Boomershooter takes an ambulance ride

About 11:45 on Boomershoot Sunday I heard Barron call out over the radio, “Bill Waites, are you on the radio?” I knew that Bill had left for the day and answered back telling Barron that Bill wasn’t there. Barron answered back that they could use my help in his camping trailer. I told him I would be right there. I was in the car with Barb and  had just finished eating lunch. As I was opening the door I started to express my wonderment at what was going on when things clicked into place. Bill is a physicians assistant. Barron must be dealing with a medical situation. I told Barb Bill’s day job so she could put it together too and ran to the trailer. My first thought was Barron’s father-in-law who has had problems with his heart over the years and has a tendency to overexert himself despite the objections of his family and doctor. But as I approached the trailer door the FIL was standing outside the door with a concerned look on his face but in no apparent distress. I opened the door and stuck my head inside.

One of the Boomershoot participants was standing there and reported that a bullet had fragmented in the compensator (muzzle brake) and a fragment came back and hit him in the leg and it was under the skin. I said, “Let’s call 911 and get you out of here then.” He insisted it wasn’t that big of a deal and didn’t really want an ambulance. I said okay, but we have an EMT (actually an emergency room nurse, but my mind couldn’t find the proper words right then) on site with their emergency kit and I would get him. I ran to get Peter. Peter ran to his car to get his kit and then to Barron’s trailer.

I couldn’t think of anything more for me to do and I went back to the car to sit with Barb and update her. A minute or two later Barron radioed me again, “Get an aid car.” I called 911 at 11:53 and told them what I knew. Someone, I didn’t know his name, had a bullet fragment in his leg from a bullet coming apart in the compensator (as the patient had described it) and coming backward and penetrating his leg. I had an EMT with him and they had requested an ambulance. The dispatcher didn’t understand all the subtleties and concluded someone had been shot. And she wanted to know if he was breathing. I corrected her saying it was a bullet fragment from an accident and that the patient was standing, talking to me, and insisting they didn’t need an ambulance a few minutes earlier and I had not heard any updates other than the EMT (as my addled brain struggled and failed to remember Peter’s job title) other than they now wanted an ambulance. I thought it was the patient shooting his own gun and told them this, but I found out later the patient was actually the spotter. The dispatcher wanted to know the caliber and all I knew was that it was a rifle. The dispatcher said it probably would be about 30 minutes before they made it to our site.

I updated Barron with the ETA on the radio and gave Barb a few more details. Barron, at some point, asked for a couple of the 18” surveyors stakes we used for mounting targets on. They wanted to use a couple for a splint. I ran a full bundle of 25 over to the trailer.

Then at 12:00 noon I called the noon cease fire for everyone. I told my staff what was going on and directed them to do the usual target inspection and resets while I waited at the end of the driveway for the ambulance to arrive so I could direct them to the trailer. Brother Doug called and said he heard we had a medical emergency and that the sheriff deputies were unsure about what they were getting into. He said I should call them and clarify the situation for them. I called the sheriff’s office directly. I told the woman who answered I understood there were some questions about what was going on. She said yes and I explained that the patient hadn’t really been shot. It was clearly an accident and that it wasn’t a direct gunshot wound it was a bullet fragment that came back from the muzzle brake (I started using muzzle brake rather than “compensator” in the hope it would sink into them what happened). She seemed to understand and asked about the EMT on site. What was their name? Was it someone from Clearwater County? I told her it Peter V., an emergency room nurse who used to work at Gritman in Moscow. But that I thought he is now working someplace in or near Spokane. With those things clarified she said she would update the deputies.

Here is the view I had while waiting:


Barron’s white trailer is about 275 yards away at the top edge of the picture about three fourths of the way from the left side of the picture.

A sheriff’s vehicle arrived about 12:20 with two deputies and I directed them to the trailer. They confirmed with me it was an accident not an intentional shooting, and again I, erroneously, told them I thought it was the patient’s own gun.

The ambulance arrived about 12:30, I directed them to the trailer, then I walked back to the shooting area to wait for word on the status of the patient. The deputies left a few minutes later and probably after 10 minutes the patient was loaded up and the ambulance took him to the hospital in Orofino. Barron, Peter, and Jennifer B. came out of the trailer and were talking so I approached and listened for a while. It became clear that Jennifer, new to Boomershoot but not new to long range shooting, had medical training and her medical kit with her as well and had helped patch up the patient.

Peter caught on that I wanted to say something and interrupted the conversation to give me a chance. I told them that I actually wanted to listen, but I wanted to hear what exactly happened and what the status was. The patient was spotting for the shooter and sitting a little to one side when there was a bullet strike on the muzzle brake of the gun. A fragment came back and struck the patient on the anterior thigh about midway between the knee and hip. There was some bleeding but nothing to indicate significant concern in regards to blood loss at the moment. Neurologically everything looked fine. They were concerned because they didn’t know where the fragment(s) were. Bullet fragments are sharp and if one was next to an artery physical movement could cause a nick and a life threatening situation where seconds mattered. The patient needed an X-Ray and probably a surgeon. They immobilized the leg to prevent movement and shipped him to the hospital for appropriate evaluation and care. Probably he would be fine, but, “You just don’t know for sure.”

