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Reader Chris V. writes:

Sort of. Fortunately it didn’t involve any of my firearms. My unintentional boom happened while I was seated, seating primers into cases that I’m in the process of reloading. I’ve pressed primers into more than 20,000 cases over the years, and this was the first time I set one off. It was some former military brass that had the original primer crimped into place. The pressure to seat it was higher than normal because of the remaining crimp overhang. I pressed a little harder on the primer tool lever and . . .

BANG! I might have risen off the stool by abouy 12 inches. A nice bloom of flame shot from the mouth of the case.

Luckily, many years ago my reloading guru beat the routing into me to never seat primers with the case mouth pointing at myself. And never put any fingers near the mouth of the case. Sage advice. He smacked a couple of primers on the floor of the shop to show me how powerful they are.

It’s surprising how much BANG there is in one of those tiny things. His lessons always stuck with me, and seating primers is one of the operations I take most seriously during reloading. Not that any of the other steps deserve any less attention, but this is one I pay the most attention to.

However … I was reworking 300BLK cases, which are very short. I got lazy. My finger was past the end of the case by about 1/2 inch and I have a nice scorch mark on my finger to go with the ringing in my ears and a generally startled demeanor. Fortunately, no real damage done. I seated the rest of the primers in about 200 more cases without incident, but you bet I paid a lot of attention to what I was doing.

This is a good reminder for me, and for any of us who use, handle, repair, and otherwise mess with firearms on a regular basis. We all know the rules for safety (or should), and we need to continually remind ourselves of those rules for our benefit and the benefit of all those around us. A moment’s lapse can result in a life-changing event.

I got lucky today, but this lesson will stay with me for a long time.

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  1. Have this happen in a primer tube stacked 100+ tall on a Dillon 550… Primer didn’t seat, poped up sideways, when the grabber slid back under the stack, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, B, BOOM! The aluminum primer tube didn’t stand a chance. Neither did the hand or the ceiling.

    • “The aluminum primer tube didn’t stand a chance. Neither did the hand or the ceiling.”

      Who’s hand and ceiling?

      Do folks call you ‘lefty’, now?

    • I had a primer go off in my Dillon 650 as I was seating it. It ignited the other primers in the dial as well as the remaining ones in the tube. Fortunately there were only a few in there. It shot the primer tube follower into the ceiling, leaving a mark and snapping the follower. And it blew out some of the parts of the primer feeder.

  2. Case cleaning needs hand primer reaming.
    Precision is key and requires its due diligence.

    A sign at my local reloading store says something to the effect of ‘Reloading needs to happen as though you’re not just trying ti beat factory ammo in price.’

    • A good book for anyone going into, or now into handloading would be wise to purchase Mic McPerson’s, “Metallic Cartridge Handloading” book. I believe Barns and Noble handle it. 425 pages, covers everything!

  3. I’ve had one negligent discharge, ever. I was hunting with a Jap-made WWII rifle with a rotary safety behind the bolt. I’d recently disassembled, cleaned, and lubricated the thing, and that did me in; the twist to take off the safety was a LOT easier than it had ever been, and it did something it had never done before: it slipped and snapped into place, with a force that made me grab at the rifle. My finger slipped on the nicely oiled surface and hit the trigger.

    I guess my lesson was after overhauling a firearm, practice with it and don’t expect it to behave the way it did before.

  4. .22 BB and .22 CB are tiny rounds that have no powder charge, just primers, yet can do considerable damage. They illustrate that primers are small but still somewhat powerful. Thanks, Chris V., for reminding us.

    • The first time I shot Aguila Super Colibris out of my Henry, I was surprised by two things: how quiet the report from the gun was, and how solidly the round smacked the target. I had in my mind that they would be the equivalent of a weak pellet gun, but they’re more powerful than you’d expect. Sure, they’re not .44 Magnums, but there’s a surprising amount of energy in just a little bit of priming compound.

  5. That’s something I worry a little about also. It can happen to the best of us, and worst of us. Five things can help prevent injury.

