By Chris Inouye
There I lay. The emergency room was unbearably cold, even compared to the December day I was shooting in for the previous six hours. The Physician assistants asking me if they could take a picture of the gore. A former classmate doing much better with their life judging by her lab coat and “staff badge” dangling from her necklace. A Sheriff’s deputy interviewing me and bewailing about the lack of “real police work” in this podunk. What a great birthday . . .
An hour earlier I was down at the public range, sequestered deep behind a landfill surrounded by pools of frozen runoff. It was the big day. I was finally taking out my 1942 round receiver 91/30, 1928 Tula hex receiver, and my M44, having kept them in the safe, rather favoring my ebony MSRs. I even opened a 1947 zinc-lined spam can of 7.62X54r on true Russian stripper clips that AIM had at an incredible pre-2012 price for the occasion as well. For those philistines who are unfamiliar with the Mosin Nagant allow me to save you a trip to Wikipedia.
The Mosin–Nagant (Russian: Винтовка Мосина) is a 5 shot, bolt-action, internal magazine-fed, military rifle, developed by the Imperial Russian Army in 1882–91, and used by the armed forces of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and various other nations. It is one of the most mass-produced military bolt-action rifles in history with over 37 million units produced since its inception in 1891, and much like the AK-47 it has shown up in various conflicts around the world, despite its age.
Before you think the Mosin is just for milsurp collectors, it’s still utilized in many underssupplied “guerillas” and “freedom fighters” to this day.
Mosin Nagant used by YPG Kurds to ballistically reeducate ISIS:
And click here for a collection of images Mosin Nagants in Various DMR forms in Syria.
From the beginning of the day I had been concerned about the age of the ammunition. You always hear about issues with hangfires or even squibs from military surplus, although most of the cases I’ve seen were from British .303 or Yugo 8mm. Finally the ARs and GLOCK rounds were complete and the time came.
I sit down and, no shit, trace the cross over myself like my nice Sunday school teacher taught me before she kicked me out because of my attitude. The first five rounds came off the stripper and fired just fine. The irrational fear of the bolt blowing out the back of the rifle and embedding into my forehead, ‘Sin City’-style, made me run the bolt like I was defending Stalingrad from the Wehrmacht.
The second clip goes in, this time harder than the first to seat the rounds in the magazine. The first round launches, I run the bolt and it gets stuck. Not an uncommon occurrence with a Mosin, I’ve been told. So, I do the sensible thing, I try to chamber it through brute force just like I’ve seen all my favorite YouTube gun celebrities do. The round doesn’t budge. I hit it again, and again and a dozen agains. This thing isn’t budging.
Looking back, I wish I had unhinged the base plate and let the rounds drop out, but I was trying to channel my inner Cossack and wrapped the rifle in snow camo from McNett. I try to pop the nose of the round by pressing down on the end of the case. I try pushing the entire round back down into the magazine. I try ejecting the round. I try prying the round up with my knife blade. Nothing. I go back to banging on the the round with the bolt. And then, something happens.
It sounded like a regular gunshot. The rifle didn’t recoil though. I pulled my hand back from reflex. I felt absolutely no pain. I twist my wrist. Is that metal? I saw streams of blood splattering all over the green bench and sand-color shooting bags.
“Oh my God!” someone exclaims from behind me.
I’m proud to say that as soon as I saw the blood, I rushed over to my shooting bucket and grabbed my OSOE Tear-Off IFAK and handed it to a buddy. I sat down and looked at what I assumed was some sort of cut. It wasn’t. And, the more I looked at it the more it seemed to grow.
Maybe I was processing it more or maybe the charred skin just broke apart and flaked off. My friend stands before me with the now-open IFAK. He apparently was in a state unable to read the wrappers.
I exclaim, “Anyone know how to use this?”
After all, the IFAK is designed to be used on yourself. Surely someone would be there to tend my wounds. When I realized that wasn’t happening I tell them that there is an Israeli bandage. They still could not read. I didn’t even consider self aid. The amazing adrenaline that kept me from feeling the burn and piece of metal in my wrist started making me shake.
As I began walking up to the parking lot, to meet my friend who ran for a car, someone gave me a mystery piece of fabric to wrap my bloody hand. Fine. I’m sure the hospital will give me antibiotics. A fifteen minute ride of Stevie Ray Vaughn, chain smoking and a phone call to nervous family.
So what happened?
