Double Desert Eagle Green Hornet
Courtesy Columbia Pictures
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Most of us have heard that stopping power doesn’t really exist. And for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t. The force with which a bullet hits the target is equal to the force that’s directed back into the shooter. A far smarter guy than any of us (Isaac Newton) figured that one out. He went on to develop calculus pretty much on a dare and then, later still, according to rumor, invented the pet door.

So, if a round doesn’t pretty much knock you over when you fire the gun, it’s not going to do that to a live target that weighs about about the same as you do, and certainly not one that’s a lot bigger. There is a sort of upper echelon of firearms that do have that kind power…but chances are pretty good you don’t have one.

Let’s flesh that out a little more.

The only ballistic attribute that has anything to do with “stopping power” is muzzle energy, since the amount of it has to do with the relative ability a bullet has to pulverize flesh and bone provided an efficient transfer of said energy. The more force it hits with, the more things go “squish” and “crunch.” Therefore, rounds with great muzzle energy have greater potential to cause traumatic injury.

It goes without saying, of course, that a shot with such a weapon must be well-placed or else it does naught but wound or miss the target entirely. That’s how a target as large as a grizzly bear or an elephant can be downed at close range. When put into the skull, a large, very powerful bullet causes sufficient trauma to down the big beast.

Placement, of course, is pretty much everything and that will never change.

However, the greatest potential for causing said trauma with a bullet belongs to the most powerful of rifles and rifle cartridges and there just aren’t too many people who have them.

The modern shooter does most of his or her shooting at a range. Some, of course, are into long-range rifle shooting and some severe rounds exist for that purpose, such as .408 Chey-Tac, .338 Edge, .338 Lapua, .416 Barrett and, of course, .50 BMG. However, you’ll have to do some serious spending to acquire one of those rifles, let alone the ammunition. The typical long-range shooter these days, however, shoots a rifle chambered in .308, 6.5mm Creedmoor or something along those lines.

After all, why blow your shoulder up if you’re just punching paper?

Additionally, those rounds with incredible energy are usually dangerous game cartridges such as .416 Rigby, .416 Remington Magnum, .458 Winchester Magnum, .460 Weatherby Magnum and so on. Muzzle energy for these vary, but is often between 4,000 ft-lbs to 8,000 ft-lbs. There is virtually no application outside of dangerous game hunting for these rounds. Get tricky with handloads all you like; you won’t turn any of them into a fast, flat-flying long range magnum.

You can get a wonderful rifle for long-range target shooting for reasonable prices these days. Some dangerous game rifles can be had for “affordable” amounts (meaning several thousand dollars) and others require both a fitting and a price tag equal to the price of an average house.

That cuts into the amount of “pew” that you can do.

Krieghoff double rifle big five large game dangerous
courtesy krieghoff.com

Now, some guns with what could accurately be called stopping power — meaning enough to knock you over — were devised in the 18th century, such as the two bores and four bores. They were known to be especially unforgiving. Today, “bore” is called “gauge” which should give you an idea of the projectiles being used. At the time, they were muzzleloaders but a few cartridge models have been made over the years.

A two bore cartridge, for those curious, is 1.326 caliber. Velocity is moderate, at less than 2,000 feet per second…but with somewhere between 10,000 ft-lbs and 17,000 ft-lbs of energy. The .50 BMG comes quite close; typical muzzle energy is between 13,000 and 14,000 ft-pounds of energy…but like a 2 bore, you’re gonna want a bipod.

As you can imagine, shooting one would be…unpleasant. Sir Samuel White Baker, a professional hunter and explorer, used a two bore rifle nicknamed “Baby” for elephant hunts in Africa and India. He always fired it from a rest, but only managed to do so about 20 times in his whole life because it was that unpleasant.

It spun him around whenever he shot it. When he let his gun-bearers (he was definitely a Great White Hunter) have a go, it usually put the man firing and the man standing behind the shooter for support on the flat of their backs.

So, while there theoretically is something like stopping power, it’s really only a feature of the rarest and most powerful of rifles. Any sort of gun owned for defensive purposes…doesn’t even come close. Yes, this means you 10mm guys, too.

