Google+

GrantCunningham.com

© 2014 Grant Cunningham Click to email me!

Would you use a .22 for self defense?


One of the interesting things to come out of Greg Ellifritz's study of ammunition effectiveness was how well the .22 Long Rifle worked - or, at least, appeared to work. By some measures, it performed better than the vaunted .45 ACP! There is a small but dedicated group of people out there who seized upon this data as proof that the .22 is in fact the most deadly cartridge ever made by man. After all, they insist, the figures don’t lie!

This is what's known as anomalous data: data which doesn't fit the expected distribution. How, then, do we explain it?

Ellifritz took this on in a recent blog post, and it's worth reading to understand all of the variables which go into something as complex as bullet performance - and why single numbers, as preferred by some researchers, are never enough to tell the whole story. Be sure to read the comments as well, as there are some very intelligent analyses being done by his readers too.

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

A different take on handgun stopping power.


An article by Greg Ellifritz, titled "
An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power", caused some waves a few weeks back. Like all such attempts at quantifying shooting incidents, it suffers from a lack of strictly filtered data and results in less adherence to statistical principles and methods than I would like (no confidence interval, for instance.)

I acknowledge that this is a problem with all shooting studies, simply because no two bullet paths are ever identical. I think it’s important to understand that one must be extremely careful about applying any such study in a prescriptive manner, and cognizant of the potential inaccuracies that are part and parcel of the kind of data being studied. That being said, I think Ellifritz gives us a much more realistic look at the topic than Marshall & Sanow ever did.

Even with my reservations, there much in his compilation that I think is interesting from a training standpoint (even if it might not be a completely reliable predictor.) Take, for instance, the number of people who failed to be incapacitated by shots fired. His figures for all calibers remain remarkably consistent, hovering around 13%, right down to the lowly .380 ACP. Below that, the numbers more than double but again remain surprisingly consistent.

The reason this is interesting is because today's training emphasizes engagement until the threat ceases activity. In the old days, when lots of people believed that certain calibers were magic wands, the common training was to shoot two rounds and assess the situation. This was aided and abetted by the bogus one-stop-shot percentages that were all the rage at the time (and continue to be in certain circles.)

Thankfully that changed as more and more people noticed that bad guys didn't always stop with the first round, and that the best course of action was to keep shooting until he did. That's the norm today: shoot until the threat ceases (though there are still some backwaters where the outdated techniques are still taught with gusto.)

If we’re going to shoot until the threat goes away, are there any calibers which won’t reliably achieve that goal? Not as many as you might think.

If his data is reliable it would tend to support my long-held view that there is a floor beneath which calibers are not terribly effective for self defense, and that the floor is probably lower than most gunnies will admit. I know more than one gunstore goon who sneers at the .380ACP, yet I've met people who've used it quite successfully. Ellifritz's article suggests that their successes were not unusual.

Those same people think I'm daft for loading my revolvers with "only" .38 +P rounds instead of the .357 Magnum, but I'm more than comfortable with my choice because I know it's based on a rational assessment of its performance over a long period of time.

One thing to keep in mind: a lack of incapacitation does not mean that the rounds failed their job! Even though not incapacitated, the bad guys may have changed their minds and stopped their activity without being physiologically forced to do so. That's just one of the problems with blindly applying data from these kinds of studies, because the lesser calibers might in fact be more useful than this would suggest. Still, it is a different way of looking at the issue.

Bottom line: pick your gun based on your ability to use it efficiently, practice frequently and realistically with it, and you'll be far more prepared than the average gunshow denizen who loudly proclaims that all good self defense calibers must begin with '.4'.

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Feedback from the Stopping Power series.


I continue to get email from last year's
"Self defense, stopping power, and caliber" series. It remains the second-most visited page on the site, behind only my article on lubrication, and appears to be well received by the majority of readers. Thank you!

As you might imagine, such popularity generates feedback, and some questions pop up more than once. While not exactly a FAQ, here are some of the common emails I've received.

Email: You didn't cover the difference between crush and temporary cavities, which I think is very important.
My answer: No, I didn't - because I don't consider it critical to the discussion. You see, I really don't care what the wounding mechanism is, as long as one exists. Going back to the article, as long as the bullet a) reaches something that the body finds immediately important, and b) does rapid and significant damage to that thing when it arrives, then I'm really unconcerned about how it actually does so.


Email: Can you comment on ammo from [a smaller maker], whose stuff is just as good but doesn't waste money on advertising?
My answer: In general, I recommend that one avoid "boutique ammunition." The majority (if not all) of such ammo purveyors are simply loading bullets made by someone else, but without the knowledge of how to make those bullets perform their best. Why should I risk unknown quality control to get a product that, at best, can only be as good as what I can get from a producer that has actual design and test budgets? My advice is to stick with known quantities: Winchester, Speer, Federal, Remington.