    1. Adjust your priming arm so that it only goes so far, that is adjust it so that it cannot push the primer past a certain point. If you are using a regular press, where the priming arm is pushed in against the main press ram, and the downward stroke seats the primer, then you may not have any control over this.
    I use a “Ram primer seater” with a Lee lightweight press, that sells for around $30. It is easy to feel the primer go into the pocket.

    2. Keep your face and fingers away from the mouth of the case. sit in a lower chair if needed to get your face away from the case.

    3. Rotate the shell holder so you have to insert the case from the rear side of the shell holder. This provide protection in case the primer starts in crooked, and blows. The steel facing around the shell holder will direct the escaping gases in the direction of the opening where you insert the case.

    4. Some folks omit an important step, and that is cleaning the primer pocket, and it’s also a good idea to “LOOK” at the pocket when you insert the case into the shell holder. Also “LOOK” to make sure you have inserted the primer correctly, and not in reverse”

    5. If you are reloading military cases, use a primer pocket uniformer. I have never reloaded any military cases, but I believe this step will probably remove a crimp.

    • “4. Some folks omit an important step, and that is cleaning the primer pocket, …”

      Are there tools for this?

      • Yes I have a little circular scraper that does a great job. It’s really only for match .308, 5.56, and 300blk. I don’t bother with pistol loads or FMJ practice rifle loads.

      • Yes. Everything from cheap hand tools like the Lee primer pocket cleaner (about $4) to a multi-tool electric case-prep system from RCBS or Lyman for a couple hundred bucks.

        Generally speaking, I don’t clean primer pockets on every reload unless I’m loading for accuracy. After three or four loads with a pistol case I’ll hand de-prime and run them through a sonic-cleaner to get the pockets clean.

      • “Sinclair International” carries a lot of stuff including tools for cleaning, and tools for uniforming pockets.

      • I use an RCBS primer pocket brush chucked in a drill for every case…rifle and pistol. A quick ‘zap’ with the brush after depriming/sizing then off to the tumbler.

  6. Seems to me that a lot of the Simunitions rounds are basically just a primer and they still hurt like hell when you get hit.

  7. A sage instructor told me early on. If you shoot a lot, you will have an A/ND. Will have, no maybe. So always follow the 4 rules and when it happens, there will be no serious damage. That’s why my dry fire target is an obsolete kevlar vest. I don’t trust my life to it anymore but it will protect the wall. Oh, BTW it happened, … safely, and I learned a lesson that is now hard wired in my bones.

  8. Chris,
    If those are your cases in the picture, STOP SHOOTING THEM! The pressure signs are very pronounced, and in today’s rifles, leaving a brass-flow mark on the headstamp is usually indicative of pressures greater than 65,000 psi. Something is seriously wrong with that load…

    • Indeed.

      But, if you check the link that pic links to, it is precisely that…a discussion of an overpressure factory load posted to arf-com in 2014, not Chris’s brass from this incident.

      • Doh! Never thought to hover over the picture. Scary that those are from factory loads. QC missed something in that production run.

  9. Discovered tight primer pockets on some new 10mm brass I picked up. Primers wouldn’t seat. Reamed the primer pockets, and they are good to go now. So every time before I seat primers, I check them all with the reamer first now. Thankfully it didn’t come to me having a BOOM! to learn this lesson. Hope you heal swiftly and not let this sour you (or anyone) on reloading.

  10. I refuse to mess around with NATO spec 9mm brass, because (just to be safe) I would have to de-crimp the primer pocket on all of them, even if I *think* they are from prior reloads of mine, because it *could* be an accidental range pickup. (That means I consider both aluminum case and NATO Spec suitable for use at a range where there’s a bunch of other peoples’ brass on the floor; it’s abandonable without triggering my OCD “gotta find that last piece of brass” reflex.)

    Before I realized this was an issue, I remember having trouble getting primers to seat sometimes, and I am surprised (now) none of them ever detonated.