That evening Barb and I talked to Brother Doug. He asked, “How many deputies showed up?” He was out dog training for search and rescue when one of the other trainers heard the radio chatter on the sheriff’s band about the incident. The report the sheriff’s department got was unclear as to what was happening and the deputies concluded they had better take backup. Doug then ran back to the house to call me, find out what was happening, and to let me know I should get things straightened out before we were surrounded by deputies with the wrong impression.

I talked to the patient today and he was near Boise (I think he lives in the Seattle area) doing some more shooting. He has a bruise about four inches long and bullet fragments which are about 1.25” to 1.5” inches under the skin. I don’t know the size of any of them. The doctor decided to leave them in his leg. They tried to remove one closer to the surface via irrigation but were unsuccessful. Everything is going to be fine.

Lessons learned

I’m glad I have been giving Peter a free shooting position every year for the last eight or ten years. That was a very good suggestion by my ex-wife who was a co-worker of Peter’s at Gritman.

Barb said that when Peter checked in this year he was expressed some guilt that he shoots for free every year and has never done anything in return. He earned it this year. I told Jennifer she can shoot for free next year if she brings her medical kit. Bill Waites is part of the Precision Rifle Clinic staff and already shoots for free. More medical staff could come in handy in various situations.

I usually announce at the shooters meeting that we have medical staff onsite. I didn’t do that this time. I’ve added it to my shooters meetings notes. The patient, or someone close by, should have told a nearby range officer to radio for help rather than walking probably 175 yards to get help.

Medical staff should have had a radio. It probably took an extra two or three minutes from the time Barron got my attention until Peter was with the patient. Had Peter been in radio communication he could have cut that time at least in half if not a third.


19 thoughts on “Boomershooter takes an ambulance ride

  1. Other than the minor points in your self-critique at the end, sounds very well handled.

  2. I also forgot Peter was on site. Next year I want a sheet in my trailer with names and position numbers.

    Additionally having a quad to move them from their position to person of interest was beneficial. Hopefully I will have my own quad next year.

  3. One lesson I would draw from this is to describe the injury to 911 as “hit by a metal fragment”, avoiding the word “bullet”.
    Radio is a good thing. You might consider picking up some ham radio operations manuals, especially one covering emergency communication procedures. There are patterns to apply for efficient radio communication. Practice is also useful, but this is definitely a spot where text books (or instructors) are worth while.

    • Radio comms weren’t really the problem. The first staff member involved not having one was.

      I’ve been doing the EmComm stuff long enough the few bursts that were necessary were simple.

      Really for the most part the radio is there as a broadcast tool for cease fire. In this case it was merely an update tool for the administrative overhead dealing with calling in the cavalry while we dealt with the issue.

      About the largest take away would possibly be having someone who was a net control who knew where resources were that was the primary point of contact. That moves more into ICS theroy than just radio practice at that point.

  4. I’m very saddened to hear this! Fortunately, it wasn’t an eye or chest, but 1.5 inches penetration could have been much worse, so I’m very relieved about that.

    When it comes to irony, I’ll admit we probably created the situation by having a long conversation, (Barron, myself, and others) about the fact that the most serious injury we’d had were scope bite and sprained ankles!

    I must have left within less than 10 minutes of the initial call, I apologize.

    However, it sounds like you had appropriate and rapid care, and I applaud all of you for the way you handled it.

    I’ve seen a few instances of muzzle brake strikes, but never seen anyone injured. It goes to show that Murphy’s law still applies!

    Once again, Kudos to all who helped!

    One of the reasons I always have kept a radio on while on site is this exact situation. Having a medical staff meeting each morning so we all know who is onsite and what their skill level is wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

    Joe, thanks for posting a full explanation!

  5. Getting technical; how does that happen? Was it a new muzzle brake setup that wasn’t properly aligned? Was it an established setup that went loose, or did a bullet let go on its own inside the brake?

    Also; yeah, the 911 dispatch and cops need to have it made perfectly clear that no one was “shot”, or otherwise be made totally clear as to the situation. I’ve seen things get out of hand fast when the situation isn’t perfectly understood. On the other side, the Sheriffs should have been calling you to get a better read on the situation, before calling in backup. Dispatch would certainly have had your number.

    A rancher was shot dead by an ape-shit cop in Idaho, not long ago, in a situation that should have ended with all parties shaking hands and walking away. A bull had been hit by a car, cops showed up and tried sub caliber arms aimed at wrong parts of the animal to dispatch the injured bull, only pissing it off and making things much worse, because they knew not jack shit about anatomy, rancher shows up to dispatch his own bull safely, cop sees rancher’s rifle, loses his shit and shoots the rancher.

