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Wound Ballistics Myths

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Here's an interesting excerpt from the IWBA , International Wound Ballistics Assoc.
THE IWBA, Where the Wound Ballistics Facts Are
Gus Cotey, Jr.

Firearms users today have more access to technical data than ever before. Sophisticated trajectory and down range velocity tables, ballistic software, bullet velocity measuring chronographs, highly detailed ammunition hand loading data, and even millisecond accurate fast-draw timers are within the realm of acquisition by shooters of average means. The study of firearms has truly entered the information age. Unfortunately, not all of the information available about the effects of firearms is valid.

Wound ballistics, the scientific study of the behavior of projectiles in the living tissues of animals and humans, has been plagued by more than its share of misinformation during the last several decades. Wound ballistics misinformation has had numerous deleterious effects upon society including oppressive and counterproductive firearms legislation, decreased law enforcement effectiveness, and even the improper treatment of gunshot injuries.

Sources of erroneous wound ballistics information are wide and varied, and unfortunately, often prestigious. Much misinformation has been promulgated by government testing facilities, notables in the medical field, police administrators, politicians, ammunition manufacturers, and various gunwriters. What is needed to clear the air and, ultimately, the literature of wound ballistics misinformation is a non-partisan organization solely devoted to the critical, scientific study of all aspects wound ballistics. Such an organization has arrived. It's called the International Wound Ballistics Association (IWBA).

The IWBA's journal, Wound Ballistics Review, is a splendid publication that boasts no peers in providing readers with the finest and most accurate wound ballistics information available. The focus of the articles contained therein is varied and includes such topics as defensive handgun ammunition selection, bullet testing protocols, the dynamics of projectile/tissue interaction, forensic investigation, analysis of historical events (e.g.,the JFK assassination), and wound ballistics literature reviews.

Before further discussing the IWBA, let's look at some common wound ballistics myths that have become reinforced by repeated citation in books, movies, newscasts, and even by members of the shooting community (including somegun writers).


MYTH #1: Human assailants and large animals are knocked down by the force of bullet impact when certain calibers featuring heavy, large diameter bullets are employed.

FACT #1: This is the classical and most enduring ballistic myth. Observers often mistake a started reaction or a sudden involuntary spasm for a target animal being pushed back. However, a firearm's projectile cannot give its target a greater push than the shooter receives from the weapon's recoil (assuming that the gun has no propellant gas redirecting, recoil reducing features as in the case of recoilless rifles, etc.). Assuming that a bullet does not exit the target and that the target is stationary and suspended from a long cord, the speed a bullet imparts upon the target can be calculated by the formula: mv = (m + M)V, where: m = bullet mass, M = target mass, v = bullet impact velocity, V = the velocity of the target with bullet embedded in it. For practical purposes, we can use the weights of the bullet and target in place of mass, so long as both are expressed in the same units, in this case pounds. To convert a weight in grains to pounds, divide by 7000.

A 1-ounce (437.5 grain or .0625 pound) 12 gauge shotgun slug at 1500 feet per second (f/s) could only make a 180-pound target move at .52 f/s. Considering that an average man walks at about 6 f/s, one can see that where small arms employed against humans and large animals are concerned, "knockdown" is a non-existent event. Plugging in the bullet weight and velocity figures of typical service pistol loads into the equation makes this whole"knock down" business seem even more absurd.

MYTH #2: Bullets from modern assault rifles and their semiautomatic civilian look-alikes are vastly faster and more powerful than bullets from other small arms, and capable of heretofore unheard of horrendously extensive wounding effects.

FACT #2: This modern-day urban myth is patently false. Assault rifle ammunition by definition has a power level that is in between that of pistol ammunitionand full power battle rifle ammunition (e.g., .30/06, 7.62x51 NATO). Furthermore, military issue ammunition for these guns is of full metal jacket configuration. Such bullets are generally less disruptive than expanding sporting bullets.

Russian and Chinese 7.62x39 Ball ammunition for the AK-47 features full jacketed steel-cored, pointed boat-tail bullets that generally exhibit no deformation and minimal yaw for about 10 inches of soft tissue penetration, after which significant yaw generally commences. These bullets frequently are able to penetrate the torso with no more tissue disruption than low speed non-deforming .30 to .32 caliber pistol bullets. When loaded with expanding hunting bullets, the 7.62x39 round is considered only marginally adequate for deer at short to medium ranges, and is somewhat less powerful than the popular .30-30 Winchester which was developed in the 1890's.

