When it comes to testing the effectiveness of ammunition, ballistic gel has specific purposes. First, the FBI used it following the 1986 FBI Miami Shootout to help them find a better caliber for their agents. It continues to be used today to test penetration and expansion of various bullets. In fact, ballistic gel tests benefit folks who are trying to choose a caliber and specific load for their EDC (EveryDay Carry).
How Does Ballistic Gel Work?
We’re not talking about the kind of gelatin you might use to make a cheesecake or green Jello. Ballistic gel is 10 percent ordnance gel made in a very specific way. In order to follow the protocol, you have to mix one part 250A bloom gelatin with nine parts warm water. If you’re wondering what bloom gelatin is, good question.
The “bloom” part has to do with a test of the gel’s density and strength that was created by a man named Oscar Bloom back in 1925. If a block has low bloom strength the density will be totally wrong and you won’t get accurate results (think: mushier gelatin means bullets can blow through the block far easier than with a properly mixed block).
Way back when, the FBI checked bloom strength by pumping BB guns ten times and then shooting them into a block. Ballistic gel blocks of the right density allowed the BB to penetrate 3 ¼-3 ½-inches. Now that decades have passed we’ve developed better ways to check the density. It isn’t just about bloom, though. Factors checked like viscosity, solubility, and consistency of density all matter. The block also has to be chilled to 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s an entire process.
To demonstrate ballistic gel testing, Lucky Gunner made a video discussing some of their ballistic testing of 38 self-defense rounds in .38 Special and .357 Magnum.
Watch the video for some details on Lucky Gunner’s testing process and the many results:
Lucky Gunner used two different pistols during testing, one with a 2-inch barrel and one with a 4-inch barrel. Five shots of each bullet were fired through each gun. Clear ballistic gel was used with four layers of fabric as a barrier to approximate clothing. Most 38 Special loads failed to meet the standard minimum penetration requirements, with the exception of Remington Golden Saber +P and Winchester Ranger. In 357 Magnum they had the opposite problem — a lot of bullets over-penetrated which is definitely a problem for self-defense use.
What to look for in a ballistic gel test?
- Penetration depth
- Consistent expansion of the bullet
- Expanded diameter of the bullet
- Weight retention of the bullet after it’s fired into the block
- Type of gun used, including barrel length
- Whether gel used was bare or had an object placed in front of it
- Type of ballistic gel used, is it homemade or made professionally?
Check out the Lucky Gunner chart below. The chart shows the barrel length used, average penetration depth of 5 shots, the average diameter of the expanded bullet, and the average velocity of those 5 shots fired.
Ballistic gel testing is an excellent way to find out what ammunition can really do. If you’re considering a new self-defense load, find some ammunition reviews that include ballistic gel. Of course, if you’re looking for 38 Special or 357 Magnum, watch this video to learn a lot more about your options. Either way, do your research, and choose wisely.