The Chess Game of Ammo Type and Shot Placement

Proper response to hypothetical scenarios.
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Gunsmith
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The Chess Game of Ammo Type and Shot Placement

Postby Gunsmith » Sun Feb 01, 2015 5:30 pm

Summary -- Caliber, and bullet type, are great but 'Shot Placement' trumps all. The 'Old Gunny's' advice is to make sure you get the gun out, that it's reliable, and start shooting.



January 15, 2015 by Special Guest ~ Leave A Comment


As a trauma surgeon and a tactical medical specialist, I am often asked by law enforcement officers what caliber and type of handgun ammunition offers the most stopping power. I can’t answer that question. Let me explain why.

The ammunition most commonly carried by law enforcement officers is a hollow-point configuration or expanding full metal jacket bullet, typically in one of five calibers, including .38/.357, 9mm, .357 SIG, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. Other calibers are used in some departments. But for the sake of this discussion, let’s stick with the most common rounds. These handgun rounds perform very differently based on a number of key factors that I’d like to discuss.

dangerous game, chess game, war gameAt most agencies it is typical for either the rangemaster or lead firearms trainer to choose specific ammunition (caliber and/or bullet type) based on the results of ammunition being run through a series of ballistic tests, most commonly the FBI’s ballistic laboratory testing. Marketing by ammunition companies also influences how agencies choose the specific ammunition for front line officers to carry.

Unfortunately, the information that agencies are using to choose the ammo for their officers is generally based on hype as well as the flawed standardized testing using ballistic gel and measurements of the depth of penetration into ballistic gel, degree of bullet expansion, and other factors. Usually, actual data on human body wound ballistics is not available to agencies when they are choosing ammo for their officers.

What is most unfortunate is that the testing of modern bullets does not give a complete picture of what a particular ammunition configuration will do in the human body to incapacitate it in a timely fashion, in other words, stopping power. The testing results “infer” or “simulate” what is believed to happen in the human body, but I can tell you that from my experience operating on gunshot patients that this just is not the case.

So back to the question at hand about determining stopping power. If you are expecting me to tell you which brand and which bullet caliber and type to use for the best or most reliable stopping power, you are going to be disappointed. But I will tell you about the factors that determine stopping power.

Kinetic Energy

Most officers think that a larger bullet and higher velocity equal more “kinetic” energy, yielding more stopping power than a smaller bullet with the same velocity. Here’s the reality:

We know that the equation for kinetic energy is KE = ½mv2 (KE is kinetic energy, m is mass of object, and v2 is velocity squared). This equation tells us how much energy will be derived from a combination of bullet grain weight and muzzle velocity.

Now we need to go back a step and define stopping power. Is it the ability of a particular ammunition to:

Immediately incapacitate a threat?
Eventually incapacitate a threat?
Slow down a threat?
Render a person less able to remain a threat?
Knock the threat to the ground?
I believe the definition of stopping power should be a particular ammunition’s effectiveness to render a person unable to offer resistance or remain a threat to the officer, an intended victim, or self.

So how does ammunition accomplish this? You have two options. You can use a really large round at very high velocity like the 30mm cannon rounds from an Apache helicopter’s M230 Chain Gun, which produces substantial kinetic energy, or you can place your shot where it has the most effect. Obviously, shot placement is the only realistic option for a law enforcement officer.

A .40 caliber bullet shot into the shirtless torso of a person causes a degree of injury due to the body absorbing the bullet’s energy and dispersing it in front of and around the path of the bullet. The projectile also tears through the tissue. This means that the kinetic energy of this typically low-velocity (less than 1,500 feet per second) bullet will create both a permanent cavity and to a much lesser extent a temporary cavity.

But does this ammunition have acceptable stopping power? Only if it hits a vital structure that would “stop” the target from continuing the fight.

The Target Variable

Consider that the same ammunition shot into the torso of an officer wearing a ballistic vest involves the same forces, but they are dispersed over a greater surface area in order to dissipate those forces, which, hopefully, prevents penetration of the body and allows the officer to continue in the fight.

So is the stopping power the same or different for these two scenarios? The kinetic energy is the same, the tissue injury is different.

Another way to look at this is to think about a bowling ball as a projectile and how it might perform in two different scenarios. If someone shoots it out of a cannon into a brick wall, the large mass and high velocity will likely result in a significant hole in that wall. But if the same bowling ball is shot out of a cannon into a strong net made of Kevlar, it will likely have all of its energy taken up by the net and not allow penetration. It has the same energy to lose in its intended target but different targets yield different results. A bowling ball fired from a cannon has high kinetic energy and excellent stopping power that far exceeds any ammo you could carry on duty, but the effect it has on the target is still determined by shot placement and the nature of the target.

