Thursday, March 6, 2008

Part 3 - Ballistic Vest Live Fire Test

In the last two parts I discussed the fundamentals of how a cartridge works and how personal body armor protects. To learn more about cartridges, click here. To learn more about body armor, click here.

In this post I show an illustrated test of a PASGT ballistic vest against many different threats. There are several of these tests on the web but none that I have come across have brought to bear a full range of cartridges. I decided to step up and set things straight.

This post is in direct response to this particular news article called "Tracking Bullets" that is full of inaccuracies. There are many news articles like this that just leave me shaking my head. Journalists who don't know any better think they're on to something, but they just end up placing erroneous statements on the air that negatively affect the public's opinion of things like firearms and gun shows. Bureaucrats like Ted Kennedy push legislation to ban things like the non-existent "cop killer" and “Teflon coated” bullets based on bad information or media hysteria, and this is sometimes based on the idea that any cartridge that can penetrate police officers body armor is "armor piercing."

This test is to show how absurd that train of thought is. Keep the results of this test in mind when someone tries to tell you that they are not trying to ban your hunting rifle, they just want to ban these "cop killer bullets" that they say poses a danger to law enforcement.

Up front I am going to address the ethics of performing this test. This PASGT vest is similar in design and protective qualities as police body armor, and this test is to see what will defeat these types of vests and what won't. However, this information is already pretty well known by those who are familiar with firearms and is widely available on the web. Further, the consequences of a ban on ammunition capable of body armor penetration would be devastating to every hunter or shooter in this country based on my results. It is certain that this protective vest went above and beyond the levels of protection that was intended in its design and I believe that this test does not exploit weaknesses in personal body armor, nor will it endanger lives.

The surplus PASGT vest that I used is approximately 12 years old. It is designed to stop fragmentation and small threats like 9mm rounds from a pistol. As you can see, the collar and shoulder pads have been removed. Body armor has to be wrapped around something firm with a little give in order to spread the impact of the projectile out enough to stop it with no penetration. In real world environments this would be the body of the individual wearing the vest, but that was not an option for this test so I had to come up with something else. Here is the PASGT vest before I put holes in it:

Vest unmolested
Click for larger image


To enable the vest to work, I made two impact panels. An impact panel was made using a phonebook wrapped with two polar fleece shirts to make it firm but flexible. Two of these impact panels were placed together inside a polar fleece shirt, using T-shirts in between to keep them separated. The whole thing was then covered with a T-shirt and finally a blue laundry bag to keep it all together as a firm but flexible impact bag. This impact bag was not intended to simulate human tissue; it was merely a way to give the vest something to impact against. For the purposes of the test, if a bullet or projectile penetrated the vest would be considered potentially fatal.

So I have this "bullet proof" vest, something to put inside of it to enable it to function properly, what else do I need?

"Guns. Lots of guns." - Neo, from the movie The Matrix.

Assault Thingy's
Figure 1. Click for larger image


Below are the types of firearms used, the numbers correspond with the cartridges pictured:

1 & 2 - Winchester Model 70 Black Shadow chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum

3 - AMD-65 chambered in 7.62x39mm

4 - DPMS Panther Lite 16 chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO

5 - Ruger Super Blackhawk with 7 1/2" barrel chambered in .44 Remington Magnum

6 - Springfield Armory 1911A1 V-10 Ultra-Compact chambered in .45 ACP

7 - Taurus Model 85 Ultra-Light chambered in .38 Special

8 - Glock 17 chambered in 9mm Luger

9 - Walther model PPK chambered in "7.65mm" which is European for .32 Auto

10 - Marlin Model 925M chambered in .22 Magnum

11 & 12 - Mossberg 500 12 Gauge with a 20" rifled slug barrel

13 - CVA Firebolt 209 Magnum .45 caliber with 110 grain powder capacity

14 - Ruger Police Six with 4" barrel chambered in .357 Magnum

15 & 16 - PSE Thunderbolt compound bow set at 62 lbs.

