View Full Version : COM v Pelvic girdle

January 22, 2007, 06:08 PM
Common wisdom floating around the web and in most courses and books is to aim for COM or the triangle formed by the head and chest. But, I've seen many examples and discussion on this and other forums where BG take numerous hits to the torso and keep on fighting. In my handgun safety course, my intructor said that if you shoot a BG in the pelvic girdle, they will be unable to stand and thus will no longer be a threat (or you can move away from them quickly and then they will cease to be a threat).

Why is the pelvic girdle recommended as a suitable target? Granted, its not as big as the whole torso area, but it is still quite a large target. And, if you miss, there is still the lower abdomen and legs, depending on stance, that you would be likely to hit.

Don H
January 22, 2007, 06:23 PM
In my handgun safety course, my intructor said that if you shoot a BG in the pelvic girdle, they will be unable to stand and thus will no longer be a threat (or you can move away from them quickly and then they will cease to be a threat).
A shot to the pelvis may well just punch a hole through it. This would not result in an inability to move. Even if the pelvis were to be broken, the attacker could easily still pose a threat since he would still be able to shoot if he had a firearm. Not all pelvic breaks result in an inability to move.

January 22, 2007, 06:47 PM
I posted a thread about this quite a while back. The overall consensus is to put shots into the center of mass and then switch to head shots if there is a failure to stop. The only guaranteed one stop shot is brain shot which damages the part of the brain that controls motor function. According to a FBI HRT (Hostage Rescue Team) officer, a shot to the medulla oblongata will cease all motor function and not even permit a terrorist to pull the trigger on a bomb. This information is repeated on wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medulla_oblongata) under the effects on the body section.

Since head shots are difficult to make since the bad guy will most likely be moving, it is meant as a failure to stop shot rather than an initial shot. The initial shot should be to the center of mass since it is the largest target (easiest to hit) and also highly lethal (heart and lung shots). There is also a possibility of severing the spinal chord and immediately paralyzing the bad guy.

A hip shot may anchor the bad guy, but (as mentioned) he may still be a threat since he can continue to fire. One good thing about a hip shot is the possibility of hitting the femoral artery which could lead to the bad guy bleeding out in a very short amount of time.

I hope I never get into a fire fight, but if I do, it will be a pair to the chest and one to the head (if the shots to the chest do not immediately drop the bad guy).

January 22, 2007, 06:51 PM
Indeed. I'd avoid the pelvic girdle shots and go for COM followed by a shot to the orbital area if that fails to stop. Orbital area shots allow the straightest, least obstructed path to the brain stem.

January 22, 2007, 07:59 PM
Pelvic Girdle shots are simply another urban legend

January 22, 2007, 08:01 PM
Found it

Please note the following discussion of pelvic shots by Dr. Fackler in--Fackler ML: "Shots to the Pelvic Area ". Wound Ballistics Review. 4(1):13; 1999.

“I welcome the chance to refute the belief that the pelvic area is a reasonable target during a gunfight. I can find no evidence or valid rationale for intentionally targeting the pelvic area in a gunfight. The reasons against, however, are many. They include:

-- From the belt line to the top of the head, the areas most likely to rapidly incapacitate the person hit are concentrated in or near the midline. In the pelvis, however, the blood vessels are located to each side, having diverged from the midline, as the aorta and inferior vena cava divide at about the level of the navel. Additionally, the target that, when struck, is the most likely to cause rapid and reliable incapacitation, the spinal cord located in the midline of the abdomen, thorax and neck), ends well above the navel and 18 not a target in the pelvis.
-- The pelvic branches of the aorta and inferior vena cava are more difficult to hit than their parent vessels -- they are smaller targets, and they diverge laterally from the midline (getting farther from it as they descend). Even if hit, each carry far less blood than the larger vessels from which they originated. Thus, even if one of these branches in the pelvis is hit, incapacitation from blood loss must necessarily be slower than from a major vessel hit higher up in the torso.
-- Other than soft tissue structures not essential to continuing the gunfight (1oops of bowel, bladder) the most likely thing to be struck by shots to the pelvis would be bone. The ilium is a large flat bone that forms most of the back wall of the pelvis. The problem is that handgun bullets that hit it would not break the bone but only make a small hole in passing through it: this would do nothing to destroy bony support of the pelvic girdle. The pelvic girdle is essentially a circle: to disrupt its structure significantly would require breaking it in two places. Only a shot that disrupted the neck or upper portion of the shaft of the femur would be likely to disrupt bony support enough to cause the person hit to fall. This is a small and highly unlikely target: the aim point to hit it would be a mystery to those without medical training — and to most of those with medical training.

