View Full Version : Bullets hitting bone?

January 30, 2006, 03:38 PM
I'm curious, what happens when a hard cast lead or full metal jacket hits bone in tissue? Does a spray of white fragments come out the other side? What kind of extra wounding effects, if any, happen when a bullet hits something like the sternum or ribcage?

Thanks all.

Odd Job
January 30, 2006, 05:59 PM
I can only comment on human targets shot with handguns.
The bone splinters can cause additional damage, almost as secondary projectiles. These can make an exit with the bullet, but generally they stay in the tissues. They can also be used for the forensic determination of the direction of fire. Here is a picture of a guy who was shot in the lower thigh (distal femur, cropped lateral view for you medical folk).


The entrance wound was at marker 1, and there were two exit wounds, marker 2 and 3. Fragments of a bullet are in the leg. The likelihood is that breaches 2 and 3 are due to separate parts of the original bullet having enough energy to make an exit. The evidence is that the guy was shot in the back of the thigh, the bullet broke his femur and pieces of bullet and bone drifted towards the front. Two items made an exit. I say items because it cannot be ruled out that one of the exiting items was a piece of bone. But that degree of bone displacement is not unusual in gunshot wounds involving 'long bones.' There is less resistance from 'flat bones' such as the skull and pelvic crests where the bullet will more likely punch through without making large bone splinters. And then you get the unpredictable 'deflectors' such as teeth, vertebrae and tarsal and carpel bones. Well you could write a whole book on the subject of gunshot wounds :)

January 30, 2006, 06:55 PM
Since this is the hunting forum, I assume you mean rifle and magnum handgun rounds. If you are lucky, the bone will shatter, and cause secondary damage within the body cavity. The fragments should stay inside, though.

January 30, 2006, 07:06 PM
Perfect, thats just what I was looking for. I chose the hunting forum because I assumed more people here would have experience with bullet hitting bone, so in fact experiences with service caliber handguns and human bone is even better.

Generally speaking when a bullet hits a flat bone such as the sternum, how far do the bone fragments travel? Do they each cut individual holes, or do the holes sort of join up to form a jellified mass in front of the impact?

January 30, 2006, 07:20 PM
Generally speaking when a bullet hits a flat bone such as the sternum, how far do the bone fragments travel?
That will depend on a lot of factors, including the angle and force of the strike, but judging from what I've seen in deer, optimally it could be a good 8-10 inches or more. I don't have any data to support that, just observations.
Do they each cut individual holes, or do the holes sort of join up to form a jellified mass in front of the impact?
Each fragment should have it's own path, but it would be hard to trace them. The only wounds I've seen that involved bone destruction had jelly from the hydrostatic (sp?) shock, so I don't know how much is attributable to the bone fragements. But hydrostatic shock doesn't really exist in most handgun calibers, so the medical types here could help you more.

January 30, 2006, 07:21 PM
I shot my buck this year high and hit him in the backbone. I was shooting downhill and once the bullet struck the Backbone it angle'd straight down poped out his breastbone. The bullet did not exit though. I was shooting a .280 with a 150 grain bullet I believe might have been 160. The backbone was fragmented pretty bad, with lots of bone chips.

Long Path
January 30, 2006, 08:40 PM
In my experience, bone can make excellent secondary fragments. The problem is, they're quite unpredictable. I've had and seen hits that raked the lower part of the spine throw fragments into the heart (a considerable deflection!).

January 31, 2006, 12:14 AM
too bad, thats why we ask these questions, right?;)

Odd Job
January 31, 2006, 07:57 AM
Unfortunately the ballistic variables combined with the anatomical variables and added to the clothing and intermediate target variables render it impossible to predict with certainty what the effects will be when a human sternum is shot. One can only offer very general observations based upon X amount of cases. A gunshot sternum isn't a very common sighting in a hospital. In fact I rate it as number 2 on my list of 'hard to come by' bone fractures due to gunshot wounds. Number 1 on my list is the nasal bone. But anyway, I think it is important to realise that no two shootings are ever the same. Sure, there have been many cases of 'long bone' shootings in which a 'characteristic' fracture pattern has been seen, and there have been many cases where the flat bone of the skull vault has been perforated and a 'characteristic' fracture pattern has been seen too. Those injuries are relatively common. We more-or-less know what can happen when those bones are shot. My opinion is that a sternum will not fragment much when shot with a handgun. It is flat and has a lot of support from the anterior costal cartilages and the muscles of the chest. Of course, all these 'opinions' go out the window when you have an unusual trajectory or a variation in the anatomy. But as it stands I can't give you an example of a sternum fracture because of a gunshot wound.
But have a look at this radiograph:


