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  /  Firearms   /  Ammunition   /  Baffling Ballistics, and Ambiguous Analogs: How Well Does Your Ammo Work?

Baffling Ballistics, and Ambiguous Analogs: How Well Does Your Ammo Work?

I’m way behind the majority of you people out there, technologically. We recently “upgraded” our entertainment devices at home, and now I can watch You Tube videos whenever I wish. This is a bad thing. In days gone by, these videos were only available via the desk top computer- now they are on tap continuously. These snippets of typically horrible nonsense are like the proverbial chimp with a loaded revolver- you know what’s going to happen, but it’s fun to wait and watch.

The topic that’s consumed me as of late is watching a cast of characters who are providing “evidence” for ballistics by shooting gel, and other things that apparently constitute some sort of ballistic “validity” in these little vignettes of self aggrandizement.

For a Campblells Condensed version of modern “ballistic” data mining- 1988, the FBI comes out with a list of cartridges they’ve approved as being “capable” for their list of criteria. This data began after the 1986 Miami Shootout. This was 33 years ago, and unfortunately, Good Guys died. This event changed a lot of things in regard to training nation wide. The 9mm projectiles the agents were using were deemed failures, and the testing began at rampant pace. If any of this is unknown by you, Dear Reader, research the data- it’s out there.

This started the shift topward 10 mm, and ultimately, .40 caliber being the darling for pistols. To summarize things even more abruptly, all these years later, the .40 is falling out of favor, and, wouldn’t you know it, the 9mm is filling more holsters than previously. Not making light of what happened in 1986, look hard at calibers for a minute. In the days of the Wild West- there were .36 revolvers. This basically equals 9 mm, folks. Look closely at your .357, if you believe this cartridge is magical somehow, and I don’t want to be the person to break your heart. Life is a wheel, and what’s old is new again…Also consider this- whether you hate Glock or not, I could care less. I merely go to their schools and earn my certifications. Look at their last few offerings and you will learn that they come in 9mm flavor, only. This means something.

Since our world has been shrunken down to fit in 1 hand, the modern firearms enthusiast who chooses to flap their gums about anything firearms related as some sort of “authority” can be quickly outed by anyone bright enough to type in the correct buzzwords, and garner information. Silly videos made by people with no inkling of criteria (like F.B.I. gel protocols) would be wise to realize this, and take note.

Nearly a century ago, the .357 Magnum was drummed up. Police wanted something more powerful and here is true trivia you can check on your “device”. Magnum was implied in terms of items like champagne. One can purchase a bottle, but the “magnum” is slightly larger. Isn’t it amazing what a word like that can do? It’s from this same era that a certain company started a myth that somehow implied that cracking an engine block with a revolver was some sort of standard to aspire to. If this sounds bizarre, again, use your device to learn the back story. If you feel you’re a student of the gun, the least you can possess is knowledge of history. After all, those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it.

So, to condense things again, imagine that the Good Guys were having a tough time stopping Bad Guys. Bad guys were tooling around (in cars far better than what the police had)carrying/using whatever they wanted. You could buy a Thompson Submachine gun from Sears, because it was too expensive/tedious for military usage (by and large) and Thompson wanted to make money. The costs were paltry for bad guys, too much for Good Guys. Does any of this seem circular? In many cases, Bad Guys could cross county or state lines, and the Good Guys chasing them had to give up the pursuit. Ridiculous, but true. It was also this same era that started many of the ridiculous things we must endure firearms wise, to this very day.

So, in this era, you’ve got the vast majority of law enforcement toting revolvers. There were also plenty of high powered hunting rifles and shotguns riding around with them. The idea of a revolver being used to crack engine blocks as a “standard”? Ridiculous, but advertising sold a LOT of .357’s. Hell, these things are still around. Borrow someones .30-.30, and shoot some engine blocks. Impressive. The .30-.30 isn’t exactly en vogue today, and you won’t be winning long distance matches with it, but it packs a decent thump. In it’s heyday, it was the “assault type rifle”, though it’s not a rifle. It was designed to be compact, and fit on a horsey.

This kind of unfortunate silliness still persists today, and it’s down right dangerous, but let’s revisit “ballistic testing”. Believe it or not, a “medium” back in the day involved a garden hose, and LOTS of phone books. For you kids, a phone book was a list of everybody’s phone numbers the phone company printed up each year. Phones hung on the wall and were connected by wire to every other phone. The idea? Wet down the phone books “enough” and somehow, this was considered an analog for tissue. Go figure. After all, there is an Easter Bunny. Previous testing had involved cadavers. Can you imagine this in todays society?

