Monthly Archives: April 2014

Gold? Silver? Or… Lead?

This is a bit of a departure from my typical article, but it seems timely, and it seems that people who are concerned about preparing for their own self-defense, are also the type of people who take steps to prepare for their financial future.  So perhaps it’s not so unrelated after all…

Occasionally on gun forums the discussion will turn to “prepping”, or preparing for a variety of scenarios that are usually abbreviated as “SHTF” (or, politely, when the Stuff Hits The Fan) , or “WROL” (Without Rule Of Law), or “TEOTWAWKI” (The End Of The World As We Know It).  Now, it’s far beyond the scope of this blog to go speculating on the politics, or the likelihood, of any such scenario arising, and how to cope with such a scenario if it were to come about.  But I would like to address one particular aspect, especially for those of us who may not be independently wealthy…


(or, specifically, Gold & Silver).

Are gold and silver the best places to put your money?  Should you be buying gold coins, or gold bars, or “junk silver” or ZomBucks or other such offerings?  What about BitCoin?  Will the banks collapse? How will you survive if hyperinflation comes?

The reason this came to mind is because it’s nearly impossible to turn on a cable news show, or listen to a talk radio station, without being barraged with ads or talk about buying gold, and about how gold is safe, and gold will increase in value, etc.  And, further, I just read a story where people on the lower end of the economic scale tend to think that gold is the best investment and to distrust real estate, stocks, etc., whereas people at the top of the economic pyramid tend to have exactly the opposite view.

Should you be buying gold?  Will gold prepare you to ride out a financial collapse?  Is gold the best place to put your money, and will it go skyrocketing in value?

In short — no.  No, no, and no.  Gold’s great for what it is, but unless you’re very wealthy and have a few hundred thousand dollars you’re looking to preserve, I would say gold should not be your #1 priority for preparing to ride out a financial crash/WROL/SHTF scenario.  There’s a much, much better place to put your money.

And no, it’s not silver!

It’s lead.  Specifically, ammo.  And steel — as in, stainless steel (or blued steel, your choice)… heck, polymer will do.  I’m talking about guns here.  Or, a third option, batteries.

But those things don’t go up in value!

I frequently say “stick with me here” in these blog articles, and I would indulge your patience again, because (for some of you) I’m about to turn your world upside down, but this is a highly important concept you really need to understand.  Gold doesn’t go up in value.  Yes, the price of gold changes, and it fluctuates with speculation, but — overall, gold isn’t going up in value.  Instead, it’s your MONEY that is going DOWN in value.

Ask anyone what “inflation” is, and you’ll likely get an answer on the order of “that’s when prices go up.”  But they don’t.  That’s not it at all.  The relative value of goods doesn’t change during inflation; it’s that the value of your money goes down.  The value of paper money is like water in a glass which has a leak in it — and the rate of inflation is equivalent to how big the hole in the glass is.  The higher the inflation rate, the faster the “value” (water in the glass) leaks out.  Which is why holding cash as an investment has always been mocked and ridiculed; cash’s value wastes away with time.  The government is constantly whittling away the value of money; the Fed’s stated goal is that they want to see inflation at an annual rate of 2% — meaning, they want to see your money lose 2% of its value each and every year.


Think about a gift card from a store… you get a gift card, and you know you have to use it soon because it’ll waste away to zero, right?  They start charging fees until the value of the card is worthless.  That’s EXACTLY what inflation does to your cash.  And the higher the rate of inflation, the faster the money’s value disappears.

Gold and silver, in general, don’t waste away.  They’re considered “hedges against inflation” because their value, in general, stays constant regardless of how the value of the currency fluctuates.  So why is gold $1,300 per ounce today, when it was only worth $35/oz in 1964?  Because inflation has eroded the value of the dollar so much that, whereas they used to be so valuable that you needed only 35 of them to buy an ounce of gold, now they’re so (relatively) worthless that you’d have to pay 1,300 of them to buy that same ounce of gold.  The gold didn’t change.  Its relative value hasn’t changed.  It’s just that the dollar has shrunk in value so small that now it takes over 37 times as many of them to buy the exact same product (an ounce of gold).

Here, let me give you a graphic example that perfectly illustrates it: you can buy a $1,000 bag of U.S. quarters from a gold & silver dealer, but they won’t sell them to you for $1,000 — they’ll charge you $15,536.95!  Seriously, we’re talking about buying a bag of quarters and dimes, the exact same thing cashiers used to give you as change from a paper dollar… With a face value of $1,000.00 (so, that’d be 4,000 quarters, or 10,000 dimes) but it will cost you over $15,500 of your paper dollars in order to buy that $1,000 worth of quarters  (at today’s silver price, which is about $19.64 per ounce).  Why?  Because those quarters and dimes were made prior to 1965 — and back then, quarters and dimes were made out of silver (well, 90% silver).  There is no silver in today’s quarters; today’s coins are made from metals that have extremely little value.  Now, if you go to a vending machine and put in one of today’s quarters, or one of those older silver quarters, they’ll work the same.  If you go to Wal-Mart and pay for a pack of gum with a 1964  silver quarter, or with a 2014 quarter, the cashier will take either and value them equally.  But if you went to a silver dealer, he’d give you 25 pennies for that 2014 quarter, but he’d give you almost four dollars for one of those older silver quarters.  This is a graphic example that shows that today’s money is worth literally 1/16th of what it was worth just 50 years ago.

The value of the pack of gum didn’t change, its price didn’t go up, it’s that the value of the money went down, and that’s why you have to pay so much more for it.  This is the effect of inflation — it makes your money plummet in value.