This is a guy who was shot while prone on a bed. He sustained multiple rib fractures (white arrows) but hardly any fragmentation of the bullet occured. The red arrows show lead specks from the bullet. The blue arrows show technical artefacts from a dirty intensifying screen. The cropped image on the right has been sharpened a little so you can make out the fractures a little more easily. Now this may seem like not such a big deal, but this is a classic case of the bullet refusing to read any of the medical or ballistic text books before entering the patient. Those ribs have been hit almost edge-on and yet instead of deflecting anteriorly or posteriorly, the bullet has gone on to fracture 4 ribs in turn. Furthermore the degree of displacement of one fracture relative to another is different in each case. Who could have predicted this? The patient sustained a pneumothorax (collapsed lung for non-medical folk), but it is impossible to tell whether this was because of the passage of the bullet itself or the deflection of sharp rib fragments into the lung. If I was pressed to choose, I would pick the rib fragments. Those are very sharp and surgeons are wary of them!

And one more case (or I'll be told not to turn TFL into a forensic forum :p ) involves a young man who was shot in the lower leg by a jacketed projectile, probably a 9mm (or thereabouts) FMJ.


Here is a fractured left tibia and fibula (the tibia is the main bone, the thick one that takes all your weight and the thin one is the fibula which is not a big deal if fractured). There is a deformed bullet medially (on the inside of the leg). What's interesting here is that it is very difficult to understand the trajectory in view of the fact that there is an entrance and exit wound, both bones are fractured and the main mass of the bullet remains in the wound. The fracture pattern and displacement of bone fragments from the tibia indicates that the guy was shot from the antero-lateral aspect (from 10 o'clock), and the tibia was fractured first. There was a deflection posteriorly (between 6 and 7 o'clock) which resulted in the fibula being fractured. Then from the fibula the bullet was deflected medially (3 o'clock) and that is where it came to rest. But again, there is no telling whether the exit wound was caused by a piece of bullet (we would call it a daughter fragment) or by a piece of tibia. I say tibia and not fibula because I will go out on a limb and declare that all the pieces of the fibula are still in situ. I guess you could call this a case of ballistic pinball! Gunshots involving bones can be very strange...

By the way, skin breach markers are essential in any kind of analysis of bone fragment displacement in gunshot injuries and I hope you medical folk out there are enforcing this in your hospitals. That first chest case doesn't have any because it is not the initial X-ray series, but initial ones must be marked.

Long Path
January 31, 2006, 10:04 AM
Great information, Odd Job! As a hunter, a shotist, and student of law enforcement, I find great use in this. I'd like to see more, frankly.

January 31, 2006, 10:20 AM
All bone is not the same ! A deer leg bone is seven times denser than a cows !Young animals usually have denser bones than older ones .Secondary projectiles can have a great effect on 'performance '. While I had know about secondary projectiles for years , the first ime I had seen it was when butchering a friends deer. He shot it through th shoulders with a 270. When slicing the ham I found a piece of bone that had come from the shoulder and penetrated half way through the thickest part of the ham !!! Higher velocity also works differently than low velocity. My orthopedic surgeon cousin once described a kid that had been hit with a high velocity 22 , the upper arm shattered into about 100 pieces !!

January 31, 2006, 11:27 AM
Wow, Odd Job, this is good stuff! :)

January 31, 2006, 11:48 AM
How did all those paperclips end up in the bullet path? Office shooting?

January 31, 2006, 11:58 AM
Ditto Oddjob!

Lol - those do look like paperclips, don't they? I suspect there's an explanation though... ?

Bones do strange things to bullets is what I know. Seen many animal wounds where high speed, heavy rounds punch through and do thier work despite hitting bone - but that's the goal of good hunting rounds. But when they don't punch straight through (the round bones Oddjob mentioned) things become a lot more random - and, I suspect, that's more likely to happen with lighter bullets at slower speeds...

