Real World Terminal Ballistics for Self-Defense

selection of ammunition for self-defense

Based on some of the comments posted on previous articles, I though the readers might benefit from a discussion regarding terminal ballistics. I was, quite frankly, aghast by the lack of knowledge displayed by some of the self-styled authorities who really have no idea of how much they don’t know but present themselves as experts. The examples go from laughable to downright deadly.

I will only provide two examples to make my case, but if you read these forums, you will find many more. The first one appeared in a comment posted in June, asking what to do with a gas cylinder housing that cracked on a commercial M1 Carbine. I will add… that was a common occurrence on those cheaply made copies.

Ed Laporte and tracker with a large hippo
A large Luangwa Hippo taken with a brain shot at 70 yards with a .338 Winchester Mag using a Barnes Soft Point. Note the precise shot placement.

The comment’s suggested fix was to take it to a muffler shop where they would clamp and “weld it up as good as new.” What doesn’t he understand about metallurgy, besides everything? If you heat metal, you change its hardness. The Carbine operates at 50,000 psi.

That kind of irresponsibility could get someone killed. The other comment came from Bob suggesting bear spray and a baseball bat to defend his family during a home invasion. I guess he doesn’t care very much for his family.

I can’t help myself, so here is one more ridiculous answer self-defense — a derringer loaded with bird shot. Does anyone see the foolishness of that choice? In hopes of averting more foolishness, let’s look at terminal ballistics and how that knowledge should guide our decisions concerning how we choose to defend ourselves.


I suppose, for those of you who don’t know, I should establish my bona fides. I have been shooting and hunting for 66 years. During that time, I have hunted, harvested, taken, and killed damn near everything that walks or crawls the earth, big and small, two legs or four, and on 5 continents. I have made a study of, and practiced, what it requires to kill things instantly and cleanly from near to far and at any angle.

Early on I studied Pondoro Taylor’s Knock Out Factor in which he considered a cartridge’s appropriate specifications i.e., the bullet’s mass, velocity, and diameter to compute its KO factor. For those unfamiliar with John “Pondoro” Taylor, he was a noted big-game hunter and ivory hunter/poacher. During the years he was active, he shot over 1,000 elephants along with a variety of other African game. He is renowned for writing two books about rifles and cartridges for hunting in Africa.

Cape Buffalo taken along the Zambezi with a .375 H&H using Barnes 300-grain Soft Point bullet
A nice Cape Buffalo taken along the Zambezi with a .375 H&H using Barnes 300-grain Soft Points. Note the shot placement.

He was born in 1904 in Dublin and died in 1969 in London. Pondoro BTW, means lion in Chinyungwe. It was the name the natives gave to John Taylor when he first began to hunt in Africa on the lower Zambezi in the early part of the 20th century.

I also familiarized myself with the Thompson Lagarde tests that were conducted in 1904 to determine which caliber should be used in American military handguns after the poor performance of the .38 Long Colt during Philippine–American War of 1899–1902. U.S. Army reports were received regarding the .38 bullet’s inability to stop charges of frenzied Moro juramentados in the Moro Rebellion — even at extremely close ranges.

The tests were conducted at the Stock Yards in Chicago, Illinois, using both live cattle and human cadavers to determine the optimum penetration and shot placement. The Board concluded, “…that a bullet, which will have the shock effect and stopping effect at short ranges necessary for a military pistol or revolver, should have a caliber not less than .45. Additionally, we are not acquainted with any bullet fired from a hand weapon that will stop a determined enemy when the projectile traverses soft parts alone.” I hope you paid close attention to the last sentence.

trophy antelope in Wyoming taken with a .25-06 rifle
A record book speedgoat taken with a .25/06 at 450 yards. Again, note the shot placement.

If you are interested in learning more, and don’t want to take my word for it, I recommend Forensic Pathologist Dr. Vincent J.M. Di Maio’s book, Gunshot Wounds as an excellent reference. He takes actual shootings and shares photos, X-rays, and medical reports to provide a clear in-depth understanding of what happens to the body, projectile, and even powder residue on the shooter. It’s fascinating stuff that substantiates my position from a medical point of view.

Shot Placement

I will now add to the discussion what my experience has taught me, so pay close attention. The most important aspect of stopping man or beast — no matter how determined — is shot placement, also referred to as accuracy. The second most important aspect in a one-shot stop is penetration.

Bad guys only become discouraged and realize they made a big mistake when you either destroy one of their vital organs, cause all their blood to leak out, or short circuit their electrical system. Now don’t get me wrong, many other things will kill. However, consider how much urgency you attach to stopping the grizzly that is chewing on you, or the drug-crazed assailant determined to kill you and your family for the fake Rolex watch on her wrist.

