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Old November 21, 2019, 01:37 AM   #1
Radny97
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Penetration the (almost) only meaningful measure for self defense ballistics?

Hang with me here. I’ve been thinking a lot lately (dangerous i know) about handgun cartridge ballistics and effectiveness. It was sparked by a comment made by a senior ballistician at Federal Ammunition during a short video i was watching. He commented that hydrostatic shock isn’t a reliable thing until you get up to over 2300 fps, though it can happen intermittently at speeds as low as 1800 fps depending one the mass of the bullet and the part of the body struck by the bullet. He then reiterated the now generally accepted principle that handguns generally just poke holes in people, so the important part for self defense is to ensure that your bullet is going to penetrate the assailant deep enough to reliably stop the threat, followed in a distant second by the concept that bigger holes with sufficient penetration are better than smaller holes with sufficient penetration. He then commented that they don’t develop self defense loads trying to achieve max pressure or max velocity for a given cartridge and bullet weight, but rather they try to load to ensure that that round generally perform within their acceptable penetration window (12 to 18 inches of penetration in ballistic gel after passing through some replicas of heavy clothing, ie. The FBI protocol). He also explained that they recognize that ballistic gel and living flesh are two different things, and that 12-18 inches in gel will yield a different result in flesh, but that that result will be more reliably lethal in living flesh if the round meets the 12-18 inch gel penetration standard, which standard is measurable and repeatable for testing purposes.

These statements were insightful, I thought, since there is so much marketing of self defense rounds that ignore these things.
Which begs the question, why is there so much focus (some might term it marketing hype) on the velocity of the newest and greatest self defense round? Seems to me that an ammo company might do better to market their self defense rounds as “reliably meets the FBI ballistic protocols when shot from a 4 inch barrel.” I think i would find this more persuasive as a marketing tool than “124 grains at 1200 fps”.

So, as I’ve been stewing on these principles, and doing various amounts of load development, i happened to have a chance at shooting some small game at 25 yards using a very light 148 gn hbwc (700 fps) out of a 38 special. The results were devastating on the animal. Knocked it down right there with a clean .38 hole straight through. I then watched a few videos doing ballistic testing of 38 hbwc bullets and saw that they were frequently meeting the FBI penetration standard with very little recoil (though admittedly also very little expansion).

And this made me say to myself, aren’t we all fooling ourselves with the endless discussions about which is the best self defense round? And letting the industry lead us around by the nose for the newest and greatest thing? If the round penetrates sufficiently, then the only remaining debates are really just recoil, expansion, and round capacity, all of which are so dependent on case by case circumstances that they aren’t worth debating about which is “best” because there isn’t one?

Long story short, I’m feeling like the whole self defense round debate is a tempest in a teacup, which is constantly being stirred by the ammo industry to drive sales. But really, there’s been equally effective self defense rounds out there for more than 40 years.




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Old November 21, 2019, 05:12 AM   #2
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Penetration

"Penetration the (almost) only meaningful measure for self defense ballistics?"

Although penetration may not be the only meaningful measure...

If you do NOT have penetration, other factors do NOT matter much!!!

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Old November 21, 2019, 05:44 AM   #3
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Look at the extremes: A slow moving 8 lb sledge can kill by concussion without breaking the skin. So can a mortar round that hits a body and doesn’t explode or penetrate.
A very high speed small diameter AP projectile may enter and exit without upsetting internal organs.
What result did the author want and write to?
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Old November 21, 2019, 05:59 AM   #4
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Um, have you noticed the price difference between the fancy overhyped stuff versus just plain old WC's or even SWC's. Pretty much explains what it's about. It's like the latest greatest expensive fishing lure, just have to catch the fisherman not the fish in order to sell.
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Old November 21, 2019, 08:47 AM   #5
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I don't completely buy into the "no hydrostatic" shock idea in handguns. It isn't nearly the factor that it is with rifles, but field testing both hunting ammo and SD ammo has shown HP ammo will take the fight out of both game and aggressors faster than FMJ or hardcast loads. I'd argue that we see some benefit from hydrostatic shock at impact speeds as slow as 1000 fps.