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72 COMMENTS

  1. Back in the day, when I needed stopping power, it was in the form of a 40mm grenade fired from a blooper (M79).

    • Another article about the fabled stopping power. Whatever that means. Kinetic energy transfer to knock an assailant off his feet and through a window, a-la Hollywood? Or simple penetration to the ocular or thoracic vitals?

      Pick your favorite cartridge and gun platform, and practice effective shot placement.

      Shot placement, shot placement, shot placement.

    • exactly…
      when antifa comes to my neighborhood in the middle of the night
      with their improvised shields and body armor
      and they want to drag me and my family out of our beds
      and beat us to death in the street
      or line us up against a wall
      i aint reachin for no 9mm pistol caliber carbine
      im grabbin my 10.5 ar pistol in 7.62×39
      it runs 40 cents a round tula like a sewing machine
      and gives 2200 fps and 1300 ft lbs of energy
      and 2 inch groups at 100 yards
      and 5 inch groups at 200 if i have to
      and enough penetration and stopping power to punch through almost anything the crazies are capable of duct taping and epoxying together
      and a beach ball sized muzzle flash and magnum rifle sounding blast for psychological effect
      i cant imagine most of them not turning tail and running for the hills at the first sight and sound of it
      its very intimidating if nothing else

    • It is a combination of kinetic energy and transferred energy. A FMJ has kinetic energy but doesn’t transfer much to soft targets. But an expanding bullet transfers energy as a part of the deformation.

      I used to hunt with a 6.5×55. On paper it was considered sub-par compared to other cartridges. The Taylor Knockout Factor score was laughable lagging behind common pistol cartridges.

      But in the field the 6.5 was a consistent one-shot-stop with about 1 in 10 having an exit wound. The 6.5s would penetrate deep dumping all of their energy which was enough for feral pigs.

        • Taylor’s formula was biased towards large bores and heavy bullets. It was portraying a .45ACP as having more knockdown than a 6.5×55.

  2. No doubt .22 Short is just as effective as 500 Magnum for self defense, right?

    If anybody is trying to “compensate” for something here, it isn’t the 10mm guys. Another clickbait article offering an insipid opinion and no real information.

  3. The lead shot is a pistol, nothing about pistols in the article, this fellow has read some things but no practical experience I would guess. There is a huge difference in calibers in the hunting field and in personal defense. Some calibers are practically worthless. Muzzle energy is simply numbers and an abstract means of comparing calibers, or the same caliber with different velocity. Muzzle energy doesnt mean anything to me. What matters is actual damage to the target, a combination of penetration and expansion. Caliber is important. After over twenty years on police work and tons and tons of actual research there sure as hell is a big difference in calibers. A huge difference. I think ‘all calibers are the same’ bullshit started with the hoax perpetrated by the so called Stragbourg fanstasty and the creative fiction of ‘stopping power’ studies.

      • Of course it’s not. But the bit of the comment to which you are referring was “Muzzle energy is …. an abstract means of comparing calibers,” which is true. It tells you nothing about terminal performance or ballistics at a given range (e.g. .17 Incinerator may net you 2300 ft-lbs muzzle energy, but good luck carrying that any distance with a 33gr bullet.) When comparing loads within a caliber for an application that occurs only within a consistent and short distance (e.g. handgun self defense,) it can aid you in estimating the relative damage the loadings are likely to inflict, but even there the more reliable and widely used metrics are penetration depth and expansion in ballistic gelatin. Muzzle energy is a quantifiable property of any pressure-launched projectile, but as a means of comparing firearms calibers it is, at best, an abstraction.

  4. Sighted in on a deer at 25-30 yards. Another story, but collecting meat for the poor.
    .45 ACP 230 grain XTP
    Standing braced against the cruiser, crown vic.
    Hit in the high shoulder, my favorite shot. Looked like it got hit by Thor’s hammer, heard the bullet hit, the thing collasped, rolled over, four legs in the air, all over. I felt only a slight push in hand. So this old lame argument about ‘opposite and equal’ as far as firearms was frivilous in 1968 or ‘cept it would never have been published back then. Use your education in the proper application.

