Tag Archives: firearms

Q&A: (Not) Using Antique Firearms

So I have a character who collects antique firearms. Would a gun from the 1800’s , say American civil war era, still function enough to make it an effective weapon, provided it was well taken care of?

Yes, with some critical caveats.

Mechanically, firearms are destructive. I don’t mean the bullet is harmful; that’s also true. You have a piece of equipment designed to contain violently expanding, burning gasses. Powder is, often, corrosive, and of course, you’re setting it on fire, and sending that stuff everywhere. You’re also grinding pieces of metal against one another.

Guns have an operational life, (usually) measured in rounds fired. As you use them, components will wear out or break. In some rare cases, this can turn into a Ship of Theseus scenario, where you’re replacing the entire gun a piece at a time. (Unlike Theseus’s Pardox, this one has a concrete answer: It legally becomes a new gun when you replace the receiver.)

The important thing to remember is: Every single time you use a firearm, you’re dealing a little bit of irrevocable damage to your gun.

In most cases, you wouldn’t want to actually fire a civil war era antique firearm. Mechanically, they may still be sound, but that’s something you don’t really want to test on a firearm from the 1860s. This is especially true when dealing with some of the more mechanically complex weapons of the era, like the Colt Walker revolver.

I’m going to use the Walker as an example for a moment. There were roughly 1,100 of these guns produced in the late 1840s. 1000 of those were intended for a military contract, and the remaining 100 went up for sale to civilians. The original revolvers suffered a high rate of failure, somewhere around 300 of these were returned to Colt for repairs during the original operational life of the guns. Frequent issues involved soldiers overloading the cylinders, exceeding the intended pressure tolerances, and causing the cylinder to rupture when fired. (Fun fact: Exceeding the intended pressure tolerances in a firearm is a fantastic way to destroy it. Don’t do this.) There were also a number of semi-fragile components which would wear out or break after extensive use.

Walkers saw use during the Mexican – American War, during the Civil War, and in the hands of Texas Rangers after that. In short, there aren’t a lot of these guns left. They are also phenomenally expensive today. At auction, a Colt Walker in functional condition, with original parts can easily fetch $100k, with pistols sometimes selling for between $300k-$600k.

Your character, who is a collector, wants to put rounds down range through something that expensive? Especially given their history for mechanical failures?

Also, for reference, a Walker with a ruptured cylinder will usually sell for somewhere around $1k.

Now, in fairness, this is an outlier. Most guns aren’t going to be that valuable, nor that fragile. But, even if you’re talking about something relatively common, much cheaper, and hopefully more durable, like a Sharps Rifle, it’s still a valuable antique. (Rarer Sharps variants can auction for $10k-$20k.)

Another factor is that these don’t use modern ammunition. The Walkers were chambered to a .44 bullet, but these were muzzle loading black powder firearms. (In fact, most of the Walker’s cylinder failures were due to soldiers loading too much powder, and then loading the gun’s conical shaped bullets in backwards, resulting in substantially higher pressures than the cylinder was designed for.)

The mid-19th century did see the introduction of the first metallic cartridges. The Sharps Rifle fired a .52 caliber, black powder cartridge. There might be some place you can buy these prepackaged, but, I suspect, if you want to shoot a Sharps, you’re going to be hand loading your cartridges.

So, if you want to fire something like a Walker or Lamat, you can, theoretically do so. But, you’ll need a lot of associated equipment and preparation time. Loading either is a time consuming process. You need black powder, percussion caps, and the bullets themselves. So, it’s possible, but not a great option.

All of this said, there is another very simple reason to say yes, which bypasses all of these considerations. Modern replicas of weapons like the Walker, or Single Action Army (the Colt Peacemaker, which is not a Civil War era pistol, as it dates to 1873) are fairly common, durable, and functional. In the case of the Walker, there are some significant mechanical changes to allow the  revolver to accept modern cartridges, including the addition of a loading gate. Conversion Walker reproductions are something of a novelty.

In general, reproductions of historical firearms, particularly 19th century ones have a serious enthusiast community. It would be entirely unsurprising for a collector of rare and antique firearms to also keep a selection of replicas for recreational use. In fact, modern Colt Peacemaker reproductions are a semi-common sport revolver, because of the handling characteristics.

