Ballistic Contradictions & Handgun Bullet Performance

By John Farnam

Brass Shell Casing Ammo Ammunition Bullet Case
Ballistic Contradictions & Handgun Bullet Performance
Defense Training International, Inc
Defense Training International, Inc

Ft Collins, CO –-( Handgun Bullet Performance:

The problem in “researching” pistol ballistic performance is that the only “data base” we have to consult has too few samples, and samples we have are mostly second-hand narratives, which are invariably influenced by any number of agendas, political, personal, and commercial.

Sanow and Marshall readily acknowledged the foregoing as they did their research, which still enjoys considerable credibility, even today.

Rapid and permanent deanimation has always been our goal when confronting a close-range threat, and attacking the supply-side of the felon’s circulatory system has always been the most reliable, and achievable, vehicle for doing so. Even so, most cardiologists agree with the “five-second rule.”

When blood pressure drops to near zero, even within a very few seconds, most people will still remain animated, for at least five more seconds, before becoming comatose.

And, “five seconds” is the minimum. Some cardiologists insist the real figure is closer to ten seconds, or more!

Rapid deanimation, however, is the result of more than just falling blood-pressure levels.

Individual physiological factors enter the equation. Some people fall down when shot (even in non-vital places) for no reason other than that they want to. They literally “act out” what they think they’re supposed to do, absent any external physical compulsion. A consequence of a squandered youth spent watching TV!

There is also the nebulous issue of “neural-shock paralysis,” upon which even eminent neurologists don’t agree. In any event, neural shock, if any, cannot be predicted, nor produced on demand. Sometimes it’s there, and sometimes it’s not, all for reasons no one really understands.

Neural shock was present, in spades, in the below-described incident!

As operators, we must do our part with regard to speed, accuracy, volume, and movement, but we must also be mentally prepared to confront nearly any eventuality, from the felon turning and running away, to the felon falling down immediately (albeit sometimes reanimating seconds later), to the felon continuing his attack while displaying scant discomfort!

In a near-fatal incident several years ago, one of my students (a police officer) came upon the scene of a bar-room shooting seconds after it happened:

The shootee had been hit at close range with a single 180gr 40S&W bullet (high-performance hollowpoint from a major manufacturer), launched from a G23.

Hollow Points
Hollow Points with Perfect ballistic performance expansion.

Two antagonists were in near physical contact, and the bullet in question was launched from chest-height, at a downward angle. It entered the shootee, penetrating medium clothing (including a leather vest), passed through his body, and exited the shootee’s buttocks. It subsequently stuck the bar-room floor, skidded into a corner, and came to rest next to the baseboard.

Upon discovery and examination, the bullet in question showed some external striations (probably from the bar-room floor), but was otherwise unexpanded. Its hollow cavity was stuffed with batting (from when it passed-through the shootee’s clothing). The bullet probably could have been reloaded!

So, the bullet itself “failed completely,” at least by modern standards of ballistic performance. It passed through the body like hardball, without even the slightest expansion.

However, witnesses confirmed that the shootee, immediately upon being struck, deanimated and collapsed completely, as if he had been electrocuted! He was instantly comatose, and altogether unresponsive for several minutes, recovering a degree of consciousness only later.

The shootee ultimately survived the incident, albeit with some permanent disablement and disfigurement. But, in the short term, he was taken out of the fight instantaneously, rendered totally impotent the moment the bullet struck him.

That is exactly the result we what we want from pistol bullets, eh?

Stopping Power: A Practical Analysis of the Latest Handgun Ammunition
Stopping Power: A Practical Analysis of the Latest Handgun Ammunition

So, here is an example of a “ballistic failure,” combined with a “ terminal-effect success.” Yet, the two are not supposed to go together, are they?

And, you need not look very far to find examples of the opposite: “Perfect ballistic performance,” combined with “terminal-effect disappointment!”

The foregoing is what makes this subject so difficult to study, and why we need to be cautious when coming to sweeping conclusions, and making recommendations, based on a single incident, nor believing glowing reports about “wonder-bullets.”

Consistent expansion of pistol bullets in human tissue is still desirable, for any number of reasons, and any ammunition we carry and use needs to be selected with that in mind. But, we still need to do our part, including the avoidance of “unrealistic expectations!”


About John Farnam & Defense Training International, Inc

As a defensive weapons and tactics instructor John Farnam will urge you, based on your own beliefs, to make up your mind in advance as to what you would do when faced with an imminent and unlawful lethal threat. You should, of course, also decide what preparations you should make in advance, if any. Defense Training International wants to make sure that their students fully understand the physical, legal, psychological, and societal consequences of their actions or inactions.

It is our duty to make you aware of certain unpleasant physical realities intrinsic to the Planet Earth. Mr Farnam is happy to be your counselor and advisor. Visit:

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this is not the place to take a dump. clean yourself up, and move off



Don Bailey

Now Chuck, some of us need to take a tremendous poop every now and then. Try to be a little more forgiving next time.

Roy D.

I was thinking the same thing while reading his “story”. I have killed a slew of snowshoe hares which are just as big as any jackrabbit and knew he was spinning a yarn. But that says something about him doesn’t it.

Jim Macklin

In my defense, it was over fifty years ago and nobody had a scale. Damn big rabbits. The Savage 110 7mm Magnum loaded with 140 grain Nosler had zero expansion. Rabbits never had a one shot stop.
The location was the Simmons Ranch near Newcastle, WY.
I was a teenager from central Illinois where a 1 pound cottontail was big.

Maybe like Redwood tree, the really big rabbits have all been harvested or hit by cars. 😉

Jon Powers

David Bradshaw I’ve heard say, “You want a big bullet, moving fast.”

Nate L

Penetration kills! Which is why professional hunters insist on solids for dangerous game.

Jo Ann

Great article John. Love your choice of words – “deanimation” was my personal favorite.


A wise person once said,
“Expansion is the frosting on the cake… but penetration *is* the cake.”

I would like to have proper attribution for that quote… anyone?


Penetration kills. Which is why professional hunters prefer solids for dangerous game.

Roy D.

“Consistent expansion of pistol bullets in human tissue is still desirable, for any number of reasons, and any ammunition we carry and use needs to be selected with that in mind.”
And yet, that expansion without sufficient penetration, can be for naught. It is a balancing act.
In my LCP my handload uses a 95gr FMJ to ensure functioning and penetration. Hollow points in everything else.

Jim Macklin

Rifle or pistol, the science of ballistics becomes at best an art when terminal effect on animals. The human animal may be so tough because of the intelligence. The brain may be so focused on a task that injury isn’t noticed. Or the brain may shutdown after a very minor wound. Medal o Honor citations may reflect the tough side and TV often the other. Alcohol and drugs certainly must factor. I haven’t shot any humans but I did warm up for a deer hunt in Wyoming, shooting jack rabbits with a 7mm Remington Magnum. The 140 grain Nosler bullet… Read more »

Roy F. Wilt

This is why the 45acp was developed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!