Electric Cartridge Primers: Gone But Not Lamented

etronx primers

Raise your hand if you remember these electric novelties. Now raise your other hand if you ever actually fired one. I’m willing to bet that the number of AI who ever touched off a round of Remington’s ‘Etronx’ electric primer ammo can be counted on the fingers of a Yakuza soldier’s left hand. Where have they gone, and what are they doing there?

Firearms inventors may have some great ideas, but they can’t really start from a blank slate if they want their products to fit in the existing market. Few really new ideas have ever hit the jackpot in the civilian firearms market, so it’s not unusual to see a new products stumble out of the gate. It is unusual to see anything fall so flat on its face as electric primers, however. Especially when they’re backed by the engineering and marketing resources of Big Green.

Remington’s gambit to change primer technology was a huge flop. After years of research and development, they released the ‘Etronx’ electric primer and a special Model 700 designed to fire it and only it. In place of a cup and anvil design which ignited the priming charge under the impact of a mechanical firing pin, the Etronx used a 150-volt pulse to set off a proprietary electrically-ignited primer. The advantages of the system were that it allowed nearly-instantaneous lock-time and a very light trigger pull with almost no over-travel.

Image courtesy Cabelas

Model 700 Etronx rifles were chambered in .22-250, .220 Swift and .243 Winchester and built with 26-inch barrels. The rifles were externally similar to standard Model 700 rifles, but two features advertised the electric ignition system inside. There was a small LED light set in the wrist of the stock, and there was a key-actuated on/off switch on the cap of the pistol grip.

They cost $1999 when new, more than twice the MSRP of a similar Model 700 Varmint with a conventional lockwork. Ammunition cost about 25% more than comparable Boxer-primed ammunition, but the .22-250 Etronx delivered poor accuracy because their bullets were seated too deeply in the case neck. Handloaders could wring much better accuracy from their Etronx rifles, but the electric primers were priced about five times higher than similar benchrest-grade Boxer primers.

The system had several disadvantages completely unrelated to its cost, however. Etronx ammunition and primers were always scarce, and the rifle was dependent upon its electronic circuit board. It was powered by a 9-volt battery which performed poorly in cold weather, and the system would not boot up until the shooter inserted and turned a key in the bottom of the pistol grip. On top of all these problems, there was no cost-effective way to convert an Etronx rifle to fire conventional ammunition for those occasions when you couldn’t find (or couldn’t afford) Etronx ammo.

The Model 700 Etronx was only sold from 2000 to 2003. Primers and ammunition dried up quickly, although the rifles continued to be used by shooters who had stocked up on the expensive primers when they could. Today these Etronx primers are almost collector’s items; they cost at least $200 per thousand when they’re available (Midway had some at press time for $221.99) and there’s a decent collector’s market for unfired Etronx factory ammunition. Shooter’s forums have mentioned that prototype quantities of other rifle calibers and even handgun calibers were factory produced with Etronx primers (possibly in anticipation of idiotic ‘smart gun’ requirements in the late 1990s) and these cartridges are highly collectible.

Cartridge collectors seem to be the only people who like the Etronx system, though. Ordinary shooters weighed its small advantages against the disadvantages of scarcity, complexity and price. They (we) voted with their wallets and stayed with ordinary lead-styphnate Boxer primers.

comments

  1. avatar ShaunL says:

    That sounds nifty in a “why the hell would I pay that much for THAT” sort of way.

    1. avatar Andrew says:

      Wait, WHAAATTT??!!

      $200 per 1K for the PRIMER ALONE?!

      On what gold-crusted planet did they think this was even remotely marketable?

      1. avatar Drew says:

        That is current market value for new in box products no longer being produced. It’s like those matchbox cars that go for thousands of dollars these days. New they were only slightly more expensive than boxer.

        1. avatar erich says:

          I have a ton of the primers.brand new in box kept indoors and am trying to sell but ebay and craigslist isnt working due to getting deleted by website.I am looking to sell real cheap per box and if u know anyone please feel free to email me.suckafree1982@hotmail.com

  2. avatar KingSarc48265 says:

    Because a spring loaded pin isnt complicated enough. Just because its possible, does not make it practical. Or reliable. Or a good idea. If these primers became mainstream in the past then there is no doubt we would have a law on the books written by a moron that thinks James Bond movies are non-fiction.