Replicas and reproductions also offer an entry point to the hobby, for a lot of enthusiasts. Very few potential collectors can shell out half a million dollars for a revolver, but modern replicas will only set you back around $300 – $400. Given it may also take modern ammunition, that’s a much easier price point for a potential collector.

Personally, I wouldn’t fire a gun that’s over a century old, if I had another option. This isn’t a hard number, but that’s a long time for factors like corrosion, to become a serious consideration. Like I said, I have no issue with modern reproductions of those designs, I’m honestly rather fond of Colt Peacemakers chambered in .357, and slightly less fond of 1911s, but I wouldn’t want to fire an original production version of either, simply because of concerns over damaging it.

A somewhat common problem for gun collectors is, having weapons which are historically or mechanically interesting and significant, but are too valuable to shoot. This is also true of elaborately engraved firearms. The simple answer is, you don’t do it. If you enjoy shooting, and also enjoy collecting antique firearms, those are going to be two separate collections. There may be thematic overlap, via reproductions, or they may also collect modern firearms for shooting, but they’re not going to be shooting their antiques.

There’s also a separate issue that I haven’t really addressed yet. With some exceptions, you wouldn’t be getting a particularly effective weapon. At least, not if you’re facing opponents armed with modern hardware.

The early cartridge rifles were game changing, because you could start producing weapons that could fire 8-10 rounds per minute. Early Revolvers were similarly amazing.

If your opponent has a pistol that needs to be reloaded after each shot, and you can put six rounds down range before having to reload, that’s a significant advantage, even if reloading will take far more time.

Today, most modern assault rifles have cyclic fire rates between 600 and 900 rounds per minute. That, 8 to 10 range doesn’t sound nearly as impressive in context. (Granted, the actual rounds fired per minute would be much lower for an automatic weapon.) Someone armed with an AR15 pattern varmint rifle can be much sloppier with their shots and still get the job done in less time.

Shot placement is critical. If you can get the job done with one bullet, then having extras is just gravy. But, semi-automatic weapons allow you to quickly correct and compensate for errors faster than a single shot weapon will allow. If you try to make a shot with a single shot rifle, you will spend more time, preparing for your next shot, than you will with a semi-auto rifle.

Reloading modern firearms is much faster than with a civil war era weapon. Compounded by the fact that they will need to reload after every shot. Even if your modern firearm has a small 5 or 10 round detachable box magazine, that’s a lot more firepower on a much faster reload.

I’ve said before, the 19th and 20th century saw an explosion in firearms technology. In less than 200 years, we’ve gone from firearms that needed to be manually reloaded, by pouring powder down the barrel, to weapons that can deliver 30 rounds, down range, in under five seconds. Modern guns are more accurate, easier to operate, more reliable, and in general, much more lethal. Now, someone who knows what they’re doing with a Peacemaker, or a Sharps could still come out on top, if they really know what they’re doing, but working with weapons like those, in a live combat situation, is a serious handicap.

It’s also worth noting that there are some, very old, firearm designs that do hold up, in their intended roles. The Peacemaker is one excellent example. It’s not a good carry pistol, but these are still remarkably accurate revolvers chambered in a powerful cartridge. There are better options for a revolver, but these will deliver.

Another pair of examples are the M1903, which is a very accurate bolt-action rifle, and the M1911, which has become an iconic handgun design. (Though, modern 1911s do have some significant design changes, to make the weapons more reliable, and user friendly.)

So, you have a gun collector, who has a lot of civil war antiques. They need to pull something from their collection to shoot someone. The best option would be if they have guns the use recreationally or for other purposes. These may be reproductions, or they could be more modern firearms. Your collector wouldn’t reach for one of their antiques, even if the gun was technically operable.


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Q&A: Lightweight Firearms

I have some characters that need to have lightweight firearms. Research is telling me that while aluminum guns HAVE been made, they require special ammunition to avoid misfiring. What other material options do I have? Carbon fiber?

There are a lot of firearms that incorporate aluminum alloy components to reduce weight. This is fairly common, though not as popular today as it was twenty to thirty years ago. There are still a lot of popular, well respected, aluminum frame pistols and rifles on the market, including the Baretta 92s (including the M9), and the SIG P226 (though there was a heavier stainless steel variant sold in small quantities). With rifles in the AR15 family, there’s a lot of aluminum lower receivers in circulation.

