The Truth About “Stopping Power” – Anatomy First

stopping power myth
September 24, 2014  
Categories: Learnin'
Tags: COWAN!

“Stopping power.” How many times have you heard that ridiculous phrase? “You have to use a [insert caliber/breed/style] round if you want a one-stop shot!” Sure, science tells us that a fully oxygenated brain can keep the body moving for several seconds after the heart is destroyed, but what is science compared to conventional wisdom and urban myth? Today, COWAN! is going to discuss this nebulous, even insipid thing called stopping power and give you some insight into the truth behind it. As always, we welcome input (including disagreement) from those of you who are serious about the noble profession of arms. We know this is going to stir up a debate. Let’s strive for dialectic disputation. Mad Duo

Grunts: dialectic and disputation – you’re welcome.

Stopping Power Realities: Anatomy First and Ambulation After Death



Authors Note: This is long because it has to be.  As with some other topics, I felt it beneficial to be as specific as possible and cover all the major topics. The idea of “stopping power” is so pervasive in the firearms community that it has become laden with myths, misinformation, misconceptions and outright lies. Because of this, I felt like this article needed to be written.

None of the information contained herein is previously unknown or new. Much has been covered. Many arguments were put to bed (or should have been put to bed) by the FBI’s 1989 Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness Report. Regrettably, this information is only found when it is actually looked for. Sometimes, it’s much easier to take a trusted word or go with a fact that sounds reasonable without doing any due diligence to check it. Perhaps this is the sort of article that someone should write every few years or a few months in order to remove the myths and misinformation from the self-defense community.   In any event, I hope you guys enjoy it. If you learn one thing or correct one myth, it is worth the time.

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In order to measure, we must be able to quantify.

That’s the sentence that throws many suppositions, deductions and handpicked data for ‘this caliber over that’ right out the window when it comes to stopping power. I know going into this that I won’t change minds that refuse to change; those who hold an emotional argument or opinion are not often dissuaded by facts. So, just to get things out of the way, I’m going to put everyone on the same footing:   There is no definable scale, a system of measurement or reliable and impartial data to support the idea of stopping power. There are only opinions and subjective facts.

No gunfight has ever occurred under scientific control. No two gunfights have ever been or will ever be the same. We can measure the performance of firearms, the expansion of rounds in ballistic gel (which is a tissue substitute, not a body substitute, and ballistic gel is closer to the density of muscle tissue than body tissue) and even stacks of wet phone books if you like. We cannot, however, rely on this information to definitely prove how a round will act against the human body. We can get an idea of performance but not hard facts about it. Every shooting is unique: conditions, clothing, stimulants, body weight, distance, barriers, movement, ammunition, point of aim, point of impact, rate over movement/rotation of the body as the round strikes, psycho-physiological factors and many other variables make an accurate quantification impossible.

Well, what about an average, then? We cannot even establish a reliable average because, in order to do so, we would need quantifiable data from each type of defensive round. That would mean that every single possible variable was accounted for. This is an improbability so great it is functionally impossible.

My opinion is that the conversation has always had the wrong focus; instead of talking about what [X] bullet does or doesn’t do, we should really be talking about where to put those bullets.

Advocates of one round over another have their motivations, some justified, some ridiculous; sometimes they advocate based on personal experience, sometimes on advice, other times on reading favorable data and occasionally on pure hyperbole. Every round has succeeded. Every round has failed. Depending on what light you want to show a round in, results can be cherry-picked to suit your opinion. Consider the following.

On August 8th of 2008, Skokie, Illinois, police officer Tim Gramins was tailing a bank robbery suspect to initiate a stop when the suspect stopped suddenly, exited the vehicle and attacked. Gramins and the suspect Maddox exchanged gunfire in an extreme close-quarter fight. When it was over, Maddox had been hit 17 times before going down, including three fatal hits to the head. Officer Gramins’ service weapon was chambered in .45, Duty round unknown. 1

In a shooting that has become known as the Peter Soulis Incident 2, Jacksonville, Florida, officer Pete Soulis made contact with a suspicious driver, Joseph McGrotha, at a gas station in October of 1997. McGrotha was initially compliant, although this didn’t last. McGrotha produced a 9mm handgun, firing one round into Soulis’ chest (it was stopped by his armor).   Before it was over, Soulis was shot three more times while shooting McGrotha 22 times, 17 of which were described as “center mass.”   It would take McGrotha as long as 4 minutes to die after the last shot was fired. Officer Soulis’s service weapon was chambered in .40 S&W Winchester Ranger SXT rounds.

In August of 2010, NYPD Officers opened fire on an armed man they believed to be leveling a weapon against them. Angel Alvarez was hit 23 times and subsequently made a full recovery. Luis Soto, also involved in the shooting, was stuck 5 times and died at the scene. All service weapons involved were chambered in 9mm, loaded with Speer Gold Dot 124 grain 3.

There are three examples, one for each caliber, of a round failing to stop the threat in short order (or at all) and, as an added bonus, an example of both the less-than-ideal and ideal performance for the 9mm round all in the same shooting.

What does this tell us? Be careful of sampled examples.

Every round on the market has its detractors and advocates. Some of these people are using personal experiences, outdated information, incorrect information or a small handful of examples to support their choice in round.   The fact is and will always remain that there is as much evidence for and against a round based on its performance because of the thousands and thousands of variables that shape each use of force. No one round can be quantified based on selected data because there is no uniformity in the shootings. We can have anecdotal results and anecdotal performance, but nothing approaching definitive.   We like to talk about the round because it’s tangible. It’s something we can see for ourselves and test in our own ways. This is not the case with self-defense shooting.

I’ve always been mildly surprised by a lack of knowledge of anatomy when it comes to shooting discussions. One doesn’t have to be a doctor to know the basics of the human body and where it is most vulnerable, yet there seems to be either a lack of interest or a failure to realize the importance of this information. I want to know everything I can about my enemy. As he is very likely to be the same species as me, I have spent a lot of time studying people and the best ways to make them stop doing things that cause people to be shot in the first place. That is time well invested. When the conversation comes up, I have heard some very ridiculous assumptions about the human body and how easy it is to stop someone. I have also heard many times that once someone goes down, they are out of the fight. Down is two things: gravity and medical/psychological failure. One of those is a constant. The other may be quite temporary.

Part of the problem is in the way we train and the way we practice. Despite a growing number of anatomy targets on the market, most shooting is still done on score-system silhouettes that are 2-dimensional paper. As I’ve said in the past, these targets present the best-case scenario of a squared target and ignore the more realistic aspects of the human body, the most important being that a real body is three-dimensional.

Ammo stopping power vs anatomy 3D target

Compounding this is the already-mentioned lack of anatomy training in professional courses. I have attended a number of professional schools and courses (including Army basic [infantry], two law enforcement academies, NRA LE instructor development courses and a number of private and LE-focused instructional classes). None of them offered a block on anatomy. Maybe because it was so long ago?

I went through basic training in 1999. Modern medical knowledge is just a bit older than that.

Sure, instructors will bring up facts about anatomy here and there. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong, but they hardly ever offered anatomy as a primary focus of instruction. Treating it as a secondary (or even tertiary) topic fails to highlight the subject’s importance. I made a cursory look around the internet, searching for “defensive handgun training” and “defensive rifle training”. Of the top 10 results for each search via Google, not a single mentioned anatomy or physiology as part of their curriculum. Sure, you can type in “tactical anatomy” or “threat anatomy” and find a medical class geared towards teaching people where to put bullets in the human body (or how to plug up embarrassing and undesired holes), but it isn’t on the first page; it’s not even on the fifth. A basic understanding of anatomy is not an advanced skill and shouldn’t be treated as such, yet it’s just not up for discussion in a lot of conversations.

