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Tap, Rack–or How Not to Blow Up Your Pistol
(seen on another blog, sorry, no pictures yet)
I was serving as the match director in our Short Range Match when I heard a loud pop instead of a bang as a competitor was completing a stage. I looked up and saw the safety officer walking toward me with the competitor who was holding his left hand with blood pouring through his fingers. His pistol was lying on the ground where it had fallen from his hand.
The competitor’s pistol had failed to go into battery and he had aggressively hit the back of the slide with his left palm in an attempt to clear the malfunction. As he did this, his fingers went forward over the top of the slide just as the round detonated in the open ejection port. Fragments of brass severely cut his left index and middle fingers. After examining the competitor’s injured left-hand, a doctor at the scene determined that he was not seriously injured and only had some bloody but not serious cuts.The competitor was a heart surgeon so this was welcome news indeed!
When I retrieved and examined the pistol, I saw that the remains of the detonated round were still in the ejection port. The round had nosedived into the feed ramp and that in doing so it literally positioned the primer exactly over the extractor. When the competitor slammed the slide forward with his left hand the extractor had crushed the primer causing the 9mm round to detonate. If you look at photo #1 you can get an idea of the quantity of brass fragments that struck the shooter’s hand. In photo #2 you can see where the extractor (not the ejector–look at the picture) crushed the primer (pistol was a Kahr 9mm). This particular gentleman is very forceful when he manipulates his pistol. Photo #3 shows where the force of the detonation forced the bullet into the feed ramp. Photo #4 provides another view.
I was always been somewhat skeptical when I heard stories of rounds detonating in the ejection port—no longer. A common response to the slide of a pistol failing to go into battery is to strike the rear of the slide. However as we see in this case that may not be a very good idea and indeed could be very dangerous.
In my classes I teach that the proper response to a click instead of a bang is to tap the magazine (to ensure it is properly seated) and rack the slide—tap, rack. This will often clear the malfunction. If it does not, the proper response is to lock the slide back, aggressively strip the magazine out, and then reload the pistol and continue to fire if the circumstances warrant.
After reloading, if it does not fire you probably have a broken pistol that’s not going to be easily fixed on the spot. If you are under assault, the proper response at that point is to aggressively depart the area or take other necessary action.
Flatwater Hazards for South Carolina Rivers
Because of the geography of the Midlands and low country areas of South Carolina, some hazards found here are not always obvious to people planning to visit from other parts of the country, or even other parts of the state. White water paddlers expecting our “flat-water” rivers to be easy pickings may find themselves surprised at the occasional necessity for hours of corrective paddling amongst the strainers in our swamps.
In general, the rivers of the midlands are remote, serene, filled with wildlife, and have sufficient current to enable an enjoyable drift. However, you may find that each of these attributes can become a hazard to the paddler.
Remote. Let me start with the obvious. Although there are exceptions such as Columbia, Orangeburg, and a few other cities, generally the rivers here do not run through the center of towns for any real distance. This means that you will have to plan for any contingency involving re-supply and medical evacuation with this in mind. Cell phones have little or no coverage in most areas of the forest through which the paddler trails run, and VHF radios used for boating in general do not have the range to reach anyone routinely monitoring the channels. Check topographic maps and search for potential rally areas before you leave the put-in, and file a float plan with someone.
Check with local outfitters about river conditions before committing to a specific route. Tree falls and river level changes can make an enjoyable day trip into the overnight from hell. Carry extra food and clothing for those unforeseen nights on the river.
Additional trip planning resources are found at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources site Frequently Asked Questions About South Carolina’s Rivers. The SC Atlas and Gazetteer which was previously published by the SCDNR is now privately published and is available at local bookstores, as is the book Paddling South Carolina , by Gene Able and Jack Horn, which was just republished in a new edition. You should be aware however that I use the Able book only for the trip descriptions and directions. The trip lengths are incorrect in many sections, and I have been advised that there are some reports that the river ratings used in this book are misleading, and can lead to people attempting runs above their experience level. Please check with someone who has run each river before you take it on yourself.
Serene All this solitude and silence means you are alone. Deal with it! Take all you need for a safe trip because there might not be another group on the route from which you might borrow another bottle of Poison-Ivy-Off.
Wildlife Well, this is South Carolina, after all.
Insects Although the biters are sometimes a pest, the bigger potential hazard is with the stingers. Low hanging sweeper limbs often have hornets nests in them, Be observant, exercise good boat control, and avoid crashing into them and they should leave you alone. You can venture fairly close without them becoming alarmed, but don’t try to take them home for further study, and look before you reach for a branch. If you suspect you might experience a reaction to stinging insects, bring the appropriate medications, as determined by a knowledgeable physician. As a minimum, avoid the perfumes, yellow colors, and sugary drinks.
Reptiles In the spring and summer, there are an abundance of reptiles to keep you interested. They are not a major hazard, but can cause some paddlers to raise their paranoia level a notch or two. Being aware of them is the best thing you can do to avoid unpleasantness.
