Ammunition reloading: Should I be worried about my 71-year-old dad?

I’m putting this in MPSIMS, but it may be better suited to GQ. Mods, feel free to move it.

Okay, he won’t be 71 until September, but close enough.

I don’t see my dad much (my choice - I can’t stand listening to his racist rants), but I made a trip to Costco today, and there he was, so I stopped to talk with him. I asked him what he’d been up to, and he told me, “Oh, blowing things up.” :eek:

It turns out that he recently exploded two of his rifles, his Ruger Mini-14 and his old (Winchester or Remington, I can’t remember which) .270 hunting rifle (the same rifle I used, at age 12, to put three shots into a 3/4" group in the black at 300 yards), while firing shells that he had reloaded himself.

His explanation: He was using a new gunpowder, and it was too powerful.

My worry: He’s gotten old, and mis-measured when he was putting the powder into the shells.

He’s been reloading his own ammo for more than 40 years (IIRC, he started before he was 30), and knows what he’s doing. He taught me how to do it before I was a teenager. And I know that there are gunpowders specifically intended for rifle cartridges. I can’t imagine a company producing a powder that is “too powerful”, and in fact so powerful that a standard measure of powder would be enough to explode a modern rifle. Dad’s .270 is probably 1960s vintage (he inherited it from his father when Grandpa died in 1976), but he bought the Mini-14 in the early 1990s.

Thankfully, he was wearing shooting safety glasses when the rifles blew up, but he does have a couple minor wounds to his face and neck, and a 3rd-degree burn on his hand where some hot metal landed.

I’m just really worried that he made an age-related or eyesight-related error while measuring the powder into those shells. When I spoke to him today, I noticed he wasn’t wearing his glasses. Granted, he always had excellent eyesight, and didn’t need reading glasses until he was well past 50 (compared to me, who had to start wearing reading glasses before I was 40).

It makes me glad that, when he mentioned going hunting again this fall, he specifically referred to “bow season”. As in hunting with bow and arrow, which, for the last 20 years or so, he prefers over hunting with a rifle. (He uses recurve bows or longbows, not compound bows.) I’d hate to get a call that his damned rifle exploded on him while he was in the middle of the woods. His dad, my grandfather, died at age 58 after suffering a heart attack while in the middle of a forest, hunting.

Sure you should worry about your Dad, if only because he is 71.
But there isn’t much you can do to prevent him from him from doing what he likes. Sounds like he’s very independent.
Dad is going to do what he’s going to do, just hope he stays happy and healthy… and when the time comes, it comes…and it passes quickly.

I expect you know this, but reloading is pretty scientific. Different powders burn differently and need different amounts. Likewise different amounts of powder are used with different bullets even in the same case. And proper technique with a new powder / bullet / case combo is to make a bunch of deliberately underpowered loads versus the printed data, fire that and check for signs of excess pressure, then slowly step up the charge towards the published numbers, test again, etc. And never exceed the published numbers.

And damn near any modern powder has enough oomph to blow a rifle if you fill the damn cartridge full. That’s not how it’s done.

If Dad’s getting lazy & disregarding proper loading data and just dumping in the same amount of some other type that worked last year, he’s *really *playing with fire.

The only way for you to know for sure is to arrange to join him for a reloading session. And if you do find he’s gone off the rails here, either in attitude or in eyesight / dexterity / attention to detail, then what do you do? Until you can answer that question with a plan that you honestly think has some hope of success, there’s not much point in lobbying to join him in the workshop.

Good luck; this isn’t going to be easy.

Ugh. It’s been more than 30 years since I’ve sat with him to do any reloading, and I don’t remember most of it. Sure, he taught me how to shoot, and how to properly handle and respect guns, and I used to be a pretty damned good shot with a rifle, but ultimately the whole hobby didn’t interest me, and now I don’t even own a gun of any kind.

But if I can keep my dad from blowing himself up … (I suspect this is why “mad scientists” are almost always portrayed as old men).

The things you’d be looking for are pretty simple: Is he inspecting, measuring, necking, and trimming each case carefully, or just winging it? What’s his source for the load data, i.e. which brand & part number of powder, primer, and bullet? Is he working from something professionally published, or some notes on a napkin? Is he carefully seating the primers or are a bunch in there crooked? Is he carefully measuring the powder or just eyeballing it? How well can he see what he’s doing? Is he measuring the finished rounds to ensure he’s seating & crimping the bullets the right amount? Is his equipment old & falling apart?

You’re mostly there to check his attitude. If he’s painstakingly careful & precise that’s good. If he’s sloppy or blind or oblivious that’s bad. You don’t have to know how to do the tasks yourself to tell the difference in his approach.

Dose your mother or someone else close to him follow this hobby, or at least can sit with him to double check.

Steve Wittman (famous for designing and racing airplanes back when) died when his plane (fabric covered) fell apart.
He had mixed the old covering method (cotton and dope) with the new (polyester and resin).