** - Ruger 10-22 pictured at left was not used in this test


The cartridges/projectiles fired/flung by these weapons:

Test Cartridge Master Key
Figure 2. Click for larger image


Below is the list of cartridges pictured in Figure 2 that were fired in the firearms pictured in Figure 1. To the right of each cartridge is an unfired bullet; to the right of that is a fired bullet that was recovered during the test from the impact bag. The fired 7.62x39mm and .45 caliber muzzle loader bullets were not recovered. I tried to use commonly available factory ammunition where possible but some ammunition I did not have on hand. Most of this ammunition can be purchased at your local Wal-Mart. Some of the ammunition fired during this test includes hand loads, none of which were loaded "hot," and represent velocities and ballistics that are equivalent to standard factory ammunition.

Here are the cartridges fired:

1 - .300 Winchester Magnum hand load with a 180 grain Barnes XLC bullet and 70.5 grains of IMR-4350. Muzzle velocity approximately 2,900 feet per second (FPS)

2 - .300 Winchester Magnum hand load with a 165 grain Nosler Partition bullet and 72.5 grains of IMR-4350. Muzzle velocity approximately 3,100 fps

3 - 7.62x39 firing factory Wolf 122 grain full metal jacket (FMJ). Muzzle velocity 2396 fps

4 - .223 Remington firing factory Federal 50 grain Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP). Muzzle velocity approximately 3,200 fps

5 - .44 Remington Magnum hand load with a 240 grain HP/XTP and 10 grains of Alliant Unique pistol powder. Muzzle velocity approximately 1,300 fps

6 - .45 ACP factory Winchester White Box Personal Defense 230 grain JHP. Muzzle velocity 880 fps

7 - .38 Special factory Winchester White Box Personal Defense 125 grain JHP. Muzzle velocity 945 fps

8 - 9mm Luger factory Remington UMC 115 grain JHP. Muzzle velocity 1,155 fps

9 - .32 Automatic factory Remington UMC 71 grain Metal Case (MC). Muzzle velocity 905 fps

10 - .22 Winchester Magnum factory CCI Maxi-Mag 40 grain JHP. Muzzle velocity 1,875 fps

11 - 12 Gauge factory Winchester Super-X 2 3/4 inch, 1 oz. rifled slug. Muzzle velocity 1,600 fps

12 - 12 Gauge factory Hornady SST 2 3/4 inch, 300 grain sabot slug. Muzzle velocity 2,000 fps

13 - .45 caliber muzzle loader. Hornady 200 grain 40 caliber SST-ML sabot. Muzzle velocity approximately 2,000+ fps

14 - .357 Magnum factory Federal Premium Personal Defense 130 grain Hydra-Shok JHP. Muzzle velocity 1,410 fps

15 - Crimson Talon broadhead, 100 grains on an Easton Carbon Epic arrow

16 - Rocky Mountain Snyper 2-blade, 100 grains on an Easton Carbon Epic arrow


Now that we have the specifics, let's move on to some shooting. The shooting part took 3 days including the vest setup, shooting, and documenting the results with over 320 pictures. The below results are not in the order that they were fired, and are listed by using the numbered illustrations in Figures 1 and 2. Distance from the shooter to the front of the vest was between 10 – 12 feet.

1 - Winchester Model 70 in .300 Winchester Magnum (WinMag). In the top ten most popular cartridges since its creation in 1963, the .300 WinMag is used for virtually all big game in North America. The Model 70 is amongst the most popular and successful rifles ever made and are owned by millions of sportsman throughout the US. The Model 70 was used extensively by US snipers in Vietnam and is still used today by law enforcement snipers.

Cartridge number 1 is the 180 grain Barnes XLC bullet that is blue in color. Before anyone wets their britches, the blue stuff is a "dry film coating" that is designed to reduce bore fouling. This coating also reduces velocity by 11%, but makes the bore a snap to clean. This is not the dreaded "Teflon" coating that so many people erroneously believe "lubricates" the shot-hole and makes it "armor piercing." Teflon was initially used on hard bullets like bronze that wear out the rifle bore quickly. These hard bullets were coated with Teflon to prevent bore wear, and later they became popular because they prevented fouling in rifle bores that fired traditional copper bullets. Again, Teflon coating on bullets has nothing to do with penetration and is pretty much obsolete.

This particular bullet is designed for hunting large game animals and provides deep penetration with controlled expansion. I'm pretty sure that this round will penetrate the vest. The Barnes XLC penetrated in the front and out the back of the vest and the bullet was never recovered. Entrance hole: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/BarnesXLCIn.jpg Exit hole: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/BarnesXLCExit.jpg

Out of curiosity I tied the vest behind a tree about as big around as my leg and fired at the tree, just to see if it would make it through. http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/ImpactThruTree.jpg

The Barnes XLC went through the tree and penetrated the front of the vest! http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/TreePenetration3.jpg http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/TreeVestPenetration.jpg

The fully expanded bullet was recovered about two thirds of the way inside if the impact bag and can be seen in Figure 2, cartridge 1.


