Expanded bullet - image Lucky Gunner

Expansion Testing

Ballistic gelatin testing
Ballistic gelatin testing

Q: What is the best medium for testing the degree of expansion of various controlled expansion bullets? I’ve heard that wet paper gives a fairly realistic test and is as good as ballistic gelatin. Is this true?

Ron Redman

A: Wet paper, simply newspaper, fully saturated with water provides a more realistic idea than ballistic gelatin which makes nice mushrooms, but lacks real tissue destructive capabilities. Years ago I carried out some tests using a wood box about 1.3 metres long and about a 30cm square made of 50mm x 300mm wood, open at the top and front. In it I stacked news

Expanded bullet - image Lucky Gunner
Expanded bullet – image Lucky Gunner

paper that had been fully submerged in water for a couple of hours. Stopping ordinary cup-and-core soft-points took about 300mm to 460mm while Barnes X and other all-copper bullets needed from 762 to 920mm. I placed a pair of old Sydney phone books in the back of the box to act as safety stops to catch any bullet that penetrated the entire length of the newspaper.

The paper duplicates solid muscle but the bullet will go through more lung tissue or grass in the paunch. It has been suggested you place some soaked animal hide in front of the box and insert some bones inside to make it more akin to the real thing. Like most gun writers I’ve whacked a few boxes of test media over the years including fancy stuff like deer bones combined with wet newspaper.

Once, I even tried Bob Hagel’s mixture of moist sand and sawdust. But over the years the only conclusion I can draw is that the only way to truly test expanding bullets is on live animals. Test media doesn’t tell the whole story and even autopsies carried out on a few animals may not.

Wet newspaper ballistic testing
Wet newspaper ballistic testing




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Nick Harvey

The late Nick Harvey (1931-2024) was one of the world's most experienced and knowledgeable gun writers, a true legend of the business. He wrote about firearms and hunting for about 70 years, published many books and uncounted articles, and travelled the world to hunt and shoot. His reloading manuals are highly sought after, and his knowledge of the subject was unmatched. He was Sporting Shooter's Technical Editor for almost 50 years. His work lives on here as part of his legacy to us all.