Skip to comments.Terminal Ballistics as Viewed in a Morgue (an oldie but goodie)
Posted on 08/10/2012 10:44:12 AM PDT by LibWhacker
Terminal Ballistics as Viewed in a Morgue
One of the benefits of working in a morgue is that I get to see what works and what doesn't. Ballistic gelatin is good as far as it goes, but there's nothing like seeing what a bullet actually does once it strikes bone, flesh, and organs. Suffice it to say, it doesn't always mimic ballistic gelatin.
The other is that I get to hear some great CCW stories. Here's one of them: A recently-married couple living in one of the less desirable sections of Atlanta decided that for safety purposes they should get a handgun and learn how to shoot it. They bought a Glock 27 in .40, CCW permits, and made regular trips to an indoor range.
One evening, having just come back from the range, they cleaned and loaded the Glock and had left it on the coffee table in the living room, intending to put it up later. Shortly thereafter they heard a knock at the door and, expecting company, opened it without looking through the peephole.
A crazed male entered the apartment brandishing a handgun yelling, "Give it up, give it up!" The husband said that it was obvious the individual was high on drugs and there was absolutely no question in his mind that both he and his wife were going to die. Knowing this, he decided that his only option was to go down fighting.
The BG forced them both down a narrow hallway into the living room, screaming all the while. The husband was in the lead, followed by his wife, and then the BG, whose view of the living room was being blocked by the husband and wife.
The husband reached down, grabbed the Glock, pushed his wife aside, and fired one shot at the BG, striking him dead center in the middle of the chest. Although knocked to the floor, the BG still made a feeble attempt to retrieve his own gun. At this point, the husband let him hold another one to the chest. That ended that little problem.
Upon talking to the still-shaken husband, the police said he could remember little of what all the BG had said. As he recalled it, "All I can remember is that his first words were 'Give it up!" and his last words just as he saw the Glock were "Oh, (fill in the blank)!"
I see an average of 8.2 autopsies per day/365 days per year, and I can tell you that when the chips are down, there's nothing that beats a 12-gauge. As for handguns, the name of the game is not only shot placement but how a properly-placed bullet acts once it gets there. I've seen folks killed by a bb to the eye and others survive after being hit by several well-placed rounds with a 9mm.
As for me, I'll take a slow-moving .45 to a gun fight any day. I absolutely despise a 9mm for defensive situations (yes, they will eventually kill but often not quickly enough to prevent the BG from doing you in first)and a .380 as well. These are probably the two calibers I see most often on the autopsy table.
But then, I've seen most everything. I've seen a guy killed by a .416 Rigby, as well as a suicide to the head with a .44 Mag that didn't penetrate the skull on the other side.
The long and short of it is that you just don't know how ANY bullet will react to tissue and bone until you open them up and take a look. I've seen hardball fragment and hollowpoints act just like hardball. That said, shoot what you're comfortable with and place your shots well whatever caliber you use.
The .357 is gloriously effective. It's just that semi-autos are much more common than they used to be, so we see far more 9mm and .380 rounds on the autopsy table than we do the .38 and .357. Particularly among the gangbangers, the 9mm and .380 are the weapons of choice. The .357 is a wonderfully effective round for self-defense from what I've seen, but it's rare that we get them in anymore.
Again, this is from experience that I've made my calls on what works and what doesn't. I have no use for mouse guns like the .32, although it's a lot better to have a mouse gun than nothing at all. Personally, I'll never carry anything smaller than a .40 and prefer the .45. Day in and day out, results from the autopsy table show me that the .45 is the gun to have in a gun fight, provided you can shoot it well. If not, it's better to have something you can shoot well, even if it's a mouse gun, than something you can't.
Yeah, tell me about it, Smitty. I spent most of my life in Knoxville, TN and absolutely loved it. But then, my job is working in the Medical Examiner's Office, and, as you said, this is a target-rich environment. Having a job in an Atlanta morgue is job security at its best.
KRL, I'll take slow and heavy to light and fast any day. What I want is a round that plows through bone and tissue and expends ALL of its energy in the body. That said, the 125-grain .357 is marvelously effective.
S/W-Lifer, You're correct in what you're thinking. Yes, the 9mm and .380 are the rounds I most often see on the autopsy table, but they're also the rounds that usually require multiple hits to make the kill. The standing joke in the morgue is to guess the caliber by looking at the x-rays. If multiple rounds show up on the x-rays more often than not it's a 9mm or .380 (or .32 or .25 or some mouse gun caliber). If only one round shows up, it could be an inordinately good hit with a .380 or 9mm, but more likely it's a .40 or .45.
Yes, the .380 and 9mm will do the job, but usually multiple hits are required as opposed to single hits with a .40 or .45.