A well used copy of African Rifles and Cartridges by John Taylor
My well used copy of African Rifles and Cartridges.


So, let’s take these points in the order of importance. First, look at the choice of projectiles. Caliber doesn’t matter in any category, except how it influences your choice of platform and how much energy that platform applies to penetration. Before I go any further, I should probably address the elephant in the room.

In the last 60 years, a tremendous amount of development has gone into the creation of the new wiz-bang super-duper hollow points and expanding bullets for self-defense applications. Well, all that development was about liability not lethality.

The technology for supreme lethality has been at its zenith since the 1890s. Since the 1950s, engineers had to find a way to get just enough penetration to reach vitals but not so much as to exit, because everyone was concerned about liability. And we bought into it. Let me prove my point.

If you want to stop a lethal attack on your person, by man or beast, it is possible through desanguination. The only way to ensure that happens is with a big exit hole, but to desanguinate takes way too much time. That is why professional hunters like to give dangerous game as much time as circumstances will allow in hopes the client’s poor shooting might be good enough for the beast to bleed out. That, of course, does not work if you must stop a charge.

It’s not a good idea if someone is shooting, stabbing, clubbing, or choking you. Remember the 3 minute rule. Your brain and everything else stops working without oxygen after about 3 minutes. When it’s the beast’s 3 minutes, it’s an eternity. When it’s your 3 minutes, it’s a flash.

Gunshot wounds book by Vincent J.M. Di Maio
Vincent Di Maio’s interesting and informative book.

Once Again! Bullets that don’t exit don’t encourage the blood to drain fast enough for desanguination to be an effective stopper. So, what kind of projectile guarantees an exit wound? The one they would have you believe is not a good defensive round. The very same one you would use on thick-skinned dangerous game, because it penetrates and gets to the vital organs no matter what. The projectile that leaves an exit hole and blood trail.

Parenthetically, it’s the same projectile the military uses. They use because it exits and creates collateral damage. The militaries want to create damage, and ball ammo does just that — full metal jacket. Hoorah!

There is a better way to stop a violent attack, whether it be by a man or beast. Damaging or destroying the heart is a sure way to stop your foe, but the instant off is only achieved by destroying the electrical system. Now, that requires accuracy to play a big role. However, you still need penetration to get through a less than ideal angle, bone, heavy clothing, body armor, obstacles that might be in the way, or a veritable plethora of unforeseen objects wanting to protect the assailant and deflect your bullet. Remember, you don’t have the luxury of choosing the circumstances of the assault. Therefore, you must always assume a worst-case scenario.

Left to right: A Smith & Wesson J-Frame Model 39 in .38 Special, Walther PPKs in .380 ACP, Seecamp pistol in .32 ACP
Left to right: A Smith & Wesson J-Frame Model 39 in .38 Special, Walther PPKs in .380 ACP, Seecamp pistol in .32 ACP.


Let’s talk a little about the platform. If you are out and about and a concealed carrier, you will most likely have a handgun, and what do we know about handguns? “Their chief asset is their portability not their power.” You might even have something as small as a .32, .380, or .38, because of the personal limitations you may have to successfully operating anything larger.

A full metal jacket will make up for the limited power with increased ability to penetrate making those smaller platforms and calibers viable options. The FMJ eliminates the need for calibers that are difficult for most people to shoot accurately. Remember, the most important aspect of defensive shooting is your ability to shoot accurately. BTW, do yourself a favor, don’t lie to yourself about your ability to shoot accurately and quickly. It will only get you killed.

I am not going to lie to you, shoot the biggest diameter projectile you can — accurately. It will buy you a larger margin of error, and that might make all the difference. Remember the results of the Thompson LaGarde Tests? A 230-grain .45 caliber bullet moving 930 FPS… Sound familiar?

MAn shot in the head with a .357 magnum
This poor soul was shot in the head with a .357 Magnum and lived for an hour and 45 minutes without life support.

Overpenetration Concerns

I am sure there are many out there reading this, throwing themselves around, waiting for it to end, so they can criticize my lack of concern regarding collateral damage with projectiles that exit the target. Let’s address that. First, a defensive handgun’s caliber is at the outside of its capability and (the bullet) has lost most of its speed by the time it gets through 12 to 18 inches of torso.

The truth, however, is most assailants are muscular and can have more than 24 inches of mass plus clothing. So, any lethality the projectile has left after exiting is minimal. The projectile is very unlikely to maintain enough energy to still be lethal unless it hits an infant or child.