And, in a SHTF/TEOTWAWKI/WROL scenario, it’s likely that we might encounter hyperinflation, like other societies have faced (such as Germany, Argentina, and Zimbabwe).  In a situation of hyperinflation, prices don’t soar!  Instead, the money plummets.  The value of the underlying goods doesn’t change, it’s the value of the money that changes.  Think of it like this — in 2008, a loaf of bread cost $2.79 in the USA.  It cost over $800,000 in Zimbabwe dollars.  In 2009, that same loaf of bread cost $2.79 in the USA, and it cost over $10,000,000 in Zimbabwe dollars.  Did the bread change? Did it become suddenly more scarce, or suddenly more nutritious?  Did it get bigger? Could one loaf of bread now suddenly feed 10x as many people?  Of course not.  The thing that changed, is that people lost faith in the Zimbabwe dollar, and were not willing to part with a truly valuable good (a loaf of bread) unless you gave them more and more of those Zimbabwe dollars.

The same thing is happening in all countries that are experiencing inflation.  It’s not that the goods are becoming more dear, it’s that the money to buy them is losing value.

So how do you survive hyperinflation?  If you’re in a hyperinflating society, get rid of your money as quickly as possible.  Convert it into something that has lasting value.  If the money is plummeting in value, get out of it.  Buy something.  Buy a house.  Buy food.  Buy batteries, or ammo, or guns, or gasoline, or bungee cords.  Convert your money into something useful, so that it will hold its value and not plummet, like a paper currency will (and does, and is basically designed to do).  Or, alternatively, if you need to keep it in paper, convert it into a stable currency.  The value of the US dollar barely changed between 2007 and 2008, but the value of a Zimbabwe dollar shrank to where in 2008 it was worth 1/230,000,000 of what it was worth in 2007.  Hyperinflation is a local phenomenon, just because one currency is hyperinflating doesn’t mean other currencies are.

So that brings us back to gold, and silver.  Why not buy all the gold and silver you can?  It’ll protect you against inflation and hyperinflation, right?  Well, yes, maybe.  But that’s a rich person’s game.

For the financially challenged, frankly, gold and silver are downright silly investments.


Because gold and silver can’t DO anything.  They just sit there.  They’re a means of exchange, but they in and of themselves have no actual workable properties.  They will retain their value.  They are a “store of value”; if you have the ability to buy ten loaves of bread today, and you instead buy an ounce of silver, then five years from now it’s likely that you could trade that ounce of silver back for ten loaves of bread — regardless of how much the local currency may have devalued.  So it works, yes.  But so will many other things — and those other things may have actual intrinsic and usable value too.

Like lead. (meaning, of course, ammunition).

So let’s say you’ve got $20, and the price of silver is $20.  You could buy an ounce of silver.  Or, you could buy a box of .308 ammo to go with your trusty old hunting rifle.  Which is the better buy?

Well, let’s put it like this — that ounce of silver may make you feel warm and fuzzy, but it’s not going to do a thing for the hunger in your belly.  Whereas a box of 20 rounds of .308 has the potential to put twenty deer on your table.  That could feed a family of four for several years…

Sobering thinking, isn’t it?

Okay, consider this — do you think ammo will suffer from inflation?  Do you think ammo is going to lose its value?  If we enter an SHTF scenario, where the trains stop running and the delivery trucks are discontinued and the store shelves are ransacked, do you think ammo will become less valuable, or more valuable?


Now, the thing about silver (especially junk silver coins) is that they’re highly exchangeable; a junk silver quarter is worth almost $4.00, a junk silver dime is worth around $1.50.  Having junk silver on hand for easy exchange seems like a good idea.  But you could exchange a few rounds of ammo just as easily, couldn’t you?

Is ammo a currency?

Maybe.  Look around today — neckbeards are exploiting the ammo shortage to drive up the price of ammo, charging $80 (or more) for what should be a $20 brick of .22lr ammo.  During the super-drought of 2013, I know I paid well over 50% to double what the MSRP of the ammo should have been, because I had to have it.  How much more desirable will ammo become, if the dreaded hyperinflation scenario arrives?  Especially if, during the worried-about economic collapse, they’re not making any more of it?

Properly stored, ammo should last for years and years.  So will gold and silver.  Any of them should be easily exchangeable, but there’s one big overriding difference — nobody, now or ever, is likely to actually NEED a bar of gold or a hunk of silver.  But people WILL need ammo. And guns. And, for that matter, chocolate, and whisky, and cigarettes, and batteries.  Those items will always be in demand, and they will hold their value in any hyperinflation scenario, in any WROL/TEOTWAWKI scenario, and will always be highly exchangeable.

BitCoin, not so much.  If the electric grid goes down, just how much bread do you think someone will be happy to trade you for your hard drive full of bitcoins?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying BitCoin is bad.  I’m not saying gold and silver are bad.  All I’m trying to do is point out how the market forces are likely to work, and get you thinking about some options that may make more sense.  If you had $13,000 to your name, you could either spend it to buy one single 10-oz bar of gold, or you could buy a couple of decent rifles, a decent shotgun, a half dozen pistols, and a thousand rounds of ammo for each of them, and maybe a whole lot of MRE’s.  Which do you think would serve you better to survive a hyperinflation or TEOTWAWKI event?  Or, put another way — if you were sitting on that stockpile of guns, ammo, and food, and someone came to you and said “I’ll give you this 10-oz bar of gold if you’ll give me all of that stuff”, would you make the trade?

I didn’t think so.

