The following information on the stopping power of bullets comes from Section 32 of Shooting by J. Henry FitzGerald. Shooting is also available to purchase in print.
In considering the stopping power of bullets it must be taken into consideration that a .22 caliber bullet in some parts of the head or body is just as deadly as the well known .45 Colt. In using a revolver for protection every second counts. A bullet from a light caliber gun may eventually stop a man, but will it stop him before he can shoot you? This is what must be considered. From one extreme to the other a .22 caliber bullet with a striking force of about forty-eight foot-pounds may be compared, as it strikes the arm or leg and part of the body, to a blow from the small end of a heavy whip; while the .45 Colt, with its energy of three hundred and thirty foot-pounds in smokeless powder and four hundred and sixty foot-pounds in black powder, may be compared to a blow from the butt end of a heavy whip. In other words the .45 Colt strikes a blow, whether in arm, leg or body that will temporarily disable the prisoner, therefore probably saving one man’s life.
I know when this is read that many of my readers will remember cases where this did not occur and they are right; it is not always the case. Sometimes a man will hold a heap of lead and still keep on shooting, but as Colonel Chandler, first Superintendent of the New York State Troopers, used to say: “If you shoot a man with a .45 Colt and he doesn’t go down, just walk around back of him and see what is holding him up.”
In speaking in this article of bullets as man stoppers the thought is of the man in a place where speed, accuracy, and the stopping power of his revolver is the only thing that will save his life. His bullet must disable his opponent instantly to the extent that he will not be able to shoot back.
It is true that extreme accuracy and the small caliber bullets will cause this result, but ninety per cent of the man’s shooting to protect his life is at night and a hit in any part of the body is very accurate shooting when sights cannot be seen. Personally I do not believe that any bullet with less than one hundred and fifty pounds’ muzzle energy is heavy enough for protective or police purposes. The .25 Colt Auto Cartridge bullet has a striking force of sixty foot-pounds and the .32 Police Positive bullet has a striking force of one hundred foot-pounds.
It must be taken into consideration that some men will carry off more lead than others. I could cite several cases where two men have stood not over five feet apart and emptied their revolvers, chambered for the .38 Colt Special and S&W Special cartridge, into each other’s body, both dying later, but that is not the idea. Either by accurately placing the shots and instantly disabling the opponent with the small caliber revolvers, or by using the large caliber arms that greatly increase the man’s chances, can the desired result be accomplished. We cannot afford to trade a good citizen or an officer for a crook. Miniature arms for protection are better than the larger arms, due to weight, as long as they are not needed to protect the owner’s life, but the sense of security derived from the more powerful arm is well worth the carrying of added weight. But, however powerful the arm used as to stopping power, a hit must be registered; misses do not count.
I believe it would be impossible for any physician to describe the effect of bullets in certain parts of the body that would apply to every one. The outdoor man with approximately twenty-five per cent more vitality than the office man, and the fighter who will go through as long as he is able to move, are all different. A friend of mine some years ago was called to his door one evening and without warning was shot one-half inch below the heart with a .38 Colt Police Positive cartridge. He went back into the house, ran through three rooms, found his shotgun, ran back through the house and out into the yard, and ran nearly fifty yards before he fell. At least ninety per cent of men shot in the same way would have fallen in the door. This argument of bullets as man stoppers can never be settled, as cases may be cited where men who have been wounded have performed almost unbelievable feats.
The man-stopping qualities, of course, do not interest target shooters, but they do interest the man who wishes to use his favorite side arm for hunting. We sometimes receive a photograph of bear, moose, and other household pets being killed with a .22 revolver or pistol. Such things have happened, but if the bear has his mind on his work it may fail and at a time when there are no small trees to climb. There are bears and bears. If you ever meet a grizzly and have only a .22, don’t argue; find a small tree that the bear cannot climb and, when nicely out of reach, try out the .22.
This reminds me of an experience which happened in the Iver-Johnson Sporting Goods Stores some years ago when I was employed there. A young man weighing about one hundred and twenty-five pounds came in and informed me that he was going down in Maine to shoot bear and deer. I showed him a .30/30 Winchester carbine 3/4-magazine, checked pistol grip,—a nicely finished arm. He said: “If you don’t know what a man wants to shoot bear and deer with I can go somewhere else and trade.” Then I knew my customer and told him I had just what he wanted. I sold him an eleven millimeter Mauser and eighty cartridges imported and loaded with Cordite powder. After a little persuasion and the assurance that after a couple of shots he wouldn’t mind the recoil, the young man shook hands with me and told me he would come in when he came back and report. The motto of all this is: If you are entirely unfamiliar with firearms either take a friend along who does know them or allow the clerk whose business it is to equip hunting parties to help choose the outfit. The same thing is true about automatics and revolvers. The man with a very small hand may have trouble in using a .45 New Service with speed and accuracy, wherein he may accomplish the desired result with a .38 caliber arm or a .45 or .38 caliber automatic pistol.
I am a great believer in large caliber revolvers or pistols for protection or as a game weapon and believe it carries a certain security that is missing in the smaller calibers.
I have always been a firm believer in the .41 caliber Colt cartridge and still am. With a bullet of approximately two hundred and fifteen grains in front of the correct charge of smokeless powder, a revolver with barrel correctly fitting said bullet and a cylinder built along the same lines as the .38 Colt cylinder to accommodate this .41 Special cartridge; what a prize that would be for hunting, protection, etc. And who would without trying it say that it would not be accurate? The shape of the old .41 bullet at front end could not be improved on as a man or game stopper, and another advantage is the size of the revolver in which this cartridge could be used. For instance, the Official Police revolver in two, four or six inch barrel and from thirty-one to thirty-four ounces, and with a stopping power great enough to place this combination well up in the list, is one of the hardest hitting hand guns in the world.
I have shot thousands of the old black powder .41 cartridges loaded with the very hollow base bullets. When the explosion occurred the base would expand against the sides of the chamber and barrel, consequently unbalancing the bullet. While some degree of accuracy could be attained by this method it never was satisfactory. Then came the smokeless powder but still the hollow-base bullet and large barrel, and this combination sounded the death knell of the cartridge that never had a chance. Perhaps we should let the dead rest in peace, but I can look into the crystal and see the value of such an arm. Thousands of hunters, police officers, and gun lovers have discarded the larger caliber revolvers for the .38, sacrificing stopping power and possibly their lives because they did not wish to carry a few extra ounces of metal. I believe I would lay aside my constant companions, two .45 New Service 2-inch barrels, for a pair of the two-inch .41 Specials.
Every gun lover, I am sure, wants to see a light-weight, high-power combination in his collection. All gun-bugs are sane on most subjects but who can tell by looking at them what new idea they are planning to harass the poor abused manufacturers of arms and ammunition with. But how else do improvements originate in firearms and ammunition except through the needs of the users. Actual use and experience bring forth our needs. No man sitting behind a desk, unless he has had actual experience or has profited by the experience of others, can tell what weapon is best suited for a certain purpose.
The sharp shoulder bullet in .38 caliber is an excellent bullet if backed by a full charge instead of mid-range loads. We cannot have the one revolver for all uses any more than we can have one golf club for all purposes; therefore, we must consider before purchasing an arm just how big the game is that we are going to shoot or if the arm is going to be used for protection, whether it is to be carried or used at home. My own two pocket guns with short barrels are sufficiently powerful so that I feel at all times prepared for a hunting trip or constant protection whether home or traveling. They are accurate enough to place ten consecutive bullets in an eight-inch black at twenty-five yards and would place said ten bullets in the ten ring at this distance if I could hold them.