Wound Ballistics

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Wound Ballistics

Wound ballistics is the study of effects on the body produced by penetrating projectiles.

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We want to make you aware of the wealth of wound ballistics information available to you from sources other than newsstand gun magazines. Our objective is to provide you the knowledge tools you need to fully understand the qualities a bullet must have in order to be reliably effective in stopping a determined homicidal attacker.

Chances are, if you’re an average person, your primary (perhaps only) source of information about wound ballistics is what you’ve read in newsstand gun magazines. Problem is, most newsstand gun magazines are not a credible wound ballistics reference. Why?

Because a few questionable gun-writers (and editors) apparently recognize that magazine articles are the only source of information about wound ballistics for most people. It appears they’ve chosen to prey on a general lack of knowledge about wound ballistics to misinform and invent controversy. Controversy sparks reader interest and promotes sales. Most anyone familiar with the popular media recognizes this.

These discredited authors have been so successful in influencing the popular gun press (including honest editors and authors who don’t know any better) that most information published in newsstand gun magazines about wound ballistics is tainted.

The basics of terminal performance, wounding effects and wounding effectiveness are pretty easy for ordinary people to understand, and this creates a conflict of interest for some gun-writers because there really isn’t much to write about.

Instead of sticking to simple facts these particular authors would rather delude you with paragraph after paragraph of mystical concepts such as “energy transfer,” “neural shock,” “Fuller Index,” “one-shot stopping power,” “Strasbourg Tests,” and “street results.” Although this stuff makes for interesting and entertaining reading, it’s really nothing more than a bunch of sophisticated junk-science they’ve invented to ensure they have plenty to write about.

These pseudo-expert ‘master psychics’ of wound ballistics want you to believe only they (and they alone) possess the clairvoyance to properly interpret and evaluate the factors that make a particular bullet more effective than others. They tell an alluring tale, but these discredited few are actually snake-oil salesmen who’ve been quite successful in creating a market to peddle their brand of proprietary nonsense.

Having failed to influence law enforcement to any great degree, these gun-writers invented a new controversy: “civilians need personal defense ammo that penetrates the human body less deeply than law enforcement ammunition”. Unfortunately, this kind of ‘expert advice’ can get you or a loved one killed if the shooting situation you face doesn’t conveniently fit their stereotypical ‘civilian self-defense shooting scenario.’

Wound ballistics is a specialty field that doesn’t receive much exposure outside the few professional disciplines that have a need for valid, scientifically verifiable information about ballistic injury. As a result, the average person isn’t aware this information exists or that it can be easily obtained. Sadly, this situation has allowed junk-science to flourish virtually unchallenged in newsstand gun magazines.

We’ve reprinted a few wound ballistics articles and put together a Suggested Reading list of publications from various sources, which, if you’re interested, should help you learn more about the science of wound ballistics. Hopefully, the knowledge you acquire in reading these documents will keep you from being victimized by those unscrupulous few who seek to exploit your ignorance for profit.

Our goal is to instill a healthy attitude of skepticism in you so you’re not as willing to believe everything you read. Hopefully, you’ll learn enough here such that you’ll be able to evaluate the qualifications of so-called ballistics experts.

Wound ballistics related articles:

Patrick, Urey W.:”Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness.”  U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1989.

Roberts, Gary K.; Wolberg, Eugene J.: “Book Review, Handgun Stopping Power: The Definitive Study.”  Association of Firearm and Toolmark Examiners Journal, 24(4); 383-387: 1992.

Letters to the Editor: “The Truth About Ammunition.”  Law and Order, 40(11); 90-91; November 1992

Fackler, Martin L., MD.: “Book Review, Street Stoppers: The Latest Handgun Stopping Power Street Results.”  Wound Ballistics Review, 3(1); 26-31: 1997.

MacPherson, Duncan: “Sanow Strikes (Out) Again.”  Wound Ballistics Review, 3(1): 32-35; 1997.

van Maanen, Maarten: “Discrepancies in the Marshall & Sanow ‘Data Base’: An Evaluation Over Time.” Wound Ballistics Review, 4(2); 9-13: Fall, 1999.

Fackler, Martin L., MD.: “Undeniable Evidence.” Wound Ballistics Review, 4(2); 14-15: Fall, 1999.

MacPherson, Duncan: “The Marshall & Sanow ‘Data’ – Statistical Analysis Tells the Ugly Story.” Wound Ballistics Review, 4(2); 16-21: Fall, 1999.