I Remember one accidental shooting where a skinny little teenager kid took a .25-06 hunting round to his shoulder across his torso to the other shoulder (came to a rest on the scapula) breaking ribs, collar bones, shoulder blades etc - never heard the total rundown - fragments went everywhere collapsing both lungs, but missing the heart and spine - but he still survived and last I heard should recover pretty well! I thought he was a goner for sure... But there's just no telling what's going to happen when bones get involved.

Odd Job
January 31, 2006, 12:00 PM
Those are the skin breach markers, applied by the radiographer before doing the X-ray. They provide a radiological reference of the position of surface breaches relative to the internal anatomy. Paperclips are an easy cheap way to do it. They should be opened up into triangles so that the skin breach is in the middle.

Odd Job
January 31, 2006, 12:05 PM
@ Long Path

Perhaps there is scope for a forensic/medical category? I suspect that we have enough medical and paramedical members to make some worthwhile contributions here? Just a thought.
Otherwise we could have "Odd Job's medical imaging musings" as a veeeeeeeery long thread ;)

Johnny Guest
January 31, 2006, 01:18 PM
CobrayCommando, thanks for asking the question - - It prompted some interesting information.

Odd Job writes: And one more case (or I'll be told not to turn TFL into a forensic forum ) and Perhaps there is scope for a forensic/medical category? I suspect that we have enough medical and paramedical members to make some worthwhile contributions here? Odd, please don't worry too much about being censured for making these very enlightening entries. Happens I've spent considerable time with both moderators of this forum, Rich and Art, sitting around and discussing terminal bullet performance. I'll make so bold as to say they'll approve, and if not, I'll fade the heat for encouraging you. ;)

It may be there IS a place for such a separate forum. If not, I'm perfectly happy with your observations and illustrations here in Hunting Forum. I cannot picture anyone at all interested in actual hunting - - with it's logical conclusion of drawing blood - - who would be offended by knowledge of what happens when a projectile actually impacts a living target.

I'll look forward to reading/viewing more from you.

All the best,

Odd Job
January 31, 2006, 03:28 PM
All right gents, thanks for the encouragement. I'm open to questions/requests, preferably as regards handgun wounds on humans.

January 31, 2006, 06:52 PM
Sorry guys, but pixes from disposable camera did not come out well, so you'll just have to bear with my text.

I shot a "management doe" during "extended season" in Runnels County a couple of weeks ago. Scoped Ruger 7 1/2" SBH in .454. Hornady 240 grain XTP. Box sez muzzle velocity of 1900 fps (downgrgraded from prior box which said 2,000 fps!). I was camoed out sitting with my back next to a tree.

The old doe had been coming across an open wheat field straight at me, so I waited until she hesitated and turned mostly broadside about 40 yards out before dropping the hammer. The XTP caught one lung and took out top of heart before exiting near rear of opposite side rib cage.

Entry hole was downright nasty. About an inch and a half diameter where the JHP was evidently still twisting in the hide about the same mili-second that it hit a big front rib head on. Unfortunately, darkness was setting in, others (with no deer) were waiting on me and I did not get to examine more throughly. Exit wound was much smaller - and hardly bled until I got to rolling her around to field dress.

And concidently, despite the hit described above, the doe was far from DRT. She bolted and ran like the wind for a good 60 yards before piling up in a cloud of dust.

Johnny Guest
January 31, 2006, 10:04 PM
Staffer hat on - -
Yes, when I first read the thread title, it brought to mind the old G. Kooymans song, "The Twilight Zone." And, while 'WAY off topic, it would be understandable to quote a little of that song. But, friends, please do NOT rip off copyright material and quote it without due credit or attribution.

One entry deleted without prejudice. ;)


January 31, 2006, 10:26 PM
I see your location is London. Please tell me are people still shooting each other in the gun free UK?:rolleyes:

February 1, 2006, 01:28 AM
Amazing X-rays and awesome information, thanks Odd Job!

Thanks everybody for contributing. I now know that sternum shots are unlikely to produce large amounts of bone fragmentation when hit by service caliber handgun bullets.

I'm guessing the same holds for rifle bullets... But then again...

