The Bullet Expansion Thread

This is a discussion on The Bullet Expansion Thread within the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; Originally Posted by Ljutic Many years ago, when I was single and could get away with stuff like this, I would grab all my neighbors ...

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  1. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ljutic View Post
    Many years ago, when I was single and could get away with stuff like this, I would grab all my neighbors old phone books each year and soak them in the tub overnight. The next day I would be out at the range shooting my little heart out and recovering all those sexy expanded 7.62x39, Black Talons, Hydra-Shoks, and Barnes .44 magnum bullets. Between those and a couple of recovered 12 gauge slugs from deer I harvested, I had a neat little collection going. I really enjoyed seeing what the recovered rounds looked like and how they compared with others of the same caliber.

    Spin the clock ahead 15 years and I'm back at it again, but this time I'm using SIM-test ballistics media instead of phone books. I started back into terminal testing after reading about how miserable .380 JHP loads performed from short barrels and FMJ was the only .380 ammo worth anything in a carry pistol. Depending on the performance criteria you are looking for out of the .380 some do perform better than others, and now I know which ones are the better performers. Before running my own tests, I just followed the herd with ammo choices.

    As far as .380 goes, would you rather shoot a slow FMJ target/range load, or a JHP at defensive speeds that expands a little and still penetrates deeply? I wanted the second option and after testing much of what is currently available, I found a couple of gems that have a nice balance of both expansion and penetration.

    I'm not done testing. I'm going to continue my work and look at short barrel terminal performance of .38 Special, 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 Sig, and .45 ACP. I think there will be gems to find in each caliber that have an optimal balance of expansion and penetration.
    And out of curiosity how do you calibrate your SIM-test and correlate your test results to performance in clothing covered flesh & bone?
    "There is a secret pride in every human heart that revolts at tyranny. You may order and drive an individual, but you cannot make him respect you." William Hazlitt (1778 - 1830)

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  3. #17
    VIP Member Array nedrgr21's Avatar
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    I'd like to see your results as well - or at least know what rounds you decided on.

    As to expansion, given the tough and elastic nature of things like veins, arteries, muscle, organs, etc, I think the biggest advantage of JHP's are the sharp edges produced when the round expands allowing it to cut tissue vs. the tendency of the same tissue to slip over/past/around FMJ with little actual damage done. People used to enjoy saying a 9mm JHP may expand, but .45 hardball will never shrink. Flip side of that is that today's JHP expand much more reliably and even a little expansion will create those sharp edges, but hardball will never have the opportunity.

  4. #18
    Member Array Ljutic's Avatar
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    I don't want to hi-jack the thread. My blog is in my signature. Here's a recap of my 380, but there are many more posts with tests on the blog. Mouse Guns and Gear: 380 Ballistics testing - A Mid test Recap
    Author of the Pocket Guns and Gear blog. Stop by for a peek at http://mousegunaddict.blogspot.com

  5. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by sgb View Post
    And out of curiosity how do you calibrate your SIM-test and correlate your test results to performance in clothing covered flesh & bone?
    I check my SIM-test with a BB shot for similar density to 10% gel. I do not control temperature. 2 layers of medium weight denim is used for most tests. I'm a hobbiest with limited resources, so I do not introduce barriers or try to simulate bone or other parts of mammal anatomy.
    Author of the Pocket Guns and Gear blog. Stop by for a peek at http://mousegunaddict.blogspot.com

  6. #20
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    Warning: long-winded post, you may prefer to have a beer instead of reading it!

    As denizens of Western Civ, and particularly as Americans, we are driven to explore technological solutions just as bees feel driven to go out after another load of pollen. It is not in our nature to say that what we have is good enough, so we literally and figuratively seek the "better mousetrap" when it comes to everything, including handgun ammunition. Sometimes, public demand drives the inventors, other times the inventors dream up something and then get the marketers to show us why we need it.

    Two ammo examples that come to mind are the Thompson-LaGarde tests of 1904 and the JHP's of the 1970's thru the present. The former, as many of us realize, was driven by reports that our .38 LC service revolver was not cutting it against Moro tribesmen in the Philippines. The modern-era expanding bullet craze came about as a result of the "Officer Survival Movement," which was essentially a reaction to law enforcement requirements that went thru the roof in a perfect storm during the late '60's and 1970's. Everything from druggies high on stuff that turned them into aggressive supermen, to ruthless drug gangs, revolutionary groups both political and racial in origin, stricter rules regarding use of force in the first place, perhaps even some requirement to deal with a populace that was physically larger than ever before. . . .