The chances of an infant or child being at the time and place of a defensive shooting is miniscule. So, the only real danger comes from bad shooting that misses everything and sails off into the great beyond. Under those conditions, a hollow point is just as dangerous until it hits something and fragments. Therefore, bad shooting presents a similar liability problem for either type of round.

The smaller the platform and caliber you carry, the more penetration you will require of your projectile to survive a lethal encounter. There is no avoiding that reality, no matter how much you throw yourself around. So, practice and train as much as you can, until you can perform on demand with no warning. I for one rely on perfect shot placement and maximum penetration for my safety and survival.

Taylor KO Values infographic
A list of cartridges in order of their Taylor KO Values for reference.

Final Thoughts

If you still doubt my premise, consider this. The difference in size and ratio of the mass of the animal versus the projectile that felled it. Let’s start with the hippo at 6,000 pounds to the projectile that killed it at 250 grains. If I would have shot the hippo in the leg, he would still be walking around. However, I didn’t.

I placed a good bullet in the right spot, and he died instantly. For that hippo, I needed to hit a spot about 3×5 inches moving in the river at 70 yards. The Cape Buffalo also fell to a precisely placed .375 H&H 300-grain bullet at about 80 yards and was dead before he hit the ground.

The antelope died instantly from 450 yards with a 130-grain bullet. According to that formula, a .22LR should easily terminate a 200-plus pound assailant. It will; if the bullet is constructed to penetrate and the shot is placed perfectly. I rest my case.

Ball ammunition is not what most look for first when choosing a self-defense round. However, the author makes some interesting arguments. What ammunition do you trust for self-defense? Has the author’s arguments made you rethink your choices? Share your answers in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (34)

  1. LAWRENCE KEENAN – I see that your are a Vet, and it sounds like you are really a vet – having been action as opposed to just having been in the military, which is the real meaning of the word. So, thank you for your contribution! I am a very big WW II enthusiast, and I own many WW II books and documentaries, and watch everything I can on TV as well. I have been studying the War for over 35 years. But my point is that in WW II all the US military used 30-06 rifle ammo, .45 ACP pistols, and the low powered .30 Carbine. I would also say that 95-98% of all US soldiers/Marines in WW II used the 30-06 ammo in either the WW I rifle (Springfield 1903), or the M!. That being said, if you watch any documentary, you will see that the enemy almost always went down with one shot, because the 30-06 is a completely devastating cartridge, with about 2,900 ft. lbs. of ME. But ever since Vietnam, the US switched over to the relatively ‘pea shooter’ ammo, the M16 shooting the .556 ammo, which produces only 1,323 ft. lbs of ME. This is a HUGE difference, and would fully explain your observations. The .45 LC ammo max’s out at 1,344 ft. lbs. of ME, which is actually a bit more than the M16, although the effective range of the bullets from the .45 LC would be much shorter with greatly slower bullet speeds: .45 LC max at 1,526 vs. the .556 at 3270 fps.

  2. Colonel K, I think your idea about handguns not be a practical self-defense weapon is rather narrow thinking – “Practical defensive handguns are a very poor choice for primary self protection.” I can only surmise from this statement that your definition of ‘practical’ does not match most people’s. The first thing to point out is that the power of handguns varies from the small, very low powered .22 LR caliber, all the way up to the huge wielding .50 S&W, which produces more power than most rifles, including the .308 Winchester, which produces and equivalent amount of power as the .50 S&W. Bigger rifle calibers go well beyond this level of power, starting with the 30-06, the WW II winner! Granted, the .50 A&W is a handgun that is way too big and heavy and hard to shoot for self-defense, but there are many other handgun calibers that do fit the bill of being able to be used as a self-defense weapon that are not unwieldy, and not super heavy. To list a few, there is the .357 Mag, the .41 mag, the .45 ACP +P and .45 Super, then the .45 LC, the .44 Mag, and several more beyond this, which all make very good self-defense handguns. Of course, some of these have considerable kick, and thus are not suitable for all people. Other than the .45 ACP (and it derivatives) , these are all revolvers. So, I would imagine that your comment is really only thinking of semi-auto pistols, and not about revolvers. Most pistols are not strong enough to take someone down quickly, without an exact head shot, or a heart placement for someone not wearing body armor. Using the higher power rounds within of any of these calibers I just mentioned, they will take down a person fairly quickly, without a head shot, but placed somewhere on the torso.

    You can look at the knock down chart and get an idea what some of the calibers can do. Keep in mind that many of the cartridges listed in this list are often by far not nearly the most powerful for that caliber. So, this list is just an idea, and not complete. For example, the .357 Mag Hornady Custom is just a middle of the road .357, and it produces only 548 Ft. Lbs., but there are way more powerful .357 Mag round than that, such as the PPU of 158gr at 1607 fps, which delivers 907 ft. lbs.! Of course, the kick for this round would be pretty big, and I know because I have shot it.