Odd Job
February 1, 2006, 05:37 AM
@ epr105

I see your location is London. Please tell me are people still shooting each other in the gun free UK?

No, my good man, not to that extent any way. All these images are from South Africa, as is my experience. I trained in South Africa and worked three years permanent night duty at the Johannesburg General Hospital at a time when we were getting an average of 150 gunshot victims a month. And just to 'add sauce to the meal' I followed that up with formal research into gunshot wounds in 2002, tracing the victim from the time he was admitted through all the treatment and imaging, surgery (if applicable), recovery of any projectiles (if applicable) and documenting the acute recovery prognosis. That was a sample of 150 patients and required 450 data sheets and resulted in 1600 photographs of wounds, clothing breaches, X-rays/medical imaging and recovered projectiles. That sample is the subject of a book I am writing (almost finished) and so I can't post those pictures here for copyright reasons. But I have 'adequate' experience and imaging from my years before the research. Some of my older articles are on FirearmsID.com if you are interested in the subject of forensics and gunshot wounds.
I hope that puts my contributions on a more solid footing, in your eyes :p

Long Path
February 1, 2006, 09:35 AM
Heh. That would likely put your experience with gunshots wounds well in excess of most of the doctors at any major Level I trauma center over here.

Odd Job
February 1, 2006, 10:06 AM
I must add (to avoid future confusion) that I am not a doctor, I am a radiographer. But as Long Path knows, Johannesburg is definitely the place to see gunshot wounds. Many foreign doctors go down there to get trauma experience and I would like to think that I have bailed most of them out in terms of interpreting imaging in gunshot cases at one time or another. In fact in cases such as those I have posted here, there is a clinical as well as forensic advantage to tracking the path of these projectiles and any bone fragments that may be involved. That's why even the local veteran trauma surgeons will not scoff at the input of an experienced radiographer: they are certainly well respected in the medical field in South Africa. I may post examples of a clinical nature (where the bone fragment/fracture pattern has enabled the radiographer to influence further imaging requests to find an as-yet unseen projectile).

Jack O'Conner
February 1, 2006, 10:11 AM
When I was a lad, my Grandad always told me, "Go for bone,boy". My first three elk were knocked over with his antique Winchester 30-30. All animals were shot in the shoulder-to-neck joint and their front legs folded as the shot(s) echoed across the foothills. Tremendous energy is transferred to the animal when a large bone is struck!

Grandad always hunted with his medium velocity rifles and heavy bullets, a good combination for bone targets. In contrast, the modern high powered rifle kills as well with shot placement behind-the-shoulder.

I saw several dead Iraqi soldiers during Gulf War Part I that had been killed with the dimunitive 5.56mm bullet(s). Exit wounds had the appearance of soft tip hunting ammo but caused by high velocity, tumbling, and bone fragments. I have never actually shot at anyone, my AFSC was combat support.

Long Path
February 1, 2006, 10:11 AM
Might be interesting to see a photograph as well as its corresponding radiograph, in the same orientation, in some instances.

Odd Job
February 1, 2006, 01:41 PM
@ Long Path

X-rays aren't a problem, but there are several issues surrounding wound photographs:

1) More than 90% of my wound photographs are from the research I conducted and are subject to copyright. I might be able to get around publishing problems by cropping them and making them B&W. I will have to look into this. I don't have a publisher yet, but the general rules should be applicable to all of them.

2) Most of the photographs were taken with a specially-adapted camera that had a ruler mounted 14cm from the lens. These are close-ups and their position on the body is denoted by a separate 3D figure specially made for each case. So all you will see is a hole of some description, with a scale underneath in millimetres.

3) The entrance and exit wounds from handguns are remarkably similar and often cannot be distinguished in the actively-bleeding victim. Furthermore the surface wounds usually provide no further clue or information about the damage to the internal tissues and bone. I would go so far as to say that of all the photographs, the wound photographs of a live gunshot victim are the least helpful in terms of clinical and forensic information. I rate clothing higher than wounds in terms of projectile tracking.

However, not to be a spoilsport I will provide for you now a gunshot leg with a fractured bone and the accompanying wound photographs. I ask TFL members to respect my work and therefore not distribute these images for although I don't envisage them to be part of the published product I must maintain good relations with those in the publishing field and those who have overseen my research. I will post them soon.