Why does the dog like the taste of his own unit? Why does the TSA still exist? Why do I look like the mailman and not Dad? This is another one of those mysteries that I may live with the rest of my life and never have the complete answer. For months after the incident there was much talk on why this happened.
The first theory was that the hammer fell and struck the firing pin and detonated the round outside the chamber. I also theorized perhaps the firing pin/spring assembly failed. That was, of course, impossible since the bolt was rearward and the trigger wasn’t touched. Also, the offending round was recovered and the primer was still intact.
The third theory of the day came from a range buddy who heard a scientific dissertation from a range professor. The professor concluded that it occurred when I was being less than gentile trying to chamber that fateful round. He explained that the steel bullet and case scrapping against each other created sparks inside the case detonating it outside the chamber.
Off hand, the theory is unlikely, as the bullet was steel core. There would be a thin copper wash and a layer of lead around the steel core. Though there is the possibility that the neck of the cartridge scrapped off the thin copper wash and lead on the bullet to expose the core, creating sparks. After all it was 1947 produced rounds.
The U.S.S.R. was rebuilding after a costly war. Perhaps the uniformity of lead wasn’t there. I found this unlikely as I was observing the round and saw no movement of the round into the case. But maybe I missed it. It would have been easier to quantitatively say it didn’t move had there been that red sealant around the case mouth as later 54r surplus has.
The next theory is even more unlikely. When I found the round stuck, I went to my knife. Steel on steel…perhaps static electricity caused sparks and detonated the case. This is incredibly far-fetched as I had to ground myself multiple times by grabbing different rifles, the cars etc. Besides that, I had ceased my knife prying before the incident occurred.
The most likely theory, in my opinion, came from the awesome old timer range officer who I met on my subsequent trips to the range. He explained that I must have had a live round seated in the chamber already. He went on to tell me that because of my violent bolt manipulation, the extractor likely skipped over the rim and picked up another round from the magazine. I must have mistakenly thought the bolt glanced over a round. I then drove another round into the primer of the seated one. Yeah, you see where this is going. The exact reason you should not use Spitzer bullets in a lever action gun.
The tip of the bullet acted like a firing pin, setting off the seated round. Without any support, the case head exploded creating a chain reaction that also ruptured the round that was stuck on the bolt face. This theory explains why I then found a broken case in the chamber the month after the incident (it took me some time to want to touch that rifle again).
As bad as this negligence was, a few things kept it from being much worse. First, I had the muzzle downrange so the actual projectile was stopped by an earthen berm. Second, I’m left handed. I had much more of my hand/arm over the round when it exploded, so I absorbed most of the shrapnel. And lastly, I was wearing eye pro. I am unsure what smacked me in the face, but it left a deep scratch across my Oakley lenses. It’s amazing how that flinch reaction works. I instinctively closed my eyes and opened them to a scar on the eye pro.
So, what does the treatment and aftercare of a third degree burn and explosive projectile impact entail? I am so glad you asked.
The initial greatest concern was the extractor hanging out of my wrist. A very helpful lady at the range (who just kept telling me “not to pull it out” without offering any real assistance) and I were concerned it may have hit that vein that teenagers keep going across the road instead of down the road because school, man.
I immediately got two x-rays. These x-rays also served to see if there was any shrapnel in the burnt flesh. As I waited for the surgeon (who ended up being a gun guy as well) the lovely nurse gave me a tetanus shot and squirted the wound with a bottle of saline, then topped it with burn cream and a non-adherent surgical pad.
My next concern was all the PA’s wanting to cut off my sweatshirt. I explained to them the cost of fat man’s clothes and they respectfully backed off. Finally the surgeon enters, with an entourage of PA’s and nurses (I assume to see the bloody idiot in all his glory). He looks at my wrist, has me do some simple joint movements, and then without warning, tears the extractor from my wrist with his bare hands. Seriously, bare hands.He didn’t glove up. I assume he suspected I wasn’t attractive enough to contract a fun STD, or skinny enough to be an intravenous drug user.
As I was finally peeing, my buddy handed me about an inch and a half of extractor they’d taken out of my wrist. My buddy told the nurse I’d probably want to try to put it back on the rifle. I would, but short of welding it back on, I’ll just use it as a conversation piece. Free plug for Ballistol. It keeps bloody conversation pieces from rusting very well.
The nurse later came in to check on me and told me that I was lucky. She explains that because of my fatty arm there was more to slow the impact of the extractor, so it didn’t hit any nerves or ligaments deep in the wrist. So, I had that going for me.
