The effect of pistol bullets on bone. Important or moot?

This is a discussion on The effect of pistol bullets on bone. Important or moot? within the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; I posted this on another forum in hopes to get more opinions as I value the input of all who comment. Sorry if this appears ...

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Thread: The effect of pistol bullets on bone. Important or moot?

  1. #1
    Member Array krept's Avatar
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    The effect of pistol bullets on bone. Important or moot?

    I posted this on another forum in hopes to get more opinions as I value the input of all who comment. Sorry if this appears as a duplicate and I apologize in advance if the issue has been discussed in detail before.

    In doing searches here and on other forums, I don't find very much reference regarding the effect of pistol caliber bullets on bone. Most of the discussions regarding caliber end up with photographs being posted of bullets being shot through ballistic gelatin.

    While we know that ballistic gelatin is a decent simulation for tissue and that it also provides a consistent medium from which relationships between bullets can be drawn, we also know that it is homogenous, unlike the body.

    Another "consistent medium" is bowling pins and while this IS a poor comparison to human anatomy, it nonetheless demonstrates a lesser-emphasized quality of momentum.

    It would seem to me that given similar bullet construction (ogive and face, in particular) the bullet with the higher momentum would tend to have a more crippling effect on the skeletal system than those with lower momentum. Within a given caliber, it is probably nominal as we are talking basically about differences mainly in sectional density... i.e. a 147gr 9mm will generally penetrate more than a 115gr at relative pressures.

    When we look at similar bullet contruction (e.g. Speer Gold Dot) over different calibers, however, the bowling pin analogy would indicate that the larger calibers would have more of a "smashing effect" on bone, for lack of a better term.

    I know the assumptions made in the much maligned thread "Tales from the Morgue" on the S&W forum have been discussed to the Nth degree, but one relatively objective conclusion I read from the mortician was that the .40 and .45 caliber bullets tended to fracture bone much more than lower calibers. Again, perhaps not only the increase in weight and diameter of the bullet comes into play, but also the small differences in speed... i.e. the slower the bullet, the more force is subjected on the given structure. Small, but significant? I don't know.

    So given this, I am openly wondering about the opinions here... to me, because many of the self defense shots will be COM and because the chest is full of bone, do you think that having a bullet with a higher tendancy fracture bone is important? Although we can agree that penetration is critical, to me it would seem that having more fractured bones would "feel" much more debilitating than an additional .05" (maybe) of permanent wound channel.

    Just for the record, currently my only handgun is a P7M8 (had to sell a USP .45 to make bills), so I am certainly at the short end of the "capacity vs. caliber" equation.
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  3. #2
    Member Array gotammo's Avatar
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    sorry to here about the HK
    The thing about bones is they can be relatively easy to break (CPR is you don't break a rib your not trying hard enough). I don't even consider bone in my decision for carry ammo it is what I shoot best and operates reliably in my gun thats it. To carry a cartridge that is a bone breaker you will have to carry a rifle or 500 s&w. The chest is full of bones but there is allot of space that isn't also.

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    VIP Member Array Tubby45's Avatar
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    Unless you can sneak a bullet between ribs, yes, a bullet that penetrates bone is mandatory, no question. My qualifications to bore you to death during my post are quite simple: I have been hunting since the age of 12, my mother is a heart surgeon that has done neuro surgery, most surgeries involving the organs including transplants, orthopedics, and picking up on her stories over the years, I have a working knowledge of how bodies are put together and how the vascular system operates and the capabilities of it.

    You see, the parts we are trying to damage to stop a threat contains the vitals and the brain. Those, obviously being vital to the health and life of the being, are protected very well against most threats, in the general sense of the word. The heart, lungs, liver are protected by the sternum and a bunch of ribs. The skull is pretty darn hard. You can survive more trauma to the upper torso than you can to the head.

    Penetration is critical, as a hole in the heart is essential. But in order to get the penetration we need, our bullet needs to be able to break bone AND penetrate to the vitals without question or hesitation or veering off course (ie smaller calibers and ball ammo).

    So our bullet needs to be fired from a cartridge that puts out some horsepower (I'm going to say absolute minimum 9mm/38Spl) in the range of 400fpe. KE does not kill but is the potential to do work. Take the same bullet at two different velocities, let's use 40 S&W and 10mm. The bullet from the 40 S&W is going to be carrying about 350-375fpe or so while the 10mm with that same bullet is going to be carrying over 700fpe (mine has about 728fpe). What this illustrates, all things equal, is that a bullet with more KE has the potential to do more work, ie penetrate and expand.

    This isn't meant to be a Praise the 10mm, knock the 40S&W. It was used as an illustration of differences in cartridges. They are the same bullet pushed at different velocities carrying different KE values.

    Bullet design has a lot to do with bone busting capabilities. That is why a 45acp can be in the same vicinity of penetration as the 10mm, when the 10mm carried almost twice the KE of the 45acp. Bullet design.