    • Wow, somebody that doesn’t believe in the conservation of momentum and or doesn’t understand the difference between energy and momentum. What shape do you think the planet is?

        • Newton’s laws of motion, for all but quantum level interactions, are things that have been proven in laboratories and mathematically for centuries, there are no studies or even slightly compelling evidence to the contrary. They are about as far as pie in the sky theories as you can get.

    • Someone doesn’t know the difference between effect on a nervous system and muzzle energy physics.

    • Just a few thought starters.
      1) given equal and opposite force, the surface area of a bullet is much smaller than the grip area of the pistol it’s fired from.
      Hit your buddy in the chest with a 6 square inch plate in front of your fist (like mounted on a set of brass knuckles).
      Now hit him in the chest just as hard (same force) with a 1/2 inch rod poking out the front of that plate.

      Which causes more damage? (on second thought, don’t use a buddy … use that a$$hat down the street with the blown muffler who stays out until 2:00AM on Sunday night)

      2) on a semi-auto pistol, the RECOIL spring absorbs some/much of the opposite force in the equal but opposite.

  5. Many of my kill’s on NON-DANGEROUS GAME have been done with a Bow & Arrow with a VERY SHARP, STURDY BROAD HEAD & I have too say it’s a damn fast kill.
    Many many things come into play with so called ” STOPPING POWER ” including, WAS THE BIG BAD BEAR CHARGING OR JUST DOING BEAR THINGS IN THE WOOD’S ?

    • Over 200 years ago , the crew of Lewis and Clark kept everyone in the expedition dining on fine Elk, Bison, etc. that was brought down by a large bore air rifle. Can pretty much guarantee that it made do with under 1000 ft. lbs of K.E. … and w.t.f. is the cartoon pistol in the lead pic?

      • Pb_fan59 , No kidding, Hell I did not know that, T.Y. SIR. Not sure about the pistol either going to have too G. that one.

  6. I have shot a 4-bore double cartridge rifle (4 rounds), a 10-bore Howdah pistol (5 brass cartridges and a full box of 10 gauge buckshot), assorted 8-bores, .450 Rigby, .500 Nitro Express, .460 Weatherby Magnum, .458 Winchester, plus a bunch of other stupid calibers (my favorite Ruger #1 is a 450/400 3-inch Nitro). I would class the Weatherby as relentlessly unpleasant; the .450 Rigby comes under the heading of “Please God don’t make me pull the trigger again!” As for the 4-bore, it’s didn’t recoil at all…but when I pulled the trigger the universe shifted 20 degrees and Imwas in a different place. The handguns? As my orthopedist said, “Good Lord, how does a person get this many compression fractures in their right hand?” I told her. “Your right hand is a testament to *stupid.*”
    Michael B

    • The 460 weatherby hurt me worse than any rifle yet. Made my vision go fuzzy for a moment.
      And I own a .470 NE, and a .416 Rigby. Had a .50 bmg, I’d shoot that all day. But with weight coming in close to 40 lbs, the rifle itself mitigated quite a bit of recoil.
      I’ll never shoot that weatherby mag again.

      • My 300 Weatherby makes the plate in my neck want to go home. Truly unpleasant. I wouldn’t shoot a 460 on a big bet.

  7. “Stoping power” is a superfelous and just about meaning term. It does NOT mean `knocking someone over. You guys make this sound like cow tipping (another useless term).

    There are a great many useless terms and phrases in the world of guns:
    Ghost guns
    Saturday night special
    Assault weapon
    Gun violence
    Military style weapon
    Sporting rifle

    Just to name a few.

    Stopping someone (or knocking them down) isn’t about the gun or caliber. Its about how much ‘fight’ is in the attacker and in the attacked.

    • Exactly. Effect on the nervous system is what matters and that can be inflicted by anything from a mosquito bite on up to a nuclear explosion. The question is always what is the most efficient way to inflict enough effect that the body either 1) collapses in shock, or 2) dies. Usually it’s a combination of 1) point of impact, 2) sesnsitivity of the nervous system (or bodily organs) hit, and 3) method of effect, i.e., simple impact or other effect such as cutting, crushing, etc.