The “theory” stated in the question postulates that “certain autonomic responses the body undergoes during periods of stress” causes officers to shoot low, and that apparently this is good in a gunfight because such shots cause “severe disability.” I hope that the points presented above debunk the second part of the theory. As for the “autonomic responses” that cause officers to shoot low, I am unaware of anything in the anatomy or physiology of the autonomic nervous system that would even suggest such an occurrence. Most laymen do not understand the function of the autonomic nervous system. It is simply a system whose main function is to fine tune the glands and smooth muscles (those in the walls of organs and blood vessels) of the body. During times of stress such as perceived impending danger, the autonomic nervous system diverts blood from the intestines and digestive organs to the skeletal muscles — in the so-called “fight or flight” response. The effects of this response are constantly exaggerated by laymen who lack an adequate understanding of it — most notably by gun writ-ers eager to impress their readers. Interestingly, the human body can get along quite well without major parts of the autonomic nervous system. During my professional life as a surgeon, myself and colleagues removed parts of thousands of vagus nerves (mostly in treating peptic ulcer disease) -- thus depriving the patient of the major part of the parasympathetic half of the autonomic nervous system. We also removed many ganglia from the sympathetic half of the auto-nomic nervous system, in treating such things as profusely excess sweating and various problems caused by spasm of the arteries. I am unaware of any evidence that these operations produced any significant effect on the future capacity of these patients to react appropriately in times of impending danger.

Unfortunately, the pelvis shot fallacy is common. This fallacy, along with other misinformation, is promoted constantly by at least one gun writer who is widely published in the popular gun press. Because of this, I regularly debunk this fallacy by including some of the above rationale in my presentations to law enforcement firearm instructor groups.”

Deaf Smith
January 22, 2007, 08:15 PM
Only reason to shoot for the pelvis is to break them and make them fall. It will NOT put them out of action!!! You use a pelivic shot when COM has failed and the realistic possility of a head shot is not there. To shoot for the pelvis as the first target is like knee capping them. Not a bright idea if they can fight back.


January 23, 2007, 06:20 AM
Check out this link to a past discussion in the "terminal effects forum" on TACTICAL FORUMS:


Contributors to the discussion included Dr. Gary K. Roberts (ballistics researcher) and Dr. Jim Williams (www.tacticalanatomy.com).

Headshots are often advocated as an option if multiple shots to the center of mass fail to stop an assailant. Historically a procedure called "The Mozambique Drill" was taught to create an immediate "stop" -- a "double tap" to the center of mass, and if that didn't stop the fight, follow up with a precise, aimed headshot.

(Col. Jeff Cooper invented that term based on an incident that happened in Mozambique in the mid 1970s where a student employed that procedure to good effect)

Nowadays it is more commonly referred to as a "Failure to Stop Drill" or "Body Armor Drill".

Hits to the central nervous system (CNS) are the only reliable, quick way to put down an adversary, but it's very difficult to make a headshot on an adversary in the middle of a gunfight, particularly if you are moving, your adversary is moving, you're taking incoming fire, and it's in the dark. Also, the head is a small target, well armored by bone and surprisingly resistant to penetration by pistol-caliber rounds.

