By Ralph Mroz
I thought it was dead, gone, outta here and busted — thoroughly busted. But apparently not. Catching the ejected round, that is. And by “catching” I mean either letting it pop up in the air and catching it, or letting it drop into a cupped hand held over the ejection port as the slide is withdrawn. I recall catching the round, particularly via the latter method, as pretty much SOP back in the ’80’s. Sometime in the mid-90’s, at least in law enforcement firearms training circles, it pretty much became verboten.
The reason given at the time, and one I still believe is valid, is there is a possibility your cupped hand could wander too close to the ejection port, interfering with the round’s path out of the pistol. Sometimes that interference, coupled with the force of the extractor pulling the round backward, could wind up with the round’s primer being thrust powerfully into the ejector. This might cause a detonation of the round, and the likewise predictable injury to the owner’s hand.
Another possibility is the hand over the ejection port could cause the round to partially stay in the chamber while at the same time the user fails to lock open the slide. When he lets it go, it moves forward under spring tension, capturing the round in such a way the forward-moving extractor hits the primer. In fact, these exact sequences of events have happened. Several cops in just my neck of the woods have seen these things or experienced them, so it’s now a known risk.
If you’re even cooler, you might snap the slide back and catch the ejected round.
While tacticool, this is not the mark of the brightest bulb in the chandelier,
if you follow me.
What Should We Do?
What we recommended then, and I recommend now, is to simply let the round eject and fall to the deck. Then, after the pistol has been safely stowed, pick up the ejected cartridge. Likewise with rifle or shotgun rounds you have to eject from the chamber. It’s the same risk and the same solution.
But I still see instructors — competitive, police and ex-military — catch the round today.
I posted advice against catching rounds on a police website several years ago and took some criticism from a couple of cops who said they’d seen shotgun rounds detonate after ejection on impact with rocky ground. Since I have no reason to doubt them, what’s the right answer?
It’s certainly a fact many instances of injured hands (and remember, if your hand is severely injured, you’ve lost the use of your arm) have resulted from people cupping the ejection port as they eject the chambered round. The risk is very real. I, and everyone I know or have corresponded with about this (which of course is limited), can only report a couple instances of a round detonating on impact with the ground. The round would have to hit a very sharp point to detonate when dropping a maximum of 6 feet — compare that to a light primer strike.
A round detonating in open air is far less dangerous than one detonating in an enclosed space, and if it goes off near the ground, superficial leg injuries seem far more likely than something as serious as a crippled hand. And, we instruct shooters to purposely eject live rounds onto the ground all the time during failure drills (tap, rack, bang).
Just Let It Drop
No competitive shooting governing body I’m aware of allows rounds to be caught in any way — they must be ejected onto the ground. From staff at the (former) S&W Shooting Sports Center: “We have seen slow burns cook off on the ground many times and never once injure the shooter or bystanders.”
Catching — or trying to catch — rounds certainly causes more lack of muzzle discipline than letting the round fall.
So I still come down on the side of letting the round fall. However, my friend, firearms instructor Mike Lupachini of the Upton, Mass., PD, had this idea (which is why he’s not allowed out of Upton much):
“Let’s train shooters to eject the round, letting it fall. Before it hits the ground, though, they use their foot to pop it up like a hacky sack and catch it in their hand. We can award them points for style, creativity, difficulty of the movement and so on.”
We’re kidding here, just kidding. Don’t do this. Ever. But I’ll bet we see a YouTube video on it some day. Ahem.