So lets get to the gross stuff — the burn itself. They were concerned about any debris or shrapnel in the muscle of my hand. So, like a motorcyclist with road rash, they debrided it. Using a hard rubber brush the PA swirled it around the wound very briskly and aggressively. She was literally working up a sweat. It made a similar noise that a pumice stone makes over your thick foot leather.
I looked over at one point and my hand looked like a pile of freshly ground hamburger. Speckles of flesh dotted the instrument tray and the gown they put over my arm. That was cool, because with the drugs they gave me, I felt nothing.
And that’s something that surprises people…I never felt any pain. From the moment the blast hit me through my recovery I never had any pain. And I didn’t even take any of the opiates I was prescribed. She put some antibiotic cream directly on the wound, topped it with a new non-adherent surgical pad and a cotton dressing. I changed it every day for the next couple months and it healed nicely.
The recovery after this picture was taken looked even better. Absolutely no scaring or ashiness.
Medical stress training. I emphasize stress. Intellectually, I knew how everything worked and the application of each device in my IFAK.
The issue came when the stress hit, the crimson began to pour out and my stress reactions overcame my intellect and turned me into a liability (yes, I stole that from Travis Haley).
I would also recommend that the training should not just be for you, but close friends and family members who may be with you. My friends were as ineffective as I was, even though they weren’t losing hydraulic fluids.
Consider this wasn’t the worst case scenario (read: gunshot wound, traumatic vehicle accident, etc.) that one traditionally assembles a trauma kit to combat, and the stressors weren’t as grievous, yet I still went mush-brain. I’ve found a need to seek training in the martial art of not going dumb and stopping blood, such as those offered by Kerry Davis of Dark Angel Medical.
Mistakes costs lots of money and pride. A twenty dollar extractor, three hundred in hospital fees, an absurd additional one hundred dollar fee for the doctor herself.
I also lost confidence in myself. I was “the gun guy” of the group and I hurt myself with my own weapon. It also cost me the fear of my own rifle, and about eighty pounds of ammo. I kept fearing that at any moment the other ammo may just explode and finish off what its Soviet comrade started. And then I developed a bad flinch anytime I was firing any full caliber rifle rounds, in particular other bolt guns.
When anxious/nervous, adding speed is a combination that can result in disaster. I let my lack of confidence and fear of the rifle make me want to get through firing quickly. This speed made me focus on my task of finishing rather than let me think about the malfunction I had and actively thinking how to remedy the situation.
I needed to get back on the horse. My first move was to buy some Nomex/leather Blackhawk Fury Commando gloves. I would have sprung for Kevlar so I could get more puncture resistance, but Kevlar costs significantly more.
So, with my new PPE, and a good bit of time I took out my M44 out a few weeks ago to get over my fears. Over a couple hours of what I’ve affectionately called, “rainy day old man shooting,” I single-loaded and shot fifty-five rounds of the same vintage 1947 ammo. Through the first dozen or so, I diligently inspected each round for bulges, pushed-out primers, or any signs of over pressure.
I flinched. I threw shots. I didn’t follow through. And my cheek weld was not Sniper’s Hide-recommended. I wouldn’t even run the bolt hard enough for it to eject itself off the bolt face.
And frankly I embraced it. I allowed myself to be a sinner in the face of the good shooting commandments. It took a while, but my flinch disappeared and good shooting practice took hold. I once again had confidence in my Soviet weapon systems. Good thing, too because when I said I had eighty pounds of surplus ammo I wasn’t kidding.
This wasn’t a cautionary tale about Mosin Nagants or surplus ammo. Mosins are still an amazing deal. Consider you can get a historic centerfire rifle and 880 rounds of sealed military-grade ammunition for around four to five hundred hundred dollars. That’s still a deal for a backup hunting rifle, a plinker, an affordable full-power trainer or a put-back rifle for whatever acronym for fecal matter hitting a rotating oscillator you choose.
Instead, this was more an amateur Holmesian deduction of a mystery and a parable about not actively thinking and the consequences thereof. This probably won’t happen to you. In fact the brain trust searched forums for weeks after the incident. They never found a case of rounds exploding outside the chamber.
The only case I heard of was from The Old Timer RO. In this case he saw it happen with a bolt action Montgomery Ward Westernfield shotgun manufactured by Mossberg, a shotgun, my father happens to own, that I never shot before, and that I kind of fear. Don’t worry, I fully intend to never have to write an article like this again. If you have any other theories of your own last to what happened, post them down below. I love internet theories.