February 1, 2006, 03:57 PM

john in jax
February 1, 2006, 05:41 PM
Just like to add one more tidbit to this excellent thread.

I head-shot a hog at approx 50 yards with a .308 150grn Ballistic Tip. A good shot about midway between the ear and eye. There was no exit wound and since this was the first game I had taken with this round I was curious so I dug around to try and find what was left of the bullet. The obvious wound channel was only about 3"-4" deep but I never found the bullet or any significant fragments. It was as if the bullet disentigrated on impact.

Odd Job
February 1, 2006, 06:24 PM
Okay everybody I can't use the leg case because it includes the testicles and that makes photographs awkward. I have however found a gunshot upper arm. The victim was a middle-aged female and the circumstances of the shooting are that multiple shots were fired and the victim was hit once. She was then pushed to the ground and beaten about the head before the assailant ran away. There was no clothing available for inspection.
(Image not embedded in case some people don't like blood)


The orientation of the above photographs is correct if one imagines that the victim was standing when photographed ie. north on the image is north in reality. The scale is in millimetres. Note that both wounds were actively bleeding and the patient was photographed supine.

Now for the radiographs:


This is the L humerus with a nasty fracture. Bone fragments and small lead fragments drift from lateral to medial (parallel to the red arrow) and there is a bullet fragment that has a low density attachment (black arrow) indicating that this bullet is jacketed. The rest of the bullet is high density in appearance which means it is a lead core (white arrow).


This is the chest X-ray. It is difficult to appreciate here but there is a cortical disruption on the lateral border of the scapula (black arrow). For the non-medical folk that means the shoulder blade was nicked on its outside edge. Lead specks can be seen deposited in the wound medial to this disruption (white arrows) and this supports a trajectory parallel to the red arrow.

What can we tell from this? Well the lady was relatively lucky, because what has happened here is that the bullet has shattered the humerus and it has broken into at least two main pieces (the bullet that is). One piece stayed in the region of the axilla (the armpit) and the other hit the scapula edge-on. Now the lucky part is that this second bullet fragment (that was never recovered) could have been deflected anteriorly towards the lung, heart or aorta but instead it was deflected posteriorly where it caused insignificant damage in the region of the thorax. The unlucky thing about this case is that the bullet fragment you see there completely severed the axillary artery and the lady had no pulse in her hand. Plus she had a very nasty fracture that could only be fixed with an external fixator (those Robocop-style rods and pins that look so awkward). So overall the damage was significant but a life-threatening injury was avoided by chance. Something else of interest is when you consider both radiographs as a unit, there is an angled trajectory that doesn't make much sense because the trajectory changes in the axilla for no apparent reason. You can have deflections in tissue planes but a more likely explanation is that the victim's arm was raised at the time of the shooting.

Outcome: the axillary artery was repaired and the humerus was realigned with an external fixator. You may not have thought that so much goes on underneath the skin when there are just two simple-looking holes on the surface of a gunshot victim.

February 6, 2006, 06:37 PM
This year I shot a whitetail at about 60 yards. I was using a thompson center omega loaded with 300 gr tc shockwaves and 100 gr. of tripple 7. The round passed through his right shoulder and at least one lung. Then it hit the left shoulder. The bullet was stuck in the bone, and fragments were everywhere. All the musle turned all stringy. He only ran about another 20 yards.:D

February 7, 2006, 12:15 PM
Odd Job,

Can you tell by the radigraphs the bullet construction, I.E> hollow point, Soft point, ETC ETC ?

Odd Job
February 7, 2006, 05:48 PM
@ H&H

Indeed there are instances where you can radiologically identify certain features of the bullet, depending on the nature of the X-ray view and the condition of the projectile. Here is a basic summary of what you can do with a radiograph if you are familiar with radiological assessment of metallic densities and composite shadows:

If the bullet is intact or only mildly deformed (relative to its condition when it was loaded in the cartridge) then it is impossible to tell whether it is jacketed or all-lead in construction. The only exception to this is if the design of the bullet is such that the jacket does not appose the core intimately all the way around the projectile. The jacket may then be resolved on the radiograph. The same applies to a bullet with an exposed base: it may have a thickened jacketed 'rim' at the base and if the X-ray beam strikes it at the right angle then the jacket will be detected. But in the majority of cases where the typical handgun bullet shape is seen and there does not appear to be any deformity, it is impossible to say whether that bullet is jacketed or not. I will give you an example of the differences in radiological density as evident in different materials and configurations of a sample of projectiles and projectile components. First the photograph:


Note that most of the bullets were fired in a water tank, but the appearances are consistent with my research as regards the density of projectiles that are retained in the human body. The 9mm bullets have very light rifling impressions because they were fired out of a Vektor CP1 which has polygonal rifling.

