Lucky Gunner Ballistic Gel Test Results

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.

lucky gunner ballistic gel test
A side view of a block of ballistic gel. Different bullets will penetrate to varying depths and create unique wound channels in the gel. (Photo credit: Lucky Gunner)

Testing, Testing…

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.

38 Special and 357 Magnum cartridges
Lucky Gunner tested 38 different 38 Special and 357 Magnum loads so you don’t have to do the legwork. (Photo credit: Lucky Gunner)

Watch the video for some details on Lucky Gunner’s testing process and the many results:

The 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
  • Velocity
  • Caliber
  • 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.

.357 Magnum ballistic gel testing results
Some of Lucky Gunner’s test results. (Photo credit: Lucky Gunner)

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.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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One thought on “Lucky Gunner Ballistic Gel Test Results

  1. In the 1980s, I chaired the selection committee, charged with testing semiautomatic handguns for the midsize police department that I worked for. We were lucky enough to have Dr. Martin Fackler, of the US Army’s ballistics unit visit and speak to us. He must have enjoyed the visit, since he later moved about 15 miles from our city.

    Dr. Fackler told us that they had tried ballistic gelatin, but that it didn’t approximate the wounds they observed in animal carcasses until they doubled the amount of gelatin in the mix. Whether that resorted in the currently used 10% gelatin or 20% gelatin, I can’t say. I’m afraid those brain cells are dead or reprogrammed. I know that his Wikipedia entry says his work established the use of 10% gelatin, but whether it is accurate or not, I can’t say.

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