Hunting Stories: The Tale of the Exploding Barrel

In the mid ‘80s, when I lived in Colorado Springs with my parents, I remember my dad returning from a week-long hunting trip in the mountains. His eye was black and puffy, and did he ever have a story to tell. I was just a child, and the incident that he relayed to us that night stuck with me in a big way.

Each winter, my dad would go hunting with a few of his buddies. He used a Centurion Model 120 30-06 with a Sears Ted Williams 4x scope. The rifle itself was nothing real special, but my dad had nabbed quite a few deer with it over the years in the mountains of Colorado. It was a reliable bolt-action piece that brought down game, year after year.
A Centurion Model 120 hunting rifle in 30-06 with a Sears Ted Williams 4x scope.
My dad and his hunting buddies were traversing a particularly ugly section of terrain, tracking a good-sized buck. At some point, my dad slipped in the snow and mud, and instinctively used the gun to catch himself from a hairy fall. He was ok – nobody thought anything of it – and they continued tracking the buck.

The next day, after miles of hiking around, my dad caught sight of the buck in question. He quietly alerted the other hunters, and crouched in the snowy brush. He removed the cap from the end of the scope, carefully aimed the rifle, and squeezed a shot off. But he missed. Not that his aim was off, or breathing, it was that he neglected to inspect the barrel of the gun after he slipped. If he had, he would have realized that it was packed solid with snow and mud, which had dried overnight.

The last thing my dad remembers is pulling the trigger and everything else was a blur. His buddies had to fill in the gaps.

Since the barrel was jam-packed, the energy pushing the round out bounced back, and the blast knocked my father unconscious and also split the barrel of his 30.06 a good two inches. His hunting buddies were quick to act, thank goodness, and they tended to him. He was fine, save for a major black eye and a headache that wouldn’t quit. Oh, and a little embarrassment, as well, of course.

I remember standing there, listening to my father tell the story, and picturing a huge explosion that caused him to fly back a few feet. I pictured him lying in the woods, his buddies rushing around him to see if he was okay. And I imagined his buddies expression when he came to: happy, smiles, joy, relief.

That was the first time I realized that hunting was not only dangerous, but could be deadly, as well.

I also believe this story is a great example of why hunters should never, under any circumstances, go out alone. In my opinion, it does not matter if the hunter is using a bow and arrow, a 30-06, a .44 hand-cannon, or a .22 plinker, it’s just not worth the risk. If anything happens and that hunter is injured, help could be a long, long way away. Walking a couple of miles into town is one thing, but crawling is a whole other opera.

My father really liked that rifle, so he had the split end sawed off professionally and the barrel reworked for safe shooting. He held on to the mangled tip in hopes of one day making a paper weight out of it. He never did get around to doing that, but he still has both the rifle and the end of the barrel.

In fact, that’s how I got hold of the 30.06. I had gone to visit him and he was showing me his old guns. I saw the rifle and a light went on in my head: Hey, this is a good story to share with my fellow gun enthusiasts. I asked if I could have it for a while, and he happily obliged.

The passage of time has rendered the incident nothing more than a semi-humorous story told every couple of years at family get-togethers. There really isn’t, however, anything funny about it, at least in the grand scheme of things. It’s a scary and eye-opening story, if you ask me.

My father was an experienced hunter at the time and was no new-comer to weaponry, either, having been a Green Beret in the Army. If it can happen to someone who knows what they are doing, just think what can happen to an amateur. It isn’t always stray bullets and wild animals we have to worry about when traversing the back woods.

Sometimes, we are our own worst enemies.

If you go out hunting, especially for long periods of time, be sure and check your equipment out periodically. It doesn’t take very long to inspect the guns before dinner or in the morning after breakfast. I’m not saying we need to do full field breakdowns, but a quick inspection of the barrel and the chamber to make sure everything is safe and clear is a really good idea.

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