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Discussion Starter #1
Warning - this will be long-winded. This has been nagging at my mind for a while, so I figured I'd put my thoughts down and see what others might have to say. I think the trend of denim gel tests publicized online might be doing a disservice to people who are selecting defensive ammo, but if I've got it wrong I'll happily be corrected.

First off, it should be understood that gel testing is NOT an accurate simulation of what happens when a person (or animal) is shot. No animal is a homogenous mass of goo. Skin, tendons, bones, variations in tissue density, and air in the lungs can all have a significant impact on what a bullet does after it enters a body. This would seem obvious, but judging by the number of videos where the tester refers to a hole in a blob of gel as "the wound track," I'm afraid this point might not be clear. It's as much a "wound" as the slices one makes in a cardboard box with a pocketknife.

So, if that can be accepted, what's the point of gel tests? In my opinion, there's only one solid piece of information that comes out of them: verification of the penetrating capability of expanding (and perhaps fragmenting) ammunition. When a bullet expands, there's increased drag as the bullet moves through a body, and that slows the bullet more quickly, meaning less penetration. Bare gel provides a worst-case test of penetration in soft tissue, by providing a best-case situation for expansion - a homogeneous fluid medium - along with resistance roughly approximating soft tissue. It tells you that, if a bullet expands to its maximum, it still has enough oomph to penetrate to a minimum depth.

That's it. It says nothing about how likely a bullet is to expand, or to what diameter (because it's best-case for expansion). This means that the maximum penetration seen is also not useful in predicting overpenetration, because it may well be expanding more (and therefore penetrating less) than it might in real life. Nor will the test say whether it will penetrate bone, whether it will deflect off of bone, or anything else. It's a test for one very specific failure mode.

Now, what happens when you put four layers of denim over the gel? If the bare gel test is neglected, I'd suggest that it defeats the entire purpose, because now you no longer have best-case for expansion. A bullet is likely to expand less with a bunch of fiber in the nose, so it's likely to penetrate further than in bare gel. Which could be useful if the system simulated reality, but it still doesn't. Now you have an unrealistic stand-in for clothing over an unrealistic stand-in for a body. Meanwhile, the useful info that comes from an unrealistic but arguably worst-case configuration is lost. It's not worst-case for penetration because expansion will likely be impeded, and it's not worst-case for expansion because it enters a best-case-for-expansion media after it goes through all the denim - it won't encounter a rib or shoulder or an air pocket in a lung, so who knows if it will actually expand in a person or animal when it's carrying denim?

I've done a bit of googling on how this test came about, and from what I gather, it was introduced as a means to force ammo makers to design their LE bullets with consideration for clogging with fiber, a known failure mode for hollowpoints. That's a rational motivation, and flawed though the test is, good performance in this test at least serves as a demonstration that the maker did so. The problem comes from reading too much into this single test, and not performing the full battery of tests that LE ammunition is expected to pass covering multiple failure modes, including bare gel tests.

The potential downside to the laser focus on this test: I believe that some people are basing their ammunition selection on it entirely, to the exclusion of other data, as well as real-world experience and common sense. I know I've read plenty of comments to the effect of "don't use [let's say Hydra-Shok], it's old technology and doesn't do well in denim." Which is fine if that means someone uses a quality modern round that's well-tested and street-proven. But how many thus advised dismiss a round with a good track record, go looking at gel tests online, and settle on something like "brand-new Uberkill Ultra-Max Velocity 90gr," which is proven to do an excellent job on a gelatinous cube wearing four denim jackets, but has probably never been used to shoot an actual living thing?

So my take on it is this: if you're choosing ammo, it's fine to consider gel tests with denim, but don't look at that alone. Ideally, I think it makes sense to choose a round that's both fully lab-tested AND has been in use by LE for a while with good real-world results. From what I've read, HST, Gold Dot, and Ranger meet this standard in most calibers, and I'm sure there are more. If that doesn't suit your tastes, try to research beyond a one-off video gel test, and gather as much info as you can about the round you're interested in and how it performs in a variety of situations.