      The real question for self-defense with a firearm is: 1) how much knowledge does one have of the body’s vulnerable areas, and 2) how well can one hit those areas (allowing for distance) while under duress, and 3) how much energy or other effect can one deliver to those areas without messing up 2)?

      Thus, trying to fire a weapon that will knock you on your ass is pointless unless you can guarantee that your first shot will be more than sufficient to render the assailant unable to continue (and there are no other assailants within range.) Not to mention convenience of carry, ammunition logistics, etc.

      There’s a reason everyone is carrying 9mm and .45 and the like handguns instead of elephant guns, light antitank weapons and suitcase nukes. This is what works under existing conditions of an urban lifestyle in this country. If you lived in Pakistan or Afghanistan, you’d probably be carrying an AK47 or equivalent.

      “Stopping power” is a secondary consideration. This is why 1) avoiding possible conflict, and 2) having your firearm deployed first, and 3) shot placement (preferably from cover or ambush) are the main considerations in surviving conflict.

    • While i can absolutely see that this might be true, one should factor in how many shots were fired and the time it took to fire them. I’m gonna keep my 9mm even if it is just weaksauce .357 because it has more capacity and less recoil, allowing for more follow up shots in less time. Accuracy and effectiveness by volume of fire. If bodycams are anything to go by, at least police officers usually have to fire at close distance and will use 3-8 rounds in fast succession.

    • .357 is useless if the hit is not in the right location. Its not just about the caliber; shot placement, number of shots, speed of shooting, are just a few of the factors.

      • D, You have to admit using a larger cartridge even if not hitting the right location will do more damage most of the time.

        • True. But if the damage doesn’t result in incapacitation, it’s irrelevant to the moment, even if the victim dies later.

          I read in a police textbook that one perp was shot *33 times* with 9mm by several officers and still ran 100 yards before collapsing. While .357 or .50 BMG might have put him down sooner, he might still have been able to inflict damage on the officers – unless he was hit in the head. Conversely, one properly placed 9mm to the upper right quadrant of the head (the sniper’s target of choice) might have put him down instantly.

          There’s no substitute, given the available carry possibility constraints in the real world, for shot placement under duress.

          And under duress that is really hard, which is why cops, under adrenaline stress due to fear, fire more shots than the public thinks is necessary. Cops are as subject to fear as anyone else. The rule is to shoot until the assailant can not function as a threat, however many shots that takes.

  8. First of all, if you’re gonna semi-quote Newton you could at least add impulse to the list. Energy and impulse, mass and velocity are different things.

    Stopping power isn’t about making people fly back, it’s about making their soul leave their body, shut down their vitals or at least wound severely enough to remove them from the fight.
    And biology being a thing, there are things your body kinda needs so it would suck if a bullet removed or destroyed them. Precision is key. And making the biggest holes with the most tissue tearing due to the biggest and fastest bullet possible increases your margin of error drastically. Plus, bigger hole in chest sucks more than small hole.
    You should do the most damage possible to any attacking animal or criminal human possible. How you balance accuracy, possible rate of fire, size and energy of the bullet and concealability/ carryability of the gun is your trick to figure out.

  9. The question should be is how many hand gunners have ever shot anything made of living flesh.

    I would conclude that after knowing thousands of them well less then 90percent have.

    Thus they only know what they have read.

    Having shot every size critters from mice to bears of 500lbs plus with handgun calibers from pellet pistols to [email protected]

    Real stopping power occurs when you are at the hunting shack. You hear a varmint chewing on things that it shouldn’t be.

    As you look out the door and see a red squirrel that might weight 8oz’s sitting on a stump 4 foot away. Smiling at you.

    Realizing the only firearm you have is your Glock 23 loaded with 165gr golden sabers.

    So what is a man going to do.

    You pull your Glock take aim squeeze the trigger.

    Hit the varmint dead center in the chest leaving the bullet to travel its body length wise.

    Causing the varmint to get blown off the stump a couple of feet, Leaving the body laying in a pile of mush.