The fabric separated from the wing in flight.

Even the greats can make mistakes.

How will you feel if he does kill himself reloading if you don’t at least offer to double-check his work, just to make sure?

In the past he’s always been very precise about everything he did, very by-the-book and focused on safety, probably because of his 35 years working as a police officer. When I’ve visited with him (including yesterday) I haven’t noticed any signs of mental deterioration — and I work in a retirement home, so I mostly recognize the signs. But I guess it wouldn’t hurt to spend more time with him, just to be sure.

He lives with his much-younger wife, and she does take much more interest in his hobbies than my mom ever did.

He could have poured some back in the wrong can. I’ve done that before now.

Rik, even if you clear up what’s wrong, you need to make sure all the bad ammo gets recycled or destroyed.

You don’t want to lose your father to,
“…yeah, buts it’s already made. Waste not want not…”:frowning:

How many reloads have been done on a single case? Those things aren’t meant to be used indefinitely. I know people that will only reload a case once before scrapping it. Others will go until the primer pocket is loose or the brass splits. I run somewhere in the 3-5 range depending on how hot the load is.

Does he smoke? (not an entirely wiseass question)

We actually need very little information in order to answer this question, and we have all of it. Is he growing senile and forgetting how much powder he’s putting in? Is he unaccustomed to the new powders, like he claims? Is he being sloppy in his measurements? We don’t know the answers to these and many other questions… but it doesn’t matter. What we do know is, whatever it is he’s doing, it’s resulted in blowing up two guns. Things that blow up guns are unsafe. Therefore, what he’s doing, whatever it is, is unsafe.

Sonny sitting in with Dad may be just enough to distract/irritate him that he uses the wrong technique and causes something else to go wrong. Loading, as pointed out, is highly calibrated, so, some neophyte hanging around trying to ‘casually’ ask questions may throw off any exactness.

Wait for other signs before starting to worry. Don’t patronize Dad.

Not any more, as far as I know.

For what it’s worth, one of the traits I’ve inherited from my dad is “don’t make the same mistake twice”. If I know my dad, he took the remaining shells and “unloaded” them. (Not like he still has the rifles to fire them.) I suspect he’ll figure out what he did wrong, and not do it again.

And no, he’s not getting senile.

(bolding mine)

This. My dad knows that I lost interest in guns/hunting/reloading decades ago. If I were to suddenly “show interest” and ask to join him in reloading, he would immediately see what was going on. He was a fucking cop for 35 years - he knows how to read people. The best way to approach it would be for me to say to him, “Dad, I haven’t shot a damned gun in more than 30 years, and I kinda miss it. Lets hit the rifle range!” (And, honestly, I used to be a damned good shot with a rifle). Asking him to let me join him on the rifle range after he told me about how he blew up two rifles would demonstrate my trust in him. And then let me spend some time with my old .22LR (which I’m sure he still has - it’s the one he bought me when I was 12, unless he traded it in for something else). But shooting my old .22 would at least assure me that my rifle isn’t going to blow up, since you can’t really reload .22LR cartridges. “Let me shoot that one, just to get my marksmanship back up to snuff.”

Or I could appeal to his sense of humor: “What, you blew up your .270?! The very rifle I used to put three shots into the black, in a 3/4” group, at 300 yards? When I was 12?! Oh man, you have to make that up to me!"

My stepmother will be no help. As I mentioned, she’s much younger than Dad. In fact she’s only nine years older than I am. She thinks my dad is fucking God. I suspect that if I even mention that he might be … “losing it” that she’ll actively block any attempts I make to “check in”.

I could also start with rejoining my dad in archery, which I always enjoyed more than firearms. Last time I visited him, he still had the bow that I favored.

May I suggest that having two blow-ups is very serious?

It’s like driving when you getting old - if you have one accident that’s your fault, it’s not good. When you have a second, you should consider giving up driving.

The two blowups were during the same shooting session at the range. He was firing rounds he’d loaded for more than one rifle. The first rifle blew up, but no real injury. So he switched to a different rifle, and boom again, resulting in minor injuries. He stopped after that.

If he’s a no-bullshit guy and a former police officer who cares about gun safety, how about “I’m concerned that you have blown up two guns. Can you show me the gunpowder that is ‘too powerful’?”

So what you are saying is that these reloads are not from the same session, or that he finished one, recalibrated his equipment for the different round, and still over-loaded? Not good.

It’s Christmas in August! Buy Pops a couple boxes of whatever fits what guns he has left. Old people are poor and cheap and skimp on things they shouldn’t, like medicine and by reloading brass they think they can get one last use out of.*

And if he’s as smart and with it as you say he is, I hope blowing up two guns within minutes of each other will make him more receptive to the inevitable discussion.

    • And dropdad, why did you give me two boxes of .38 Special brass when a cursory glance showed some had cracks by the rim? Sure, your eyes were getting old and I think you knew I didn’t have a .38, but were you trying to kill me?