Nothing Beats Shot Placement

Nothing Beats Shot Placement

Shot placement, or where you put your bullets, will always be more important than the caliber or gun when it comes to self-defense.

Ol’ Joe was sitting at the bar, drinking. The year was 1930, and drinking was illegal. But this bar was in a speakeasy, and no one in there gave a damn about being legal. But one guy did give a damn about his wife, and it had come to his attention that Ol’ Joe had been giving some affection to her. An altercation ensued, and the jealous husband ended up pulling out a .25 Automatic and emptying it into Ol’ Joe’s gut.

Grandpa said that Ol’ Joe was a big ol’ boy, and after the shooting was over, he turned and walked out the door. Grandpa knew this because he was there when it happened. Though he never admitted it, I figure Grandpa had recently delivered the libations Ol’ Joe and everyone else had been drinking. Shortly, Ol’ Joe walked back inside with a shovel and a blood stain the size of a dinner plate oozing through his overalls. And then, with five .25 Auto slugs in his tummy, he took that shovel and beat the jealous man to death.

Lesson learned: If you don’t want to get beaten to death with a ditch digger, don’t shoot your adversary in the belly button.

If you want to substantially increase the chances of your handgun stopping a bad guy, learn proper shot placement.

Hardball Won’t Work

Most supposed experts will tell you that hardball—full metal jacket—handgun ammunition isn’t suitable for self-defense.

Well, one night while working the midnight shift, I got a call of “shots fired” at a local nightclub. As I crept my cruiser into the edge of the parking lot, I heard the unmistakable sound of handgun fire. The sirens wailing from my backup that was on the way quickly dispersed the crowd. Remaining on the parking lot before me was a dead man.

Long story short, the investigation revealed he’d taken a single 115-grain 9mm FMJ round to the chest at about 10 feet. The bullet had pierced his sternum and heart, exited his back and was found in the fender of a Toyota Camry that was parked just behind where he stood. The coroner said that had EMS been standing beside him when he was shot—waiting to render aid—he would’ve died anyway.

Federal’s new Hydra-Shock Deep load for the 9mm Luger expands wide and penetrates well. But if it misses the mark, it just makes a loud noise, which is generally ineffective at stopping bad guys.

Does Good Shot Placement Make .380 Viable?

The .380 Auto is often considered the absolute minimum for personal protection. That seems like it suggests if you must shoot a bad guy with a .380, the outcome is questionable.

Well, on another midnight shift, we responded to a suspicious person call, which turned out to be a crippled man standing over a dead guy in the middle of the street.

It seems a proprietor of a local bar—are you seeing a trend here?—was headed home when the car following him began flashing its lights. The bar owner pulled over to see what was what. That’s when the driver of the trailing car got out, walked up to the nightclub owner’s car, opened the door, pulled the proprietor out, and began to beat the living daylights out of him.

Modern defensive ammunition for the 380 ACP is very good. No, it won’t compare to the 9mm Luger or larger-caliber cartridges, but if the shots are placed properly, the desired result will be achieved.

The bar owner was physically disabled. (My teenage daughter could’ve whopped up on him). But he was smart, he kept a pistol—a compact .380—in his pocket. He shot his attacker once in the chest, and the man dropped in the street and that was the end of that.

What’s the Point?

The point here should be clear by now: It’s not the gun, the cartridge or the ammunition that’s most important. It’s shot placement. Those five rounds Ol’ Joe took to the gut undoubtedly hurt like hell. Maybe a lesser man would’ve crumpled from the pain. Had the jealous husband shoved that .25 into Ol’ Joe’s chest as opposed to his stomach; he’d have probably been around long enough to go to prison.

As for the 9mm hardball that dropped the drug dealer in the parking lot, it was well placed. It’s hard to recover from a .35-caliber hole through your heart. And look at it this way: Had the bullet been one of the expanding varieties, the hole would have at most been twice as large in diameter. The same thing is true of the final encounter with the bar owner and his .380: It fires the same diameter bullet as a 9mm at a much-reduced velocity. In both instances, both loads worked to perfection, because they hit the right spot.

You could look at this chart and endlessly argue which defensive handgun load is best. Time would be much better spent on the range practicing shot placement.

So, the next time you’re sitting around wondering if your handgun is powerful enough to protect you—or, if you’re wondering if the ammunition you have is wicked enough to stop a bad guy—my advice would be to stop worrying about either. Take 50 or 100 rounds and head out to the range for some practice putting the bullets where they’re supposed to go. If that’s something you find hard to do on demand, with speed and rapidity, I’d suggest you seek out some defensive handgun training and learn how to shoot.

I’ll never forget a scene from the Western movie, Appaloosa. The two lead characters, played by Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen, are lying in the street along with some other fellows and they’re all shot to hell. Mortensen’s character says, “That happened quick,” and Harris’ character responds, “Everybody could shoot.”

If you’re serious about carrying a handgun every day for personal protection, learn how to shoot!

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the EDC 2021 special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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  1. yes, every caliber would work if you put it in the right spot. not sure who, think maybe Charlse Petty, responded to a scene where a 25 auto was used, and only one shot, but CP could tell by the marks in the dirt that the dead person just keeled over and feel-dead on his back. another writer , noticed a lot of dead people in the morge with on hole through the chest of 32 auto caliber(FMJ), from the walther PPs that were released into the market at a fair price. seems a lot of people bought and pressed them into service for self defense. yet a petite hispanic woman was outside on a bench, calmly describing her boyfriend to the responding police , then when the ambulance showed up, she got up and walked into the ambulance . and survived. she had 4, 45 slugs in her chest.


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