    Re the Dillon presses, they come with a heavy shielding around the primer tube now.

    • It’s stuff like this that gives me the serious ‘neck-hair standing on end’ syndrome when I read about quick-and-dirty reloading, especially via high throughput progressives.

      Call me antiquated, but I LIKE the multiple inspections hand sorting and “single stage” style loading gives me. I handle each piece of brass more than 10 times over the course of “picking it up” and putting into the gun’s magazine.

      Over the decades of loading, I have caught brass problems at all stages of the ‘inspection’ process…meaning it was missed earlier.

      Interestingly, just last night, I had a 9mm case that was split and made it through the sizer in a way that the sizer overlapped the two aspects of the split. It was VERY difficult to SEE the split, but when I tried to trim using a pilot trimmer, the pilot would not fit inside the case AT ALL…it was only then that I realized the mouth was ‘flanged’ at one point and was indeed way ‘too small.

      It made me wonder…how many folks get in high-volume mode on a progressive and don’t even check trim length (for a round like 9mm that headspaces on the mouth?) and may well not have caught this case. Sure, the bullet seating pressure might have felt a little light, but then again, that might have been lost in the sizing pressure + other operations on a progressive.

      Like I said…I may be old fashioned…but I do see some advantages to “slow and deliberate.”

      That said…there are days that a progressive is mighty tempting. I can’t shake long habits, though, and wonder if I’d never completely give up the full level of automation.

      • We have much in common when it comes to reloading. I don’t reload for cost effectiveness, I load for accuracy only. I’m not satisfied until my 5 shot (not 3 shot) groups shrink to under .500 inch.

        I get more satisfaction when I handle the brass at each step. I also moly coat all bullets that go through my 223’s

        • Very true. It’s why I prefer separate terms “handloading” vs “reloading.”

          For some, it’s about “bulk fodder.” That’s cool. But, for me, it’s more about hand crafting and attention to detail. It’s it’s own thing, and, interestingly enough, extremely relaxing in it’s own right.

      • I reload a few hundred rounds a week. On 2 single stage presses. I treat every pistol case just like I would a rifle case. I’ve only got one standard for acceptable. I reload because I enjoy it.

  11. I’ve had SEVERAL accidental discharges in my life…all but one was due to a malfunction with the firearm itself. As a gunsmith I never had one the entire time I had my own shop…not one! The accidental discharges were all with firearms belonging to other people except one… After investigating them, the causes for all were due to those people “tinkering” with or “adjusting” said firearms for “better performance”. The one that was mine that was a malfunction was an early 3 digit serial number Springfield Armory XD-40, a used pistol I picked up from one of the old pawn shops I frequently “haunted”.
    The one that I caused and was 100% on me was a moment of carelessness and utter stupidity. Handling two semi auto pistols at the same time with different action types (striker fired and standard hammer fired). I had the first pistol on SAFE and was noticing the movement of the hammer with the safety on (H&K USP)….it was pointed down range and in a safe direction. The intent of it was showing how the pistol can be put into “half cock” by squeezing the trigger while the gun has the thumb safety ON. I picked up the Glock, had it pointed down range and pulled the trigger…BANG! I was too casual and wasn’t thinking…I STILL feel like a dumbass to this day because of it. Thank God I was in a situation and a place where there wasn’t any harm done to anybody. It just goes to show that if you ever let yourself get too lax and you’re overconfident, not paying attention or just not thinking…you can get into a world of sh!t.
    I see and hear a lot of people who say they’ve never had an accidental or negligent discharge….and most of them have never been THAT involved with firearms. Some are just plain liars and some are just too damn proud to admit they screwed up.

