The experiments dedicated to finding out whether magazines can stop this or that caliber bullets or not have been arranged by many different people. Some of them seem to be done just for fun. But others’ goal is to find out whether loaded magazines can be a sufficient obstacle in the way of the bullet? Can the magazines stop, deflect or break apart the projectiles thus decreasing their terminal performance on the tissue. What is the probability? Can one rely on magazines as being a protection level?
Of course, there are many variables: magazine material, distance, caliber, bullet shape and construction, impact velocity and angle etc. In this article, we’ll take a look at already done experiments that I could find information about (in no particular order).
The engineers of a Ukrainian company called Strela (Стрела, means Arrow) have heard from a firearms instructor the theory that the loaded magazines can stop bullets. They decided to test and find out whether that is a myth or truth. As a target, they chose sheet metal AK magazines considering these to be made of the strongest material among AK magazines. They loaded the mags to their full capacity. The loaded magazines were placed in Cordura pouches. The shooting was done from a 30-meter distance.
The first shot showed that the magazines were not a serious obstacle for the projectile. The bullet penetrated both magazines and pulled out the magazine springs. The result of the first shot is shown in the image below.
If one shot zips through two stacks of magazines, then why shouldn’t others perform similarly, right? Not quite so. I assume the first shot didn’t hit any of the cartridges inside the magazines. It must have been low enough to hit the compressed springs only.
The second shot that folks over Strela made was a bit off. It missed the first magazine, hit the edge of the second one and got deflected.
The third shot was higher and centered. It penetrated both magazines and ammunition stacks. After several seconds the shooters heard a couple of cartridges detonating. According to Strela, they sounded like rimfire rifle shots.
And the bullet of last, fourth shot penetrated the first magazine and got stuck inside the second one. I think the reason it didn’t penetrate all the way like the previous one is that the fourth bullet hit the bullets of the cartridges loaded into the magazines (see the image below).
So they had two complete penetrations, one deflected bullet and one failure to penetrate.
What conclusion can we make from the experiments of this Ukrainian company? I think the conclusion is that you can’t have a definite answer to our question because there are too many variables. As you can see, it also highly depends on the shot placement.
Does the fact that 2 of 4 fired bullets didn’t go all the way through mean that you can consider the magazines to be a mean of protection? NO! 50% penetration is too much of a probability to rely on.
Another aspect to consider is that the magazines are not a consistent obstruction. They may vary by the material they are made of, they can be loaded to different capacities or even be empty in the pouch etc. So it becomes more of a matter of luck than anything consistent to rely on. All we can get are probability rates. The more you repeat the test, the more data you can collect and more precise probability rates will be generated.
The Wound Channel Tests
When reading about the Ukrainian tests, I thought that it would be more interesting to see at what distance the magazines worn over an armor plate can be a consistent obstacle on the bullet’s path to make it fail to penetrate an armor that it would penetrate with close to 100% probability if not hitting the magazines first. For example, if the M855 projectile shot from an M4 carbine penetrates a certain NIJ level body armor to up to a certain distance, then how that penetration probability decreases if the bullet has to hit the magazines before reaching the armor plate? At what distance it will be completely incapable of penetrating the armor in such a test?
It is not only interesting to know for theoretical purposes, but it would be handy to know such data to better understand the capabilities of both your weapon and armor at various distances.
I thought that these should be questions that many other people have asked too. A quick search on the internet reveals some tests done by a YouTube channel called The Wound Channel.
On one of their videos, they shoot a 55-grain M193 bullet from a 22″ barrel at a loaded aluminum GI AR-15 magazine placed over a steel Level III armor. The result is that the bullet punched through the magazine but failed to penetrate the armor. You can watch that video below:
On their second video, they conduct a similar test with an NIJ Level IIIA soft body armor. This time they shoot both 5.56x45mm and 7.62x39mm cartridges both on a GI aluminum 5.56 magazine loaded with brass cased cartridges and on a steel AK magazine loaded with steel cased cartridges. The results are surprisingly different which proves that it is very hard to come up with consistent results.
It would still be interesting if someone conducts a similar test at various distances to find out at what distance the magazine becomes a serious obstruction for the bullet. In combat, there are all kind of distances that you have to engage the targets at or can be potentially shot from. From the military standpoint, it would be useful to know, how the different bullets perform at say 100, 300, 500-meter distances in a similar test.
Polenar Tactical and other YouTubers
Folks over Polenar Tactical have also a video where they shoot magazines:
Another YouTuber shoots a loaded magazine with different caliber cartridges:
Lastly, here is a curious image of a bullet captured in .303 British cartridges loaded into a 5-round clip of British Lee-Enfield rifle.
If you know about other such experiments or have done them yourself, please share with us in the comments section.