The Best Ammo Test Ever

This is a total departure from my normal blog articles, but I just found this video (even though it’s over two years old at the time of this writing).  But not only is it informative, and (unfortunately for the host) quite entertaining, it also really illustrates a very important point, so I’d like to call attention to it.

The test under discussion was a test of the Kimber Pepper Blaster II, a pepper-spray gun.  This is a less-than-lethal alternative for self defense, as compared to using a firearm.  While few serious self defense advisers would recommend pepper spray over a firearm, there are certainly some reasons why one might want to consider something like pepper spray, including:

  1. Depending on your local laws, it may be legal to carry it without any additional licensing;
  2. In a home defense situation, it is nearly inconceivable that it could pose a threat to occupants in nearby rooms or adjoining apartments or condos;
  3. Depending on local laws, it may be legal to carry a device like this into places that prohibit firearms (some places can legally prohibit licensed firearms carriers from carrying their firearms into them);
  4. For those who simply cannot or will not accept the possibility that they, through using a firearm, might cause another person to be seriously injured or die, maybe they would be more comfortable with a less-than-lethal option; and, finally:
  5. It’s gotta be better than nothing, right?

And so it is that I did a little digging into the current state of pepper spray devices.  Pepper spray, when employed properly, can be quite effective in discouraging a person from doing whatever it was that you didn’t want them to be doing (i.e., robbing or assaulting you), but how effective are they, really?

That’s when I found this test, by YouTuber “TheLowBuck Prepper“:

It’s a long video, over 22 minutes long, so if you want to save some time and jump to the relevant parts, here’s an overview:

In this test, the host (an intimidating-looking gent, to be sure) acts out a scenario wherein he attempts to rob someone of their purse, and gets shot with pepper spray, right in the face.   Accordingly, due to language, let me say that this video is most definitely NSFW!

Now, before we go any further, I just have to say — that took cojones, to volunteer to get hit with what must certainly be an extremely unpleasant experience, in the name of science and to inform us all as to what the experience is really like!  It was manly, it was bold, and I’m sure I speak for many when I say “thank you” to TheLowBuck Prepper for quite literally “taking one for us.”

Skipping to the most interesting bits, here’s what I observed:

03:00 – the initial test shot, where the host attempts to grab the purse and gets shot in the face with the first shot.  In this first test, the host was shot in the chin at extremely close range (looked to be no more than about a foot away). The results were completely and utterly ineffective — the host was not incapacitated, he wasn’t slowed down, and while he admits that the impact of the pepper cartridge on his chin didn’t feel good, it certainly didn’t stop him from doing anything that he wanted to.  The pepper itself didn’t do much of anything to him; he could feel a little bit in his mouth and said it basically felt “like eating some hot wings”.  He classified this as a total fail.

08:30 – they decide to test it again, this time at a distance of about 12 feet.  And in this test, the pepper disperses in the attacker’s face, and it drops him to the ground nearly instantly.  And then he goes on an epic 14-minute rant describing the pain, the incapacitation, dousing himself with gallons of milk, having his friends douse him with a hose nearly continuously.  The language is harsh, as you may imagine, and the description of the pain is extremely educational, and the visuals and the description may lead you to giggle like a schoolkid, (especially when he describes what happens to “Roscoe”).

I find this test fascinating for two main reasons: first, because this brave man put his body on the line to get us some legitimate real-world answers, and secondly, because we get to see two real-world examples of how ammo (bullets or pepper spray) may work.  Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.

And that’s the real takeaway here.  The exact same weapon, the exact same attacker, the exact same defender, and two entirely opposite outcomes.  It happens.  Pepper spray could turn out to be worthless in defending you, or it could turn out to be an absolute manstopper.  TheLowBuck Prepper wasn’t killed, he wasn’t permanently injured, but he was STOPPED.  He dropped to the ground, and he couldn’t see.  He would still have been very dangerous if he had been within contact distance, but if the defender was out of reach when firing that second shot, he/she could easily have gotten away and there’s pretty much zero chance that TheLowBuck Prepper could have continued his attack — or would have wanted to.

As I’ve pointed out in prior articles, this is the exact same type of scenario that may happen with a firearm.  Maybe you’ll hit your attacker and they’ll immediately stop.  But maybe you’ll hit the attacker (like the first pepper-spray shot in this video) and the attacker will not even give any evidence that they noticed or cared that they’d been hit.  Either scenario is possible, and your particular choice of caliber or handgun won’t really make that much of a difference — it’s really up to the attacker and to where the shot was placed.

In the first example, the defender placed the shot fairly decently — it did hit the attacker in the face, after all — but it had little to no effect, and it had zero effectiveness in FORCING the attacker to IMMEDIATELY STOP.  Zero.  Bullets can be the same way, whether they’re little .22′s or great big .45′s — just because you hit the attacker somewhere, doesn’t guarantee that the attacker will be FORCED to STOP.  Read my recent articles (such as this one or this one) for case studies of attackers (and defenders) who took repeated, multiple hits from major calibers (9mm, .40, and .45) and simply were not stopped.  In this first shot, even though the attacker was hit in the face, nothing VITAL was hit — the projectile impacted with his chin, bounced off, and leaked pepper spray into his beard.  He was able to ignore all that.

In the second example, the defender placed the shot perfectly, and the attacker’s vital organs were hit (his eyes and nose).  The pepper dispersed properly and brought his actions to a screeching halt.  He was incapacitated — literally, his body was incapable of continuing the voluntary actions of attacking or pursuing the defender.  He wasn’t inconvenienced, he didn’t choose to stop attacking, he was literally forced to stop attacking because he could not keep his eyes open and he could not even stand up.  If you’re ever involved in a defensive gun use (or, for that matter, a defensive pepper spray use) that’s what you would really want to be able to do — cause your attacker to immediately stop their attack.  And the only way to guarantee that is to incapacitate their body so that they simply cannot continue, no matter how much they may have wanted to.

In pepper spray, it’s obvious from the results of this test that:

  • you have to hit the eyes and/or nose with spray, and
  • it has to actually disperse.  You can see in the video how the cloud of pepper disperal made it pretty much impossible for the attacker to avoid getting swarmed with the spray, whereas in the first test it looked like there really wasn’t any cloud of dispersal.

With a firearm, the obvious and unavoidable conclusions are that:

  • You have to place the shot such that it will hit a vital organ, and
  • the ammo has to perform properly.  It has to penetrate deep enough, and expand big enough, that it is capable of doing enough damage to the vital organs that the attacker’s body is incapable of continuing his attack.

A shot that doesn’t hit a vital organ (such as a major artery, or circulatory system organ, or brain or brain stem or upper spinal column), cannot force the body to stop immediately.  It may hurt a lot, and the attacker may choose to stop, but they might not choose to stop either (see the aforementioned articles for examples).  But a hit on a vital organ gives the attacker no choice — their body will be rendered out of their control.  Even so, be aware that the effects may or may not be immediate — even in the case of a major circulatory system hit, the attacker may have enough oxygen in their system that they can control their body for up to 10 or maybe even 15 seconds.  That’s a long, long time when you’re engaged in a life-or-death struggle; someone could easily empty the entire contents of a pistol’s magazine in less than 10 seconds.

Similarly, a shot that is placed to hit a vital organ, but doesn’t have the requisite destructive power to actually destroy or substantially damage that organ, may not do you any good in bringing the fight to a quick stop.  It may eventually even cause the attacker serious complications or even death, but that’s not your concern — your concern is and should be to bring the fight to the quickest possible stop.  If you use ammo that doesn’t penetrate deep enough, or doesn’t expand big enough, it may not damage the organ sufficiently (or even at all!)