Maybe the shooting community is so indoctrinated to the idea of shooting paper that they don’t know to ask for it?

Bullets, however – people love to talk about bullets. Bullets are tangible; they reaffirm our choice of firearm by brand and model. Caliber choice sometimes even defines the ‘type of shooter’ someone is. This is a world where a shocking number of people still think the impact of a bullet can, of its own force, knock someone down, don’t know the physical location of the heart in their own chest and think that shooting someone in the pelvis is some kind of magic incapacitation. Sadly, these same people can probably describe the massive awesomeness of their round of choice and maybe even how a double tap is all you need.

Ammo stopping power vs anatomy target

The performance of humanity.

How many rounds does it take to stop a threat? The only correct answer to this question is “as many as it takes to gain compliance, surrender or incapacitation.”

That is the only correct answer.

Let’s de-sterilize that word incapacitation: Incapacitation in our context means death, unconsciousness due to blood loss or central nervous failure resulting in the loss of bodily control. It does not mean on the ground unless on the ground includes one of those three conditions.

How long does it take to truly incapacitate someone? The only guaranteed instantaneous incapacitation is in the head, the brainstem. Every other location of the body is a delayed incapacitation at best. What about shooting someone in the heart? Well, the heart is a muscle and outside of large caliber rifles, bullets are not big enough to totally explode the heart. Assuming that a round fired from a normal defensive weapon could totally explode the heart, your bad guy still has time to fight because his brain and limbs will have enough oxygenated blood in them to allow him to fight. Cutting all blood flow to the brain, your bad guy has up to 10 seconds until unconsciousness and approximately 20 seconds until total electrical failure 4. That’s a long time – especially if that person is trying to “incapacitate” you.

What about massive bleeding? Since it’s (very damn) rare to totally explode the heart or totally sever major arteries, and because the body acts as a barrier to blood loss, the loss of blood will have to reach about the 30%-40% range before incapacitation can be expected. In order to cause severe blood loss, we have to hit major organs and arteries. The average resting cardiac output is 5 liters a minute 5 (for example, 154, 154-pound man); imagining a major hemorrhaging (level IV) from a sufficient diameter wound, it will take our mope at least 20 seconds to lose 40% blood volume. Remember that even once that happens, we have the above-mentioned loss of oxygenated blood to the brain to confront.

Blood does not flow at this rate because the cardiac output does not equal the bleeding rate from the point of injury. As blood loss increases, pressure drops, though cardiac output can be expected to increase under stress. These two facts complicate each other, making a prediction difficult. Even going with the best-case scenario (outside of a brainstem hit), incapacitation is going to take time, and that time is dependent on how well you shoot, how deep the rounds penetrate and what they hit inside the body. Even after suffering a fatal wound, your bad guy can continue to fight until system failure; Ambulation after Death is common and should be expected (seen in Tim Gramins shooting earlier in the article).

If this seems more complicated than simply shooting score rings or color shapes, well, gosh, that’s because it is.

My personal goal is that every student leave my classes with a greater appreciation for realistic shooting and with that a greater attention to where bullets should go. We have very limited control over how our bad guy decides to move; the human body twists and contorts in frustrating ways, and this makes your “center mass” shooting a severe difficulty. “Center mass” is the center point of what we are aiming at; it is not the center of the chest. This is yet another belief passed down from the ideal conditions that 2D targets give us.

So, what is vulnerable? Where is it in the body? What’s the best way to break it?

Ammo stopping power vs anatomy Cowan Breach Bang Clear 3D head target

Knowledgeable Introduction of Trauma

We have three general zones on the human body for the sake of shooting: head, chest and pelvis. I list these in general order of importance.

The head is where the off switch is located. The brain is our software; it controls everything and is dependent on a sort of harmony to work effectively.   That harmony is easily disrupted by bullets.

The brain is our ideal target if distance, skill and circumstances allow for the shot. People shot in the head have a shockingly low survival/recuperation rate compared to those shot in other places. Despite its size relative to the rest of the body, the head is a rather large point of aim. It’s not a realistic point of aim in many circumstances, but it must be considered far more often than it is currently. The brainstem (highlighted) is an ideal desired point of impact. Outside of that, we have the cranial vault, which contains the brain. A strike to the brainstem results in flaccid paralysis and CNS failure. A single strike to the brain may not result in instant incapacitation, which is one reason repeated rounds until verified failure is preferable.

The brain is protected by the skull, which is made up of a collection of dense bones that are resistant to trauma. One reason given for not targeting the head is usually that the skull will deflect bullets; this is absolutely true. It can. This reason is often based on an example or two of a bullet failing to penetrate the skull. The response to this anecdotal evidence should be, what about all the times when the bullet penetrated the skull? That is far more common and well within a reasonable expectation for common self-defense calibers 6. It’s also worth noting that ballistic trauma to the head results in fatalities 80% of the time 7.

Ammo stopping power vs anatomy skull vitals

Ammo stopping power vs anatomy

So much for those anecdotal “won’t penetrate the skull” stories, huh?

The chest or High Thoracic Cavity is where most firearms training is focused. It’s a large target, gives us a good margin of error for accuracy and contains a number of organs and vessels pretty important to life function. There is no off switch in the chest, no instant incapacitation, just a place where we are most likely to induce heavy blood loss. The heart, lungs, pulmonary veins and arteries, as well as the origin point of all arteries, are located in the chest. Major bone mass is predominantly the ribs, which are resistant to blunt force trauma but do not do such a good job at protecting the internal organs from ballistic trauma. The heart lies more or less in the center of the chest and is usually described as being the size of an adult fist, which is usually true. As a point of aim, it’s a difficult target, but the heart is the vascular train station for all the blood in the body, and because of that, the surrounding area is almost totally vital and vulnerable tissue.

The Aorta and Pulmonary arteries are major traffickers, with many smaller arteries in the same area. All things considered, a gunshot wound to a major artery such as the aorta would be more traumatic than one to the heart as the heart is a muscle, not nearly as elastic or prone to tearing as arterial veins. Of course, we already know that relying on blood loss means it’s going to take time for our bad guy to go down and stay down, so we want to put as many holes in him as we can while he’s still a threat to speed that process along. By far, the most common trauma associated with targeting the chest is injuries to the lungs, such as a collapsed lung (pneumothorax). Chest injuries, in general, often result in hemothorax, which is when the body creates a barrier to blood loss and it collects in the chest cavity.

Fatality/incapacitation rates outside of direct cardiac injury are too inconsistent to predict or get a percentage on however when it comes to cardiac injuries, medical professionals are pretty direct in their assessment:

“Cardiac injuries are rare in patients who reach the hospital because these injuries are often lethal at the scene.”  8

Targeting the chest means that incapacitation is going to take time, though knowledgeable targeting of the most vital areas will greatly help reduce that time.

Ammo stopping power vs anatomy chest vitals focusing on the heart and arteries.

Ammo stopping power vs anatomy chest vitals

Ammo stopping power vs anatomy focus on the lungs

The last ideal area of the body to target is the lateral pelvis. Also called the pelvic girdle, this area is comprised of very dense bones designed to support weight, resist omnidirectional forces and assist in the generation of movement.

The number of vital organs located in this area is zero, as in none. The pelvic girdle has seen a resurgence in popularity as a place to intentionally target. Some even say they would shoot here before trying for the chest (which makes zero sense). The pelvic area does contain arteries. Unfortunately, those are small targets, and very, very few people can even point to their general location, let alone target one.

