Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The ammo debate rears its head again . . .

A "combat medic" argues that 9mm and 5.56mm rounds are ineffective in combat . . . then undermines his own argument.

I was an EMT and a trauma tech working on a truck and in a trauma room for about 10 years and I was an army combat medic for eight years ... I have treated an inordinant amount of gun shot and blast injuries in places where surgical treatment was often well over an hour away ... I kept mission logs and patient logs ... I have recorded 371 gun shot wounds and significant blast injuries.

. . .

In just about every country I have been in, our host nation counterparts — army and police — used the 9X19 NATO round ... I’ve seen a lot of pistol shootings, much more than US police would ever see, and much more than experienced by most medics deploying solely with US personnel. And yet, I have zero, not one single experience, where a single gunshot wound from a 9X19 NATO round killed someone prior to them being able to return fire or flee. This includes people shot in the chest, back, back of the head (one hit behind the left ear) the neck and the face.  None.

Unfortunately, the same goes for the 5.56 NATO round. I have yet to witness a single shot quick kill with this round ... in every experience, at ranges from zero (negligent discharges) to 35 yards (my closest, and worst-placed, shot on a person) to 400 yards (our average initial engagement distance in Afghanistan) individuals shot with a single 5.56 NATO round had time to fire, maneuver, or both. Did I see single shots that killed eventually? Yes. Does that matter in combat? Not one damn bit if you are the one they are still shooting at.

. . .

Take from that what you will. For me, what I learned is, when it comes to combat, shoot the heaviest rifle round I can, shoot at what I can hit, and then shoot it again if I can.

. . .

As an aside, Chris Kyle (FWFS, brother) was a friend of mine, and while not so patiently listening to one of my Crown-induced rants on the 5.56 NATO, he suggested that it was not caliber I hated, but the bullet. He told me to load up the case as fast as I could, push a 64 grain or heavier soft point round and see what happens. So I had Underground Tactical built me an AR in 5.56 which I swore I would never own, and built rounds ranging from 64 to 75 grains with it. I’ve taken 11 deer with them, and the wound tracks are nothing like I saw with the NATO round. I’ve never had to look for an animal, and a little Underground 5.5lb AR in 5.56 is my go-to hill country deer gun now, which is just crazy.

There's more at the link.

Talk about cognitive dissonance!  The author's last paragraph undermines almost everything he's said before, but he can't see it.

For the record, I agree with him that 9mm and 5.56mm military ball (i.e. solid, non-expanding) ammunition is by no means a reliable "stopper" in either cartridge.  I've fired enough of the stuff myself, in both military and civilian environments, in actual engagements, to be satisfied that its performance is marginal.  Sure, there are always those who argue that better shot placement will solve the problem;  but in a high-intensity firefight, when both you and your opponent are moving, ducking, dodging and weaving, you aren't going to be able to take out the brain stem or cervical spine with laser-like accuracy.  It's simply impractical.  Under such circumstances, you want to slam your opponent as hard as possible, as often as possible, and repeat the treatment until, as Jim Higginbotham puts it, "the target changes shape or catches fire".  True dat.

Military ball ammunition is not designed to do that.  It's designed to be subject to the restrictions of the Hague Convention of 1899 (whether or not the nation concerned is a signatory to that treaty - the USA is not).  Those restrictions limit its terminal effectiveness.  Hunting rounds, on the other hand, are not so restricted.  They use soft-point and hollow-point bullets, or larger solid projectiles with more effective designs (e.g. "wide flat nose" or "full wadcutter"), that greatly increase the effectiveness of the round.  As the author notes in the final paragraph cited above, the same 5.56mm cartridge that he derides as ineffective becomes much more effective when loaded with better-performing bullets.  He never stops to think that it might become just as effective against human beings as against animals, if similar bullets are used.

When looking at solid bullets, without expanding features, I agree;  9mm and 5.56mm are not optimal, and I would hesitate to trust my life to them unless I had no other choice.  However, when modern expanding ammunition is available, they are boosted to a whole new level of performance, and become much more reliable.  I agree with naysayers who argue that larger calibers such as .45 or .308 are more effective, with their bigger, heavier bullets.  That's undeniable.  Nevertheless, the smaller rounds do become more viable when the right projectiles are used.