(I wish I had more opportunities to use AirSoft guns or Simuntions FX and find out the distance at which a shooter can reliably get hits on the head of a hostile target. Given the speed at which events occur and the amount of movement involved, I suspect that most shooters wouldn't be able to deliver a headshot on an actual ambulatory target past 12 or 15 feet.)

As an alternative to the head shot, the pelvic girdle shot was popularized by Massad Ayoob of LFI about 20 years ago. (I first heard about it at a Police Marksman Association Officer Survival Seminar that Ayoob did with Ray Chapman in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1985). The theory was that the pelvic girdle is less mobile and thus easier to hit than the head. A pelvic girdle shot with a heavy enough projectile moving fast enough might break the pelvic girdle, break the structural integrity of the body, and in theory drop the adversary over on their face.

My understanding is that handgun rounds don't usually have enough momentum to crack the pelvic girdle, but that it sometimes happens. A hit with a rifle or shotgun slug is much more likely to crack the pelvis.

Pelvic girdle shots are commonly taught as an alternative aiming point for those cases where distance precludes an attempt at a headshot. Even if the pelvic girdle shot is not as efficient as originally believed, I believe it has viability as an alternate aiming point for use in instances where a headshot isn't feasible.

Another alternative is "vertical tracking" aka "zippering" which was/is (?) taught by the Smith & Wesson Academy. I learned it at a class with the S&W Academy bacj in 1990 or so. This technique is used when facing a single adversary at close range that you need to "burn down" RIGHT NOW. The theory is that the operator begins shooting as soon as the sights are on target, beginning at the suspect's belt line, and then rides the gun up in recoil delivering shots along the centerline of the body, ending by engaging the head with multiple shots. Hopefully a round might strike the spinal column through the throat or hit the brain through the occular cavity in the skull.

I know that John Farnam teaches the technique as an alternative, and refers to it as "zippering".

On the face of it, this technique seems logical enough. I still practice it sometimes. I wonder if it would work unless the target was stationary or moving directly at you (and these days we generally train people to move laterally off the line of force while engaging the target, which makes it harder for you to be hit but also makes it harder for you to hit THEM).

(I would be interested to know of any incidents where "vertical tracking" was deliberately employed by someone in a confrontation, and how it worked.)

All other considerations aside, just as a marksmanship exercise, the "Mozambique Drill" is a good way to teach the shooter to "change gears" from delivering a rapid "double tap" to the chest with a flash sight picture, to slowing down just a bit and delivering an accurate shot to the head. Being able to "change gears" to adapt to circumstance is an important skill, and one of the things you can learn by shooting in IPSC or IDPA matches.

January 23, 2007, 10:02 AM
There has always been a very valid shot to the base of the spine for dangerous animals. A network of nerves radiates out from the spine , which control the hind end .The effectiveness of this shot was shown on a TV program recently.A cape buffalo was wounded and heading for thick brush .The hunter shot at the base of the spine and the hind end of the buffalo instantly collapsed !! ... So there is a nervous system effect on BGs in addition to possible bone damage in pelvic girdle shots. It will of course put them down but not out.

January 23, 2007, 10:47 AM
Pelvic Girdle shots are simply another urban legend

Then this is where the "myth" came from. Officer Cirillo was in more gunfights than just about any other officer and swore by the pelvic shot. His book documents his reasons and unlike the theorizing offerred here his first reason for going with the pelvic shot was talking to the coroners and examining the after effects of gunfights. His reason for continuing with it was even better though, first hand observation of the effects of pelvic shots as compared to other shots, including head shots where rounds often deflected.


There are three other very good reason to advocate the pelvic shot.

1. If in a confrontation situation holding your weapon on the pelvic region allows you to effectively observe your opponnent's hands. Hands kill.

2. Most concealable body armor does not cover the area.

3. As a target area it is less subject to motion as the head and a near miss of the pelvic region may still be a hit somewhere else (unlike the head).