The aorta enters the pelvic region and branches out into the iliac arteries, which move through the pelvic girdle to become the femoral arteries, essentially an inverted “y.” While it’s very true that ballistic trauma to this area can cause immobilization via the breaking and shattering of bones, it is highly unlikely to cause incapacitation in a reasonable amount of time. One of the most recent studies into pelvic gunshot trauma found that out of over 2,800 gunshot wound-related patients, 42 had suffered trauma to the pelvic region. Only 18 of those resulted in fractures to the Ilium and only 7 of those required surgery. 9

That is not exactly reassuring.

Ammo stopping power vs anatomy pelvic vitals

Pelvic bone

The pelvis is a viable target, barring a better one to shoot at, but it’s not the magical incapacitation button some people sell it as. My feeling is that the popularity of pelvic shooting is because, on the vast majority of ranges across the US, the pelvis is the point of aim when practicing hip shooting because the range will not allow higher angle shots. It certainly isn’t because there is a wealth of examples of pelvic incapacitations because those examples are very rare. I don’t discount the pelvis as a place to shoot, though I would only choose it if other areas of the body were not available to me( or if it was the first stop on my way up the body). Any other methodology is snake oil. Dirty, nasty snake oil.

The science of the bullet.

This argument has beaten so many horses that the ASPCA wants us to use a different idiom. Caliber, it is said, is not as important as round placement and penetration. This is absolutely true, though it does detract from the fact that the damage the bullet causes is also important.

When it comes to incapacitation, we need placement, penetration, permanent cavity, temporary cavity (uncommon to a notable degree in handguns) and fragmentation (either of the bullet or secondaries such as bone, also uncommon in handguns). All rounds will provide penetration and permanent cavity, though the effectiveness varies based on the physics of the round and the very uncontrollable variables of shooting people.

Penetration is by far the most important factor (if only by a margin) because a superficial cavity, no matter its diameter, may not penetrate deep enough to cause incapacitating injuries. If a bullet expanded to the size of a soup can on impact but only penetrated 2”-3” into the body, its effectiveness would be minimal. I know that is a gross exaggeration, but it underlines a problem in thinking about the damage a bullet could potentially cause without first considering this first – will it get anywhere there are things worth damaging?

3D target

Because of this (and because of physics), a bullet’s speed has a greater impact on the amount of damage it causes than its size. Speed is what ultimately will provide the energy needed for greater penetration.

“The amount of kinetic energy delivered by the hitting body (projectile, bullet, shrapnel…) at the time of impact depends mainly upon the squared velocity (E = ½MV2) and in a lesser degree to the projectile body mass.” 10

The kinetic energy of the bullet is generated by its velocity and mass (K=1/2 MV2- K= kinetic energy, m= mass of the bullet, and v= velocity of the bullet). Kinetic energy is what we rely on for terminal ballistics, which is usually tested in ballistic gelatin as a stand-in for the human body, as opposed to an actual human body, for obvious reasons. The ballistic gel must be carefully calibrated to best replicate the human body, and because calibration is often not known, not enforced or not considered when some people publish/film results of this or that round, we tend to get bad data. 11

Just because a round appears to perform well in a block of gel does not mean it will do the same against the human body. It’s a science and, unfortunately, isn’t often treated that way.

When a bullet strikes, it creates a crushing cavity, crushing (centrifugally) the tissue in its path. The speed of the round, paired with its expansion (if any) creates a small temporary wound cavity in handguns and other lower velocity rounds. The crush mechanism, the physical nature of the bullet destroying tissue in its path, is by far the largest factor in wound/round effectiveness 12. This is where the debate always lies: smaller, faster rounds versus bigger, slower rounds. Is the 9mm better than the .45? Yes. No. Depends.   Maybe.

This is why we can’t quantify because we cannot accurately measure.

I use a 9mm because it offers less resistance to success. It offers flatter recoil, a larger capacity per magazine by gun size and a round known for its penetrating capabilities. My choice is as much preference as it is performance; this is what most people tend to base their carry-around on. Those of us who have direct experience with a round’s performance on the human body are not as common as those who do not, which is why good information and realistic expectations are so important. What’s more important is looking at the best way to achieve ideal results once you possess that information. All popular calibers today can produce those ideal results, provided you do your part.

Your part consists of realistic knowledge of how best to destroy the parts of the human body critical for a bad guy to keep doing whatever it is he’s doing that causes you to use force against him. It’s about effectively shooting them to the ground and making sure they stay there. Paper is a measure of mechanical skill; it’s not as effective when it comes to real life. Don’t stop with this article; learn as much about the body as you do about anything else of great importance.

It’s time to stop talking hardware and start talking about breaking the bad guy’s software. The best way to break his software is to remove its ability to function.

About the AuthorAuthor COWAN!

Aaron (Breach Bang COWAN!) is an idiot savant of the tactical variety from a little place we like to call Hotlanta (though apparently, no one from down there calls it that). COWAN! is the Lead Instructor and HMFIC of program development for Sage Dynamics, who believes every article should be roughly the equivalent of a doctoral thesis. An identical twin whose brother went on to become Agent 47, COWAN! is the author of the novel Rushing Winter and the designated fluffer on the set of numerous training videos, including the really good ones here.

Author Aaron "COWAN!"


1 Shots Fired: Skokie, Illinois 08/25/2008 Police Magazine online article

2 Shooter’s motive remains mystery 10/21/97 The Florida Times-Union, online article. Officer Down: The Peter Soulis Incident, article (2008)

3 Jury Doesn’t Indict Man in Police Shooting, The New York Times, (2011) Wound Expert Says NYPD’s Firepower In Harlem Was Sufficient, (2010)

4 The Pathophysiology of Brain Ischemia Dr. Marcus Raichle Neurological Progress (1983)

5 Pharmacology & Physiology in Anesthetic Practice, Robert K. Stoelting

6 When the Bullet Hits the Bone: Patterns in Gunshot Trauma to the Infracrainal Skeleton, Katharine A. Chapman, B.A. (2007) Gunshot Wounds: Practical Aspects of Firearms, Ballistics, and Forensic Techniques, Vincent J.M. DiMaio (1985) Characteristics of Gunshot Wounds to the Skull, Faculté de Médecine de Nice, Laboratoire de Médecine Légale, France, Dr. G. Quatrehomme (1999)

7 Predictors of mortality in severely head-injured patients with civilian gunshot wounds: a report from the NIH Traumatic Coma Data Bank. Dr. EF Aldrich

8 A civilian perspective on ballistic trauma and gunshot injuries, Dr. Philipp Lichte (2010)

9 Civilian gunshot wounds of the hip and pelvis, Dr. MJ Bartkiw, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Detroit Receiving Hospital and University Health Center

10 Whats Wrong With Wound Ballistic Data, and Why, Dr. M.L. Fackler (1987), Undeniable Evidence, Dr. M.L. Fackler, Wound Ballistics Review; International Wound Ballistics Association (1999)

11 Wound Ballistics and Tissue Damage, Nimrod Rozen and Israel Dudkiewicz

12 Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness, FBI Academy Firearms Training Unit, SA Patrick (1989)

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Aaron Cowan

Aaron Cowan

About the Author

Aaron Cowan is a patched Minion and an idiot savant of the tactical variety from a little place we like to call Hotlanta (though apparently no one from down there actually calls it that). COWAN! is the Lead Instructor and HMFIC of program development for Sage Dynamics who believes every article should be roughly the equivalent of a doctoral thesis, which is of course something we absolutely appreciate. To call him thorough would be to damn him with faint praise. We call him COWAN! because anything in all caps with an exclamation point after it must be awesome. A former infantryman turned PSC contractor and LEO, COWAN! has served in several SWAT and training billets. He also has an unseemly and disturbing fascination with horse head masks. Sage Dynamics is a reality-focused firearms and tactics training company that provides practical instruction for the civilian, police and military professional. An identical twin whose brother went on to become Agent 47, COWAN! is the author of the Rushing Winter novels and the designated fluffer on the set of numerous training videos here on the Sage Dynamics YouTube page. Sage Dynamics is on Facebook here; you can follow them on Instagram here and of course you can read his occasional informed and sagacious rumination here on Breach-Bang-Clear. Grunts: rumination.