2 - The Model 70 firing the 165 grain Nosler Partition, long considered the bullet to which all others are measured. This hunting bullet is also designed for deep penetration with controlled expansion. The bullet struck the vest in the center where two layers of Kevlar overlap. http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/NoslerPartitionPenetrate2Layers.jpg

The bullet penetrated these two layers and the impact bag and stopped in the back of the vest. http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/300NoslerPenetrate.jpg

Had the bullet struck the front of the vest where it did not overlap it would have certainly penetrated clean through the vest. Keep in mind that this is a standard hunting rifle and cartridge that you can purchase at Wal-Mart.


3 - The AMD-65 is a carbine type rifle firing the 7.62x39mm cartridge. The bullet, being 7.62mm, is the same diameter as the .300 Winchester Magnum, but is not as long or heavy and lacks the extra power that the .300 WinMag provides. The rifle "looks" like an AK-47, but it is in fact just a semi-auto "look alike" rifle that shares some similarities, like being called “high powered” by the media. It is about as powerful as your great-grand-pappy’s .30-.30 that hangs by a nail on the wall over the mantle.

The 7.62x39mm had to be fired twice. The first round penetrated the vest and skewed downward and into the ground after it hit the impact bag. I had a feeling that it had enough oomph to go all the way through considering this particular cartridge had a FMJ bullet that is not designed to expand, but is designed only for penetration. I was right.
Impact: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/762x39mmImpact2.jpg
Penetration: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/762x39ThruandThru2.jpg


4 - DPMS Panther Lite 16 firing a .223 Remington cartridge made by Federal cartridge company. The 5.56x45mm NATO is the cartridge that the US military uses in the M16/M4 and is virtually identical to the .223 Remington, with the same external dimensions. They can be fired in the same gun with the same chamber and produce the same ballistics. The main difference between the two is that the 5.56x45mm NATO has a slightly thicker case.

As can be expected, the fast moving hollowpoint bullet penetrated into the vest and was stopped inside of the impact bag. The bullet was recovered in little teeny pieces.
Impact - http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/223Impact.jpg
Penetration - http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/223
Bullet fragments - http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/223Aftermath.jpg

5 - Ruger Super Blackhawk firing the mighty .44 Magnum. This single action revolver is no longer “the most powerful handgun in the world,” but it is popular for hunting and target shooting. With the 7 1/2 inch barrel this gun is not designed for carry; it is designed to squeeze all of the power out of the cartridge. A longer barrel allows more room for the powder to burn, thus giving it more velocity. A longer sight radius is also a plus. This vest is not designed to stop this cartridge but I figured I would give it a try.
Impact: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/44MagImpact.jpg
Bullet stopped: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/44MagSlug.jpg

The vest stopped the .44 Magnum cold. Truly above and beyond what it was intended for, stopping this round puts it in the NIJ level IIIA territory.

6 - Springfield Armory 1911A1 firing the .45 ACP. The 1911 is a design that is almost a century old and is one of the most popular firearms ever made. Cutting its teeth on the battlefields of WWI, it is still in use by our military in a limited capacity, but is extremely popular in the US by citizens who carry it as a defensive pistol. It is also widely used in competition where its light trigger pull and legendary reliability give it an edge over the competition. The .45 ACP is a street and combat proven cartridge that provides plenty of power with the advantage of shoot ability. How did the vest stand up?
Impact: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/45Impact.jpg
Bullet stopped: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/45SlugStopped.jpg

The 230 grain bullet is almost as large as the .44 Magnum but the vest had no problem stopping it.


7 - Taurus 85 firing the .38 Special. Snubby revolvers like this have been around for centuries. They are designed to be small, light, and concealable. The .38 Special round that it fires has been around since the 1902. Frequently and erroneously referred to as a "Saturday night special," the snubby .38 Special is the gun and cartridge most used in homicides in the US, but way more often it rides comfortably in the pockets of the defensive minded citizen to prevent homicides. Did the vest stop this little beast?
Impact: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/38SpecialImpact.jpg
Bullet in vest: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/38SpecialSlug.jpg

Sure did. Not all that impressive huh?


