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223/5.56 Duty/Defense Ammunition Selection

I must apologize to Members and other readers of this site for my inattention to the site of late. June has been a heavy month, with two major conferences to attend/speak at, as well as a lot of demands on my time at work. How is it that when the economy goes sour, people start doing more things that land them in my Emergency Department? Is it something akin to the full moon?

Inquiring minds want to know!!!

Anyways, enough whining… Today I was notified by my great friend Dr. Gary Roberts that I had been referenced on an internet gun forum. The writer, who has apparently taken one of my classes or heard one of my lectures, ascribed to me certain expertise in "terminal ballistics" that he felt superseded the ballistics testing done by the FBI.  I hastened to set the record straight… I have never claimed to know more than those jello junkies at the FBI ballistics labs!!! They do good work down there in Quantico, and better yet, they freely share it with the rest of us. 

But I must state explicitly here (as I do in all my classes) that I am NOT a terminal ballistics expert, nor do I do much terminal ballistics testing myself. I rely heavily on the bench testing done by people like Dr. Gary Roberts in this area. My expertise is much more in the area of terminal effects, i.e., showing people what the anticipated effects of their well-targeted rounds might be. As such I train people where to shoot the bad guys, and via my trauma medicine background, what kinds of effects one can expect when a person is shot in one of the major zones of incapacitation.

The problem, as you may be aware if you’ve attended one of my classes, is that in gunfights our opponents rarely stand up to us foursquare with their guns at the hip and let us shoot them in the high mediastinum. In many, many gunfights I have in my files, the offender presented LEOs with a bladed or crouching or some other contorted stance which bears no resemblance to qualification and training targets. Shot placement suffered accordingly as the LEOs in question had no training on these "non-traditional" presentations. As Dr. Roberts has so ably pointed out on many occasions, the problem your bullets have to solve may require much, much more than 12 inches of penetration.

Example: in the 1986 FBI Miami gunfight, bank robber and murderer Michael Platt shot Agent Ed Mireles in the right (dominant) forearm with a round of 5.56. This round shredded Mireles’ forearm and permanently disabled him. However, the bullet failed to penetrate through the arm and into Mireles’ torso. As such, Mireles was able to continue, using his nondominant hand with both his Remington 870 and his S&W revolver, and ultimately put the final bullets into Platt that finished the fight.

If Platt’s rifle had been loaded with a bonded-core or partition-style bullet designed for deep penetration even through intermediate barriers, Mireles likely would have been much more seriously injured, if not killed.

In my medical experience and in my big game hunting experience, penetration is a good thing. I have not been greatly impressed with the terminal effects (not to be confused with terminal ballistics, BTW) of most frangible rounds on human/live animal targets. Tthis does not include, of course, small varmint game such as prairie dogs and woodchucks. I have little faith in the incapacitating effect of any round’s temporary cavitation effect, whether it be a handgun or rifle–50 BMG being a possible exception. What counts in gunshot wounds is, quite simply, what vital organs has the bullet penetrated/perforated, and how catastrophically. On the other hand, I’ve not been impressed with the terminal effectiveness of the deep penetration afforded by our military 62 gr steel-tipped armor-penetrating ammo, which is too often a remote-control cordless drill.

The clear answer is that for general patrol/defensive rifle duty, we want a round that both expands well and penetrates deeply, while maintaining reliable functionality and accuracy. This is the ideal.

That being said, and no disrespect intended to any of the runners-up, my personal and professional 5.56 ammunition choices based on the recommendations of true experts like Dr. Roberts–and my own experience on live animals and tissue simulants–tend to run along the lines of Federal TRU 55/62gr bonded, Black Hills/Nosler Partition 65 gr, and Winchester JSP 64 gr. These rounds will defeat intermediate barriers and will penetrate deeply through tissue, and will work accurately in barrels from 1:7 through 1:10. All of these rounds have an excellent record in OIS’s over many, many years, and as such I have no reservation in recommending them.

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