For defensive use, in 9mm I've standardized on Federal's excellent HST range as my primary defensive round.  I carry the 124gr. JHP +P round in my larger pistols, and the 147gr. JHP at standard velocity in my smaller 9mm. pocket pistols and my Ruger PC carbine.  I have little doubt both will perform well if I need them the hard way.  In 5.56mm, I use either the Winchester Ranger 64gr. Power-Point round, or Beck Ammunition's loading of the 64gr. Nosler Bonded bullet, a soft-point bullet that's a proven performer on game up to deer-size.  I'm confident it'll do what's needed against two-legged foes, if necessary.  Any of these rounds, or those recommended in this exhaustive analysis at, should serve you well.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Whatever defensive ammo you select, you should put at least 100 rounds of it (I prefer 200) through your chosen defensive weapon, using your defensive magazines, without a single malfunction, in order to prove that they work well together.  Even one malfunction should cause you to start the entire test all over again.  Two malfunctions, and I'd ditch that round and go to another one, again testing it to make sure it's 100% reliable in your gun and your magazines.  Yes, it's expensive to do that . . . but so is finding out the hard way, when a bad guy is about to shoot or stab you and/or your loved ones, that your gun and ammo combination don't work.  Check that out beforehand!

Finally, be careful when reading articles such as that cited above.  If they're talking only about military ball ammo, with no more effective projectiles in the mix, they're definitely not addressing the current reality of the situation for civilian or law enforcement defensive shooting.  (Sadly, New Jersey does not allow private citizens to own or use hollow-point ammunition, so in that state, you might have to adopt alternative measures.)



LL said...

I'm not a huge fan of 5.56mm as a man-stopper, but it's a good varmint round. I've seen similar results with 9 mm (including high expansion rounds) against humans as those reported (above). I carry a revolver with .454 Casull high expansion rounds these days and am confident that the results would be more favorable than traditional automatic cartridges, though I am not taking the weapon into combat where I need several redundant magazines loaded and handy.

It has been reported that the SEAL Teams don't carry the 5.56 cartridge/rifle and that's not the case. A lot depends on mission and load-out. Traditionally the Teams favor the 7.62 and the .45 ACP. In fact, there was a time when they were the only outfit that I know of in the US Military that carried (whatever they wanted) those rifles/options.

Old NFO said...

Concur with LL. And shot placement COUNTS as much or more than the round fired!

Howard Brewi said...

Back right after 911 our little airport where my wife worked had a contingent of National Guard. She heard more than one gripe from the troops that since they carried Nato ID they had to stick with ball ammo for their 9mm's. Personally my carry gun is a .357 mag that I load 180 gr hard cast around home and 125 gr hollow points for the city. Much more likely to open the door or have it pushed in by a bear at home but the 180would probably exit the back of a 2 legged atacker. I have a marlin carbine in the same caliber for hunting and defense.

Aesop said...

The guy is an ignorant jack@$$ (sorry to break a blog standard, Peter, but there it is).

1) He's been an EMT for 10 years.
Say it with me:
He's been an EMT for 10 years.
Now look, I love EMTs (I started out as one, back in the misty past), but if you settled at being the equivalent of the French fry timer at McDonald's for ten years instead of as a stop on your way up the career ladder, let me be the first one to tell you Houston, you've got a problem.

2) What he gets is so small as to be immeasurable with existing instrumentation.
People (and the cops) don't call 9-1-1 for people who are DRT.
So he'll virtually never see the person with a fatal wound that scored a killing hit, because they called the cops and coroner, and not a taxi driver with an oxygen tank.
Color me shocked.

3) I've seen people brought in dead, who stayed that way, from one gunshot, both with 9mm and 5.56/.223.
More than I like to count.
Because sometimes, the paramedics will bring in traumatic full arrests who were DRT, because they didn't want to get attacked by the family for "not doing anything" for a guy who bled out in ten pumps, after hitting the ground immediately, 10 minutes before they (and the EMTs) arrived, even though it's all futile efforts.

Anyone so hamstrung by such stupidity is not an article for information, it's a punching bag looking for a dose of ridicule.
I'm surprised anyone would post the original article, but that just shows you why the IQ graph is a bell curve: for everyone with a 120, there's someone out there with a corresponding 80.

The referenced OP is today's 80-IQ winner.