Was reading the advice from a hunting guide who specialized in handgun hunters and bear. His observation was that for bear SD the heavy for caliber hardcast bullets would guarantee penetration, usually pass through's, and the animal would die. But hunters using HP bullets put the bear on the ground quicker. But penetration was often inadequate from bad shot angles.

We see the same with self defense ammo. I agree that penetration and placement trump everything else. As long as the bullet has enough penetration to reach the vitals it will stop the threat; eventually. But those rounds that have enough penetration to reach vitals AND can impact with speeds of about 1000 fps or faster have proven to stop the threat sooner. This is based on observations taken from the streets, not in a lab. Faster impact speeds means bad guys hit the ground faster and require fewer shots to do it.

I don't buy into the idea that larger caliber means anything. It just makes it harder to achieve penetration. In the grand scheme of things a 45 caliber hole in a 200 lb man is a TINY hole. Having a 9mm hole that is .097" smaller just isn't that much smaller.

The biggest difference today vs 40 years ago is bullet technology. Years ago many HP bullets would over expand and not penetrate enough if pushed too fast. And others would not expand at all if impact speeds were too slow. We've come a long way. Today you can choose a 124 gr HP 9mm bullet that will impact at 1300 fps, expand to 3/4" diameter and still penetrate more than enough to reach vitals. Or you can do the same thing with a 147 gr HP bullet at about 1000 fps. We even have 147gr hardcast bullets @ 1100 fps that will penetrate over 5 FEET in ballistic gel.

Speed kills, as long as you don't have so much speed that the bullet cannot perform adequately.
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Old November 21, 2019, 09:23 AM   #6
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Quote:
And this made me say to myself, aren’t we all fooling ourselves with the endless discussions about which is the best self defense round? And letting the industry lead us around by the nose for the newest and greatest thing? If the round penetrates sufficiently, then the only remaining debates are really just recoil, expansion, and round capacity, all of which are so dependent on case by case circumstances that they aren’t worth debating about which is “best” because there isn’t one?

Long story short, I’m feeling like the whole self defense round debate is a tempest in a teacup, which is constantly being stirred by the ammo industry to drive sales. But really, there’s been equally effective self defense rounds out there for more than 40 years.
Gun sales are down. When one company's sales go up 2%, often another's goes down 2%. So, like lots of very competitive markets, gotta be new, 'innovative', even when it's just 'different'. Same for Ammo
market..competing for your $..with the marketeers. When fewer guns are sold, owned, less ammunition is used.
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Old November 21, 2019, 11:00 AM   #7
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Penetration is necessary.

But a bullet that penetrates 24 inches ansd does not expand is not going to do the same damage as a bullet that penetrates 12 inches and expands violently.

My personal "test" for defensive ammo is simply how much "street cred" does it have with LE.

For instance, I will choose 115 grain +P+ LE ammo any day over the "Miraculous 147 grain penetrators that pass through the perp and kill two bystanders behind him."
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Old November 21, 2019, 12:14 PM   #8
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The three ways to an instant, or near instant stop of an attacker.
1. The most sure. Damage to the central nervous system. Brain or spine. With that it doesn't matter how much epansion. But penetration is a must unless it is a head shot in the right spot.
However, hitting that narrow area of the torso that is the spine is as much luck as it is shooting ability. You won't be shooting at that nicely marked, still piece of paper on a target stand. You will be shooting at a moving, jumping attacking live target.

2. Mental shock causing fainting. " OMG, I've been shot! "
Bullet type shot placement, penetration, or expansion isn't going to mean much if the attacker just faints out of fear after being shot.