Gold and silver are fine as a store of value, but again, that’s a rich person’s game.  Once you’ve bought your supplies, you can put extra cash into gold (or real estate or foreign currencies or whatever else makes sense to you).  But if you’ve only got a little, and you want to protect yourself and your family from financial ruin, and you seriously think hyperinflation or a WROL scenario is headed your way, I think you’d be much better off putting your limited money into steel and lead (guns and ammo) than into gold and silver.

Of course, I’m not advocating that you put the rent money into boxes of FMJ’s.  And I’m not saying we’re facing some imminent collapse of the financial system, or that TEOTWAWKI is right around the corner.  I’m not doom-and-glooming.  I’m just saying that there might be alternatives that you hadn’t considered for the money that you may be planning on putting away, and so, depending on your own outlook for the future, maybe this will give you something else to think about.

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.22LR For Defense? It’s About Probabilities, Not Possibilities

Probabilities, Not Possibilities

I have a review coming soon on the North American Arms .22LR mini-revolver.  And I’ve just done some ammo tests on the North American Arms .22 Magnum Black Widow mini-revolver.  And that’s got me thinking about bullet effectiveness, caliber, and some of the misconceptions in the gun world, especially with some oft-repeated statements such as:

“The .22LR has killed more people than any other cartridge in history.”

“The .22LR will kill you deader than crap.”

“The caliber wars are over.  Caliber doesn’t matter.”

And that leads us to the holy grail of gun statements:

“The only three things that matter are shot placement, shot placement, and shot placement.”

As with so many other subjects in life, there’s truth in all of the above statements, and all of the above statements can be misused to seriously mislead someone.  So let’s look at them and see if we can’t make some sense out of all this — especially in how it applies to armed self defense.

First — the notion that the .22LR has killed more people than any other caliber.  Is this true? I don’t know — I haven’t seen any studies done that actually attempt to correlate and compare these figures.  It is likely true that .22LR is the most popular caliber in the world, and it is probably true that more accidents happen with .22LR than with any other.  It may be true that more youth get involved in accidents with .22LR than other calibers.  But even if it ends up being true that the .22LR has killed more people than any other caliber, does that make .22LR the best caliber for self defense?  MOST DEFINITELY NOT.  For a number of reasons, but let’s start with the first and most basic — self defense isn’t about “killing” an attacker.  Armed self defense is about STOPPING an attack.  Whether the attacker dies is not our primary focus, and certainly shouldn’t be — after all, if your desire is to “kill” someone, then you’re not acting in self defense, you’re trying to murder someone.  If your intent is to immediately halt someone from doing you imminent serious bodily injury or death, that’s self defense — and stopping someone doesn’t have to leave them dead.

Let’s turn to the second statement — “The .22LR will kill you deader than crap.”  Is this true?  Yes, a .22LR is a lethal caliber that absolutely can kill.  A .22LR is more than enough bullet that, if it hits a vital structure, can bring about incapacitation or death.  But, again, does that make it an appropriate choice for a self-defense caliber?  I would say it has zero bearing on the discussion.  Example: when people die from gunshots, is that always because they were shot in self defense? Obviously not.  Accidents, and assassinations, are not cases of self defense.  .22LR has been used by assassins, with the specific intent to kill — and kill it can — but that cannot be attributed to self defense.  So if someone dies from an assassination or from a gun-related accident, what bearing does that have on the legitimacy of a caliber for being appropriate for self defense? None.  After all, what use is it to you, if you shoot your attacker in the gut with a .22LR, and they then proceed to murder you, and then drive to their friend’s house, get patched up, but get infected and die three days later from peritonitis?  Yes, the .22LR would have killed them — but it would have been useless in stopping them from attacking you.

You should absolutely respect the .22LR.  It is not a toy, it is a deadly cartridge — even from as tiny a firearm as a 1″-barrel micro-revolver.  It definitely is a deadly cartridge, but it is no more deadly than any other cartridge, and, in many ways, it is less deadly.  There is absolutely no terminal effect that a .22LR possesses, that a .380 doesn’t also have*.  The .380 does everything the .22LR does, and it does it with much more energy, more mass, and larger size.  And the 9mm does everything the .380 does, with even more energy, mass, and potentially larger expanded size.  And the .40 does everything the 9mm does, with even more energy, mass, and larger size.  Any of them (and, of course, the .45 and all other larger-than-.22 calibers) can kill just as easily as the .22LR can, but the key thing is that any of them are MORE LIKELY to kill (or injure or stop) a person, as the .22LR is.

*(see comment by Aaron below for an example of a unique terminal property of 22lr)

It’s not that the .22LR can’t stop someone, it’s a question of: is it MORE LIKELY or LESS LIKELY to stop someone, than a larger caliber is?  And the inescapable conclusion is: it’s LESS LIKELY than the bigger calibers are.

It’s not that it can’t do the job.  It’s just that, owing to its tiny size and lower power levels, it is less likely to get the job done than the other, bigger calibers are.  It really is that simple.

Of course, there’s a counter-argument here, which says that the .22LR is a more shootable caliber, easier to make more accurate shots with and easier to get back on target due to its lesser recoil.  There is some truth to this too, of course, but we’ll explore why this may or may not be a valid counter-argument in the section below on “shot placement”.

Caliber Wars

Next statement on the list: “The caliber wars are over.  Caliber doesn’t matter.”  As a participant in a few online firearms forums, I’ve seen this type of statement come up over and over.  And, usually, it’s repeated by a moderator on the forum.  The forums I visit have largely “outlawed” what they call “caliber wars”, and say that the caliber wars “are over”, and all the calibers are equal.  Which is patently absurd on the face of it.