The 55 grain full jacketed, lead alloy cored M193 bullet loaded in the 5.56x45 (.223 Remington) Ball cartridges used in the M-16 in Vietnam is generally more disruptive at close range than the Russian AK-47 bullet because it yaws after an average of only 4 inches and fragments. However, this bullet may penetrate over 7.5 inches before any significant yaw and fragmentation takes place. When traveling through soft tissue point forward, the full jacketed M-16 bullet exhibits about the same tissue disruption as a low velocity, non-deforming .22 rimfire bullet. With expanding sporting bullets, the .223 is not considered an adequate general purpose deer cartridge and most game departments forbid its use on deer on the grounds that it is not disruptive enough for consistent results. For sporting use when loaded with expanding bullets, the .223 is viewed primarily as a good "varmint"round for pest animals up to the size of coyotes. However, there are several other common non-military .22 caliber centerfire pest cartridges such as the .22-250 and .220 Swift whose performances greatly exceed that of the .223.

MYTH #3: Bullet wounds are so excruciatingly painful that most assailants are put out of action by this sensation alone.

FACT #3: Most people who have survived being shot report little if any pain upon receiving their wounds. In fact many gunshot victims don't even realize they've been wounded until they actually see their injuries.

MYTH #4: Human assailants are inherently more fragile and require less damage to become incapacitated than game animals of similar size.

FACT #4: Some human gunshot victims are easily put out of commission by minor wounds due to their being timid or having preconceived notions of how to behave when shot. However, a determined human adversary is inherently no easier to incapacitate by gunfire than a jaguar, wild boar, cougar, black bear, or other game animal in the same weight class.

The various tissues of humans and the analogous tissues of other similar sized mammals are virtually identical with respect penetrating projectile interaction. For example, a bullet that will penetrate 12 inches of hog muscle would penetrate a virtually identical amount of human muscle.

For both game animals and humans, the only proven physiological mechanisms for incapacitation from gunshot wounds are: (A) blood loss from the bullet hole(s) depriving the brain of oxygen, and (B) disruption of brain or upper spinal cord. Incapacitation from central nervous system disruption tends to be nearly instantaneous, while incapacitation resulting solely from blood loss tends to be more or less gradual. A man shot in the heart may engage in voluntary activity for over 10 seconds. This really should not be surprising in view of the fact that deer, bear, and other large game frequently run more than 50 yards after their hearts have been disrupted by gunfire.

MYTH #5: It should only take 1 or 2 shots in a vital area with any seriously powerful firearm loaded with modern ammunition to suddenly incapacitate an armed adversary. Any more shots fired is evidence of excessive use of force.

FACT #5: To anyone who understands FACTS #1, #3, and #4 it should be obvious that no firearm can be always counted upon to stop a determined human adversary with only 1 or 2 shots, however well placed. There are documented cases on record of people who withstood several 12 Gauge 00 Buckshot loads and other cases where people withstood more than 25 pistol shots before collapsing. There are even cases where people failed to immediately fall after receiving penetrating brain injuries from bullets and other missiles.

Those searching for a succinct and practical justification for personal defense firearms with rapid fire capabilities and high magazine capacities, or for the use of handgun ammunition featuring state of the art expanding bullets have one with FACT #5 (with FACTS #1, #3, and #4 adding further clarification).


The wound ballistics myths just discussed represent the tip of the iceberg insofar as the misinformation associated with this deadly serious topic is concerned. Typical gun periodicals often contain informative articles intermingled with technically inaccurate ones. Also, many gun writers are merely sales reps for bullet/ammunition makers and their seemingly objective articles are nothing more than advertisements masked as technical evaluations. Misinformation is unfortunately also quite common in the medical literature, as the virus of political correctness erodes the integrity of once scientifically sound professional journals. Needless to say, the general news media are, to put it too kindly, less than reliable when it come to discussing theeffects of firearms.

As stated before, The IWBA's journal, Wound Ballistics Review is the premier periodical on its namesake topic. Articles submitted to Wound Ballistics Review undergo strict peer review prior to publication to insure that what is contained therein is valid and in accordance to physical laws. For performing this peer review, IWBA has at its disposal surgeons, forensic pathologists, criminalists, weapons consultants, and even an honest-to-goodness rocket scientist. This peer review process is what the editorial staffs of all technical publications of consequence should do, but often neglect to do, with manuscripts submitted to them.

Who can benefit from reading Wound Ballistics Review? Well, for starters how about: defensively armed citizens, police officers, police administrators, historians, lawmakers, defense attorneys, prosecuting attorneys, judges, gun buffs, surgeons, forensic pathologists, weapons designers, news reporters, editors, ammunition manufacturers, military personnel, and defense analysts. Of course, firearms rights activists, who must constantly swim upstream against a tidal wave of ballistics ignorance, will find Wound Ballistics Review a most valuable resource.
1 - 20 of 22 Posts

· Premium Member
25,596 Posts
Hollywood must take the blame fair and square for almost all the supposed myths!!