  1. Sweet Pea

    I must question the relevance of muzzle (kinetic) energy over momentum (power factor.) Kinetic energy is the capacity to perform work; such as compressing a spring or knocking over a metallic target, but is not directly related to wounding potential.
    For example; the 55 gr bullet I might fire in training from my AR and the 250 gr bullet I might carry in my 41 mag revolver for bear defense both have around 900 ft lbs of kinetic energy, but will produce very different results fired into the shoulder of an elk from 50 yds.
    Part of this is bullet construction but more important is the difference in momentum. The 223 rd produces a power factor of 147 while the 41 mag comes in around 350.
    Of course either is sufficient to perforate a human, but the idea light, fast bullets penetrate better should go the way of the stopping power myth.

  2. D.P. Allen

    This may seem a bit graphic for some, but welcome to real life. Stopping power is often confused with “knock down power”. I spent many years as a Border Patrol Agent and part of that was on “Bandit Detail”. Bandit detail was a combined operation of San Diego PD and Border Patrol. We would literally walk the trails, used by illegals to enter the U.S., at night, waiting for border bandits to jump out and try to rob us. We worked in teams of 4 with 4 being the “bait” and a pair of teams nearby as backup. In a 6 month period, my team had 4 encounters with border bandits in which we had to shoot. ( I was usually on “point”, so 1st in line when they jumped out because of my Vietnam combat experience) San Diego PD carried 9mm and Border Patrol Agents carried .357 mag. When the shooting began, the PD would hit bandits 20-40 times with their 9mms before the doped up (usually) bandits would drop. It took 2 shots from my .357. The first hit (center of mass) would lift the bandit off of his feet and throw him backwards and the immediate 2nd shot (In Border Patrol training, we always pulled twice!) would enter at roughly a 45º angle as the bandit fell backwards. Never needed more than the 2 shots because the bandit’s body had sufficient time on the ground to decide it was dead and even in the dark, center of mass was a large and easy target when the shots were fired at no more than 10′!

  3. Jeff

    Good write up. Concur with all points made. Our shooting training included classroom presentation/discussion on the effectiveness of different calibers as it relates to head shots. I observed photos for the 3 calibers discussed in the article that did not penetrate the skull.
    We focused our head shot training at the range on the “T”. Thoracic shots focused on making the first hole bigger with follow up shots to accelerate bleed out (larger wound channel).

  4. Biker Bob

    Stopping power is real but that phrase was used when the SJHP 357mag round was stopping bad guys to the tune of 93, 94, 95 and 96% with one shot, after the low capacity 357mag was replaced with the wonder nines stopping power and all ammo almost became the same because the proven SJHP was no longer used in police work but very shitty JHPs were which is why the 10mm, 40S&W and 357Sig were created. The SJHP 357mag especially from Federal, 125gr 357b and Remington 125gr SJHP 357mag, were either designed to or were a by-product of their design to enter the target, dump the majority of it’s energy into it, the lead portion violently fragmented and the remaining part of the projectile would continue to penetrate approximately 13 to 15 inches while not over penetrating and keeping all that “power” in the target. The wonder nines at that time had good but not great JHPs like we have today however even today not all rounds are equal or that good! A Winchester silvertip 115gr 9mm has an excellent track record except for the one time it failed in 1986 in Florida and that sunk that rounds reputation for good however today we have superior 9mm JHPs like Federals HST 124gr plus p 9mm and Speers 124gr plus P 9mm( of which 3 rounds were stopped by a Carhartt construction jacket in NYC the 4th did its job) so from one caliber to the next shot placement is obviously the key to stopping a MF’r!

  5. Nick

    One target that he didn’t really mention, likely due to its very small size is the cervical vertebrae of the spine. If the spine is destroyed up in that area it will result in instant incapacitation, conscious or not if the pathway the brain uses to send messages to the body to keep fighting is cut, there will be no way for the person to do anything. Again though, that’s a very small target to hit, especially when it’s moving.

  6. James Minze

    Simplify…. Location X force X spread Greater force is better in any location.

  7. Frank

    Okay, I accept the premiss of your article, I really do, but…If bullet type is the frosting on the cake, what do you carry in your weapon?

  8. Axel

    There’s a reason they used criminals in Feudal Japan to test swords. It’s much more realistic than tatami, bamboo, or ballistics gel.

  9. stephenfshaw

    I think an important aspect of this discussion to note is the general idea of continually “improving your position.” In the same manner that you can fight your way up from a small weapon to a larger one, your shot placement can improve through the course of an engagement. Your initial shot placement/penetration may be limited by time, geometry, cover, etc. Your second shot should improve on the first, your third even more so. Shoot what you can then shoot what you must.” A more general concept to the oft-cited Mozambique and similar drills.

  10. Frank

    Great article and interesting comments. Here’s a few of my own. Pelvic shots were never meant to be used on people with gunsand remote control weapons. They weresuggested as a possible solution in cases of a contact weapon when your weaponis already out and you have time to evaluate the situation. Even then, breaking the pelvis bone takes forceand smaller caliber rounds may not be up to it. It is the worse last option to immobilizing a dangerousperson.I tell my students they must continue to shoot with accuracyuntil the threat is neutralized and even then they must use good tactics toinsure their safety. Even dead men canrise up and kill you. I tell them shot placement is more important that bullet typeand hollow point configurationsare the frosting on the cake, but they must be totally reliable in yourfirearm.One of the difficulties in training is attempting to convey thecomplexity and variability of the human body onto an inexpensive target. The typical IDPA or B-29 target does not havethe center of mass X-ring centered over the concentration of organs needed tobe destroyed. IDPA excuses this with “Weare a sport, not a training school.” Isuspect there are legal concerns here. I will say when I cover targets with tee-shirts match scoresdrop. No land marks to aim at Isuspect. I also suspect the same happensin a gun fight, no x-ring. What I’d like to see is a target printed on both sides. The shooter side has a figure turning,bending, stooping and on the back the anatomical scoring. The target is “scored” from the back. Is this perfect, hell no, it might not even be good, but it comes closer to our goal of making the student aware shotplacement.

  11. Peyton_Guns111th

    Great article. I try to always tell people that the best caliber is the one that works for you. Glad COWAN is educating the people of the gun. We share a few mutual friends that have taken his classes and they always come t of it impressed.

    • CombatMissionary

      You beat me to it. My weapon of choice is a 1911 .45. I like it, and I’m comfortable with it. My father in law couldn’t shoot it worth beans. He learned to shoot with a .22 Mag single-action six-shooter. Absolutely deadly with it, right- or left-handed.

      The best weapon is the one you can use effectively.

  12. Bob Connely

    This is a brilliant article, well-researched and well-written. Unfortunately, because it destroys all of the “urban myths” that fly around Gun People, the article will likely not gain much traction. It’s so much easier to shoot off your mouth about “twenty-twos will rattle around inside your body” or “shoot ’em in the head and they’ll DRT (die right there).”

    • John W. McCulley

      Quickly, my background; during my first enlistment in the Army I was an Infantryman & Ranger, as a plankholder in 3d Ranger Bn. When I re-enlisted, I moved to a medical MOS & spent the most of that enlistment in a Cardiac Cath Lab. Since then I’ve got about 30 yrs in medicine,from emergency/trauma, to cardiac electrophysiology.

      This is, hands down, the best article about shooting results/outcome, whether for combat, self defense, or just about anything else except target practice (this info should be taught to hunters as well).

      Thank you!