I understand why they do it; I’ve seen caliber wars devolve into what amounts to nothing more than a “pissing match”, and it seems that people are so emotionally invested in their personal choice that they feel they have to defend it at all costs.  But it all seems so silly, when the answer is plainly and obviously staring us in the face.  Here, let me re-use a picture from one of my earlier articles, about Bullet Size:


One of those is going to do more damage than the other.  Both are easily capable of reaching deep enough into a body to hit the vital organs, but one of those is more LIKELY to hit something vital, than the other one is.  One of those is more likely to cut a major artery, or destroy the heart, or nick the spinal column, than the other one is.  It’s obvious.

For those who insist caliber doesn’t matter, let me turn the question around — say we’re in a scenario where, for whatever reason, you ARE going to be shot.  Maybe you’re a mob informant and the mob’s caught you, and their punishment to you is that they’re going to shoot you with one bullet.  You get to choose which gun they shoot you with.  The choices are either a .45 ACP, or a .22LR.  You’re GOING to get shot, so you have to pick one.  Which will it be?

I think that answer’s pretty obvious.  Caliber DOES matter.  It definitely doesn’t matter as much as many other factors, but it does matter.

Which leads us, finally, to:

“The only three things that matter are shot placement, shot placement, and shot placement.”

Okay, hold on to your hats, and keep your keys off the keyboard until I’m done typing, and maybe we can get through this with a minimum of outrage.  Is shot placement important? Highly important, yes. Is it the only thing that matters? No.  Is it, in fact, the most important factor?  Yes. And no.

Here’s where it gets complicated, and hopefully we can try to navigate these waters so it all makes sense.  The first and foremost thing is — what the bullet HITS is what’s most important.  That’s not the same thing as shot placement, although it is frequently mistaken for such.  But let me explain:

When facing a firearm being used for self defense, human beings will stop attacking someone for a variety of reasons, but they can be boiled down into two categories: voluntary, and involuntary.  And in many of these cases, caliber doesn’t matter, but it might.  And shot placement doesn’t matter for many of them, but it might.

Voluntary reasons

There are many reasons an attacker may choose to stop attacking you.  Sometimes merely seeing a gun might be enough for them to say “hey, wait a minute, hold on, we’re cool, I’m just gonna walk away.”  That may happen, but even then, caliber may matter.  For example, someone getting a face-first view of a six-inch barrel .45 revolver might be MORE LIKELY to be dissuaded, than that same person might be if they instead got a face-first view of a .380 pocket pistol.  Once again, it’s not a question of “will this be effective” or “will this be ineffective”, it’s a question of “which is MORE LIKELY to be effective”?  I think it’s a fair assessment to say that someone MIGHT be more likely to back off when they see you carrying a Dirty Harry-style big revolver, than they would be if they saw you had a North American Arms .22LR mini revolver.  So in this case we have an example of someone who could be dissuaded by seeing a gun, but even then, the caliber might make a difference.  Now, can we find cases where someone backed off after being faced with a .22LR mini-revolver?  Certainly.  But just because it CAN happen, doesn’t tell us how LIKELY it is to happen.  And it doesn’t invalidate the argument that it is MORE likely that someone will be dissuaded by a bigger gun, than they would be by a littler gun.

But let’s move up the ladder — let’s say they see you have a gun but they don’t stop.  Some of those attackers MIGHT be persuaded to stop, if the gun was pointed AT THEM.  There’s a difference between them seeing that you have a gun (maybe holstered, or even held in a low-ready position) and seeing the muzzle of the gun pointed at them.  Sometimes merely the change in perspective of seeing down that barrel is enough to get an attacker’s bravado to dissipate and to get him browning his shorts.  And this could be a case of where an attack was stopped, without a shot ever having been fired.  Now, is it possible that someone might call off their attack if they saw a pocket .380 or a tiny .22 magnum pointed at them?  Yes, of course it’s possible.  But is it LIKELY?  I don’t have the stats to answer that question, I can only pose the obvious follow-up: is it MORE likely that they would stop, if they saw a bigger pistol pointed at them?  Again, I think it’s obvious that there are some people who will not be stopped by just seeing any size pistol pointed at them, and there are some who will definitely not be stopped by just seeing a pistol (any pistol) pointed at them.  But there’s a group in the middle, those who wouldn’t stop at a micro-pistol but WOULD stop when facing a behemoth.  And that’s the group at the heart of this question — is it more likely that someone would stop, if they saw a bigger pistol pointed at them? I believe it is more likely.  I think it’s obvious that there is some percentage of encounters that would be stopped by virtue of the defender having a bigger pistol, than would be stopped in the identical same circumstances if the defender had a smaller pistol.  Again, it’s not a question of whether a small pistol CAN stop an attacker, it’s a question of how LIKELY it is that the small pistol would be able to stop the attack.

Group Three: Seeing & Hearing A Gun Go Off

Okay, let’s move on.  Let’s assume that we’re facing an attacker who will not stop just because he sees a pistol pointed at him (regardless of the pistol).  That means we’re going to have to fire the pistol.  Now, obviously, you should never draw your pistol unless you’re prepared to fire it and you are in such a dire circumstance that you believe firing it to be necessary to save your life (or innocent life, or to otherwise meet the local and state statutes that govern the permissibility of using deadly force).  Maybe you’ll get lucky and before you fire, the attacker drops his gun or knife and backs off, and you won’t have to even discharge the weapon — but maybe you won’t, and you have to fire.  Is it possible that merely firing the gun might get someone to stop?  Most definitely.  Even if you miss, sometimes the muzzle flash and the deafening bang are going to trigger a response in the attacker that gets them to back off.  In a case like this, does caliber matter? Again, we don’t have statistics to refer to, but I’d think it matters less than in the other cases.  If you get to this point, it’s pretty obvious that the attacker isn’t impressed by the size (or lack thereof) of your gun, but I would have to think the sensory stimulation and attendant adrenaline rush that’s going to happen when they see that blast and hear that explosion, are going to affect them whether it comes from a bigger or smaller gun.  If there’s a possibility of dissuading them, the physiological reaction to a gunshot may make them rethink their actions, and it may not matter whether it comes from a bigger or smaller gun.  Put another way, I don’t think they’re going to calculate in their heads what the size of the sound was, I think the fight-or-flight instinct will kick in regardless of the magnitude of the blast — and, let’s remember, sometimes little bullets can put out an incredible amount of noise and flash.  A .22 Magnum or a 5.7×28 can be incredibly loud and have a huge fireball associated with them.  So, I don’t know whether caliber would make someone MORE likely to stop from experiencing the flash and sound, but I doubt it.  I think this one might be a case of caliber not mattering.