    If you are interested in really learning about ammo and their ballistics (power, sped, bullet type, price), just ask me for my free ballistics file, which covers 35 handgun calibers and 25 rile ones, including the might Ma Deuce. The file has over 3.500 entries of ammo, and each one links to an online page where you can buy that ammo. But definitely, revolvers are the powerhouses of handguns. And today there are several high powered revolvers that come in an 8 round version.

  3. Lee, in response to your comment about the low .357 Mag score on the knock down list, it is really a matter of which round was measured or put into this list. The .357 Mag is one of the most variable powerwise caliber as almost any caliber (the min power compared to its max). This round listed, the Hornady 124 gr at 1,250 fps produces only 548 ft. lbs. of ME, but there are .357 Mag rounds that go up to 907 ft. lbs. (PPU) – 158 gr at 1607 fps!

  4. @ LAWRENCE KEENAN: You state, “If you hit a soldier with any round your are likely to take them out of battle so the extra damage caused by a round that is not likely to exit is extra human damage and suffering for no functional reason.” I would have to say, that sounds good on the surface, but in my experience, and that of many other vets, that is not based in reality. Hitting a soldier with any round is not necessarily going to take them out of the battle. For some, getting shot just pissed them off. Read some of the MOH citations for validation of my point. I knew many men who were pretty shot up and continued to fight until the fight was over or they were dead.

    I have also seen and treated a number of individuals (shocker here, they were on drugs) who were undeterred from their villainy even after taking more than one round. I am always amazed when certain “experts” make statements assuring people that many (if not almost all) thugs will be deterred by the presence of a firearm. Having spent decades working in ER, I have found that concept to be more the exception than the rule as it does not take into consideration that the drug-dependent sociopath accosting people is impaired and often times incapable of making what you and I would consider to be rational decisions.

    I have heard stories from victims and cops that would curl your toenails when it comes to assaults, robbery, and other crimes. You cannot infer rational thought to any sociopathic individual who has forsaken traditional respect for law and order or is impaired by substance abuse be it drugs or alcohol. That does not take into consideration those who are true psychopaths. I have seen too many who were just pissed off when shot and went on to kill the shooter before they collapsed or were captured by the local constabulary.

    Several patients presented to the ER, claiming “a friend” was playing with a gun and it went off. They swore they were at home when it happened. As they expression goes, I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night. We used that expression a lot when we heard stories like that.

    One note: I see I punched the 3 instead of the 4 when relating my time in healthcare. My career spanned 45 years not 35, 1971-2016. Curse these arthritic fingers.

  5. The 10mm Is not a particularly powerful round, which is part of the hype that is out there. Many people want to tout the 9mm as well, which to me is just a pea shooter in almost all its forms. The 10mm tops out at 750 ft, lbs. of ME, whereas the .357 tops out at 907 ft. lbs. But I see your point since the 40 mm S&W is on this list, and it is a lot weaker than the 10mm! But then there is one 9MM as well, which is an utter joke! The closest entry to this 9mm I have in my ballistics file is the Magtech 124gr at 1,109 fps MV, that delivers only 339 ft. lbs of ME. So, perhaps this list is trying to show useful loads for many calibers? If so, then the 10mm should be here too. Perhaps there is a timing issue, and the 10mm was not developed until 1983, as my ballistics file shows. But then, the first 40mm was developed in 1990! So, perhaps this is not a complete list?

  6. Those of you who, after reading this article, now believe that full metal jacketed ammo is better for self defense or hunting – please do some reading and research. Please don’t ever shoot a game animal with a FMJ bullet unless it is a brain shot. If you read enough you will find out how cruel and unethical that is. If you did that at our hunting lease (and most others) you would be kicked off the lease promptly.

  7. @Lawrence Keenan, incorrect. The Geneva Convention has nothing to do with restriction of weapons or ammunition. That mainly deals with non-combatants such as medics, POWs, etc. What you are thinking of would be the Hague Convention of 1899 that restricts use of ammunition that expands or flattens when coming into contact with the human body. And the US smartly never signed the Hague Convention papers so we are NOT subject to it’s restrictions. We used to follow it just to “play nice” with ally countries and under the impression that a FMJ wasn’t designed to kill per se but to injure a combatant enough to remove him from the fight and to remove other combatant personelle from the fight by them having to render aid to the injured combatant or helping to remove from battlefield. However, since we aren’t a party to the Hague Convention restrictions the US military has indeed begun to issue hollow point ammunition to units usually operating within urban environments to help prevent collateral damage to civilians due to pass through or ricochet and non-military structures. Since we aren’t restricted by the Hague the US is not in violation of any Laws of War in using hollow points.