January 23, 2007, 10:52 AM
Only reason to shoot for the pelvis is to break them and make them fall. It will NOT put them out of action!!! You use a pelivic shot when COM has failed and the realistic possility of a head shot is not there. To shoot for the pelvis as the first target is like knee capping them. Not a bright idea if they can fight back.

COM will also not instantly put them out of action. It may drop them or it may cause enough harm to kill them but it is not a CNS lightswitch.

The bottom line is aside from CNS hits the best way to stop a fight is to do enough damage and inflict enough pain that the other side throws in the towell. My belief is the Pelvic shot will do that as effectively as the COM shot, while also buying you the ability to retreat with reduced chance of pursuit.

January 23, 2007, 11:17 AM
"My belief is the Pelvic shot will do that as effectively as the COM shot"

Okay....based on what Jim Cirillo said alone:confused:

Certainly not the terminal ballistics and anatomy cited above...but hey if JC says so...heck ...he is practically a doctor :D

Read the entire thread on TF...there are more than one scientific journal cited as well as some neat anecdotal evidence...which is all Mr. Cirillo is presenting

There is plenty of data on both sides of the issue

While I would not hesitate to aim for the pelvic girdle if that was all I had to aim at...shifting the focus from the COM is silly

You are relying heavily on the psychological rather than physiological by shifting your aim lower

January 23, 2007, 11:28 AM
Unless we are going to line up test subjects to be shot in the COM vs the pelvis then we are going to have to depend on what info we have.

The doctors may say what they think on the matter, Mr. Cirillo spoke to them as well. Some will advocate COM some will advocate Pelvis. I know though that the pelvis worked over and over again for the NYCPD stake out squad. I believe the number given in Mr. Cirillo's book for all the shootings involving pelvic shots while her ran the squad was 100%. There were also numerous head and COM failures. I'll go with the advise of someone who has seen the elephant on this one.

January 23, 2007, 11:44 AM
What we have here is a difference in question asked vs. question answered. The question (essentially) asked by these "pelvis shots" threads is: Will a shot to the pelvis have more "knockback" than a shot to the center of mass? The question invariably answered is: Will a shot to the pelvis incapacitate an attacker faster than a shot to center of mass?

The answer to the first question is: Yes. A shot from the front in a downward direction, impacting the pelvic bone, will knock the target's center of mass downward and to the rear, causing them to fall backward and land on their butt and lower back. Often, a shot to the torso simply opens a hole in the person, with little "knockback" effect.

The answer to the second question is: No.

For incapacitation to occur, you need one of three things: structural failure, vascular failure, or nervous failure. Structural failure exists when the skeleton is broken apart to the point that an attacker's limbs can no longer be raised, thereby rendering him motionless. Vascular failure exists when insufficient bloodflow exists to deliver sufficient oxygen to the brain, thereby rendering the target unconscious. Nervous failure exists when there is a disconnect in the control nerves between a target's brain and his limbs, thereby rendering him motionless.

None of these three things will occur (with any reasonable degree of speed) from a shot to the pelvis. Unless you are so lucky as to hit the femoral artery, vascular failure will take many, many minutes from a pelvis shot. The pelvis bone does not provide structural support to the arms or head, and thus, the attacker hit with a pelvic shot will still retain control of his attacking members. Finally, the nerves in the pelvis do not control the arms or head. So, the attacker hit with a pelvic shot will still retain communication between his brain and his attacking members.

CONCLUSION: If you're being tackled, and you wish to sit your attacker on his butt, then try a pelvis shot. But, if you wish to take away the attacker's ability to keep fighting, best shoot to the head or heart. (And, of course, if all you've got is a tire iron, a good bash to the wrist can go a long way!)

January 23, 2007, 11:46 AM
Jeff22...you didn't highlight this statement from the doctor that was the lone voice in that thread saying Pelvic shots "could be effective"

"I think we agree more than we disagree in that we both believe a thoracic "center-of-mass" shot is conceptually simpler for most defensive shooters to follow. It should be the default mode for all but the expert shooter, or the anatomically learned."