Finally, multiple shots increase your chances of scoring a hit on a vital organ.  Shoot until the threat stops threatening you (whether voluntarily or through incapacitation, it doesn’t really matter; as soon as the attacker breaks off their attack, you legally must stop shooting them).  But as long as the attacker remains a threat, and deadly force is a legal and appropriate response, many self defense advisors and instructors would tell you that you should continue shooting until the threat stops being a threat to you.

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Another Case Study on Bullet Effectiveness

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Winchester Black Talons.

Is there any bullet out there that has sparked as much hysteria, fear, dread, and media coverage as the legendary Black Talon?

Just how deadly was it?  If you shot someone with a Black Talon, was their ticket immediately punched?

I don’t know of any comprehensive studies on Black Talons, but I do know that Winchester pulled them off the market, and subsequently introduced Ranger SXT, which has been characterized by pundits as standing for “Same eXact Thing” as the Black Talon… just not “black” (the Black Talon bullets were covered in a Lubalox coating, which gave them a distinctive black appearance).

So let’s examine another case study of how real bullets performed against real people in real shooting situations.  The idea here is not to prove or disprove any particular aspect of bullet performance; rather it’s really just to provide another example that will hopefully enlighten the self defense community as to what MAY happen in a shooting scenario, and what you should be prepared to face.

There are cases where a single shot stops an attacker; the case of George Zimmerman vs. Trayvon Martin comes to mind, where a single shot of 9mm resulted in Mr. Martin’s death.  That one incident, however, must not be taken as representative of what a person is likely to encounter if they use a 9mm pocket pistol for defense — it would be unwise (if not downright insane) to conclude that a Kel-Tec PF9 (the pocket pistol used by Mr. Zimmerman) was a “one shot stopper” or that “if you use a Kel-Tec PF9, you only need to shoot once.”  The only reasonable conclusion we can draw from this scenario is that, regardless of the gun, a gunshot through the heart is very difficult to survive.

The Case of Officer Soulis vs. Tim Palmer

So, let’s go on to today’s incident, which didn’t take place today, it’s actually from several years ago.  The writeup I’m using as the basis for this article is from a 2008 article on lawofficer.com.  And in this incident, officer Peter Soulis used a .40-caliber Glock 22 in a protracted gunfight against Tim Palmer, who (unknown to Soulis) was wanted on a murder charge in a neighboring state.

So, to set the stage — Officer Soulis is armed with a Glock 22, a full-sized handgun (no pocket pistol here!) chambered in the quite-powerful and large .40 caliber, and loaded with Winchester Ranger SXT ammo (which is, as said before, basically the Same eXact Thing as the vaunted Black Talon).

Would you say that Officer Soulis was well-armed?  I certainly would!  A Glock 22 holds 15 rounds of .40 S&W, and Soulis was using premium ammunition that was so feared that it was literally hounded off the market for civilians.  I don’t know about you, but I would gladly trade in a pocket pistol with 6 rounds of .380 or 9mm, in favor of carrying a Glock 22 with 15 rounds of .40 S&W.  That would be a huge upgrade in firepower!

And, being a well prepared officer, Soulis also had spare magazines on hand.  It would be hard to imagine how someone could have been better armed for a handgun fight.

If you’re unfamiliar with this story, I recommend buckling your seatbelt, because over the course of the gunfight Soulis hit Palmer with 22 rounds of .40 S&W!  Twenty-two hits… and 17 of those were to center-of-mass!  And yet, Palmer just Would. Not. Stop.  Palmer lived for over four minutes after the last bullet hit him, and over the course of the fight Palmer would hit Soulis at least five times with 9mm bullets.

One shot stop? Don’t be a fool.

Was Palmer amped up on drugs or booze?  No, an autopsy showed nothing more than a small amount of alcohol in his system.  What about Officer Soulis?  He ended up receiving multiple gunshot wounds, including one that may have hit his leg’s femoral artery.  Palmer used a 9mm handgun and hit Soulis at least five times, although Soulis’ vest stopped one of those.  Soulis wasn’t amped up on drugs or booze either.  Both men were just exceptionally determined: Palmer was determined to avoid going to jail and facing that murder charge, and Soulis was determined that Palmer wouldn’t kill or hurt anyone else.

22 hits with a .40 S&W?  And he kept fighting?  Think about it.  If you were to be involved in a self-defense scenario, would you really be comfortable firing just one bullet and then looking to see what the effect would be?

Where can we lay the blame for this failure to stop?  On the gun? I don’t think so, the Glock 22 is among the most superb and powerful weapons.  On the ammo?  Maybe, maybe not.  SXT was Winchester’s premier hollowpoint at the time, and even if it was failing to expand and just passing through, 17 hits has to add up sooner or later.  Shot placement?  Well, yes and no; Officer Soulis hit his target 17 times in center-of-mass!  How can you get better than that?  Yet Palmer kept coming.  We can only conclude that while Soulis did his best to get the shots where they would matter, it seems unlikely that any of those shots actually damaged vital circulatory system organs or vessels that would have caused rapid incapacitation due to the blood pressure dropping below the level necessary to sustain consciousness.  The one thing we do know is that an attacker cannot continue to attack if their arteries are severed or their heart has a hole blown through it and they’ve bled down to the point where not enough oxygen is getting to the brain.  And seeing as Palmer kept coming shot after shot after shot, it seems safe to assume that that situation had not occurred.

I haven’t seen any info on Palmer’s autopsy, which might answer some questions; until then I can only speculate.  It seems like either the “Black Talon”-like SXT either failed to expand, in which case it would perform like an FMJ and would have comparatively little actual terminal performance, or Palmer was the luckiest guy in the world in that the bullets just managed to keep missing his vital organs.  And if a bullet doesn’t hit vital organs, then the aggressor may very well not be stopped — even after absorbing 22 rounds (more than a full box!) of premium .40-caliber hollowpoints from a full-size handgun!

What Will Your Shooting Scenario Be Like?

If you are ever unlucky enough to be involved in a defensive shooting, what will yours be like? Will the aggressor brown his shorts and run away at the mere sight of your gun? Or will you have to empty the magazine, pop in your backup mag and empty it, and he’ll keep coming at you?  I don’t know.  And you don’t know.  There’s no way to know in advance — heck, if you knew for a fact that you were going into a gunfight, you should go somewhere else instead!  And if you can’t go somewhere else, you should bring something better than a handgun — a 12-gauge shotgun, or a .308 rifle, would be two good places to start.

I hope none of us ever has to face that situation again.  But if you do… use the most powerfun handgun you can accurately control, and the best-performing ammunition that works properly from that handgun, and put your shots on target, and don’t stop shooting until the threat is neutralized.  It MAY happen after one shot, but you would be very unwise to expect it to happen after just one shot.  Ideally you would have a spare magazine on you, and shoot until the threat stops.

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A Realistic Look At Gunshots

No big philosophy here today, just — a video that shows what can REALLY happen when someone gets shot.

Now, the lead-up here is: people have been conditioned by decades of Hollywood movies that when a person gets shot, it’s a tremendously devastating event… the person who’s shot is usually depicted as immediately collapsing to the ground (or sometimes shown as being lifted off their feet and blasted through the air).  The perception that’s given is that handguns are overwhelmingly powerful, and that people who get shot are instantly devastated.

Getting shot is nothing to take lightly.  Handgun bullets can indeed be fatal, depending on where they hit and what vital organs they impact.  Sometimes a single bullet from a handgun can destroy vital organs and have a horrific effect on the victim’s body.

But sometimes, they just don’t.

And I think it’s important that you see a couple of examples of live video of people actually being shot.

Why?

Because it’s important to see what can really happen in case you are ever forced into the position of having to fire upon a human attacker to save your own life.  You should understand the real-world impact that a bullet may have on a person, so that you’re best informed on how to use a gun to save your own life.