8 - Glock 17 firing the 9mm Luger cartridge. Although not the first, this gun helped bring about the era of the high capacity "plastic" pistol. Absolutely reliable, this pistol withstands very high round counts and is found in nightstands and holsters worldwide. The 9mm has been around for over a century and is the most popular handgun cartridge around. The 9mm FMJ rounds used by our military bring this cartridge much disdain, but with modern expanding bullets it is a solid performer that will continue to protect for years to come. The 9mm is known for incredible penetration with light and fast FMJ rounds, but those do not do much damage. I decided to shoot the vest with run-of-the-mill hollowpoints that are very common today. Here are the results:
Impact: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/9mmImpact.jpg
Bullet stopped: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/9mmBulletRemoval2.jpg

The vest had no problems with this round. On to the next one.


9 - This is a post-war Walther PPK chambered for the .32 Auto which was the weapon of choice for James Bond for many years. This used to be a standard round for many European law enforcement officers but has fallen by the wayside since the 9mm became so popular. Today the .32 Auto is considered too underpowered for everyday carry. Of note is that the .32 Auto bullet is just a smidgen larger in diameter than the 7.62x39mm and .300 WinMag. Did the vest have any problems with this baby?
Impact: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/32AutoImpact.jpg
Bullet stopped: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/32AutoSlug.jpg

No problem. Now to try the smallest cartridge in the test.


10 - The Marlin 925M chambered in the little .22 Magnum. This bolt action rifle is affordable and reliable. Used to shoot tin cans or kill small critters, the .22 Magnum gives better performance than the standard .22 long rifle. It was introduced in 1959 and serves as the only rimfire cartridge introduced in the 20th century. It is also the only rimfire used in this test. How did the smallest cartridge tested do against a vest that stopped a .44 Magnum?
Impact: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/22MagImpact.jpg
Penetration: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/22MagPenetration.jpg

The little Magnum not only penetrated the vest, it went through the impact bag and struck the back of the vest hard enough to leave a copper mark on the fabric! How do you explain that? This round is for shooting squirrels and it penetrated the vest? Do you think we should ban this round because of this? Now we're seeing the results that I suspected.


11 - Mossberg 500 pump action shotgun firing 1 oz. rifled slugs. It doesn't get any more basic then this folks. This shotgun is in the hands of untold numbers of our service men in Iraq right now. That's right; it is a weapon of war just like many shotguns before it. It is also the beloved shotgun of tens of millions of hunters nationwide and used to take game that feeds untold numbers of people year round. This gun is inexpensive and solidly built. The 1 oz. slug can be used for a variety of different tasks and is used to kill the most dangerous and deadly game animals in the world, to include enemies of this nation. Does it penetrate the vest? Let's find out.
Impact: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/12GuageSlugImpact2.jpg
Aftermath: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/OMFG.jpg

It did not penetrate the Kevlar, but the slug pushed the front of the vest almost through to the back side. The Kevlar panels in the back of the vest ripped loose and tore through the phonebook! This was the last round fired at the vest for obvious reasons. I had a suspicion that this heavy hitter should wait until last.


12 - Mossberg 500 firing the Hornady SST slug. This slug is a copper jacketed sabot designed to give hunters a little more range out of their shotguns by making it perform similar to a rifle. How did it do?
Impact: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/HornadyShotgunSlugImpact2.jpg
Penetration: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/HornadyShotgunSlugPenetration.jpg

This slug had no problem going through the vest. Would that make it "armor piercing?" Should it be banned? Before you answer, check out the next participant of the test…


13 - The CVA Firebolt 209 Magnum firing a .45 caliber bullet. This muzzle loading rifle is as primitive as firearms get. It is pretty much just a steel tube with a hole at one end wrapped in a plastic stock. To load this rifle you first pour black powder down the barrel and then ram a bullet down until it seats against the powder. An ignition cap, in this case a 209 shotgun primer, is then placed in front of the bolt or hammer and you're loaded. Black powder is gunpowder that is made by mixing charcoal, saltpeter, and sulfur. Gunpowder originated in China sometime in the 9th century. This is the same technology used during the American Revolution and the American Civil War. It can't possibly pierce the Kevlar vest can it?
Impact: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/MuzzleLoaderImpact.jpg
Penetration: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/MuzzleLoaderPenetration.jpg

Think again! 300+ year old technology penetrated a vest that had no problem stopping a .44 Magnum! We should ban it right? For the children! I mean it is "armor piercing" and all. Next!