  12. I know a lot of folks do, but I never reload a case I haven’t fired myself, That brass may have been sitting in someones draw for years. Did you know that brass hardens with age? A hard neck can mean a split case later. Of course you can anneal the cases.
    A worse scenario is a case that for some reason, like in a fire, or incorrectly annealed, a case has a “soft” base! This can spell real trouble if the case splits or blows open at the base.
    I buy Lapua cases (223) and turn the necks, after so many rounds you should anneal the necks to keep them from becoming hard.
    Most importantly, I use a “Lee Collet Die”. This is one of the best thought out tools to be introduced for handloading. When the case goes up into the die, a collet wraps it’s self around the neck and compresses the neck around a mandrel to get it down to a size that will hold a bullet.
    This eliminates expanding the neck, and the sizing it back down again. This works the brass too much, and will shorten case life drastically!
    Benchrest shooters have been know to get get up to 100 reloads from a single case!

  13. As a teen I handloaded cartridges for my 270 Winchester. I also use the same primers in empty 32 special revolver cases, pressed them into paraffin and used them for target practice in our barn. The primers would propel the paraffin “bullets” through both sides of a cardboard box. The revolver was a bitch to clean though.

  14. I’m glad you were not seriously hurt. I’m not a reloader. But I do learn from others mistakes. Thank you for telling your story.

    • The link also show the Lyman primer pocket cleaning tool for $17.79. I have one of these and use it all the time.

  15. If you know you will be using large quantities of crimped brass, a swage tool is probably better than reamers. (Moving brass versus removing brass.) The Dillon Super Swage 600 is my tool of choice, but I’m partial to all of their blue hardware.

  16. I had some of those stupid small primer .45 brass get mixed with regular .45.
    The first bang I just thought a primer got sideways.
    A few rounds later another bang.
    So I had to sort through a couple thousand rounds of .45.
    I found a bunch of that crap.

    • Wow! I didn’t know one might encounter two different size pockets on the same cartridge. Kinda scary. I never handloaded for the 45, but might someday, if the ground doesn’t get me first.
      Are you referring to the 45 colt, or the 45 ACP?

      • Not sure about .45 Colt, but I’ve seen that with .45 ACP. Most seems to use large primers, but it’s available with small primer pockets as well. Another good reason to thoroughly check your “recipe” before you start.

  17. So yeah, I just bought a complete reloading system a few days ago to start reloading a few calibres and *this* story has to pop up on TTAG!

    Anyway, I had one ND when I was a empty-headed teenager. Stupid idiot that I was…we were out hunting and I was carrying a .22 with my finger on the trigger and the safety off. I was swinging the rifle from behind to in front of me like a pendulum. My finger must have tightened because the rifle went off and the bullet impacted a few inches away from my foot.

    Ever since that day I follow the safety rules as if God came down and handed them to me Himself.

    • “So yeah, I just bought a complete reloading system a few days ago to start reloading a few calibres and *this* story has to pop up on TTAG! “

      Try not to worry about it too much.

      Couple of pointers/comments:

      (1) Are you loading a caliber / using brass that might have crimped primers? If not, this particular issue is far less a worry.

      (2) The OP said he felt resistance (more than “usual”) but forced it. That’s key. You have to be “in tune” with what you are doing and the gear you are using.

      If something does not “feel normal”…don’t force it.

      Will that eliminate 100% of problems? No, of course not. But, it reduces them.

      (3) Priming is the scariest part of loading for me personally. I get in a rhythm and go pretty fast (I use a hand priming tool…there are many reasons I don’t like press based priming), but I constantly tell myself to be “deliberate” and fight complacency.

      To this end, I check every single primer in the tool for proper alignment before inserting the case in the tool. If it’s hard to seat the primer, there’s a reason OTHER than the primer is not sitting properly.

      (4) Don’t try to set speed records or even match loading rates you read on the Internet. As you learn, GO SLOW…take your time. Learn proper techniques and what each step feels like…build some muscle memory across the process. Loading is not particularly dangerous, really, but like many things…certain mistakes introduce SERIOUS dangers.

      (5) Never hesitate to ask a knowledgeable loader if you have questions. Be careful asking on the Internet, though…like everything else, you get a range of advice from really good to craptastically poor. It takes experience to filter one from the other, however.

      (6) Habituate self discipline from the very beginning. Don’t get lax.

