Thursday, July 23, 2015

Terminal Testing Rubber Buckshot

This is another one of those tests that I've wanted to do for years, but never got around to doing.  The tipping point came two weeks ago when one of the main characters in HBO's True Detective Season 2 got blasted twice in the chest with rubber buckshot.  The first shot, from across the room, sent our hero to the floor.  The masked villain then follows up with a nearly point blank second shot.  Ray, the receiver of the rubber buckshot, describes his injuries as cracked ribs and a sore heart from the buckshot hitting his sternum.  Having a box of rubber buckshot available, I decided to head out to the range and see if rubber buckshot could possibly cause such injuries at the distances shown in the True Detective episode. 

Herter's is the house ammunition brand at Cabela's.  Since it's a private label, we will never know for sure who manufactures the ammunition, but we do know it was made in Italy.  Cabela's describes the ammunition as follows: "Rubber buckshot for non-lethal self-defense and animal deterrence. Not for use in semiautomatic shotguns. Loaded in Italy to the highest standards in consistency and reliability, Herter’s has the perfect load for home defense or practice at the range. Using high-quality powder, shot and hulls, these unique loads deliver excellent dependability and performance at an affordable price."

The shells were exceptionally light in recoil due to their lightweight payload.  Very light loads that generate little recoil can't reliably cycle semi-automatic shotguns.  This ammunition is suitable for use in pump action shotguns and break open shotguns that do not have an inertia reset trigger.

Anatomy of the Shotshell:

High brass plastic hull

11.1 grains of powder with characteristic square flake design of Baschieri & Pellagri of Italy.

Two-piece plastic wad column weighing 45.2 grains.  The shorter wad piece seals the powder in place against the primer until firing.  At ignition, this piece also forms the gas seal allowing the expanding gasses to push the shot down the barrel.  The larger wad fills the interior space of the shell while cushioning the shot at time of firing.

Nine .328" diameter rubber shot weighing 6.6 grains each.  59.4 grains total.

7.1 grain clear plastic over shot card that is roll crimped over the buckshot to hold it in place.

Video Documentation of the Actual Tests:

Direct Link to the Test Video on YouTube

Test Recap:
This is the value added section for folks that read the test recaps in addition to viewing the video.  Some important test results are undiscovered on the range and are found later when putting the video together, or when I'm tearing down the gel blocks.  Occasionally, I'll consult with others to make sure my thoughts and opinions aren't totally off base before writing up the recap.  The videos are entertaining, but I really hope the recaps are both entertaining and educational.  

So were the injuries Ray described realistic?  Could a single round of rubber buckshot send a grown man to the floor from 15 feet away?  I'll tell you what, I have to give HBO credit for doing their homework.  I was really impressed by how realistic some aspects of the show were when compared to what I observed and documented during testing.

I'll start with the not so realistic thing first.  Based on the results observed in our test shot taken from 15 feet away, it's not realistic to expect someone to drop to the floor incapacitated from a single round of rubber buckshot delivered center of mass at that distance.  After consulting with Charles Schwartz, my guru of all things ballistic modeling related, it is realistic to expect the buckshot to hurt like heck at that distance.  Also, individual shot pellets could possibly break, or penetrate, skin at our measured average velocity of 804 feet per second if the shot doesn't come in contact with significant intermediate clothing barriers.

What I found to be very realistic where the injuries described, and the condition of Ray's clothing, after taking the second round of rubber buckshot at a distance of 10 to 15 inches.  This photo series came from the high speed camera footage.  In the first photo, you can see the stretch cavity forming in the gel from the energy deposited by the buckshot and wad column.  The artificial bone has been pushed to the left side of the stretch cavity and has snapped into two pieces along the lateral mid line. 

In photo two, you can see the ends of the two artificial rib pieces more clearly.  The lateral break can be seen as a gap between the upper and lower artificial rib pieces.

It wasn't really clear to me if the artificial rib had snapped because of contact made by the rubber buckshot and plastic wad, or because of stress applied to the rib by the expanding gel.

What I discovered after removing the rib pieces from the gel, gave me additional insight into the rib damage.  In addition to the clean lateral break, I found stress cracks on the rear of the artificial rib.  This localized damage, highlighted by the red arrows, matches up with pellet and wad strikes found on the front of the artificial rib.  With this additional information, it certainly seems possible that a close range shot could damage ribs.

One final observation on the test results dealing with the number of pellets that actually penetrated the gel in both test shots.  Oddly, we had three of nine shot pellets enter the block in both gel tests.  I'm left wondering if this was a coincidence, or possibly due to other factors that allow some pellets to penetrate while the others bounce away after impacting the gel.  Could the heat and stress of firing cause some pellets to soften, or harden, and make them better suited to penetrate the gel?