14 - The Ruger Police Six chambered in the .357 Magnum. This gun and cartridge, as its name implies, was carried by our nation’s law enforcement and armed citizens for over 50 years and is still in the holsters of millions of good citizens today. Firing at somewhat high velocity for a handgun, the .357 Magnum has serious street credentials for racking up a high number of one-shot stops against a threat. I was not sure if it would go through or not.
Impact: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/357Impact.jpg

I did not get a picture of the bullet lodged in the vest but it was stopped. Going back to my post about body armor and checking the NIJ chart shows that a police vest that stops the faster .357 Magnum is rated as Level II. Pretty good for a surplus vest! Now we’re done shooting firearms and it’s time to bring out the bow and arrow.


15 - A PSE compound bow firing a Crimson Talon broadhead. I'm sure "Crimson Talon" brings spasms to some of the more hoplophobic who may read this post. I know it "sounds" deadly because we have heard that frightening "talon" word before, Eh? Courtesy of The Gun Zone:
"Perhaps a prayer can stop a Black Talon." But a pocketbook probably will not. The bullet is designed to unsheathe its claws once inside the victim's body and tear it to pieces."

Super deadly and all that typical sensationalized yellow journalism, and now these are CRIMSON! Anyways, I was more than convinced that a broadhead would go clean through the vest. I've seen broadheads fired through 5 gallon buckets filled with sand that had no problems stopping a .44 Magnum. Here is the skinny.
Impact: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/BroadheadImpact.jpg
Inside the vest: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/ArrowBarelyPenetrates.jpg

Stopped cold. The sound it made when it hit was sickening. As you can see it did slightly penetrate but the wound sustained by the wearer would be superficial. Next up is an expanding broadhead!


16 - The PSE bow shooting the Rocky Mountain Snyper 2-bladed expanding broadhead! That sounds like alot of deadliness! The arrow speed is around 300 fps. How did this one do?
Impact: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/ExpandingBroadheadImpactClose.jpg
Penetration: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh284/CTone03/ExpandingBroadheadPenetration.jpg

I call this one inconclusive. The arrow did penetrate about four inches but it hit almost directly in the shot-hole from the .223 Remington. The blades did have to deploy and cut a 2 ½ inch path through the Kevlar which is no easy task, but I still think it's inconclusive. I believe that a field point or a 2 – 3 bladed cutting point broadhead would have no problems. Time will tell.

So that's all of the weapons I fired at the body armor. This test confirmed much of what I already knew; "bullet proof" vests are not bullet proof, they are bullet resistant and they are only designed to stop handgun bullets, not rifle bullets. The muzzle loader verified that. To bring my point home, here is a picture of the .44 Magnum, which the vest stopped, next to the .22 Magnum, which the vest did not:


.44 Magnum vs. .22 Magnum
Click for larger image


A picture is worth a thousand words. Here’s a quick review:

.300 Winchester Magnum, both – Penetrated
7.62x39mm -------------------------– Penetrated
.223 Remington –-------------------- Penetrated
.44 Magnum ------------------------– Stopped
.45 ACP –------------------------------ Stopped
.38 Special –--------------------------- Stopped
9mm ---------------------------------– Stopped
.32 Auto –----------------------------- Stopped
.22 Magnum –------------------------ Penetrated
12 Gauge slug, 1 oz ----------------– Stopped
12 Gauge slug, Hornady SST -----– Penetrated
.45 Caliber muzzle Loader --------– Penetrated
.357 Magnum -----------------------– Stopped
Crimson Talon broadhead --------– Stopped
Rocky Mountain broadhead ------– Inconclusive

Out of 16 projectiles; 6 penetrated, 9 were stopped, and 1 was inconclusive. No handgun rounds pierced the vest. All rifles pierced the vest. I will have to re-visit the bow and arrow some day to get some better data.
Too bad the vest was totally destroyed by the 1 oz slug or I would fire more stuff at it. Up until that last shot the vest was still in good enough shape to provide lots of protection from incoming rounds. Maybe I will find another vest at a good price and do more testing. I hope this test is useful to someone and helps educate those who need it. For anyone else I hope it was entertaining!
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