Email: What's your opinion of the book "Handgun Stopping Power" (aka "Street Stoppers", aka 'Marshall & Sanow')?
My answer: There are a number of solid, critical analyses of their work online; I suggest that you read some of them, as the problems with their "research" are both serious and numerous. In case I was too subtle in the articles, I consider stopping power ratings in general to be complete hogwash, and theirs are particularly so.

You'd be further ahead to take the money you would have spent on their book, and practice until you can shoot to a high standard of accuracy under stress. Couple that with a quality hollowpoint from a major manufacturer, and you'll be much better prepared than any ten people who swear by their scribblings.

(This should not be construed to mean that I am a follower of their chief antagonist, Dr. Martin Fackler, either. He concocted his ratings from a different sort of nonsense than Marshall & Sanow, and came to different conclusions - which were just as useless. Again, there is criticism of his work that can be found on the 'net, if one is so inclined.)


Email: Is there any reliable source of information on bullet performance?
My answer: Because of the huge number of variables in any shooting, and the relatively low number of incidents, the idea of hard statistical data is meaningless. What we're left with is anecdotal evidence which, while not valid in a scientific sense, does give us some rough feeling for what is and is not working. That's the best we can do under the circumstances.

One of the more prolific collectors of such information is Massad Ayoob. He is in a unique position: since he travels all over the country both as a trainer and an expert witness, he's thrown into contact with large numbers of police trainers and shooting survivors. He elicits their opinions of their issue ammunition, based on shootings in their departments. He gets some great feedback, which he doesn't try to disguise or characterize as anything other than raw opinion from people who have actual results to talk about.

If you want to hear some of Ayoob's findings direct from the man himself, listen to
this episode of the ProArms podcast.

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

The stopping power series

I've added a link to my "Stopping Power" series to the Library. I have no idea why I didn't think of doing so earlier!

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Illustrating the concept


A reader sent me
this link to an old Richard Davis "Second Chance" video. The video has Davis shooting a fellow - who is wearing one of Davis' vests, of course - with a .308 rifle and himself with a .44 magnum revolver. The reader's comment was "if this doesn't show an energy dump, I don't know what it shows."

I agree. With the second part of the statement, at least. Going back to our
"Stopping power" series, as I pointed out the term "energy dump" is nonsensical - energy isn't "dumped", it is used to do work.

What is the work in this case?

First, I can guarantee that the bullet itself was grossly deformed in its contact with the vest material. It takes energy to deform the bullet, and that energy only comes from one place: the bullet itself.

Second, there is a huge amount of work being done by that slug. It is trying to part and sever the fibers in the vest material, which are quite tough and designed to resist such force. The bullet does manage to defeat some of the fibers - which is why it's buried between the layers of cloth - but the energy required to do that job, again and again (there are many layers in a vest) rapidly depletes the bullet's stored energy. The result is that all of the energy is used up doing the work of penetrating the vest.

Again, the bullet's energy wasn't "dumped" - it was used. Understand the difference, and terminal ballistics won't seem so mysterious.

(Notice also the second myth busted in the video: that a bullet has enough energy to knock a man down. As you can see, even full-power .308 NATO, at near contact distance, isn't sufficient to knock over a man standing on one foot. Again, there is nothing mysterious at work - simply basic physics.)

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 9

(For convenience, you can access all the installments at this link.)

Stick with what works

You've all heard of the "Gun of the Week" club, right? That's the term used to describe an "enthusiast", the guy (gals are too smart to engage in such nonsense) who carries or competes with a different gun every time he goes out. (Closely related is the "Holster of the Week" club. I'll post an amusing story about that, soon.)

There is also the "Bullet of the Week" club. Some folks read the gun magazines assiduously, loading up with the latest and greatest "stopper" from the current issue. The next issue (or possibly a competing magazine) tells them about yet another new bullet, and off to their gunstore’s ammo shelves they go!

There are problems with this approach. Aside from the fact that one is unlikely to see any major performance differences between modern designs from major makers, there is a reliability issue. If you're shooting an autoloader (an affliction which elicits my sincere sympathies), you need to fire a minimum number of rounds - some say as many as 200 - of your chosen ammunition to ensure reliability. That's a lot of ammunition to buy and shoot every time you change loads!

Even with a revolver, you should shoot a some of that ammo to ensure ignition reliability in your gun, especially if you've had action work performed.