    Now that is stopping power.

    • “The question should be is how many hand gunners have ever shot anything made of living flesh.”

      You’re kidding, right?

      I’d say just about every teen-aged boy has.

      “This is my rifle, and this is my gun…”

      (Or gunm, for the marsupial folks here… 😉 )

  10. The painful and true reality is….if you cannot hit something…it doesn’t matter if you are shooting a 22 short or a 120MM smooth bore. So yeah go ahead and demand people shoot .45 acp, 357 mag, 10 mm etc…

    BUT if they are afraid to practice or afraid of the recoil when they shoot it…its worthless.
    a CLOSE Friend of mine’s wife is a little thing…she carries a 22 mag revolver. And at 10 yards she can put 7 shots out of 7 in a ring the size of a quarter…sure its a small round but I am betting if you put 3 or 4 in the center of your throat…game over.

    I treated a man who was hit 3 times center of mass with a 357 magnum…he finally went down when a deputy hit him from behind with the butt of a shotgun. He survived….

    I wish my 1911 could carry more than single stack load…but 9mm does the game for me.

    • Ah, but can she do it while being shot at? Duress due to fear and the ability to control or use that makes all the difference in a fight. For most non-psychopathic people, only actual experience in multiple fights enables even a little bit of control. For everyone else, duress will render their accuracy as to barely able to hit the target.

      Studies of New York shootings indicated that police hit what they’re aiming at only 30% of the time. The only reason there are any cops left alive in New York is because criminals hit what they’re aiming at (if they aim at all) only 11% of the time. This is the effect of combat stress.

      The problem for your friend’s wife is that with a six-shot .22 revolver, if she only hits with 30% of her shots, she’s hit the assailant with two shots – which might not be enough especially if she hasn’t hit a vulnerable spot because he or she is moving or the duress is such that she simply can’t hit accurately enough to hit the throat or other vulnerable spot.

      And now she’s out of ammo… And what if there are 2 assailants?

      Which is why I say no one should carry a revolver for self-defense. A self-defense firearm should have no less than 10 rounds available for a fight, preferably more. And if the weapon carried has less than that, the caliber needs to go up considerably to insure that whatever rounds do hit do more damage (assuming they actually hit a vulnerable spot).

      Which is why most people carry 12+ round 9mm. Which is why the “New York Reload” – multiple firearms – was introduced by the New York Police Department back in the day when cops found that six-round .38 Special revolvers simply weren’t adequate for *some* fights.

      For women, of course, it’s a problem. They can’t carry around two even compact or micro-compact 9mm semi-autos (and backup magazines for each) in their normal dress. It’s hard enough even for men. So again, you do what you can with what you have and hope you won’t need more.

      • An intelligent post in a wasteland. NYCPD after action reports staple of my reading for many years. Excellent comments.

    • “Muzzle energy is a myth” is just a plain stupid thing to say. Muzzle energy gives you quite a bit of information to take a very educated guess what happens when the bullet suddenly stops. I will admit it only gives you a partial amount of information, to be precise you need s/d plus ballistic coefficient, type of bullet, atmospheric conditions, wind speed and direction. I hope you were using sarcasm. If you were not pop open a reloading book and read the introduction, appendices and look at load out for your favorite calibers.

      • According to the books a 7.62X25 has almost or as much muzzle energy as a .45acp. Shooting deer with both I can say that if the 7 62X25 does I dont know where its hidden. Because it doesn’t killdeer(that’s a bird) worth a hoot. .243 has more mz then a 30-30.
        The book says, the shooting proves.

        • The 7.25 x 25 is one of the best if not the best pistol caliber for penetration. I sure would not carry one for personal defense no matter the bullet, waaaayyy tooooo much penetration.

  11. Shot placement in any hunting or defense situation. The last bear I shot was perfect shot through the throat and spinal cord, lights out and severed the carotid artery, bled out in about 1 minute, 338 win mag.
    I was taught for years, center mass. This is incorrect. In a defense action against human animals, shoot for the crotch. The pelvis area has lots or blood flow, nerves and structural bone mass (hips). Also, never seen any criminal/druggy type animal having a extended ballistic plate over the pelvis area. Now I like .40 cal, but have to admit a high capacity 9mm would also work. Never heard of an offender taking rounds to pelvis walking away.