That said, here’s the first example, from a CNN news report.  The actual gunshot takes place at about 30 seconds into the video.  A robber takes aim and fires a gun into the leg of the store clerk.  This is real security-camera video of a real person, shot by a real bullet from a real gun.  What happens to the gunshot victim?

Not a whole lot.  I mean, seriously — watch the video.  The man who is hit doesn’t even react.  In fact, after being shot, he then puts up a fight and wrestles the gun away from the robber, and even chases after him — running on a leg that’s got a bullet hole through it!

Did it hurt? I’m sure it did, I’m sure it hurt a lot.  Was it life-threatening?  If left untreated, it may very well be.  But the salient point here is: it didn’t stop the clerk.  It didn’t incapacitate him.  It didn’t make him collapse to the floor, it didn’t knock him unconscious, and it certainly didn’t paralyze or kill him.  Watch the video — he acts like it never even happened.

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s what you may be up against.  If you’re ever forced to defend yourself against an attacker with deadly intent to harm you, you cannot expect that just firing a gun at them will somehow miraculously render them incapacitated.  It just doesn’t work that way.  It MIGHT work that way, depending on what you hit (if you hit them in the spinal column or brain stem, for example, they’re going to immediately stop).  But it may not work that way — they may not even be slowed down.  You might have to fire again and again and again in order to get them to stop.

Let me show you another example, from a presentation by anesthesiologist Andreas Grabinsky M.D.  The whole presentation is well worth watching, but do be prepared that there are some very, very graphic images that could be quite disturbing (especially around 8:20 to 10:05).

The part I want to point out in this video starts at about 14:00 to 15:10.  In it, Dr. Grabinsky shows another shooting victim, this person shot twice in the torso.  Does he get knocked to the ground, blown away, immediately incapacitated?  No… in fact, he runs away.  Then comes back in the scene, then gets up and walks away.

I gave several other examples in my recent post Shoot Until The Threat Stops.  But I think actually seeing the impact (and non-effect) of some example bullet hits, really drives the point home.

Watch these incidents.  See why the notion of “shooting to wound someone” is such a dangerous fallacy; these people who were shot remain very much able to attack and hurt you.  See why you should never think that you’ll get a “one shot stop”, or that a bullet is some sort of magical death ray of immediate incapacitation.  Now, don’t underestimate a bullet either — any bullet can absolutely be fatal, and all handguns and bullets need to be properly respected and you simply MUST constantly adhere to the Four Rules Of Gun Safety.

Handgun bullets ARE capable of killing.  You have to respect that.  But they’re also capable of being pathetically ineffective in stopping a determined attacker, and you have to know that too.  If you’re going to be a responsible gun owner, you should have a proper idea of what the possible results of inflicting a gunshot could be, if you’re ever involved in a defensive encounter.  It’s possible that a single bullet might immediately stop an attack, but it’s also possible that your attacker may not even know that he (or she) has been hit (or they may know it, and they may just not care; it may not affect their ability to continue attacking you).

These videos show why shot placement is so important — if the bullet impacts nothing but muscle or fat (such as in the clerk’s leg) then it may have very little real-world stopping power.  However, a bullet to the heart or brain will likely have much more detrimental effect against an attacker and either would be much more likely to FORCE the attacker’s body to stop.  WHAT you hit (in the attacker’s body) is the most important factor in stopping an attack quickly.  Careful aim is important, but so also is proper-performing ammunition (a good-performing hollowpoint can do much more damage than a round-nose FMJ, for example) and so is a proper determined mindset that causes you to fire and continue firing until the threat against you is neutralized.  If the situation is so dire that you’re called upon to use deadly force to defend yourself or other innocent life, then you should understand just what it may take to neutralize that threat and be prepared to take action until the threat is no longer a threat.  It MAY happen with a single shot, but it is my opinion that you would be foolish to think that it will; I think you would be much better served to be prepared to shoot until the threat stops.

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An Alternative Look at “An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power”

“Stopping Power.”

Are there any two words, when put together, that are more likely to start a heated internet debate in gun forums than those two?  (actually, probably “caliber wars”, but other than that, I can’t think of many).

I just did a big article on “stopping power” but I want to go a step further and expand on this a bit, because I think this is one of the most confusing, frustrating, misleading, and dangerous subjects in all of gundom.  (made up a word there — take that, spellchecker!)

So the topic of today’s discussion is an article published by Greg Ellifritz on the Buckeye Firearms Association website, entitled “An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power”.  In this article, which has spread throughout the internet forums, Mr. Ellifritz compiled a decade’s worth of data on shootings, and compiled the data into some tables, that enable readers to make some comparisons.  Some very, very faulty comparisons.

Before I get into this, let me say that I really appreciate all the effort Mr. Ellifritz put into this.  It seems like he was seriously trying to make some sense out of what is a very confusing subject.  It must have been a lot of work, and I believe his heart was in the right place, just as I believe that Marshall & Sanow set out with the best of intentions to find the answers that people really wanted to know.

The problem is, they asked the wrong questions.  Or didn’t ask the right questions.  And in the end, that results in statistics that are highly misleading and can lead people to draw completely unwarranted conclusions from the data presented!  And that’s bad.  Regardless of how good the intentions were, the resulting posted information may lead (or empower) people to draw unwarranted, inaccurate, or just plain faulty conclusions.

The .380 ACP Is “The King Of The Street”???

Let me show you what I mean.  Let’s take the example of Ellifritz’s compiled data on the .380 ACP.  According to this article, you could easily draw the conclusion that the .380 is the overall most effective handgun round of all the common self defense weapons(!)  Bet that took you by surprise, didn’t it?  But if we take the data at face value, there’s no question — the .380 is better at stopping people than the .40 S&W, it’s better than the 9mm, it’s better than the .45 ACP.  Or, at least, that’s the conclusion one would be forced to reach, if they take the data at face value!  Look at these categories:

.22LR .380 ACP .38 Special 9mm .357 Mag/Sig .40 S&W .45 ACP
% of hits that were fatal 34% 29% 29% 24% 34% 25% 29%
Average # of rounds to incapacitation 1.38 1.76 1.87 2.45 1.7 2.36 2.08
One-shot-stop % 31% 44% 39% 34% 44% 45% 39%
% actually incapacitated by one shot 60% 62% 55% 47% 61% 52% 51%

Those are (many of) the numbers reported in the article.  What immediately jumps out at you?  I’ll tell you what I see:

According to this data, the .22LR is the deadliest bullet on the market.  34% of the .22LR shots were fatal, versus (for example) only 24% of the 9mm rounds.  So should people ditch their 9mm guns and trade them in for .22LR’s?  Not so fast, let’s keep looking… what if you ignore killing power and just go for stopping power — what caliber stops people in just one shot?  Well, according to this data, that’d be the .380 ACP, which has a 62% rating of people being incapacitated by just one shot(!)  That’s a much higher percentage than, say, 9mm, which had only a 47% record.  So surely, .380 ACP is a better choice for self defense than 9mm (or, for that matter, 40 S&W, or .45 ACP, or .357 Magnum).  That’s what the data is telling us, right?

How about if you want the fight to stop quickly — as in, using the fewest number of hits before the attack stops?  Well, according to the data, you’d want to be using a .22LR for that — after all, people who are hit by less than 1.4 shots of .22LR stop attacking, whereas with .357 Magnum it takes 1.7 bullets, right?  Surely the .22LR is a more powerful manstopper than the .357 Magnum, according to the data, right?