The other issue is with the sights on your gun. Fixed sights, as featured on both revolvers and autos, will not shoot all ammunition to the same point of aim, necessitating on-the-fly windage or elevation corrections. Trying to remember whether this week's ammunition choice shoots up or down, right or left, relative to the sights is hard enough. Imagine trying to do that with someone lobbing rounds into your personal airspace!

If you have fixed sights, you should regulate them to match the load you'll be using - then use that load, and only that load, for "serious" use in that gun. If for some reason you change the standard load for that gun, have the sights adjusted to shoot to point-of-aim for that load.

That's why I say "stick with what works." Pick a decent load that proves itself to be reliable in your gun, have the sights regulated properly, and just use it. Constantly switching between different bullets gains you nothing, and may in fact cost you in a dynamic self-defense incident. Pick one load, practice with it, and use only that bullet in that particular gun.

I go even further - I've standardized on one load for all my .38/.357 guns, and I've regulated all of them to shoot that load. That way, I don't have to maintain a huge stock of ammunition to fit a bunch of different guns.

I think this finally does it for the "Self defense, stopping power, and caliber" series. I'm just about "talked out"! I hope that it has given you some insight into the task of selecting a gun/cartridge for your self defense needs.

Stay safe, make sensible choices, and practice. It's all you can do - but, as it happens, all you can do is enough!

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 8


(For convenience, you can access all the installments
at this link.)

"So, smarty pants - what caliber should I get?"

I receive many emails asking, in essence, what the "best" self-defense caliber might be. (Those emails, in fact, have served as the motivation behind this series.) The correspondents are probably expecting sage advice, the wisdom of years, a sort of Ballistic Oracle. What they get is a non-committal "it depends!"

If you take nothing else from this series, take this: there is no such thing as "best" - there is only "suitability for purpose."

Why is that? As we learned in the first parts, there is a pretty large envelope - caliber, weight, and velocity - of performance criteria that have shown themselves to work well. Thus, any cartridge you select within that envelope is likely to do the job, as long as you do yours.

That's the most important part: that the gun in question enables you to do your job. It is the first place you should start. You need to be honest with yourself, accurately assess what you can and cannot handle. Remember that a self-defense scenario often will call for multiple, rapid, precisely-placed shots. Can you do that with the guns that you're considering?
Really? Be honest with yourself!

I see many people who are talked into a gun that is touted as a "better stopper", but who are unable to handle it to the standards given above. Most of this is technique, and technique can be learned, but everyone has some upper limit. Remember: only accurate hits count, and you should strive to maximize your hit potential. As we've explored, power is irrelevant if it doesn't get to something important!

Once you've passed that hurdle, the choices almost make themselves. In any given cartridge, if you pick a hollowpoint load in the middle of the caliber's normal weight range, you'll generally have most of what you need. There are exceptions, of course: at the lowest ends of the energy spectrum (say, standard .38 Specials) penetration becomes an issue, so you should tend to the heavier rounds. At the other end (the heavy magnums), the more powerful loads often need lighter bullets to limit penetration and enhance expansion.

For everything else, stay away from the lightest and heaviest bullets, pick a decent hollowpoint, and you'll most likely be just fine.

The most important part of this whole selection process is to practice with the load that you've chosen. If the cartridge/gun combination is "too much" for you to do so, that's a sign that you need to pick something else. You need to practice with your safety/rescue equipment, and if you can't or don't want to, then you will be less prepared to face a deadly encounter. The old trick of practicing with Specials while carrying Magnums on the street has been thoroughly discredited, because it doesn't allow the user to get used to the dramatic difference in handling between the two.

(This isn't to say that you have to do all your training this way; I do a lot of work with light loads when I'm diagnosing a trigger control issue, or to help develop a specific skill. When I've got them down, though, I switch to my carry load and train extensively with that.)

So, what do I carry? Most of the time, I load up the trusted and proven .38 Special +P 158 grain all lead semi-wadcutter hollowpoint. I've spoken with many people who have actually used this load against an adversary, and to a person they were all very satisfied with the ballistic effect. Massad Ayoob tells me that his research showed police agencies who switched from that load to hot autoloading cartridges did so not to get "better" bullets, but to get "more bullets." I'm confident in it's abilities, and in my ability to handle the cartridge from any gun under any conditions.

This is a conscious tradeoff. For instance, I really like the .44 Special. It's a great round, but in a concealable gun I just don't handle it as well as other calibers. In fact, a hot .357 Magnum from a Ruger SP101 is easier for me to control than a .44 Special from a small gun, and I consider the Magnum to be too much for delivering multiple, rapid, combat-accurate hits on target. I like the .357 too, but I have to admit to myself that if I want to shoot as efficiently as possible, it’s not the wise choice.

