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Learning survival skills requires patience, basic tools, and a good teacher or source of guidance. But most of all, it requires practice. Without this fundamental element, you might try a “survival pro tip” you read somewhere, only to find that it's not working well in your situation. Worse yet, you might find that it's completely useless. Either way, you'll waste valuable time and resources, and you might even end up endangering yourself in a real life-and-death scenario.
Even some of the best sources of survival information can make mistakes or omit valuable information, and if you failed to practice the techniques on your own, you won't know until it's too late. Take, for example, the SAS Survival Guide by John “Lofty” Wiseman. It's an excellent source of information, and packed with helpful tips and suggestions for urban and wilderness survival. It was also our Top Pick out of the 8 pocket survival books we reviewed in Issue 15 of our print magazine. However, one fire-starting technique found within the book can be misleading.
Here's a quote about fire-starting directly from the SAS Survival Guide, on page 179: “Powder from ammunition: break open a round and pour gunpowder on tinder and use flint. Or leave half the powder in the cartridge case and stuff piece of cloth in. Chamber the round and fire into the ground. The smouldering cloth will be ejected. Place on tinder to ignite.”
The first part about starting fire with a bullet is reasonable enough, and it can work under the right conditions. Then again, if you already have flint and steel or a ferro rod, do you really need to disassemble a valuable round that could be used for hunting or self-defense? At that point, harvesting the gunpowder would probably take longer than finding some dry tinder, assuming your location isn't devoid of resources. The second part of this excerpt discusses fire-starting directly with a firearm, and may be much more difficult than it sounds.
Is it really as easy as disassembling a cartridge, shoving in some cloth, and blasting it into the ground to produce an ember? The diagram in the SAS Survival Manual appears to show a cross-section of a shotgun shell stuffed with cloth and gunpowder, so the host of YouTube channel Survival Russia decided to experiment with this method. Check out his results:
As you can see, it's not so easy, and it's almost guaranteed to consume more than one round of ammunition. Remove the bullet with pliers, pour out half the gunpowder, scavenge a wad of dry cloth, shove into the bullet, chamber the round, fire, and pray it works. If it doesn't, rinse and repeat until you've got fire or you're out of ammo. Sounds like a recipe for frustration.
Les Stroud of Survivorman also attempted this technique with a hunting rifle during one episode:
Even for such an experienced survivalist, it took five failed attempts to make this technique work. That's an 80% failure rate in the hands of a pro. So, while the fire-starting with a firearm technique appears to be possible, it's undoubtedly VERY difficult.
Regardless, the moral of the story is that you wouldn't want to attempt this for the first time in an emergency. Practice a variety of survival skills. Learn which ones work for you, and which ones aren't even worth a shot.