Today, I’d like to talk about Range Etiquette. Specifically, issues which may occur as a result of using YOUR reloaded ammunition on a firing range.
Quality factory ammunition is produced by automatic machines to exacting standards and subject to formal quality control processes. Your own reloaded ammunition on the other hand will only be as good as your own handy work. That is not to say it can’t be as good, or perhaps even better, than factory ammunition, but that will be entirely up to you. What you need to be prepared for is the possibility of a bad load, and how to deal with it. This is important not only for your own safety, but also to that of other shooters around you on the range.
The greatest potential for a bad load is a so-called “squib” load. A “squib” load is one with either none, or very little powder in the case. When fired the round will make a “pop” sound rather than the familiar “bang”. The “pop” is the sound of the primer igniting, which is normally overpowered by the “bang” sound of the powder igniting. The primer will usually produce sufficient gas to force the projectile out of the case and someway down the barrel, but not fully out. The danger is a second round fired whilst the previous projectile is still stuck in the barrel. This is extremely dangerous, will most likely destroy the firearm (or at least the barrel), and has the potential to cause personal injury to the shooter and anyone else in close proximity. Whilst “squib” loads with factory ammunition should be extremely rare, they are not unheard of. So irrespective of whether you are using factory or reloaded ammunition, it would be wise to know how to deal with a “squib” load.
If you think you have had a “squib” load – STOP IMMEDIATELY. Unload the firearm. Unless you have been shown how to deal with a “squib” load yourself, place the firearm down at the firing line with the barrel in a safe direction, and seek help from the range officer, an instructor or a gunsmith. Do not take the firearm from the firing line with the firearm loaded or in an otherwise unsafe or even unknown condition.
A “squib” load is definitely a cause for concern, but if detected and dealt with correctly, it should be no more than annoyance value.
The method of clearing “squib” loads varies significantly between semi-auto pistols, revolvers, and long arms; and with exactly how far the projectile has traveled down the barrel. My advice is to get instruction from a firearms instructor or gunsmith on how to deal with “squib” loads in your particular firearm, before you commence using reloaded ammunition.
In a later article I will deal with reloading techniques which minimize the potential for a “squib” load. In 10 years of reloading, and probably 50,000+ reloaded rounds fired, I have experienced only 1 bad load, and that I put down to a faulty primer.
Brass Collection and Re-use
We have probably all been on commercial ranges with signs prohibiting the collection of fired brass cases. The main reason for this is that ranges collect the brass and either have it reloaded or sell it as scrap brass. But what if the brass cases came from your own reloaded ammunition? Surely this is your property. In the first instance, if you are using your own firearm and your own reloaded ammunition, before you start shooting confirm with the range staff that you can remove your own brass cases. If they say no, then you may need to find another range.
The main problem is standing ankle deep in expended cases from the multitude of shooters who have been on the range before you. Which cases are yours? The best trick is to mark your cases during reloading to clearly identify them. This is best achieved with a colored felt tip marker on the base of the case. Do not mark the side of the case, as when heated during firing, the ink may transfer to the cylinder or breach and cause feed/extraction problems. A cross or other distinctive mark (Figure 1) usually works best. In this way, your own cases should stand out among all the other brass. Don’t forget, if the case ends up forward of the firing line, leave it there. Unless you have access to a broom, you probably won’t be able to retrieve any cases forward of the line.