    • seans

      It also brings up the fact that choosing a weapon that doesn’t dictate how it is used is incredibly important. Something like a 1911 with its two external safeties would not have worked as well. Couple that with his Sig had actually took a round through the magwell and still worked.

  13. Jeep

    So, if I get it correctly, given all “carry” pistol rounds WILL penetrate into a human (not head all the time, but the body, whether it’s .40, .45, 357, .38, 9 mm or even funny calibers like 5.7×28 for FNH-fans), but no one will make somebody explode (which would be the most efficient), the BEST caliber will be the one that you’re the most precise with, in order maximize your chances to hit the head, or the heart as many times as possible. Correct?

    • HIstoricalRecord

      That’s a loaded statement. (Pun intended). Generalizing calibers capability by the general, “standard” rounds available has some usefulness, to get a general idea of its capabilities. However, there are so many loads, and so many bullets to choose from, and combinations thereof, that to say that all calibers can penetrate deep enough, or are just as effective as one another, is not entirely true, considering that changing loads and bullet types can affect performances so greatly that these general statements about general caliber capabilities are skewed to be inaccurate.

      Let us discuss penetration, as it is the most important factor, for it bullets fall short of hitting vitals, they can almost be worthless. In fact, let’s take a look at the .380. There are loads that can hit the IWBA’s preferred 18 inch gel test mark; however, they are all full metal jackets, and bullets of light weight and poor sectional density that may fail under real life conditions that are more difficult than the theoretical gel test. These rounds may pierce deep enough, and are the same caliber as the 9mm, however there is a reason why 9mm is preferred to .380, namely that 9mm can use hollow points effectively, meaning there are hollow points that can both expand better, and most importantly, pierce deep enough, to meet the 12 inch IWBA standard, and work in most real life gun fights. On the other hand, there are no .380 expanding bullets that will penetrate deep enough to be considered adequate for self defense. Thus, although .380 can certainly meet one theoretical criteria, it can only do so with non expanding bullets, limiting its potential, and making the 9mm a far superior choice.

      So what does this example speak on the issue of mainstream caliber and effectiveness? Not all bullets and loads for the major mainstream carry guns are actually considered adequate, with junk safety rounds like the Blazer safety slugs and other gimmick fragmentation bullets never being adequate for consideration, and many light weight bullets for caliber also under penetrating in many circumstances, depending on expansion. A good example are the 115 grain hollow points, especially of bullet builds designed for maximum expansion, loaded standard pressure, +p, or even +p+, as many times these bullets will over expand, under penetrate do to lack of mass and sectional density, or often times fail completely and fragment, the worst of all outcomes. Of course, there are many 124 grain, and 147 grain expanding bullets that are built more solid, and will penetrate deeper, and will pass theoretical testing, and also fair better in the real world. The point is made clearly, that 9mm has the potential for deep penetration and expansion, but only with proper rounds, meaning the caliber has potential to penetrate deeply and expand, but that the choice of round is critical to achieve this status.

      The same rings true with .38 special especially, as many light loads are similar in power to .380, and with light bullets, and almost identical width (.357 to .355 respectively), will perform similarly. With a snub nose revolver, and a light load, with a light bullet, the .38 special needs a FMJ or solid lead bullet, to penetrate deep enough to be considered. With many people choosing to avoid +p in their dainty light weight snub nosed revolvers, the bullet they choose with a light load can be critical, and some loads people do carry are inadequate. Many expanding bullets and loads designed for snub nosed revolvers actually fail theoretical testing, and are poor choices. This caliber is a certain example of round choice, even gun choice, to its potentiality. The difference between a light load in a snub nose, against an old 158 FBI load +P out of a 4 inch service revolver could be as much as double (in some cases 150 ft. lbs light loads from the smaller pistol, and around 300 ft. lbs. from the heavier load in the longer barrel), the difference being one round and gun needing a FMJ to simply qualify, and another round and gun being able to use an expanding round that will still penetrate deep enough.

      With so many calibers and round selections, how do we define what is adequate, and then, how do we define what is better, or best out of our selections? Let us take our main lesson in the author’s blog, that all of this is based on. If one scores a direct hit on certain vitals, there can be instant incapacitation, or incapacitation happening so quickly it ends the fight for all practical purposes. In these cases, perhaps the .25 ACP, the old .380, the snub nosed .38, or even the lowly .22 will serve just as well as the more powerful selections, as they will penetrate deep enough, and do enough damage to cause death. Thus, we have the old argument from .22 LR users that their caliber, if it will penetrate the heart and head as well as any other, is just as good as the rest. However, there are other means of ending a fight besides getting the most critical of hits, and immediate stoppage, as in non immediate bleed out, which ends many fights, and is a critical factor to consider in stopping power. Even if you argue that the .32 ACP may kill a man with a shot through the heart as good as a .44 magnum, you can’t say the same for a non immediate, but critical hit on say, the liver, the kidneys, or the renal artery.

      Since we can’t always ensure a pure, clean, critical shot to the main blood vessels or the central nervous system to end a fight immediately, we need to consider that hits to other organs and smaller blood vessels and arteries are still of importance. If you shoot a man in the liver, he will not drop dead immediately, but he will start to bleed out very quickly, and he will bleed to incapacitation or death in a short amount of time, losing combat ability as his strength wanes. Now, suddenly our choice of caliber and round is quite critical, indeed. Suddenly our .44 magnum is a better choice, and more effective, than the .32 ACP. Suddenly the expanding bullets we choose are far more important, than in considerations of hitting the main, instant stop vitals. For these shots, which are the majority of hits in tense, quick running, close range, high stress gun battles for law enforcement and civilians, having a round that both penetrates both deep enough, and smashes a lot of tissue, is very important. If your bullet strike a kidney, the .22 LR is no where near as good as a 9mm, or a .45, or any of the main line service cartridges, and expanding bullet types, that will tear up major organs and blood vessels far better, and allow for much quicker bleed out. Penetration alone stops being enough, and wound channel becomes very important, and a strong combination of both is ideal.

      So, back to your assertion that there is a BEST caliber, and based purely on individual preference for shooting, is a bit of a stretch. Since not all calibers and rounds are equal, and in many cases the ability to punch deep AND create devastating wound channels is a very real factor in stopping an attack, there are some calibers and rounds that are superior to others as far as terminal ballistics are concerned. If this is true, there is more criteria than simple penetration, and simple preference. We have to take all factors into consideration, including total terminal effectiveness, recoil, flash, blast, carry capacity, individual choice, ect.

      To say that shooting a pistol round you like is the only way to go is, to be honest, lazy, and half assed. Part of shooting is getting out of your comfort zone and learning new things, learning to ignore flash and recoil, and learning to sacrifice one advantage for another. To shoot a round, simply because you enjoy it better, is the worst excuse possible for selection. There is a huge, giant, black line between comfort and preferring controlability and taking advantage of lower recoil to put more rounds on target, and to take tactical advantage. I’m sorry, but most people who defend going to a smaller caliber are of the former, not the latter, with the author being the latter.

      The true choice boils down to taking advantage of the properties of every caliber and using the right rounds to take full advantage of those potentials. .357 magnum and the best loads of .45 are bar none better round for round performers in terms of terminal ballistics, but suffer from heavy recoil and make follow up shots far more difficult, and most importantly, more time consuming, in a gun fight when you have no time. Revolvers throwing heavy rounds like the .357 magnum, .44 special, and even the big boy .44 magnum, and the .45 ACP suffer also from lower capacity, whereas auto loading 9mm and .40 gain quite a few extra rounds to stay in the fight. With all of this considered, there is no better round, for the most part, only different. You change one advantage for another between calibers, you lose one thing to gain another. Even rounds within a certain caliber trade off penetration for expansion, heavier loads making follow up shots more difficult while gaining terminal performance. There are so many trade offs, its difficult to know where to begin.

