My Adventures and Accident at Middletown, Part 2: The Cook-Off

by Mike Kendra on July 13, 2010

My Very First Cook-Off

From my previous post: “During the Rapid Fire Drywall event I was banging along. I fired four quick shots and I was pretty sure each one hit the target. Without thinking too hard, and with a lot of haste, I poured the next powder charge into my Navy Arms Zouave. Poof, smoke went everywhere and my hand felt like I had a terrible sunburn in one small spot. It took a few seconds in my head to register that I had a cook-off.”

It all happened so fast that I think much of the powder was still in the cap-plug tube, which I was told flew over a few peoples heads and was later recovered.

I hold the charge tube between my index finger, middle finger, and thumb, and this is where I expected to be burned, but because I invert my hand when I pour powder I was injured at the fleshy point between my middle and ring fingers. The flecks of burned powder are embedded into my skin, almost like a tattoo. One of the staff working the safety flags immediately brought water, that helped for a moment or two, but it really stung bad.

After the cook-off, I was in good enough spirits to take this photo with the 4th Virginia Infantry. Thanks for the great time guys!

Shortly after the event another shooter offered hydrogen-peroxide, which immediately lessened the sting and likely helped reduce the chance of infection. Yes, there was a tiny amount of blood, but nothing to faint over.

Taken about 10 minutes after the "event"...

To turn insult into injury, I learned that our Musket team missed first place by just 3 seconds, I’m pretty confident that I could have gotten two more shots at the drywall if not for the cook-off, one hit would have been enough to get the win. If only I could have taken one more shot, damn-it! Sorry guys!

On a side note, I really like the award I got for Second Place Musket Team. It is a mini plaque, maybe 4 or 5 inches tall, with what looks like a lathe turned and mounted 1/2 minie ball, and it’s engraved with the event name, it was a really nice alternative to a standard medal!

I kept my hand iced for my 70 minute ride home, where I washed my wound and applied Vitamin E lotion, which helped a bunch more, then a soak in warm soapy water, some brushing and the dreaded tweezers… thank goodness my wife Ami is patient with me!

Was I Being Unsafe?

I’ve asked myself that a few times, to determine the truth I’ve gone over what happened. I didn’t do anything different than normal, but I was going very fast. I did remember to point the muzzle away from myself, so my face and body were out of harms way. I may need to rethink how I hold the charge tubes when loading though….

I’ve taken note of my cleaning procedure, I always clean the breech after every skirmish, and I’m sure the breech was clean before I started, I dropped my ramrod in the barrel before the event and heard the reassuring “tink” of metal on metal.

My lube may be another story, it was hot during the match, maybe 85 degrees or perhaps hotter, and I use straight Crisco which I dispense into the minie cavity between each relay. Could melted Crisco have caused the cook-off? One witness asked about my cleaning solvent, I clean with WD-40 between every relay, always have. Another avenue to investigate then…

The Final Word

Hopefully I’ll safely skirmish another 15 plus years without a cook-off, but now I’m going to always wonder, will it happen again today?

My guess is that I’m going to need a bunch of time to heal, but everything still works as designed so aside from residual stinging, I’ll be fine.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg Ogdan July 13, 2010 at 9:16 am

Been there, done that with a flinter many years ago. I feel your pain! I too, had “the tattoo” for probably 10 years. Yes, you may want to revise your loading technique. There is a way to flip the tube so your tender hand parts aren’t over the muzzle. Only way I know this is I have had a musket cook off too; back at the Lawrenceville range on a practice session. Luckily, I didn’t get a second tattoo. Keep writing, we all enjoy your blog.

Jim Strang July 13, 2010 at 10:37 am

In my 15 years of skirmishing, about the only thing I’ve learned for sure about cook-offs is, they are no respecter of persons. I’ve seen them happen to the best of shooters, folks who follow all safety procedures, burnish their breechplugs between skirmishs and are diligent about cleaning thoroughly between relays. And I’ve seen them happen to, uh, less diligent skirmishers, whose breechplugs are coke-baked to the flash hole and who clean their arms a couple times a year, whether they need it or not.