What About Getting Shot?

Now we move on to the next level — what if they are NOT dissuaded by experiencing the flash and noise of a gunblast?  Well, they move up the ladder of reasons why a gun might stop someone: next stop, getting hit.  For some attackers, the experience of getting shot might be enough to stop them from wanting to continue attacking.  Now, remember, we’re still talking about an attacker CHOOSING to stop.  Getting hit by a bullet, any bullet, is likely to be a really unpleasant experience, a feeling of intense pain followed by seeing blood bursting forth.  That can frequently be enough to get an attacker to call off the attack.  And, if that’s the case, does caliber really matter in that situation?  Again, I think probably not.  I don’t think people who get shot are really cognitively assessing their situation and thinking “I got shot, but it’s only a .22, so I’ll keep attacking.”  I think it’s more along the lines of “ack! Pain! Blood! Stop!”  Remember, we’re talking about an immediate incident, not some protracted long event — there’s a rule of thumb that says most defensive gunfights follow the 3-3-3 rule: they take place at 3 yards or less, with three shots fired, and are over in three seconds.  That’s not a lot of time for thinking and evaluating; that’s more of the realm of instinct and thoughts of self-preservation.  In my opinion (again, unbacked by studies to prove one way or another), I think the sensory overload of gunshot/blast/sound/pain/blood combines to make an immediate decision — the attacker will either immediately stop, or will not be affected.  I don’t think the caliber is likely to be involved in this decision-making process.  As such, I doubt caliber is that important for this level of attacker.

Involuntary Incapacitation

At this point, we’ve pretty much exhausted the opportunities for a voluntary stop.  If the attacker has faced this ascending ladder of prospects and has chosen to continue to attack, then there’s pretty much nothing else that is going to make them choose to stop.  Heck, they’ve had a gun pointed at them, they’ve been shot, they’re bleeding, and they’re still coming at you.  What else can you do?

At this point, you have to rely on your gun’s ability to physically incapacitate them.  What do I mean by “incapacitate”? I mean, take away their capacity to attack.  Actually physically render them unable to attack any further.  And for a handgun, that’s not easy — it means you are going to have to damage the vital structures of their body in such a way that they physically cannot continue their actions.

To force an immediate stop, typically that means you need to damage their central nervous system (specifically the brain stem, or the spinal column).  The brain stem is an on/off switch for a human being — if it is damaged, the person ceases to exist.  Immediately.  If you damage their spinal column, they will no longer be able to control their actions (i.e., they will be paralyzed, or worse).  Those actions will immediately stop an attack, instantly.  The brain is a less-likely immediate incapacitator; many people have been shot in the head and survived.  They may lose some functionality, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will lose ALL functionality.  The brain stem and spinal column are guaranteed fight-stoppers.  They are also extremely hard to hit, being very small.

The other way to bring a fight to a very quick stop is to do substantial damage to the circulatory system.  Destroying or substantially damaging the heart, major arteries, or other substantial circulatory system damage can cause the attacker’s blood pressure to drop below the level necessary to sustain consciousness.  An attacker who passes out from blood loss will be unable to continue their attack.  Again, they don’t have to die from the injury in order to stop, they just have to lose consciousness.  It is not easy to imagine a scenario where someone has substantial enough damage to their circulatory system that they pass out, but still manage to survive, of course, but we’re not trying to kill, we’re trying to stop, and damage to the circulatory system or central nervous system are the only known ways to reliably and predictably bring a fight to an immediate (or extremely quick) close.  Damaging the circulatory system may not result in immediate incapacitation; even complete destruction of the heart could leave someone with enough oxygen in their system and in their brain to be able to act for up to 10 to 15 seconds, so circulatory system damage is still not immediate, but it will result (within about 15 seconds) in involuntary incapacitation.  They won’t have a choice — once their blood pressure drops low enough, their body will force them to stop.

So the question is: does caliber matter, in bringing about involuntary incapacitation?  Yes and no.  A confusing answer, but let me try to simplify it — it’s not about whether a caliber CAN bring about involuntary incapacitation, because frankly they all can.  Again, it’s about how LIKELY it is, for any particular caliber to be able to bring about involuntary incapacitation.  A .22LR to the brain stem will result in the immediate death of the attacker just as quickly as a .45 ACP to the brain stem will.  A .22LR to the spinal column will result in the same immediate paralysis as a .45 to the spinal column will.  In both cases, hitting that central nervous system will result in immediate incapacitation.