    1. avatar Drew says:

      We DO have a law like that! Iirc these the electric muzzle loaders remote hunting etc are all illegal now. I know I got flamed mightily on weapons guild for mentioning the remote hunting thing in response to a question.

  3. avatar CJ says:

    I remember selling one of these back in 2001. The circuit board failed before the poor sod who bought it had finished sighting it in. luckily for him we had a 30 day guarantee. If i remember correctly some solder points failed on the circuit board and this was not uncommon. Remington should have made a gun specific cleaning kit that included a can of contact cleaner, a soldering iron and a back up rifle of conventional design.

  4. avatar Bob says:

    That’s pretty neat, I had no idea anything like that had existed (way before I became a gun guy).

    Really if your going through that much trouble I would want “no primer” with e-ignition, or an e-primer element which doesn’t need removed but can be reused, I wonder what kind of energy you need to dump into the gun powder to get equivalent primer ignition?

    I know some military’s howitzer programs have experimented with electronic ignition.

    1. avatar Matt in TX says:

      The Vulcan AA system and any of the modern rotary cannons used by the military are electrically fired.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M61_Vulcan#Description

      “Most aircraft versions of the M61 are hydraulically driven and electrically primed. The gun rotor, barrel assembly and ammunition feed system are rotated by a hydraulic drive motor through a system of flexible drive shafts. The round is fired by an electric priming system where an electrical current from a firing lead passes through the firing pin to the primer as each round is rotated into the firing position.”

  5. avatar Swarf says:

    I’d be more interested in a muzzle loader with a piezoelectric trigger that ignited powder like a flintlock.

    1. avatar Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

      Or maybe a sparkplug and a LiIon battery in the stock? 🙂

      1. avatar Jacob says:

        Piezoelectric creates electrical pulses, not use them. Its what the igniter in a propane grill is made of. No batteries to fail, but those igniters aren’t 100% reliable, either…

  6. avatar Independent George says:

    A decade working in I.T. has taught me to never trust an electronic anything in my gun. Because it will break randomly for no f***ing reason. I laugh at biometric safes for the exact same reason.

    Mechanical things break, too, but there’s usually a reason for it, and there are also usually warning signs.

    1. avatar peirsonb says:

      Just be glad the world has gone (mostly) solid state. When mechanical relays “fail” they might kinda sorta work maybe. Sometimes.

    2. avatar Cal says:

      The Air Force and Navy have been using electronically fired guns on their planes and ships for decades.

  7. avatar Paul G. says:

    20mm Vulcans are electrically fired….does that count?

  8. avatar Defens says:

    This was probably a case of a technology that wasn’t ready yet. If the ammo was available at a reasonable price, and with more current technology (particularly more reliable power than a 9v cell) it seems to me that this would actually complement the TrackingPoint very well – with near-instant lock time, it would help make the predictive tracking work that much better, and since the TrackingPoint is already chock full of electronics and batteries, it wouldn’t really detract from the reliability standpoint.

    Remington ought to dust this off and release V.2 with their 20/20 system.

    1. avatar ShaunL says:

      The only problem with that would be taking away the mechanical backup for the system. I may be wrong here but I think the tracking point rifle can still be fired if the circuitry fails(Input please). If the battery goes dead or the electronics fail in the Remmy you’re screwed.

      I would also hate for this to become commonplace because some moronic politician would mandate ALL firearms to have this system. I don’t want another fail prone point between myself and defense.

      1. avatar Jacob says:

        And with all those boards and circuits in there, a tracking device or monitor of some sort can just happen to be slipped in there unnoticed. Hell, automatic wifi connection you don’t know about and you are officially tracked by the gov from your own gun.

    2. avatar Mark says:

      And look what became of the TrackingPoint. That company is basically bankrupt for making promises it couldn’t keep.

  9. avatar Rokurota says:

    Are the primers reusable?

  10. avatar RockOnHellChild says:

    I like the imagination and innovation behind this, but it’s a bit ahead of it’s time, along with not being cost effective.

