Hunter Dosch knows he's fortunate to only have 10 stitches in his right index finger and some cuts on his arms and a gash on one knee.
It could have been worse. ...
"I had a muzzleloader blow up in my hands," Dosch said, offering a short and sweet explanation of what happened. "Too much gunpowder. I'm about 100 percent sure of that."
A senior at Devils Lake High School, Dosch, 18, and a buddy were at the shooting range last Friday night, Sept. 1, when the accident happened. He'd been target shooting with three other rifles, as well, and had just emptied the clip on one of those guns when he decided to put another round through the .50 caliber inline muzzleloader.
Dosch hadn't shot the muzzleloader before that day but says he put several rounds through the barrel without incident. He added two powder pellets and loaded the bullet, forgetting the barrel already had two powder pellets, the recommended charge.
"I pulled the trigger, and the gun just disintegrated in my hands," Dosch said. "It's in in like 50 pieces right now of little plastic parts.
"The barrel was bent backwards. ... I think the trigger went through my finger."
Dosch says he "couldn't really feel the pain" when the gun exploded, but he felt the blood dripping down his fingers.
"I looked down, and I was like, 'Oh no,' " Dosch said. "My first thought was to cut off the circulation to the bleeding areas. So I wrapped the finger in shop towels and tied it off pretty tight, and then I wrapped my arm in shop towels, as well.
"I threw my friend my keys, and we went straight to the ER," he said. "I was in there for 3½ hours."
I queried some experienced muzzleloader enthusiasts about the accident, and the consensus was that too much gunpowder definitely could cause the gun to explode. To prevent overloading, they recommended marking the ramrod with a line at the point where the gun has a full load and checking it every time.
The mark on the ramrod would be a couple of inches above the standard bullet seating depth with a double charge.
Firing several shots without cleaning the muzzleloader also could result in a buildup of crud, they said, which could impact getting the bullet seated properly or create higher backpressure that potentially could damage the barrel.
"Remember, this is still a firearm, not a loud paintball gun," one enthusiast said.
Dosch, who'll get the stitches removed later this week, says he hasn't had any pain since his trip to the ER other than some numbness in his trigger finger.
"I don't think I'm ever going to have full feeling in my finger again," he said. "It was probably the most scared moment I've ever had in my entire life."
With school back in session, the accident hasn't gone unnoticed among his classmates, Dosch says.
"Some of them are like really concerned," he said. "They're like, 'I'm happy you're alive.' Some just give me (grief) about it."
Despite the accident, Dosch says he'll probably buy another muzzleloader sometime in the not-too-distant future.
"It was human error," he said. "It's not the gun's fault."
His advice to others is of the simple, common sense variety:
"Stick with one gun and put the other ones away before you start shooting another one," he said. "And make sure your gun is unloaded when you leave it."
As hunting seasons hit full swing, Dosch's experience is yet another reminder that a simple mistake can have serious consequences, and gun safety is a year-round endeavor.
"Before this happened, I never thought it would happen to me, and then it's just like, 'Wow, I'm lucky,' " Dosch said. "I'm happy I'm alive, and I'm still going to get back out on the range again. I love it."