In his now-famous treatise, “Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness,” FBI Supervisory Special Agent Urey Patrick explained “that the goal of an officer in a life-threatening shooting incident is to incapacitate an adversary as quickly as possible.” Those of us who carry a firearm for personal protection would likely agree.

No ‘Magic Bullet’

Physiologically, the only reliable way to instantly incapacitate a human being is a direct hit to the base of the brain. Military and police snipers all know this.

Oddly, incident reports and surveillance-camera footage have shown that more than a third of individuals who fell down after being shot had no serious or disabling injuries. Apparently, after decades of movie shootings, they unconsciously believed that, having been shot, they were supposed to fall down!

On the other hand, individuals under the influence of fear, adrenaline, drugs, alcohol or just sheer will may not be incapacitated even when mortally wounded. Even if the heart is instantly destroyed, there is sufficient oxygen in the brain to support full and complete voluntary action for 10-15 seconds or more. Most hunters have experience with this phenomenon.

As a guest at a seminar on police procedures many years ago, I recall a video of a bank robbery. When a plainclothes police detective intervened, the robber turned and fired at the officer and missed. Almost simultaneously, the officer, who had dropped to the floor, fired a single shot at the suspect.

The robber then bolted out the door of the bank, went all the way around to the rear parking lot, opened the door to his car, got in and collapsed against the steering wheel. The autopsy revealed that the suspect’s heart had virtually exploded from the single 9mm (124-grain hollow-point) bullet wound!

Stick With Name Brand, Reliable Ammunition

Over the last couple of decades, well-known companies such as Federal, Winchester, Speer, Hornady and others have made major improvements in defensive ammunition. Nickel-plated cases improve feeding and ejection, and bonded bullets and polymer tips have improved terminal performance. More recently, all-copper bullets from a variety of manufacturers have made some inroads.

Generally, I prefer QUALITY middleweight expanding bullets in the common defensive calibers:

9mm: 124 to 135 grain, with +P loads recommended in shorter barrels
.40 S&W: 165 to 175 grain
.357 SIG: 135 to 147 grain
.45 ACP: 220 to 230 grain in full-sized guns; 185- to 200-grain +P loads in shorter barrels
.38 Special: 125 to 135 grain, +P highly recommended, especially in 2- to 3-inch barrels
.357 Magnum: 125- to 140-grain bullets, with light loads in short-barreled revolvers

Remember, ‘Gelatin’ Tests Are OK, But…

A friend of mine is both a hunter and an emergency room surgeon who observed: “The human body contains organs, bone, blood vessels and muscle, all of different density and elasticity. After pulling bullets out of people for more than 20 years, I can tell you that ‘gelatin tests’ only tell you one thing: how a bullet performs in gelatin.”

I’m not saying they don’t serve a purpose; they can expose problems such as bullet/jacket separation, etc. I’m just suggesting that you spend more time training and practicing rather than scouring the internet for endless gelatin-block comparisons.

If you carry an auto-pistol, there is one test you MUST perform. You need to fire a sufficient number of rounds to guarantee that your chosen ammo performs flawlessly. If it doesn’t, find another one that does.

Be safe.


About John Caile

John Caile is an NRA Firearms Instructor certified in Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun, Home Firearms Safety and Personal Protection in the Home. He has more than 35 years of experience in concealed carry training and practical handgun shooting skills. John was Communications Director of the Minnesota Gun Owners Political Action Committee and was instrumental in passing Minnesota’s landmark concealed carry permit law. John is a contributing writer for USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine and has appeared on national talk radio and network and public television. He has been frequently published in the press. John lives in Palm Coast, Florida, where he continues his lifelong activism for gun owners and their rights.