Saturday, November 25, 2023

Realistic expectations and terminal ballistics

 If you don't ring the Central Nervous System's bell...

.350 Legend has about 1960fps velocity and 1400 ft-lbs of energy at 75 yards.
By comparison, 9mm has a velocity of about 1100fps and 300 ft-lb of energy at bad-breath range. .357 Mag has 1250fps and 550 ft-lbs. .40 S&W 1150fps and 480 ft-lbs. .45ACP 830fps and 350 ft-lbs of energy.

One of our party shot a six-point with a scrubby rack. It was probably a 2.5 year-old animal and it weighed as much as an average high-school player on the JV basketball team. The distance between the shooter and the animal was about 75 yards when he pulled the trigger.

The animal left no blood trail. ZERO blood. It was recovered 80 yards, as the crow flies from the point of impact. For the math challenged, that means that the deer traveled at least 80 yards and probably closer to 100 yards before it tipped-over and became in-op.

As you can see, a mammal's heart is really two pumps. The first stage takes unoxygenated blood and pressurizes it so it can pass through the lungs. Then the second stage pressurizes the oxygenized blood to send it out to the rest of the body, including the brain.

The reason for the total lack of blood trail became apparent upon field dressing of the deer. I asked the shooter if I could take a picture of the deer's heart he pulled out of the chest cavity.

The reason there was no blood trail is because the buck had a catastrophic loss of blood pressure. The bullet cut the heart into two pieces and compromised both ventricles.

And the deer still was able to function long enough to run 80 yards.

There is no cartridge chambered in a practical defensive handgun with more energy than the .350 Legend out of a long-gun. It is hard to imagine more damage being done to a heart. 

And it still had enough oxygen in its brain to run 80 yards. If it had been a human aggressor, it lived long enough to inflict mortal damage on you or a loved one.

If you look at sections through the human torso, there is about a 20% chance that a center-of-mass hit will also impact the spinal region. While a round like the .22LR has sufficient penetration to perforate the heart, it does not have enough momentum to ensure it will inflict enough trauma to the spine (after penetrating the chest) to drop your attacker, to cut the puppet's strings so-to-speak.

This is common knowledge in the defensive-handgun circles but there is nothing like a picture to make it "real".

If you do not inflict enough damage to the central nervous system, then your attacker can keep attacking. Keep pulling the trigger EVEN IF you know you got a solid shot on him. Keep pulling the trigger until your attacker is no longer a threat or you are out of ammo.


  1. .350 legend is my absolute favorite deer caliber. Negligible recoil, good accuracy, and drops deer well. (At least in Michigan forests where the max range is about 100 yards). Good observation about defensive shooting but the psychological aspect is important too. Most people will stop doing what it is they are doing once bullets start flying. Most of those who don't will stop once bullets start impacting. But a small minority won't be deterred by either. The problem is that you don't know which type of person you're dealing with.

  2. As a basic note there are only two ways to stop a mammal - shut down the hydraulics or shut down the electrics; both work but the latter is faster. Hence:

    1) "Keep shooting until the target catches fire or changes shape."
    2) "There is no such thing as overkill."

    The 350 is good, but I'm waiting for the 400 Legend to become more widespread (barrels, ammo and component availability) before I build a house carbine around it. Inside 150 meters (maybe even 200, depending on ammo) it should be a good balance between effectiveness, capacity and portability.

    1. If you are a reloader, the .350L uses small rifle primers which are much more available (at this moment) than large rifle primers.

      I don't know what the specs are for the .400

      At 26.5 grains of H-110 per reload a pound of powder goes a long way in the .350L

      Both .450 BM and .350L fit in an AR platform so I suspect the .400 will as well.

    2. The 400L cartridge OAL is within the maximum length dictated by feeding through STANAG magazines (2.260") I do not know if it uses small or large primers, The SAAMI spec sheet on the cartridge does not specify primer hole diameter; it would not surprise me if it takes large (.210") primers, although that will be up to the ammo mfg (some 45 ACP ammo is now being manufactured with small pistol primers instead of large pistol primers, probably both an effect of cost and component availability. I have noticed that between "identical" ammo (same mfg, same bullet weight) with the only onvious difference being primer diameter the small primer ammo is about 5% slower, which could be caused by using a different powder (more easily ignited by the smaller primer's reduced primer flash) or a different size primer flash hole.

