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.
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.