The first truth to understanding gunshot wounds and their effect on the body is that tissue is not homogenous. In fact, tissue varies throughout the body in density and composition. Media such as ballistics gel are great for testing bullets under known, controlled circumstances, but they really won’t tell us a great deal on the specifics of what happens in the body and how the body will react to a gunshot wound.
The second truth to understanding gunshot wounds is that tissue stretches. In fact, it stretches a great deal more than people consider. Why does this matter? Well, when start looking at things from a bullet design perspective, a lot more science comes into play and the way tissue stretches matters a great deal.
Consider: A round-nosed ball round is very aerodynamic, and very hydrodynamic. That is, it moves with very little resistance through a fluid medium, because it has a very small initial point, and pushes aside the medium it’s traveling through easily, the same way a jet moves through the air, or a very sleek sports car moves across the track. Now, this is great for reducing resistance, but when it comes to damaging tissue, this reduces the bullet’s effectiveness. Why? When a very hydrodynamic projectile encounters tissue, it’s like getting a shot at the doctor. The tissue stretches a great deal before it is punctured, and when it does puncture, the wound is clean and round. Also, because the tissue has stretched, once the bullet has passed through the tissue will relax. And, like putting a hole in a stretched ballon, the hole shrinks once the tissue has relaxed. So, what you get with a ball round, is a small, clean puncture. And that’s not the least of it. When a dynamic bullet encounters fibrous tissues like veins and arteries, it pushes them aside more than it will tend to sever them. So, you get bleeding from punctured tissue, but your bullet fails to do damage to arteries and other such conduits that carry blood, and thus reduces the blood loss you encounter, which is one of the two key components to a quick, effective stop.
Another issue that is encountered is that the ball profile bullets don’t tend to want to break bone if the shot is not exactly centered on it. Because bone is round, when a rounded surface contacts another rounded surface tangentially, the outcome is a glancing blow, rather than a solid strike.
So, what makes for a more effective bullet? Let’s stop and take into account what we already know: Tissue stretches. Round-nosed profile bullets tend to stretch tissue a great deal and leave behind neat punctures. How do we do more damage to tissue and also make sure we disrupt those arteries and increase effectiveness? To answer this, we’re going to hop into the way-back machine and go back to 1870 to the Dum Dum Arsenal. It was then and there that a British subject, a Neville Bertie-Clay, determined that a soft core or hollow point expanding bullet would do far more damage to tissue than the standard jacketed bullet in use by the British Army. What became of this was the so-called Dum Dum bullet. What makes this bit of history interesting is that it was recognized even then that this method caused even greater wounding potentials, and would disrupt a great deal of tissue. It was for that reason that the bullet was banned in the Hague Accords, because it was felt the bullet would cause unnecessary suffering of soldiers.
One thing that was known even earlier than this was that a flat nosed, blunt bullet was far more traumatic than a sleek bullet. This is due to the way the bullet impacts tissue. Unlike a sharp, pointy bullet (or rounded, sleek bullet), the flat nosed projectiles tended to crush and tear tissue, and cause uneven, jagged wounds when they punched through. Also, when observing wounds caused by these types of bullets with modern equipment, the sharp rim around the flat bullet’s face tended to cause tissue to break sooner. This leaves behind a bigger, jagged wound that will have a greater surface area of damage for blood to be lost.
Another advantage to these types of bullets is that because of their shape, they don’t tend to push aside or glance off of structures as easily. This means that more arteries and veins are damaged by their passing.
Now, one drawback to the wide, flat nosed projectiles is that a lot of semi-automatic and automatic firearms don’t like these shapes, and jam when feeding them. One of the benefits of and reasons for the ball round was to improve feeding in these types of firearms. How do we get, then, the benefits of the flat nosed projectile in a modern semiautomatic or automatic? Enter the modern hollowpoint. Going all the way back to the 1870s, it was known that a hollow point could be added to a round-nosed projectile and dramatically improve its performance while still allowing for it to feed well. What you got with these bullets is a round profile, and once the bullet expanded, a very large, flat face that impacts tissue.
With modern designs, an expanding bullet can even increase your projectile’s diameter by 50% or more, which makes for even larger wounds. A 9mm, which, when using straight ball ammunition did little damage on the way through, could be improved to a point where its effectiveness in the real world grew much closer to that of a larger caliber, and the overall effectiveness of handguns for rapid incapacitation could be dramatically increased.
There’s a lot of argument to be made about what caliber is best. There’s no denying that a larger bullet will do more damage than a smaller one, and a lot of time is wasted discussing the effectiveness of a lot of little bullets vs. a few big ones. The bottom line, though, is that whatever gun you choose to carry, and whatever caliber is your favorite, using proven, modern bullets do greatly improve the performance capability and the shot to shot damage done. Whatever you choose to use, practice hard and make every shot count.
by Erek Sanchez
This post first appeared on loadoutroom.com