A Tale of Two Cartridges

  Comments: 2

Or, when is too many?

Never re-chamber a cartridge.  Once a cartridge has been ejected from the chamber, relegate it to training or practice use.

Reason 1:  The nose of the cartridge hitting the feedramp in a semi-automatic can eventually drive the bullet back into the case causing unsafe pressures when the cartridge is fired.  If you have to fire a cartridge that has been chambered more than once, visually confirm the bullet hasn’t been set back by comparing the cartridge overall length (COAL) to a virgin, never chambered, cartridge.  Obviously this is not an issue with revolvers.

Reason 2: The priming compound in cartridges is relatively fragile.  This matters because the priming compound undergoes a shock when:

  1. The cartridge hits the deck after being ejected from the gun (from revolvers, too);
  2. The face of the breech smacks the base of the cartridge as it drives it into the chamber;
  3. The cartridge comes to a sudden stop in the chamber.

We could mitigate #1 by finding a soft surface on which to eject the cartridge, but since that’s not always available, we’ll label that solution as ‘impractical’. Likewise, we could lessen the effects of #2 and #3 by ‘riding the slide’ forward, slowing it’s velocity.  On some semi-autos that practice can result in a malfunction so we can’t recommend riding the slide.

I didn’t list the habit some have of catching a live round in the palm of their hand as that’s dangerous and may one day result in negative consequences like pain, embarrassment and a changed life.

Well, I’ve known all this for years… so long I can’t remember who first taught me to ‘never re-chamber a cartridge’.  Never had a problem.  Like most people, when things are going well, I tend to relax and modify the fundamentals.  Why should I continue to take Vitamin C?  I don’t have a cold.  When I was in LE, we’d occasionally have to deal with someone who had gone off the reservation and we’d usually hear this explanation for why they’d stopped medicating:  ‘I stopped taking them because I was feeling okay!’

So, over the years of everything going okay, without realizing the change taking place, I gradually began to interpret ‘never re-chamber a cartridge’ — which is hard and absolute — to don’t re-chamber a cartridge ‘too many times’ — which is soft and subjective.  I didn’t ask myself this question:  How will you know when you’ve chambered the cartridge ‘too many times’?

About a week ago I had a misfire of a Federal HST .45 ACP round.  Unusually, but thankfully as it turned out, I shot the drill with my carry ammo.  After the drill was over I picked up the unfired round and noted the primer showed adequate indentation from the firing pin.

I tried twice more to fire the cartridge w/o success.

When I got home I broke the cartridge down into components.  The first thing I noticed was that the gunpowder had a weird, greenish tint to it.  That is NOT the way gunpowder is supposed to look.  At least in my experience.

The second thing I noticed was that the primer had no priming compound in it.  That three legged thing that looks like a propeller is called the ‘anvil’ and normally it sits on top of the priming compound.  You’ll see that better in another pic.

My first impulse was to blame Federal for a QC failure by letting a primer get out of the factory w/o any priming compound in it.  Then I broke down a fresh from the box cartridge and I saw gunpowder that looked normal and a primer with the compound intact in the cup.

When I saw the green priming compound in the cup I realized why the gunpowder in the misfire was green:  Federal Cartridge Company had not dropped the ball.  The compound had disintegrated into dust and migrated through the flash hole into the gunpowder and the likely explanation for the disintegration was my habit of re-chambering a cartridge.

Thank goodness I discovered I had finally chambered a cartridge too many times on the range and not on the street.  When put that way, it’s easy to see that’s a Bad Plan.

I have to clear my carry piece for every class.  I have to clear it when I get home to clean it.  There may be other times when I have to clear it.  You can bet that every time I load that gun, it’ll have a virgin cartridge in the chamber.

‘Expensive’ is relative.

Never re-chamber a cartridge.  Once a cartridge has been ejected from the chamber, relegate it to training or practice use.





  Comments: 2

  1. Steve,as usual you are dead on. We are not too old to learn from other people’s experiences, but some of us are too complacent to learn and apply knowledge gained from the experience of others. Thank you for sharing. This brings back to mind The occasional Tendency of Rim fire priming to fall out of the rim and therefore missfire. Broken down cartridge will have priming compound mixed in with the powder, therefore rimfire cartridges are unreliable for offense. Remember. Win on the offense, not on the defense. Thanks again Steve. Murray Jordan 843 229 0379

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