    Interestingly, in Sykes's "Shooting to Live with the One-Hand Gun" (c. 1940), he states that he'd much prefer expanding bullets, but dismisses that line of discussion with the comment that he was required to play the deadly game with lead or jacketed bullets that didn't expand. I wish he were still around with his Shanghai Police to give us feedback reflecting the use of the modern-day "bullet of the month." :-) Who knows how his tactics and techniques might have evolved if he had access to such ammo? Who knows how much more we'd understand about the role of expansion if several hundred of his department's gun battles had taken place with expanding bullets, allowing Sykes to compare these with the several hundred other firefights waged with solid bullets?

    My take on Sykes's recommendations boils down to this: shoot first, shoot fast in bursts, and be prepared for the realization that you have to "close with the enemy." He didn't consider it advisable to teach anyone to rely on precisely-sighted bullet placement because his experiences convinced him that such opportunities weren't likely when "shooting to live." I'm confident he was aware of what we now refer to as the "psychological stop," and that he understood better than we do that the only ways a handgun was going to physically stop a determined opponent was thru CNS hits, massive blood loss, and/or breaking down the BG's mobility (shattering pelvis, major leg bones, etc.) His failure to focus on such mechanisms reflected not ignorance, but a belief that speed in achieving body hits was achievable, and that sharpshooting was not. Not in close combat, anyway. And he explicitly acknowledged that he couldn't pick any handgun caliber large or small that could guarantee success, so he just said to shoot the biggest, heaviest caliber you could handle. To drive home that point, he gave examples of multiple .45 ACP and .455 Webley hits that failed to stop assailants until the policemen closed with the BG's and laid 'em out with pistol butts, aka hand-to-hand combat.

    And that, friends, is the LAST thing any of us wants to hear!! Heck, that's precisely why we're armed--we don't WANT to go hand-to-hand, we're trying to improve those odds!!! Thus, we seek techno solutions (bigger & faster bullets, expansion) and training solutions (modern school, precise placement), that will--hopefully--prevent the necessity for resorting to the caveman approach.

    Until someone convinces me otherwise, my money is on Sykes, generally speaking. I don't expect to be able to do much sniping with a pistol at SD/HD ranges, so if the day ever comes I'll blast away as fast as I can at the BG's boiler room, but I don't expect him to stand still for that treatment, so marginal hits & misses are pretty likely. If I can select ammo that both penetrates and expands, great, but I cannot afford underpenetration caused by over-reliance on expansion, because I suspect hits are going to occur at odd angles, not optimum ones. If I get lucky and have a stationary frontal shot in good light, whoopee!

    If this rant has a point, it's that I'm putting my money on shooting first (hopefully!!!!), fast, into the boiler room if possible, and using a bullet that has the best chance of penetrating deeply enough, and smashing and/or cutting what it hits en route & upon arrival. Thus, for me, the FBI load works for 38's: with luck, it expands, penetrates deeply, and cuts/smashes en route. If it plugs up I still get the other effects working in my favor. Heavy HP's--that at least offer a large meplat if plugged--suit me. No pointy HP profiles, no light HP's. In snubs, if I doubt I'll get expansion, I stick with heavy bullets, sharp edges, and large meplats. POI issues with heavy bullets aren't too great a concern, as I doubt I'll be involved in precision shooting. If I can use even a front sight for a flash sight picture on the boiler room, I'll consider myself lucky.

  7. #21
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    "To drive home that point, he gave examples of multiple .45 ACP and .455 Webley hits that failed to stop assailants until the policemen closed with the BG's and laid 'em out with pistol butts, aka hand-to-hand combat.

    And that, friends, is the LAST thing any of us wants to hear!! Heck, that's precisely why we're armed--we don't WANT to go hand-to-hand, we're trying to improve those odds!!! Thus, we seek techno solutions (bigger & faster bullets, expansion) and training solutions (modern school, precise placement), that will--hopefully--prevent the necessity for resorting to the caveman approach."

    This facet of handgun defense certainly sees scant attention on forums. You're right, it's not the desired outcome.

    What if they're still on their feet and now on top of us?
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  8. #22
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    Having the BG end up on top of you is very real possibility. A friend of my woke up to someone standing in his hallway (daughter had gone out and forgot to lock the front door), he rolled to the side to grab his gun, the BG closed distance and was literally on top off him, they struggled for the gun. My friend ended up having to shoot through his own hand (frangible ammo) to get the guy off him and took another shot at the BG as he fled the apartment.
    "Don't start none, won't be none!"

  9. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by shooterX View Post
    Having the BG end up on top of you is very real possibility. A friend of my woke up to someone standing in his hallway (daughter had gone out and forgot to lock the front door), he rolled to the side to grab his gun, the BG closed distance and was literally on top off him, they struggled for the gun. My friend ended up having to shoot through his own hand (frangible ammo) to get the guy off him and took another shot at the BG as he fled the apartment.
    Not trying to redirect the focus of the thread, however, since LM and the OP mentioned Hand to hand, I thought it might be of interest.
    "Don't start none, won't be none!"