Dave R
January 23, 2007, 04:02 PM
As an alternative to the head shot, the pelvic girdle shot was popularized by Massad Ayoob of LFI about 20 years ago. (I first heard about it at a Police Marksman Association Officer Survival Seminar that Ayoob did with Ray Chapman in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1985). I read a quote from some famous western gunfighter--maybe it was Wyatt Earp?--that basically said to use a gut shot/pelvic shot because that would "take the fight" out of someone faster than a chest shot. "Make 'em a new navel." Maybe it was an urban legend? If no, it predates Ayoob by a bit. Also Cirillo.

Anyway, I do like the thought that body armor does not cover this region. Not that every BG wears body armor, but some obviously do. North Hollywood, for example.

Deaf Smith
January 23, 2007, 07:26 PM
Let me ask you guys something.... Ever shoot a deer in the pelvis? Did the deer drop dead? Was the deer incapacitated? No a deer ain't a human, but think about it. Awfull funny to say using a weak round like a pistol on a hopped up man would somehow drop'em dead while you shoot a deer with a much more powerful round in the pelvis and the thing runs/crawls off. Different physiology? Or maybe just not that good a place to shoot if you want someone to totaly cease whatever they are doing.

I'm sure if you hit someone in the pelvis with a good round they may very well drop, and that might rattle them, but be incapacitated? I doubt it.

And about Cirillo. Does anyone who say he thinks the pelvis is the way to go have documentation. I have some of his books and kind of wonder what page he wrote saying these things.


January 23, 2007, 07:42 PM
He'd probably bleed out just as fast if you hit the femoral artery as he would if shot in the guts. If the round had enough power to dislodge the femur by means of destroying the ball and socket joint he may not stop the attack but he'll look like he's playing Hop Scotch while he continues.
Oh man, I just reread this and that's gotta hurt........

Don H
January 23, 2007, 09:07 PM
I made a comment earlier stating that a broken pelvis may not necessarily incapacitate an attacker. That statement was based on my personal experience with a pelvis fractured in three places. Here's what happened to me: I was in an elevated position when my lower body was struck by an object weighing slightly over 16 tons. I incurred an open book fracture of the pelvis - the pubic bone was fractured and separated, both the right and left illium were rolled back resulting in a fracture of the right illium, the left ishium, and a partial separation of the right and left sacro-illiac joints. I also incurred a cracked coccyx and L-5 vertebra, ruptured bladder, and a plateau fracture of the left tibia (broken knee). Quite a bit of internal bleeding, also. Pretty major trauma.

I retained conciousness. I was able to direct the crane operator to move the object off of me. I was able to direct other people to secure the object. I was able to lower myself, using my upper body strength, to ground level. When I was at ground level, I needed someone to swing my legs around to a resting position. I prevailed upon someone to give me a drink of water. Shortly after, I lost consciousness for a varying periods of time.

Despite this massive trauma, I was lucid and somewhat mobile for what would seem to be surprising amount of time - probably around 15 minutes. I was, obviously, fully capable of using a firearm and/or a knife to injure someone, if I were a criminal, before I finally lost consciousness. Based on this personal experience, I would be very hesitant to consider a pelvic shot, or shots, to be incapacitating unless the spine were to be directly struck by a bullet. Even if a major artery were to be severed, the wound would not be immediately incapacitating or fatal.

In my opinion, the pelvis is, at best, a secondary or tertiary target.

January 24, 2007, 02:22 PM

Wow... that sucks. I'm glad you're okay now. I'm sure your case is by far an extreme exception rather than the norm. You were obviously in shock and probably running on pure adrenaline. I'm not saying that hip shots are effective... just that your experience is not the norm and cannot be compared to a gun shot wound to the hip.