  8. First, let me present my bona fides. I am a 72 year old retired ER Nurse and Nurse Educator, meaning I taught Nurses and Nursing students, both RN and LPN. I designed more than one Critical Care course for nurses at more than one institution where I worked. Before I retired from ER, I was a nationally certified Trauma Nurse (TNCC) as well as an instructor in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS). I was on several facilities Code Blue Teams, ERT’s (Emergency Response Teams), etc., whatever that institution called them. My health care career spanned 35 years, from 1971, beginning as a Medic in an Army field unit overseas doing SAR/Recon, until 2016, where most of my clinical time was spent in Critical Care.

    The author used the word desanguinate and desanguination, terms that I had never heard used in the manner he did before this article. Desanguinate simply means to remove blood. When I looked it up in my Taber’s Medical Dictionary, 12th Edition, dated 1970, it was not there, so it was not in common use then. Nor is it in the online edition of Taber’s. Further research online stated it was not even found in the OED and was an archaic usage going back before 1900. The term the author should have more correctly used is exsanguinate, which means to cause death by removing blood, something that as a medic in the Army going back to 1971 and as an ER nurse, I saw more times than I can count. The term used in my old (1970’s) Army manual, FM 8-36 The Aidman’s Medical Guide is hemorrhage.

    There are a couple of things many people do not understand about GSWs or any major trauma, for that matter, is what kills you is when there is not enough blood getting to your brain or your heart. Trauma patients can last a long time if those two organs are intact, even if their brain is so damaged that the lights are on, but no one is home.

    Now, the second thing that people do not understand is there only 2 things the brain needs to stay functioning, oxygen and sugar, (glucose). Blood is merely a delivery system to ensure the brain gets what it needs to stay happy. The heart is merely a pump to ensure the brain is getting the oxygen and sugar it needs. Heart attacks kill people because when the heart goes, the brain is deprived and that is when the patient is indeed dead.

    When a patient bleeds out, other organs are affected and may go into failure over time, but the brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and sugar or it will cease to function and the patient will die. Going without either for even a short time can cause permanent damage and disability if the patient is resuscitated successfully.

    Now, between my time in the Army as a Medic in a field unit doing SAR/Recon out in the boonies and more than 30 years working busy metropolitan ERs, I have had the opportunity to see more people with GSWs than anyone I know. I am very familiar with calibers that have been effective and those that have not.

    I have been present when chests were cracked and the patient who, though shot in the heart, was saved. That is a testament to the well-trained physicians and staff in that ER. It also belies the belief that hitting someone in the heart with a bullet will put him down forever. Shot placement matters as does a cartridge that has sufficient energy and penetration to damage vital organs and vessels enough to effect exsanguination. Just hitting someone in the heart is not sufficient. If they are on drugs, they may not know they have been hit. Read the author’s recounting of the fiasco the US Army experienced in the Philippines. Many of the Moros were taking drugs and had no clue they were dying until there was no more blood getting to their heads and they collapsed. I have seen that more times than I can count.

    One thing I have seen is that small caliber guns make small holes and frequently don’t have sufficient energy to inflict enough damage to actually stop the shootee from killing the shooter. If no major vessels or vital organs are punctured, there will be much less bleeding. As long as the shootee has blood getting to his brain, he can still think about killing you for hurting him. Smaller caliber handguns do not have as much hydrostatic energy displacement to further disrupt tissue integrity and facilitate hemorrhage as do larger calibers. I would call it a BIG FAIL when the person you shot can still kill you before he collapses, IF he collapses.

    Shot placement is key with any round. It is much harder than you think when you draw a weapon and your life is on the line. BTDT. I have had multiple cop friends who could not believe what they went through when they were involved in their first shootout with suspects. Even guys on the pistol team, failed to hit the suspect with even half the rounds they fired and fewer than a third of the hits were mortal wounds. In one study of police shootings compiled over 11 years, the mean hit ratio for the entire period was 15%. The best year showed 25% and the worst was 9%. This is consistent with officers I have known who were expert pistol shooters. That first time of live fire with another human being was life changing for all of them.

  9. The perfect wound channel is one where the bullet stops just inside the skin on the opposite side.
    Something with a good shock wave (works best when supersonic, >1100 feet/sec). This shock wave when encounters tissue that does not easily stretch, like lung and liver, is what causes the most tearing and bleeding!
    A trauma surgeon once told me that he never saw anyone shot in the chest with a 45 acp live(only 1 made it to the OR). His choice for defense?? 45 acp with Black Talon! I use Speer Gold dot .45 +P.