Clearly all these conclusions are complete poppycock.  Anyone drawing these type of conclusions would be sorely and severely mistaken.  So what’s going on here?  Is the data faulty?  Or is there some “magical” property of the .22LR that makes it more effective in stopping people than a .357 Magnum is?  Of course not.  And Mr. Ellifrtiz doesn’t believe that either — he even states in his article that “I really don’t believe that a .32 ACP incapacitates people at a higher rate than the .45 ACP!”  Even though that’s what the data shows — his data shows that for a % of people incapacitated by one shot, the .32 ACP did it 72% of the time, whereas the .45 ACP did so only 51% of the time.

So what’s going on here?

The Problem Is That The Wrong Questions Were Asked

The data is woefully incomplete.  It doesn’t ask the right type of questions.  And because the data is incomplete, NO USEFUL CONCLUSIONS CAN BE DRAWN FROM IT.

What’s missing?  Here are a few examples:

1. HOW were the people incapacitated?  In fact, what was the definition of incapacitation?  As near as I can tell, the author is using the term “incapacitation” interchangeably with the notion of the person stopping their attack.  But there’s a massive disconnect here — there’s a huge difference between a person CHOOSING to stop, and one being FORCED to stop.  “Incapacitation” means (and should mean) that the attacker no longer has the capacity to attack — i.e., that they’ve been rendered paralyzed, unconscious, or dead.  No indication of this is given in the data; instead, anyone who stopped without landing another blow or firing another shot is considered “incapacitated.”  That’s grossly misleading, because it ignores the fundamental question of whether the person was CAPABLE of continuing the attack or not.

2. There’s data on the # of rounds that are fatal, but there’s no indication given as to WHEN the attacker expired.  And that makes a huge difference!  If someone is swinging a crowbar at your head, and you shoot him, does it matter to you if your attacker dies on the operating table 2 hours after they shoved that crowbar through your brain?  To me, whether they die or not is irrelevant; the important question is whether or not I stopped the attack before they did serious bodily harm or death to me or someone I was protecting.  If you shot someone with a .22LR in the gut, and they didn’t get treatment, they would likely die — in about three days, from infection.  But that would have zero determination on the outcome of your immediate fight!  Remember, self defense isn’t about killing your attacker, it’s about stopping them — so eventual fatality is irrelevant in the discussion.  Incapacitation (using the proper definition) is the crucial data point — and that’s what’s not properly represented here in this data.

3. What type of gun was used?  No indication in the data is given, but it makes a tremendous difference!  Let’s use .22LR for example — a 32-grain CCI Stinger from a 1″ barrel NAA mini revolver delivers around 40 ft/lbs of energy.  The exact same bullet, fired from an 18″ rifle, delivers 3x to 4x as much energy.  Three or four times as much!  Yet no indication is given (although we can presume that the rifle is irrelevant from the data above, as the author included a separate category for all rifles).  So let’s just stick with handguns — how about with the .357 Magnum?  Let’s use a 125-grain Hydra Shok.  Was that bullet fired out of a little Bond Arms derringer with a 2.5″ barrel?  If so, it’d travel at about 1100 feet per second and carry 335 ft/lbs of energy; but what if it was fired from a 4″-barrel police duty revolver?  In that case, it’d be traveling at about 1550 feet per second and carry 667 ft/lbs of energy!  Twice as much, from the exact same cartridge, all depending on just a simple change of barrel length.  It makes a difference.  It makes a big difference.

Heck, let’s take it a bit further — a 9mm normally uses a 124-grain bullet, and from a Glock 17 a Hydra Shok travels at about 1100 feet per second.  That’s the same diameter, size, weight, and velocity as the .357 Magnum from the 2.5″ barrel!  So can we draw the conclusion that a .355-diameter Hydra-Shok weighing 124 grains and moving at 1100 feet per second would perform fundamentally identically to a .357-diameter Hydra-Shok weighing 125 grains and moving at 1100 feet per second?  Of course we could; there’s practically no difference whatsoever.  So how are we to know what the data in the article represents?  Does the .357 Magnum data show the results of 335-ft/lbs, or of 667 ft/lbs?  We don’t know.  But it makes a difference.  Anyone thinking that the .357 Magnum cartridge is magical on its own, without considering the gun barrel it’s coming from, would be making a disastrously misinformed decision.

4. What TYPE of bullets were used?  We don’t know — the data presented to us makes no distinction whatsoever.  We could be looking at hollowpoints, or roundnose full metal jackets, or flatnose FMJs, or wadcutters, or ratshot shotshells, or frangibles.  We don’t know what weight of bullet (and bullet weight can vary widely within any given caliber; 9mm ranges from around 50 grains on up to 147 grains). Are we being asked to assume that a 50-grain frangible is exactly as effective in “stopping power” as a 147-grain hollowpoint, which is exactly as effective as a 95-grain roundnose FMJ?  Apparently we are, but that is a plainly silly thing to even consider.  Furthermore, Mr. Ellifritz’s data includes military shootings, which would usually mean FMJ/ball ammo, which is less effective in damaging tissue than hollowpoints are.  The 9mm data listed includes over half the shootings involving ball ammo, and that skews the data on the 9mm’s effectiveness (as Mr. Ellifritz rightly points out in his article).  But doesn’t that acknowledgement really point out the flaw in the whole exercise? Acknowledging that certain types of ammo are more effective than others, and then lumping them all together in the same category, prevents us from drawing the proper conclusions here.

5. Did the bullet WORK?  If it was a hollowpoint, did it expand?  We don’t know, because the data presented gives us no way to draw any sort of conclusion.  I for one would be very interested in knowing what percentage of bullets fired failed to work properly, and how that affected incapacitation, but we don’t know.  And I’m not complaining about Mr. Ellifritz’s efforts; he did the work he did, and I didn’t, so I don’t get to complain — but I still feel it is my obligation to point out why we can’t draw comprehensive conclusions from the data as presented.

So, in short — we don’t know what type of gun was used, we don’t know what the barrel length was, we don’t know what type of ammo was used, we don’t know what velocity the bullet traveled, and we don’t know why the person stopped attacking (i.e., did they voluntarily just choose to stop, or did the impact of the bullet force them to stop?)  How can you draw a reasonable conclusion from any of this?

Here’s the conclusions I think we can draw from it:

1. People do not like getting shot by bullets, and the pain, fear, shock, adrenaline, or panic that comes about by getting shot is frequently enough to stop someone from continuing to attack you.  And if someone is inclined to stop attacking you if they get shot, then the actual caliber they get shot with doesn’t seem to matter much.  If someone’s going to stop because they feel the pain of a shot and they see themselves bleeding, it probably doesn’t make much difference whether they got shot with a .22 short or a .357 Magnum; in either case there’s a loud bang, pain, and blood.  So for this subset of attackers, caliber probably doesn’t matter much.  For that matter, bullet type wouldn’t matter much in that case either (hollowpoint or FMJ), barrel length probably wouldn’t matter, heck, not much of anything matters other than having the ability to make a loud noise and poke some manner of hole in the attacker’s body.

I think this situation is fairly common, and represents a large portion of self defense shootings.  I don’t have the statistics so I can’t definitively prove it, but I believe this to be a reasonable conclusion based on the notion that about 6 out of 7 people shot with handguns survive.  True incapacitation (forced unconsciousness due to blood loss, or death, or paralysis) could reasonably be presumed to have a much lower survival rate.  Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that most people who stop an attack after getting shot, have CHOSEN to stop that attack, rather than been FORCED to stop their attack.

