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YouTuber Scott Allen DeShields Jr., better known as Kentucky Ballistics, is all about going big. With more than 1.5 million subscribers, he frequently shoots .500 S&W Magnums, .50 cals, and even elephant guns. However, during a recent test, he nearly died when his Serbu .50-cal rifle exploded due to a “hot round.”

.50-Cal Rifle Explodes During Test

There’s a lot to take away from this video. We’ll start with the setup and then dive into what went wrong. DeShields was out testing .50-cal SLAP (saboted light armor penetrator) rounds on a fire hydrant. He was using his Serbu RN-50 rifle. After firing a pair of shots, DeShields opted for one more. That last round saw the rifle completely explode and injure DeShields in the process. The gun itself was fine. Also, DeShields loaded the rifle properly. So what went wrong?

“What I didn’t know is that the SLAP round I put inside it was extra, extra hot. … These rounds are extremely rare and they’re very old. They’re like $100 apiece. These aren’t manufactured anymore and there’s no way you can really know what’s happened to them overtime as they’ve passed hand-to-hand.”

How a .50-Cal Rifle Explodes

So what the hell actually happened? For that we turned to Ballistic Magazine featured writer Frank Melloni, who wrote the following:

While we may never know for sure what transpired, most folks are pointing to a “hot load,” as DeShields referred to it. A hot load is a round of ammo that is either overcharged with gun powder, charged with the wrong gun powder, or both. If too much powder of the correct type is used, it will generate more pressure than the gun can handle and cause it to rupture. If a faster powder is substituted, then too much of it will burn before the bullet has time to make it down the barrel, thus over-pressurizing a small portion of the barrel and again blowing it and/or the receiver apart. Interestingly enough, this can happen as well even if a slower burning powder is used.

Who would sub in unsafe powders you ask? Well, a scam artist for one. You see Scott was shooting something interesting that day: A SLAP tracer round. This ammo is very hard to find and when you can it can easily cost upwards of $100 a shot. For these reasons it isn’t unrealistic to believe that somebody attempted to “fake” one out of components and, as there isn’t any public reloading data on this projectile, made a bomb that almost cost a man his life.

Counterfeiting ammo isn’t completely far-fetched. Heck, I’ve encountered fake M855 “green-tip” ammo before and those don’t go for nearly as much as a SLAP round. Now building a SLAP round might be nearly as expensive as buying a genuine one, so it doesn’t hurt to look at other possible scenarios that also build excessive pressure; most of those revolve around the projectile itself.

Understanding a SLAP Round

SLAP and SLAP tracers are very unique, as they are built with a saboted bullet. This system involves a thinner bullet wrapped in a thicker plastic cup to get it moving faster than the parent cases typical projectile; this allows it to fly flatter and penetrate thicker materials. While this works well, there are a few inherent dangers in using them.

Firstly, this particular round was made for the M2 Machine gun, which is known for its ability to chamber longer rounds due to its elongated throat. If the Serbu has a shorter throat, jamming SLAP ammo into it will certainly raise pressure. Another potential issue is the Serbu has a muzzle brake and a sabot can get jammed into it on the way out, again producing excess pressure. Although, if we watch the video that didn’t seem to be the case, as the muzzle brake appears completely intact and unharmed. Lastly, it’s possible that the sabot failed and allowed the bullet to impact the bore on its way out. Military testing of the 7.62×51 version of this round indicated this was happening in the M60 machine gun and, thusly, it was taken out of service.

The vast majority of military surplus ammo is safe to use, but it’s best to be able to source its origin and there is nothing more assuring than pulling it from a permanently sealed container. As this story develops we are likely to find out more about Scott’s ammo, especially if he can trace these rounds back a few owners. Samples of unburnt powder might also be useful in determining if an improper charge was used. Either way, we are glad that Scott is still with us and we wish him a speedy recovery.

The Aftermath

Thanks to Frank Melloni for that explanation. The whole incident is too quick to see. Even in slow-mo, it’s tough to break everything down. Firstly, the cap that holds the round in place and screws on blew off the rifle and hit DeShields in the face. It actually hits his safety glasses and cheek. It broke his orbital bone in three spots and also his nose. The important takeaway here is the safety glasses. Had he not been wearing the glasses, DeShields likely would’ve lost his right eye. He went blind in his right eye immediately, but his vision is slowly coming back and doctors told him it should fully restore over time.

Next is his left hand. DeShields said he thinks the stock flew back and essentially split the bone in his index finger.

All of that isn’t even the worst of it. When the cap blew back, it took two “ears” off the lower receiver. One went just past DeShields’ head, which is a close call itself. However, the second one hit him right in the throat. It lacerated his jugular vein and punctured a hole in his right lung.

To the Hospital

Thankfully for DeShields, he wasn’t alone on the shoot. His dad was there. He quickly informed his son of what had happened and they took action.

DeShields shoved his thumb into the hole in his throat to keep as much blood in his body as possible. Doctors said if he hadn’t done that, he would’ve died. From there, they both ran to a nearby truck and his dad drove as fast as he could to a local hospital. On the way, DeShields calls 9-1-1 so his dad could focus on the road. He also said talking to 9-1-1 was a way for him to stay conscious.

After a short period of time at the local hospital, they flew DeShields in a helicopter to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, Tenn. We’ll fast forward a bit, but the good people at Vanderbilt managed to repair him and save his life.

A Learning Experience

Overall, it was a brutal experience. DeShields posted a bunch of photos of him in the hospital immediately after the incident, along some more info. Check it all out below. In the end, he lived to shoot another day and we couldn’t be happier. But let this serve as a learning experience for everyone else out there. This is a prime example of why shooting old ammo can be dangerous, especially when you don’t know who loaded it. 

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