Instead of individual replies to each of these questions, let me see if I can narrow some observations down into one long one. Forgive me if some of these have been in other posts, but they bear repeating.
First, ballistic gelatin, being all that's available for most bullet testing, is good as far as it goes but it's often far different from what we see in the morgue. A far more realistic scenario would be to dress up ballistic gelatin with a heavy coat of denim to mimic blue jeans, embed some bones obtained from a butcher shop, and throw in a few objects of varying densities to mimic organs. Try it again, and I think you'll see that this impressive wound cavity that's so often seen in ballistic gelatin goes down the tubes. The human body isn't just composed of one density as ballistic gelatin is, and the bullet does various things to various parts of the body as it passes through.
And that's why I think observations from a morgue are so important. Day in and day out, I get to see what works and what doesn't. More than that, I get to see what the same caliber does with various bullets weights and designs and how it reacts to different parts of the body. The best of all are when the gangbangers use the mix and match technique and shoot a variety of bullets in the same magazine and these bullets wind up in the same victim shot from the same gun. Hardball and hollowpoints in the same body from the same gun give a great comparion on the effectiveness of each.
So let me give a few thoughts here. First, as you've pretty well guessed by now, I'm a big fan of the .40 and .45 for personal defense, and for the same reasons. They're both big, slow-moving bullets. Of the two, I think big is more important. As I've said before, I want something that will plow through bone and keep going, not skip off of it. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a .380 or 9mm strike bone on a well-placed shot and skip off in a non-vital direction, leaving the BG free to return fire. With the .40 and .45, this seldom happens. Bone is in the body for basically two reasons--to give support as with the legs and spinal column and to protect major organs, such as the ribs protecting the heart or the skull protecting the brain. Skip a bullet off a support bone, such as the leg, and the BG will keep shooting. Break it, like you generally do with a .40 or .45, and the BG is going to hit the pavement and your chances of survival increase dramatically. It's the same with a shot to the chest. Skip a 9mm off the sternum (breastbone) and the fight continues; plow through the sternum with a .45 and, trust me, the fight is over. I'm just convinced that all things being equal, bigger is better when it comes to bullet size.
I also like bullets to expend all their energy in the body, not only for the protection of nearby civilians, but because I think it imparts more damage. I'm a bit less certain of this one, however, than I am about bullet size. Whether a bullet remains in the body is often as much a result of WHERE in the body it hit as what it was hit with. If hit solely in tissue, more often than not the bullet exits the body, regardless of what caliber it was; bone, on the other hand, can slow the bullet dramatically and leave it lodged in the body. As I said before, I once saw a .44 Magnum enter the skull point blank between the eyes and flatten and not exit on the inside of the skull on the back of the head. Amazing!
As for the .357 being a well-documented man-stopper, I'm guessing that you guys are right in assuming that it's mainly a function of velocity, but if someone wants to disagree I'll have no issue with it because it's a caliber we almost NEVER see anymore. When I was a cop in Atlanta it was the caliber of choice for law enforcement. Unfortunately, I only rarely got to see autopsies back then so I can't speak from vast experience. With the increasing use of semi-autos, the prevalence of revolver rounds such as the .38 and .357 has dropped dramatically, and although we still see the .38 with some frequency, we almost never get to see the .357 at autopsy. Still, in its most lethal form, it's a 125-grain bullet, the same as a 9mm in many cases, and the 9mm has a horrible reputation as a reliable man-stopper. Again, I'm only guessing that it's a function of the higher velocity of the .357. The .41 Magnum, for all its hype about being the next great law enforcement caliber, never came into widespread use and I can't remember ever digging one out at autopsy, so I'll leave this one alone. And almost without exception, the bullet weight I see most often with the .44 is the commercially-available 240 grains so I can't speak to anything besides that.
Remember, folks, that what I see on the autopsy table is most often BGs shooting BGs (sniff, sniff. Forgive me, my eyes are welling up with tears and I might have to continue this thread later. Ok, better now, so I'll continue) or, worse, BGs shooting good guys. In either case, BGs usually aren't students of ballistics, they aren't NRA members, they don't read Guns and Ammo, and they don't sit down at the Dillon 550 at night cranking out some new handload they've read about. They buy commercially-available ammo and, occasionally, add some personal touches they've read about in the latest issue of Gangbanger Magazine, such as filling the cavity of the hollowpoint with mercury (Yes, I've seen it. Worked just like hardball.)or deeply scoring the nose of the bullet (worked just like frangible except that it came apart on the outside of the other BGs clothing, which is why we had this one on the autopsy table (sniff). That said, if we want to evaluate various bullet weights and designs that aren't available commercially, we're once again left with ballistic gelatin, and the more I see on the autopsy table, the less confidence I have in the results.