  3. "The bullet cut the heart into two pieces and compromised both ventricles."
    So much for "stopping power"

  4. There's an old South African saying "The 303 will kill the lion but will not prevent the lion from killing you".

    I was on overnight duty at Ft Bragg when a pair of MP's showed up in my OR, cut almost to death. After we finished sewing them up, I asked what happened.

    An enraged ex-husband showed up in the ER with a buck knife to "kill that bitch" and the MP's stopped him. Both unloaded their service 9mm's into him. Some 14+ center mass torso hits.

    Dude was dead but didn't figure it out until he gave the MP's a serious set of knifings and my team hours of work. We looked over the corpse on the morgue slab and wondered if a pistol was ever enough.

    My door gun is 20 gauge with #4 Buckshot, accept no substitutes. Wife finds it enjoyable to shoot.

  5. Several years ago I had that exact same thing happen when I shot a buck with a .243 which I had bought to shoot coyotes and just happened to take it to deer camp. I shot at about 35 yards and knew I didn't miss but the deer didn't flinch and ran off. I followed it and found it about 90 yards way and with no blood trail and a heart that looked like your picture. After I hung the deer in the barn I took the gun to the gun dealer and got rid of it. It didn't work well on coyotes either. ---ken

  6. There was an old gunfighting saying a heart shot man had 10 seconds left to kill you. Add in the fact a deer has no idea what a gun shot is, only that it better get the hell out of there and they can cover some ground in that time.
    Like coyoteken, I quit using a 243 on deer. It did a great job but never left any blood outside to track with. It dumped all of its energy inside the animal and all of them were dead with in 50 yards.

  7. Yep, change shape or catches fire or out of ammo.... That's what I was taught.

    Of course, I was also taught that what with body armor these days, better to aim at the throat or the head to make sure that the shape change happens sooner.

    1. B, that term is "hips and lips". Bad guys get body armor too.
      Before I moved to Tennessee, I lived in So. Cal. and occasionally rubbed shoulders with Seals
      team guys. It was explained that you don't need a respiratory or circulatory system once someone is "oxygenated and adrenalined" they can go for 10 to 60 plus seconds on mayhem mode without heart, lungs, guts, or some bones. The only guarantee for immediate take down is central nervous system or pelvis/leg bones. Hitting anywhere else, they can still be a problem.
      Buck shot has the highest rate of "one shot stop" percentage.

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  9. Which is why if you can, you aim just above the heart. Destroying the major blood vessels going from and to the heart but leaving the heart pumping means that the blood is rapidly drained from the body (and especially the brain) into the chest cavity.

    Death from blood loss is rapid and draining the blood from the carcass afterwards is already done.

    Phil B

  10. " Both unloaded their service 9mm's into him. Some 14+ center mass torso hits."

    I'm betting those were M9s (the military version of the Beretta 92) loaded with FMJ military ammunition.

    Back in the 1970s someone publishd "Street Survival," a book about cop work for cops (over the next decade Street Survival II and III were published). IIRC, in the original was a picture of a naked corpse from the hips up with 33 bullet holes in it. The accompanying text indicated that the miscreant was involved in a gunfight with cops and absorbed 32 bullets and was still returning fire until #33 was applied above the right eyebrow. There was no info on how long he was returning fire with 32 holes in him, several of those looked like mortal wounds, but that was back in the day when 38 Special ammo was 158 grain round nose lead and 9MM was all FMJ.

    It's long been said "a handgun is something you use to fight your way to a rifle," which is true, except that it's much more convenient to carry a handgun than a rifle, and rifle performance is dependent on how much energy is delivered to the target and how that energy is applied to the target. There is much to be said for large diameter bullets with large meplats and, assuming they work as designed, smaller diameter bullets which expand reliably may function nearly as well, assuming there's enough energy. Key point: you cannot deliver energy to the target which is not created within the firearm so E=MC (2) is applicable - mass and velocity are interrelated and critical, and Newton's Third means There Will Be Recoil. Which is why 12 gauge high brass 12 pellet 3 inch 00 Buck loads are both very effective and kick like a mule.


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