While your injuries were severe (hell, imagine what caliber it would that could lauch a projectile over 16 tons!), they were crushing injuries rather than penetration type injuries. While bone fragments can esily rupture arteries, I don't know if that was your case. Regardless, you were in shock and running in pure adrenaline. Had that 16 ton object fallen on your head or chest, you would be toast. I guess that is why COM and head shots are much more reliable.

January 24, 2007, 02:25 PM
"I guess that is why COM and head shots are much more reliable"

Simply more margin for error

More "stuff" that bleeds

January 24, 2007, 02:43 PM
Personaly i will shoot when the target intersects the sights , and from there i will work to that " magic triangle " ( my term ) that is located between the nipples and the nose . To shut them down right now ( drop in place no action ) IMHO the only chance with a pistol is a carefully taken head shot . Not just shoot the head , but place a round in close proximity to the spine or sever it high in the neck /or into the brain . This is why i really dont count a pistol as an immediate stopper .

Odd Job
January 24, 2007, 03:41 PM
A lot of misleading information is being offered in this thread.

Firstly, the size of bony targets available in the pelvis which will have significant outcomes if fractured is quite small. If you have to put down on paper all the items that can impair a suspect's mobility, you are essentially left with the acetabulum on each side (the 'socket') and the components of the femur (the 'ball' and the rest of the thigh bone). These are small structures, located laterally on the suspect (more to the side).

The position and size of these structures makes it a matter of luck only, to score a hit. You can't aim at these structures because the clothed individual has no exterior landmarks by which you can adjust your aim.

In terms of nerve damage, the spinal cord ends at the level of L2 (the second lumbar vertebra). From there you have nerve roots that travel down and alongside the lower spine and then radiate down to the legs etc. If you are shooting the pelvic area, then you are shooting from the level of L4 downwards. You aren't going for the spinal cord. Animal comparisons are not valid. You have to assume that you will not be causing any significant neurological damage when firing at the pelvis. When I say significant, I mean tactically significant for self defense purposes.

Vascular damage: yes, there are blood vessels in the pelvic area that will cause severe bleeding if damaged. These are mainly the iliac arteries (you can think of these as an inverted Y over the pelvic. The iliacs turn into the femoral arteries and these are quite large as arteries go, but nonetheless a small target.

Other organs and structures: you have the bladder (not vital) and in women you have reproductive organs which are not vital. I don't include male genitalia in this because I regard those as being below pelvic level. Anyway those are not vital (although the penis does bleed quite a lot if shot).
The bowel is of little consequence in terms of incapacitation, but long term effects are more conducive to infection than COM shots.

If you shoot the pelvis and you cause damage to the bony structures, what you are doing is a causing one or more fractures. You don't crack it, destroy it, open it up like a book or cause any other spectacular damage to it. You break a bone and if it is weight-bearing then the guy may drop on the affected side or he may lean to the other side. He isn't out of the fight. In fact he may not even bleed significantly. Remember what I told you about how small these areas are. You haven't automatically won the fight if you hit those.

So as far as I am concerned, it is not an ideal primary target. If at some stage of the argument you are presented with the pelvis as an ideal shot and no COM shot is viable, then take it by all means. But don't bank on dramatic results.

January 30, 2007, 11:03 PM
If it EVER happens...I just hope I can put hits on target! I'll take anything from crotch to forehead...as many as I can make.

About ten days ago two BGs tried to rob a Discount tobacco shop about a mile from home. The clerks were armed and fought it off...hitting one perp in the FINGER! Not great shooting,but, it ended the robbery attempt. They did much better than the clerks at the (one week pervious) robbery of a tobacco shop...both died and one customer seriously wounded in that one.

So...if it happens...fight!...do your best but get hits on target!...anywhere!!

I know this may not be the "tactical" way to think...I'm just thinking about surviving.


Blackwater OPS
January 31, 2007, 01:47 AM
Just to add to what Oddjob said, if you look at a overlay of the human circulatory system, there are massive arterial structures in the chest, not to mention the lungs heart and other organs. There is not much in the pelvis besides bone. I know where I will shoot.