By Roy H.
I took a gamble and spent $399 on an AR-15 upper receiver to see if it’s worth the money to use M200 5.56x45mm blanks to hurl still-full-of-soda cans 105+ yards down range. My high hope was that it would induce Universal Giggles. Universal Giggles is a recreational device-driven term I came up with to describe experiences capable of instantaneously, spontaneously, and reliably reducing uninitiated grown men to giggling uncontrollably like little school girls after during a particular experience. Other devices and products in this category that are capable of inducing Universal Giggles include machine guns, and exploding rifle targets. Did the X Products Can Cannon deliver the Universal Giggles response? Oh yes, yes it did . . .
And in big ways. Launching soda cans 105+ yards and watching pressurized drinks burst spectacularly against backstops in a violent fizzy rage is a joy in and of itself . And then some wise guy said, “Hey, grab that shotgun real quick.”
The ultimate fun from the Can Cannon came when we discovered that you can substitute soda cans for clay birds. I only wish we hadn’t run out of 24 packs of Diet Sam’s Cola so quickly. It was epic fun, and we have the video to prove it.
Boring Technical Details
The Can Cannon comes to us as a drop-in complete upper less the bolt-carrier group and charging handle for your AR-15 lower receiver. It snaps right into place on your existing lower and you use the same mil-spec or other compatible charging handles and bolt and carrier you would expect to use on any other AR-15.
It has typical AR feed ramps and the familiar barrel extension which 5.56x45mm blanks are loaded into in the normal fashion you’d expect a cartridge to load. In the place of a barrel is a hollow stem that protrudes about five inches out from the receiver with copious ports on the sides to let the gasses of the blank pour out. But it’s capped off at the end in order to build pressure behind the can without blowing directly on it.
A cylindrical sleeve screws onto the receiver around the stem with an opening at the front just wide enough to let a 12oz. soda or beer can freely drop in and slide out of it. When loaded, the can rests just above the capped stem. There’s really just enough free space in the tube to drop a 12oz. can in without it protruding from the top. So if you use a 16oz. can, a portion will be sticking out the front.
When the blanks fire they fill the chamber behind the can with gas creating the pressure that pops those suckers out of the cannon. The capped-off stem means the blank isn’t firing gas and applying pressure directly on the can. That’s important because that’s what allows these things to be launched without busting.
Although this may seem like a simple contraption, I’m willing to bet tons of research and development went into fine tuning a system that wouldn’t burst the cans while still delivering a nice wallop. There is no gas return system.
The Can Cannon is single-shot only. Fire, load a new soda can, and then rack the charging handle to eject the spent case and strip a fresh cartridge from the magazine into the chamber for the next shot.
How does it shoot?
This thing kicks! I wouldn’t dare try aiming this lumbering contraption through the confines of a chronometer, but I did some crude calculations based on some other guy’s video showing a 120 yard shot and came up with a rough velocity. It’s generating about 110 FPS of bubbly velocity which is joyful because watching the flight path as it hurls cans to their explosive and climactic end is a big part of the fun.
While 110 FPS may seem slow in the firearms world, you have to keep in mind the size of the round. That’s a 5800 grain projectile. Recoil is momentum, and momentum is mass times velocity. So if we compare this to a 155 grain .308 bullet traveling at 2,800 FPS, the Can Cannon has 51% more recoil putting it on par with shooting high caliber magnum rifle cartridges. So shooting it takes a toll after a few rounds because of that significant thud against your shoulder. Not that plenty in our group didn’t mind firing up to 20 rounds each, but the bruises tell the full tale of just how fun this thing is. To cushion the blows, I ended up installing a Limbsaver pad which lessened the bite and worked wonderfully.
It’s not very loud. I shot some without ear protection and it wasn’t bad. It gives the brief, familiar hollow tube “thump” sound you’d expect from a potato gun or 37mm/40mm launcher.
Aiming isn’t really scientific. Just eyeball it and let ‘er go. I bought a surplus grenade launcher sight just for show, but it’s of no value because the markings and grades are way off for the slower, heavier soda cans.
There’s no front sight or anything other reference point. If you want maximum distance, aim at about 45 degrees. Any closer shots are really just a guessing game, but it’s actually part of the fun of the thing. Kind of like playing a carnival amusement game where there’s no way you’ll make the shot, but close calls are commonplace and just as exciting.
