Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by michiganfan, Jan 21, 2003.
Ammunition is dangerous when held in a chamber and fired under high pressure down a barrel. This causes the velocity & destruction.
Loose cartridges will cook off & pop their bullets somewhat like a boiling pot popping it's lid. Perhaps not pleasant but far from overtly dangerous.
Gunpowder and modern 'propellants' are just that, they burn fast & generate gasses. They are not explosive.
Bullets need to be fired within a constricted space (like a gun) to be dangerous.
I've observed 5x56 cook off and move the case (and shrapnel) at a pretty good clip.
The bullet stays; the case moves.
They don't just fizzle. There is a report, and the bullet does fly though the air assuming that it was sitting out in the open. But the bullet has very little velocity and I have never heard of anyone being injured as a result. Of course I have to add the disclaimer that this doesn't mean you should do it on purpose to see what happens. It doesn't mean that the next time you get drunk around the campfire at hunting camp that you tempt fate. You may be the one guy in a thousand that does get hurt through some freak turn of events.
American Rifleman actually tried cooking off various types of ammunition and wrote up an article on it a few years back. IIRC, none of the fragments would penetrate a fireman's coat (they tested it), but the primers were going fast enough to cause eye injury if you weren't wearing goggles or a mask, and I'm sure the fragments would sting if they hit bare skin. The yield strength of the unsupported (i.e., unchambered) case is too low to develop significant pressure; it just vents.
Nothing hit me or anyone else, and it might not have hurt if it had, but what I saw made me think that I didn't want to be doing interior work next to any ammo. Everyone with a good view through the hole on that fire did a pretty good job of disappearing quickly.
Well, it turns out I've done some experimentation on this issue myself in my younger/bolder/not so smart days.
I was sitting over at a friend's house drinking beer and cleaning guns after a day of shooting. He asked me to pass a box of ammo that was sitting on the coffee table and as I did, I moved it over the lit candle on the table. He reprimanded me for this as he felt there was a danger of the round cooking off from this. I maintained that at no time had I placed us in any danger. I stated my belief that the powder ignited at way too high a temperature for us to be at risk from a mere flame.
Being the carefree rocket scientists we were, we decided to put this to the test by pulling the bullet from a .22 and dumping the propellant into the candle to see what would happen - no safety goggles, no thoughts about dumping propellant into a fire on the coffee table... just an intense scientific curiousity
Well, we dump the propellant into the candle and.... nothing. Absolutely nothing happens. Both of us being kind of entertained by rapid combustion, we were a bit disappointed. We expanded our hypothesis a bit... obviously the powder burns at a really high temperature and is stable; but what about the primers? Could passing them over a candle represent some danger?
We took the empty .22 casing and some needle nose pliers and throwing caution to the wind, stuck the casing over the candle flame (the same one we had just dumped all the propellant in). Well, after about 2 minutes we were both surprised and frustrated and how difficult it was to make these things go... BANG! The primer finally detonated - not sure whether it made the powder go or not; but it blew candle and hot wax onto the ceiling and all over the living room (as well as the coffee table and assorted frou-frou stuff).
From upstairs we hear his wife asking "<name deleted for posterity's sake>, what was that?" to which my quick thinking friend replied in his best soothing voice "Nothing honey!"
All eyes and ears accounted for, brass case intact in this case; however the mere proof that I am still alive and relatively uninjured should not be taken as evidence that all of my methodology is safe or even sound
The pop. Occasionally the would blow chunks of wood or coals out. Nothing or no one was ever injured in any of my pranks.
I don't do this anymore though. Murphy is bound to catch up to me sooner or later. A hot case poping out of the fire could cause serious eye damage. But I'm relatively certain penetration of a bullet into human flesh is highly unlikely unless chambered. But lets don't risk it anyway.
And my own experiments decades ago confirm the fact.
My friend and I wondered the same thing, but I felt stupid for asking it. Now, I don't have to go through with actual experimentation!!
This is all assuming that the loaded round of ammo was lying out somewhere like on a table with no obstructions to influence the path of the projectile. . However think about how your ammunition is stored. Usually one end or the other is going to hit something right away like a shelf, or the box it is in. One reason why ammo in a fire isnt' a concern is not only because it is going off at very low velocity, but what are the odds of it having a clear path to you ?
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