Here is another gimmick that people used for “evidence”…clay. If you haven’t ever shot clay, you should try it. You can make virtually any cartridge sexy by shooting clay, as it leaves awesome cavities. Scientific, hell no- visually impressive? Hell yes. You won’t see many examples of clay shooting as valid today, and that’s definitely for the better. However, you can buy big chunks of clay via Hobby Lobby, if you want to make silly videos for people to fawn over.

So, after the shootout in ’86, the 9mm was a pariah, and yep, you guessed it, things like the .357 were still considered superior, somehow. The catalyst again, over amped advertising. (As a demonstrative example, think S&W 29, Clint Eastwood)Also consider that in’86, there were way too many revolvers still floating about in the guise of ankle guns, or whatever. For the record, please consider this- whenever you see the term “stopping power”, insert the alternative, factual catch phrase-“buy my bullets”. You will be far safer using the alternative catch phrase. What you need to obsess over are temporary, and permanent wound cavities.

As an old dude, I don’t see too many of the new generation fretting over things like cracking engine blocks. What I DO see is an over abundance of bearded dudes wearing tee shirts that are too small, and buying ready made clear gel, and just mucking up…everything. So, per the norm, consider these factoids- this stuff is not like the old style “mix it yourself” variety.

You have to abide by percentages, calibration via .177 bbs, keep the temperature correct, and NOT shoot the 1 block you could afford, over and over. If you choose to follow the F.B.I. criteria, learn what it is, to begin with, and do things correctly.I’ve yet to see one of these goobers performing the steel portion of the criteria. You also need to learn the criteria for proper measurement of what happens when bullet meets gel.

Here is an actual data point for your consideration. Years ago I worked with a detective who’d retired and spent some time in our arena. He had pulled over an old friend from back in the day, and his former friend had been a shady character for many years. The shady friend decided to test the boundaries of the relationship by driving away during the stop, and the detective tried to shoot out the front tire, rather than the driver. The round (9mm) missed the tire, but wound up working some sort of voodoo in the engine that shut the car down. Wouldn’t it be nice to PROVE that this was the exact intent? A person obsessed with all of the ballistic catch phrases/buzzwords could likely spend the rest of their life pondering this event, but, no one died, and the Bad Guy went to jail. Arguably, a 1 shot stop.

Also understand that not every bullet used for self defense has been through the F.B.I. testing. Another factor for your consideration is that all of this labor could be for naught if the round failed, anyway.If you’ve not had a defense round fail occasionally, you are not shooting enough.It happens. That’s why we do Immediate Action Drills. Be mature enough to grasp the concept that even good rounds can fail. There is no 1 cartridge that does every single thing we may need it to do, regardless of firearms type.

Perhaps someone could make a 50 BMG Derringer? If this stand alone “do it all” bullet were available, there would be only 1 type to buy, now wouldn’t there? There are plenty of people who put very little stock in this proscribed list, as well. At the end of the day, it comes down to you doing the work, and research. Quit looking to videos as teaching aids.

Other shaky things you will see these people doing is “testing” with cement blocks. Why? There are indeed differing types of cement to perform different functions, but apparently the generic cement block has became the new engine block. Ridiculous. Cement is indeed a component for making things bullet resistant, but it’s not the typical type for sale at your local hardware store.

And last but not least- people- give up on shooting watermelons. This type of behavior accomplishes nothing. The same goes for 2 liters of soda. If pure fun is the intent, you can download/print targets for free, and use the soda and melons for a post Range Day picnic with the family.

So, what did we learn from this installment, Dear Reader?
1-Bad Guys will likely have better gear than the Good Guys
2-Training Trumps Bad Guys
3-Advertising can bedazzle you into making bad decisions
4-30-30, 12 gauge, and 5.56 are far superior to 9mm
5-AR Pistols at close ranges are far superior to 9mm
6-Exhaustive efforts in various mediums can give some insights as to bullet performance, but are not iron clad
7-No single projectile can do every task it might be called upon to perform, shy of 50 BMG
8-50 BMG is not conducive to concealed carry
9-If you’re serious about carrying firearms, the burden of research is on you. Do not trust on line salesmen and their tonics
10-The pursuit of knowledge is not cheap

Featured photo courtesy of Robert Johnson


  • Ryan

    September 24, 2019

    This is a critical subject and there is so much misinformation. Thanks for some solid data.

  • Marlene

    July 12, 2020

    Thanks for a solid wrap up of a lot of information.

  • roulet

    August 28, 2020

    Some really sound information here. Thanks for putting this together.

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