Will said...

I'm reminded of an AAR by a three letter agent that was sent to the Sandbox. He was attached to a SEAL/SOF type group that quickly got sent to clean out a compound in the hinterlands. He wasn't vetted yet, so they told him to just go watch the back wall of the compound while the group made entry at night.

Intelligence missed the fact there was a door hidden in a depression. Two armed persons suddenly appeared, so he shot them with his agency issued weapon and hollow tip ammo. Each dropped so fast he wasn't able to get a second hit on them. Shortly after, a second pair appeared, with the same results.

Eventually others from the group arrived to remonstrate with him about his unnecessary firing of a weapon, as they had done no shooting. He pointed them toward the wall, where the four bodies were found piled up at the bottom of the depression in front of the door. They were shocked that it only took one shot for each of them.

IIRC, this was in SOF Mag, but I'm not positive at this point.

Will said...

Forgot to mention it was 5.56 in an AR type carbine or rifle.

Beans said...

Well, to toss my feelings into the situation, all the bullet advances that make the Wunder9 so great also make the .40, .45, .380, .38 etc great. So, well, yeah. Shoot what you want, it's all great out there with super bullet designs.

Now firing FMJ? Shot placement, and maybe a followup. Considering how many people have been slabbed by the lowly .22LR and other mini-calibers, even the much poo-pooed .25, FMJ isn't bad, if that's all you have. So you may have to shoot twice or more.

A crappy caliber, or bullet, or gun (as long as it shoots and hits) is still far superior to not being able to defend oneself at all.

cannon said...

.308 and .45 cals are great.....until you have to hump all that extra weight 10, 15, 20 miles...then they suck. weight is pain.
the best weapon is the one in your hands, and the best caliber is the one in your weapon.
one shot, one kill?? fine you eliminated one enemy. a shot to the knee eliminates one enemy, plus at least one, maybe two or three, that carry him to the aid station. (dosn't work with barbarians who leave their wounded on the field to fend for themselves, or shoot them so they can't be interrogated)

Kristophr said...

I prefer my 8 gauge ( .815 ) muzzle loading rifle.

Yes, I compromised with the times, and had the bore rifled.

If it ain't at least .80" across, it's a poodle shooter.

rms/pa said...

first rule , bring a gun,

i am ambivilant on the ammo wars. not finding a participant willing to jump in front of the denigrated ammo when fired.


John T. Block said...

The military adopted the 5.56 for it's wounding affect, not it's lethality, the idea being you tie up three men, the one shot and at least two to haul his butt off the line to triage. This didn't take enemies such as IS IS into account, who are as likely as not to send a wounded comrade to Paradise to collect his 72 Virginian's. As for ball, the 55 grain M-193 was apt to tumble and fragment, if it was getting the full velocity of a 20" barrel.
The shorter barrels now common, and the 64 gr. pills simply drill thru, like an ice pick, dumping little energy in said gomer.
Still, it beats the snot out of harsh language... Or so I'm told.

Will said...

J T Block:

The original ammo worked well with a slow twist rate, but the idiots in the puzzle palace and ancillary depts wanted more range in colder climates, so they mandated a faster rate that mostly eliminated the very effective tumbling/fragmenting of the original bullet.
They kept adding more bullet weight and faster twist rates, and then wanted shorter barrels, which gives us the current mess.

STxAR said...

J T Block, you nailed it. I read the entire 1970's era report on the development of the M-16 and field issues in Vietnam. The US Army had/has a huge Not Invented Here bias. If they didn't build it, it is insufficient. And they broke the design that the Air Force loved in '62 with all the cold weather, longer pressure curve powder and bullet weights, twist rate nonsense.

Antibubba said...

So for best stopping power, a heavier bullet with a slower twist? What twist?

Will said...


You have to match the twist rate to the bullet weight. In 5.56, that was the original 55gr at ~1in12". You can spin it faster, but you can't spin a heavier bullet slower, or it has insufficient stability to work at all. The heavier bullets in this caliber tend to drill .22 caliber holes through humans, when spun at the correct rate they require.

The Army went from 12" to 9" to 7". A potential problem is that spinning a light bullet too fast can cause it to fragment in flight, due to lack of strength. I don't think this is a current problem with standard 55gr .mil ball ammo in the 7" rate.