So, if you’re wondering how that works out, there’s a critical piece of information to remember: The Barrel, bolt, and battery will be steel. In most handguns, that means the entire receiver will be, though with rifles that’s less certain.

Weight is, already, a huge consideration for firearms. This is why a lot of pistols used aluminum frames, and their manufacturers have since moved on to polymer frames. Similarly, a lot of rifles have moved over to polymer furniture to reduce weight. Carbon fiber is an option for some common firearms, for example, you can replace the walnut stock of your Remington 700 with a carbon fiber variant. This will set you back around $600 dollars, though the actual weight reduction is debatable.

Off hand, I’m not aware of any pistols with carbon fiber frames standard. (Only a few high-end “designer Glocks.”) Though, that’s probably a matter of time as well.

There’s also some oddities like the Professional Ordinance Carbon-15. This was an AR-15 pattern rifle that had a bunch of its components replaced with plastics, including the lower receiver. The early examples were rather fragile, but it did deliver a 5.56mm rifle at around four pounds.

Beyond swapping out the materials, there are a couple things someone can do to reduce the weight of a firearm.

Porting is the practice of cutting out unneeded material. This may range from simply cutting into a slab of metal or plastic, or it may involve cutting full slots through it.

On rifles, one option is to remove or redesign the stock. At the extreme end, this can involve replacing the stock with a simple wire structure, or a sling system. Worth noting: this is not an option with AR15 pattern weapons, including the M4 and M16. These rifles incorporate their gas return system into the stock.

In contrast, the AK family of rifles have gas return systems that run over the barrel. This means you can completely remove the stock from AK pattern rifles without ill effect. To be fair, the AK takes this design decision from the StG44, and any other rifle that patterned off that design, like the FN FAL, or H&K G3 will (usually) have a similar gas system.

One quick way to do some of your work for you would be to look for paratrooper variants of existing rifles. These are designed to cut as much weight from the weapon as possible, without sacrificing structural integrity. These often feature shortened barrels and collapsible stocks to reduce the weight.

Another option, depending on your characters’ objectives, would be to use SMGs instead. These are (usually) going to be considerably lighter than full rifles, though you’re losing the power, and range of a rifle, in exchange for a lighter, more compact weapon. For example, an H&K UMP45 is a little over half the weight of a full sized assault rifle, and is already firing a subsonic round. You can’t use it at long ranges, but if your characters are slipping in undetected, it will be far easier to conceal and much lighter.

There are, also, already a wide range of weapons intended for clandestine use. It’s easy enough to come up with a scenario and say, “well, this is unusual, I don’t know how I can equip my characters for this.” But, when it comes to military hardware, it’s often helpful to remember that weird scenarios with strict equipment requirements are something special forces groups plan for. Beyond that, it’s often easy enough to find out that, “oh, this rifle variant was designed specifically for situations like the one I’m looking at.”

Hell, if your special forces operator needs a completely silent tool for picking off sentries they can request a crossbow or mechanical compound bow from the armory. These same guys are going to know not to use it in a firefight, but the tool is available to them.

Lightweight firearms are a real thing. In part because no one wants to be carrying around a 30 lb rifle, unless that puppy can put a round through the engine block of a ’57 Buick.

I mean, if it’s me, and I was looking at this, I’d check what their nation of origin actually uses for hardware, and then pick something like a SIG553, H&K G36C, or an AKS-74U. For reference, my laptop weighs more than any of those three rifles.

There’s an, unusual, example that fits your suggestion at the top, and it might be what you’re thinking of, even though it’s not exactly relevant to the discussion. In the mid-60s a company called MB Associates designed and sold a 13mm pistol and carbine using a self-propelled cartridge called a Gyrojet. These are fascinating historical footnotes. The weapons had a minimum kill range of around 10 meters. (This number is a bit fuzzy. The rounds might get to a lethal velocity before this, but getting reliable ballistic data for these pistols is a pain.)

The pistols themselves were made from a zinc alloy, and were incredibly light weight. This was partially because the pistol didn’t need to deal with the explosive forces a conventional firearm.