    That's all I have for now.
    07/02 FFL/SOT since 2006

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    Member Array amlevin's Avatar
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    Smaller, lighter bullets tend to be deflected by the rounded surfaces of a human skeleton. Unless one hits a flat or large surfaced bone like skull, sternum, pelvis, the bullet will most likely just nick the bone and go off to do damage somewhere else inside. When a bullet does hit bone in such a manner that it won't be deflected, it might breal the bone but lots of energy is expended when doing so. Skulls may be strong, but not thick. Their strength is from the curvature but even a handgun bullet as small as .22 will penetrate due to the concentration of energy.

    Higher weight bullets at high velocity (like most rifle bullets) will just keep on going through most bones they encounter.

    Hard to get this kind of performance from a handgun of common carrying size. This is why the development efforts for handgun ammo go into making them do the most damage possible for the media they CAN penetrate.
    ""If I shoot all the ammo I am carrying, I either won't need more or, more won't help me.""

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    Distinguished Member Array RSSZ's Avatar
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    Having guided for 18(or so) years,I have allot of "gut pile" expierance. I have seen time and again,the effects of high speed projectiles hitting bone. Now this is with the much faster rifle rounds,but to a certin extent it is the same(only different) with a pistol round.

    When a bullet going even 1000fps hits bone,it doesn't simply push through it. Even though the "live" bone is simi-soft and plyable,pieces are still broken off. I call these pieces of bone,secondary missles/projectiles. For a small spand of time these secondary projectiles are traveling at the samer speed as the bullet. The pieces of bone are pushed through the body doing a vast ammount of damage.

    I have gutted deer and even moose that the heart was reduced to mush by flying ribs,the bullet didn't come anywhere near it. I have seen the pieces(3" long)of deer ribs,10 feet from the fallen deer. This is why I always want to hit the ribs of a game animal going in. The sternum is even better.

    This is just the oposite for hunting 'yotes for the pelts. I have ruined the prime pelt of a 55 lb. 'yote when I cut a rib coming out with my Swift. It will blow a hole big enough to stick your fist into.

    The pistol bullet velocities will not be that extreme but there will be some extra damage caused by bone fragments.

    This is why I want to hit a human on the sternum going in. A little high,a little low,as long as it hits square on the bone,you will get a bonus of secondary missles. Sounds harsh huh ? Well what did we really want to accomplish when we were forced to pull the trigger anyway ??? -------

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    Distinguished Member Array SixBravo's Avatar
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    I've got to agree with freakshow. The higher velocity, the easier it will be to get through bone. If you're shooting for COM, and you can do it in a high-stress situation (read: BG rushing you with a knife), then it may not matter. For two reasons:
    1) Your first shot will probably fracture or at least damage the overall strength of the ribcage. The follow-on shots will have much less trouble penetrating the same area, giving each progressing round the chance to incapacitate.
    2) You might be so close to the BG that velocity will matter very little in terms of bone. In situations like this it would be an especially good idea to know your background - even if your are shooting JHPs - because a .40 or 10mm and higher has a better than "crap" chance to over penetrate.

    I don't claim to be a pro with this. I'm sure as hell no "expert." This just seems to be the most likely of outcomes.
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    Most aspects have been well covered.

    I do reckon tho that in the handgun world, momentum of heavier bullets will stand a better chance of bone shattering and as RSSZ mentions - accelerated bone fragments will become secondary projectiles.

    One of the most definite features I'd expect from bone impact is bullet deflection - one of the good examples here is a side shot at a perp where humerous ''gets in the way'' and then maybe not even enough direction or energy left to penetrate thorax.

    Remember tho - with rib cage - the two inches or so either side of sternum ("rib front ends") are cartilage - and so impact here whether intercostal or direct hits will still penetrate pretty well - matter luck tho whether this happens re shot placement.

    Once velocity goes way up as per rifle - whole new ball game, where even big bones like femur can be totally smashed.
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    I don't have load data, KE numbers, or anything that may be of value scientifically.

    From experience, 9mm FMJ at a range of 6-8 meters has plenty of penetration, but minimal transfer of energy. Fisrt shot entered the abdomen, while the target was moving forward, toward me. Kater ubsoectuib shiwed an exit wound not much larger than the entrance wound. No discernable effect. Second shot hit the chest, on the target's right side, and after later inspection, was found to have penetrated only the skin and soft tissues, following the curve of the chest wall before exiting the flank just below and behind the armpit. Third shot was center mass, just above the bottom of the sternum. Bullet caought the bottom right side of the target's heart, continued through the spine. That caused some immediate problems for him, as he lost all motor control at that point and dropped to the ground. He expired relatively quickly, within 20 -30 seconds, I would guess.

    In short, 9mm FMJ has plenty of penetration power, will break bone if it hit's at an almost right angle to the structure, and maintains it's energy enough to break more bone.
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