Does bullet expansion really matter?

This is a discussion on Does bullet expansion really matter? within the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; We are inundated with the message(s) that bullet expansion is a very critical factor in the performance of a bullet. But is it really? Let's ...

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Thread: Does bullet expansion really matter?

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    Does bullet expansion really matter?

    We are inundated with the message(s) that bullet expansion is a very critical factor in the performance of a bullet. But is it really?

    Let's begin by considering this: Recall the FBI-Miami shootout. One of the very early shots from a 9mm that hit Platt was lethal, but unfortunately, it wasn't lethal quickly enough and Platt lived long enough to shoot and kill several FBI agents. Here's an analysis of that wound:

    "...According to Dr. Anderson, the bullet passed under the bone, through the deltoid, triceps and teres major muscles, and severed the brachial arteries and veins. The bullet exited the inner side of his upper arm near the armpit, penetrated his chest between the fifth and sixth ribs, and passed almost completely through the right lung before stopping. The bullet came to a rest about an inch short of penetrating the wall of the heart.

    In all of the discussions about this particular wound, not once have I read the first comment about the effectiveness of the bullet due to expansion. The one thing that was brought out was the lack of penetration. E.g. suppose, instead of the bullet coming to a rest, "...an inch short of penetrating the wall of the heart...", it had gone all the way through the heart? The entire outcome of the fight would likely have been dramatically altered.

    Then consider this: A while back I started a thread titled, "Is there any real evidence that one caliber is a better fight stopper than another?" After a very long and very civil discussion, the only evidence presented was the very contraversial Marshal and Sanow study. The conclusion of the thread, I believe, was that there is little evidence that caliber is significant. I know we all have our personal opinions, etc. but after an enormous response, actual viable evidence was totally missing. Now I said that to say this...

    Let's say a .32 magnum expands to .45" - you can see where this is going can't you? Is an expanded .32 magnum more effective than .45 ball? Don't they make the same size wound channel?

    We can take this to the 'major' rounds, e.g. the same example with an expanding 9mm round and .45 ball. In this case, it is likely that an expanding 9mm round would wind up larger than a .45 ball. This is where it relates back to the "Is there any real evidence that one caliber is a better fight stopper than another?" Let's face it, essentially, caliber is nothing more than a definition of bullet size, esp. diameter and an expanding bullet increases the size or effective caliber. But in the discussion thread referenced, we concluded that caliber was essentially a non-issue, or at least there was no substantial evidence that indicated otherwise.

    Some may say that there's a growing trend in LE to migrate to the .45ACP. But I know of some LE agencies that have gone back to 9mm.

    Anyway, I'll leave you with this question: Is an expanded bullet more effective than an unexpanded bullet with the same effective diameters?
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    VIP Member Array Cuda66's Avatar
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    The same size wound channel is the same size wound channel; however, bear in mind that most FMJ rounds do not cut a caliber sized hole, but one considerably smaller (tissue stretches around RN-profile FMJ's).

    Beyond that--shot placement and penetration are critical; expansion is nice to have. I don't think anyone is going to argue that as long as the round penetrates deep enough to be effective that a smaller wound channel is better than a large one.

    If they do, it should make for some interesting conversation.
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    VIP Member Array glockman10mm's Avatar
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    My personal thoughts are that special attention was given to smaller rounds to make them into and perform like big ones. Kind of like trying to hot rod a 4 cylinder to keep up with a v8 engine. Additionally I believe the over rated threat of over penetration has concentrated ammo companies to pour alot of money into R&D of these smaller calibers as a mandate stemming in part from these concerns.
    The bullet that was shot into Platt, was a killing shot, but not an immediate stopping shot. I believe that it was a fluke, and not helped by the FBIs poor unpreparedness, such as loosing a firearm that was laying on the seat and fell into the floor during the stop, using 38s in 357 mags and so on.
    There is no substitute for caliber size and power. A well placed shot is important, but a large caliber gives one an advantage in margin of error and consistant performance.