Opinions welcome! Please discus!
 

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Look at street record first, yep, agreed. I don't think these tests were ever meant to be taken as seriously as they are. Bullets are weird little critters, once they hit something they might decide to do this, they might decide to do that, and they might go here or bounce around over there. There's also a Grand Canyon-sized difference between a hit on a person who might weigh 120 after Thanksgiving dinner, and a person who looks big enough to have eaten the former person (if we're not talking perfectly placed hits and perfect bullet behavior).
 

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The gel provides a baseline constant that allows different bullets/loads to be compared to one another. It is not and was never intended to be a direct model of performance in vivo. Starting with older ammo configurations that had extensive field documentation, the experts were able to establish performance data considered unacceptable.

The penetration recommendations in calibrated gel take into consideration the varying densities and obstacles in the human body. Such recommendations are of course extrapolations but they have been very useful in the modernization of ammunition. Combined with other components of the testing criteria, the ammunition industry has been able to provide us with noticeably better ammunition performance with regard to reliable and consistent terminal performance.

Like any laboratory model, ballistic gel is not the be-all end-all but it is a very useful and important aspect in the development of ammunition efficacy.
 

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I think that too much thought is being put into different types of ammunition. I think that a .22 round will kill somebody just as fast as a round from a .45 if it is in the right spot and maybe quicker because a .22 round tumbles around and winds up in another part of the body. That is the same reason why I don't look at wound track size as being as big of a factor as the amount of penetration. I think that the gel shows if one round enters 12" and another enters 16" that one will enter more than the other as long as it isn't deflected by something. That is where the solid bullet has the advantage over the hollow point or lighter round. If a bad guy is behind glass or wall board then you want a bullet that will go straight through the glass or wall board. That brings me to the solid copper round that penetrates the right amount whether or not it leaves a big wound track it should penetrate enough without going clear through the house and hitting the neighbors.
 

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Gel tests are not intended to match a human. They serve as a common baseline against which ammo can be referenced. It is a calibration, a norming if you will, so as to be able to have a common standard. It is a quite common protocol for testing. The model is applied to many, many materials and mechanics.

What is the standard to make the call based on real world cases? How would one even go about doing a valid and reliable decision assessment of ammo in real world cases? Whatever brand is being used by LE is guaranteed to show that that brand is 100% effective in every LE shooting, where the shooting caused a termination of the aggression. How do we know if the brand they are using is or isn't falling short of a possible other brand?

What is the other valid and reliable data set that people are excluding to consider when they focus on gel tests? If such a data set exists, it would certainly be a valuable cross reference to the standardized gel test.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
With denim, without denim, it doesn't matter to me. I use the tests to compare bullet to bullet, not how it might react in a living being.
That's exactly the problem, I think. By itself it's not a valid test for comparing one round to another, except with bare gel, and then only for determining the minimum penetration.

Say you have bullet X and bullet Y. Bullet X expands perfectly through denim and penetrates to 15", bullet Y fails to expand and goes through the block. It appears that bullet X is the better choice. But it's only appearance, because there are too many factors not tested. In real life, bullet X may not expand if it hits a rib, or goes through a lung, or it may deflect off of a shoulder, or fragment, etc. Meanwhile bullet Y may not have any of those problems, and expand just fine going through a realistic layer of clothing.

Even when it comes to just the clothing issue, we don't know that X is better than Y. Maybe they will both expand well when hitting a person with no shirt, but X will fail to expand if it goes through two thin layers of cotton and then a lung, while Y will expand properly in this situation.

So a person might well be choosing the lesser ammo if they rely too much on this test. If one really wants to know which ammo is better, I see three ways to compare performance:

1. A large number of real-world shootings;
2. A real simulation of a human target;
3. A battery of numerous tests that each examine a particular failure mode.