Be especially watchful for snakes INSIDE downed trees and snags. Although not as aggressive as their reputations indicate cottonmouths will not run away and tend to stand their ground, Cottonmouths do withdraw into logs instead of running away, and although hesitant to bite, they are capable of doing so if you step on them or grab a log with one on top of it. The Florida Moccasin is found in the area, which is a cottonmouth with lighter, more caramel colored markings than the traditional dark gray moccasin also found here. Cottonmouths tend to float very high in the water, like they were filled with air, while other water snakes tend to float more nearly submerged. There are very few moccasin bites in South Carolina, but don’t start a fad by trying to play with one. According to the Congaree Swamp Rangers, the only recorded Moccasin bite in the park was to a snake poacher trying to capture one.
Brown water snakes and red-bellied snakes are common, and tend to run or swim away, but are more prone to bite if handled. They tend to be found on low branches hanging over the water. Although not venomous, infection is still less than enjoyable to most of us. Avoid the urge to pick one up. They are not generally good cockpit mates when they fall off your paddle and into your boat (ask Number One Son!). Other venomous snakes in the area include copperheads and several types of rattlesnakes, but they are much more rarely seen.
For those with more guts than brains, the South Carolina DNR FAQ section (http://water.dnr.state.sc.us/cec/dnrfaq.html) gives this information:
How do I identify snakes? Which are poisonous?
All poisonous snakes in South Carolina have an elliptical (oval) pupil (except the coral snake which has a round pupil), and poisonous snakes have a pit between the eye and nose. Nonpoisonous snakes have round pupils and no pit. There are 38 species of snakes in South Carolina, only six of which are poisonous: Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Timber Rattlesnake, Copperhead, Coral Snake, Cottonmouth and Pigmy Rattlesnake.
All snakes are carnivorous and some aid in controlling many destructive pests, especially rats and mice. Snakes are active in the warm months and become dormant in the winter. Most snakebites occur when people are handling snakes or trying to kill them; snakes are generally not aggressive toward people. For information, write Wildlife Diversity Section, PO Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202 or call (803) 734-3893 in Charleston call 843-762-5105 or write Wildlife Assistance Office, PO Box 12559, Charleston, SC 29422-2259.
Just to be safe, consider every snake you might see to be venomous and stay the heck away from it! Again, good boat control will keep you from blundering into a tree with unwelcoming hosts.
Current The currents in the rivers of the midlands area are no different from other rivers, however, the flat land through which the rivers run cause the rivers to meander through trees and fall-down, thus creating more hazards for the paddler. The flat land also allows the wind to cause trees to be blown down rather frequently, so routes often become blocked, requiring portages around the impassable section (watch your step). The water levels can change rapidly and dramatically, causing the use of the current as a navigation aid to become unreliable at times. Side streams merging with the main channel often cause cross-currents which can change a boat’s direction suddenly, so you should be prepared to correct the change quickly to avoid being swept into a downed log or a sweeper.
River beds in the midlands and low country (coastal plain areas) often spread out into the surrounding forests creating wonderful side trips, but which also cause the possibility of strainers pinning boats. Be cognizant of the effect of the current on your boat, watch your path, and try not to get too lost. Getting back to the main riverbed may not be as easy as it was getting into the side channel. GPS receivers can make it easier to stay found.
Finally, be certain that you know what controls the water level of your river! Dams and tides can dramatically alter the river levels. Tie your boat to something that will still be there in the morning when you bivouac on the sand banks. And make sure your campsite has a route of retreat that you can take when the water starts edging into your tent!
Sweepers and Strainers Best covered by this Paddler.net article Whispering Death
Rigging Yes, how you outfit your boat makes a difference. Rudders, which are useful in open water, often get wedged under sweepers when the stern of your boat swings under them while you paddle past; thereby trapping you at best, and causing you to swing against the sweeper or under the strainer which trapped the stern. Not a good way to chill out on a hot day. This requires another boater to extricate the jammed boat, and places the rescuer in an awkward and dangerous position as well, since they will be trying to free your boat while fighting the same current that sucked you in. Consider removing the rudder for some of the more technical rivers.
Some people say that bow lines on boats using these rivers are dangerous because the can get snarled on things. They are also a safety item that can allow someone to pull you and your boat out of a ticklish spot. The best of both worlds is to rig your bow line so that it is low to the deck, and can be released quickly and easily from the cockpit if it does get entangled in the brush. Jam cleats are available from marine stores such as West Marine and Boater’s World. Jam cleats require just a tug from one direction to cause the line to be completely freed, while a pull from the other causes it to hold even tighter. Run the line through something at the front and back to the cockpit area so a tug on the cockpit end will pull the line loose and allow it to run through the eye at the bow. Just be certain that a snag on either end will let the other pull free.
Another technique is to have a plastic ball on one end of the line which is pushed under the tight non-elastic standing rigging of the boat. When jerked sharply, the ball pulls from under the rigging and releases. This is not as good as a jam cleat since it can pull loose with a tug from the loose end, but it does not require any holes in the hull.
A similar technique can be used to snug deck items tightly against the deck. Elastic sail ties are elastic bungee cords with small balls on either end of the cord which can be stretched across the deck with the balls pushed under the standing rigging. This give the boater additional elastic deck rigging, which can be
slid fore and aft under the rigging to accommodate a variety of items. Although these items are best stowed under the deck., there are always the few items, such as throw ropes, that need to be instantly available. Collapsible water bottler such as the Camelback brand are easily stowed this way.
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