Dodson, Shawn: “Reality of the Street? A Practical Analysis of Offender Gunshot Wound Reaction for Law Enforcement.” Tactical Briefs, 4(2); April 2001

Suggested Reading:

Fackler, Martin L., M.D.: “The ‘Strasbourg Tests:’ Another Gunwriter/Bullet Salesman Fraud?”  Wound Ballistics Review, 1(4): 10-11; 1994.

Dr. Martin Fackler, IWBA president, reviews the authorless “Strasbourg Tests,” a purported study of the reaction of several hundred live unanesthetized “human-sized” goats that were allegedly shot to test the “one-shot stopping power” of various handgun cartridges. Fackler explains the many incongruities, inconsistencies and absurdities which lead him (and most other wound ballistics experts) to conclude that the “Strasbourg Tests” are a hoax.

MacPherson, Duncan: “Bullet Penetration — Modeling the Dynamics and the Incapacitation Resulting from Wound Trauma.” Ballistic Publications, El Segundo, California. 1994

The model of bullet penetration dynamics presented in this book is derived from general equations of motion, with validation done by, and empirical constants determined from, special tests. This penetration model is a significant technical advance over previous terminal ballistics models and is directly related to understanding the effect of the bullet parameters (velocity, diameter, weight, shape) in the production of an incapacitating wound. Incapacitation from wound trauma is a complex subject that has been controversial for many decades; this book discusses all aspects of this subject and includes a recapitulation of both earlier modeling efforts and the medical issues.

The new penetration model and the other analyses in this book are important to Trauma Surgeons, Forensic Pathologists, Firearms Examiners, and Criminalists and are described with the precision required by these professions. However, even the more technical sections are written in a style and vocabulary that are understandable to the layman. This outstanding book should be read by law enforcement personnel and others critically dependent on handgun bullet performance as well as all those with a technical or professional interest in any aspect of wound ballistics.

The topics covered in this book include physiological and psychological effects in incapacitation from wound trauma, tissue simulant preparation and use, modeling of bullet penetration, modeling of bullet expansion, and modeling of incapacitation from wound trauma. The primary focus is on handgun ammunition, but the principles and many of the results are also applicable to rifle ammunition. The book has 303 pages, including 69 pages of bullet photographs and graphs of test results.

Fackler, Martin L., M.D.: “FBI 1993 Wound Ballistics Seminar: Efficacy of Heavier Bullets Affirmed.”  Wound Ballistics Review, 1(4): 8-9; 1994.

Fackler presents findings from the 1993 FBI Wound Ballistics Seminar. The following is a short extract:

“The Firearms Training Unit of the FBI held a Wound Ballistics Seminar from 19 through 22 January 1993 at the FBI Academy.

“Thirty-seven forensic pathologists, trauma surgeons, law enforcement trainers, firearms examiners, and ordnance engineers met to discuss handgun bullet effects and bullet testing. This group unanimously affirmed the principles set down by the FBI workshop of 1987: primarily among these was that a bullet must possess the capacity to penetrate deeply enough to reach and disrupt vital body structures if it is to stand any chance of performing reliably in the variety of circumstances a law enforcement officer might meet in a gunfight. Since the 1987 workshop, most law enforcement agencies have adopted the more deeply penetrating heavier bullets. At the 1993 symposium, trainers from five large departments (California Highway Patrol, Indianapolis PD, San Diego PD, Louisiana State Police, and Amarillo PD) reported data showing excellent performance from bullets chosen using the FBI penetration criterion. Several of these trainers had polled their counterparts in other departments and found that their highly favorable observations and impressions of the heavier bullets were widely shared.

“The findings of this symposium are especially timely since it appears that three gunwriters have recently attempted to trump up a ‘controversy’ by claiming that the heavier subsonic bullets used by the majority of law enforcement agencies have been turning in a poor record in ‘street’ shootings. The story of how several senior trainers exposed this attempted fraud by these gunwriter/bullet salesmen was the subject of IWBA Bulletin No. 1, which accompanied the third issue of the Wound Ballistics Review.”

Newgard, Ken, M.D.: “The Physiological Effects of Handgun Bullets: The Mechanisms of Wounding and Incapacitation.”  Wound Ballistics Review, 1(3): 12-17; 1992.

This article examines the physiological mechanisms of the human body to provide a medical answer to the question: How many times is it necessary to shoot an assailant before he is incapacitated?

Newgard reviews the physiological mechanisms of gunshot wound trauma incapacitation:

“The only method of reliably stopping a human with a handgun is to decrease the functioning capability of the central nervous system (CNS) and specifically, the brain and cervical spinal cord. There are two ways to accomplish this goal: 1) direct trauma to the CNS tissue resulting in tissue destruction and 2) lack of oxygen to the brain caused by bleeding and loss of blood pressure.”