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    Also keep in mind that expanding bullets lose velocity faster when they impact flesh. One big reason to use hollow points is the reduced risk of overpenetration. .45 ACP FMJ and 9mm FMJ have a tendency to go through things.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cuda66 View Post
    The same size wound channel is the same size wound channel; however, bear in mind that most FMJ rounds do not cut a caliber sized hole, but one considerably smaller (tissue stretches around RN-profile FMJ's).
    EMRs, medical examiners have consistently and repeatedly stated that they cannot tell what caliber or type bullet (handgun rounds) made a wound channel UNLESS they recover the bullet.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cuda66 View Post
    ...I don't think anyone is going to argue that as long as the round penetrates deep enough to be effective that a smaller wound channel is better than a large one.
    True, but in the context of the thread, has it been established that an expanded bullet of the same diameter of an unexpanded bullet creates a larger wound channel and if so how was that determined?

    Quote Originally Posted by glockman10mm View Post
    ...There is no substitute for caliber size and power. A well placed shot is important, but a large caliber gives one an advantage in margin of error and consistant performance.
    That was the very issue we discussed in the thread I referenced in my opening post - out of almost 4,000 views and 263 interesting replies to that thread, no one could show any evidence that caliber made a significant difference.

    As for the Silver Tip hit that killed Platt, it didn't fail because it didn't expand; it failed because it didn't penetrate deeply enough. This suggests, in this particular case, that a ball type bullet may have actually stopped Platt quicker by penetrating through the heart, which the expanding Silver Tip did not.

    Quote Originally Posted by SamRudolph
    Also keep in mind that expanding bullets lose velocity faster when they impact flesh. One big reason to use hollow points is the reduced risk of overpenetration. .45 ACP FMJ and 9mm FMJ have a tendency to go through things.
    As evidenced in the FBI gunfight, it was failure to penetrate that may have led to a delayed incapacitation of Platt.

    Over-penetration is an issue, perhaps not as big of an issue as some would have us believe, but nonetheless not necessarily relevant to the focus of the thread. The focus is, is a bullet that expands to the same diameter of an unexpanded bullet any more effective for stopping a threat?
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    Quote Originally Posted by glockman10mm View Post
    Additionally I believe the over rated threat of over penetration has concentrated ammo companies to pour alot of money into R&D of these smaller calibers as a mandate stemming in part from these concerns.
    don't smaller..faster rounds penetrate farther in general?
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    VIP Member Array glockman10mm's Avatar
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    Perhaps you misunderstood me. I never said the bullet itself failed. It performed as designed within it's capability. My point was it was a killing shot, but failed to stop, there is a difference here.
    I believe that even the 45 acp is underpowered. I really believe if we put big caliber revolvers back into LE holsters, we would see an end to it taking multiple shots to stop aggressors. From any angle, you would have penetration and caliber not depending on bullet design or Tom-Fool trickery to make it work.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ctsketch View Post
    don't smaller..faster rounds penetrate farther in general?
    I'll let you answer that one; go outside and pick up a pebble and throw it as fast and far as you can. Take note of how far and fast it flys. Now pick up a rock, about 3 times it's size and do the same. Which one goes farther? Which one hits harder?

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    Quote Originally Posted by glockman10mm View Post
    Perhaps you misunderstood me. I never said the bullet itself failed. It performed as designed within it's capability. My point was it was a killing shot, but failed to stop, there is a difference here.
    I believe that even the 45 acp is underpowered. I really believe if we put big caliber revolvers back into LE holsters, we would see an end to it taking multiple shots to stop aggressors. From any angle, you would have penetration and caliber not depending on bullet design or Tom-Fool trickery to make it work.
    I understand your thinking - I think - but I know of no evidence that indicates a larger caliber, say a .45 produces a stop faster than say a 9mm. Just recently four Chattanooga Police officers shot an armed man some 20 times with .45ACPs before they were satisfied he was stopped.

    There was another thread referencing a shootout involving the S&W .40 where multiple shots were fired, again as I recall, about 20 hits before the LEOs were satisfied the threat was stopped.

    I guess what I'm getting at is, I understand the bigger is better theory but I don't see supporting evidence. The very fact that LEs use 9mm, .357 sig, .40 and .45 indicate there are differing opinions, therefore nothing conclusive, about effective fight stoppers.