I've picked the most effective round that falls within my personal limitations and practice with it extensively. I think that is the most rational way to approach this whole topic!

Next time, we'll explore some less obvious considerations when picking your "ideal" self defense cartridge.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Series index: "Self defense, stopping power, and caliber"

Here's the whole series for your perusal!

Part 1: Introducing the Twin Tasks.
Part 2: If it doesn't get somewhere, it can't do something.
Part 3: Once it gets there, it has to do work.
Part 4: The bullet is more important than the caliber.
Part 5: More energy can be a good thing - as long as it actually does something useful.
Part 6: What would I want with a reputation?
Part 7: There Is No Such Thing as a Magic Bullet.
Part 8: "So, smarty pants - what gun should I get?"
Part 9: Stick with what works.
Comments

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 7


(For convenience, you can access all the installments
at this link.)

There Is No Such Thing as a Magic Bullet

What does that mean, you ask?

One of the last bastions of the snake oil salesman is in the field of ammunition promotion. Claims that would make Professor Harold Hill blush are the norm, and are repeated in gunstores, shooting ranges, and deer camps across the country. They sometimes even make their way into magazines and the internet - though the latter's instant exchange of information has helped to quell the worst of the hyperbole.

Still, many hold on to their belief in "magic bullets" hoping that there really exists something that will transform their .25ACP into an elephant killer. (I exaggerate, of course, but one ammo maker used to claim that their product for the little .25 had the same "one shot stop" percentage as a .45. That, my friends, is a true belief in magic.)

Like many fables, the legend of the Magic Bullet has its roots in reality. As Arthur C. Clarke said, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." In the bullet world, that advanced technology is the hollowpoint bullet.

The hollowpoint, as we've learned, is a good mechanism to control the penetration and wound profile of any given cartridge. Sometimes, it can work what seems like a miracle - transforming an otherwise unremarkable cartridge into a respectable "stopper."

One of the best examples of this is the .30 M1 Carbine cartridge. Many servicemen had experience with the little Carbine in World War II and Korea, and they either loved it or hated it. Those that hated it often complained about a lack of "stopping power" - enemies who were hit often didn't go down with alacrity. (Some even claimed that the rounds "bounced off" the heavy wool coats worn by the opposition. That wasn't true, and was easily shown as such, but when someone is running toward you screaming his head off a lack of convincing ballistic effect makes the distinction unimportant.)

The .30 Carbine, as it turns out, is a penetrator. Its sleek bullet usually went straight through the target, making a quick-closing wound and doing little damage along the way. (Sound familiar?) After the war, one of the ammo makers got the bright idea of stuffing a semi-jacketed hollowpoint into the casing. When they did that, the entire complexion of the carbine changed.

The penetration was now more controlled, and the expanded bullet had a much larger frontal area that did more damage along its path. So changed was the round that Jim Cirillo, the famous member of the New York Stakeout Squad, proclaimed it one of the two most effective weapons in their entire arsenal - the other being the formidable 12 gauge shotgun. High praise indeed!

He wasn't the only one who made note of the "enhanced" Carbine. The late Gene Wolburg, wound ballistics expert and one of the most knowledgeable people in the field, once said that his home defense weapon of choice was the M1 Carbine loaded with that semi-jacketed hollowpoint.

It may have seemed like magic to the servicemen who had bad experiences with the round, but the effect of the hollowpoint loading was simple physics. It did its job better - it just happened to be a lot better.

A "magic bullet", in contrast, appears to violate the laws of physics, or so skews its sales copy that you think it does. For instance, magic bullet purveyors play up the "energy" of their load, to the exclusion of everything else.

Energy is the result of multiplying the mass of the projectile by the square of it's velocity. Without boring you with the math, what that means is that a small change in velocity makes a big change in the energy of the projectile. In other words, if you drop the projectile weight you can up the velocity, which will make a big increase in energy figures. Sounds great, right?

As we've already studied, energy isn't everything. A light projectile might be moving very quickly, but when it contacts solid matter it loses velocity quickly. That translates into shallow wounds. (Remember the last installment, where we looked at the .357 Magnum? Same thing, only worse.) A projectile needs weight as well as velocity in order to penetrate well, and if you sacrifice enough weight for more speed, you'll fail at the First Task: reaching something important.

Exotic bullets that claim to do something others can't should set off your B.S. detector. Any cartridge that proclaims a "massive energy dump" as the wounding mechanism or pushes velocity over everything else is probably vying for a magic bullet award. Personally, I'm not going to trust my life to that kind of ammo!

What I'm getting at (and have been for this entire series) is that there is nothing mysterious, nothing magical about the way a bullet works. It has to get to something important, and it has to do rapid and significant damage when it gets there. That's it. Any claims that seem to skate around the topic should be looked at with great skepticism, for there is truly no such thing as a "magic bullet."

