Ammo Testing

HydraShok Upset

There is a lot of speculation about handgun ammunition performance in the gun community.  Flame wars break out instantly on the internet by zealots on all sides of the debate any time the words “stopping power” enter the conversation.

Everybody has an opinion but few people have facts.  And while examination of bullet wounds post-mortem is a very important consideration, reproducible experimentation would seem to be one of the key elements in developing better theories on which future ammunition development can be built.

One of the problems with testing is the difficulty and expense associated with shooting bullets into ballistic gelatin.  Many people don’t have a place where they can regularly set up blocks of gel to shoot.  Of those, few have the time and money to invest in regular testing.

Fortunately, the gentleman who runs the Pocket Guns & Gear website is contributing a lot of his time and money into testing handgun ammunition.  Bruce, the site’s owner, has run more than 80 different ammo tests to date.  He also has plans for a lot more.

The tests are all video recorded and published on his site and YouTube.  He shoots the ammo through actual firearms (not test barrels) for velocity measurements to compare the actual speeds with the manufacturer’s published specs.  Bruce then shoots the load into gelatin to measure penetration and bullet expansion.

While the tests may not be perfectly controlled for all possible variables as lab testing would be, the testing is a pretty significant addition to the body of knowledge the firearms community shares.





Richard Johnson

An advocate of gun proliferation zones, Richard is a long time shooter, former cop and internet entrepreneur. Among the many places he calls home is http://www.gunsholstersandgear.com/.


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  • Rob

    I would like to see the same test with clothing (denim, leather etc) in front of the gell it would be a little more real world.

  • Doctor Gary Roberts and his team have been doing lab testing of handgun ammo for at least 20 years now. The FBI and other major Law Enforcement agencies also routinely conduct testing, and most of the major brands publish results, including FBI protocol test results. Many places online track and publish wound ballistics testing data, and there are literally dozens of articles and books on the subject, with more coming out every year.

    What the author here fails to note is that reviewing performance of ammo based on real world shootings is both misleading and valuable: Misleading in that people often compile data based on shootings where X bullet was involved and then conflate the realistic value of studying what the bullet did in a real human body for evidence of performance that can be extrapolated to future events (which, given the number of variables involved in shootings, physiology, etc. couldn’t be further from the truth); and valuable in that we can, and have built a substantive database of wound channel profiles and gross performance data with which we can develop and tune testing protocols and media.

    The real issue with these studies is their grossly misleading nature to begin with. What we have in the way of laboratory testing media to begin with is a grossly homogenized, simplified media which presents no realistic value in studying behavior of bullets for predictive purposes, but rather a simplified, repeatable medium for comparative testing of bullets under ideal conditions. Want to know if a bullet will consistently do X, all other variables ignored? Use a ballistics gel medium. Want to see how maximum performance of load A compares to load B? Use a ballistics gel medium. Want to know how load A performs against a human body? Go out, find a biker bar, insinuate that [motorcycle of choice] is crap and question the sexual identity of bikers, and find out.*

    There are simply too many factors and variables involved in shooting situations and the human body to accurately predict the outcome of any given shooting scenario. Studies in the past have tried to develop predictions based on anecdotal past data, but succeeded only in developing results based on arbitrary factors that did not consider outside circumstances and other factors in the individual cases used.

    Bottom line: testing is useful in the gross sense of determining whether a bullet will, under ideal conditions, perform as described reliably and repeatably. It’s also hugely beneficial to study the effects of various barriers on bullets and how it changes performance. However, most important to consider is that bullets are *not* magic. They are *not* a guarantee of outcome, and even the most expensive defensive load will be worthless if it is not put in the right place. Even the poorest-made lead wadcutter will be better than the fanciest bullet, if placed in the right spot.

    Effectiveness of any projectile is 80% shot placement, 17% repeatability, and 3% damage-per-shot**, and I say this after more than a few years of study, looking at a LOT of bodies, and conducting a LOT of testing on bullets (and I’m still an amateur.)

    * – This statement is pure sarcasm used to make a point, not a legitimate suggestion. Do not go out to your local Gun and Knife club and insult the patrons of the establishment as a means of testing bullets. This is dangerous and illegal.

    ** – Percentages are estimations produced by rectal expulsion, again designed to make a point rather than accurately reflect the outcomes of every independent scenario.

    • smith934

      Doc Roberts, A.K.A. DocGKR is the go to guy for true results both lab and real world.

  • steveindajeep

    a poster by the name of tnoutdoors9 does some great reviews too.

    • tnoutdoors9 does some good stuff, though it depends on the lens with which you view it. If you’re looking to compare his results strictly against his other results, they work fine. If you’re looking at comparing his work to other tests, such as those done by Dr. Roberts, the FBI, or the various Law Enforcement workshops, then you must realize that Simtest media differs from 10% Ordnance Gel and thus results will be skewed.

  • Brassfetcher on YouTube is another very good source for gel tests.

    • Brassfetcher’s data is skewed by the fact that he doesn’t consistently calibrate his media to the same standard. This means that even using the same load, the outcomes vary widely due to the fact that the densities are different between tests, making penetration depth and temporary cavitation measurements impossible to compare.

      tnoutdoors9 has the benefit of at least calibrating his tests identically for each test, making his data far more reliable despite using the simtest media.

  • MrSatyre

    I probably know as much about “stopping power” as the next guy, but when I spoke with a former special forces vet on the subject, his response made me think twice and then some on the subject. Essentially, he believed that there was no such thing, and that everything really boiled down to chance. He described in detail several instances where he or a team mate had nailed a bad guy in places any one of us would think of as being instantly lethal (or nearly so) such as in the head or through the lungs with a wide variety of different calibers and at all sorts of ranges, only to have said bad guy continue to fight or run for inconceivable amounts of time before finally running out of blood. The lesson I took away from that conversation was “Keep shooting until they stop moving.”