    Quote Originally Posted by glockman10mm View Post
    I'll let you answer that one; go outside and pick up a pebble and throw it as fast and far as you can. Take note of how far and fast it flys. Now pick up a rock, about 3 times it's size and do the same. Which one goes farther? Which one hits harder?
    That 'test' doesn't relate to bullet effectiveness as we're discussing it; there are many 'experts' with experience and field data that disagree on the bigger/slower vs lighter/faster issue.

    Not that it's of any great significance but I've always been a 9mm guy. Lately though, especially since handguns are becoming available in .45 caliber of 10+ round capacities, I find myself drawing more and more to the .45ACP. Everytime I look at a 9mm beside a .45ACP, I have to ask myself, "How can there be any doubt?" But, that's a drift....
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    Quote Originally Posted by glockman10mm View Post
    I'll let you answer that one; go outside and pick up a pebble and throw it as fast and far as you can. Take note of how far and fast it flys. Now pick up a rock, about 3 times it's size and do the same. Which one goes farther? Which one hits harder?
    I think you're making a bad comparasion. Think baseball vs. softball. I realize that we're talking pistol type rounds but what about sabot type ammo? The whole concept of a sabot round is same power, smaller bullet,harder impact.

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    Have you ever tried handguns and different calibers on living things? If not, try deer hunting with different handgun/calibers, as that may be the only way to answer your question. It made a big immpression on me as it did others years ago before me. I am like you, in that I want answers based on real evidence. I found mine, and am convinced 100 percent by it. To each their own, I've found mine.

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    You're asking a very similar question to the one I asked in this thread:

    http://www.defensivecarry.com/vbulle...-JHPs-worth-it

    My thoughts...if you hit the CNS, caliber and bullet design do not matter one whit.

    If you do not, and are relying on bleed-out to stop the threat, then there are so many variables that it is almost impossible to predict what will happen.

    I've personally corresponded with a doctor who does trauma and also works with one of the big training schools as an adviser. He stated that the main advantage of JHPs is less risk of over-penetration. He stated there may be some minimal benefit from cutting caused by the sharper petals of a JHP (vs the rounded profile of a FMJ).

    So, a JHP that is the same diameter as a FMJ round may produce some more bleeding. Will that end the fight any quicker? Maybe. If the fight is still on, I'm still shooting - so unless it is my very last round, I don't see it making much difference.

    The larger question is this - is the risk of UNDER-penetration with JHPs worth it? Modern JHP designs are better, but FMJ will always penetrate more. It also feeds better. Maybe the military has had it right all along?
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    Quote Originally Posted by 10thmtn View Post
    You're asking a very similar question to the one I asked in this thread:

    http://www.defensivecarry.com/vbulle...-JHPs-worth-it
    Shoot! Sorry I missed that thread.

    Quote Originally Posted by 10thmtn View Post
    ...My thoughts...if you hit the CNS, caliber and bullet design do not matter one whit.
    Me too - presuming the bullet has enough power to do sufficient damage to the CNS such as dislocate/destroy a lumbar, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by 10thmtn View Post
    If you do not, and are relying on bleed-out to stop the threat, then there are so many variables that it is almost impossible to predict what will happen.
    I think that's exactly the issue!

    Quote Originally Posted by 10thmtn View Post
    ...I've personally corresponded with a doctor who does trauma and also works with one of the big training schools as an adviser. He stated that the main advantage of JHPs is less risk of over-penetration. He stated there may be some minimal benefit from cutting caused by the sharper petals of a JHP (vs the rounded profile of a FMJ).
    Cutting is one of the things I've wondered about. Most don't realize how fast a bullet is spinning. When those petals start opening up, you'd think it be like a bunch of little cutters slashing through everything they come in contact with. Apparently that does not happen to the degree we'd think it would.

    A key here is, "...the main advantage of JHPs is less risk of over-penetration...", and I alluded to that in a earlier post, but I read somewhere, that over-penetration in civilian gunfights, i.e. SD, over-penetration is no where near the issue some would have us believe. I tend to think that because LE has for the most part gone to hollow points over ball, that it gives the impression that the HP is more effective in stopping a fight. Again, I think, some of the claims about ball vs JHP are comparisons between older type ball ammo and modern JHPs rather than equivalently loaded ball ammo.