Newgard discusses the body’s blood loss sensory and compensatory mechanisms (venous constriction, increased cardiac output and vascular fluid transfer), and the degree in which these mechanisms respond to, and compensate for, hemorrhagic shock. He reviews clinical tests of human tolerance for blood loss, which “demonstrate that adequate blood pressure can be maintained with minimal symptoms until a 20% blood deficit was reached.” Newgard provides the following example:

“For an average 70 kg (155 lb.)* male the cardiac output will be 5.5 liters (~1.4 gallons) per minute. His blood volume will be 60 ml per kg (0.92 fl. oz. per lb.) or 4200 ml (~1.1 gallons). Assuming his cardiac output can double under stress (as his heart beats faster and with greater force). his aortic blood flow can reach 11 liters (~2.8 gallons) per minute. If one assumes a wound that totally severs the thoracic aorta, then it would take 4.6 seconds to lose 20% of his blood volume from one point of injury. This is the minimum time in which a person could lose 20% of his blood volume…. This analysis does not account for oxygen contained in the blood already perfusing the brain, that will keep the brain functioning for an even longer period of time.

“Most wounds will not bleed at this rate because: 1) bullets usually do not transect (completely sever) blood vessels, 2) as blood pressure falls, the bleeding slows, 3) surrounding tissue acts as a barrier to blood loss, 4) the bullet may only penetrate smaller blood vessels, 5) bullets can disrupt tissue without hitting any major blood vessels resulting in a slow ooze rather than rapid bleeding, and 6) the above mentioned compensatory mechanisms.”

Newgard investigates the survival times of persons who received fatal gunshot wounds to determine if the person who was shot had enough time to shoot back. He concludes:

“Instantaneous incapacitation is not possible with non central nervous system wounds and does not always occur with central nervous system wounds. The intrinsic physiologic compensatory mechanisms of humans makes it difficult to inhibit a determined, aggressive person’s activities until he has lost enough blood to cause hemorrhagic shock. The body’s compensatory mechanisms designed to save a person’s life after sustaining a bleeding wound, allow a person to continue to be a threat after receiving an eventually fatal wound, thus necessitating more rounds being fired in order to incapacitate or stop the assailant.”

* Teal italicized text added for clarity.

Wound Profile Illustrations

“The wound profile was developed at the Letterman Army Institute of Research in order to measure the amount, type, and location of tissue disruption produced by a given projectile, and to present the data in a standardized, easy to understand picture.

“The entire missile path is captured in one or more 25 x 25 x 50 cm blocks of 10% ordnance gelatin at 4°C. The penetration depth, projectile deformation and fragmentation pattern, yaw, and temporary cavity of the missile in living anesthetized swine tissue are reproduced by this gelatin. Measurements are taken from cut sections of the blocks after mapping of the fragmentation pattern with biplaner x-rays. These data are then reproduced on a life sized wound profile which includes a scale to facilitate measurement of tissue disruption dimensions, a drawing of the loaded cartridge case before firing, the bullet weight and morphology before and after firing (and calculated percent of fragmentation), and the striking velocity.

“This technique allows us to determine the wounding character of the projectile without the need for elaborate and expensive high-speed cine and X-ray equipment, or the need for shooting live animals.

“The method improves our understanding of the wounding process and should lay the groundwork to assure more rational and effective treatment.” Fackler et al.1






  1. “The Wound Profile: A Visual Method for Quantifying Gunshot Wound Components.” Martin L. Fackler, M.D., and John A. Malinowski, B.S., JTrauma, 25(6): 522-529, 1985.

  2. “The Wound Profile: Illustration of the Missile-tissue Interaction.” Martin L. Fackler, M.D., Ronald F. Bellamy, M.D., and John A. Malinowski, B.S.,JTrauma, 28(1) Suppl: S21-S29, 1988.

Additional Reading

Several years ago when we first became acquainted with Dr. Martin L. Fackler, M.D., he was a Colonel in the US Army Medical Corps researching wound ballistics at Letterman Army Institute of Research, Presidio of San Francisco, California. Dr. Fackler kindly provided us several articles he’d written, co-written or suggested we read that cover a wide spectrum of wound ballistics. We’re listing some of these articles below for the benefit of those of you (especially medical students and researchers) who are truly interested in learning as much as you can about wound ballistics. Many of these articles can be located in the libraries and medical libraries of large universities.

“Wounding Effects of the AK-47 Rifle Used by Patrick Purdy in the Stockton, California Schoolyard Shooting of January 17, 1989.” Martin L. Fackler, M.D., John A. Malinowski, B.S., Stephen W. Hoxie, B.S., and Alexander Jason, B.A., The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 11(3): 185-189, 1990.