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->


-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 6


(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

"What would I want with a reputation? That's a good way to get yourself killed!" - Jason McCullough, "Support Your Local Sheriff" (my favorite movie of all time!)

What about "reputation"? Some cartridges or loadings have reputations for better effectiveness than others. Sometimes that's valid, but other times it may not be.

Let's take the mighty .357 Magnum, one of my favorite cartridges. The 125 grain semi-jacketed hollowpoint loads have the reputation of being superbly effective; some believe that they are the "best" manstoppers ever made. I've talked with people who have actually used them in real shootings, and they were generally very happy with the performance.

But there are also instances of stupendous failures. For those who hold that energy is everything, this may come as a shock. How could all that power possibly fail? Simple - if it doesn't do both of the Twin Tasks!

Let's consider what happens with the 125 grain Magnum loads. Leaving the barrel at nearly 1500 feet per second, the bullet enters the target with a huge reserve of energy. As the hollowpoint fills with fluid and starts to expand it uses up some of that energy to grow dramatically in diameter. The increase in diameter means more resistance in the tissues, which uses more energy and further slows the bullet. Because the relatively light weight of the slug doesn't have great momentum, and thus not a lot of stored energy, it doesn't travel very far before it finally runs out of steam. The result can be a shallow wound - one which doesn't reach something the body finds important.

This is the "ugly secret" that proponents of the .357 125 grain JHP don't want to talk about. Shallow wound profiles with these "barn burner" loads are not unheard of, and occasionally prove to not be as effective as expected. As one noted trainer once told me, when they work they’re superb - but when they fail, they fail spectacularly!

Suppose you've decided that you'd prefer something a bit more predictable, but want to retain the performance level of the round - what’s the solution? Simply go to a slightly heavier bullet, one which carries a tad less velocity and a bit more momentum. Winchester, for instance, has the 145 grain Silvertip bullet, and Speer is now making a 135 grain Gold Dot Magnum load. Both are obviously designed to retain the Magnum's reputation as a fight-ender, but do so on a more consistent basis.

This is a good illustration of the tradeoffs involved in cartridge selection. Speed isn't everything; bullet size isn't everything; bullet weight isn't everything. It's a combination, a concert of all of those (plus good handling qualities as defined by the shooter) that make a round effective. One can't simply say "I've got a Magnum" or "I carry a .45" and smugly claim that one has the "perfect" self defense gun. While it may work, there is always the chance that it may not; handguns, after all, are underpowered things.

Through intelligent selection, you can dramatically improve the performance envelope of your chosen gun, regardless of the cartridge it shoots.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 5


(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

More energy can be a good thing - as long as it actually does something useful.

Last time we discussed the concept of the hollowpoint as a way to increase the frontal diameter of the bullet in the target. I also introduced the idea that it takes energy to expand the bullet, energy that is also needed to push the projectile into something that it needs to reach.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. If we want the bullet to expand, it doesn't happen by magic. Somewhere the energy has to be found to deform the metal used in the bullet, and that energy can only be found in the bullet's own movement. If there is too little to start with, there won't be enough to carry the bullet on its path.

If the cartridge has insufficient energy the expanding bullet will stop forward movement too rapidly, resulting in very shallow wounds that may or may not be effective. This tends to explain the lack of expanding bullets for the venerable .38 Special cartridge - there just isn't enough energy to drive a bullet deeply into the target
and expand it at the same time.

How do we get around this problem? Well, the first alternative is to simply switch to a cartridge with more energy. In the case of the .38, we could bump up to the .357 Magnum. The .357 certainly has enough energy! Of course, that energy reserve comes at a price: greatly increased recoil and muzzle blast, which reduce the shooter’s ability to deliver multiple combat-accurate shots.

The other alternative is to make a higher energy version of the cartridge we already have. This time-tested approach results in what's know as "+P" ammunition, which is the designation for a cartridge loaded beyond what is considered "normal" pressure. The idea is to increase the energy delivery of that cartridge to accomplish a specific task. Generally, it works pretty well!

You'll see criticisms on the internet of some +P loadings, usually centered on the idea that "it's not much of an increase in power." If you consider what we've explored in this series so far, you'll realize that it doesn't have to be a "lot" - it just has to be "enough"! If a cartridge at normal pressure can't quite deliver an expanding bullet to where it needs to, but a +P version does, then that is sufficient for the task at hand.

Remember: if the energy doesn't do something useful, then it is wasted from our perspective.

