST. Don’t know if it’s published anymore.

      Hey, I once worked in the periodicals department of a university library; LOTS of free time!!

  44. avatarG. Hoyt says:

    The large fire in the Yosemite area this past year produced some interesting articles. One, in particular, that I read in several publications I found most interesting.

    The fire was started by a man with a “bow and arrow”. This particular information came up before it went on to state, “who did not extinguish his camp fire”.

    What if I stopped after the bow and arrow? I would want to ban all of them from the State of California due to the terrible damage they cause.

    • avatarRich Grise says:

      It might be interesting to note that all the major conflagrations we’ve had in recent memory have been exacerbated by those who are wiser than Mother Nature suppressing every fire, no matter how small or what the cause. This results in megatons of tinder building up over the years rather than burning a little at a time naturally.

      Every time anyone tries to apply external control to a naturally equilibrating system it throws the system out of balance and makes things worse.

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