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The Roving Sportsman… Near Disaster!!!

Clayton Rue, a sporting clays instructor from Alaska, recently related having witnessed a catastrophic failure of a shotgun. The failure occurred when a 20-gauge shell was inadvertently dropped into a 12-gauge shotgun, then a 12-gauge shell was loaded on top of it! When this occurs, the 20-gauge shell hangs up down in the barrel- allowing the 12-gauge shell to be loaded on top of it with no indication to the shooter. Then, when the 12-gauge is fired, the obstruction (in this case, a 20-gauge shell), is set off and ruptures the barrel. This incident resulted in very serious injury to the shooters hand, and realistically, could have been much worse. The shooter was a very responsible adult with significant experience as a shooter.

I learned about this terrible disaster exactly one week after a very similar and very unnerving incident occurred to me!

I had recently acquired 3 new shotguns — all were the same brand and all were semi-automatics, one each in 12-gauge, 20-gauge and 28-gauge, to shoot in competitions. The 12-gauge and the 20-gauge were working just fine, but the 28-gauge was hanging up during the cycling of the second shell into the chamber. All too frequently, the second shell would come up part way and the bolt would slam against the side of it, jamming the action. Fortunately, there was a qualified gunsmith nearby and I took the gun to him to inspect and adjust. After polishing several of the working parts and making some adjustments, he test fired the shotgun and was satisfied that everything was working properly. However, when I went to the range, the gun malfunctioned for me, just as it had before.

A return trip to the gunsmith resulted in changing out several of the moving parts and making additional adjustments, with a test firing to verify its proper operation. My follow-up test firing at the range, however, resulted in the gun still hanging up from time to time. Frustration, annoyance and doubt were setting in.

I hoped that the third trip to the gunsmith would be a charm! This time, he enlarged slightly the one gas port, allowing more of the gas to be used in operating the action. Optimistically, I raced back out to the range, assured by the gunsmith that all was now finally operating normally.

This time, I was in a bit of a hurry. The shooting range was closing soon and I needed to fire a good volume of shells through the gun before they closed so I could shoot it in competition the next morning. I loaded four boxes of 28-gauge shells in to my shooting pouch, for a total of 100 shells to run through the gun, then grabbed the gun and raced over to the shooting station.

I dropped a shell into the side of the action, and then pushed the release button and the action slammed shut. After loading the second shell, I raised the gun and called “Pull.” I swung the gun in front of the path of the clay target and squeezed the trigger. “Click!” Not “bang!” Now what?

With the action open, there was no visible hang-up or jammed shell and the chamber was empty, so I loaded a shell into the chamber and tripped the action shut. Again, when pulling the trigger, the only sound was a click, not a bang. This time, however, the primer on the shell had a slight dimple from where the firing pin had lightly hit the primer — not hard enough to set it off. I changed brands of shells to try something different, with the same result of a dimpled primer.

Suddenly, there were goose bumps on my arms and the hair had risen up on the back of my neck! As I closely examined the gun, it startled me to realize that the gun I had in my hand was the 20-gauge, and I had been attempting to fire 28 gauge shells in it! Because I was in a rush to test fire the gun, I had mistakenly grabbed the wrong gun!

The first 28-gauge shell I had loaded was now stuck part way down the barrel and if one of the later shells I loaded had gone off, it would have ruptured the barrel and, most likely, would have severely damaged my hand, or worse.

Never, never, never allow yourself to be rushed or hurried when handling firearms! Period. One simply cannot be too careful!

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