Edit: I missed the part about "not how it might react in a living being." That's fair, but what other information is there to get from the test?
 

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First off, it should be understood that gel testing is NOT an accurate simulation of what happens when a person (or animal) is shot.
Exactly right. It was not designed to be a simulation, it was designed to be a medium that is consistent, that can be calibrated, and in a broad sense replicates human soft tissue. It was, obviously, never designed to simulate a human being. Right now it is the only method available whereby two rounds may be compared in a scientific setting.

IMHO this issue has been beaten to death. Again, IMHO, the real question is not about the validity of the various gel tests. It is whether or not there is anyone who is smart enough to develop anything better. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If anyone can invent a better system, the whole world will beat a path to your door. You've just found the better mousetrap.

The discussions are interesting, but ultimately we would be better served by coming up with a simple, easy to find explanation of gel testing that every newcomer to shooting could access. My opinion, for what it's worth.

EDIT: Using real-world data is hardly a repeatable scientific method. If you've ever studied police reports about shootings, the first thing that will jump off the page at you is the infinite variability of any given scene.
 

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What's the percentage of BGs wearing denim? (I haven't the foggiest,) What the percentage of their center-mass being covered, open jackets, etc.? (ditto, I've no idea). Very few BGs wear denim...hoods. (I'm reasonably sure about...that one). While scientific method (and the derived data) from denim-encased baliastic gel, or auto safety-glass or car door steel can hint at real-world effectiveness, I prefer to rely on old, well-vetted MANUFACTURERS to "do all that" well beFORE their latest-and-greatest is... released. :yup:
 

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Exactly right. It was not designed to be a simulation, it was designed to be a medium that is consistent, that can be calibrated, and in a broad sense replicates human soft tissue. It was, obviously, never designed to simulate a human being. Right now it is the only method available whereby two rounds may be compared in a scientific setting.

IMHO this issue has been beaten to death. Again, IMHO, the real question is not about the validity of the various gel tests. It is whether or not there is anyone who is smart enough to develop anything better. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If anyone can invent a better system, the whole world will beat a path to your door. You've just found the better mousetrap.

The discussions are interesting, but ultimately we would be better served by coming up with a simple, easy to find explanation of gel testing that every newcomer to shooting could access. My opinion, for what it's worth.

EDIT: Using real-world data is hardly a repeatable scientific method. If you've ever studied police reports about shootings, the first thing that will jump off the page at you is the infinite variability of any given scene.
i think that something better has arrived in these fluted bullets.

 

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i think that something better has arrived in these fluted bullets.

I was speaking of the method: gel testing.

About denim. IIRC it was the worst case material for clogging hollowpoints. Besides, us old geezers out west regularly wear blue denim jackets with our Resistols. :smile:
 

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Discussion Starter #14
The discussions are interesting, but ultimately we would be better served by coming up with a simple, easy to find explanation of gel testing that every newcomer to shooting could access.
To boil it down, I think my advice to a newcomer would be: ammo should expand and reach at least 12" in bare gel. When comparing cartridges, ignore the maximum penetration in bare gel, and ignore denim tests entirely.
 
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Maybe we should be shooting through both denim and a can of cope :wink:
NO NO NO...the cope is carried in the left REAR jeans pocket! Don't shoot me there boss!!! :embarassed:

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that in my 63 years of living in Texas, I've never used cope...I have smelt it (that's how we say smelled here) from time to time.
 
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... my advice to a newcomer would be:...
Newcomer? :eek:t: My best advice would be to FIRST learn to...run your GUN! 'Cuz any/all gel results mean very little if you can't first...HIT THE GEL!

:eek:fftop1:
 

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NO NO NO...the cope is carried in the left REAR jeans pocket! Don't shoot me there boss!!! :embarassed:

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that in my 63 years of living in Texas, I've never used cope...I have smelt it (that's how we say smelled here) from time to time.
Smelt here in PA is a skinny fish about 6" long :wink:

It's not just denim that clogs HP's.
Granted, this was going pretty slow (745 fps/3" barrel), so there wasn't a lot of mushrooming anyway, but here's some bone from a pork butt stuck in this HP.