The manual said that bargain brand generic sodas cans may end up bursting in air, but name-brand quality soda brands work very well. At first I laughed out loud when I read it. To me it sounded like exactly what I’d expect to hear from a gun guy. “I aint running that cheap Wolf ammo through my rifle!”
It turns out they weren’t kidding. I bought some Shasta 12-packs for $2.20 each. About one in four to six cans would burst. You can see one in the video above. That’s still a lot cheaper than paying $4.00 per 12-pack for Coca-Cola. We ultimately found that Sam’s Cola from Wal-Mart was both cheap and reliable. At $4.98 per 24 pack, it was quite a bargain, too. I recommend doing diet sodas when possible because they’re not as sticky when they explode and won’t attract ants or other insects.
What do you do with this thing?
We shot a couple hundred blanks through this, so we tried several variations. We held distance competitions to see who could shoot the farthest. At first, I wrapped tape around the cans so we could write names to identify our cans hoping the names would survive the burst. It wasn’t necessary. In a group of six participants, we could clearly see who went the furthest without needing to go down range.
We also fired a lot of cans into a sand hill at close distances just to watch them explode. It was simple fun, but a joy nonetheless. The hillside seemed to dampen the impact and lessen bursts. We found that aimed shots at hard objects gave good fizz-bomb concussions. We were in a trash-filled tract of BLM land in the desert, so hard fixed objects were easy to find. If you’re in a more luck area, I’m sure a tree trunk would be great.
While launching alternate projectiles is possible, 12oz. cans are best. Second are 16oz. cans. Think energy drinks or tall beer cans. I’m an energy drink fanatic and would never think of sacrificing a 16oz. can to the cannon, but I did send a beer down range. I still don’t know how or why I had beer cans at that moment.
Be advised that 20oz. cans don’t fit at all and water bottles are anti-climactic. We tried regular and miniature ones. It was a waste of 5.56 blanks. They say you can shoot the small 8oz. mini-sodas, but I didn’t try because they’re a smaller diameter than the 12oz. sodas and I didn’t think they’d be worth the time because there’s less pressure build-up. If you find short cans that are the same width as 12oz. cans, I’m sure they’d be fun. I’ve seen video of people doing tennis balls.
One fun novelty we thought of was how to aid the 14-year-old AR-15 open carry enthusiast who also happens to be a paperboy at risk of losing his route due to a debilitating on the job shoulder injury. Well…it turns out the Can Cannon can in fact deliver morning newspapers. We emptied a 12 oz. can, cut the top off, and used it as a sabot to hold the fish wrap. Success! Delivery right to your door from 50 yards away is now possible for those extra-long driveways. At the time of this writing, I’m unclear as to the practical legalities of this. Your jurisdictions and mileage may vary.
Skeet shooting with the Can Cannon was definitely a hit. Far more so than expected based on my past personal experiences. When I was 18 years old, I worked for a small vending machine company and twenty cases of Diet Dr. Pepper ran past their expiration date so the owner gave them to me. I took them out to the desert with some friends where we hand-tossed them and shot them. Even after shaking the cans profusely, it was hard to reliably get them to explode in air with a shotgun blast.
The Can Cannon is a different story. The blast of the 5.56 blank pre-agitates the can to near bursting so that when the shotgun pellets hit, it detonates like the Fourth of July. Very satisfying.
After my first three times taking the Can Cannon out I regretted the purchase because of all the problems. Once we figured them all out, though, we never had a significant problem again.
The manual recommends using any M200 military-style 5.56x45mm blanks, and to avoid the military surplus ones, using only new manufactured blanks. So that’s what I did I first used PPU-made M200 blanks. They fired and the can flew, but the bolt got stuck after each shot. And I mean stuck. I had to take the upper off the lower and use a hammer on the charging handle to release the bolt.
I marred my upper a little and really dinged up my charging handle. After six shots of that, it was infuriating and I gave up for the day to regroup, vowing to come out with different blanks next time. The second time, we used Arms Corp M200 blanks. Same thing. Very disappointing to have to hammer the charging handle to release the bolt.
We contacted X-Products and they recommended we use their M200 blanks, which we did. And there was much rejoicing.
