Truth About Stopping Power

Cowan of Breech Bang Clear wrote a very intriguing article about Stopping Power. It is actually a good article about the anatomy and the importance of knowing how it works with regards to bullet placement.


Caliber, it is said, is not as important as round placement and penetration

Cowan repeatedly reminds the reader that the major problem with using ballistic data to support bullet choice is that accurate measurements cannot be taken. Every anecdotal evidence of bullet trauma has so many variables, that you cannot compare them together.

Cowan provides a basic anatomy lesson and stresses upon the importance of understanding how the body works so as to best shut it down. He talks about the big three targets in order of importance. The brain, chest, and pelvis. It is a great read and hopefully you will learn something from it.


It’s time to stop talking hardware and start talking about breaking the bad guy’s software. The best way to break his software is to remove its ability to function.


To read the article in it’s entirety click here.

Nicholas C

Co-Founder of KRISSTALK forums, an owner’s support group and all things KRISS Vector related. Nick found his passion through competitive shooting while living in NY. He participates in USPSA and 3Gun. He loves all things that shoots and flashlights. Really really bright flashlights.

Any questions please email him at


  • Shadow

    Broken link

  • DetroitMan

    The first problem with this line of argument is that bad guys don’t stand there like paper targets (this is actually pointed out in the article). The second is that when your fight or flight response kicks in, your ability to shoot accurately degrades. The bottom line is that you can’t rely on perfect shot placement to incapacitate the bad guy. You have to be realistic and accept you are unlikely to get the perfect heart or brain shot that drops the bad guy like a bag of sand. Therefore you must rely somewhat on your caliber and bullet selection to make up for imperfect shooting conditions. While the caliber wars do get stupid, it is still valid to ask how much gun is enough, especially when talking about handguns.

    The annals of self defense are filled with countless stories where the bad guy is shot and survives. He stopped doing what he was doing without being killed. Shooting to kill is the most effective method, but intention and results are two different things, as evidenced by the survivors. This is again where caliber and bullet selection come into play. You might aim for the heart and hit the chest around it instead. Given that scenario, would you rather have a .25 ACP with FMJ or a 9mm with high quality expanding bullets? The choice is pretty clear. In a gun fight, you want any hit to do as much damage as possible. The more damage any one hit does, the better your chance of stopping the attack. Bullet placement is still of primary importance, but it does not negate the importance of caliber and bullet selection.

    • Keegan

      Also, statistics show that most people shot with a handgun survive.

    • Canadian Vet

      Yes, projectile design does have its place, but shot placement is still key. A hit to the big toe with a .44 Magnum JHP will remove that toe and cause some ringing in the ears, but it won’t end the threat, but a well-placed .22lr can cause terminal damage.

      And there’s also knowing which rounds cycle reliably and how they behave. Just for the hell of it, I fired off a box of Gold Dots out of my 1911. I didn’t expect how much more recoil I’d experience compared to the American Eagle FMJ’s I normally use. I’m lucky I didn’t have to find out at the worst possible time but on a range instead.

      And as such, for both 9mm and .45ACP, my first ammunition choice will remain the inexpensive FMJ rounds from American Eagle. Mostly, because I know for certain they will cycle properly, how they recoil and how they fly.

      I for one would prefer ammunition that is familiar and known to be reliable than a fancy design that may or may not play nice with my guns and is also too bloody expensive to train with regularly.

      • 1911a145acp

        I agree with most of what you have said- but FMJ as defensive ammo is fraught with problems outside of reliability issues. There are many workable, affordable JHPs out there that will feed like ball. Win Ranger SXT, Federal EMF, Hornady Critical Defense with flex tip, Remington Golden Sabre. The main issue w/ FMJs beside the well proven LACK of stopping power is their dangerous, well documented OVER penetration and danger to innocent bystanders.Since FMJ has documentable poor effect on bad guys- typically, it requires many more rounds to incapacitate and therefore creates many more potential instances for hitting something you did not intend to hit. The resultant liability danger and increased chance of injury to yourself and loved ones if a bad guy is not stopped- FAR exceeds the perceived “savings” of FMJ ammo. Just my 2c

        • Canadian Vet

          First of all, thank you for a respectful rebuttal.

          Also, I should point out that as a Canadian, finding purpose-designed defensive ammunition is difficult at best and when we do, it is at an obscene premium.

          Also, lacking legal widespread carrying of a firearm for self-defence (and the extreme prejudice of our legal system against self-defence in General and even more so when it comes to self-defence with a firearm), there is only a very small civilian market for that sort of ammunition and most suppliers will not stock or even deal in them.

          I understand your points on the shortcomings of FMJ ammunition and I am well aware of them. Just as I acknowledge your superior knowledge of defence ammunition. As I said, my exposure to it is extremely limited and I’m only speaking from my extremely limited experience.

          • valorius

            It doesnt even matter. The only thing that really matters is that you have a gun to begin with, and the will to use it.

          • dan citizen

            I agree, having spent time in a variety of places where this sort of first world cartridge selection wasn’t even a fantasy, I’m not saying it’s wrong to pick the best cartridge/projectile when you can.

            But I am not convinced it matters chicken lips….

            – I have seen a cop steadily take aim, despite incoming fire, and drop a bad guy with a perfectly placed shot from a .32 acp.

            – have seen seen a people suffer devastating, mortal, wounds and still continue to fight effectively for far longer than I would have thought.

            I have seen far too many wounds that appeared exactly the same, whether from a well engineered hollow point, or a FMJ.