      In conclusion, the BEST caliber, as you put it, is not one you are simply most precise with, or the one you prefer to shoot, but rather one that is based on good information and understanding of all options and consequences of those options, available.

      • mark1968

        Depending on the source, best accuracy numbers from real firefights put rounds actually striking a human target at 40-60% of total shots fired. That is not even actual placement of hits or underlying organ systems involved. Also of all shooting incidents greater than 90% never get to a magazine change or reload, basically what you start the fight with is pretty much all you got. So in consideration of caliber and shooting platform another important consideration is ammunition capacity and speed of accurate follow up shots. Throw in the dynamic nature with movement of shooter and target whatever you accuracy is in training is more likely less than 50% of accuracy in real combat. Its not just the round, its the platform with the largest capacity that can be fired accurately with rapid follow up shots that penetrate enough to damage critical body structure.

      • Scott

        You state the .380 is ineffective as a self defense caliber. I invite you to have someone put 2-3 rounds in your chest. Then tell me how ineffective it is.

        • Ridlema

          Ok that’s just stupid. His argument clearly states that it won’t stop someone as quickly as a better round. Shooting someone fatally with a .22 does you no good if he stabs you 15 times, cuts your throat and dies half a mile away.

  14. Jeff,

    Very well written and presented. A point about the pelvic girdle and applications. Although I agree not an ideal spot for incapacitation, it is an appropriate spot to consider if “anchoring” is the goal. A naked guy high on pcp who wants to choke you to death…chest won’t work fast enough and head is sketchy (both parties moving and stressed). An anchoring shot can allow you to create separation. Just a tool in the toolbox to consider. I agree that more holes equal greater blood loss. Also agree that caliber is less important than lots of bullets in vital areas. Well done.

    • jimbo

      A pelvic shot will not stop an attacker that has a firearm from firing back at you, and if you aren’t within arm’s reach a non-LEO will have a hard time explaining why they shot an unarmed person in the pelvic region. If you feel your attacker has a firearm and you choose to shoot for the pelvic region, you’re going to have a bad time if they have the drive to actually use the firearm after being hit. Get training, practice, even compete(to learn how to shoot under stress) if you want to be competent enough to carry a firearm for personal protection.

      • Jeff

        Clearly you misread my comment. I spoke of a tool in the toolbox to be considered. “A naked man on pcp who wants to choke you” is clearly unarmed. I didn’t mention shooting armed subjects in the hips. TN v. Garner doesn’t specify “acceptable distance” or distinguish between leo and non-leo.

      • Doug Crawford

        “Arm’s reach” is too close. At 21 feet a person running at you with a knife will reach you.

  15. Doug Crawford

    Good article. I’ve preached this for years. There is no such thing as a handgun round that guaranteed one shot stops and I used to laugh at people talking about “stopping power”. Shot placement is the key, coupled with a round that is powerful enough to penetrate. A .22 in the eye is better than a .45 in the thigh.

    • Paul DeBecker

      Thigh is easier to hit than the eye.

      • ♞ Castle Bravo ♞

        Doesn’t change what he said.

        • jamie

          unless you hit the femoral artery

      • Vincent Smith

        Depends upon who is pulling the trigger.

  16. Alexander

    Do keep in mind the bullet must penetrate the rib cage, fat, and potentially heavy clothing. I’ve herd stories of the .22 failing all three. On that note, you did say “self defense round”, and that round isn’t commonly used for self defense. Still, it would be worth it to define “self defense caliber”.

    Nitpickey, I know.

    • golfersa

      There’s very little fat and typically no heavy clothing in or near the eye. Everyone talks MOA, so if you’re 3 MOA at 100, you’re .33 MOA at 10 yards… practice, practice, practice.

      • regular guy

        You’re actually still 3 MOA at 10 yards.

      • August

        You keep using that acronym. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

        “MOA” is a measure of ANGLE. As such, it does not change based on distance. A 10 degree angle is a 10 degree angle, whether the distance between the rays (i.e. geometric rays, a line that has a finite starting point but then stretches to infinity in the direction of its vector) is 10 yards away, 100 yards away, or 1,000,000,000 miles away.

        At approximately 100 yards, 1 MOA would create a 1″ grouping of shots. At 10 yards, 1 MOA would be about a 1/10″ grouping.

        • August

          To clarify, I meant “whether the distance between the rays… is MEASURED AT 10 yards away,” etc.

    • sam

      Mossad uses the .22 caliber exclusively when trying to kill people

    • Alexander

      About the fat thing… I have it from a very reliable RN source that unloading a mag in the groin of your very large husband will likely result in injuries that do not even require stitches to fix, much less surgery. Just tweezers.

  17. m1nd_C0ntr0l

    An excellent and logical article, kudos to the author. Though I feel that “Stopping power” is being misconstrued by most people as “knock down power”, when in reality it is THREAT stopping power. As for penetration being a better performance indicator (the reasoning for choosing 9mm over .45) check out this: . Unless you are going against heavily armored targets, I doubt that penetration is going to be an issue. You mentioned that a bullet that only penetrated the body 2-3″ would have minimal effectiveness. Maybe I am dusty on my anatomy, but that 2-3″ would land you at the least inside of the heart would it not? It may not get all the way through the brainstem but (shot placement willing) it would get pretty damn close, and 2-3″ seems a conservative estimate though I admit I lack experience with bullet damage on human bodies. So if penetration is a bit of a wash, that leaves diameter of round to be the biggest contributing factor apart from shot placement. Larger bullet gives you larger cavities, increasing chance of brain stem destruction, correct? All of this purely theoretical, however. In my worthless opinion it all boils down to what can you wield most effectively, to put the maximum amount of rounds, in the most accurate manner, in the shortest amount of time (within reason, or else everyone would just carry .22). That is my dialectic disputation on why I prefer .45.

    • HIstoricalRecord

      Real life gun fights are not theoretical or perfectly set place. Shot placement is difficult to impossible under circumstances, and sometimes shot depth is not ideal. Certainly, there are shallow angles straight towards vitals, but often times those are not the angles we have to set up the shot with. Consider that skin can resist penetration as much as 2-4 inches of skin; take that into account, then assume we have to shoot through the attacker’s arm to get the vitals, and at an angle. Suddenly, we may have 8 inches of theoretical ballistics gel to cut through, then several inches of muscle, and possibly bone. Where a deep penetrating round would have smashed through and stopped the attack, a shallow penetrating round will stop short, and fail. Now, let’s add barriers, items that could get in the way placed upon the person, and add in a good heavy leather jacket. Does “2-3 inches” in perfect condition sound good enough for you?

      • jimbo

        No typical handgun round can stand up to the obstacles you mention. If you have all of that to contend with you’re going to be firing multiple rounds and head shots or you need a rifle.

        • HIstoricalRecord

          Define “typical”. If one only counts “high performance” hollow points, that are engineered heavily towards expansion at the cost of penetration, than perhaps you are right. Many of the bullets salesmen, theorists, internet denizens, and some experts believe to be the best, only by the criteria of massive expansion, will come close to the IWBA protocol bare minimum limits, and in fact, sometimes fail completely, with theoretical gel testing of some bullets of around 12 inches. In such cases, yes, these bullets would have potential to fail in the worst case angle/depth shots, and/or through limbs.

          However, if one takes the time to study on the multitude of rounds available, and bullet designs especially, there are many rounds in the “standard” calibers (9mm, 40, 45, 357, 38, ect) that will punch through to the high end of the IWBA protocol’s 18 inch gel test mark, and some beyond. Some hollow points, and accompanying loads, will not have the incredible expansion some would desire, but have penetration potential to meet almost any conceivable situation, angle, or depth. Some bullets are made to under expand, on purpose, to achieve optimal penetration.