  10. Need more discussion about the theory and value of the Taylor chart. Not a very interesting article. I still prefer the value of the bullet energy in ft-lbf.

  11. One error and some basic physics to consider. The military has ball ammunition because expanding rounds are prohibited by The Hague Convention. Not because of lethality.
    The author must decide if an exit wound abides by the 3 minute bleed out theory or not. If you need an assailant exit wound to do the trick it’s too late for you, as the author states and I agree with that. I will put my life in the hands of physics and the law of conservation of energy. If a projectile leaves the body, it did not leave its full amount of energy in the body.

  12. Does the self-glorification never end? Great info on the generations-old penetration and knock out studies. That is really the heart of the matter. But how long did it take the self-proclaimed ‘most interesting man in the world’ author to eat that hippo? What, he didn’t eat it? Oh, ok, then we can consider him a mere gratitutous killer. I have zero respect for such ‘accomplishments’. And it seems that there are a lot of folks in the Comments with Superman capes on as well. Everybody’s an expert, knows it all and has done it all. Sheesh. Such shameless self-hype not only does not fool anyone, but it is actually comical, mock-worthy and meme-worthy. And for goodness sakes the ‘speedgoat’ taken at 450 yards was taken with a .25/06 not a. 22. Can’t anybody read? Those criticisms now lodged, it seems the answer to this is simple and one we knew all along…when you were a kid and your brother was throwing rocks at you, would you rather have him hit you with a small rock or a big rock ? It has never been more complicated than that. End of lesson. (If you come at me with Comments, please do not tell me how great you are – I’ll assume the best selling biography about you is titled The Greatest Human Being Who Ever Lived, Bar None, mmkay?)

  13. I had always understood that the purpose of the soft point round was to ensure a greater portion of the bullet’s energy at entrance of the body is transmitted to the body. The %energy transmitted from a bullet that doesn’t exit is 100%. That is the amount available for causing internal destruction by “hydroshock”, the sudden displacement of soft tissues.
    The bullet that exits the body carries some portion of initial bullet’s energy with it, totally controlled by how far the bullet has to travel through the body and what it hits along the way. Ergo, the bullet that does not exit does more IMMEDIATE DAMAGE, period.

    Obviously, placement is most important. I’ll bet on those great shots made on large animals you displayed, every time the bullets did not exit. Hitting a small target area to stop an animal allows one to ignore any differences between fmj and soft points. Both are lethal, rapidly. However the bullet that transmits 100% of the bullets energy allows for a larger effective target area. Sorry, but that makes the bullet that doesn’t exit the best for immediate “stopping power”.

    By the way, the military does not use the fmj rounds by choice,. It’s required by the Geneva Convention. If you hit a solder with any round your are likely to take them out of battle so the extra damage caused by a round that is not likely to exit is extra human damage and suffering for no functional reason.

    And, you are supposed to eat what you kill, otherwise it’s senseless destruction. Nothing to be proud of. Shoot a paper target to prove yourself and let the non-game animals live. .

  14. Speaking of shot placement… When I was still working for a state law enforcement agency, I was one of 42 people in the first training certification course when we transitioned from the S&W 686 revolver to the then brand new S&W M&P .40. Our RSO was a guy named Capt. Morgan… I know, hilarious but that really was his name and rank. The way some of the others were shooting the new pistol you’d have thought there was more than one Capt. Morgan involved. Haha! Anyway, in any of training sessions through the years and before I became our unit’s RSO and instructor we were always told and taught to aim and hit center mass at the bottom of the sternum, basically 3 inches below the nipples and 3 inches above the belly button. I never did, I always hit directly between the nipples. And always managed to get barked at by the Capt…. D***** Davis, we’re only trying to stop them so we can cuff them. We’re not trying to kill them! My response was “But Cap, That WILL stop them and they’ll be easier to cuff. Not to mention think about all the money we’ll be saving the state not having to house, clothe, and feed them versus the cost of 2 rounds of .40 FMJ.” The Capt. Was not ammused. But even to this day when I carry my .40 it’s loaded with 180gr FMJ. Maybe not the best choice for defensive purposes but it does the job. I’d have more faith in that than my Shield Plus with the 124gr Federal Hydrashok. Then again I have more faith in my .38 snub with 125gr Federal Nyclad than my 9mm. Mainly because I can shoot the .40 and .38 way better than my 9mm. So that translates into MUCH better shot placement and as we all know, placement is the key.