Get away from the idea that you need vast increases in power for defensive applications. You simply need
enough power to perform the Twin Tasks. Is it better to have a large reserve amount of energy on tap? That's a question that only you can answer, after being honest about your own abilities and needs. Everything comes at a price and needs to be considered relative to the goal at hand.

In the next installment we'll bring together the things we've discussed, and look at the tradeoffs you need to consider to pick your "ideal" self defense cartridge.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 4


(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

The bullet is more important than the caliber.

We know that our bullet needs to do damage to whatever important thing it manages to find. How, exactly, is that going to occur? It just so happens that most animal tissue (including that of the violent felon who has just attacked you) is remarkably elastic, and consequently difficult to damage. Most tissues have a tendency to "close up" around puncture wounds, in the same way that they close up after a hypodermic needle withdraws. If they didn't, every time our doctor gave us an injection we’d spring a leak!

The upshot (pardon the pun) of this is that our bullet needs to die-cut or crush the tissues in its path rather than sliding cleanly through. The reputation of the old .38 Special 158 grain round nose bullet as a "widow maker" was well deserved, as it often went in one side and out the other with very little blood loss. That smooth, aerodynamic profile travels through water-filled tissue about as cleanly as through air, for all the same reasons. It neatly parts that tissue in a way that facilitates immediate closure and minimal blood loss. In our self-defense scenario, that's what's known as "A Bad Thing."

In fact, round nose (or "ball") ammunition is an unremarkable performer in just about any caliber; "they all fall to hardball" is right up there with "the check is in the mail" for statements you should never believe, no matter how authoritatively (read: arrogantly) delivered.

If we can get a bullet to cut or crush a non-closing hole in the target, we stand a better chance of doing the kind of work necessary to cause that target to stop in its tracks.

The amount of disruption that a handgun bullet delivers to the target is dependent on its shape/construction and on the overall diameter (caliber.) A shape that encourages efficient travel through the target is to be avoided; a shape that is non-aerodynamic will generally produce the kind of result that we seek. All other things being equal, flat-faced bullets usually beat pointy bullets.

(Personally, I pay more attention to bullet construction than caliber. Hunting and shooting experience, plus a lot of research with those more knowledgeable in the field of wound ballistics, has convinced me that there is more variation in effectiveness within calibers than between them. In other words, you're more likely to see performance differences by changing your bullet type, rather than changing calibers. )

This isn't news to any old-timers out there! Hunters in bygone days were always told to use flat-pointed bullets over round-nosed varieties, because they delivered more "shock" to the quarry. That was their non-scientific way of explaining why the bullets obviously performed differently, and what they lacked in technical understanding was more than compensated by their acute observations.

Of course there just isn't a free lunch; those flat bullets don't usually work in autoloading actions, and they make speed reloading of a revolver more difficult. There is an answer: the expanding bullet. We can actually enhance the terminal results by using a bullet (usually a hollowpoint of some sort) that grows in diameter as it goes through the target.

A hollowpoint bullet works because, as it enters the target, it expands to a greater-than-caliber frontal diameter and assumes a very flat-faced shape. This means that the bullet can crush a much larger hole than normally possible for the caliber, ensuring the kind of target damage necessary to complete the task at hand.

There are, of course, issues in making these things perform as desired: first, the work of deforming the bullet takes energy. This energy can only be come from the bullet itself, which means there is that much less available to enable the bullet to continue its travel. Second, the resulting increase in drag from that wide face also uses energy at a tremendous rate, and thus also drastically limits penetration. Because of these factors, shallow wounds from hollowpoint bullets are not at all unheard of, both in hunting and in self defense.

The solution is to a) use a different cartridge that has enough energy to spare to begin with, or b) increase the energy of the existing cartridge. We'll tackle those issues next time!

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 3


(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

Once it gets there, it has to do work.

In today's installment, we're going to look at the second of the Twin Tasks:

2) The bullet has to do rapid and significant damage to that thing when it arrives.

It may not be self evident, but kinetic (moving) energy is either used or conserved (stored.) In the case of a bullet, it starts being used simply by fighting the friction caused by traveling through the air. Unless it encounters a target, the bullet will use all of its energy in flight and gravity will pull it to the ground. We're interested in using that energy for lawful purposes before it's wasted in the atmosphere!

I usually refer to the second Task as "doing work", because that's exactly what is expected of the bullet. From the perspective of the target, the kinetic energy in a bullet can only do one of two things: it can be used to do work, or it can be wasted beyond the target.

(There is no such thing as an "energy dump" in a target, no matter how many times you see that nonsensical term. The energy does some sort of work, whether doing damage to tissue or pushing the bullet through the air. The bullet may use up all of the energy available, and stop inside the target, but it doesn't "dump" anything. The energy in such an event is depleted in expansion/deformation and in forward movement, both of which are work. Whether or not the work performed was useful to the goal depends on what it encountered along the way, which brings us back to the First Task.)