2. Sometimes people will not choose to stop attacking, even after being shot, and you will have to FORCE them to stop.  And in that case, caliber matters very much — as does gun size, bullet speed, bullet construction, bullet performance, shot placement, and all the other factors that go into the overall process of a bullet colliding with flesh.  If you are in a situation where you have to FORCE someone to stop, it will be through the bullet damaging their body in such a way that they cannot continue to act voluntarily.  And that means damaging their central nervous system (resulting in paralysis), or their brain stem (resulting in immediate death), or in the bullet damaging their circulatory system such that they bleed out rapidly and lose consciousness (a situation which, left untreated, will likely also result in their death).  Can your choice of gun and ammo, working together, accomplish that?  That’s the big question — and that’s the question that is left completely unanswered by the types of data examinations that we can conduct based on Ellifritz’s or Marshall & Sanow’s work.  I mean, let’s get real here — according to the Ellifritz data, a .44 Magnum is less effective in stopping attackers than a .32 ACP!  The data shows that 72% of people were incapacitated by  one shot from a .32 ACP, whereas only 53% were incapacitated by a single shot of .44 Magnum.  Yet a .44 Magnum is vastly more powerful and destroys much more flesh.  The .44 Magnum is far more likely to be able to cause a truly incapacitating hit than the .32 ACP ever would be.

So, really, where does that leave us?  I think it leaves us here:

A. If someone’s going to choose to stop attacking after being hit by a shot, any gun in any caliber is likely to work as well as any other gun in any other caliber, so this should be completely ignored in your choice of carry weapon and caliber.  It’s not that “caliber doesn’t matter”, it’s that it doesn’t matter in this particular case — therefore, you should most definitely NOT choose your gun and ammo based on “well, they’re all the same”; instead, you should ignore all such data because it can seriously mislead you into choosing something that’s underpowered.  Do you want to bet your life on the hope that an attacker will just choose to stop?  I know I wouldn’t want to bet my life on that, I’d want to put the odds more in my favor.

B. If someone’s not going to choose to voluntarily stop attacking, and you have to force them to stop, you would be best served by the gun/ammo combination that is capable of causing the most damage possible, and that you can shoot most accurately.  The specific caliber isn’t nearly as important as the amount of damage done to the target.  You have to view the gun and ammo as a complete system that results in damage being done to the target; a powerful bullet being fired from a tiny gun may likely not be as powerful or do as much damage as a less-powerful bullet being fired from a bigger gun.

C. Proper ammo tests can show you what type of damage you can expect a particular gun/ammo combination to deliver.  What performs excellently from a 6″ barrel might perform pathetically from a 2″ barrel.  You have to see the specific combination tested together before you know for sure what type of damage the gun & ammo combination can deliver.

D. In general terms, there actually really is a big difference between the amount of damage the small calibers (.22LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, and .380 ACP) can do, and how much damage the “service” calibers (9mm, .40 S&W, .357 Magnum/Sig, and .45 ACP) deliver.  A pocket 9mm is a much more powerful weapon than a pocket .380 ACP, for example.

Summary

You cannot assign a “stopping power” value to any particular cartridge, or any particular caliber, or any particular bullet weight, or any particular kinetic energy value, or any particular bullet velocity.  These things all have to work together to produce damage in tissue.  The more likely that the bullet & gun combo can reach the vitals and the more vital tissue that bullet damages, the more likely the attacker is to stop sooner.  You want 12-18″ of penetration capability through ballistic gel and, once sufficient penetration is achieved, you want as big of a bullet size as you can possibly get.  A big bullet penetrating deeply and impacting the vitals at high speed will cause damage, and that will stop the most determined attacker.  (of course, if you miss the vitals, all bets are off; a hit with a .22 beats a miss with a .44 Magnum any day of the week).

As a final word, I’d like to quote from Evan Marshall.  Marshall is the author of several studies on “street shootings” and “stopping power” and his work is often quoted by those who want to talk about “one shot stops”, and his work served as some inspiration for Ellifritz to do the study that’s been under discussion here.  So does police officer Evan Marshall rely on specific cartridges or specific calibers for “one shot stops”?  Of course not.  Here’s Marshall’s advice, quoted from a post made on his forum at Stopping-Power.net:

1st, let me be perfectly frank. I see no benefit from carrying a .380 when I have a 9MM that is sitting inside a front pants pocket inside a Blackhawk pocket holster as this is being typed.

2nd, we need to focus on the right aiming point. I’ve named it the “Golden Triangle”-nipples to nose.

Finally, shoot to lock back, drop the pistol, and shoot them with the 2nd gun repeatedly. I only reload after I’m convinced the Super Bowl is over.

If you are not carrying at least two guns you haven’t been paying attention.

My interpretation?  Forget the whole notion of “stopping power” by caliber or by cartridge.  Don’t try to draw conclusions from data that doesn’t ask the right questions.  Instead, choose a gun & ammo combination that delivers as much damage as you can accurately control, and just put your shots on target, and shoot until the threat stops.

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Shoot Until The Threat Stops

One thing that I keep coming across in gun forums, gun magazines, and bookstore shelves, is this concept of the “one shot stop.”  This concept is frequently mentioned along with “stopping power” or “knockdown power”.  It’s extremely popular, and I can see why: people want to know what ammo will be most effective in stopping someone with a single shot.  They want to know that they’re going to be successful if they ever have to deploy their firearm to stop a threat.

Of course, the concept is ludicrous and doesn’t apply in reality at all!

You cannot, and should not, ever count on getting a “one shot stop”, and it’s easy to prove that handgun bullets don’t have “knockdown power” (i.e., a handgun bullet impact is not going to blast someone through the air and crash through windows, like you see on old Western films or TV shows).  Handgun bullets don’t have the power necessary to knock someone down, and the whole general idea of “stopping power” or “knockdown power” is an inherently fundamentally flawed concept.  It’s an attractive concept, certainly — not unlike the magical 200 mpg carburetor or the perpetual motion machine; we all wish it existed, but it simply doesn’t.

Handgun Stopping Power

The perception of the deadliness and power of the handgun is really quite exaggerated in our society, as versus the reality of just how frequently ineffective handguns are in stopping a threat.  And that means ALL handguns — .22′s, .380′s, .38′s, 9mm’s, .40′s, .45′s, .357 Magnum, .357 Sig… they’re all handguns.  And they’re all poor stoppers, as compared to a rifle or a shotgun.

If you can stand some graphic visuals (and some of the photos are VERY graphic), this presentation by Dr. Andreas Grabinsky does an interesting job of showing just how wide the gap is between the destructive power of a handgun bullet, and the power of a rifle.  It shows actual video of someone being shot by a handgun, and barely even noticing that it happened (at about 14:40).  Dr. Grabinsky also points out some interesting statistics, such as that 6 out of 7 handgun shooting victims survive.

Clearly, handguns are not some all-powerful death ray of one-shot stopping power.  Now — let’s be clear here — in self defense, we are NOT setting about to kill anyone.  If your intention is to kill, then that’s not self defense; there’s a different set of words that are used to describe that: “first degree murder.”  In self defense, the goal is to stop the attack as quickly as possible.  Whether the attacker expires from their injuries or they survive, that’s not your primary concern, that’s a consequence of the actions they took when they decided to attack you.  You do not intend to or set about to cause their death; you set about to stop them from attacking you.  You should call 911 and summon help as quickly as it is safe to do so, for the person that you were forced to defend yourself against.

The key concept here is: stopping the threat does not mean killing the threatening person.  It means that the attacker is either discouraged from attacking, or incapacitated such that they cannot attack.  That doesn’t require killing them, although you should be prepared to accept that it might; that can be one of the very serious consequences of employing deadly force in defense of yourself or innocent life.

It is possible that a single shot will stop someone, but it is relatively unlikely that they will be stopped just by the force of damage that a single bullet did to them.  People stop attacking for many reasons.  Sometimes people stop because they are scared of getting shot.  Sometimes they stop because of the pain of the impact, or the sight of their own blood.  And sometimes, they stop because they have been physically incapacitated.  An example of that would be the case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin; in that fight, a single shot to the heart ended that encounter immediately, and resulted in a fatality.  A one-shot stop can happen, but it would be foolish to think that it will be the likely outcome of any defensive shooting.  You shouldn’t count on it; you should be prepared to shoot until the threat stops.