    So yeah; clear, concise communication; don’t say anything that can be misconstrued. Probably a good idea to make the dispatcher repeat what you said, to make sure the message doesn’t get embellished. “Man injured at shooting event” can easily become “Shots fired! A hundred militia! Man down!” and out comes the fucking National Guard, all hyped up and on edge, with close air support and AWACS, and it’s a Progressive’s wet dream. Starting the conversation with; “It’s probably not a great big deal, but…” may be in order. Also, and you probably already have this part down pat; know your local sheriff on a first name basis and know him as well as you can.

    • From what I was told it was a new setup and this was on the first shot. From the description the brake showed no evidence of damage either.

      My guess is metal flash or flake, improper concentricisty, or brake was a couple thou off spec trimming the jacket.

      I remember that incident with the farmer. Still pisses me off.

  6. Nice write up Joe. You’re an analytical person so I know there will be a post-mortem discussion and adjustments to future Boomershoots given this new experience. Having medical staff on hand is always fantastic and while it sucks that the patient has to keep those bits in his leg it’s great that it wasn’t worse. I still maintain that Boomershoot to date has been the safest group shooting event I’ve ever been to and the only one I’ve been to that would have been given my former range officer’s approval.

  7. Sorry to hear of your troubles. I can totally understand the Sheriff’s department being edgy about being called to “Boomershoot” with a report of a “gunshot injury”. It is hard to keep in mind just what goes through the mind of police being called to such a scene.

    I was recently in an unfortunate domestic disturbance, where my soon to be ex-girlfriend (STBEG) decided to throw rocks through the windshield of my car. I called 911. Later in the house she got irate (there was only one cop there by then) and demanded that he leave. She then shoved him. Cops don’t respond happily to being shoved. He had her on the floor and was cuffing her. I was behind him. I only said “do you need some help?”. He responded no, and used his mic to call for backup. In an astonishingly brief time there were about 7 police cars outside.

    It was only later that I realized that this was his nightmare. Domestic disturbance, having to take the female into custody while the male is behind him. I’ve heard those scenarios can turn ugly. Fortunately in my case it didn’t.

    • I get this idea that if there had been REAL trouble out there, SO didn’t bring nearly enough backup lol

      • Over 100 shooters and spotters with loaded high power rifles and known scope settings for hitting seven inch (and smaller) square targets out to 700 yards… hmmm… Maybe we should talk about this before we get too excited.

  8. What we do is dangerous. People tend to forget that as they become more familiar with guns and shooting.

    I’m glad he’s okay. Sometimes the most innocuous things become an emergency.

  9. What confusion occurred within our own personnel? The biggest failing was a lack of radio on the staff member the injured initially made contact with, followed by no reminder of who on site had the additional medical training. I called for Bill because I had seen him about 20 minutes earlier and knew he had medical training and his kit with him. My Father in Law brought him to me because he knew I had my kit with me, but he had no radio and didn’t tell me he lacked a radio.

    I specifically had Joe make the call to 911 and he worked as a single point of contact directing services to where they needed to be. There are added benefits to him making the call including familiarity with roads and geographical descriptors for location. In the end he was directing the logistics of the situation while we dealt with the injury. This also had the added benefit of us not playing hop scotch to get cell coverage to make the call either. He could go where he could get coverage and wait up front to direct them to the primary location, which he did.

    While staging EMTs on site works in fairly urban areas, moving an aid car 30 minutes out of it’s primary AO for what may be a full day of non-events for many shops is a non-starter, especially in an already rural area where they may have only one or two cars extending call time even further. We’re in BFE north Idaho, with what is really a low risk event. We were able to pull resources for the White Water Jet Boat races, but even then their forward location of EMS was still limited. It was 20+ minutes to get the aid car on site for a broken back. The way the jet boat races dealt with that was a large volunteer staff of EMS and HAMs to provide immediate treatment until EMS or Life Flight could get on site, and yes there was a different incident where I had to call in Life Flight after a pleasure craft hit a rock before the races started.

    While there’s room for improvement that was anything but a catastrophe like people who weren’t even there seem to be making it out to be. Most didn’t even know that something was going on, which is actually a good sign of proper crisis management. Everyone was calm in dealing with the problem.

  10. Muzzle brake.

    You really don’t want to break your muzzle. You just want to stop it.

  11. How does a spotter get hit in the inner thigh by a bullet frag ejected from a muzzle brake? The only trajectories I can envision defy Newtonian physics.

    • It wasn’t the inner thigh. It was the front of the thigh. I presume he was standing or sitting behind and to one side of the shooter. I didn’t ask. From my point of view, particularly at the time, it was not important.

  12. People tend to forget that anything a bullet touches, beyond the muzzle, will deflect or reflect it, depending on the hardness and other material factors of the object, along with the physical makeup of the bullet and it’s velocity. Think blade of grass, on up to naval armor.

    The steel target hanger on an indoor range? I know from personal experience it can reflect .22LR fragments back to the firing line. That was courtesy of an instructor who walked away from a couple of beginner students.

  13. Nice recovery. and the critique is appropriate. Comms and transportation will improve response. I would also make sure someone(s) have blow out kits handy.

Comments are closed.