Stopping Power Kind Of Exists, But It's Not What You Think

Maybe one day, people who don't actually know anything will stop using the phrase "stopping power." It's mostly a myth, perpetuated by people who don't know what they're talking about.

There is something LIKE "stopping power"...but it isn't what you think.

You can come close with some typical firearms, and more on that in a second, but a lot of people have some really dumb ideas about how guns and bullets actually work.

So, let's talk about what "stopping powahhhh!!!" really is and hopefully deep-six some myths about it in the process.

Stopping Power Requires A Really Big Gun And A Really Big Bullet

Most people have heard that "stopping power" doesn't exist, which is about 80 percent true.

Sorry to tell you this, folks, but Sir Isaac Newton and the Third Law of Motion are right, and mama's wrong again.

"To every action, there is always opposed an equal reaction."

What this means in terms of guns and bullets is that to "stop" something, it has to be hit with enough force. To generate sufficient force to stop a man or perhaps a large animal, you need a big heavy bullet and a big heavy charge of powder behind it.

In other words, to hit a person or animal hard enough to stop it dead in its tracks, you need a lot of force...but that same amount of force hitting the target is going to be hitting your shoulder.

In other words, more "power" than any handgun is really capable of, and more than most typical long guns that most people own.

The Stopping Rifle: No, Your Stupid .308 Doesn't Count

Before you even start, your stupid little .308 doesn't count. If that's where you were headed, you better knock it off right now.

In the mid-19th century, great white hunters (typically English aristocracy, but not exclusively) liked going on safari in Africa and killing things for the heck of it. One of the weapons they employed was a gun called a "stopping rifle."

These rifles were developed in the transitional phase between muzzleloaders and cartridge rifles. Some used a cartridge, others were muzzleloaded, some were double rifles and others were single shot, but all were big, heavy guns that fired a big projectile.

The most common stopping rifle (as opposed to a standard rifle) was a 4-bore rifle, though there was the occasional 2-bore. 6- and 8-bore rifles were made as well and in truth were used more, but were known for lacking the killing power of the larger bores.

"Bore" in this case refers to the diameter of the barrel. The bore size was determined by how many lead spheres the same diameter of the barrel would add up to one pound of weight. 2 spheres, 2-bore, 4 spheres was a 4-bore, and 12 spheres is a 12-bore.

Americans took to calling this measurement a "gauge" rather than a bore and yes, that is exactly where "12-gauge" comes from.

Anyhow, 4-bore and 2-bore double rifles were loaded with heavy cast lead bullets and a stiff powder charge behind them. A common 4-bore load would be a 4-oz projectile with a powder charge of almost an entire ounce of black powder.

The result? Rather low velocity (less than 1500 fps in most cases) but MASSIVE energy; a 4-bore rifle would typically produce more than 15,000 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle and a 2-bore could reach almost 20,000 ft-lbs with a heavy charge.

Sir Samuel Baker White, just such a great white hunter, took a 2-bore stopping rifle when elephant hunting. He named it "Baby." Baby weighed 20 lbs, had to be carried by teams of rifle bearers and had to be fired from a shooting stick.

It would literally spin him around when he fired, to the point that he said it had ruined him for shooting due to the massive flinch he developed from touching the beast off.

So...that's what "stopping power" would be like. And again, in order to get it, you need a really big gun that fires a big heavy bullet and hits you just as hard as it hits the target.

So What IS Stopping Power, Anyway?

We can therefore say "stopping power," loosely defined, is a projectile impacting a target with sufficient force to stop forward motion.

However, in order to do that, the projectile has to be sufficiently heavy enough to cause that to happen. The inherent problem, of course, is that a projectile heavy enough to work - and with a heavy enough powder charge to propel it - is just as hard on the shooter.

We can also take it as granted, therefore, that very few firearms come remotely close to having any.

The Loose Correlation Of Caliber And "Stopping Power"

If there is anything like a correlation between caliber and what you might call "stopping power," it isn't so much projectile size but rather projectile weight.

Safari rifles, after all, don't propel bullets at high velocity; most safari calibers are just under or well under 3,000 fps and plenty are closer to 2,000 fps. However, common projectile weight is typically close to if not in excess of 400 grains, nearly an ounce of lead per.

In other words, .45 ACP does not have any stopping power. 10mm does not have stopping power. 5.56mm NATO? Get the heck out of our office. 7.62x39 or 54R? Nyet, comrade; to gulag with you. .300 Blackout? You should be embarrased for asking such stupid questions.

.45-70 is almost in the safari rifle neighborhood, but few rifles chambered in .45-70 are strong enough to handle the requisite powder charge for safari-class loadings.

Short of actual elephant rifles, there is one other firearm that comes closest to the stopping rifle of years gone by, and that is the humble shotgun.

Heavy magnum shotgun loads (meaning 3" and 3-½" 12-gauge, heavy 10-gauge loads) don't get near safari rifle loadings in terms of energy but do in projectile weight.

The typical Foster slug is a 1-oz projectile, as are many Brenneke slugs, commonly loaded to anywhere from 1300 to 1800 fps and producing up to 3000 ft-lbs of energy in the stouter loadings.

While about half the energy of a safari load, it's a similar projectile weight as 1 oz of lead is 437.5 grains. The stouter slug loads in terms of velocity (1500 fps+) will produce the same recoil energy as many African rifles.

So, if you wanted something like stopping power...the answer is a big, scary rifle or a shotgun with a big, scary slug. In those instances, you have a heavy projectile and a lot of ft-lbs of energy.

But you're going to get kicked hard in the bargain...which is partially why people stopped toting 2- and 4-bore stopping rifles to begin with.

So no, your stupid little .45 doesn't have any stopping power. What will actually stop an attacker is accurate placement.

It bears mentioning that one of the most prolific elephant slayers was WMD "Karamojo" Bell. Bell hated typical heavy doubles, and through careful study of elephant anatomy, discovered you could drop an elephant with a brain shot through the back of the neck with a light rifle.

Bell harvested upward of 1,000 elephants, and most of them with a rifle chambered in 7x57mm Mauser, roughly on par with 7mm-08 Remington, and the rest with a .318 Westley Richards. You don't need "stopping power" if you put a bullet where it does the most damage.

Remember, it's not the bullet that matters; it's where you put it.

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