          I believe that many people are so entranced by high expansion modern hollow points, and magic bullets, that they have forgotten about hollow points that aren’t HST’s or the ever beaten to death love for the Gold Dot’s. There are other bullets available. Also, people are quick to forget some of the classics, and assume HP and JHP are the only bullet useful for self defense. The good old wadcutter, and semi wadcutter, without the hollow point, have had a proven track record, and solid loads in .38 Special, .357 magnum, .45 ACP, .44 Special, and .45 Colt are still very real considerations. Indeed, when picks up a 158 grain semi jacketed semi wadcutter soft point for .357 magnum, one is losing the gainful expansion and potential tissue destruction of a purpose built expanding hollow point’ however they are gaining the straight punching, deep crushing potential of a “dumber” round, one that will penetrate deep enough to vitals in humans in virtually any situation imaginable.

          Simply put, one has to escape the current conventional wisdom, and look at the very wide selection of calibers, bullets, and loads, to get a full understanding of potentials.

          You lead on to a very true thing at the end, as well, one is always better off with a rifle, than the always inadequate handgun.

          • Patrick Taylor

            For those of us without the tactical training provided within the the “grunt” factions of the US military, all I need/want is the training necessary to place two to the head. That is all I need. Whether using 22 or 45 or even a 50, if I hit him in the head the putz is MOST likely to be destabilized to the point of falling and falling without much of an ability to shoot back. (although I recognize as he is falling he could still be trigger happy and get a lucky shot placed) Then if needed, asnd only while he/she is on the ground, I can tap the putz once more to ensure, hell, hasten their end.

            The rest is just nice fodder for a good argument amongst the differing crowd.

      • m1nd_C0ntr0l

        Yes it still does haha. We can throw “what-if” scenarios around all day and take into account every non-typical instance where a bullet has failed to stop a threat, but my final point remains the same. The same issues can arise with any bullet. You seem to think that someone is going to fire one shot and then stop and look to see if the attacker is down, maybe take some measurements of the cavity and penetration. In a self defense type shooting, I doubt only a single bullet will be fired. If you unload your magazine into an attacker, and say you land only 4 center mass hits, if the threat is not stopped they will most likely be reconsidering their actions.

    • Justin Steiner

      Nope. 9mm is .354 in. meaning it’s only a difference of .096 in. That is such an insignificant difference it hardly justifies the increased recoil & reduced capacity. On the flip side of the coin, I have a couple friends with fairly large hands who’ve never found a 9mm pistol that was large enough to not “feel like a toy” in their giant paws. They are both more comfortabe large frame .45’s. So now we’re back to your point about “what can you wielf most effectively”, which I think is the most important caveat to defensive carry and often the most overlooked.

      • HIstoricalRecord

        The .45’s advantage is not simply in being broader, but also heavier. The 230 grain 45 ACP is both heavier, and has better sectional density, having greater penetrating potential, and will be far more damaging to bone and heavier tissue. In the field of hollow points, heavy weight .45’s almost never fail penetration tests, whereas many 9mm HP will fail, or barely pass minimum penetration by IWBA protocol. In most cases, .45 HP’s will penetrate both deeper, and expand more, creating greater wound channels to incapacitate through blood loss.

        As for FMJ, or lead bullets, .45 is a clear winner. 9mm FMJ rounds tend to be very “sharp”, quite heavily pointed, and tend to cleanly cut their way through flesh, while the rounder, broader, less tapered and flatter nosed .45 FMJ will tend to crush not only a broader wound channel, but crush more than cut like the 9mm does, tearing a better wound channel. Both of these properties give the .45 far superior bleed out potential in this area.

        The .45 is a superior round in the terms of single shot capability, and to dismiss its advantages is either out of misinformation, or wanton ignorance. The 9mm has less recoil, better capacity, but it is not an equal round.

        • Allen Scheer

          You tend to put forth a lot of “gun counter wisdom” as though it is fact.

          Your opening statement is a case-in-point. It’s the typical “heavier is better” argument which ignores all of the other factors affecting performance. It’s an appealing argument to someone who knows nothing of ballistics or physics, as anyone can simply hold the two rounds in their hand and not the difference in weight.

          The big thing being ignored is the disproportionately important factor of velocity. If you actually understand WHY velocity is squared in almost every physics equation, you’ll be half way there in disproving your own notions in this regard. If you don’t quite grasp that (and it’s implications), then there isn’t much hope.

          Your second paragraph is unsupported by any reliable source of forensic medical analysis. This is particularly true of the statement “… these properties give the .45 far superior bleed out potential …”. It’s clear that you BELIEVE this statement, there just isn’t any evidence to support it.

          When you say something like “The .45 is a superior round in the terms of single shot capability, and to dismiss its advantages is either out of misinformation, or wanton ignorance.” the onus is on you to document that assertion, especially since no expert in the field would support the nature of that statement.

          • HIstoricalRecord

            No understanding of ballistics or knowledge of the subject? I beg to differ. I’ve read Fackler and many of the other sources he sites, far before ever reading this article. I am a hunter who has seen the effects of different bullets, cartridges, and loads, have taken the time on my own property to shoot many different objects and observe effects. I’ve taken the time to read and watch gel testing, read reports from reputable sources, and taken time to understand these subjects. let us discuss a few things…

            Certainly speed is squared as far as energy is concerned, double the speed, quadruple the energy. However, it is not the velocity that is of importance primarily as the energy itself. A 230 grain bullet at 800 fps has the same energy as a 115 grain bullet at 1130 fps. Does the large gain in velocity mean a huge gain in energy? No, it requires a large gain in velocity to match the other part of the equation, mass. it requires BOTH, not simply one factor or the other, to create energy. One reason why 9mm and .45 have been compared to death is because most factory rounds put them both in the same 330-400 ft. lbs. of energy, meaning despite 9mm’s gain in all of that velocity, it does not gain insane amounts of energy over the big, slow, dumb .45, and in fact, only matches it. To sit here and say ad nauseum “velocity’s effect is squared” is irrelevant to the fact that we are talking actual energies of actual loads. In terms of raw energy, refer to loads individually, and don’t try to lure yourself away from the real numbers of the round.

            The author wrote a good article, but got many misconceptions wrong. Penetration is affected by material being penetrated, angle of entry, the energy, shape, size, weight, and velocity of the projectile, and how bullet and the potential of its energy is used, and resistance to the material being penetrated. We have to take into account the target, in this case living flesh. Now, lets move back to the projectile; the diameter of the bullet will determine how much resistance it will have during penetration, with a broader projectile obviously resisting more material, and absorbing energy and potential. Now we move on to energy, which determines a lot of potential of the bullet, and also momentum, which determines how much reserve energy is maintained in the projectile.

            Obviously, higher energies in a solid bullet that does not change in the course of the penetration will increase potential and penetration; however, momentum determines how much energy is delivered, and how quickly, with bullets with superior momentum having greater potential to penetrate more, delivering energy more evenly through the target, with greater potential to overcome resistance, and cause more actual physical damage. If you have taken the time to research the effects of lighter, faster bullets on different gel media, you will notice that smaller, faster bullets will cause a much larger temporary cavity, and stop much shorter, as it has little momentum, its energy is more based on velocity, and it gives up its velocity dependent energy quickly into the target, losing it immediately, and driving less. On the other hand, a bullet of the same energy, but of greater mass and lower velocity, will have a much smaller temporary cavity, and will penetrate much deeper. Realize that, although velocity certainly does square itself, people completely forget that momentum’s most important factor is mass. Two projectiles, of same energy, and differing mass’s and velocities, will give the momentum advantage to the larger mass, this is simple physics.

