Shooting Safety: The “Hot Brass Dance”

If you’ve been shooting long at all, chances are this has happened to you: You carefully align the sights on the target, squeeze the trigger. The gun goes “BANG!” and a shell casing is ejected from then gun. You start to bring the gun back on target, and then…YOW! The (hot) spent shell casing has landed not on the ground, but on some part of your body. And those little buggers sting!

The burning pain might come from your neck, as happened to my friend Ben Branam during a CHL class today. You may catch the projectile with your arm or in the bend of your elbow. If you’re female and unlucky enough to be wearing a top with a low or loose enough neckline, it might be coming from somewhere more…sensitive. (See the photo; although this is a re-creation, I have had both pistol and rifle brass land there even when wearing high-necked T-shirts.)

If you’re even more unlucky, and/or not wearing enough safety gear, a spent casing could land between your safety glasses and your face, a truly unfortunate and potentially dangerous occurrence.

When this happens, it’s not unusual, especially for new shooters, to jump around, scream, flail about, and the like. This is okay, except for when the hand that’s flailing around is still holding a loaded gun. That’s how safety rules get broken. That’s how accidents happen. That’s how people get hurt.

Now, if you’ve been shooting for any length of time, you’ve probably had this experience at least a few times, and you can deal with the situation without freaking out. You know that, although uncomfortable, it’s unlikely the hot brass will be dangerous. And you know that panicking, when holding a loaded weapon, surely will be dangerous. In fact, the last time this happened to me, I calmly engaged the safety on the Beretta I was shooting, set it down on the bench, reached inside my shirt and fished the 9mm casing out from inside my bra while my (male) shooting companions looked on and gaped. But for new shooters, who may not be able to muster up the composure to respond calmly, hot brass can indeed be scary.

Here are some tips to help new shooters with the “hot brass dance”:

  • Check clothing before going to the range. A low-cut top like the one in the photo above is probably not a good choice for a new shooter on her way to the range. High-necked, long-sleeved tops, shooting glasses, and baseball caps can all help keep errant brass out of sensitive spots.
  • Check the new shooter’s choice of firearms, especially if they’re shooting one of your guns. An M1911 is a heck of a lot of fun to shoot, but the ones I’ve fired all scattered brass every which way over a wide distance. In fact, at a recent IDPA match where I was scorekeeping, I was standing about 15 feet to the right of and about 10 feet behind the shooter…and I still managed to catch a .45 casing in my jeans pocket! Although flying brass is something of an occupational hazard (unless you’re a revolver shooter), selecting a weapon that tends to eject brass along a predictable trajectory is a help for newbies.
  • Explain the problem to new shooters, and remind them of what to do. I usually say something like, “Sometimes, when the gun ejects the spent shell casing, it’ll land on or in your clothing. This can be uncomfortable but not dangerous. If it happens, set the gun down on the bench without pointing the barrel at anyone, and then you can retrieve the brass.” When we get to actually shooting, this is one of the things I watch for. Knowing what to expect, and knowing that hot brass isn’t dangerous, seems to help.

And if you DO end up with a burn, like Ben did, remember that it’s just the gun’s way of giving you a little kiss to tell you it loves you. No? Not buying that? Well, it was worth a try. But anyway, remember that a hot shell casing is much less dangerous than an armed, panicking woman (or man). Stay calm, safe the gun, and then retrieve the brass. A burn might hurt a bit, but I guarantee it won’t hurt nearly as much as a bullet wound.