To the best of my knowledge a little over one thousand of these were produced. There’s at least four variants, two pistols (chambered in 13mm and 12mm) and a few rifle and carbine variants. I know of a few other prototypes, though I have no idea how many of those existed.

These days, unspent cartridges are exceedingly expensive ($100-$200 a round), and the extremely light weight can leave you feeling like you’re holding a toy, rather than a real, functional, firearm.

MB Associates was hoping to land a military contract, and some of the pistols did see use in Vietnam. Unfortunately, the minimum lethal range was a serious flaw. Beyond that, the rounds themselves suffered from production issues, resulting in wildly inaccurate shots. The bullets had four angled ports, which, once the propellant was ignited, would keep the round moving, and would cause the round to spin, stabilizing it. Unfortunately, on some production cartridges, one of those ports would be partially obstructed, meaning the round would corkscrew unpredictably in flight. I’m honestly unsure if this is more horrifying or hilarious.

I don’t have hard data on exactly when MBA went under. I want to say it was in the early 70s. Either way, this remains a weird historical footnote. It might be what you’d heard about, even though it’s not exactly relevant to your question.


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Q&A: Gauss Rifles

So, how would a gauss sniper rifle work in real life (i.e. What kind of kick would it have, would it make a sound, what would the energy consumption be, etc)

Well, you’ve hit on the problem with all energy weapons, there. Power consumption is obscenely high. The entire reason that modern rail guns are ship mounted is because they are extremely energy intensive.

I’ll stick a caveat here that I may be doing the math incorrectly in my head, but: a handheld gauss weapon may actually have a substantially higher energy requirement per shot than a ship mounted weapon.  The energy used is based on getting the projectile to speed. With rail guns this creates two factors. First, a handheld one will have a shorter barrel, meaning it needs to accelerate the object faster, and small arms have, nominally, higher muzzle velocities than artillery meaning, in theory, you’d need to get the round to higher speeds than you’d need with a ship mounted system.

I say, “in theory,” because the muzzle velocity of the prototype rail guns the US Navy is using are somewhere in the range of 2400m/s. Which is ludicrously high speed, and gives the weapon an effective range of around 100 miles. In practice that is a bit overkill for an infantry weapon, and you could scale that back somewhat. But, you’re still left needing to accelerate an object to several times the speed of sound in a tiny fraction of a second.

I’m going to make a guess and say that recoil would be slightly more severe than with a modern gunpowder firearm. The problem is still basic physics. You’re accelerating an object into motion, which means Newton’s Third Law will take vicious revenge on your shoulder one way or the other.

What I’m not clear on is exactly how much, because of two factors. First you’re probably talking about a smaller round, and second, it will probably be going much faster than a modern firearm. A 2mm tungsten needle would have less recoil than most conventional firearms today, but muzzle energy is calculated (in part) based on the velocity and mass of the bullet when it leaves the barrel. (This is an easy point of reference for how destructive a bullet will be on impact.) In order for that 2mm spike to be more destructive than a modern bullet, it would need to be traveling significantly faster. So any recoil you saved on the lighter round would be replaced by requiring a higher muzzle velocity to do the same work.

One minor perk is that, while the projectile would have a higher velocity after exiting the barrel, it would build up speed in the barrel, meaning the recoil would be spread out a bit further. Does this matter? Maybe, but on a handheld weapon, probably not. If the overall length of the barrel is 36″ and you’re talking about a velocity of a projectile leaving it somewhere north of 1500fps, the difference between that and ignited powder would be mostly academic.

While I’m not sure what the rifle itself would sound like, I’d guess some kind of electric humming, simply because the magnetic coils would pull a lot of energy, (the prototypes sound a bit like someone shorting out a transformer), the actual gunshot would sound a lot like a modern rifle at long ranges. Again, physics is here to apply unfortunate limitations.

The speed of sound is, roughly 343m/s (or about 1125 feet per second). Any physical object that exceeds that limit will create a small air shock as it passes. (Technically, the exact point an object will create a sonic boom varies based on elevation, humidity, temperature, barometric pressure, and probably a few other factors I’m forgetting.)