Finally, just a couple of answers to questions: First, Houston is mostly right in assuming that multiple rounds seen from the 9mm and .380 are from the higher magazine capacity and contollability of the two calibers. Again, however, much of it is due to the fact that these two calibers just aren't getting the job done before the other BG returns fire and sends our BG to gangbanger heaven. Yes, the shots were eventually lethal, but many times not immediately so. And, yes, they CAN BE an effective weapon IF placed in a lethal area and IF the bullet gets the job done once it gets there instead of skipping off in a non-lethal direction. My advice, however, is to get a larger caliber such as a .40 or .45, practice until you're confortable with it, and use it as your carry gun, not the 9mm or .380. Practice will greatly reduce the first IF mentioned above, and a larger caliber will greatly reduce the other.
As for the .223 and the 7.62x39, yes, I've seen a few but not enough that I'd feel comfortable expounding on them. I wouldn't doubt the rifle instructor's description of the shredding of the organs a bit because I've seen it myself. Because the velocity of almost any rifle caliber is usually greater than with handguns, the temporary cavity caused by most rifle bullets is ALMOST always going to be bigger and cause more damage. In their military configurations, both calibers are FMJs, and most authorities (of which I'm not one) believe that yaw, a major factor in wound dynamics, begins in a shorter distance with the .223 than the 7.62x39 and thus imparts more damage, all else being equal. With increased yaw, the .223 begins to deform and even fragment while the 7.62x39, which usually has a steel core in addition to lead, often does not. Change the bullet design and you've just opened another can of worms. Let me say this very clearly to avoid alienating the rifle crowd: The explanation I've just given is what I've read by those who have seen far more wounds of both calibers than I have, not by what I've seen. We rarely see either caliber and I just don't think I've had enough experience with them to want to take it much farther than that. We see mostly handgun wounds, followed by shotguns, followed by rifles.
By now, most of us have made up our minds on what we'll carry, one way or the other. In 21 pages of posts what I've said has either confirmed what you've long believed, possibly caused some of you to switch or at least rethink your caliber choice, or angered some of you so badly that nothing I've said is going to change your mind. Again, that wasn't my intent. My intent was just to provide food for thought based on what I've SEEN in the morgue.
Some of you have asked for descriptions of injuries, but I'm not sure a description such as "the projectile struck the anterior superior iliac spine, was deflected posteroinferiorly, and became lodged in the auricular surface of the innominate approximately 7 mm superior to the greater sciatic notch" is quite as effective as saying "it broke the hip". Descriptions of soft tissue damage would be even more complex than that. Yes, I could go back through the autopsy reports and give a description of the wound either simply, in complex fashion, or somewhere in between but I just don't have time to do it. If my statements of, "Occasionally, I've seen the 9mm fragment or fail to reach the vital organs, whereas I don't think I can remember seeing a .45 do so" aren't sufficient, I'm afraid you're on your own.
And, yes, we could bat around theories such as Hatcher, LaGarde and many others as well as innumerable variables such as bullet design, bullet weight, velocity, and intermediate targets and still wind up right back at where we are now--in the typical caliber war with no concensus and no resolution. And I don't have time for that either.
As a parting word let me say what I've said many times before--that what I've tried to do is provide food for thought based on what I've SEEN, nothing more. Take it for only that and don't try to read more into it than is actually there. Think it over and if there's something you can use, fine. If you are adamant that your opinion is correct even though it differs from mine, that's ok too. But in either case remember this: The mind is like a parachute--it only works when it is open.
It's been fun, folks, but now I'm going to leave it with you.
Stay safe, stay patriotic, and stay off my autopsy table.
I remember that scene. Very funny... and very true, I think.
9 x 23
Capacity of the 9 mm
Stopping power of the .357 mag
Not much in the way of commercial ammo (mostly reload)
Not much in the way of standard guns (mostly custom builds)
I take these things with a grain of salt. The man who taught me how to really shoot was a Viet Nam vet, and longtime member of the army rifle team. What did he carry as his personal sidearm in the civilian world? A Ruger Mark III.
The only thing on my bench that isn't Lee is a big honking Hornady scale. The Lee scales are twee little things made of plastic. They might work great, but I don't trust them.
Thank you very much. I’m going to check it out now and see what it costs to get started. I just dropped a thousand bucks for ammo for my .40 Browning HP and I have another three pistols and two rifles to make purchases for. So if I can get started reloading for a thousand bucks, that’s a pretty good deal I think... Not to mention that, when and if the balloon goes up people will be crying for reloading equipment. Thank you again. Very useful info.