The last photo shows the wad column and three rubber buckshot recovered from the close range test shot.  The gas seal portion of the wad has shirt material stuck to it.  The filler wad was mashed and flattened against the artificial rib.  Three rubber buckshot were resting against the front of the artificial rib.  Total recovered weight of all projectiles penetrating the gel was 66.5 grains.  Most of that weight was the wad column.

At the start of this test, I had no practical knowledge or experience with rubber buckshot.  After running the tests, I think it is unrealistic to expect rubber buckshot will send someone to the floor from a center of mass shot taken from 15 feet away.  It certainly made for a more dramatic scene, but our test results didn't match up with what was depicted in the show.  Most importantly, I also learned that rubber buckshot should be used with care and common sense.  Just because the ammunition is labeled as non-lethal, you shouldn't assume that it is non-damaging or non-lethal at all distances.  At very close range, the test results showed a much different terminal result with indications of significant internal injury.  Our close range test results matched up well with the injuries described in the show.                 

Disclaimer....This test should not be considered an endorsement or recommendation for the product(s) tested.  All tests represent actual performance in ballistics testing media.  Terminal performance in all other media will show different results.  It is up to each individual to make their own personal decision on which specific ammunition to use for their needs.  It's also critically important to test any ammo in YOUR SPECIFIC FIREARM before relying on it for any purpose.

Ammunition labeled as +P or +P+ should only be used in firearms that have been certified by the manufacturer as safe for the additional pressures generated by these ammunition types.

Monday, July 13, 2015

SunJack Solar Power Charging and Lighting Solutions Review

SunJack products are available through their

SunJack is the consumer products arm of Gigawatt, Incorporated.  California based Gigawatt has been sourcing, designing, and installing solar power products for almost a decade.  Leveraging that experience, SunJack designed their first portable solar products and raised their initial funding through a Kickstarter campaign in 2014.

The mission at SunJack is to bring portable energy independence to people around the globe.  Since the company launched in 2014, they have developed a catalog of a dozen solar and LED light related items.  The diverse products should appeal to a broad range of consumers.  SunJack products are assembled in the USA and ship from their California headquarters.

I'll admit that I have a long-standing interest in solar power.  When I was growing up in the 1970's, I was old enough to understand the Oil Embargo and watched with interest as advances were made in solar power during that time.  I liked the concept of a solar powered car, home, or business, but always lacked the conviction to follow though on a solar implementation of my own.  When the folks at SunJack asked if I would be interested in reviewing their products, I thought it would be a great opportunity to see how solar power collection equipment had progressed in the last 30 years. 

After checking out the SunJack product catalog, I requested the Waterproof LightStick and 14 Watt Solar Charger for review.  Reading through the product descriptions, I thought these two items would be perfectly complimentary as a lighting solution in the event of a long-term power outage.  The Solar Charger could be used to harvest power during the day to recharge the Waterproof LightStick for use after the sun went down.

I didn't anticipate using these items on a daily basis.  My review plan was to assure these items were indeed complimentary, and would provide a battery-free emergency lighting solution.  They passed that test with flying colors, but that was just the tip of the iceberg.  What I didn't expect was how frequently I would use both of these items on a daily basis.

I have use demonstration and review videos up for both items individually.  The videos cover many of the main design features of both items in much more detail than I could possibly cover is this write up.

SunJack Waterproof LightStick Video Review

Direct Link to Video on YouTube     

SunJack 14 Watt Solar Charger Demonstration Video

Direct Link to 14 Watt Solar Charger Video on YouTube

To wrap up this review, the Waterproof LightStick and 14 Watt Solar Charger perform perfectly together.  Setting the charger out in a sunny area, or even a sunny spot inside the house, for several hours fully charged the LightStick and Solar Charger 8000 milliamp external battery pack.  As a one time purchase for disaster preparedness, I think it's worth the $195 investment.

Going beyond the review, I find myself using the Solar Charger as part of my photography and video kit with increasing frequency.  With so many cameras, and the smartphones/tablet that control them, it seems like something is always low on power.  I've used the Solar Charger to top up charge on several occasions.  I just set it out on the ground and attach whatever needs to be charged, or attach the external battery pack to the device in need of power.  It now has a permanent home in my range bag. 

SunJack products are available through their website, select retail outlets, and online retailers.  As always, shopping around may save you some money.

The Waterproof LightStick can be submerged in water to a depth of
6 feet.  Leaving it out in the rain for hours didn't bother it.
The back of the Solar Charger has a built in cable management pouch
and elastic loop to secure the 8000 milliamp power storage battery.


