Gun Range Dangers: That Was Close

Every so often I get into a conversation with a non-shooter about my hobbies. When the topic of guns arise and I talk about competitive shooting, I sometimes get a dreaded stare as if I tempted fate in my spare time. The truth of the matter is that competitive shooting is much safer than the average person realizes. With that said, there are dangers and accidents happen.

Last year I recall being told about a Range Officer shooting himself in the leg. This happened at Southern Chester County Sportsman’s and Farmers’ Association when the shooter apparently holstered a loaded gun with their finger inside the trigger guard. The bullet fired out of his gun (I’m told it was a 1911) and the .45 ACP round grazed his leg. An ambulance was called and local police arrived to assess the situation.

Some of the competitors got spooked over the police presence and headed home early. After the police and paramedics left, it was business as usual. This type of situation is rare and it is the only occurrence I’ve heard of at any of the local clubs where I shoot.

My Gun Range Danger was far less severe and I would have never known it had it not been pointed out to me. Our squad was gathered on a bay with two stages, side by side. Competitors were to shoot one stage, then move to the next one (about 15 steps away) while hot (loaded gun in their holster).

The first stage consisted of paper targets. As I always do, I was standing off to the side, snapping a photo to go along with USPSA Match video for my blog. The shooter moved to the next stage as I had my head down and was uploading my photo for later retrieval.

Part way through that process, a fellow shooter walked up beside me, and bent down to pick something up. He stood up, tapped me on the shoulder, and held out an object for my inspection. He then told me “You could have reached out and caught this if you wanted to.” Confused, I took the item from him and he continued “It landed right there” (pointing to the ground less than two feet away).

What he handed me was a mangled bullet that struck a steel popper on the second stage. Instead of breaking apart on the steel and showing the trees behind the berm, it remained very much in tact and must have went up and back, landing a little too close for comfort.

USPSA at Southern Chester - Gun Range Dangers

I have no idea what the shooter was using, but the remains of the round were pretty substancial (I’m guessing .45 ACP). It had a fair amount of heft to it and had lots of sharp edges that would have easily broken skin. Had I been struck in the head, there most likely would have been a fair amount of blood (possibly even a few stitches). Had I been struck in an unclothed part of my body (arms or legs) I probably would have suffered a small cut that wouldn’t have prevented me from finishing out the match.

I’ve been struck by splatter in the past but I’ve never seen anything this substancial. That splatter has never drawn blood and while it doesn’t feel pleasant, it doesn’t hurt much either.

The moral of the story is simple. Always, and I mean always, wear safety glasses when at the range. As safe as competitive shooting organizations are, there are inevitably rare instances that are out of their control. Accidents happen.

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Hi There, My name is Walt White and as the name of this blog suggests, I am a Pennsylvania resident. In addition to having numerous hobbies that I discuss on my blog - Iā€™m also the father of three little girls and a pitbull.

5 thoughts on “Gun Range Dangers: That Was Close

  1. I’ve been hit by splatter a few times. Last month I caught some right in the forehead, beneath the bill of my ball cap and above my glasses. So yes, even though I wasn’t shooting I could have easily lost an eye if I wasn’t wearing eye protection and was standing a fraction of an inch taller. I think I probably still have some copper jacket in me when some splatter caught me in the leg, that wouldn’t stop bleeding for like an hour even though it was tiny cut. šŸ˜€

  2. As you know, if you drop a gun in competition, you are disqualified. I’ve never dropped a gun, but I’ve been at several where I saw a competitor drop a gun. I don’t think I’ve been swept by a loaded gun, at the range or in competition, although I’ve been swept by dozens of unloaded ones at gun stores and gun shows. (What . . . Rule 1?)

    For those wondering, just about every time I’ve seen a dropped gun, the range has been muddy, and the shooter slipped in the mud. That’s why I bought a pair of football cleats that I wear in muddy conditions for GSSF and USPSA. For IDPA, this isn’t allowed, so maybe body armor is best.

    Now, I do have one story, from the first competitive match I ever shot. I was shooting steel plates at 10 yards, and during the shooting I heard someone off to my right say “Ouch!” I kept shooting. Afterward, I found out that person had been hit by a ricocheting bullet. It looked a lot like the one in your picture. He also had a small bruise on his shoulder, although his shirt had prevented any skin break.

    I wanted it for a souvenir but he refused, and kept it. For the rest of the time we shot together, he would do a fake flinch when we met. Gotta love shooters.

  3. While I’ve been pinged by splatter numerous times, it’s been soft hits that didn’t even draw blood. I’ve been up range from one 180 violation. I half expected it based on the direction the shooter chose to run the stage. Still, it gave me a quite a start, but the RO was FAST to stop the shooter.

    Most of the flagrant violations I’ve seen have been at the unsupervised club range I shoot at. On numerous occasions I’ve had people pull up and start handling and loading guns while I’ve been down range shooting or taping. They usually have chuckle and say “Don’ worry, I won’t shoot you.” I correct them clearly. Twice I’ve packed up and left when I decided there must be a Darwin award convention in town.

    A few weeks ago I got out of my car and corrected a dad who kept shooting when his family, with kids in strollers, returned from a walk around the park. Reminded him that EVERYONE needed “eyes and ears.”

    To keep it in perspective, I hit this range at least once a week, for the past 3 three years, so the number of incidents is relatively low. But it only takes on time…

  4. I’ve been hit by splatter many times, and I’ve been hit in the leg once with a piece almost as big as the one in your picture. Luckily I was wearing jeans and it just left a bruise. I’ve also had more than a few cases hit my shooting glasses.

  5. Your experience sharing your hobby with others will seem familiar to other competitive shooters. While others may fear for your safety, it’s nice that you can explain that this sport is much safer than they may assume, despite incidents.

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