Real Gunshot Wounds

The point here is that no single ammunition that is typically used by law enforcement officers today can reliably claim to have superior stopping power.

I have seen a .22 caliber bullet completely incapacitate someone and a .45 ACP fail to achieve that result. People and animals shot with 10mm rounds and .357 SIG rounds have continued to run from the police. I have been on scene as a tactical medical provider when a suicidal person shot himself in the head with a .45 Colt round resulting in instant death. And I have seen the same results in suicides that used smaller calibers, including .22, .25, and .32. I have also seen people hit with 9mm, .40, and .45 without so much as staggering or slowing their verbal or physical activities.

So we come back to the original question: Which ammunition has the best stopping power? I can’t answer that question. What I can say is that you should look for ammunition that reliably lives up to its claims of penetration and expansion but don’t believe that these two factors alone are related to stopping power.

The ultimate stopping power rests with your training with your weapon system. Accurate hits in any reasonable caliber will “stop” a person if that person has experienced enough brain or spinal cord damage to interrupt regular neurologic impulses from reaching vital areas of the body or the person has hemorrhaged enough blood to lower his or her blood pressure where the brain no longer is able to function well. You can also stop a person if a major bone shatters after a bullet injures it, but does that stop the fight?

Stopping power is a marketing tool and should be dropped from our discussions of ballistic performance until such time as ammunition effectiveness is measured by more means than just the results of gelatin and barrier tests. When ammunition companies or regulatory agencies begin to use computer simulations, simulant tests, animal models, autopsy results, and trauma surgeon operation reports with hospital summaries to determine the effectiveness of their products, then we will know which ammunition can be labeled as having the “best stopping power.” And this claim will be based on scientific data rather than incomplete ballistic testing.

Until then, shot placement with any commercially available ammunition will offer you the best chance of maximizing your duty ammunition’s stopping power.

_____

Sydney Vail MD, FACS, is an associate professor of surgery on the trauma faculty at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa. He also serves as director of tactical medicine programs for the Arizona Department of Public Safety and Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff’s Office SWAT teams.

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Re: The Chess Game of Ammo Type and Shot Placement

Postby Nathan » Sun Feb 01, 2015 5:57 pm

Gunsmith wrote: 'Shot Placement' trumps all.
This is a confusion between two distinctly different and equally important factors: bullet performance and shooter performance. A bullet must be capable of adequate penetration to turn a well placed shot into a fight stopping wound.

"shot placement is only the first part of the equation. Jerry Dove placed his shot perfectly. Bullet performance is critical to translate shot placement into an effective, incapacitating wound. If shot placement was all that mattered, we could arm all Agents with .22’s. Secondly, perfect shot placement may be difficult to attain in the stress and dynamics of a shooting incident. The larger calibers offer a “margin of error”" - Dr. Fackler, FBI Ballistics Lab
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Re: The Chess Game of Ammo Type and Shot Placement

Postby Gunsmith » Sun Feb 01, 2015 7:52 pm

Well Mr Nathan

Every scenario is different. Self Defense with a pocket pistol, to house to house in Iraq, to a clerk at a 7/11. Is it a 2 foot shot, or a 25 foot shot. I think the gun has to evolve around your circumstances. Now if I moved up to holster-carry, it would be my Kimber 1911 Ultra. As to my car carry, it's a Browning HP. I agree with the board's viewpoint that 9mm is the starting round.

My personal threat is stalkers, many of them are debt collectors, process servers, off duty cops, and it's always within feet. They always have the element of surprise, so my response can't he head-on confrontational. 99% of them are in pairs.

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Re: The Chess Game of Ammo Type and Shot Placement

Postby Nathan » Sun Feb 01, 2015 8:21 pm

Gunsmith wrote:Every scenario is different. Self Defense with a pocket pistol, to house to house in Iraq, to a clerk at a 7/11. Is it a 2 foot shot, or a 25 foot shot. I think the gun has to evolve around your circumstances.

(?) I don't understand how this changes the science behind it. Bullet performance and shooter performance are both critical at any distance in an scenario. A well placed shot from a .22 can certainly make someone bleed out, but they still have the option to spend that time shooting at you. The objective is to remove their will to fight and do it against their will and to accomplish this both the shooter and the bullet must do its job. In regards to making it home alive, neither is more important than the other.
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Re: The Chess Game of Ammo Type and Shot Placement

Postby riadat » Mon Feb 02, 2015 8:21 am

You also might have a hard target. Suppose someone shoots at you from a car? Then if you return fire with something like, God forbid, a .25, can it even penetrate a car door? Just how good is a 22 in that scenario?