      • What kind of protective gear would you recommend for reloading to minimize damage from any such incidents? I mean, obviously, good eye protection is a must. What about gloves?

        • I think it would be almost impossible to reload with gloves on, about the only thing you could do, would be to stroke the press handle.

        • “What kind of protective gear would you recommend for reloading to minimize damage from any such incidents?”

          Yeah, eye pro is a good idea.

          To my mind, safety comes more from diligent technique than from protective equipment.

          For example, in priming, you want to ensure two main things in case of a accidental detonation of the primer:

          (1) That the primer flame/gases are not pointed at anything of your person (the danger is generally around the case mouth and the direction it is pointed)…face, fingers, etc. As the OP I think mentioned.

          (2) That you avoid ‘mass detonation’ of the primers in the tray. One primer going off is bad; the whole lot is far worse. Isolation of the primer being loaded helps, so use a tool/priming technique that provides for that.

          Like so much else in regard to shooting, with loading, the single most important safety item is the one housed between the ears.

        • JR,
          Man, I forgot about that one “Mass detonation” That’s scary just looking at the word. The only excuse I can think of for omitting that is: I only load one at a time, including primers.

        • Get a decent pair of safety glasses. I get mine at a welding store. You can use shooting glasses if you like. Your eyes are your most vulnerable. If you get a burn on your hand it will heal. Not necessarily so if you get a chunk of primer in your eye.

          I have smashed a couple of primers when seating them. Never had one go off. Somehow, once in a great while, the primer winds up on edge instead of flat. I have learned to evaluate the feel of the tool seating the primer. It should feel smooth and you should feel the primer bottom in the pocket. If you feel anything else something is wrong and you should back off. I think that habit is the reason I have never had one detonate.

    • Steve, Good advice from JR
      Some more advice, get the book I mentioned above, (near to beginning of this thread)

    • What JR said about feel is everything. So much of reloading, at least with a single stage press, is about feel. If it feels wrong, or even just different, STOP, and take hard look at what you are doing. You’ll save your skin and a lot of headache.

  18. I had an ND happen right in front of me.

    Buddy of mine was handling his Ruger Mk.22 pistol and was lowering the bolt onto a live round while telling me “You have to do this VERY carefully or else *BANG*!

    Then disgustedly said “Or THAT will happen!”

    He put a round of Eley sub-sonic (brown box) into the drywall of his room.

    A few years ago he put a .45 slug in is head using a Glock that he bought because he liked the way mine shot.

    A few weeks later I sold that G23. Pissed me off just looking at it.

    That azzhole…

  19. If your a rifle caliber reloader, here’s a little tip I have yet to see in the books. Right after I deprime and clean my cases (with a Sonic cleaner) I run them through my rifle and close the bolt on each one, to see if there is any resistance.
    If none is felt the is no reason to size anything but the neck, and that’s only because you’ve got to keep the bullet from falling out of the case someway!
    And to prevent undue working of the case neck, learn about, and use a Lee Collet die.

