Tiger McKee

Shootrite Firearms Academy

Wound Ballistics

When using our firearm in defense of life, or serious bodily injury, we need to stop the threat efficiently, inflicting the damage necessary to quickly stop the threat. A majority of the “stopping” ability depends on the ammunition being used. To determine how to stop the threat, we need to understand a little bit about terminal ballistics, the effects of the bullet on meat.

There are two types of wound channels – temporary and permanent. A temporary wound cavity is created as the bullet passes through tissue; the tissue expands as the bullet passes, then contracts, leaving the permanent wound channel. Shape and size of the temporary cavity depends on the amount of kinetic expanded as the bullet passes through the tissue. The main factors to determining the kinetic energy of a bullet are its velocity and weight, with velocity being exponentially more important than weight.

Most handgun rounds, due to slow speed, create a very small temporary wound channel. The bullet will only do damage to the tissue it travels through. With handguns accuracy is extremely important. You have to get a good hit to stop the threat. This is also the reason why so much research goes into developing bullets that will expand, opening up to a larger diameter and creating a larger wound channel.

The temporary wound channel created by high-velocity rifle rounds can be up to 12.5 times the diameter of the bullet. (Gunshot Wounds, 2nd Edition, Di Maio.) Tissue and organs near the bullet’s path – occasionally even bone – are affected by the violent dynamics of this temporary wound channel.

Other factors that determine how the bullet transfers its kinetic energy to the body are caliber, shape, and construction of the bullet. With handgun rounds we have bullets designed to expand. With hollow points or some type ballistic tip rifle round the bullet starts expanding immediately, sheds small amounts of lead fragments, transferring its kinetic energy quickly with limited penetration. A full metal jacket will puncture, begin to tumble, and usually severely fragment before coming to a stop. According to Di Maio, “full metal-jacketed rifle bullets may break up in the body without hitting bone,” which is one reason the .223/5.56 full metal jacket rounds create such ugly wounds.

Of course all of this depends on the different type tissues the bullet travels through and whether or not it hits bone. Keep in mind that gelatin tests are simply a medium used to compare different types of rounds, and are not an indicator of how the bullet will perform on meat that may be covered with thick or multiple layers of clothing.

Terminal ballistics is a science, and if you’re interested in learning more I suggest Gunshot Injuries, by La Garde, and Di Maio’s Gunshot Wounds. Plus, I’m sure there is tons of information on the internet. Your job is to research, pick a good round, and make sure if functions properly in your firearms. Then train and practice so when it’s necessary, you’ll be able to stop the threat, efficiently.


September 19, 2010 - Posted by | AR-15, Auto Pistol, General Training

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