5.JPG

But it's a .45. It doesn't need to expand :wink:
 

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So a person might well be choosing the lesser ammo if they rely too much on this test. If one really wants to know which ammo is better, I see three ways to compare performance:

1. A large number of real-world shootings;
2. A real simulation of a human target;
3. A battery of numerous tests that each examine a particular failure mode.
Using decision tools available, gel test comparison is one that has potential for very high internal validity. The method is both reliable and valid. It suits the intended purpose very well. What is the value of suggesting to include data from other research results if the experiment has never been conducted. There is no valid and reliable data available that was collected and analyzed from the three performance criteria you suggest. Given that, what other than the gel test model currently exists that would provide the same level of valid data to compare across ammo?

Note: There exists all kinds of anecdotal you tube observations, but these don't rise to the level of anything valid or reliable.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Using decision tools available, gel test comparison is one that has potential for very high internal validity. The method is both reliable and valid. It suits the intended purpose very well. What is the value of suggesting to include data from other research results if the experiment has never been conducted. There is no valid and reliable data available that was collected and analyzed from the three performance criteria you suggest. Given that, what other than the gel test model currently exists that would provide the same level of valid data to compare across ammo?

Note: There exists all kinds of anecdotal you tube observations, but these don't rise to the level of anything valid or reliable.
The FBI protocol is a good option. While it doesn't simulate a human body, it does put the bullet through a variety of different materials, which gives a broader view of its performance.

FBI Ammunition Protocol

I'm not saying to not consider gel tests at all. My concern is with the number of tests posted online where only the denim test is performed. Most of the ammo types used by police today have gone through a more thorough battery of tests; the danger is choosing something oddball and relying exclusively on one or two gel tests to decide that it's good.
 

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I think that too much thought is being put into different types of ammunition. I think that a .22 round will kill somebody just as fast as a round from a .45 if it is in the right spot and maybe quicker because a .22 round tumbles around and winds up in another part of the body.
IF is the operative term. You have less choices of where to place your shots if the round is critically dependent on exact shot placement. 22s also bury under the skin, make all kinds of weird twists and turns and exit the body, having accomplished nothing in the way of stoping the attack. I have seen that several times. Critical shot placement also begs the question of will the BG stand there and let me take careful aim at his orbital socket to insure I get an effective shot.

... That is the same reason why I don't look at wound track size as being as big of a factor as the amount of penetration. I think that the gel shows if one round enters 12" and another enters 16" that one will enter more than the other as long as it isn't deflected by something. That is where the solid bullet has the advantage over the hollow point or lighter round. If a bad guy is behind glass or wall board then you want a bullet that will go straight through the glass or wall board. That brings me to the solid copper round that penetrates the right amount whether or not it leaves a big wound track it should penetrate enough without going clear through the house and hitting the neighbors.
In my 60+ years of shooting I've never seen a bullet that penetrates the right amount. In my experience, they either stop in the target or they don't. For the LEO, barrier penetration is a valid consideration. For me, it isn't. I may still use a bonded JHP, but usually I do so knowing full well that some of these loads are just a step below AP rounds.

Penetration is the real issue. Any round capable of reaching vital organs and causing rapid blood loss (which is the second best way to stop a human) is capable of penetrating the average house and exiting. You need enough to penetrate the BG, but not enough to make holes in the neighbors. In my experience, the best way around that issue is use a bullet that won't exit the BG and hit him with every shot. That is why I avoid hardball like the plague, and am waiting for any data on new designs like LeHigh's Extreme Defender. The Extreme Penetrator is just that.

Just an aside. A great many soldiers were shot with 9mm hardball in WWII (a great penetrator from German weapons). Despite the spotty abilities of the medical system, a lot of those guys survived. My father in law was living proof of that truth.
 
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