            Let us also take into account the very important subject of sectional density. The greater the sectional density, the greater potential for penetration. This another main reason why hunters use heavier bullets for caliber for hunting larger game. Lower sectional densities will lead to poorer penetration of projectiles of the same caliber and energy. This is will observed and well known for well over a hundred years. When hunters shoot elephants and rhino, they use heavy for caliber and cartridge bullets for this very purpose. If the author’s assumptions were correct, (which they are not, and the part o the article he completely was wrong about) hunters would use 235 grain FMJ in a .375 H&H to hunt elephants, but in real life they use 300 grain bullets, of similar energy, but of far lower velocity, and far greater mass and sectional density. If the author was right about velocity and penetration, (which he is so wrong he can’t defend himself on this particular subject) elephant hunters would use 300 grain FMJ bullets in a .458 Winchester magnum at high velocity, when instead, these hunters choose 500 and 510 grain bullets, of much lower velocity, but of similar energy, and far more mass and sectional density. If the author was right, people would use 180 grain bullets in their .44 magnums for grizzly defense, instead of 240, 300, or greater grain bullets. If this were true, hunters would be using 110 grain bullets in .357 magnum rifles and revolvers to hunt deer, not 158+ grain bullets of lower velocities. The notion that velocity is the most important factor in penetration of flesh is absurd, and completely debunked. Bullets of similar energies will show the projectile of greater mass,and lower velocity to have better momentum, and in the case of similar caliber, greater sectional density.

            Take a good long look at gel tests, and real life effects, and also what experts use in their fields. Many .223 rounds are of similar energy to a low end, safe for trap door .45-70 load, of lets’ say, standard 405 grain soft point. Do people take .223 to hunt big game, or do they take the big, heavy, broad, .45-70? Which would you trust, energy to energy, against the thick skin of a heavy animal? Which delivers its energies in a quick, explosive burst, and which ones maintains its energy to punch deeper?

            One of the reasons why the entire light, quick bullet fad came into being back in the good old days was the misconception that pistol rounds could cause hydrostatic shock, (which they do not, in almost every case) and everyone flocked to 20% gel tests, an the largest temporary cavities made in them. This is where many people bought into magic bullets, and myths of the Treasury load .38, and the 115 grain 9mm hollow points, not so much because of real effect, but rather flawed science. While these rounds made nice temporary cavities, they also penetrated poorly. Later on, after these super fast rounds failed in real life, tests were switched to 10%, and penetration was realized to be the most important factor. However, myths from that era still exist, and the fact that smaller calibers tended to do better in these tests have many small bullet and small caliber fanatics still clinging to them.

            Why is this still important? Well, claims that velocity is more important than mass and sectional density, and the magic unscientific reasoning of myth pushers that smaller mass, faster projectiles had more momentum than heavier mass projectiles of similar energy, came from this time period, and still exist today. Marshall and Sanow’s flawed works are still held in regard by people who don’t any better, or like the cut of their jib. They were proponents of the magic, super fast light bullets, and put together flawed statistics to back their claims up, with many of the statistics being simply invented, and even with some of their physics wrong, making claims of momentum that were untrue. To this day there are claimants of this old, dead fad, and people who still believe in the magic light weight bullets. The author’s assumptions on velocity, and not simply energy, as being important for penetration and the most important factor, came from this, and men like Marshall and Sanow. Indeed, to hear that velocity was the ONLY important factor gave 9mm fans the idea they needed that their round was not simply of lesser recoil, but in fact, also superior in penetration, too! Certainly, after hearing this, there was no more need for research or understanding, because they answer they wanted to hear was heard.

            So, as for your first part of the argument, I believe I shown why, ballistically, heavier projectiles do perform better as penetrators of flesh, and that there are very real physics behind it. If you don’t do your own research into all of the factors and physics I’ve described, and take the time to understand how real penetration works in projectiles, there isn’t much hope for you.

            If you have really taken the time to research this subject, than you will already understand that standard 230 grain .45’s will tend to penetrate as deep, or deeper, than 9mm rounds of similar build, and of any weight. In fact, the .45 will tend to penetrate deeper with most non FMJ bullets, expanding wider, and virtually always destroying more flesh. Most importantly, in the field of expanding bullets, if you look at factory and independent testing of individual bullets and factory rounds, you will find that many 9mm loads will barely pass IWBA protocol testing, with many rounds failing. .45 improved bullets, on the other hand, tend to penetrate far beyond bare minimum in IWBA testing, and most importantly, have a failure rate far, far, far lower, even with its lighter weight bullets. One thing that hasn’t changed much since the FBI’s rebuke of the 9mm back in the late 80’s is still true, that expanding 9mm rounds simply have tendency to fail, both in real life, and in laboratory settings, whereas the .45 has a far greater tendency to always meet minimum penetrations.

            So, with .45 consistently destroying more flesh, with FMJ of duller design and greater width of the same penetration as a 9mm FMJ that creates a far inferior wound channel, and the .45’s tendency to use its mass and momentum to superior consistent penetration in the lab, one can say that, average to average, the .45 is a superior round as far as terminal ballistics is concerned.

            • Allen Scheer

              Why do you think no competent expert in the field agrees with your conclusions?

              I do science, physics, testing and metrology for a living BTW. I don’t think you understand how factors of momentum and velocity relate to each other in a dynamic system. This is typical of the “45 is superior” crowd as a rule.

        • Vincent Smith

          Like the man said some are just too emotionally attached to “Their” round to ever be convinced otherwise!

  18. Davey

    Good article! This illustrates the classic QA problem: “Are we measuring the things we value, or do we simply value the things we can measure?” This kind of research has always been focused on the ‘sending’ side of the equation because we can easily measure and influence that side. Training, bullet diameter, expanded diameter, depth of penetration, gelatin results are all things that we can influence.

    What we can’t quantify, or especially predict; is any data related to the ‘receiving’ side of the equation. The best we can hope for is to draw a big circle around a cluster ‘typical’ results and then treat the outliers (as you described) as being non-typical. We’ll probably not make much progress trying to whittle down that group of head-scratchers.

  19. Mike McQueen

    Well Written.

    Absolutely No argument. 58yo shooter hand gun LE, Pro Sec etc. Some where a long time ago I read an article about ‘Kenetic Impulse” on what a bullet does when it hits a body. It was a long read and had a lot of big words in it.

    BTW, thanks for the definitions at the start of this rant. Grunt.

    Anyway, I read through all this scientific mumbo jumbo and finished with a head ach. So I do what I always do, back off for get about it then pick it back up and scrutinize it. (I read a lot)

    The end result of this side show was “Aw Bull shit!”! It’s s x m=shit.

    Now this can be an Oh shit or just a plain shit or even deep shit. But no matter how you step in it, it’s shit.

    Thing is, In and ideal world I’d really like a bullet that spreads open like a Filipino hooker and drops to the ground when it comes out the other side. Either front to back of side to side.

    Regardless of what it hits in it’s passage.

    I’ve always preached two mantras on shooting someone. Two to center mass and one to the head, and then, keep shooting the son of a bitch until he quits wiggling. Even if you have to reload. The being idea that I only want one person filling out the witness report.


    Semper Fi


  20. Sgt. T. Gramins #310

    Speer Gold Dot .45 caliber .230 grain.

    Great Article!

  21. FireTwoSeven

    Agreed. Although an area largely ignored is everything superior to the aortic arch between the arch and carotid. Firing at an area just beneath the chin means the chances of cutting off the air supply (and perhaps severing the spinal column) increase. This too takes the “software” down, as the lizard brain turns all efforts to breathing. You can do this with a .380 or a .45, it truly doesn’t matter.

  22. Thomas

    RE: skull graphics – we are some creepy looking motherfuckers under our skin…

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