Examples

Let me show you a few examples of defensive shootings situations that turned out very differently (i.e., no “one shot stop”).  In 2013, a Georgia mother retreated with her kids into the attic of her home to escape an invader.  The invader followed, and the woman was forced to empty a .38 revolver at her attacker.  She didn’t shoot just once and look to see what damage was done; she fired all six shots at her attacker, and she hit him five times.  He was hit five times, in the face and in the neck.  It would be difficult to imagine more effective shot placement than hitting an attacker five times in the face and neck!  In this case, the attacker got up, climbed out of the attic, walked away, got in his car, and drove away (although he did crash into a tree before he got out of the neighborhood).  The attacker was hospitalized for a month, has recovered, and was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Point is — was he truly “incapacitated”?  He did stop attacking, so she did the right thing and as a result she saved herself and her children, but — if he was capable of climbing down a ladder, walking out of a house, getting into his car and driving, that should certainly imply that he would have been capable of continuing the attack, right?  In this case, it’s hard to argue that the attacker was stopped by the force of the bullets; instead it seems more reasonable to presume that he chose to stop the attack.

Second example: in this case, a man’s house is invaded by three attackers.  They shoot him, he shoots them.  But there was a vast difference in firepower: the home invaders shot him three times with a .38 (hitting him twice in the arm and once in the chest).  The homeowner fired back with — get this — a .22 Short mini-revolver.  Probably the smallest, weakest, lowest-power firearm generally available today — but it was enough to stop the attack.  He hit one of the invaders in the back.  When he started shooting, the invaders all left.  Which means that even though he was vastly outgunned, his little .22 Short revolver was enough gun to stop the threat.  He shot until the threat stopped.  But here’s where it gets interesting — even with three .38-caliber bullets in him, he managed to follow the invaders out to the driveway, write down their license plate number, then get in his car and drive 17 miles(!) towards a hospital, before he found a law enforcement officer and was airlifted to a hospital, where he survived.

Now, let’s think about this for a second — here’s a man who’s taken three .38 Specials (presumably), and .38 Special is a respectable self-defense round and was standard issue for the police for many many years.  He was hit three times, including a chest shot, yet — was he incapacitated?  By no means!  He retained the capacity to shoot back, and he could absolutely have continued the fight, had the attackers not chosen to leave.

Third example: police Sgt. Timothy Gramins now carries 145 rounds of ammo on him, every day, without fail.  Why? Because he was involved in a shootout where the bad guy just Would Not Stop, even though he was hit 14 times(!) with .45 ACP bullets(!)  From a full-sized Glock 21!  In general it would be hard to carry much more gun than a Glock 21.  Now, part of the internet gun banter is that “.45 ACP won’t just kill a man, it’ll also kill his soul”… or, another is to say “.45: because why shoot twice?”  But in Sgt. Gramins’ case, he had to fire magazine after magazine at this attacker, and he scored 14 hits, and at least six of those hits would have been fatal: the attacker was hit in the heart, both lungs, the liver, the diaphragm, and a kidney.  You cannot fault Sgt. Gramins’ shot placement!  And you can’t fault his choice of weapon or caliber; .45 ACP is about as good as it gets in handguns.  But the simple fact of the matter is, the perpetrator simply Would Not Stop.  All in all, Sgt. Gramins fired 33 rounds, hitting 14 times.  The attacker fired a total of 21 rounds from two different handguns.  Gramins finally took the attacker down with three shots to the head — but even then, the attacker was still alive when taken to the emergency room.  He would (probably) have died from any of those six shots before the head shots, but the big question is: when?  Certainly not immediately, and those shots didn’t take him out of the fight — he continued to fire at Sgt. Gramins, and could have potentially killed the officer, even though he would (likely) have eventually died from his injuries.  Again, it’s not about killing, it’s about STOPPING, and in this case the perpetrator simply would not stop, even though he’d been hit with lots of big .45 ACP bullets.

So much for that magical one-shot stop, right?

Fourth example is the murder of South Carolina Trooper Mark Coates by Richard Blackburn.  Blackburn knocked Coates to the ground and then shot him in the chest with a .22, but that was stopped by the Trooper’s bullet-resistant vest.  Trooper Coates fired at Blackburn with a .357 Magnum, at close contact range, hitting him.  Coates then retreated back to his car, calling for help, and continued firing — he hit Blackburn four more times.  With a .357 Magnum!  Blackburn then fired one more bullet from his .22 derringer, which (due to the angle that Trooper Coates was facing him) happened to find a gap in the armpit of the ballistic vest, and the bullet punctured Coates’s aorta, killing him.  And Blackburn, who was hit in the chest five times with the “king of the street” .357 Magnum? He survived, and is now serving a life sentence in prison.

Final example: Officer Jared Reston was shot 7 times, by Joel Abner.  Reston was first shot in the face (a shot that destroyed 3/4 of his jaw).  Abner fired 13 .45-caliber bullets at Reston, who was hit a total of 7 times in his thigh, his chin, his buttock, his elbow, and three times in the chest (which were stopped by his body armor).  Reston fired 14 rounds and hit Abner 7 times with a .40 S&W Glock 22.  The fight continued until Reston fired three Ranger SXT 180-grain bullets to Abner’s head.  Until that point, both had been hit multiple times, and both continued fighting.  There was no case of a “one shot stop” here, or (for Abner) there wasn’t even a 13-shot stop, even though he was using a .45.

The point of bringing up these examples? You cannot expect to fire one bullet, and then sit back and evaluate the situation.  You cannot count on any “magic bullet”, or “street stopper”, or “kinetic energy wave” or “hydrostatic shock” or anything else.

You shoot until the threat stops.

It may not even require firing a single bullet — maybe the attacker will turn and run away at the sight of a gun pointed at them. But it may require firing every bullet you’ve got — and even then, you cannot be sure that the attack will be forcefully brought to an end.

Shoot until the threat stops.

People flying through the air and crashing into tables, or “one shot stops”, those are for Hollywood.  When it’s your life on the line, do as the Georgia mother did — shoot until the threat stops.  And if you want to have the best chance of your bullets forcing the threat to stop as quickly as possible, use good-performing ammo that penetrates deeply and put the shots where they will be most likely to damage vital organs.  An attacker cannot continue the fight if a bullet has severed their spinal column, or their blood pressure has dropped below the level necessary to sustain consciousness.

So what was the common element in all these cases?  It’s simply this: if you don’t hit something vital, you cannot count on the person being stopped.  In the unfortunate case of Trooper Coates, he was hit by the tiniest of bullets, but that tiny bullet hit something vital (his aorta), and caused his death.  In some of the other cases, head shots brought the fight to an end (but, not all head shots will bring the fight to a quick end; remember that the Georgia mother hit her attacker five times in the face, and Officer Reston had 3/4 of his jaw destroyed in a shot to his chin).

The ONLY thing that you can absolutely count on to bring a fight to a quick end, is to destroy the attacker’s vital structures (heart, brain, circulatory system, spinal column, or brain stem).  You cannot count on anything else.

You can put the odds of success in your favor by choosing ammo that penetrates deep enough, and by choosing the most powerful gun with the largest bullets that you can comfortably and accurately hit your targets with.  Big bullets are no guarantee of success; in fact, several of these stories involve .40′s and .45′s failing to stop attackers.  But big bullets will do everything smaller bullets do, but they will also do more damage than smaller bullets do, and therefore they may give you a bit of an advantage in destroying vital structures that a smaller bullet might miss.

Proper shot placement of a deep-penetrating bullet is the only thing you can actually count on.  You may get lucky and your attacker will choose to stop, but if not — you may have to force them to stop.  And that may take a lot of bullets, so…

Shoot until the threat stops.