  15. Ed Aka, this is an OUTSTANDING article, and one of the best ever in this forum! I have been commenting in this forum, and others, as well as online You Tube videos, for quite some time now about the real ballistics info, and not the hype most people have with their ‘favorite’ caliber, even those who supposedly are in the ‘know’. I love the Taylor KO Values list! I wish it had more noteworthy calibers listed, like the .45 LC, which can get to almost the same power as the .44 Mag. This round in the list by Buffalo Bore (3K/20) produces 1,482 ft. lbs of ME, and the most powerful .45 Colt rounds are also by Buffalo Bore: the 260 gr traveling at is 1,526 fps (MV), which produces 1,344 ft. lbs. of ME, and the Buffalo Bore (3A/20) 325 gr bullet at 1,325 fps, which produces 1,267 of ft, lbs, of ME. But my biggest beef for the past 7-10 years has been all the bragging and discussion on how good the 9mm is, and furthermore why the US military went to it as well (utterly ridiculous). I am very pleased to not see the 9 mm caliber in the knock down list! I consider the 9mm to be a ‘pea shooter’.

    While I have not shot and killed any animal with my handguns, nor any person as well!, I do know a lot about ballistics since I have been researching this for the past 10-15 years. I have created over that time a very elaborate ballistics file, that covers 35 handgun calibers, and 25 rifle ones. The file has over 3,500 entries, and each one has a online link that directs you to that specific ammo, sold by a specific retailer, for purchase. I get the ballistics info from each online ammo page, and when it is not correct, I contact the retailer, and tell them so, and what it probably should be. This often entails my looking at other retailers for the same ammo, and/or going to the source, the manufacturer online and getting the data there. My ballistics file calculates the ME of each round/entry, and does not use the one posted online, even if one is given.

    So, when looking at this knock down list by Taylor, it is essentially dead on (although I would question the .500 AE round since it does not look like Speer makes any .500 AE ammo any longer). And I can tell you the ME for each and everyone round listed here in the Knock Down list, and its type of bullet as well, especially since this article mentions three keep factors for ammo when hunting or for self defense: (1) accuracy and you ability to handle the gun, (2) the ammo’s knock down power, and (3) the type of bullet. My file does not know how to calculate this ‘knock Down’ (KD) factor that Taylor created some time back, but it does calculate the power of each round, its ME (Muzzle Energy), and combined with bullet diameter, weight, and style is probably how the KD factor is calculated.

    My ballistics file is free to all who ask for it, and comes in a PDF file format. I release it every 2-3 months (I have a client list that it goes out to), and I should have a new version out by the end of the month (Feb 2023). This will be version 38!

  16. In the 50’s & 60’s, it was common for Mob hitmen to use a .22LR auto that was tricked out to fire full auto. They would always get close, and shoot into the back of the head/spine junction. Mk #1 Rugers were the pistol of choice. As for me, shot a skunk with a #7 1/2 birdshot load in a handgun at about 15 feet. Ended up with a pissed off skunk, and thankfully someone with a shotgun got him before he got me. While modern bullet designs are a great improvement over what was available as recently as 15 – 20 years ago, shot placement is always the most critical factor. The lowly .22LR 40 grain solid at a distance measured in inches is lethal in the back of the head. The gun/caliber that you can shoot (5) rounds into a (4″) circle in (5) seconds AND the distance you can do it should be the baseline as to what to use as an EDC gun/caliber. The bad news is that for most folks that their effective distance shrinks from yards to feet, and sometimes even inches when under stress. At my age, had to drop down to a .38 with the 110 Critical Defense round as the 1911/230 .45 ACP combo is now too much to handle.

  17. It appears a lot of you really missed the point or should I say points.
    So I will dummy it down for you.
    First small rounds are not good for home defense.
    Hollow points are not a good home defense if it is not a .45 or bigger.
    Ball ammo is more deadly because it is more likely to leave an exit wound which means blood is pouring out.
    Wether it be beast or man lack of blood means weaker attacker or dead attacker.
    The reference of the .22 killing the animal at 450 yards away was to show a well placed bullet although a small round will kill a 200 lb beast or man. We should all know that a home defense is close up and personal and your heart is pounding and your hands are shaking and your mind is racing and you feel like you’re having a heart attack.
    So the reality is big round that penetrates completely.
    Let the attackers have the hollow point and you need to use full metal jacketed rounds. The most important part of this article is bullet placement.
    Practice, practice, practice, practice and practice some more.
    Attackers are not going to wait for you to figure out how to take the safety off or wait for you to fumble around loading your magazine. Micro seconds count.
    Just shooting a target every once in a while will not get it done and doesn’t make you a pro.
    Go to a range that has moving targets and course that makes you move around a shooting.
    The first time you do it you will notice how much harder it is and how much harder your heart is pounding.
    Be serious about your protection and practice.
    No matter the size of your round if you just shoot up the room and you hit nothing then you will become a static.
    Dead Static!