Wounding Patterns of Military Rifle Bullets.” Martin L. Fackler, International Defense Review, 59-64, 1/1989.

Emergency War Surgery, Chapter II Missile Caused Wounds.” Thomas E. Bowen, M.D. and Ronald F. Bellamy, M.D., The Emergency War Surgery NATO Handbook (Second United States Revision), USDoD, 13-34.

Emergency War Surgery, Chapter XVI Wounds and Injuries of the Soft Tissues.” Thomas E. Bowen, M.D. and Ronald F. Bellamy, M.D., The Emergency War Surgery NATO Handbook (Second United States Revision), USDoD, 230-238.

Fackler, M.L., MD: “What’s Wrong with the Wound Ballistics Literature, and Why”, Letterman Army Institute of Research, Presidio of San Francisco, CA, Report No. 239, July, 1987.

“The Idolatry of Velocity, or Lies, Damn Lies, and Ballistics.” Douglas Lindsay, M.D., Ph.D., JTrauma, 20(12): 1068-1069, 1980.

“The Wound Profile: A Visual Method for Quantifying Gunshot Wound Components.” Martin L. Fackler, M.D., and John A. Malinowski, B.S., JTrauma, 25(6): 522-529, 1985.

“The Wound Profile: Illustration of the Missile-tissue Interaction.” Martin L. Fackler, M.D., Ronald F. Bellamy, M.D., and John A. Malinowski, B.S., JTrauma, 28(1) Suppl: S21-S29, 1988.

“Wound Ballistics: A Review of Common Misconceptions.” Martin L. Fackler, MD, JAMA, 259(18): 2730-2736, 5/13/88.

“A Reconsideration of the Wounding Mechanism of Very High Velocity Projectiles — Importance of Projectile Shape.” Martin L. Fackler, M.D., Ronald F. Bellamy, M.D., and John A. Malinowski, B.S., JTrauma, 28(1) Suppl: S63-S67, 1/1988.

“Ballistic Injury.” Martin L. Fackler, COL MC USA, Annals of Emergency Medicine, 15(12): 110/1451-114/1455, 12/1988.

“Wounding Mechanism of Projectiles Striking at More than 1.5 km/sec.” Martin L. Fackler, M.D., Ronald F. Bellamy, M.D., and John A. Malinowski, B.S., JTrauma, 26(3): 250-254.

“Bullet Fragmentation: A Major Cause of Tissue Disruption.” Martin L. Fackler, M.D., John S. Surinchak, M.A., John A. Malinowski, B.S. and Robert E. Bowen, JTrauma, 24(1): 35-39, 1/1984.

“Theodor Kocher and the Scientific Foundation of Wound Ballistics.” Martin L. Fackler, M.D., F.A.C.S., and Paul J. Daugherty, M.D., SURGERY, Gynecology & Obstetrics, 172(2): 153-160, 2/1991.

“Physics of Missile Injuries, Chapter 2.” Martin L. Fackler, Evaluation and Management of Trauma, Norman E. McSwain, Jr., M.D. and Morris D. Kerstein, M.D., Appleton-Century-Crofts/Norwalk, Connecticut, 25-41, 1987.

“Applied Wound Ballistics: What’s New and What’s True.” Martin L. Fackler, M.D., and Beat P. Kneubuehl, JTrauma (China), 6(2) Suppl: 32-37, 1990.

“Bullet Performance Misconceptions.” Martin L. Fackler, COL MC USA, International Defense Review, 3/1987, 369-370.

“ACR Candidates: Assessing their Wounding Potential.” Martin L. Fackler, International Defense Review, 8/1987, 1091-1092.

“Handgun Bullet Performance.” Martin L. Fackler COL MC USA, International Defense Review, 5/1988, 444-557.

“Ordnance Gelatin for Ballistic Studies: Detrimental Effect of Excess Heat Used in Gelatin Preparation.” Martin L. Fackler, M.D. and John A. Malinowski, B.S., The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 9(3): 218-219, 1988.

“Wounding Potential of the Russian AK-74 Assault Rifle.” Martin L. Fackler, M.D., John S. Surinchak, M.A., John A. Malinowski, B.S., and Robert E Bowen, JTrauma, 24(3): 263-266, 1984.

“Wound Ballistics Research of the Past Twenty Years: A Giant Step Backwards.” Martin L. Fackler, Institute Report No. 447, Letterman Army Institute of Research, Presidio of San Francisco, California 94129, 14 pages, January 1990

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