Which is to say that, as an organization that prides itself on all sorts of details and procedures (including how to load so as to minimize flash burns), we “know” next to nothing about the causation of cookoffs.

Now, it could be (and I think likely is) that they are utterly random occurrences; that they trace to some speck of impurity in our powders, or a piece of lint from a cleaning patch, or just the occasional clump of powder grains that smolder rather than combust. Or it could be our lubes — I have seen Crisco mentioned several times in cookoff-related posts, but that could be happenstance. Or it could be that there is some unidentified common thread that links most of these premature ignitions.

Thus, this question/proposal: Why doesn’t the Small Arms Committee (in cooperation with the BoD, of course) develop a short, uniform questionnaire, to be distributed to all regions, and thence to all host teams, to be filled out by designated safety personnel on the host team after each cookoff incident?

The form might collect such information as: weather (humidity and temperature), firearm, condition of firearm as concerns breech cleanliness (a quick twist with a breech scraper by a safety officer would determine this) in-match cleaning procedure (cleaned between relays or not; if so, using what for patches), powder manufacturer, round and LUBE. There probably are other relevant questions, but I think these cover most of the bases. Note: there would be no need to identify the skirmisher; we’re looking for event causes, not notoriety.

These one-sheet reports — I don’t think, based on Midwest Region experience, there would be many of them — could then be forwarded to the chair of the SAC, or a designated recipient, for compilation. And I have to believe that, given the expertise among the members of the N-SSA, there would be SOMEone eager to take this info and compile, massage and analyze it for any threads of commonality.

Maybe such a procedure, conducted for a season or two, would point to areas of interest. Maybe there would not be a common thread to be found. I don’t know. But then, we’ll never know, if the right questions aren’t asked and the answers examined.

What does anybody else think?

Mike McCloskey July 13, 2010 at 11:03 am

From one that has received a cook off tattoo I would strongly suggest gloves. My second cook off with gloves on was no big deal, just take a breath and reload. I just cut off the tips of the glove on the index finger and thumb on my right hand so I can up caps. I’ve had two cook-offs in 18 years. Keep up the great work, I really enjoy your commentry.

Mike Kendra July 13, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Greg, Jim, and Mike,

Thanks for your comments. I am currently considering a glove, but I’m not completely sure if I will get one.

Greg, gee whiz, ten years! That’s a long time to have a powder burn tattoo, but I guess it will make a great reminder for quite a long time!

Jim, I think your survey form is an excellent idea, it’s certainly something the N-SSA should consider.

Mike M. July 14, 2010 at 10:03 pm

I’ve had two since 1977. One thing I notice is that barrel temperature seems to have a great deal to do with cookoffs. They seem to be more frequent at the end of a long rapid-fire event.

Joseph Plakis July 15, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Mike my father used to own a gun that was nicknamed the “roman candle”, it was a Mississippi that had the breech-plug threads cut to deep and had a shallow plug, creating a great place for a blow plug! He learned how to learn and not get burnt and passed it on to myself and it is the same way I have taught numerous people to load. A lot of risk occurs when people pour the powder slow, I am a get it done and get your hand the hell out of the way kind of guy.
One trick to learn how to load proper is to do it with a bayonet on.

When you get out to Springtown, stop over and I will show you if you like.

“The Cook-Off King”

Marzenna Wojcicka-Gilbert August 10, 2010 at 12:14 am

I have been shooting very actively since 1992 and still waiting for my first cookoff. Ready for it, wearing LEATHER gloves with cut-off fingertips for capping. They also give me better grip when cleaning between relays as well as keep my hands protected from the hot barrell and dirt.
My musket has a Numrich barrell that has a sort-of conical shaped breach. It shoots well but it will not cooperate if I don’t wet clean it between relays. That may be partly why I never had a cookoff.
One more note on gloves: cheap leather work gloves work just fine, the keyword is non-flammable. Cotton or wool will smolder, with not much harm to you, but synthetics will melt to your skin and make burns much worse.

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