1 = semi-jacketed flatnose (.357 mag)
2 = FMJ (.25)
3 = LRN (was oversized bullet loaded in a 9mm cartridge case)
4 = Sentry (9mm 60gn)
5 = Winchester Black Talon (9mm)
6 = Speer Gold Dot (9mm. This is the newer version, don't have gn value at hand)
7 = CCI Blazer Aluminium cartridge case (9mm)

Now look at the radiograph:


Bullets 1-3 have the same radiological density on film and there is no way to tell whether they are semi-jacketed, fully jacketed or not at all jacketed because they are not deformed. The overall high density of the lead obscures the density of the jacketing and the jacketing cannot be resolved.
Bullet number 4 is made from solid copper that is nickel-plated. The expanded rim of this projectile is, in effect, a thin piece of copper and it will show as a low density structure on the radiograph. The main core of the bullet is still very dense and cannot be distinguished from a lead core when discussing the density alone. Of course the bullet has a characteristic shape and the size and configuration of the central post makes it highly suggestive that the bullet is a version of the THV, or BAT or Sentry, but being precise about brand is not wise based on X-ray evidence alone in that case.
Bullet number 5 is a Winchester Black Talon and it has the characteristic 6-petal expansion where the petals are of lower density than the core from which they are separated. If a side view of the projectile is X-rayed and the characteristic barbs are seen then I am happy to conclude that the bullet is a Winchester Black Talon (of unknown calibre) based on the x-ray evidence alone. With that view only, the bullet may be mistaken for a Golden Sabre.
Bullet number six is a Gold Dot (a newer version than the one to the right of it). This is a jacketed bullet but even though the bullet has expanded, the jacket cannot be resolved because it is bonded to the core in such a way that apposition is maintained. There is no core-jacket separation. However, the configuration of the expansion and the lack of a resolved jacket makes it quite viable for me to conclude based on X-ray evidence alone (and with no further views necessary) that the bullet is a Gold Dot of unknown calibre.
The cartridge case labelled 7 is interesting because it demonstrates that aluminium is radiolucent (cannot be seen on X-ray). The significance of this is that any bullet with aluminium jacketing will appear as a single density on film even if it is fragmented. The jacket will not be detected and the bullet will appear to be lead only.

As a matter of interest, can you detect (by comparing the photograph and the radiograph) the bullet that has an aluminium jacket?

February 8, 2006, 07:16 PM
Odd Job,

I'd have to say that the aluminum jacketed bullet is the one just below and to the right of the aluminum case marked #7 ?

Having spent some time in South Africa I can only imagine that you'd see quite a mix of weapons and calibers. Is there a particular weapon or caliber that the average thug prefers to use in South Africa that you are aware of ?

Do you as a medical professional who's studied numerous bullets wounds find one type of bullet/caliber to be a more lethal combination than others?

A vague question I'm sure and probably very difficult to answer. The reason I ask it is I was talking to a retired British SBS sergeant at a shooting school who had a very interesting take on this pistol caliber stuff.

He found that of the three calibers most commonly used in a defensive handgun, 9MM, .40S&W and .45ACP that in his experience there wasn't much difference in there ability to kill or stop a human if the shot didn't hit the CNS.

And that any of the above would stop a human cold if they did hit spine or brain. Makes perfect sense to me.

Thus the British SBS teaches to shoot for the "vital triangle" verses "center of mass" the vital triangle is defined as a line from nipple to nipple forming a triangle with it's tip coming together at the adams apple. This will tend to bring your aim higher than what most of us are taught in your average law enforcement style shooting.

Any thoughts on this subject?