  10. #24
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    Actually, this possible stage of a HD/SD gunfight--trying to shoot the BG off the muzzle of my handgun--is one of the reasons I generally prefer a revolver. Significant possibility of me having an oddball grip on a gun, causing the dreaded weak-wrist malfunction with an auto; also a possible need for contact shot(s) that may be more likely to cause an auto to malfunction than a revolver. Granted, autos have other advantages, so it may be a wash. I often keep both revolver and auto in readiness at bedside, so I have the auto's firepower if "game on" is shattering glass or a door being kicked in, because this is clearly out-and-out combat. The revolver, OTOH, is my preferred weapon for checking out that suspicious noise somewhere in the house. (A DA auto would serve fine, of course.)

    Lately, my bedside companions are a Model 10 with Remington FBI loads, and a Victory with 200g SWC of pure lead, both guns sporting Magnas so the grip and other muscle memory aspects are simplified. I need to work on weak-hand point shooting.

    A personal attempt to ensure the benefits of both penetration and enhanced target effects, with minimal recoil to boot, is the reason I've spent a fair amount of effort trying to figure out whether the low-velocity 200g blunt-nosed bullet in 38 S&W and 38 SPL can achieve lots of damage due to tumbling, while retaining soft-target penetration capability due to its sectional density. My totally unscientific efforts to date indicate that violent tumbling happens often, but not invariably. Kind of like a JHP--sometimes it works, sometimes not, and a failure to tumble makes the heavy LRN an inefficient wounding agent similar to an unexpanded JHP. The heavy lead slug is perhaps likely to penetrate relatively deeper than an unexpanded JHP, and is also probably going to be a lot more destructive to any bone it may strike. Both types of projectile are relatively inefficient wounding agents in soft tissue, if they fail to tumble/expand.

    Does this old-school approach have merit for civilian HD/SD, which rarely requires long-range accuracy or the ability to penetrate auto bodies and windshields? Are those concerns the only reasons that American police dispensed with the heavy/slow approach? Has anyone ever managed to quantify at all the efficacy of tumbling as a wounding mechanism?
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  11. #25
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    FMJ,JHP,both will do the job just fine. You go to court and try to defend yourself for using a FMJ for a self defense situation in a crowded place,it over penetrates (or goes right on thru) and hits an innocent bystander,and the prosecutor is going to hand you your head in a basket. We carry concealed for protection and you don't know where trouble will pop up. It would be great if it was always somewhere isolated from others,but not likely. The other side of the coin is stated that the prosecutor will accuse you of using man killers in your gun,and not the less lethal FMJ. Less lethal for who? Tell the guy you just killed that was behind the threat. After all,why do the police carry man killers.Do they share the same concerns about over penetration and carry them because their safer for the public.LEOS,lets here from you on this. This is something we should be concerned about when we discuss FMJ or JHP.

  12. #26
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    I don't buy into this whole notion that the use of some "man-killer" bullet bringing the wrath of a prosecutor down on one's righteous shoot. One is "borrowing trouble" if he's got to dither over an expanding or FMJ "rock and a hard place" because a prosecutor "might" use it against him. Such anxiety over prosecutors puts the concealed carry devotee in a no-win situation. Of course this may matter more in some regions of our nation than others.

    It behooves the person who determines to use a handgun for self-defense to be responsible for any bullet discharged. Yeah, that's easier said than done but we have no choice but to be observant of surroundings including potential for inadvertently striking persons behind our target. As difficult as it might seem at the time of crisis, we might have to refrain from shooting at all. Using good judgment can be tough at times.

    This is a whole different but important aspect for discussion of expanding bullets.

    I was employed in banking for many years and carried in my lobby office. I constantly reminded myself of possible scenarios and considered strict shoot/no-shoot standards with which I would adhere in the event that a defensive shot ever had to be taken. Besides considering visible employees and customers I had to consider the wall opposite my office. My view down the teller line was towards this wall at the far end of the lobby. Two layers of sheet rock separated the bank lobby from the bank's supply room. A bullet would easily penetrate to the interior of the supply room and would be a hazard to an employ who happened to be in there if the shooting started.

    Others may not feel this way but I would take no comfort at all in using expanding bullets as proof against excessive penetration. One should take his shot considering every bullet as if it was armor piercing. How many here would be willing to take the shot using an expanding bullet while innocent people were downrange, beyond the bad guy and in the bullet's flight path? There's a very good chance that a safe shot will not present itself at all in a crowded place. Perhaps one could attempt to move to gain a field of fire that didn't have people in the background but such an advantage could be denied.