 

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NAA .22LR Mini Revolver Ammo Quest Results

I have always been fascinated by the North American Arms mini revolvers, and I’ve been conducting testing from a Black Widow in .22 Magnum.  But, small as it is, the Black Widow is still substantially bigger than NAA’s smallest offerings, the .22 Short and .22LR mini-revolvers.

I loved the size of the .22 Short revolver, but its limited and (comparatively) expensive ammo choices made it a less desirable option to me than the .22LR mini-revolver, and truthfully its size was just barely smaller than the .22LR version.  In other words, the .22LR is only a third of an inch longer, but it gives you much more flexibility in ammo choice.  And, the .22LR mini-revolver is noticeably smaller than the .22 Magnum version (the magnum is about 3/4″ longer, 1/2″ taller, and weighs about 30% more.)  Plus, the .22LR will fit in the NAA Belt Buckle Holster, whereas the .22 Magnum wouldn’t, and … the belt buckle holster is pretty intriguing, so for all those reasons, I went with the NAA .22LR mini-revolver, in the shortest barrel length (1 1/8″).

Why didn’t I go for the longer barrel?  Three reasons, really:

1. I wanted the smallest .22LR revolver.  A longer barrel makes it … bigger.

2. According to NAA’s own ballistic testing, the longer barrel has extremely little effect on the ballistics; the 1 5/8″ barrel delivered (in their testing) only about 2.13% faster velocities, on average, than the 1 1/8″ barrel did.

3. It wouldn’t fit in the belt buckle holster.  And the belt buckle holster is cool.

Accordingly, I picked up one of these mini-revolvers and then commenced trying to figure out what would be the most appropriate ammo to use with it.  But I couldn’t find any sort of standardized test results out there.  There are many tests conducted on .22LR ammo, but many of them have been done from rifles or bigger pistols, and so those results would have little to zero applicability to how the rounds will perform from the tiny 1.13″ barrel… so — as I did with the .380 pocket pistol — I decided to conduct my own testing.

Testing Standards

I set as my standard the guidelines established by the 1987 and 1993 Wound Ballistic Conferences, where wound ballistics experts, medical examiners, forensic pathologists, police officers, trauma surgeons, combat surgeons, and others who worked with street shootings and bullets (and the wounds they cause) day in and day out.  These were the recognized experts in their fields, and they conducted conferences to determine what properties and capabilities caused a bullet to be most effective, and how they could then develop tests that would best and most accurately reflect real-world results, so that ammo designers could then design ammo that would perform most effectively.  Effectiveness was determined to be the ability to penetrate deep enough into the body to reach the vital organs (such as the heart, circulatory system, and central nervous system).  A bullet that can’t reach that far, and can’t be relied upon to disrupt the vital organs, was deemed an ineffective bullet.

When it’s all boiled down to the simplest guidelines possible, the parameters work out like this, in order of importance:

  1. A bullet needs to have enough power to penetrate AT LEAST 12″ of soft tissue simulant.  If it can penetrate through 12″ of ballistic gel, then that means it has enough power to pass through whatever combination of bone, muscle, skin, fat, and organs that it could possibly encounter, and still be able to reach the vital organs.
  2. A bullet should penetrate LESS than 18″ of soft tissue simulant.  Bullets that penetrated more than 18″ of ballistic gel would usually end up exiting the body of the attacker, regardless of how much bone or tissue it had to pass through.  That meant that the bullet posed a very real danger of overpenetration, and also that it was wasting its energy by passing completely through.  This turned out to be a non-issue with the NAA .22LR Mini-Revolver, as none of the bullets I tested could exceed 18″ of penetration.
  3. The bigger the bullets, the better.  The bigger the hole the bullet makes, the more tissue it destroys, and the more likely it is to damage vital structures that a smaller bullet might miss.  In this context, expanding bullets (that penetrate deeply enough!) are much better than solid bullets, because solid bullets tend to pass right through, whereas an expanding bullet grows larger and is more likely to slow down and stop in the desired window of 12″ to 18″ of soft tissue penetration.  (unfortunately, this turned out to be an irrelevant factor, since all .22LR bullets are the same diameter and make the same diameter hole, and none of the hollowpoint bullets expanded in my testing).
  4. Sharper bullets are better than round bullets.  This isn’t the most important factor, but an expanded bullet with sharp petals on it is more likely to cut an artery or other vital structure than a round-nose bullet might, especially at the limit of travel when the bullet is going more slowly.  A round-nose might just push tissue out of the way, where a sharp bullet may still be cutting and damaging tissue.  This is another reason an expanded hollowpoint is a better wounder than a round-nose FMJ (Full Metal Jacket).  Again, this isn’t much of a factor with the mini-revolver; the ammo available is almost entirely lead round nose (with or without copper plating); for purposes of this section I’m including the hollowpoint ammo as lead round nose, since the hollowpoints don’t expand at the low velocities the NAA mini-revolver can produce.
  5. Of all the parameters that matter when evaluating a bullet’s terminal performance, the most important is to achieve sufficient penetration.  Overpenetration is bad, yes, but as Dr. Martin Fackler said, “Overpenetration may get you sued, but underpenetration can get you killed.”

The FBI adopted these requirements for their duty ammo selection, which is only partially related to us in the self defense community; we’re not the FBI and we don’t need FBI duty ammo, but what makes a bullet effective in stopping a criminal are the same factors that make it effective in stopping someone who’s assaulting us.  Of course, none of this matters with .22LR, since the FBI doesn’t issue .22LR guns to their agents, nor do they conduct testing on .22LR ammo.  Even so, the penetration requirements don’t change because the bullet’s smaller!  So — the way I saw it, I was charting new territory here.

I should point out, there are other differences between the FBI testing and self-defense testing.  The FBI requires their ammo to pass additional tests of barrier penetration, including auto windshield glass, plywood, drywall, and other tests.  In the self defense community, those aren’t likely realistic tests that we need our ammo to pass, so I didn’t bother with those tests.  There are two main tests that are most important to self defense shooters: the bare ballistic gelatin test, and the 4-layer denim test.  The International Wound Ballistic Association standardized these two tests as a comprehensive evaluation of ammo performance in best-case and worst-case scenarios, and so that is the testing methodology I normally use when conducting my tests.  But in this case, I didn’t bother with the denim test.  Why?  Because the denim test is designed to evaluate a hollowpoint bullet’s ability to expand even after passing through a lot of fabric, and with the mini-revolver, hollowpoints just DO NOT expand.  At all.  Pretty much ever.  So the denim test would be a pointless and expensive exercise.  Accordingly, my testing here is limited to the bare gel test, using (mainly) ClearBallistics synthetic ballistic gel, and in some cases I used calibrated 10% organic ballistic gel.  I compared the results between them and got extremely similar results, so I believe the results here can be taken as valid regardless of which medium the particular round was tested in.

My goal was to test .22LR ammo from the 1 1/8″ mini-revolver, into ballistic gel test media, and see which (if any) rounds would deliver consistent penetration deeper than 12″.

Now, right here you may think I’m asking too much from this little mini revolver.  And I admit, I am — it would seem absurd to ask that a 4.5-ounce gun be able to deliver 12″ of penetration!  I agree.  However, the standards as set by the professionals seem to me to be a worthy goal to pursue.  Would we be able to achieve it? I didn’t know — but I certainly wanted to see what comes closest.  After all, why settle for something substandard, when it’s possible that there might actually be a round or two out there that actually would deliver the results and meet the goal?

