Let’s Talk Terminal Ballistics: Bullets do strange things

A while ago in a post about head shots I wrote the following:

“People think of head shots as being instantly fatal, but if you look around you’ll find plenty of examples of people who have survived a bullet to the head…especially if the shot came from a handgun.”

The news provides one of the most bizarre examples of this you’re likely to ever find. A couple of muggers accost an innocent citizen, who obeys their orders and hands his stuff over only to be shot anyway:

“The man complied, but as the muggers were taking his valuables, including a mobile phone, one of them pulled a handgun and shot at him. The bullet struck his face, bounced off, then hit one of the other robbers, 16-year-old Clifton Chatman.”

First off, let’s stop and recognize that these two muggers shot a perfectly cooperative victim. We hear over and over again from the gun control dullards that the proper survival strategy is to comply with the demands of violent felons. The assumption is that if you obey the bad guy, he has no reason to hurt you. This presumes bad guys to be rational actors which they most certainly aren’t. Of course, if you listened to Ballistic Radio’s interview with William Aprill, you already know that. The gun control dullards are as woefully incorrect about practical responses to a violent assault as they are about the utility of armed school resource officers to combat school shooters.

Relying on the moral recognizance of someone who is pointing a gun at you is a particularly poor survival strategy. The most effective way to ensure you’re not shot in the face by some violent felon is to shoot him first. Resistance with a firearm has proven overall to give the best shot at coming out of a violent felony alive. Here endeth the lesson…

As for the circumstances of this story, shooting somebody in the head and having it bounce off of his skull and hit your buddy with enough oomph to kill him…well…that’s Murphy for you.

As I mentioned in the head shot post referenced earlier, the skull is essentially evolutionary armor designed to protect the most important bits of our anatomy. The forehead is a curved armor plate designed to dissipate energy away from the precious cargo of the cranium. If you punch somebody in the nose, you can break it. If you punch somebody in the forehead you’re more likely to break your fist than to deal any significant damage to the other guy. Many handgun bullets (especially FMJ) are going to have a hard time penetrating the armor plating of the forehead unless they hit at just the right angle.

This news story reminds me of an anecdote from a police officer friend who rolled to a burglary call at a convenience store to find the owner sitting on the ground with a bloody cloth held to his head. The owner was robbed. The robber hit him in the head with the pistol and while the man was on the ground reeling, the robber climbed on top of him and shot him in the head at close range. The .45 ACP FMJ bullet from a Glock 21 hit the owner in the forehead at a bit of an angle, followed the curvature of the scalp to essentially make a U turn, and then flew up into the ceiling. It’s believed that the round narrowly missed the guy who fired it. It sounds pretty fantastic and I was skeptical of the tale for a long time, at least until I started hearing similar anecdotes about bullets and skulls from other reliable sources.

Bullets are capable of doing some very strange things. That goes double for occasions where they are fired at hard round objects like bowling balls or, in this instance, a human skull. I don’t know the specifics of the injury to the honest citizen in this incident, but if I had to take a wild guess I’d assume he was hit in the forehead and the bullet did some Matrix quality stuff after that to result in a lethal injury to one of the would-be muggers.

Our readership isn’t comprised of violent felons looking to execute perfectly cooperative victims for giggles, but even so there are perhaps some things to think about we can take away from this unfortunate (for the innocent citizen who was shot in the head, anyway) incident. If a bullet can bounce off of someone’s face and go on to kill another person, we should maybe reconsider rocks on the berm at our range, or that piece of steel that’s badly pitted. Bullets do strange things, so let’s not assume that the unlikely won’t happen with the bullet we’re firing.


  1. This reinforces my military training of shooting at center-of-mass vs a head shot (with a pistol anyway). Glad these people survived! Great story!

  2. Its not just handgun bullets. I shot a deer right in the face a couple years ago, and saw a similar result. I’d pulled a bad shot, and was trailing a wounded animal, but when I started catching up, all I saw was a head, looking right at me. It struck just under the left eye, skidded around the skull, and exited the back if the head. This was with a .270 at +/-100 yards, 140 softpoint. It never expanded, barely bled, and required another shot (a proper shot to the vitals) to end the hunt. Skulls are remarkable bones.

  3. It is sad that many think if you comply with the demands they will not harm you. If I were a criminal I would ask myself one question: “what will get me caught?” and the answer is evidence, witnesses are evidence. What with most people having phones, a criminal cannot be too safe. The target could capture footage, as you the criminal leave the seen. Any visual information could aid in capture, as could recorded voice(s). The Skull thing is surely scary if you think about the number of new shooters that talk about shooting objects outdoors or at indoor ranges. Trees are like heads, depending on the type of tree and if it might be frozen. A ricocheting bullet is a deadly projectile and is not something to test your luck against. Soft (impact absorbing) body tissue and backstops are preferred. Sadly, I’ve heard some foolish people talk about shooting ceilings, beams etc.. at indoor ranges; these people need to be reported at the very least (you may not want to confront them yourself).

  4. Jim Cirillo had a great story along these lines, wherein two of his guys shot a robber in the head 11 times (they emptied their respective revolvers) with the old 158gr LRN .38 Special load. Dude went down, but ended up walking to the ambulance under his own power. It was a big factor in Cirillo’s decision to start carrying wadcutters.

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