Cpl. Purvis fires on a steel wheel from 100 yds. The Spike’s Tactical SPR with a Yankee Hill, Phantom Suppressor was able to deliver sots so accurately that at one point we hit the very tip of a wheel lug. Photos Abner Miranda
Even armored glass, such as this multi-paned window, can only absorb three rifle rounds before failure. Armor and bullet resistant glass only buy you seconds of reaction time. Photos Abner Miranda
The Hornady .223 cal 55 gr TAP Red Tip went straight though. Coincidentally, if you want to deflate a tire rapidly shoot it through the steel wheel instead of directly into the rubber. Unlike rubber, steel won’t partially close around the bullet hole and It will deflate in seconds as opposed to minutes.Photos Abner Miranda
Some of the .223 rounds careened off the interior of the vehicle’s structures and made oblong keyhole marks upon exiting. The noise they made was a whistling or raspy buzzing sound as they sawed through the air.Photos Abner Miranda
No matter what you’re shooting at a windshield, it’s going through. Terminal ballistics is a mute point when you’re face is full of glass. Sometimes volume of fire on target with a lesser round is better than a single bullet with superb penetrative power.Photos Abner Miranda
We’re all used to seeing perfectly mushroomed rounds like those on the bottom right. However, bullets that hit something more substantial than ballistics gel will turn into saw blades (top right), or small lumps of lead (lower left) or even hold a fair amount of mass and relative shape (top left).Photos Abner Miranda
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Recently, I attended a firearms class where the issues of finding “hard cover” on a vehicle were discussed. We were given the generic answer “vehicle cover consists of engine blocks and steel wheels.” I found this to be a bit vague so I set out to find more definitive answers for myself. It saddens me to report that there are precious few areas that’ll totally stop rounds.
To find out what really constitutes “hard cover” on a vehicle you have to shoot one up. I used two weapons for this test, a Spike’s Tactical 18” barreled SPR in 5.56mm with a Yankee Hill Phantom Suppressor. The other weapon of choice was my .45 cal XD duty pistol. The first shots were made from 25 yards using Hornady .223 cal 55 gr TAP Red Tip. I aimed dead center of the engine compartment.
As expected, any rounds that actually hit the engine just disintegrated. The surprising thing was that some of those rounds careened off the engine and made it all the way out the other side of the vehicle in a blast of jagged fragments.
This brought up an interesting question about what really is “cover.” Just because a bullet has lost most of its velocity doesn't mean that it can't take you out of the fight. Take a fragment in the eye and you're done. Note: Consider keeping shooting glasses with you in the patrol car and not just in your trunk.
The next set of rifle rounds were sent through the driver’s door at a level trajectory. These rounds passed through both sides of the car, along with the target dummies that were seated inside. For subsequent rounds I moved to the 100 yard line and fired carefully aimed shots that passed through the vehicle as well. However, this time they left “keyhole” exit marks, indicating that the rounds had lost enough velocity so as to tumble as they passed through the vehicle.
And yet, when I fired on the steel wheels from 100 yards they proved worthless at stopping the .223. So much for taking cover behind wheels.
The next test was with the XD .45 from the 15 yard line. I shot Hornady .45 Auto, +P, 230 gr, TAP FPD which also passed through the vehicle and thumped the dummies with a loud crack. This cracking noise came from the fact that the rounds were losing so much velocity that they were beating things more than they were piercing them.
Case in point, I found an intact, .45 slug laying inside the windshield washer fluid reservoir after it took a wild turn inside the engine compartment and caved in the side of the reservoir. Once again this was not what I was expecting.
The one constant between the rifle and pistol rounds was the fact that both were spalling wildly when they hit substantial parts of the vehicle. Some of these rounds were also exiting the vehicle in small jagged pieces that shredded most things that they contacted. Upon picking some of these pieces up it dawned on me that I’d seen these shapes before. Of course at the time of my initial acquaintance they'd been embedded in my arms and legs.
Never Say Die
I exclusively shoot steel targets on my range and occasionally get hit by fragmentation. Ironically, I still stagger back like I've been hit with a baseball bat when it happens. And every time I ask myself, “Why am I still reacting to fragments like this?”
The very presence of gunfire puts us on edge and the sensory input of being hit by something in the midst of all that racket makes us think that it will have the same amount of force that the muzzle blast does.
It's this flinching/movement that can get us into trouble. If you take a hit in the vest and just assume that you need to stagger and fall, you might just do that at great peril to yourself. Train with the belief that you’ll get hit in a gunfight, but, you WILL prevail. Say it, and believe it because it’s true: Bullets are not that effective against a determined survivor.
However, you don't need to be killed to be taken out of the fight. If even one bullet fragment catches you in the face you’ll bleed into your eyes which will render you combat ineffective. This is why all those fragments that made it around the engine startled me so much. While this is a problem for us as officers seeking cover behind a vehicle, remember that this works both ways.
If you find yourself going against an adversary wearing military grade armor then the solution is the same as if he were taking cover behind a vehicle. Wear out his armor/cover with concentrated fire.
In my endeavor to find “hard cover” behind vehicles I raised even more questions for myself. The one thing that I can definitively say is that vehicles don't offer anywhere near the cover that we've been led to believe. Even if you take cover in the lee of an engine block you can still get hit by bullet fragmentation and spalling glass. Your best bet is not sheltering behind your car but moving behind it to hard cover like cinder block walls or even concrete planters and poured concrete park benches.
Next time you’re driving through your district take note of where you can find cover relative to potential problem areas like banks and schools. You might just need it should things go badly during your next call.
Until next time, practice hard, and I’ll see you on the streets.