3. Now where expansion can make a difference even without proper penetration.
Physical shock due to extreme pain. A deep penetrating bullet that does not expand and does little damage to tissue is much less likely to cause the pain that an expanding bullet destroying more tissue will. In addition, while not resulting in an instant stop, the expanding bullet can result in a much faster bleed out, and loss of consciousness.
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Old November 21, 2019, 01:29 PM   #9
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Penetration has nothing to do with ballistics.
FBI protocol has nothing to do with anything. The FBI is not, never has been and never will be, any kind of arbiter of anything firearm related.
"...penetration is not be the only meaningful measure..." Shot placement matters a whole lot more. The through and through on the leg (That will be a great deal more than 24".) penetrates.
"...a head shot..." Isn't necessarily fatal or an instant or near instant, stop. And the bullet still has to penetrate. In some instances, .22 LR bullets have been known to not penetrate a skull. Studies done after W.W.II showed that troopies hit in the head with rifle fire had a much higher survival rate than a body shot.
"...with the marketeers...." Yep. Most firearms companies are owned by holding companies and operated by MBA's. Market share is the most important thing to them.
"..."street cred" does it have with LE..." That means very little in the real world. Most cops know very little about firearms and never saw a real one prior to getting hired. Most cops never fire their issue weapon while working during their entire career either.
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Old November 21, 2019, 01:52 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by T. O'Heir View Post
Penetration has nothing to do with ballistics.
FBI protocol has nothing to do with anything. The FBI is not, never has been and never will be, any kind of arbiter of anything firearm related.
"...penetration is not be the only meaningful measure..." Shot placement matters a whole lot more. The through and through on the leg (That will be a great deal more than 24".) penetrates.
"...a head shot..." Isn't necessarily fatal or an instant or near instant, stop. And the bullet still has to penetrate. In some instances, .22 LR bullets have been known to not penetrate a skull. Studies done after W.W.II showed that troopies hit in the head with rifle fire had a much higher survival rate than a body shot.
"...with the marketeers...." Yep. Most firearms companies are owned by holding companies and operated by MBA's. Market share is the most important thing to them.
"..."street cred" does it have with LE..." That means very little in the real world. Most cops know very little about firearms and never saw a real one prior to getting hired. Most cops never fire their issue weapon while working during their entire career either.
"Penetration has nothing to do with ballistics." Uhhhh...look up "terminal ballistics."
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Old November 21, 2019, 02:16 PM   #11
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,....is directly related to
"Penetration^ ballistics."
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Old November 21, 2019, 03:08 PM   #12
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Quote:
It was sparked by a comment made by a senior ballistician at Federal Ammunition during a short video i was watching.
Is this the video?

Why Ballistics Gel Works and Caliber Arguments are Dumb

https://www.luckygunner.com/lounge/w...ics-gel-works/
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Old November 21, 2019, 06:56 PM   #13
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A bit of clarification regarding T. O'Heir's comment.

"..."street cred" does it have with LE..." That means very little in the real world. Most cops know very little about firearms and never saw a real one prior to getting hired. Most cops never fire their issue weapon while working during their entire career either.

Perhaps 'street cred' is a poor choice of words. Police departments have the opportunity to see how their chosen ammo performs in the real world. No gel tests, but real bodies shot under conditions in the real world that are usually less than ideal. I submit that LE agencies have folks (at least a small few that care or are paid to care) that know a great deal about terminal ballistics. The rest of his statement is pretty accurate. Based on personal experience, many police not only don't know much about forearms, they don't really care. Another tool on the bat belt, nothing more.
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Old November 21, 2019, 08:26 PM   #14
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Street cred, to me, is defined by what officers out on the street TRUST based on experiences by their department and the data from other departments.

If experienced officers trust it, I tend to trust it.