The question is: how LIKELY is it to hit the spinal column with a .22LR, vs. how LIKELY is it to hit that same spinal column with the .45 ACP (or 9mm or .40 or other larger-than-22 caliber?)  It is my contention that the much-larger bullet maintains a higher likelihood of hitting the target (and things near it) than the tiny bullet does.  Put another way, the tiny bullet leaves no margin for error.  The larger bullet gives you more options; an inch-wide bullet means that you could miss the spinal column by .78″, and still hit it with as much damage as the .22 bullet.  If the large bullet is aimed left of the spinal column, but a quarter of an inch of its outer edge still manages to hit, then it will do as much damage as the .22 would if the .22 shot were placed squarely right on the spinal column.

Here we can see — it’s not a case of whether the .22 CAN incapacitate, because clearly it can, but by using the larger bullet you put the odds in your favor that you will be more LIKELY to incapacitate the target.

Same thing applies to the circulatory system.  You might place a .22 shot right next to the heart, right next to the superior vena cava, where the bullet slips right between these vital structures, hitting nothing, and doing only a minor flesh wound.  Whereas with the .45, with the identical same shot placement, there’s so much more bullet there that it might rip the superior vena cava and the heart both, causing rapid blood loss and forcing incapacitation.


With a bullet hitting where the yellow arrow points above, and identical shot placement, a small caliber might result in effectively a non-event, whereas a large caliber might be an effective fightstopper.

That’s not to say a little bullet can’t be a fightstopper… it can.  It’s possible.  It’s just less likely, is all.  You’d need extraordinarily precise shot placement with a .22 to bring a fight to an immediate stop.  If you used that exact same precise shot placement with a larger caliber, it would bring the fight to the exact same stop.  But the larger the bullet, the less precise your shot placement needs to be, to get equivalent fight-stopping performance.  The bigger the bullet, the MORE LIKELY to end the fight.  Even if it’s a small increase in probability, the more likely you are to be able to end a fight, the better off you are.  Which brings us to:

“The only three things that matter are shot placement, shot placement, and shot placement.”

Sigh.  This is one of those statements that gets trotted out with the intention of immediately ending all discussion.  I can imagine that many times, people who bring this statement to the discussion somehow think that they’re telling us something we don’t already know.  Seriously, who doesn’t know this?  We all know this, yet the dispute remains.

So while we’re already disputing, let me rock the boat significantly by saying “Shot Placement Ain’t Everything.”

(and yes, I’m ducking behind the furniture, knowing that the tomatoes are going to start flying).

But — look, shot placement is important, but it is not the end-all and be-all.  It’s close, but wrong, to assert that shot placement is the most important factor.  It’s not where you place the shot that is important, it’s WHAT THE BULLET HITS.  Now, lots of people will think that’s the same thing, but it isn’t.

If the bullet hits the spinal column, it will bring the fight to an immediate halt.  So, surely, advocates of the “shot placement is king” theory would advocate aiming for the spinal column, right?  No? Why not?  Ah, yes, because the spinal column is a very tiny target and extremely difficult to hit.  Right.  Got it.  But if the bullet DOES hit the spinal column, the target is going down, regardless of what caliber hits it.

Similarly, the brain stem — it’s nearly impossible to hit, and I’ve never heard anyone advocate that you should aim for it, since the brain stem is located at the top of the highly-flexible and highly-mobile neck.  But if you were able to hit it, the attacker would stop.

If you’re still with me, here’s where the whole discussion takes a turn — what if you don’t hit where you aim at?  What good is “shot placement” as a theory, if the bullet takes a turn?  And bullets do, occasionally, take a turn.  Some will be deflected off bones, some will just plain turn in a different direction.  When bullets hit flesh, it’s not a guarantee that the bullet will stay on the path that you sent it on.  Especially with small-caliber bullets like .22LR, their light weight and weak momentum leaves them especially susceptible to turning and veering off course.  So even if you put the bullet perfectly on target to hit the brain stem, there are chances that it may deflect or turn off course and only end up hitting flesh or fat.


The above is an example of a .22LR bullet fired from a mini-revolver.  Actually there are several shots in that block, and you can see the various damage tracks that show what directions the bullet went.  A few went basically straight, but you can see where one took a turn upwards and exited the top of the block, and you can see the highlighted track where the bullet entered straight but then just turned downwards and ended up a good three inches off target.  Sometimes, bullets just don’t go where you told them to.

And that’s why “shot placement” isn’t nearly as important as “what’s hit.”  If you placed your aim squarely at someone’s heart, and the shot veered off and hit the spinal column, that person will drop immediately.  If you placed your aim squarely at someone’s spinal column, and the bullet veers off and hits only a lung, then that’s not likely to take them out of the fight right away.  Sure, it might slow them down, but it’s a case of where your “perfect shot placement” wouldn’t have actually done all that much good.

So what you HIT, is much more important than what you AIM AT.  Now, obviously, it’d be nice if those were the same thing, but unfortunately they aren’t always the same.  We can’t predict what the bullet WILL or WON’T do.  But there are factors at our disposal that can influence HOW LIKELY the bullet is to do what we want.  How can we put the odds more in your favor that you hit what you aim at?  Well, practice helps, obviously; you have to be able to hit where you’re aiming.  But that doesn’t solve the problem of the bullet veering off course, or deflecting off a bone.  So what does?

Mass.  Momentum.  Size.  Caliber.  Once again, these factors come into play.  A small lightweight 30-grain .22LR may be highly susceptible to changing direction in the flesh, but it’s unlikely that a 180-grain .40 S&W or a 230-grain .45 ACP will be so easily deflected.  Again, it’s POSSIBLE that the heavier bullet might turn or change direction, but it is not LIKELY that the heavier bullet will turn as easily as the lighter bullet will.