            Only shots that hit count.

          • valorius

            I agree 100%

          • Hank Seiter

            There’s a lot of truth to what you say. Shot placement … very important. A sufficient caliber, hollow-point bullet design … very important. Having a pistol chambered for a round with the biggest boom you can handle … very important. But the most important point is having a firearm to begin with and once the perp is engaged, you have the warrior attitude that you won’t stop until he is completely neutralized … or better yet, dead if he’s armed. But it had better be a righteous shooting defendable in a court of law … though my trust in the courts and the law has dropped considerably in the last forty years.

    • valorius

      I disagree. Almost any gun in almost any caliber or configuration is adequate. Read guns save lives and you will be stricken by the fact that guns almost never fail to stop an attacker.

      • Anonymoose

        2mm Kolibri.

        • SM

          Better be careful, you’ll put his eye out.

    • n0truscotsman

      Nobody is arguing for “perfect shot placement”. That is a strawman. The argument is that shot placement in generally “better” areas is superior to relying on bore size with little or no concern for proper shot placement. Shot placement is also critical from the perspective that us, as gun owners, are accountable for all shots we send out of our muzzles. our ability to shoot degrading due to stress and pressure is no excuse for hitting bystanders because we are held accountable. The best solution is realistic training.

      when it comes to modern semi-automatic handguns chambered in the big 5, people get too wrapped around the axle when it comes to caliber when the other drawbacks need to be noted. The unfortunate truth is that while the 5 calibers are largely similar in effectiveness, they have measurable differences in recoil, magazine size, slide cycle rate, etc, which is enough to make some choices objectively superior to others.

      So yes, while a well placed 44 magnum can most likely be deadlier than a well placed 9mm or 45, you cannot realistically carry most 44 magnums concealed and that doesn’t undue the inherent disadvantages in revolvers such as carrying only 6 shots, slow reloads, etc. That is one example. It is about balancing all of the variables.

      • Don Ward

        All true. Just want to point out that 99.99999 percent of the time there is no inherent disadvantage in carrying a weapon that “only” has six or – gasp – five rounds. Not unless you plan on getting into a gun battle with a gang of ninja bikers.

      • Risky

        I carry a bored-over .44 magnum J-frame loaded with +P++ hard cast bonded depleted uranium wadcutters loaded backwards that I can conceal Mexican carry in a speedo.

    • With what line of reasoning? The document accounts for everything you’re saying, and makes the point that there’s no discernible difference between the terminal effect of a 9mm, a .40, and a .45 handgun. Which is true.

      • valorius

        Couldnt have said it better myself. And even if you like high power ammo, 9mm+p+ will give you short barrel .357 magnum ballistics in a high capacity semi auto, or a very small 8rd pocket auto.

  • Twentieth Letter

    the link can be found on the top hyperlink

  • RKflorida

    Stopping power is based upon the amount of energy that is delivered to the target. If you have 300 ft/lb of energy in a given bullet and it passes through the target and only delivers 75 ft/lb that is not a lot of power. If however it is completely stopped by the target it has delivered it’s full 300 ft/lbs of energy to the target.
    Killing power is another matter.

    • Risky

      A strong punch with one’s hand can deliver 300-400 foot pounds of energy. Energy is irrelevant to ‘stopping power’. In high speed projectiles in soft tissues, energy creates cavitation. Handguns generally don’t create enough cavitation to create a proper wounding effect the way rifles do.

      Handgun effectiveness relies on bullet design and penetration to cause permanent soft tissue damage. Caliber choice is must less important than bullet design, i.e. a .45 ACP FMJ will cause considerably less damage than a quality 9mm hollow point (even in standard pressure loading).

      See Dr. Fackler’s work on the effects of projectile wounding and incapacitation. It’s not the end all be all but it’s pretty much required reading if you want to seriously consider the effectiveness of handguns.

  • valorius

    When you read the blog guns save lives it becomes readily apparent that failures to stop are extremely rare, regardless of caliber, and to some extent regardless of shot placement.

    All the worrying gun owners do over topics like this one is nothing but wasted energy.

    • Sulaco

      So true, have seen one shot DRT .22 shorts and center punch .44 magnum from 5 feet and lived. Its all a crap shoot.

    • Risky

      Most successful handgun ‘stops’ are psychological. Just the event of ‘getting shot’ shuts down most people because that’s what we think is supposed to happen… combined with the pain and shock of course.

      Unfortunately when drugs or extreme emotional disturbance are added to the mix that psychological effect goes out the window. That’s where this worrying about shot placement and bullet effectiveness is not wasted energy.

      • valorius

        On drugged up loons, no caliber or bullet type is liable to work very well.

  • bbmg

    “The results I got from the study lead me to believe that there really
    isn’t that much difference between most defensive handgun rounds and
    calibers. None is a death ray, but most work adequately…even the lowly
    .22s. I’ve stopped worrying about trying to find the “ultimate” bullet.
    There isn’t one. And I’ve stopped feeling the need to strap on my .45
    every time I leave the house out of fear that my 9mm doesn’t have enough
    “stopping power”. Folks, carry what you want. Caliber really isn’t all
    that important.”

    The conclusion from this study of actual real world firearm engagements:

  • grunion

    I know this relates to handguns but I am curious how 12 gauge, 00 buck with maximum load stacks up?

  • Dean Seaman

    Just got your emailer that features this article. The link to the actual article this one alludes to comes up as a “404 Error”.
    Could you please repost the article for those of us that would be interested in reading it.