For whatever reason, their M200 blanks and only their M200 blanks worked, and after that the Can Cannon was just a joy to shoot. Sometimes when I read a manual and the manufacturer says only to use only their products, I can’t help but think, “bullcrap.” In this case, it was justified. Thankfully X-Products sells their blanks for a fairly competitive $.40 a round. The cheapest I could find others were $0.33/round, so not much to complain about.
I initially put the Can Cannon on a cheap $120 complete polymer lower. You know, complete as in complete with polymer hammer etc. The polymer hammer worked fine on the PPU and Arms Corp M200 blanks, but of course, those blanks didn’t work well with the upper. With the X-Products blanks, the polymer hammer wouldn’t ignite the primer. Light primer strikes every time. I switched to an inexpensive Palmetto State Armory lower with a standard metal hammer and thereafter everything was fine. I suspect if you have a custom trigger with a light 3lb. pull you may run into the same issue.
The one problem that you can’t really get over and need to deal with perpetually is magazine feeding issues. The number one recommendation is don’t exceed five blanks loaded in the magazine at a time. But even then, you’ll still have periodic feed issues. If so, usually the first pass of the bolt carrier gets it halfway loaded, and you do a second pass and it goes right in. Other times it gets more complicated. It’s annoying and, as far as I can tell, inconsistent and unpredictable. But it’s not a deal killer by any means.
The final problem is finding a venue for shooting the Can Cannon. It’s quite the litter-producing contraption so it would be hard getting support from range operators to let you use it, but you can always ask. If they let you, private land owners, I’m sure, would want you to clean up after yourself when you’re done and may be hesitant if they think you’re going to make a mess and leave. I live in the west where we’re surrounded by copious amounts of BLM land, so finding a shooting spot without needing permission isn’t difficult.
Is it worth it?
Yes. I give the Can Cannon my unequivocal and enthusiastic endorsement. There are many motivations for going shooting. Improving marksmanship, building tactical skills, etc., but my primary motivation for shooting is entertainment. The Can Cannon is one of those thrills that’s so novel and fun, it builds lasting memories and bonds between family members and friends when you go out and shoot.
But I did it for the children. They had a blast and loved it. Shooting the Can Cannon is so fun, it can be a shooting trip that stands all on its own. You’ll talk about the great fun you had over the weekend, even your gun grabber friends will hear about it and want to try it, too. In fact, do that. Bring the gun grabbers into the fold with some cheap Can Cannon thrills.
Caliber: 5.56x45mm BLANKS ONLY
Barrel: 12” Shroud
Capacity: Single Shot Only
Ratings (out of five stars):
LOL. When you hit what you’re aiming for, it’s cause for celebration.
Ergonomics: * * *
Despite zero effort put into ergonomics, it’s actually pretty comfortable to hold. Shooting can be painful because of its tremendous kick.
Fit and Finish: * *
It comes finished, so that’s a good thing. It’s a really soft/cheap finish though, so expect your tube to get lots of streak marks when it touches or rubs against anything.
Style: * * * *
Despite its basic design, this thing has a really cool appearance. One look at it and even if you didn’t know what it was, you’d know it’s awesome.
Customization: * * *
You can pick whatever AR-15 lower you want to mount this on, and that’s your significant source of customization. I ended up switching from a very stylish Battlelink Minimalist stock that looked great with the cannon to a standard M4 stock with a Limbsaver pad. At one point, I also mounted a video recorder on the rails.
Reliability: * * *
Before figuring out that I need to only use X-Products M200 blanks, this thing was horribly unreliable and would have been lucky to merit even one star. However, once we started using their blanks and put it on a lower with a standard grade hammer (as opposed to a polymer-hammered cheapy) this thing worked flawlessly. Feeding blanks reliably was still an issue no matter what.
Cost: * * *
$399 isn’t awful. Feeding it is marginally expensive. $.21 per soda can plus $.40 per blank. Add your Walmart bargain 100-round value pack of 12-gauge shells at $0.24/per shell and you’re at $0.85 per pull if you’re going to shoot skeet shooting it.
Overall: * * * *
Loved it. I bought it for thrills, and thrills is what I received. This is something that builds long-lasting memories and is great for friends and family. Invite some friends, possibly even gun grabbers who want to try something different.