    Companies must keep in mind that being first to market isn’t as important being the first to make practical and affordable.

    Rifling was around for many years before it became practical and affordable for the average person or soldier.

    Now, damn near everything has rifling, even shotguns and pocket rockets.

  11. avatar The Original Brad says:

    Anything electronic can be disabled – and from a distance. There are advantages and disadvantages to that – you decide. For my money and life, I will never trust a firearm that relies on an electric component. Electronics in firearms may very well be the future but I would never pay twice as much for a gun with that feature.

    1. avatar Rokurota says:

      NYPD would love this weapon system, then.

      1. avatar ShaunL says:

        Headline: Faulty batch of 9 volt batteries saves NYPD from “red leg” and citizens from being shot, Rayovac receives “thank you” from NY citizens.

    2. avatar Hank says:

      One good EMP and an arsenal electric-fired weapons could be rendered irrelevant in seconds.

      1. avatar Jacob says:

        my thoughts exactly. A large EMP in the atmosphere could knock out every unshielded circuit in 80% of the Continental US. Do we really want our guns on that list?

  12. avatar Stinkeye says:

    I can see one potential advantage (or disadvantage, if you’re looking at it from the ATF’s point of view) to such a system. In a semi-auto firearm, you’d just be a small software/circuit tweak away from select-fire, with no mechanical changes to the gun…

  13. avatar ShaunL says:

    On the lighter side of this topic…

    What if I were to collect this stuff and lightening hit my house???

  14. avatar over-educated economist says:

    I’ve heard that semi-automatic electronic primer guns haven’t been further developed because the BATFE considers them readily convertible to a machine gun.

  15. avatar IdahoPete says:

    I remember reading about this system in the gun mags at the time, and thinking “who in their right mind would want one of those?” Apparently, not very many buyers.

    Sort of reminds me of the Gyrojet pistol – another solution looking desperately for a problem to solve. From the Wikipedia entry:
    “Gyrojets fire small rockets called Microjets which have little recoil and do not require a heavy barrel to resist the pressure of the combustion gases. Velocity on leaving the tube was very low, but increased to around 1,250 feet per second (380 m/s) at 30 feet (9.1 m). The result is a very lightweight weapon. …
    Long out of production, today they are a coveted collector’s item with prices for even the most common model ranging above $1,000. They are, however, rarely fired; ammunition, when available at all, can cost over $100 per round.”

    1. avatar Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

      I remember Gyrojets from _Star Frontiers_.. Kinda pointless without a guidance system if you ask me, though with modern tech that’s doable I bet! Gene Simmons, get to work!!

  16. avatar Jeff in MS says:

    I almost bought one, but even regular primer availability is uncertain, so it was pretty much a given that the e-primers would disappear.

  17. avatar BLAMMO says:

    I don’t remember this at all. I either missed it completely or I thought it was such a stupid idea at the time that I immediately dismissed it and never gave it a second thought.

  18. avatar bgreenea3 says:

    My brother-in-law bought 2 one in 220swift and 1 in 22-250. scary accurate rifle, trigger had zero movement and was worked perfectly. except when he left the “on switch” keys at home one range trip….

    1. avatar jim says:

      I have all three cal. 22-250 and 243 has never been fired. the 220 sift is the best shooting gun I have ever fired.

  19. avatar Jay in Florida says:

    Anybody remember the “Tround”??
    This electronic round reminds me of the same deal.
    A novelty idea that no one wanted or needed.
    I pity the fool who bought into them back then.
    Yet Im sure its another collectible these days none the less.

  20. avatar Marcus Aurelius says:

    I’ve often wondered if this was viable. Such a cartridge could be designed such that it is not “center-fire.”

  21. avatar Jack says:

    Electronics are easy to ruggedize these days, and shielding from an EMP is baby simple. Scare mongers need to do a little research before they try to share their unfounded trepidations.

  22. avatar WillieNAz says:

    I was thinking with 3D printing you could print the bullet and casing all as one piece to exit the barrel like a bottle rocket as the powder continues to burn. To make the bullet add the gun powder in the casing and one of those electric primers pressed into the back of the casing. With conductive plastic you’d only need to add a battery and it would be invisible to metal detectors.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email