Most modern rifles send rounds down range at speeds of at least 600 m/s. Even most handguns will exceed the 343m/s threshold. At long ranges, the loud crack from a rifle is a result of the bullet breaking the sound barrier. Now, if you’re operating a gauss rifle, that’s still going to happen. You’re dealing with basic physics. Firing the rifle will produce a loud crack along the path of the bullet.

Probably worth remembering the term, “rifle,” is a bit of a misnomer here. There’s no actual rifling in the gun, and bullet stabilization would probably occur via fins on the projectile itself. Probably with some kind of sabot system.

The choice of tungsten above wasn’t (completely) at random. The atmospheric friction will create a substantial muzzle flash. Where normal firearms eject burning powder, a rail gun would be ejecting flaming steel or whatever the sabot was made of. Having a projectile that can withstand the heat generated by atmospheric friction, and ferromagnetic enough to respond to the coils seriously limits the options. As mentioned above, you can’t fire a steel slug at 2400m/s because it will melt. Tungsten on the other hand has one of the highest boiling points for a metal. (It might actually be the highest, I don’t remember off hand.)

While I’m not 100% certain, it’s entirely possible the projectile may produce a visible tracer effect from atmospheric friction alone.

Now, there is another caveat here. I’m assuming you use similar velocities to a the navy’s prototypes. That’s not strictly necessary, and projecting a cartridge at, say, 800m/s would have vastly different characteristics, and may not generate enough heat to melt steel. It would also require roughly 1/3 the power per shot. However, the power consumption would still be extremely significant.

Some other details worth considering.

Because the barrel is responsible for the speed of the shot, it may be possible to fine tune how fast the resulting bullet leaves the gun. Depending on the design, this could allow for a kind of multipurpose assault/marksman rifle that isn’t really possible with modern firearms.

As I mentioned earlier, the navy’s prototypes have an effective range of 100 miles. (Or 160 km). At those ranges it would be basically impossible to fire accurately without extensive computer control, and possibly some kind of satellite aided targeting system. However, there are a couple reasons to tune one that high.

First, drop and drift. Bullets are, as we’ve said before, physical objects. There’s an old physics experiment where, if you fire a gun (parallel to a flat surface) and drop an identical bullet simultaneously, both will hit the ground at the same time. Depending on the cartridge, this does become a factor sooner or later. Spitting a round out at Mach 7 will have very limited drop in the first mile or two, meaning it will be somewhat easier to predict where the round will land at those ranges. This isn’t fully necessary, but it helps.

The second thing is transonic speeds. As a bullet travels through the air, it loses speed. When it gets down close to 343m/s, it will drop through transonic speeds. When that happens, it will be overtaken and hit by its own sonic boom. This destabilizes the bullet’s flight, and effectively destroys accuracy beyond that distance. The initial speed determines when that happens, and by extension, how far you can fire the weapon. If you can radically increase the initial speed of a bullet, you extend the effective range. This is part of why that prototype is so impressive.

Incidentally, if you get the velocity over, about 11.7k/s (so a little over four and a half times what the prototypes fire), you can put a round into orbit. Not particularly relevant for the question, but worth knowing. (Also that’s Earth’s escape velocity. It wouldn’t be the same for other planets. For example: those same railguns can achieve lunar escape velocity now.)

Of course, the biggest issue with these is still power consumption. Regardless of the factors, you’re still using electromagnets to propel a slug of metal to hypersonic speeds. With modern energy technology, that’s not really feasible.


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Q&A: Blanks

Hi! I wanted to know if a gun loaded with blank ammo would weight the same as one loaded with real bullets? and if someone with a lot of gun training could tell the difference? (sorry if you already answered this!)

Objectively: yes. Depending on the cartridge, more than half of the weight can come from the actual bullet itself. So, a blank would lack that weight.

However, being able to tell when you pick it up is a lot harder to pin down. With a smaller magazine, the overall weight difference will be much lower. With a larger magazine, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a partial mag with live rounds, and a full magazine of blanks (going by weight alone).

However, it’s worth knowing, blank rounds do not look like live ones. They do not produce recoil like live rounds. They do not sound like live rounds. In short, this kind of a ruse only works if you hand someone a loaded gun. Even then, if they do a press check, the ruse is over.

Modern metal cartridges have a shell casing, with a bullet seated into open end. Blanks don’t. Their shell casing is there, but the bullet is missing. Instead, some wadding is inserted in front of the propellant and the case itself is crimped shut.