What is the purpose of the gun? I own 3 hand guns, all smiths. A .38 k frame, a .38 j frame, and a .22 j frame. I believe the 22 would kill someone, particularly with a head shot but having the choice of carry I always go with the .38.

My preferred scenario is getting out of a bad situation asap or getting to my shotgun asap. There is no scenario where I am wanting or prepared to have a protracted firefight with my weapon. All I have is 10 shots anyway, 5 in the gun and 5 in the speedloader.

The purpose for my gun is to defend against 1-2 people who are robbing me or threatening my family from probably about 10 feet or less. Or possibly dog attack from 1-2 dogs.

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Re: The Chess Game of Ammo Type and Shot Placement

Postby Pickwick » Mon Feb 02, 2015 11:37 am

I agree with Nathan…it is both and. And, what riadat said about hard targets comes into play. I would carry a revolver a lot more if I didn't feel that, in today's world, you might get caught in a situation where you will need more firepower. So, when I am traveling or in a large town or city, it is always the BHP 9MM with 124 gr. Hornady XTP's with at least one extra mag. On vacations, the mini 14 rides under the back seat of my truck with five 20 rnd. mags.
At home, after they get past the dogs, they get the trusty Winchester SS 12 ga. riot gun with #4 buck. The wife will fire away with her Smith air weight.
I also carry my Colt Series 70 1911 a good bit. The BHP sleeps by the bed at night, too.

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Re: The Chess Game of Ammo Type and Shot Placement

Postby Gunsmith » Tue Feb 03, 2015 11:13 pm

Pocket Pistol ... You are into the micros (25, 32, and 380)

Holster Pistol... 9mm and up

Car Pistol ...... 9mm and up

If I was a cop, I would want a 45 FMJ. Car doors, windshields, etc. But, as a self defense type I used 9mm because it's cheap and easy to find. This allows me to pop 500 rounds through my Sig 226, Browning HP, SW 5900, Kimber, etc. I am not forced into chasing 5 different calibers. I get to practice, and check gun reliability.

If you were to ask "What is the best caliber" ...... bigger is always better.

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Re: The Chess Game of Ammo Type and Shot Placement

Postby nemesis76 » Thu Feb 05, 2015 6:35 pm

I always stagger load my magazines just in case. On the. 45 I ran 230 HP and then FMJ. My 9mm was loaded with 147gr Hornady and 124 gr FMJ. I figured with how I trained to shoot, if the BG has some sort of second chance vest the first two rounds will hurt and give me a chance to shift aim for a crisis ending third round to the brain pan. Just my personal take on defensive shooting.

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Re: The Chess Game of Ammo Type and Shot Placement

Postby Gunsmith » Thu Feb 05, 2015 7:08 pm

I have taught myself to focus on head shots. In real life I imagine it would be two to the chest, and one to the head. I don't focus on bullet types, but I always run the same ammo - Fiochhi 115 FMJ. My real concern is the gun is reliable.

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Re: The Chess Game of Ammo Type and Shot Placement

Postby nemesis76 » Thu Feb 05, 2015 7:19 pm

Gunsmith wrote:I have taught myself to focus on head shots. In real life I imagine it would be two to the chest, and one to the head. I don't focus on bullet types, but I always run the same ammo - Fiochhi 115 FMJ. My real concern is the gun is reliable.


When I got trained it was two to the chest, failure to stop got the head. I usually would hit the solaplexus (sp?) breast plate and could peg head at 25 meters consistently with the Beretta 92. The only guns I find I'm terrible with are striker fired for some odd reason. I agree that reliability is paramount followed closely by being able to effectively hit the target ( something I never could do with a Glock)

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Re: The Chess Game of Ammo Type and Shot Placement

Postby Pickwick » Fri Feb 06, 2015 6:06 am

Center of mass until threat is neutralized. Most of us aren't Jack Bauer in a combat situation.

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Re: The Chess Game of Ammo Type and Shot Placement

Postby ridurall » Fri Feb 06, 2015 11:18 am

I've evolved into carry the most I can in the 10mm Delta Elite with 2 extra magazines. It is on me all the time on a custom belt under my bib overalls. The only time I don't carry is when the law will not allow me to. Then I try to avoid the place like Altus AFB where I retired from.

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Re: The Chess Game of Ammo Type and Shot Placement

Postby Gunsmith » Fri Feb 06, 2015 11:20 am

nemesis76 wrote: When I got trained it was two to the chest, failure to stop got the head. I usually would hit the solaplexus (sp?) breast plate and could peg head at 25 meters consistently with the Beretta 92. The only guns I find I'm terrible with are striker fired for some odd reason. I agree that reliability is paramount followed closely by being able to effectively hit the target ( something I never could do with a Glock)




Oddly enough I find the 1911 the most accurate of my 'Point and Shoot' guns.


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