ammunition myths

6 Myths About Ammunition

There are a number of ammunition myths that ought to have been discarded to the brass pile of history by now, but for some reason linger. Some are believed by gun people who ought to know better, others by those totally ignorant of all things firearm.

Let's eject a few of them.

Rock Salt In Shotguns

rock salt

Rock salt shotgun rounds sound fun or like a less-lethal alternative that will really hurt- salt in the wound, bad guy!!! - but in reality...don't. It's fun in "Kill Bill Volume 2," but in the real world it's bupkis. This is one of the more fun ammunition myths, but it's just that.


Rock salt is not very dense. Density is the ratio of mass to volume, and salt has very little mass. A projectile has to be carrying enough momentum to penetrate tissue to be effective. An object with very little mass loses momentum more quickly due to gravity, wind resistance, etc., which adds to: rock salt loses momentum at an incredible rate once it leaves the barrel.

In fact, according to The Box O' Truth, rock salt out of a shotgun shell doesn't even penetrate CARDBOARD at 10 feet, let alone a person. Leave this one to the movies and get some darn buckshot.

Anything About Winchester Black Talon

black talon

The Winchester Black Talon was an infamous hollow point round made by Winchester in the 1990s and was the subject of a number of ammunition myths. Almost all were bogus. You may have heard the following:

The petals could cut surgeon's gloves while operating. The black coating penetrated bulletproof vests. The mushrooming bullet did vastly more internal damage than other rounds.

And so on and so forth, and it was all wrong. The black coating - called Lubalox - is just an oxide coating and doesn't do anything besides swage carbon on its way out of the barrel. Black Talon couldn't penetrate body armor any better than any other round and didn't cause wounds any worse than any other quality hollow point. Also, the barbs of ANY expanded hollow point can pop a surgical glove.

The truth of Black Talon is that they simply worked well. It was used by a few gunmen in spree killings, which led to most of the myths. The autopsies of victims revealed Black Talon rounds had no effect other than penetrating a vital structure and causing death like any other bullet would have.

The black Lubalox coating is gone, but the exact same bullet is sold today as Winchester Defender PDX-1 for civilian sales and Winchester Ranger T-Series in their law enforcement ammunition line.

Darn Near Everything About 9mm vs .45 ACP

9mm vs 45 acp

People will not shut up about the 9mm vs .45 ACP thing. Gun people LOVE to argue this one ad infinitum and won't stop. Worse still, the available evidence won't induce them to, either.

In 1972, it was a valid point. Hollow point bullets of the day weren't great and the .45 ACP JHPs tended to work better as the larger surface area meant more hydraulic pressure and thus better expansion. As bullet design got better, the 9mm came good. Basically, any ballistic advantage enjoyed by .45 ACP was put paid by the 1990s.

If you carry a good hollow point, and place the bullet well, it doesn't matter.

Birdshot For Home Defense

birdshot home defense

Another of the ammunition myths is that birdshot will work for home defense. It penetrates less than buckshot, goes the refrain, and thus is a better choice from the safety angle.

No, it's not. A #7 or #8 shotshell is great for targets or upland birds, but is not a good choice for personal defense. Even at home defense distances, birdshot can easily fail to get adequate penetration to put an attacker down.

If you start reading up on police shootings, you'll find plenty of instances where 00 buck failed to stop the fight. If 00 buck doesn't even work every time, then birdshot is a nonstarter as a defense load. By all means load your Remington 870 up with #7 for grouse or pheasant, but load heavy for bad guys and place them correctly.

Something Something Stopping Power

stopping power

Unless you have an elephant gun, you don't have stopping power. Stop it right now and don't bring it up again. Newton's Third Law settled it ages ago.

The Importance Of Caliber...With Caveats


One of the more persistent ammunition myths is how much caliber matters. It does, but less than you'd think. Placement matters more and always will.

What stops an attacker or game animal is down to where you put the bullet and the individual person or animal you put it into. Only a shot to the brain stem or to certain parts of the musculoskeletal system can instantly disable a person. What actually stops most attackers shot by police or a person defending themselves is the psychological shock of being shot, which caliber doesn't necessarily factor into. Placement, therefore, matters more.

When DOES caliber matter? When you don't place the round perfectly. A .22 LR in expert hands is deadly, but won't likely be effective if not placed exactly where it needs to go in a determined attacker. A 9mm or .45 ACP, however, does more damage upon impact and buys you a bit of breathing room, so to speak.

Let's build on that. Most big game hunters wouldn't hunt grizzly bear with a .30-06 despite that round being capable of taking a big bruin if judiciously placed, and it has been done. What happens if you shoot the bear with an '06 and it doesn't drop right away? What if it charges you? Unless that '06 is an M1 Garand or a might be in trouble.

However, a .338 Winchester Magnum, .45-70 Gov't or .375 H&H Magnum will do for a bear with malicious intentions. Bigger bullets do more damage when they hit the right place. However, if sufficient trauma isn't done to vital areas...a smaller round can, in some instances, fail. A bigger bullet gets you marginally more trauma and a surer stop IF you do your job as a marksman.

Here are some examples among famous Great White Hunters. WDM Bell, the legendary ivory hunter, shot more than 800 elephants with a 7mm Mauser. However, he practiced diligently and assiduously studied elephant anatomy to learn how best to do so. He also didn't shoot unless he had the perfect shot and time to take it. Sir Samuel Baker, however, used a two-bore rifle (that's 1.326 caliber!) for elephant, a .577/450 Martini for everything else, and hunted by getting as close as he could and shot before the animal figured out what was happening and ran him down.

Caliber worked for the latter, because it could stop large, angry animals with sufficient trauma when placed at close range. For the former, it didn't matter; Bell put rounds exactly where they needed to go. Both also experienced failures that required sorting out.

So, caliber CAN matter...but doesn't matter as much as good shot placement. A bigger bullet just buys you a bit of breathing space.

Sam Hoober  

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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