    It just seems to me, that on a whole, and I realize this is contrary to modern, widespread opinion, that ball would perform better at barrier penetration be it soft or hard barriers. It is not uncommon that barrier materials plug the JHP and it becomes essentially a ball round. It's also hard for me to believe that nearly half inch holes (.45 ACP) all the way through a torso wouldn't be effective.

    Quote Originally Posted by 10thmtn View Post
    ...So, a JHP that is the same diameter as a FMJ round may produce some more bleeding. Will that end the fight any quicker? Maybe. If the fight is still on, I'm still shooting - so unless it is my very last round, I don't see it making much difference.
    True, but the time difference may not be enough to have significance and your next question directly addresses the trade-off.

    Quote Originally Posted by 10thmtn View Post
    ...The larger question is this - is the risk of UNDER-penetration with JHPs worth it? Modern JHP designs are better, but FMJ will always penetrate more. It also feeds better. Maybe the military has had it right all along?
    Actually, that's exactly what I'm wondering.
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    VIP Member Array glockman10mm's Avatar
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    I will concede to a small caliber being effective in an SD type situation where the primary objective is to get away or stop the threat. People have died from being hit in the chest with golf balls and baseballs. The only point I am trying to make here is that there is an advantage to a larger caliber COUPLED with adequate power that drives straight and true , thru vital organs regardless of the angle or tissue encountered. It is a mystery to me how this could even be questioned. When we rely on " energy transfer" and "shock" to work for us, we are creating variables that may or may not be achieved. In other words we are creating variables that may only work under perfect circumstances.
    I will take a definate over a possible any day. To me , consistant results are something you can hang your hat on. I KNOW my old fashioned big heavy bullets will hit a shoulder, break it , drive thru the chest, and break the other shoulder. I KNoW a straight centered chest shot will punch thru a bubble coat and break the spine as it punches thru.
    My idea is to iliminate variables that I cannot control, and rely on performance I can count on.
    Now, in this day of legalities, this may seem like over kill and excessive penetration. But I think it's a mute point when the SHTF.
    Noone is stupid or ignorant because of the gun or caliber they carry, I would never say that at all. I am just saying that their are limits that you have to be aware of which a smaller lower powered cartridge creates by it's design. You are depending by and large for these variables to work in your favor when we apply them.

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    Guys, How much ENERGY does your pistol bullet deliver to the target? From a service caliber pistol it will be less than 500lbs. The TYPICAL male boxer punches with 700 or more pounds of energy. Some come closer to 1000lbs.

    There was a "sport science" show on that compared whether girls could hit as hard as guys. Long story short...they had the guy boxer vs a woman boxer.

    They bring in a professional sparring partner- a guy whose day job is to get hit by fighters who are getting ready for an upcoming fight. They blind fold him and have the girl punch him and then the guy punch him -both in the stomach. They take off his blindfold and ask who hit him first. He had no idea...ihe could not tell the difference.

    So they bring in a crash test dummy wired to measure impact. The guy hits it and it registers 730 lbs of energy...the girl hits it and the back of the dummy's head comes off. It registered 915 lbs of energy. She had better mechanics in her punch so she actually delivered more energy.

    What we can deduce from this is that 200lbs of energy is not enough to tell the difference. sheer energy in and of itself is not the deciding factor.....at least not in the under 1000lb range. Where they deliver it to is.

    Who here hunts deer? Anyone ever shoot 1 that dropped like a rock and shoot another that runs away? With the same rifle? Why did they BOTH not fall down? I mean after all, your 308 is delivering 2600-2800 lbs of energy...a full 6x and then some more than your .45 auto...but sometimes even with rifles like .308 it does not drop them with just 1 shot. So is energy the key or not? OF COURSE NOT. PLACEMENT is.

    And more specificly placement and penetration deep enough to hit vital organs. And ideally a bunch of holes in important places.
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