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Old September 18, 2002, 10:49 AM   #6
Cap n ball
Senior Member
Join Date: October 17, 2000
Posts: 247
There have been several instances where old pistols and rifles were found to still be capped and upon being disturbed the deteriorated cap allowed the clorate or mercuric mixture in the cap to ignite the propellant. NEVER pick up an old gun that has been left capped. I suspect that is what happened to the poor woman in the above story. Black powder has a very long life as long as it's dry and of reasonably good quality to begin with. Smokeless powder becomes extremely unstable as it deteriorates into it's more explosive forms. Old souvieniers such as artillary shells and grenades have been known to survive for decades on bookshelves and as doorstops and the people who owned them had no idea that they were still capable of going off. The explosive or propellant may be gone but often the firing cap is still there. My own father had a bandolier of 30.06 armor piercing ammo from WWII that had hung in the den since I was a boy. I looked at one of the clips and found the casings to be green with verdigris and badly pitted, the detonator caps were so badly corroded that they would almost fall out. I kept the bandolier but had the cartridges destroyed by the police department. Had it fallen to the floor it's very likely that one or more of the clips would have gone off with possible ill effects to anyone nearby.

This is a very good thread on a subject we should all keep in mind whenever we handle old guns or souvieniers.
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