Bullets in the campfire?

All right, here’s a question that I don’t know how to go about finding an answer for except direct experimentation (and not only would I have to leave city limits into unincorporated land, but I’d have to expose myself and my property to considerable danger):

If I have a handful of mixed cartridges and toss them into a small/medium campfire, how long will it be until I can expect them to start going off?

At a guess, I’d say it might take nearly a minute before the powder inside got heated to it’s ignition temperature, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to try it.

Oh, I see you never been on a camping trip with a bunch of drunken rednecks like I have. A few different times someone thought that it would be a really funny joke to throw a shotgun shell or rifle cartridge in the fire while no one was looking.

I think that it took a minute or two for the shell to go off. It is hard to say exactly because it really depends how the shell lands in the fire and I never was the one to try this brilliant trick so I couldn’t time it but that is a reasonable estimate. Once, someone saw the trickster throw it in so we had time to run and see roughy how long it to blow. I also remember finding an unexploded rifle shell in the ashes the next morning so it apparently doesn’t always blow although shotgun shells almost always do because of their plastic casing.

Don’t try that experiment yourself. It was a wonder none of us never got killed or injured.

My dad supplied the answer to this one for me many years ago. He put three .22 cartridges in a can and then placed the can in the fire. The first one discharged in about a minute, and then the others went pretty much simultaneously ten or fifteen seconds later.

He defended his actions by saying that he’d positioned them “safely” behind the stones, but I remain appalled. We were about a day’s travel from the nearest medical aid, I’m one of those fellas that practically sits in the fire at night, and he hadn’t told me that he’d put freakin’ bullets in the can.

Alcohol was a factor.

While I agree that there might be some danger in doing this, remember that the ignition of the gunpowder under these conditions will be uncontained (other than the weak containment provided by the shells themselves, that is). I doubt that even a large caliber rifle shell would be deadly… although I will leave the testing of this to someone with, err, more time.

I was once standing by a fire in which a number of .22 shells had been inadvertently thrown, and they cooked off after a few minutes with rather weak “pop” noises. Neither the bullets or the shells travelled very far.

On the other hand, a nearly full can of hairspray will produce a very dangerous and exciting jet of flame for a short time! And an old naugahyde sofa tossed on top of a bonfire is fun as well (assuming you don’t burn down the nearby house that you and your friends have been building for the past few months…).

Throwing a cartridge into a campfire is surely is stupid thing to do, but I’m not convinced it’s all that dangerous either. It’s not like the bullet will be sent flying. Wouldn’t the case just crack?

Of course, I could be wrong…

None of the cases that I have seen cracked. The bullets merely flew out. If you have ever re-loaded ammunition, you know that the bullets are not that firmly attached… usually just seated into the neck of the cartridge, and the neck may be lightly crimped on to hold the bullet (this is from memory… my old man reloads ammo and I have helped on occasion, but I am not an expert on ammo reloading).

I’d think the bullet surely would go flying, BUT, not having the confinement of the barrel, the resulting explosion would lose much of it’s force, and the bullet itself would probably tumble and lose velocity very quickly. FWIW, I know for certain that a .22 shell clamped in a vise and smacked with a hammer will not expel the bullet with enough velocity or stability to penetrate a sheetrock wall 6 feet away. Please don’t ask me how I know this.

I agree, with no barrel to contain the rapidly expanding gas from the explosion, indeed with nothing all to even hold the cartridge in place, I doubt the bullet/shell would go much of anywhere. Although I’ll leave the proof to someone else :slight_smile:

In Quantico, VA, decades worth of blanks have been “dropped” in the field on exercises, and when we lit fires, shrapnel ensued. No projectiles involved, but we had a guy get cut above his eye, and others hit in the torso, cutting outer layers of clothing, but stopping before skin was hit. We finally had fires outlawed due to danger.

Since the case is so much lighter than the bullet, its the brass that will go flying more than the bullet.

I’ve seen this question posed many times on firearms boards, usually wondering whether ammo is dangerous in a house fire, and the consensus was always that its not very dangerous - except for any ammo that happens to be chambered in a gun!

American Rifleman several years ago has an article by a firefighter addressing the issue of this danger. He did a study with various ammunition calibers to see if they would penetrate a firefighter’s jacket when they exploded in a fire.

It’s been years since I read it, but your answer is correct.


But it does a good job penetrating a tee shirt, or a bare epidermis.

So the common consensus is… quite possibly injurious, but very unlikely to be deadly. Correct?

Thanks, guys. You rock.

As a Hunter/Camper/Fisherwoman, I agree with everyone else that throwing bullets into a hot campfire can be very injurious, even deadly.

However…you should she what the hell an intact can of pork and beans does to scare the crap out of everybody!!! heh heh


Man Shoots At Target With A BB. Target Shoots Back With A Bullet.
Can Only Happen To An Idiot

Bonehead award two goes to a Hot Springs, Arkansas man who had to be
taken to the hospital with a bullet wound when, upon finding a bullet,
he placed it on the ground and began shooting at it with a BB gun.
“He shot at it three times and on the third try the bullet went off
and he was struck.”
Hot Springs Sentinel-Record (Hot Springs, Arkansas) 14-Jan-03

This is lifted from the Bonehead of the Day site. Since I have heard of someone being killed by a BB that entered his eye, I think if it has your name written on it, say ‘Good night, gracie!’

RE: shooting at a bullet with a BB gun…

      • Yea, kids used to try to sucker each other into that when I were younger. What they did was, they’d get a 12-gauge shell and cut out the end, pry it open and pour out the shot, leaving the open plastic body tube attached. Then they’d set it on something about waist level and challenge others to stand facing the shell’s base and shoot at the primer with a pellet gun “because it’s cool, it makes a big noise when it goes off”. Which it does, but it also flies towards the shooter at about 300 MPH (or whatever, really really fast, anyway) and leaves a huge welt if it strikes them anywhere. -Or we did it ourselves if we were feeling brave or really bored.
        Good times, good times.

the case and bullet won’t even punch thru a cardboard box, the danger is the primer, they come out with a vengance.