As the bullet traverses the target, its energy is used to push it through material more dense than the air it previously encountered. The amount of energy used in this endeavor is dependent upon the shape of the bullet; the more streamlined the projectile, the smaller the frontal profile, the less energy is expended in pushing it through the target. Conversely, the "flatter" the bullet profile, the more energy is necessary to move it through.

Think of a rowboat paddle - easy to move through the water edge first, much harder face first. If the bullet expands in the target, some of the energy is used to deform the bullet itself, and the rest is used to push the much larger, flatter profile through the target. In some cases, it uses up all its energy trying to get through the target and never makes it out the other side. This is why, as we touched on in Part 2, penetration can be controlled through the use of an expanding bullet.

At some point, we hope that the bullet finds something that the body deems immediately necessary for function - and disrupts that functioning. That item could be structural (skeletal) - where disruption causes collapse; It could be electrical, where interruption of signals causes instantaneous nervous system malfunction; or it could be vascular (plumbing), where large leaks cause a loss of pressure that eventually results in unconsciousness.

Whichever system is compromised, the bullet needs to use some of its energy to do the necessary work of disruption. This is why I say that the bullet has to do rapid and significant damage to something when it arrives; if it gets there, but has so little energy left that it is incapable of inflicting necessary damage, then it is nearly as if it had not gotten there to begin with.

(This is not to suggest that the bullet's wound in such a case is benign or trivial! Remember, we have a task for that bullet to accomplish; if it doesn't do so in the necessary time frame, then it is useless to us. The classic example is the attacker shot with a .22 but still able to complete his assault. He might die of peritonitis a few days later, proving that the wound is not unimportant. However, it didn't complete our goal of stopping the criminal before he could harm an innocent, making it irrelevant to our situation. Keep the goal in mind!)

Now that we understand the Twin Tasks, we'll take a look at the mechanisms by which all this might be accomplished. Until next time!

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 2


(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

If it doesn't get somewhere, it can't do something.

OK, so we know about the Twin Tasks, the two things that a bullet has to do in order to stop an attacker:

1) It has to get to something the body finds immediately important, and
2) It has to do rapid and significant damage to that thing when it arrives.

Today we'll be taking a look at Task #1: getting to something important.

Let's start by pointing out that the user of the bullet must be capable of putting it on a course that will lead it to something important. If the cartridge in question presents too much of a challenge for the shooter to handle with the requisite accuracy, it doesn't make any difference how "good" the cartridge is! Since a single shot is unlikely to incapacitate an attacker, a shooter needs to be able to control their gun for multiple, combat-accurate shots.

This is only given lip service by trainers and enthusiasts; they'll repeat the mantra "a hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a .45", then in the same breath give some arbitrary limit on "acceptable" calibers for self defense. Folks, there are people in this world who do not wish to, or simply cannot, practice to become proficient with a "correct" caliber. When the time comes that they need the weapon, wouldn't it be better that they possess a bullet that they can send where it really needs to go? Of course!

Step One, then, is pick a cartridge that is within your ability to control for random strings of fire - two, three, four rounds at a time.

Once the bullet is in the air, it has to negotiate all obstacles to reach a vital organ of some sort. This requires that it get through any outer shell (clothing), past the skin (which is a lot tougher than you might believe), and alternating layers of bone and muscle. It has to have what's known as 'penetration'.

Penetration is dependent on several things: the weight of the bullet, the diameter (caliber), the velocity, and the shape. If we were to take two bullets of different weight, but of the same caliber and shape and traveling at the same velocity, the heavier one would penetrate further. We can do the same comparison for any of the factors, as long as the others remain the same. If we had two bullets of different shapes - a round nose and a wadcutter - with everything else the same, the more streamlined bullet (the round nose) would penetrate further. Simple, right?

When we look at expanding (softnose or hollowpoint) bullets, which increase their diameter at some point in the target, the situation changes. The increased frontal are of the expanded bullet acts like a parachute, slowing it more rapidly and reducing penetration. Sometimes penetration can be reduced so much that the bullet will not reach anything important, and we're back to that unreliable psychological incapacitation thing again.

Remember that too much penetration can be as bad as too little. Having a bullet that sails through the target without doing much work, or (worse) encounters another (possibly) innocent target beyond, is not a good thing. Hence it behooves us to have a bullet which demonstrates sufficient penetration, but not an excessive amount.

It's not uncommon to find a cartridge that, when loaded with streamlined, roundnosed bullets, goes through multiple targets - but when loaded with expanding bullets stops inside the desired one. As it turns out, this behavior has major benefits in terms of terminal effects, which we'll cover next time.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->


-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber


I've gotten a bunch of emails recently regarding the choice of an appropriate self-defense handgun caliber and/or bullet. Around this one topic swirls more misinformation - and outright inanity - than any other I can think of. And now, here's mine!

What follows is a layman's understanding, backed by research of available literature and years of hunting and shooting experience, of the practical mechanics of wound ballistics. It is not intended to be a complete and exhaustive study of the subject. Instead, I hope to give my readers - who are, in all likelihood, laypersons themselves - a solid base of information to help make good decisions when choosing self defense ammunition.

Let's start by understanding that in a self-defense scenario our goal is simply to cause the perpetrator of a crime to cease immediately his/her antisocial activities. That's it - we want the miscreant to quit doing whatever it was that caused us to draw our gun in the first place. The closer to "immediately" that this occurs, the better for all concerned.

There are two mechanisms by which this can be accomplished: psychological incapacitation and physical incapacitation.

The first - psychological incapacitation - is the least predictable of the two. Some people will stop and run when grazed by a well-thrown rock, others will soak up all manner of chemical, electrical, and physical deterrents without so much as flinching. Since it's all in the mind, and minds vary significantly (especially when intoxicated in some form), we cannot count on delivering a reliable jolt to a criminal's psyche. We must instead focus on doing enough physical damage to cause cessation of action through reduction of motor skills.

On this subject has been constructed all manner of measures, each attempting to quantify the unquantifiable: "One shot stops." "Knockout index." "Wound channel volume." There are more, and none of them ever seem to agree (at least most of the time) on what actually works.

Well, folks, hunters have known something for a very long time, and it has been proven in the field again and again: to reliably put the brakes on a living entity, a bullet must do what I call The
Twin Tasks.

1) It has to get to something the body finds immediately important, and
2) It has to do rapid and significant damage to that thing when it arrives.


That's it. Either, by itself, simply won't deliver the results we seek (at least, not in the physical sense.) If the projectile fails at either of these tasks, any success that occurs is in fact a product of psychological incapacitation, which we already know to be both unpredictable and unreliable.

Keep in mind that as the bullet traverses the target, it may repeat the Tasks; in other words, it may encounter more than one thing the body finds important. The more times that it does, and then completes the second Task, the faster the incapacitation is likely to occur. (Note that I didn't say "will", only "likely to". Handgun rounds are underpowered things, and with them nothing is ever certain.)

Within certain limits, it doesn't really matter what the caliber is or what the bullet is made of or how fast it travels, as long as it does
both of the Tasks. That's why there seems to be such a wide range of calibers, weights and velocities that have shown "good" results in self defense shootings, and why arguments about "stopping power" rage on the gun forums: there is, as the saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat.

Remember, as long as both Tasks are accomplished, the envelope of "how" they are is large enough to encompass a variety of approaches.

The reason that the "heavy and slow" and "light and fast" bullet camps exist is because, generally, their choices just happen do both of those Tasks on a fairly regular basis. Arguing about which is the "better" approach is really quite silly, because when they work it's because they did both Tasks, regardless of the actual mechanism; when they fail, it is simply because they didn't do one (or both) of the Tasks, again regardless of their physical attributes.

It's at this point that someone invariably chimes in "but my cousin is engaged to a girl whose brother-in-law heard about a guy who saw someone shot fifteen times with a 9mm, and the victim was still able to walk into a French restaurant, order a 5-course meal, eat, chat with the sommelier, and stiff the waiter before finally collapsing on the sidewalk while waiting for his cab! That's why I carry a .467 Loudenboomer Ultra Grande - if it hits them in the pinky the hydrostatic shock wave will knock them down!"

I'm exaggerating, you understand, but if you regularly haunt the gun forums you'll recognize that it isn't all that far off.

Yes, small caliber bullets fail. Guess what? Large caliber bullets fail, too. As someone once told me, "put on your big-boy pants and deal with it!"

A good friend gave me a first-hand account of a battle incident wherein a fellow absorbed several solid torso hits and was still able to jump from his vehicle and cross a road before finally collapsing.

The gun in question? A .50 caliber heavy machine gun. Yes, you read that correctly. Sometimes, folks, nothing works.

Our job is to choose those calibers and bullets which seem to do the Two Tasks fairly reliably, and prepare to deal with the times that it just isn't enough. With handgun rounds, those times are more common than the gunshop commandoes would have you believe.

In the next installment, we'll take a layman's look at the physics involved.

Click here to go to the next article --->

Or, you can access the series index
at this link.


-=[ Grant ]=-
Comments