The important takeaway is that, if someone who knows what a bullet should look like, actually sees a blank cartridge, they’ll know something’s wrong.

Also worth remembering that blanks can be lethal at short ranges. (Up to about five feet or six feet, as I recall.) You’re still spraying ignited gunpowder out the barrel, which can result in serious burns at close range. Firing while in direct contact with tissue, will force the rapidly expanding gas into the victim causing serious tissue disruption.

Blanks are useful for a few things. Theatrical performances, magic tricks, starter pistols, and if you need to put the force of a bullet behind something… strange.

Let me explain the last one in a bit more detail. Blank cartridges have utility in allowing you to propel non conventional payloads. This is how some nail guns used to work, by the way.

There have been more inventive uses for blank cartridges. Off hand, a couple M1911 attachments were designed during WWII. One would mount an impact grenade over the barrel, while the other tried to use the pistol as a grappling hook launcher.

The alternative are dud or dummy rounds. These look like live bullets, and are much closer in weight. The distinction here is that there’s no powder or primer, just a bullet, and shell casing. You can press check these without realizing you’re not loading a live round, and can dry fire the gun without having to worry about shooting someone (with some important caveats).

If you’re thinking of one of those loyalty tests, where someone hands a character a gun, and tells them to execute a captive, dummy rounds are the way to go, not blanks.

Dummy rounds are also how you’d set up a shot for a film, where the camera needs close ups of the round being fed into the chamber, or you want to get a shot up the barrel at the bullet itself.

The important caveat with dummy rounds is, it’s still a bullet. Dry firing can’t propel the round out of the barrel, but it can sometimes knock the bullet into the barrel, (called migrating). Switching from dry firing a dummy round, to loading a gun with blanks can create a situation where you have a round in the barrel, and the blank cartridge will propel it like any other bullet. One of the more famous examples of this happening is the death of Brandon Lee.

During shooting of The Crow, the armorer had gone home for the day, and a prop assistant was handling the weapons (which is a very bad idea to begin with). He used a dummy round for close up shots of the bullet moving into chamber on the revolver (which is fine on its own). Then, when setting up for the next shot, dry fired the revolver (never dry fire a gun), and ejected the dummy rounds, before loading a cylinder of blanks (apparently without making any attempt to inspect the barrel, or even to check if the dummy rounds were intact). Then, when actor Michael Massee fired the prop, the blank propelled a live round into Brandon Lee killing him.

The tragedy came out of the prop assistant not following basic safety procedures. This included the production “making” their own dummy rounds by dumping the powder from live rounds. (Without realizing that there would still be a primer charge in the cartridge.)

When it comes to training? No. Your training on firearms (at least in general) wouldn’t let you know if you were just handed a firearm full of blanks, based on the weight. As I said, executing a press check would.

Press checks are where you partially cycle the weapon manually to verify that there is, in fact, a round in the chamber. For most handguns, this is achieved by partially drawing back the slide. For most rifles, you’ll partially cycle the bolt. When handed a gun, it is one of the first things any experienced operator should do. There’s an edge case with revolvers or break open weapons, where opening the breach won’t actually tell you that you’ve got blanks, since you’ll only see the back of the cartridge.

If this is your gun, you can tell if it’s loaded or empty based on weight. You could probably tell if it was fully loaded or partially loaded. You can’t tell if it’s fully loaded with blanks, or partially loaded with live rounds.

If you’re handed a gun, you can’t tell. You don’t know if the Glock you were just handed has one of those 10 round low-cap mags, or if it’s a high-cap mag fully loaded with blanks. In fact, with Glocks in particular, unless you inspect the weapon carefully, you may not even know what it should weigh. The company uses the same pistol frames, and chambers those in a wide range of rounds, from 9x19mm, up through .45, and even 10mm Auto.  This is, to varying degrees, a common problem with a lot of handguns that are available chambered for multiple rounds. This is before you consider the weight differences caused by modifying the weapon with aftermarket parts. This is also true of some rifles, to varying degrees.