I'll certainly take the word of experienced officers long before "gunzine" typewriter jockies or shooting games "players."
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Old November 21, 2019, 08:51 PM   #15
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I disagree with a lot of the ballistic "experts" Having been a street cop for a long time I saw a lot of people shot, investigated shootings and spoke with other investigators who investigated shootings. Magnum revolver cartridges make wounds that look like rifle wounds. Limited fragmentation is a good thing.
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Old November 21, 2019, 09:01 PM   #16
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"Most cops never fire their issue weapon while working during their entire career either." (T. OHeir)

I'm assuming you mean "fire", as in a self defense / tactical situation (?), as the vast majority of LEO's have to fire lots of rounds during training, certification and annual qualifications.
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Old November 21, 2019, 10:42 PM   #17
Radny97
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DMK View Post
Is this the video?

Why Ballistics Gel Works and Caliber Arguments are Dumb

https://www.luckygunner.com/lounge/w...ics-gel-works/


Yes actually that was it. I couldn’t remember the source so I’m glad you found it. Also it appears that i melded some of what I’ve learned from other sources with what i learned in that video, so sorry if I mis-quoted anything.


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Old November 24, 2019, 02:02 PM   #18
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Meplat Diameter & Penetration

Prior to WWII, the 38 Special factory round with the reputation of being most effective, was a full power,(850 fps) wadcutter. This was not the reduced load still known as the "mid-range target wadcutter." Today, small manufacturers like Underwood and Buffalo Bore, are again making full power - standard pressure hard cast lead wadcutter ammunition.

Since wadcutter ammunition has the widest possible unexpanded meplat, such ammunition makes sense for use in 1 & 7/8" barreled 38 Spl defensive revolvers for consistent bullet performance at attainable velocities

Perhaps then, penetration and meplat diameter, (expanded or unexpanded), should be the fundamental criteria for defensive handgun ammunition comparison.

Last edited by RMcL; November 24, 2019 at 11:18 PM.
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Old November 24, 2019, 06:05 PM   #19
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Perhaps then, penetration and meplat diameter, (expanded or unexpanded), should be the fundamental criteria for defensive handgun ammunition comparison.

Precisely



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Old November 25, 2019, 07:49 AM   #20
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It is a tempest. One round may perform a miracle in one shooting and fail miserably on the next guy. You may get better actual results in the field with a basic round than a two dollar bullet. When you look at the premium bullets, it's even more ridiculous to argue. There is so little difference in performance that the chaos factor involved with hitting a random part of a random body under completely random circumstances that the difference between two rounds is nearly unimportant. Nothing an inch left of that artery is going to work as well as one that hits it.

Use a well tested and well accepted round and quit caring. You're life depends on hundreds of different factors and many, if not most of them are far more important than your choice of handguns or bullets. If I shoot a guy with a glock loaded with rangers, and shoot his sidekick with a sig and gold dots, The least important part of that shooting is going to be my choice of gun and ammo. I think that the most important one is whether that gun and ammo will actually fire and perform. Right?

I use different brands in every one of my handguns, mostly what looked like it would work good and cost less when I bought them. currently my 9mm is sig and I think that my 357 has plain old remington hp rounds. You can't make me even care half a fart about whether I am using "ineffective" rounds.

Penetration tests in jello are a good test for standardizing. Jello isn't even remotely like animal tissues. What we get from that testing is a standard to work by. it's probably a fact that a bullet that works well in jello will also work well in tissue. But as I said, life is about chaos, and that chaos will decide what works, or what fails miserably.
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Old November 25, 2019, 08:37 AM   #21
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How do you measure caliber effectiveness? Gotta use some 'standard' in terms of distance, materials, etc. Actual numbers don't mean as much as compared numbers. Again, using some sort of standard.

PLUS, tough to find people who will volunteer to be shot..maybe a standardized 'meat target', with thanks to Paul Harrell...
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Old November 25, 2019, 01:15 PM   #22
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Even shooting millions of people wouldn't give any sort of definitive answer. There will be some clear, definitive better and not better rounds. In general, though, the studies would probably show no significance that would be considered a scientific certainty. Then there would have to be confirmed in another study.
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