    There is no guarantee at all that projectiles will behave as advertised. And through and through penetration isn't always in a straight line either so must be considered.
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  13. #27
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    Warning: long-winded post, you may prefer to have a beer instead of reading it!
    No,...I needed a beer after reading it.
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    [QUOTE=bmcgilvray;2270621]I don't buy into this whole notion that the use of some "man-killer" bullet bringing the wrath of a prosecutor down on one's righteous shoot. One is "borrowing trouble" if he's got to dither over an expanding or FMJ "rock and a hard place" because a prosecutor "might" use it against him. Such anxiety over prosecutors puts the concealed carry devotee in a no-win situation. Of course this may matter more in some regions of our nation than others. END QUOTE

    I couldn't agree more, and the last sentence reflects a major reason I returned home to LA after retiring from the Army in '05, namely a relatively conservative social and political environment outside certain inner-city districts. I've seen these modern-day legal concerns expressed logically and convincingly in so many ways, that at some point I realized that the law-abiding defensive shooter was totally out of options, as long as the D.A. decided to make any of these equipment and training considerations into an "issue" at trial:
    1. Choose expanding bullets to avoid overpenetration? You've deliberately and viciously chosen to kill anyone you may have the "opportunity" to shoot. Also, you're a narrow-minded gunshop commando, chasing the latest technology to hurt your fellow man. You're also an LEO-wannabe, sort of a misanthropic version of Walter Mitty.

    2. Choose lead or FMJ? "Good God man, it's been proven for decades that you're going to need to shoot your hapless victims over & over & over, almost ensuring they can't survive the numerous injuries you inflict. And by the way, your over penetrating rounds negligently endangered anyone standing behind your victim. That's why LE gave up on this junk a long time ago, you irresponsible twit!"

    3. Large caliber? "Dirty Harry complex, eh? Trying to er, compensate for something, are we?"

    4. Small caliber? "Obviously irresponsible and heedless of all modern scientific developments."

    5. You train intensively, read gun magazines and forums, etc.? Clearly watched too many Charles Bronson movies in the 1970's.

    6. You don't train intensively, read gun magazines and forums, etc.? How irresponsible can you possibly be, knowing you're going about armed all the time??

    QUOTE: "Others may not feel this way but I would take no comfort at all in using expanding bullets as proof against excessive penetration. One should take his shot considering every bullet as if it was armor piercing. How many here would be willing to take the shot using an expanding bullet while innocent people were downrange, beyond the bad guy and in the bullet's flight path? There's a very good chance that a safe shot will not present itself at all in a crowded place. Perhaps one could attempt to move to gain a field of fire that didn't have people in the background but such an advantage could be denied.

    There is no guarantee at all that projectiles will behave as advertised. And through and through penetration isn't always in a straight line either so must be considered. END QUOTE

    I've seen it asserted that Teddy Roosevelt selected .32's for the NYPD, partly out of the conviction that they would do less injury to the innocent bystanders his men were certain to shoot. I also vaguely recall seeing various references to the belief that heavy Western calibers such as .44 and .45 were commonly understood to be too powerful for the densely populated cities of the East. I don't believe our concerns about overpenetration are all that new. Is that also a significant reason for the contemporary decision to chamber popular service revolvers for my favorite oldie-but-goodie, the 38 S&W?

    Not trying to advance the cause of my obsolescent favorite cartridge beyond all reason, but was its 200g loading an attempt to provide improved terminal performance in a package that also reduced the probability of dangerous overpenetration? Sort of an old-tech, heavy bullet version of today's Glaser? The various low-vel .44 Bulldogs and the like filled the same role in the same way. If so, could such heavy/slow loadings have the same benefits (and shortcomings) today?

    Like you, I hesitate to rely on bullet performance as an antidote to shoot-throughs. (Of course, I don't consider it smart to select the old metal-piercing bullets for use in your banks, either!) I'm in the camp that worries more about clean misses, in any case.
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    10thmtn puts it very well!!!!!!!

    LSWC and A Warm WC work great in the revolver

  16. #30
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    By we Americans like to have our choices. Must ... have ... choices...
    Those are what make us individuals. Freedom to choose is a right. Bullet performance and am I concerned? That depends. Once my bullet leaves the barrel, there's less science behind it and more of me. If my choice in bullets does not perform as expected on the first shot, I'm ready to follow through with the second shot and any subsequent shots as needed. Makes little difference if the target is human or game. I want to end things as quickly and as humanly possible. Criminal or food, I want to be as humane as possible and make it a quick kill for my own reasons moral or otherwise. Hunting game or your human enemy both deserve the same dedication from you. You and your weapon work as a team, and each member needs to be ready to fulfill the obligation no matter which one happened to be weak at the moment.

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