WARNING: Some of the photos in the links embedded in this post are graphic.
A man in New Brunswick, Canada, experienced a very unusual kind of out of battery firing with his Savage Axis rifle, in which the firing pin released and struck the primer while the bolt and cartridge were entirely clear of the rifle’s chamber. CTV news reports:
Douglas Lyons said a bullet exploded in the chamber as he tried to load his Savage Axis .30-06 rifle Sunday while testing it in the woods ahead of a planned hunting trip.
“The firing pin fired and blew that shell up on me, and that’s what hit me in the face,” Lyons said Wednesday from Boiestown, N.B., where he owns the Tipsy Canoe restaurant.
“The covering of the bullet and the powder and all that stuff in there came up and struck me on the side of my head. Cut my face open there quite a bit.”
Lyons said he had dropped his four sons off at Sunday school and went to the woods with some friends to sight his rifle. He took his gun from its case, and tried to load it, but the bolt wouldn’t lock.
The firing pin went off as he pulled the bolt back on his third attempt, the bullet still in the chamber, he said.
“The barrel was pointed away from me. It was quite a moment. The gun went one way and I went the other,” he said.
The out of battery firing is one of the worst possible catastrophic failures that can happen with a firearm. It occurs when a cartridge is, for whatever reason, not completely locked in the chamber of the weapon when it goes off. An out of battery firing can completely destroy a weapon, and cause fragments to fly off and injure nearby shooters, and therefore manufacturers take great pains to incorporate mechanical safeties that prevent them.
With the Savage Axis, that safety is a traditional Mauser-style cam built into the bolt body that restrains the sear, but with a twist: Instead of the sear engagement surface being a one-piece unit with the firing pin retainer, the Savage uses a two-piece affair, with a round pin-like sear surface (called a “cocking piece pin”) that fits into a firing pin retaining collar.
Based on comments made by Lyons on his Facebook page, one possible cause of the malfunction was failure of the cocking piece pin, which would have released the striker while the cartridge was gripped by the rifle’s extractor and the bolt was out of battery. Lyons mentioned in the comments that the ammunition he used was factory Superior .30-06
Lyons counts himself lucky, saying he escaped the worst:
My ears are still ringing, I’ve still got a friggin’ headache, but the main thing is I’m still around here to talk it about I guess,” he said. “It could be worse, I could be blinded or whatever, right?