February 8, 2006, 08:12 PM
The better instructors here in the states also teach hitting the "vital triangle". That's because it works !!...While there is never ending discussion of 9mm vs 40S&W, vs 357 sig vs 45acp all the better ammo is designed to conform to the FBI criteria. So bullet placement is more important than any difference between cartridges ! Nothing substitutes for well placed hits !;)

Odd Job
February 9, 2006, 01:00 PM
@ H+H

I'd have to say that the aluminum jacketed bullet is the one just below and to the right of the aluminum case marked #7 ?

No, it is actually the bullet at 6 o' clock to the right of the FMJ. The bullet you suspected is a 9mm Winchester Silvertip and the base metal of that jacket is copper. See the picture below.


The part of the jacket that is not apposed to the core can be seen on the photograph and the X-ray image (red arrows). The bullet you selected therefore cannot have an aluminium jacket.
The other bullet (the one at 6 o'clock on the original image) is also a Winchester Silvertip but it is .25 calibre and that jacket is made from aluminium. The part of the jacket that is not apposed to the core can only be seen on the photograph, not the X-ray image (white arrrows). To approach the problem from a different direction, think of the angle between that bullet and the FMJ to the left of it, first looking at the photograph. Can you mentally see the same angle on the X-ray image? No. That means the information is missing from the X-ray image (not recorded on film because aluminium is radio-lucent). By the way I have been told that Winchester no longer uses aluminium jacketing. I cannot verify this, but even if this is so, there must be some ammunition out there still in circulation (whether made by Winchester or not) that still has aluminium jacketing.

Is there a particular weapon or caliber that the average thug prefers to use in South Africa that you are aware of ?

Yes, the 9mm pistol is the thug's weapon of choice.

He found that of the three calibers most commonly used in a defensive handgun, 9MM, .40S&W and .45ACP that in his experience there wasn't much difference in there ability to kill or stop a human if the shot didn't hit the CNS.

I would agree with that.

And that any of the above would stop a human cold if they did hit spine or brain. Makes perfect sense to me.
Nothing is ever certain. Even a spinal hit won't guarantee an instant cessation of activities, particularly if it is the lower cervical vertebrae or any vertebrae in the thoracic or lumbar region.

Thus the British SBS teaches to shoot for the "vital triangle" verses "center of mass" the vital triangle is defined as a line from nipple to nipple forming a triangle with it's tip coming together at the adams apple. This will tend to bring your aim higher than what most of us are taught in your average law enforcement style shooting.


Well the image above shows the internal anatomy in that triangle. I shaded where I reckon the vital areas are (fast bleedout). The apex of the triangle could result in a paralysis such that the guy can't fire back, but I wouldn't bank on it. That apex is too low to guarantee that the spinal cord will be damaged at a level higher than that at which the nerves to the arms originate. It is a very small target anyway (the spinal cord). Do I reckon it is okay? Yes I think it is, in terms of having the fastest bleedout because it includes the aortic arch and that is more critical than the heart itself in my opinion. I would say that if you can put two shots into that triangle, and the guy isn't too oblique relative to your trajectory, then you have a potentially fatal shooting. And if you miss the triangle there is still 'stuff' around it that can be damaged.

Odd Job
July 2, 2006, 08:56 AM
The other bullet (the one at 6 o'clock on the original image) is also a Winchester Silvertip but it is .25 calibre and that jacket is made from aluminium.

Oops, a small mistake there: .25 should read .32

July 6, 2006, 02:55 PM
Odd Job, I would like to thank you for the photos and radiographs. As a former pre-med student, this is extremely interesting. And getting information from someone well versed in firearms and forensic science makes this extremely interesting.

My combat experience, although limited due to the nature of the action I was involved in (Grenada 1983), supports much of what has been reported here. My hunting experience is more varied, but a lot of this confirms things I have witnessed over the years.

As for the "vital triangle" concept, it is not unique to SBS or other special forces, and is actually taught in USMC sniper school, albeit under a different name. It is one way experts use to determine if a person was shot by an infantry-trained marksman or a sniper-trained marksman. If there is target movement after the shot, it will likely still result in a lethal hit, with a much higher probability than a head shot. A COM hit will likely result in a non-lethal wound if the target moves or the shot is deflected.

Once again, thank you for sharing the results of your work with us.