This is also true with the whole, recognizing if a gun is empty by weight. If it’s yours, then yes, you should know what it weighs, roughly. Though honestly, it’s more the weight distribution that you’d notice, rather than the overall weight. If you’re simply handed a gun, you won’t have a reliable baseline (even if you think you’re familiar with that model). Still, the first thing you should do, when handed a firearm, is to press check it, and visually inspect the magazine. That would expose if the gun had been loaded with blanks.


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Q&A: M14 Wounds

What do you think he damage from an M14 if a person was hit in the shoulder from the front would look like? I’m trying to make the damage from the hit as realistic as I can! [if distance is needed, it is about 4 to 5 rooftops away. tight old city blocks rather than larger apart] Thanks for the advice!

No offense, I don’t particularly want to look this one up, but wound channel charts are available for most common rounds. It’s a little harder to find ballistic data for unusual rounds, like 5.7mm, but the M14 is chambered in 7.62mm NATO. It’s a very common round.

Off the top of my head, you’re looking at a fairly small entry wound. The exit wound will depend on if the bullet hit bone on the way through or not. If it did, it it will shatter the bone, and take that with it, leaving a sizable hole on the way out. (I’m going to spitball that at around 2″-3″), if it goes through clean, which is kinda unlikely, but not impossible, you’re looking at an exit wound not much larger than the bullet.

It’s also possible, on a bone impact, for the bullet to shatter resulting in multiple exit wounds.

Generally speaking, when you have deeper penetration of meat with a 7.62, it will start to expand. Someplace after about 10-15cm of penetration, it will actually produce a much larger tissue displacement. This isn’t really an issue if you’re pumping rounds into a person, but if it’s something larger, or if the bullets are hitting center mass, it can be a factor.


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HI! I was wondering what modern light infantry firearms would you recommend for killing giant monsters around size and weight of elephants but with agility more akin to cats. I was thinking heavy round assault rifles and or grenade launchers.

Well, not, “light,” but I kinda suspect you mean, “small arms.” The first thing that comes to mind is a .50 anti-material rifle. That’s not just because I did an ask on the Barrett AM rifle a few days ago.

With something that nimble, you wouldn’t want to get within half a mile of it, if you didn’t need to. And, because of how sound works, at those ranges, it wouldn’t even hear the gunshot before the round connected. (Technically, it would never hear the actual gunshot, just the bullet breaking the speed barrier.) Depending on how the critters are put together, a high-explosive round might be the best payload, but I don’t know how well their accuracy holds up at long ranges.

Getting close enough to use a grenade launcher (usually around 100-200m) doesn’t sound like a good idea. At least not if they’re that fast and agile.

(For reference the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher is accurate up to around 150m, beyond that you can still put a round general vicinity of over there at up to 350m.)

By, “heavy round,” I assume you mean automatic rifles chambered in 7.62mm (and some other .30 rounds), at which point, that’s usually a battle rifle. I mean, it’s possible you might get the desired result from riddling the things with an H&K G3, but getting that close when you don’t need to be still sounds like a bad idea to me.


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How viable is a tonfa in modern street fighting setting? (well, to be more accurate, Hong Kong during 1988, but I digress). I know that guns are going to beat it out regardless, because guns, but in the case they aren’t available, would it be a good weapon for a gang member to carry around?

Yeah, Hong Kong is a very different set of considerations from simply, “modern street fighting.” Specifically, firearms laws there are far more strict than in the US, and the danger of running into someone using a gun is much lower than if you set your story in 1980s Los Angeles.

Obviously, if your characters are going up against the police, then that starts to become a serious consideration again, but for street level combat, there’s a very real probability that the people they’re fighting won’t have access to firearms either.

Now my knowledge on the subject is strictly 1999, so some of this may have been different under British rule, but my understanding is that under the PRC, arms smuggling is a capital offense. Possession of an unlicensed firearm is a serious felony that can carry a life sentence.

What little I can dig up from pre-1999, suggest that even before the British left, it was extremely restricted. You could own a firearm, but you not allowed to own, or store, ammunition. You needed to purchase, and use it, at the gun club, where you shot.

There were exemptions for people who dealt with large quantities of cash, gems, or other untraceable wealth, as part of their job. That may have persisted, I’m uncertain.