It is also true that you may not NEED a full 12″ of penetration from such a tiny pistol, given that this type of pistol is less likely to be used as your main defensive weapon and is more likely to be used as a “last resort” type of weapon (meaning, it might be used in up-close contact distances where you’re actually shoving the revolver into the bad guy’s body and pulling the trigger.)  In cases like that, you wouldn’t have to worry about intervening arms getting in the way and requiring more penetration to get through them.  In a case of an unobstructed chest shot, it’s possible that an 8″ bullet might be able to get the job done.  But a 12″ bullet would always be able to get the job done.  And since we don’t get to pick and choose our defensive shooting scenarios, I wanted bullets that had the highest probability of delivering deep-penetrating hits in all possible scenarios.  And especially for those who may actually be relying on a .22LR mini-revolver for their main or only defensive weapon, they may very well need the full 12″ of penetration potential depending on the scenario they find themselves in.

With all that said, my final attitude was: I want the bullets to be able to penetrate 12″.  I would find it probably acceptable if they would penetrate at least 10″, that would probably be good enough for many scenarios.  If they’ll only go 8″, that’s pretty shallow and I certainly wouldn’t be happy about that.  But only proper testing can reveal just how far they actually can go.

I’ve blogged previously on the whys and wherefores of ballistic gel (for example, herehere, and here.)  In the simplest terms, it’s a soft tissue simulant that we use to evaluate a bullet’s performance through soft human tissue.  It’s not “jello”, it’s not a dessert, it’s actually powdered and reconstituted flesh.  Professional ballistic gel is made from ground-up and powdered pork skin.  It’s an effective flesh simulant because it actually is flesh.  I used synthetic ClearBallistics gel from www.clearballistics.com for most of the bare gel tests, and I re-confirmed the best-performing bullets’ performance by shooting them into genuine 10% organic ordnance gelatin.  (For reference, I did a comprehensive comparison between the two tissue simulant products before starting this Ammo Quest, and found that the synthetic gel was suitable and quite comparable for handgun bullet testing.)

Testing Procedures

My testing procedure was to fire at least five shots into each block of gel, from 10 feet, through a chronograph.  All 10% ballistic gel was calibrated with a steel BB at ~590 fps, was prepared to FBI specifications using FBI gel preparation procedures, stored at proper temperatures, and shot at proper temperatures, for consistent reliable data.  All bullets were measured for penetration distance while they were in the block of gel.  In some cases I may have shot more than five bullets, to get a higher statistical sampling of that particular ammo’s performance.  This is especially true in the case of the best-performing ammo; I wanted to verify that I wasn’t seeing a “fluke”, I wanted to verify that it was legitimate performance.  In the case of the winning ammo, I shot rounds into the synthetic gel and also into a block of organic gel, to ensure the results were valid.

I tested a total of 25 types of ammunition through bare ClearBallistics gelatin, and retested the best rounds in organic gel. This resulted in a grand total of 32 different tests being conducted (sheesh!)  I didn’t produce a separate video for each, as there really was no need — the bullets don’t expand, they don’t do anything different, there was no need for a bullet exam afterwards, they’re all just solid hunks of lead (or tin or plastic or whatever the bullet was made of).  So the only thing that really mattered was the velocity and the penetration distance.  I have compiled all those results in the following video, and in the tables below.

Results

The results are correlated in the tables below.    Penetration data is color-coded; red is totally unacceptable underpenetration under 9″; yellow is a bad sign (indicating modest underpenetration below 10″), green is considered decent (over 10″ but under 12″), and blue is considered excellent penetration (deeper than 12″).  When looking at these charts, the more blue and green you see, the better that ammo performed.

North American Arms .22LR Mini-Revolver With 1 1/8″ Barrel

Ammunition Test Results

Aguila Colibri

Bullet Weight 20
Bullet Type Lead CB
Average Velocity in feet per second 346
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 1.50
(corrected for bounceback) 2.50
2.50
2.50
2.50

Aguila-Colibri

 

Aguila Interceptor Red

Bullet Weight 40 grains
Bullet Type Lead Soft Point
Average Velocity in feet per second 860
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 10.50
11.00
11.50
11.75
13.75

Aguila-interceptor-red

 

 

Aguila Sniper SubSonic

Bullet Weight 60
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 596
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 6.00
6.00
6.50
6.75
7.00

Aguila-SSS

 

 

Aguila Super Colibri

Bullet Weight 20
Bullet Type Lead CB
Average Velocity in feet per second 509
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 4.00
4.50
4.50
5.00
5.50

Aguila-Super-Colibri

 

Aguila SuperExtra Blue Subsonic

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 648
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 6.50
7.00
7.50
8.00
6.75

Aguila-SuperExtra-blue

 

 

Aguila SuperExtra Orange High Velocity

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 680
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.75
7.75
8.00
8.00
8.00

Aguila-SuperExtra-orange

 

Aguila SuperExtra Yellow High Velocity

Bullet Weight 38
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 685
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.25
7.25
7.50
7.50
8.50
8.50
8.50
8.50

Aguila-superextra-yellow

 

 

Aguila Supermaximum Hyper Velocity

Bullet Weight 30
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 845
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.50
8.00
13.25
13.75
14.25
15.75

Aguila-supermaximum

 

American Eagle Hollowpoint

Bullet Weight 38
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 807
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 9.25
9.00
9.50
9.75
10.75

AE-38gr-HP

 

 

American Eagle Solid

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 823
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 9.25
10.25
10.75
10.75
11.50
12.00
12.00
13.00

AE-40gr-solid

 

 

CCI Mini-Mag 36-Grain Hollowpoint

Bullet Weight 36
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 838
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 12.00
12.00
12.50
12.50
11.50
11.50
11.25
11.25
11.75

CCI-mini-mag-36gr-1CCI-mini-mag-36gr-2

 

 

CCI Mini-Mag 40-Grain Solid

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 752
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.25
8.25
8.50
8.50
9.00

CCI-mini-mag-40gr

 

 

CCI Segmented Hollowpoint

Bullet Weight 32
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 928
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 4.50
5.00
5.50
5.50
5.75
5.75
6.00
7.00

CCI-segmented-HP-32-grain

 

CCI Short-Range Green

Bullet Weight 21
Bullet Type Lead-Free Solid
Average Velocity in feet per second 1005
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 5.50
7.00
7.50
8.50
8.75

CCI-short-range-green

 

 

CCI Shotshell

Bullet Weight 31
Bullet Type #12 shot
Average Velocity in feet per second
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 1 to 2”

CCI-shotshell

 

Eley Match EPS

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Flat Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 721
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.50
8.50
8.50
8.50
9.00

Eley-Match-EPS

 

 

Federal Champion 40-grain Solid

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 808
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 9.50
9.75
10.00
11.00
11.50

Fed-40gr-solid

 

 

Remington Golden Bullet

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 782
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.50
9.50
9.50
9.50
9.75
10.00
10.00
10.00
10.50
11.00
11.00
11.00
11.75

Rem-golden-bullet

 

Remington Subsonic

Bullet Weight 38
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 664
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.25
7.75
8.00
8.25
8.75

Remington-subsonic

 

 

Remington Thunderbolt

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 718
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.00
8.75
9.00
9.00
10.00

Remington-thunderbolt

 

 

SK Standard Plus

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 680
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.00
7.25
7.50
7.75
8.25

SK-standard-plus

 

 

Winchester Varmint LF

Bullet Weight 26
Bullet Type Tin Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 1008
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 6.25
6.50
6.50
7.50
7.50
8.00

win-tin

 

 

Winchester Super-X Super Speed Hollowpoint

Bullet Weight 37
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 774
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.75
8.75
9.25
9.50
10.75

Win-superX-37gr-hp

 

Winchester Super-X Hyper Speed Hollowpoint

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 730
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.00
8.00
8.75
8.75
9.00

 

Win-superX-40gr-HP

 

 

Wolf Match Target

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 663
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 9.75
9.75
10.00
10.50
11.00

Wolf-match-target

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