  18. In 1964 I was shot behind my knee downward with a 45acp fired from a New Service revolver. Exited from my ankle (outside). Never touched a bone, thank the Lord. I hobbled 1/2 mile, drove to the hospital 13 miles. Recovered to walk without a stick in one week. Placement was everything. Of course I was 24 years old and having played college football.

  19. I’m a hunter myself, but I’m nothing like yourself, and I’m proud of that. I only hunt what I eat. You’re not a hunter, you kill for sport and because you can. That’s as low as you can go.

  20. Good article. I appreciate that someone other than myself is outraged at the nonsense answers I see to questions about firearms on the web. The Reddit and Quora sites especially seem to be populated by 5 year olds asking and answering questions of each other. I too have seen many answers that would result in death or crippling from following ridiculous advice. On par with your muffler shop to fix a firearm example. Note they also have dangerous answers wrt to operating/fixing machinery, etc.
    I was surprised by the low’ish TKOF scores for 357 magnum, barely better than the 38 Special? Do you consider that accurate? Especially for the 158 gr at 1225 fps.

  21. I am certain that despite thousands of rounds fired at the range, practical shooting drills ad nauseum, and a nature to perform well under pressure, if faced with a life or death situation I would likely miss most shots fired, likely not even know how many shots I had fired, likely go to tunnel vision and adrenaline frenzy. This is the reported experience of the vast majority of trained shooters not immersed in frequent combat. So where the bullets end up does matter, liability does matter, and what would be helpful is advice tailored to my limitations, not an exhortation to be the shooter I never will be.

  22. Practical defensive handguns are a very poor choice for primary self protection. They simply lack the power and accuracy of a rifle or shotgun, but many times they are all we have or can have at the ready. Another reality is very few people practice enough to become proficient in their use. Even fewer people practice enough with the ammo they intend to carry for defense. And almost nobody regularly practices shooting on the move or at a moving target, or at multiple threats, or at multiple moving threats. And nobody practices these tactics while live lethal ammo is being fired back at them.
    Having said all this, the mere presentation of your firearm will deter the majority of assailants. If it does not, the discharge of your firearm will deter most others. If this proves ineffectual, a nonlethal hit will deter all but a handful. Therefore, it appears the author’s comments apply most specifically to this final group. For these few determined aggressors, you will need to make a properly placed shot that penetrates deep enough to end the attack immediately. In such a scenario, having a large magazine capacity or extra ammo does not improve your aim, but it may improve the probability of making a “lucky” hit or a purposely well placed shot. It can be done if one has the skill and presence of mind to achieve it, but I think such individuals are rare indeed.

  23. 20 years in the USMC firing ball ammo, I switched to 9mm JHP for self defense when I retired. I now will go back to FMJ. Would like to hear more on self defense and the shotgun.

  24. I only wished you would have spoke more on the .45 cal for concealed carry, for which I carry at all times.

  25. Hey John M. My comment was in reference to the last paragraph in the article, quoted below. What I meant by my comment was that he implied that using a solid 22 round to shoot someone in the head would be a good defensive round. If someone was attacking you, that would basically require a shot to the facial area to hit the brain. While I agree with him completely that a 22 to the head would do the trick – we all know that 99.9% of the time, if you are being charged, you should for aim for center-mass of the torso. That is all I meant. It’s possible I am just reading it out of context, and if so, I apologize to the author and his readers.
    “The antelope died instantly from 450 yards with a 130-grain bullet. According to that formula, a .22LR should easily terminate a 200-plus pound assailant. It will; if the bullet is constructed to penetrate and the shot is placed perfectly. I rest my case.”

  26. Maybe his words were somehow obscured by you Mark ! I did not see anything in the article about shooting somebody in the face with a 22Cal .

  27. I never saw anything in the article about shooting someone in the face with a 22 and that’s a far-fetched comparison to what the author was saying. I find your statement unrealistic and just argumentative.

  28. I could not agree more with this article. Shot placement is always #1 and as the the corner I had the luxury of bird hunting with for 3 days told me. Big holes usually bleed more than small ones and two hole most often bleed more than one meaning exit hole. Another fantastic article by Mr. LaPorta.

  29. Someone may end up getting beaten to death with his own 22 if this story is believed . Now, we all know about mobsters using 22’s at point blank to the back of the head. Perfect shot placement. You might even be able to do that to a black bear. But if you have the crap scared out of you by someone rushing you at 10 feet, very few people could put ANY kind of bullet into that person’s face, and only a disingenuous person would suggest someone try.

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