At-home bullet testing: Try it today

It took a couple of months and a refrigerator full of ballistics gelatin, but the performance results are in


I have some anecdotes of my own. I was once dispatched to take a statement from a shooting victim who was struck by a single bullet. It was a 25-caliber bullet shot from a 1 1/2-inch barrel handgun. The bullet was lodged 6 1/2 inches into the victim’s left shoulder. That’s correct—the bullet initially struck his bone. The bullet hole aligned with the door column of a 70’s model passenger car made of heavy gauge steel. The bullet would have had to pierce two layers of mld steel en route to the intended target, which I inspected. The victim lived. Is that anecdotal, or what?

At best, my bullet testing is anecdotal. I cannot possibly test enough material to make anything conclusive. However, we all can. That is, if we all share what we have found after shooting ballistic gelatin and any other material with a particular cartridge, it can identify a trend.

The FBI Protocol should be taken seriously. It is not marred by advertising dollars and is done in a scientific manner. The results are easily communicated and are repeatable. If done correctly, variables like ambient temperature and other factors are carefully factored.

I abbreviate my testing to the bare gelatin and automobile glass test. I purchase real auto glass and prop sheets of it in front of the prepared 10-percent gelatin. I can usually get several shots through a sheet of glass and about three shots into a gelatin block. I am looking for expansion and penetration. If I am testing a single cartridge, I shoot heavy layers of clothing, too. I would personally like to do much more testing, but my refrigerator only holds three blocks at any given time.

Here’s what you want your cartridge to do: It should penetrate ballistic material from 12 to 18 inches and expand between 1.5 to 1.75 times its initial diameter, retaining its full weight at its final resting point. It should be able to penetrate intermediate barriers like auto glass and still be “effective.” Handgun cartridges should be able to print about 4 inches or less at 25 yards, which is most often better than the average shooter can shoot.

Since my accuracy testing relies on my own eyes, which are subject to all kinds of factors, this portion is pass/fail. For example, several of the groups I shot with Winchester’s .357 SIG were single holes at 25 yards, with a flyer that opened up the group. When I was putting it down on paper, it was 3.75 inches, but some groups could have been less than one inch without the flyer.

There are a lot of mitigating factors. For example, a hollow point bullet can be impacted by layers of clothing in front of the intended target and the bullet will behave exactly like a solid bullet, meaning it will not “dump” its energy within the 12- to 18-inch area and likely over penetrate.

The logic for the testing protocol is on track. From most angles, the farthest a bullet would have to penetrate is about a foot or so in the human body in order to damage a vital area. Over-penetration means that a bullet has left its intended target, and possibly placed an unintended target in jeopardy.

Other mitigating factors come into play. A bullet which performs well in bare gelatin, opening in the media and increasing its diameter as the hollow point effect occurs, often allows the jacket and lead core separate in after barrier tests. Some companies have compensated for this activity by modifying their design, usually by bonding the lead with the core so it stays intact after the initial shock. Others have gone with using a single metal, usually copper, for the bullet, reducing the opportunity for separation. Still others have embraced the idea of separation by offering products that break into sections on impact.

Separation, by the way, is usually undesirable in tests because one of the measurements is the percentage of the weight of the retained bullet. Most bonding processes are proprietary, including companies that epoxy the lead core with the copper jacket. There is a good reason why I like Remington cartridges: They use brass jackets that are pre-scored for performance and bonded cores. It was hard to prove my justification here. Several of the fired bullets didn’t stay in the block, veering off their original axis. This is reasonable performance, just hard to record. The 45 ACP versions consistently retained 100 percent bullet weight.

The bottom line: Some cartridges do well in accuracy tests. Others do well in bare gelatin tests. Some do well after barrier, but do not expand in gelatin, often causing over penetration. Some shed their jackets when they are not supposed to, others leave trails of fragments in the ordinance gelatin.

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