Thx KY - interesting read. :smile:

· Registered
863 Posts
I argue myth #1 with my partner who is a retired Detective, all of the time.
No matter what evidence I show him, he truly believes a .45acp will actually knock someone down. Because "he has seen it happen".
Now I have a math formula to boggle his mind with. Bwahahaha!!!

· Super Moderator
19,364 Posts
What? Ya mena Dirty Harry can't really blow people off their feet!??! I am truely shocked!!

· Registered
118 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I found the subscription info for the IWBA as follows:

Wound Ballistics Review is available to both IWBA members and non-member subscribers. It is published semiannually and the subscription price entitles one to 4 issues. Those wishing to be subscribers only should send a letter so stating. Included therein should be their name, address, city, state, zip, country, telephone number, and check. Subscription dues are $40 for USA addresses, $48 for Canadian/Mexican addresses, and $58 for other foreign addresses.

Mail To:

PO Box 701
El Segundo, CA 90245-0701

Those wishing to become IWBA Members (along with their subscription) and meeting membership qualification criteria should write to the above address stating that they wish to become members, and include the same information and check amounts previously stated. Also included should be documentation attesting that the individual is one of the following:

1) a) A prior IWBA member b) A full-time law enforcement officer c) A member in good standing of any of the following organizations:
Association of Firearms and Toolmarks Examiners
American Academy of Forensic Sciences
American College of Emergency Physicians
American College of Surgeons
Soci‚t‚ Fran‡aise Ballistique L‚sionelle

2) A person who has contributed to the body of wound ballistics knowledge (either by adding scholarship or disseminating valid information) and submits evidence in support thereof, in addition to dues and other required information.

3) A person interested in learning wound ballistics who does not meet the above criteria may apply for membership by submitting a letter of application stating his/her reasons for wishing to join and include two letters from IWBA members or persons qualified to be such under Section 1 above. Acceptance by the IWBA Membership Committee and payment of the dues will confer membership.

The IWBA is a unique organization characterized by impeccable integrity and a devotion to intellectual excellence. There is only one possible drawback to prolonged exposure to IWBA literature; a slight queasiness when reading about bullet performance from the usual sources.

· Registered
740 Posts
Thanks Kentucky. That's a very informative read. Makes James Bond look kinda silly doesn't it.

· Premium Member
26,492 Posts
Good article, and helps to put away the movie myth. As to the "pink mist", the only "small arm" that might come close is the 50 Cal. (Now someone will bring up the 40mm HE. :silly: )

· Registered
112 Posts
I think the study was a little flawed. It should have taken into account whether the victim was a Good or Bad guy. Every one knows a bad guy will be down in one shot and knocked off his feet, while for some undocumented reason the good guy has the amazing ability to withstand major damage and if on the unlikely event he dies he will gracefully fall to the ground in as dramatic a way as possible.

· Super Moderator
5,182 Posts
A ran a call once that highlights the ability of an excited subject to keep moving after taking a mortal wound.

We were dispatched with the police for one shot in front of a local apartment dwelling in a less than desireable area of town. The first arriving PD units found nothing initially, but K9 located a blood trail a short distance away. At the end of the blood trail, some 50 yards away in the foyer of another building was the victim.

He was in cardiac arrest, and aggressive resuscitation efforts failed. He was a solidly built male in his mid 20s.

Postmortem examination revealed that the round was a .25 FMJ. It entered the left anterior chest, passed through the lung, and struck a posterior rib. It then reversed course and passed through the left ventricle of the heart.

Undeniably, a mortal wound. The left ventricle was badly damaged, and heart's output was severely compromised. The victim was still able to run that distance, climb 6-7 steps and open the door of the building before collapsing.


· Registered
3 Posts
I agree that 1 round will knock someone down on only rare occasions. But I do know of one Viet Nam vet who personally was knocked back severt feet, tumbling and to the ground by 1 AK round.

Before I get flamed, I realize that a sample size of 1 is insufficient to establish a trend or general/overall pattern. I am just saying it can happen, but dont count on it. I know many more vets who took rounds, continued to engage the enemy and only later realized they were wounded. And these were all first hand accounts, not someone told me that someone......

Just my 2 cents worth

· Administrator
50,192 Posts
Great Thread! This is interesting.

An interesting though somewhat unrelated fact is that a classic Inuit technique for taking full grown moose is to "take them out" while they are in the process of swimming across a body of water.

They paddle alongside the swimming moose & "instantly turn them into food" with a single close head shot from a .22 rim~fire handgun.
The little short barreled Stainless S&W .22 "kit gun" revolver is a favored handgun for the task.
Years ago they even used the .22 Short.

For defensive shooting a well placed "head shot" is hard to beat for instantly putting a stop to a deadly threat.

1 - 20 of 22 Posts
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