Always Check your Headstamps

Peter Jones flags-up an important safety precaution.

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(Before you set out in search of Roebuck this summer, make sure you have checked the headstamps on your cartridges)

You’ll forgive me if I keep this piece suitably ambiguous when it comes to naming ammunition manufacturers. I do not want to bear the wrath of a billion-dollar business, and at any rate, there are a number of possible stages during the journey of a cartridge from factory to consumer when a mistake may have occurred.

The purpose of this article is simply to flag up an important safety concern for all of us who stalk deer and shoot rifles.  

HeadstampSo firstly, what is a headstamp? Basically, it is the markings on the bottom of a cartridge case that provides information about who manufactured the case and crucially the calibre. Occasionally it will also show the year of manufacture.

(Left: An example of a headstamp). 

The reason we should check the headstamp? Well we are all aware of the potentially disastrous repercussions of dropping a 20-bore shotgun cartridge into a 12-bore shotgun, and so all of those that use a shotgun are extremely careful to avoid any mixing of shells. But how many of us are quite so diligent when it comes to checking the headstamps of our rifle ammunition? Well recently I had occasion to accompany a client whilst he zeroed his .243 rifle. Spying through the bino’s at the zero target, I was somewhat surprised that this usually capable marksman was placing round after round all over the place with no discernible group - as was he.

Eventually the rifle seemed to settle down and we produced a nice little group. It was not until checking the empty casings that he had pocketed, that we discovered a number of .22-250 shells mixed in with the .243 shells!

Clearly at some stage in the chain of getting a box of .243 shells from the factory and into the chamber of the rifle, some 22-250 shells were inadvertently placed in the box along with the .243 rounds. This might have happened at the factory, at the gun shop, or it may simply have been the end user placing a few unspent rounds back in the wrong box. It matters not. What matters is that we learn from the experience. Normally I have a cursory check of all ammunition before I take it out, however, from now on my check will be more than just a cursory one.

Thankfully no harm done on this occasion, however the repercussions might have been very much worse had the diameter of the bullet been wider than the bore. Don’t think that this cant happen, it can, for example a 7.62x39 will fit in a .243 and the result will be serious injury to all those in the vicinity, and no doubt there are other examples. And at any rate, the inaccuracy and potential damage and injury that can occur from firing small diameter bullets in a larger bore rifle is also significant.

The lesson learnt is simple. Always check your headstamps. Let’s be careful out there.

County Deer Stalking carry out Firearms Training in the South East of England just one hour from London, for more details please follow this link: firearms-training 

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