  12. The author’s definition of stopping power is much different than what I always understood stopping power to be. Does anyone really think stopping power is throwing your assailant backwards when hit by a bullet. If that’s your definition then you have seen two many movies.

    The real definition is how likely is your shot is going to take down the target if you have reasonable shot placement. A 22 LR plated ball to the torso, assuming you do not hit the heart, is unlikely to kill or incapacitate something in one shot. A 10mm with an expanding hollow point bullet to the torso is much more likely to stop an attacker in one shot. Obviously the bigger the bullet, type of bullet and energy all play a part.

    TTAG’s writers lately seem to like to keep things simple or fall prey to common myths. Just because it is written and on the internet does not mean it’s true, maintain a healthy dose skepticism.

    • Does anyone really think stopping power is throwing your assailant backwards when hit by a bullet.

      A lowly 9mm “stopped” 8 in Atlanta last week… Must have been some magical bullet… (850 to 1250 fps) probably didn’t have a high end piece OR top line ammo…

  13. That cuts into the amount of “pew” that you can do.

    If you can afford one of THOSE guns the cost of the “pew” is not going to be that much of an issue…

  14. There’s many different scenario’s of stopping power & some don’t even require a gun, 40 oz Louisville slugger and good follow through to the side of the head they won’t be getting up anytime soon, an there’s no felt recoil like a home run. Just about any caliber pistol will do with a 15 round mag And finger like Jerry Miculek. I haven’t seen a gun sell for an avg price of a house yet unless your talking the 60’s.

  15. All these comments about the need to use “expanding hollow point bullets” in guns with a “minimum 12-round capacity” are all very well and good for those of you living in free states. I envy you free folk.

    However, here in the People’s Republic of New Jersey (PRNJ), we’re not allowed to use hollow-point bullets or 12-round magazines. That’s why in the PRNJ, a .45 caliber 1911 pistol or a revolver in .45 Colt is about as good as it gets, other than a shotgun. When restricted to 10 rounds of FMJ, a 9mm with the legally-restricted 10-round magazines shooting FMJ is just going to punch ten tiny holes right through the intruder and then continue through the wall behind him without dumping their energy into the bad guy, so here in the People’s Republic of New Jersey, larger caliber is much more important than capacity or bullet design.

  16. You’re completely and utterly wrong and completely misunderstand physics, but that’s okay.

    The weight of the bullet, the flatness or roundness of the tip, and the width all factor into “stopping power”, which is no more a myth than the female orgasm; many men think it doesn’t exist because they can’t recognize it or just ignore it.

    The flatness/roundness of the tip determines the amount of energy being transferred over the surface of a target, which allows the bullet to transfer more or less energy. You want to invoke the name of Isaac Newton, well, let me invoke the name of math itself. In fact, it’s relatively simple math too. p = F / A – In other words, Pressure equals Force over Area. This is why they use Spitzer bullets in rifles nowadays, better penetration, though more lacking in stopping power compared to the much flatter nosed rounds.

    On top of this you have to deal with the weight of the bullet, since heavier bullets have more momentum, even if they are traveling more slowly than a lighter one. Kinetic energy is simply the amount of energy from the motion of the object, while momentum is the factor of the amount of mass in motion.

    And lastly, you have the width of the bullet itself, with wider bullets making bigger holes. The results of this much are obvious, as it causes the target to bleed out sooner.

    Stopping power is a generalized descriptor, that much I will admit, but the concepts behind it are well cemented in mathematics. Using vagaries like “recoil” and saying that because it doesn’t knock you over makes me cringe, especially since recoil not only has to move the gun itself (which can weigh anywhere from 4 – 12 lbs or more), but in semi-automatic and automatic weapons, the recoil felt is significantly dampened by the fact that it recoils the gas operations of the weapon to load the next round, which is why bolt action weapons of identical calibers have differently felt recoil.

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