Dual 2 amp USB outlets will charge up to two electronic devices at
the same time.  Even power hungry tablets.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Ammunition Test - Hornady Critical Defense 10mm Versus 9mm

The Critical Defense line from Hornady was created for concealed carry pistols that typically have barrels that are shorter than service length pistols.  The entire line has been optimized for short barrel pistols and features nickel plated brass for corrosion resistance and slick feeding.  Propellent powder is low flash to protect night vision and also generates lower felt recoil.  The FTX bullet has a red polymer plug inserted into the hollow point cavity during production that aids in expansion when the bullet is fired into heavy clothing barriers like denim or leather.

This is one of those tests I've wanted to do for a long time.  As a newbie to 10mm, I wanted to set up a controlled test to see the terminal performance differences between 10mm and 9mm when both were fired from barrels less than 4 inches in length.  After securing handguns in 10mm and 9mm with similar barrel length, I had to decide which ammunition to test.  I opted for Critical Defense because it is very popular, I had it on hand, and Hornady only makes one load in each caliber.  With a box of each in hand, it was off to the range to run the test.

Test Pistols:

Glock 29 Gen 4 10mm with 3.77 inch barrel

Springfield XDm 9mm with 3.8 inch barrel

Test Protocol:
Step 1)  Measure and record temperature and relative humidity.
Step 2)  Run a 5 shot velocity average over a ProChrono Digital Chronograph at a distance of 10 feet.
Step 3)  Run multiple test shots, with and without simulated clothing barriers, into a block of Clear Ballistics Gel that is calibrated to 10% Ordnance Gel density.  Shot distance is 10 feet.
Step 4)  Run a 600 fps calibration test bb shot into the Clear Ballistics gel block and record penetration depth.

Test Results:

10mm Data Sheet

9mm Data Sheet

Video Documentation of the Entire Test:

Direct Link to Video on YouTube

My Thoughts on This Test:

The five shot velocity test results for the 9mm were right on the money.  The five shot average actually exceed the 1140 feet per second published by Hornady.  Switching over to the 10mm, the story changed.  Hornady publishes 1225 feet per second for the 10mm load when fired from a test barrel of unknown length.  We recorded 1081 feet per second from our 3.8 inch test barrel.  

Looking at the bare gel test shots first, this is a classic example of why many prefer a heavier and slower bullet over a faster and lighter one.  The 165 grain 10mm bullet expanded to a greater diameter than the faster and lighter 9mm, but the 10mm penetrated deeper into the gel block.  The heavier bullet had more inertia and took longer to stop than the lighter bullet.  Both bullets expanded completely.

When comparing the "hoodie and tee shirt" test shots, the 10mm again expanded to a greater diameter and penetrated deeper than the 9mm test shot.  Both recovered bullets expanded fully.

After the first two test shots with the 10mm and 9mm, the 10mm terminal performance was indeed better than the 9mm.  The 9mm performance was good, but the 10mm expanded to a larger diameter and penetrated deeper in both test scenarios.

Terminal performance changed dramatically for the 10mm with the introduction of 4 layers of 15 ounce denim in front of the gel block.  Both denim test shots failed to expand.  The downside of a heavier and slower bullet is that it takes longer to stop when it doesn't expand.  In this case the one recovered bullet that failed to expand penetrated more than 29 inches into the gel, greatly exceeding our ideal 12 to 18 inches of penetration.  Reviewing the high speed camera footage, I noted that both denim test shots tumbled as they passed down through the gel block.  If they didn't tumble, the Schwartz modeled penetration was greater than 36 inches.  This is double our 18 inch maximum ideal penetration depth. 

Conversely, the 9mm terminal performance was very good.  Both test shots expanded fully and penetrated to a depth greater than the 12 inch minimum.

In total, I found the 10mm performance to be disappointing.  I lay the blame for that disappointment on the lack of velocity generated by this load in our 3.8 inch test barrel.  It's definitely not a 10mm load I would consider carrying if heavy clothing barriers are anticipated.  With other 10mm ammunition choices available, I'm going to keep looking for one ammunition that performs well in all seasons.

I believe this was my first terminal performance test of 9mm Critical Defense in a barrel length longer than 3 inches.  The extra barrel length increased velocity and allowed the bullets to expand to a larger diameter than I have previously observed.  Even with full expansion, the bullets penetrated well.  Some may argue the "hoodie and tee shirt" test came up short on penetration, but I'd like to see at least one more test shot before eliminating this load from consideration when light clothing barriers are anticipated.        

Disclaimer....This test should not be considered an endorsement or recommendation for the product(s) tested.  All tests represent actual performance in ballistics testing media.  Terminal performance in all other media will show different results.  It is up to each individual to make their own personal decision on which specific ammunition to use for their needs.  It's also critically important to test any ammo in YOUR SPECIFIC FIREARM before relying on it for any purpose.

Ammunition labeled as +P or +P+ should only be used in firearms that have been certified by the manufacturer as safe for the additional pressures generated by these ammunition types.