  20. Like Bobby McKellar, I had an “accidental” discharge while handling 2 weapons at the same time. I will admit, it was nothing but my own stupidity. I was visiting with my dad and he brought out these 2 9mm pistols he had recently purchased. Pocket pistols that fit in my palm. I didn’t even recognize the name on them. Neither had any kind of safety or loaded chamber indicator. He handed me the first one and I removed the magazine and cleared the chamber. After looking the first one over I put it down and he handed me the second one. He had already removed the magazine so I started to give it the once over. I had pulled the slide about half way back but not fully. As I mentioned, these guns were pocket pistols and very small. I had to wrap my hand around it to keep from dropping it and in doing so also placed my trigger finger inside the trigger guard (stupid). As I let the slide go forward the whole pistol slid forward. I am sure you can guess what happened next. Yes, he had removed the magazine but not cleared the chamber. Since my normal routine is to remove the magazine then cycle the slide to clear the chamber, I had never fully cycled the slide either. Hence, the round in the chamber remained and BOOM. 2 full grown men with years of firearms experience standing side by side and BOOM. I shot the kitchen sink and a jar on the counter filled with almonds. Good thing my step mom has a sense of humor. Although this is certainly no laughing matter. To this day we do not know what happened to the slug. Never found it. The kitchen sink and the jar both received mortal wounds and had to be replaced. But thank God that is all that received wounds. Moral to the story; we all can become complacent in our habits or routines. But we also can miss things when we get away from our routines. I missed the fact that the chamber had not been cleared because I was not following my norm-drop the mag, clear the chamber. It does not matter what side of the coin you are on, danger lurks. For all of us handling weapons and ammo that danger can result in situations that none of us want to be a part of. I knew a guy once who had rode motorcycles his whole life. Like many riders he had been through his share of bikes. I asked why so many? His response was not what I expected. He said that when you get to the point that you think you have a bike mastered it is time to get rid of it, because you have lost respect for it and that is when having the bike gets really dangerous. I am not saying any of us need to get rid of our guns or stop reloading. But we do need to maintain that respect. I thank all of you for being transparent and sharing your stories. We all need to be reminded again and again.

  21. so why dont you have a primer pocket reamer? i use them on ALL cases.

    I had something similar. I was actually shooting. A buddy and me out skeet shooting. I finished my turn put the safety on, laid it down still pointing down range, took a drink of water, picked it back up, thought it was empty and attempted a dry fire and BOOM, no ears either. Thats all it took to make me iron clad on implementing the 4 rules. It startled the bejeezus out of me, and my ears. thankfully i still had the discipline to keep it down range the entire time so no one but me knew it was unintentional.

  22. Worst negligent discharge I ever saw was a guy I was quail hunting with when I was in my teens. He carried a Winchester ’97 shotgun. They are hammer guns and on the older ones the serrations on the hammer are often worn smooth as his was. He loaded his gun, jacked a round in the chamber and went to let the hammer down. Of course his thumb slipped off the hammer and the shotgun fired. Fortunately he had it pointing at the ground so there was no injury. Shook us both up and he said he needed to be more careful when letting the hammer down. Then he did it Again.

  23. I have been using Lyman hand tools for primer pocket/flash hole cleaning. Ream pockets and case mouth at same time too. Only problem with this, it take me and my wife over a week just on the primer pocket step. I recently got a die to remove crimp instead of hand teaming till our hands don’t have the strength to hold a case.. The die is much faster than hand reaming.
    It still the most time consuming step, but it’s about 3:1 faster than hand reaming by two people.
    My weakness is in bullet crimping.
    I’m not sure when is enough or too little. I usually put a light crimp just to keep the bullets from pushing in but I have experimented and pulled a hard crimp and it was collapsing the bullet.
    I know that is too much.
    I can feel slight tention when I light crimp bullets, but it’s hard to tell with prior crimp marks on the mouth.
    I probably don’t even need it but it’s the one aspect of my process I know the least about. Any advice other than crimp some dry cases and pull them to look for signs of collapsed bullets?
    My handloads run within .001 OAL and Near perfect charge.
    Reloads run a tolerance of .005OAL and .05 charge.
    I’ll reload .223/556 and 9mm .40
    My .308’s are bolt action so i
    Spend however long it takes to make those.
    I hear people say they can churn out 100rd/hr. i use the Rcbs single stage press. So I do my steps in days. Tumbling day, sizing decapping day, (throw long cases in box until I get enough for trimming day, primer crimp WEEK, priming day, then I store primed/sorted cases until they are needed for a batch.
    I’m somewhat interested in a multi stage press for reloading .223, but I’ve heard about Dillion’s “rapid expansion” problem from too many people to trust churning out 1,000rd in a day. Volume is the only reason I like the multistage for .223
    But I guess it’s a Trade off..
    I can eat shrimp faster than she can she’ll them, she can shoot ammo faster than I can make it.. Heheh

    The Rcbs Is my redneck slot machine. Add money to it, pull the arm, ammo comes out. :D.

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