I’ve shot thousands of rounds of various calibers into ballistic gel (without bones) and can tell you, definitively, the heavier bullets are MORE LIKELY to stay on course and go where you told them to go, than the lighter bullets are.  I see more course changes and veering bullets from .22, .380, and 9mm, than I do from .40 and .45.  And I see more course changes in 115-grain 9mm, than I do in 147-grain 9mm.  As a general rule, the more mass and momentum the bullet has, the more likely it is to keep traveling in a straight line.  That’s not an absolute rule, but it is an accurate predictor of the likelihood that a bullet will go straight.

And the more likely the bullet is to keep traveling in a straight line (and avoid veering off course), the more likely it is to hit what you aimed at.

Which makes your shot placement more effective.

Boiling It All Down

So what does this all mean?  To me, it means that there are some things you can do to put the odds more in your favor.  While it’s POSSIBLE to stop a fight with a micro-pistol or mini-revolver, those are less likely to stop a fight than a bigger pistol would be.  It’s possible that a .22LR pistol might bring a fight to an end, but identical shot placement from a .45 is more likely to bring that fight to an end.

There are things you can control, and there are things you can’t.  You can improve your accuracy through training.  And you can improve your ammo performance through testing and selection of better-performing ammo that works best with your chosen pistol.  If you have the choice of carrying the NAA mini-revolver, or the Glock 19, you would be better armed and stand a better chance of ending any potential fight with the Glock 19.  That’s not to diss the mini-revolver, I have one and I love it, but I wouldn’t want to rely on it as my primary defensive weapon, because a bigger caliber pistol (such as a Springfield XD-S) puts better odds in my favor that if I had to use it, it might bring any potential fight to a quicker end, in many ways.  It’s easier to aim, it’s easier to control, it places the bullets more accurately, the bullets have more power to them, they have more mass and momentum, and they expand to a much, much larger size.

The first rule of gunfighting is “have a gun”.  And as we discussed above, just the presence of a gun, regardless of caliber, might end many potential defensive encounters.  So caliber isn’t everything, of course.  But as you ascend the ladder of reasons why an attacker might stop, you’ll see that the more power you can bring to bear on your side, the more likely you are to end a fight quicker and more successfully.  Sometimes the tiny mini-revolver or pocket pistol is all you can carry — and if that’s the case, then, hey, do so, but with an understanding that these little pistols are less likely to end a fight quickly, than a bigger pistol would be.  And whenever you have the choice, go for the more powerful weapon.  Put the odds in your favor as best you can.

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Why Bullet Statistics are Useless

What matters when choosing your self defense ammo?  Is it the muzzle energy?  Is it the velocity?  Is it the bullet weight?  Which of these statistics is most important?


(cue the internet howler monkeys, lining up to scream and throw poop at me, but stick with me for a minute please…)

Bullet weight, in and of itself, is not an indicator of terminal performance.  Neither is muzzle energy.  And neither is velocity.  In fact, they’re all interrelated — if you use a heavier bullet, it’s likely that the velocity will go down (and, when velocity goes down, muzzle energy usually goes down).  It’s easier for a cartridge to throw a lighter bullet faster than a heavier bullet, so for any equivalent powder charge, the lighter the bullet, usually the faster it travels, and the faster it goes, the more likely that the muzzle energy will be quoted as higher (since the formula for energy is (velocity squared x mass x 0.5), so any increase in velocity is going to have a much bigger impact on total energy figures, than any similar increase in weight would.)

Some manufacturers take advantage of that, making deliberately ultra-light projectiles, which will then travel faster than other manufacturers’ projectiles, which lets them quote much higher muzzle energy and velocity figures.

But what does that mean?  Not a whole lot.  What matters isn’t the velocity, or the mass, or the weight of the bullet — what matters is: what does the bullet do when it hits the flesh?  How deep does it penetrate? Does it reach and disrupt the vital organs? Or does it just impact on the surface or make a nasty flesh wound?  Does the bullet expand to a larger size? Does it stay on target or does it wander around and veer off course?  Does it plug up with clothing and fail to expand?  Does it stop in the body or does it zip right through?

Those are what matter.  And you can’t figure out ANY of those answers by studying weight or muzzle energy or velocity.  For example — assuming an identical powder charge, ANY 124-grain bullet is going to have identical weight, muzzle energy, and velocity as ANY OTHER 124-grain bullet.  So a 124-grain full-metal jacket is going to have identical weight, muzzle energy, and velocity as a 124-grain hollowpoint.  But their terminal performance will likely be extremely different.  In fact, that’s really the point behind Winchester’s new “Train & Defend” line — they’re making the identical same ammo in self-defense and practice rounds.  But even though the weight, energy and velocity are identical between the two, the “Train” rounds would be lousy choices for personal defense, as compared to the “Defend” entries in their lineup.

Let’s take it to a silly extreme — if you were to pack 124 grains of corn flakes into the shape of a bullet and jam that into a 9mm cartridge, and successfully fire it, it would have the same muzzle energy and same velocity and same weight as a premium 124-grain Federal HST bullet.  But which do you think would be a more effective manstopper — an HST, or a wad of corn flakes?

The specs printed on the box don’t matter (much).  What matters is what happens when the bullet hits the flesh.  How it rips, cuts, tears or crushes flesh, and how much flesh it destroys, and how reliably and repeatably it does so, are what determines what makes a successful handgun bullet.  Not the ft/lbs of energy printed on the box.