One thought for shotgun guys. My 12 ga. is loaded with the last two rounds in 3-1/2 inch magnum buckshot, a whole lot more kick than the Federal Reduced Recoil 2-3/4 inch rounds loaded for home defense. In the event that I lose count, and if I end up needing that many shots, (1) I want a reminder that I’m almost empty, and (2) I’m a whole lot more interested in hitting hard and a whole lot less concerned about over-penetration.
Reloading can be a hobby in itself. My son and I have been reloading for over 25 years.
Started out with a single stage press, and graduated to a multi-stage, auto advance press when the ammo count needed to be higher (cause and effect?). I really like Dillon presses, but I’ve had great luck with a Forster five-stage auto advancing manual press, too.
First set of dies was .38/.357. Next, added 9mm (for his habit), and followed that up with .45ACP dies. Then got into rifle reloading and settled on .223 as the caliber of choice.
He has since added a couple of larger rifle calibers to his menu. I’ve pretty much settled on the .45 and .223 for my needs. Between us we reload probably 5000 - 6000 rounds a year.
Good setup will include a good solid press, good brand dies (carbide sizers, IMO), a decent hi-cap tumbler for case cleaning, and several really good reloading manuals (Sierra, Hornady, etc.).
If you add in shotgun (lighter press), you would be complete.
Powder, primers, bullets, and you are off to the races.
Have FUN! It’s a great hobby. Quick Internet search will get you started. Or a visit to a large sporting goods shop.
I've heard good things about Lee loaders, I just haven't ever used one.
I like the Dillon ads. Always a lovely lady in the ads. Hey, sue me, I’m a red-blooded American!!!!
I’ve got a .308, but it’s a hunting rifle. I absolutely NEED an AR-15, or two, or three. But I refuse to buy one as configured and approved by those traitorous scum in Sacramento. I should’ve bought one years ago, but I was too busy buying handguns. Now I can’t legally buy what I want. Have to get out of this effed-up state.
You need not even get as exotic as the Coonan. The .357 Sig, which is essentially a .40 S&W case bottle-necked to .357 has ballistics that compare favorably with full horsepower .357 magnum rounds. Here are a list of LE agencies who have chosen the .357 Sig as their round of choice:
Delaware State Police (First to adopt the 357 SIG)
Dallas, Texas Police
Federal Air Marshals
Federal Protective Services (FPS) Special Agents for General Services Administration (GSA) - P229
Keizer Police Department, Oregon
La Porte County Indiana Sheriff's Department
Laurence County Sheriff's Office, Tennessee
Las Vegas Metro Police (allowed use of)
Liberty Twp Police Dept, Ohio
Maine Aroostook County Sheriff's Office
Maine Game Wardens (P226)
Maricopa County [Phoenix] Arizona Sheriff's Office/MCSO
Montcalm County (Michigan) Sheriff's Office
New Jersey Division of Fish & Game
New Mexico State Police
Niles Police Dept, Ohio
Northwood Police Dept, ND
NC Highway Patrol
NC Wake County Sheriff's Department
NC Wildlife Enforcement Officers
Nueces County Sheriff Department, Texas (Sigpro)
Oakland County Sheriff's Dept, Michigan
Orange Police Dept, CT (sig pro, SP2340 .357)
Orlando PD (plainclothes officers)
Rocky Mount Police Dept, Rocky Mount, NC
Tennessee Highway Patrol
Union County Sheriff's Office, Marysville, Ohio (Glock 31)
United States (GSA) - Office of Inspector General (OIG)
Special Agents - P229
United States Secret Service
Virginia State Police
Single stage? Is that one pull of the lever equals one finished bullet or just one step in the process?
$299 shipped per 1000.
Exact same ammo from Cabela's would run you $360 before s&h.
It depends what your goals are. I am not a high-volume loader, so the Lee turret press is all I need. If I were going to turn out 10K+ rounds a year, I’d need a Dillon progressive setup.
LOL, I do get their catalog. It’s not too popular with the Better Half, but I need to keep up with industry trends! ;-)
A typical press will handle just about any rifle/pistol cartridge except for the very largest rifle cartridges (.50 BMG, for example).
Each different cartridge will require its own set of dies, which run about $30 "or so" per set.
There are progressive loaders that do multiple operations per pull of the handle. Some are manual indexing, others are automatic. The Dillon RL550b is a manual index with 4 stages. Some of the larger loaders can have 5 or even 6 stages to incorporate trimming accessories or having separate seating and crimping dies. I've even seen it where some folks will use a sizing die as a final stage just to ensure the case didn't bulge during one of the other operations.
Attention to detail pays off big.
I buy my 12ga, .410, and 7mm factory as it just doesn't make sense to reload for 'em. Either because the ammo is cheap or I don't shoot it very often.
This little beastie is probably still Cali legal and would be VERY good protection from almost anything on God's green earth: