Gunfighting | The Pelvic Girdle (Incapacitation vs. Immobilization)

January 28, 2017  
Categories: Musings

Dave Spaulding of Handgun Combatives has been a professor of hoplology since roughly the days of, oh, John Bernard “J.B.”Books (whose birthday tomorrow is!). He penned a short piece about pelvic girdle shots just a few days back and the damned thing took off across the internets, but unfortunately there was as much vitriol spewed by the Windex-poisoned malcontents as there was conversation engendered by serious students of gunfighting. We’ve shamelessly stolen it to bring to your attention. Read on and you’ll see what sparked things up.  ∼ Mad Duo

Grunts: engender

Saturday Screeds: The Pelvic Girdle (Incapacitation vs. Immobilization)

Dave Spaulding

Over the years, I have heard many stories relating to shooting someone in the pelvis. Some claim it’s the “ultimate” location to shoot a person in an effort to create incapacitation, to others it’s a serious mistake. Of course, these opinions are based on information received from other sources. Some come from eyewitnesses, others from medical professionals who see wounds after the fact.

The most “famous” pelvic shot/wound ever recorded probably belongs to western lawman, buffalo hunter, gunfighter and legend Bat Masterson.  In 1875 in Sweetwater, Texas, Masterson was involved in a shootout with U.S.Army Corporal Melvin King involving either hard feelings over a card game or the affections of a woman (historians go both ways on the issue). I know, I know – the shooting involved liquor, gambling and a woman, hard to believe those three would result in a fight, right?

Near midnight, Masterson left the Lady Gay Saloon accompanied by Mollie Brennan and walked to a nearby dance hall.  Masterson and Brennan sat down near the front door and began talking. Corporal King, intoxicated and angry over the night’s events (either losing at cards or at Brennan’s attention to Masterson), saw the two go into the dance hall and watched them through the window before he approached the locked door. King knocked and Masterson got up to answer it. As he did, King burst into the room with a drawn revolver and a string of profanity. While stories as to exactly what happened vary, somehow Brennan found herself between the two men when King fired (whether she was trying to protect Masterson or simply trying to get out of the way is unknown). The first shot narrowly missed her but struck Masterson in the abdomen and shattered his pelvis, taking him to the floor. King’s second shot hit Brennan in the chest and she crumpled to the floor. At this point, Masterson rose and fired the shot that killed King. Some say Bat Masterson walked with a cane the remainder of his life due to the severity of the pelvic wound while others say he merely used it as an excuse to keep an impact weapon with him at all times, a weapon he was known to use with great effectiveness!

It’s the bold sentence that is of great concern to those who question the pelvic shot.  I’ve talked to several people over the years who have either been involved or have been witness to armed conflict in which a pelvis shot was delivered, and all describe the victim of said wound going down but remaining in the fight. This being the case, one must ask themselves if incapacitation is the same as immobilization? Incapacitation means being unable to take action while immobilization means not being able to move; are they the same thing?


I’ve been studying handgun “stopping power” for decades now and have come to the conclusion that handguns are not impressive man stoppers regardless of caliber or bullet design. While we currently have THE BEST combative handgun ammo ever designed, all the logical person must do is hold a cartridge in their hand, consider its weight and size and compare it to a human body’s mass to understand why such a small, light projectile will likely have limited effect on the human organism quickly. Just hold a .45 caliber projectile in front of a human chest cavity and you’ll see it’s pretty small. In order to get any type of rapid result, it will have to hit a pretty important part of the body. The question is, is the pelvis “important”? Should it be a primary target?

In my classes, I use a simple target that highlights the upper chest cavity and head, a 6 x 14 inch rectangle that includes the center of the skull and the vital organs of the heart, aorta, major vessels and spinal column. Few dispute this area as “vital”. The head can be considered controversial since handgun rounds have been known to not penetrate the skull but I personally discount this. I have been on the scene twice when humans have been hit in the skull by a handgun round that did not penetrate and on both occasions, the person was knocked off their feet much like a batter hit in the head with a baseball.  I have received the same feedback from others. My concern with head shots is the lack of backstop to catch a missed round.  The center chest has the remainder of the torso to help slow/catch a round that does not hit the center chest while a round that misses the head goes over the shoulder. I counsel my students to use the head shot for close distances where they know they can hit or for times they can take a low posture and shoot upwards. 25 to 50 yard head shots? Up to you, I guess. You might be able to do it on the square range, but the pandemonium of a real gunfight, where non-hostiles might be in your battle space, is an entirely different thing. Consider carefully…

I believe the high chest and head is a much better “strike zone” for combative pistolcraft than the pelvic girdle. I do not emphasize it in my classes, but I also do not take to task those instructors that do. In the end, the region of the body you will shoot for is that which is available to you when you fire your shots! We will all take what is offered to us, but if there is a hierarchy of shot placement, the pelvic girdle would be ranked below the chest and head…and least in my mind.

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Read the original article in its entirety right here on the Handgun Combatives Blog.



You can find Handgun Combatives online here. Find Spaulding and read/watch more from him on Facebook, /HandgunCombatives/. Make sure to check out some of his drills and target suggestions here.

Happy birthday John Bernard Books, January 29, 1843 — January 29, 1901

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Mad Duo

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  1. Tim

    I did not see where caliber is discussed. I carry either a 45 ACP or 500 S&W and believe the pelvic girdle with either caliber to be the best at taking the fight out of a bad guy. I practice 2 quick shots directed at the belt buckle. Thought being with a large caliber weapon even a miss may well take out a leg, hip, genitals or spine. It also makes a vest a non-issue. If the assailant has any fight left a follow up head shot should be the final. It validates that your intent was to stop the assault not kill as in a center mass/heart shot. Of course with the 500 one near miss shot should suffice. I hope my theory is never tested.

  2. Thorn

    Depends on the type of threat you’re facing. If we’re going to talk anecdotes: plenty of people have been shot in the chest, often with (eventually) mortal wounds and remained in the fight long enough to cause plenty of damage.

    If someone is approaching with an edged weapon a pelvic shot- i.e. immobilization- might be a very useful tactic as it doesn’t rely on a CNS shot or blood-pressure drop.

  3. Derek

    Cowan has a great video about this. At a class he called the pelvis ‘the best worst place to shoot somebody’ Lots of wisdom in this article as well. Anatomy is such a huge and under addressed aspect to having a self-defense focus.

  4. strych9

    As to head shots, I think that depends on more factors than you can reasonably consider in the timeframe of a DGU.

    A friend of mine took a .22LR bullet to the dome, point blank just above his right temple. His immidiate response was “What the fuck!? Was that a fucking pellet gun!? You shot me in the head!!”.

    Having seen this happen my first thought was that he wasn’t hit. Somehow the bullet missed. He’d be dead, dying or at least down and out of he was shot lile that, right? Nope, he was as mad as a wet hornet and capable of some feats of athleticism that I credit to adrenaline.

    He ended up needing serious surgery, but the immediate wound that was inflicted wasn’t a life threatening one. The bullet hit him about 1/16th of an inch above the temple, passed through the first layer of skull, bounced off the second layer, headed North driving a furrow through his outer skull layer for about 1.25 inches and exited his head bound for parts unknown.

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