Standardized testing (especially of multiple rounds) is designed to answer those questions.  But even then, there’s a further variable that has to be accounted for, and that’s what barrel length you’re using.  A test from a 4.6″-barrel service/duty pistol might show brilliant results for one particular type of ammo, but if you’re using a 3″-barrel concealed-carry pocket pistol, that exact same ammo might perform miserably from your pistol.  An example might be a 147-grain bullet that travels at 1000 feet per second from that 4.6″ barrel, and expands hugely, and penetrates 14″ — that’d be great.  But the 3″ barrel likely can’t impart that much velocity, so the identical same ammo might travel at only 900 feet per second, which might be too low to force the bullet to expand, so it might fail to expand and end up zipping right through your target, penetrating 32″ or more, which means it’d have (comparatively) very little terminal effect on your target, but would instead pose a big risk of overpenetration.  Same ammo, very different results — so testing can be informative, but only if the testing is comparable to what you’re going to be using.

So don’t be swayed by marketing, or by numbers printed on the box.  Look for some qualified testing that shows how the bullets really perform.  And, ideally, look for testing that’s done from a comparable-sized pistol as what you’ll be using.  And the more the testing conforms to industry standards, the more informative it will be.

I wish it was easier.  I wish we really could just look on the box and see meaningful statistics (barrel length, penetration depth, and expansion size) but the manufacturers don’t list that; instead they give us weight, velocity, and muzzle energy… and those aren’t actually useful in helping us know what’s really important: how much damage will this bullet do to human flesh if you (heaven forbid) you ever found yourself in a situation where you needed to use it against an attacker.

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The Problem With Meat Testing

The Meat Of The Matter

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is — why don’t you test on meat? Quit fooling around with “ballistic gel”, the people ask, because “I’ve never been attacked by a block of Jell-O. There are so many better things you could be testing on, like:
A roast
A ham
A side of beef
A pork shoulder
A pig carcass

At first glance, that sounds perfectly reasonable. After all, humans are made of meat, self-defense bullets are meant to work against humans, so why not shoot meat to get the most realistic assessment of performance?  Lots of other YouTubers do it, why don’t you?

Because, like so many things in this world, what seems superficially like a good idea can in fact turn out to be a lousy idea after a little more exploration and thought.

Skipping to the heart of the matter, here’s the problem: dead tissue (such as a carcass or a roast) responds to bullets very, very differently from living tissue.  Living tissue is wet, saturated with fluids, and very pliable and elastic.  It stretches and retracts.  Heck, just try flexing your muscles or extending your gut out or sucking it back in, and you can see for yourself — living tissue is very flexible.

Dead tissue isn’t.  Think of a ham — try stretching that out, or squeezing it in — it doesn’t work, does it?  It isn’t the same.  And it most definitely doesn’t respond to bullets the same as living tissue does.

Think of it like a sponge.  Soak a sponge in water, and it’s squishy and stretchy and — well, sponge-y.  Crush it in your hand, then let go, and it springs back to its original shape.  But squeeze out all the water and let it dry, and it becomes stiff and brittle, and you could break it in half.  Try crushing it in your hand, and it won’t spring back to shape, it’ll instead break and turn to dust.

That’s akin to the difference between living tissue and dead meat.  There’s a reason they call dead bodies “stiffs”, after all.  Once the living organism dies, gravity takes over and the fluids begin to drain out of the tissues.  Rigor mortis sets in after about 3 hours, and the tissue turns from what you used to be able to flex and stretch, into something very stiff; it’s difficult to move a corpse’s limbs at all while rigor mortis is in effect.  It doesn’t soften up until decomposition kicks in.

The tissue changes after death.  Dead tissue is not the same as live tissue.  It doesn’t respond the same way, it doesn’t have the same pliability, and it doesn’t stretch the same.

Putting a bullet into a roast can result in a tremendous hole left behind — but that’s deceptive.  Because dead tissue doesn’t stretch like living tissue does, the effect of the temporary cavity can be exaggerated when viewed in dead flesh — just like it is when viewed in clay, or soap, or a “bullet test tube” or other testing medium that doesn’t simulate the behavior of living flesh.  What might look like a colossal injury in a roast, may be nothing more than a temporary stretch that results in bruising in a living organism.  A bullet that blows a gigantic hole in a ham, might result in a small icepick wound in a living human.

In short — meat testing is pointless.  It doesn’t tell you anything valid, that you really need to know.  It’s a waste — a waste of food, a waste of time, a waste of bullets.  Cadaver testing CAN be useful, if it’s conducted nearly imminently after the moment of death, before too much changes in the body.  If you were a hunter who had just taken down a deer, for example, and you wanted to then test some handgun bullets in the corpse, that might be practical if you can do it immediately — within, say, five minutes of death.  Maybe 15 minutes at the absolute maximum.  In such a case, the tissue won’t have drained, it won’t have stiffened, and it will still respond like living tissue should.  But after about fifteen minutes, forget it — it’s too far gone.

Ballistic gel was engineered to simulate the response characteristics of LIVING tissue.  It’s wet, hydrated flesh (it’s made from ground-up pork skin).  It stretches and tears and resists penetration the same as living flesh does.  That’s why it was invented, that’s why we use it.

How do bullets tested in ballistic gel look, as compared to bullets taken from actual human bodies from real “street” shooting incidents?  Pretty much identical.  Eugene J. Wolberg, Senior Firearms Criminologist with the San Diego Police Crime Lab, did a study back in 1991 where he compared bullets fired into gel, against bullets that were extracted from autopsies of human shooting victims, and he correlated both the penetration characteristics as well as the appearance of the bullets, and found that there was a high correlation between bullets shot in humans, and those shot in ballistic gelatin.

I very well understand the confusion about, and the reason people gravitate towards, wanting to use meat in testing.  But it just doesn’t work.  It’s not practical, and it doesn’t deliver results that match real shooting scenarios and real autopsies.  Ballistic gel does, and that’s why it’s used for bullet testing.

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