Within that specific context, yeah, I could see the tonfa being useful for someone dealing with street level crime. Ironically, they might be better off unarmed and using whatever they can find in their environment opportunistically, simply because of law enforcement attention. The full list of prohibited weapons is a bit vague in places. Near as I can tell, the tonfa isn’t explicitly restricted, but an officer might class it under one of those headers and arrest your character anyway.

Incidentally, while writing this, the thing that keeps coming to mind is Sleeping Dogs. This was a criminally underrated GTA style game set in 2012 Hong Kong, where you played as an undercover cop infiltrating the Triads. It’s a little off what you’re talking about, but is still a fascinating examination of the tensions for a character who’s operating undercover in a criminal organization.


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Q&A: Anti-Material Rifles

Hello, I don’t see a lot of resources for sniper gun injuries, especially that of .50 cal rounds. I have a character that had the bone at her lower leg (near the ankle) shot by a .50. How bad would the damage be when compared to the same bullet actually hitting the ankle bone or the leg muscle?

So, there’s a weirdness with the .50 round: It’s not supposed to be used for precision shooting. It is used that way. There are many precision rifles chambered to various 12.7mm cartridges, including the .50 BMG. But, they’re not really intended for use on people.

(To be clear, every time I’m talking about a .50 from here on out, I’m referring to the 12.7x99mm rifle cartridge. Incidentally, if you were to simply search for .50 wounds, you would probably get a mix of rifle and pistol wounds, since there are many distinct 12.7mm rounds in circulation.)

The .50 BMG was originally designed during the First World War, with the intention of use as an anti-aircraft round. These entered service in the ‘20s and saw extensive use during WWII as an anti-vehicle round. This is it’s intended role, even today.

In the early 80s, someone got it in their head to build a precision rifle around these things. The result were firearms like the Barrett M82. This 30lb monster is, probably, the rifle you’re thinking of.

Thing is, these rifles fire a round that was intended for taking out vehicles, not people. As a result, they’re designed to deliver a terrifying amount of force to the target. The point is you put one of these into a truck’s engine block to kill it. Which doesn’t work 100% of the time, but a few extra hits will usually get the point across. You put one of these into a person, they’re done.

I don’t have hard data on what these things will do to a person. There is an inaccurate myth that near misses can kill from the atmospheric shockwave alone, which isn’t true. There’s also stories about these things taking limbs off on a hit. Based on what I’ve seen with these rounds and ballistic gel tests, that seems credible. Put one into someone and you could easily end up looking at an eight inch exit wound.

Connecting with the ankle probably means the foot is gone. I don’t mean damaged irrevocably, “we’ll need to amputate.” I mean, anything below the point of impact is missing.

Traditionally, precision rifles used against living targets is chambered somewhere around .30. The classic examples are .308 and .30-06, though there are others, and I’ve heard good things about 6.5mm rounds. Even then, a shot to the ankle means your character probably isn’t walking again without reconstructive surgery. A shot to the bone will break it. A shot into the meat can cause some serious tissue disruption, but assuming it doesn’t nick something important, and the impact didn’t fracture their leg, they should be able to survive.

The use of a .50 rifle as a sniper’s rifle is for extremely long range shooting. These are the guns you break out when you need to hit something over a mile away. If you have a character that needs to put assassinate someone riding in an armored Limo, a .50 will do that. If your character needs to put a bullet in someone from the dark side of the moon, then the .50 is the right choice. Because, if it connects, there’s very little risk of the target getting back up.


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Iron Sights Sniper

Is it conceivably possible for a character with enhanced eyesight to shoot a rifle with iron sights as accurately as with a scope? Or are there inherent limitations getting in the way?

Not, “inherent limitations,” but you would be giving up some functionality that isn’t common on modern iron sights.

Long range marksmanship isn’t about putting the cross hairs over someone’s head and pulling the trigger. There are a lot of factors which can affect the trajectory of a bullet.

Bullet drop is the simplest example of this. As a bullet travels through the air, it is also affected by gravity, and falls towards the earth. The further you fire, the father the bullet will fall until it connects with something. Some iron sights include rangefinders, which will elevate the rear sights to account for drop.

Because the bullet is a lightweight, physical object, it is still affected by things like wind. Again, this isn’t much of an issue at short range, but at longer ranges, wind can play a significant role in where the bullet finally comes to rest. When calculating wind in long range shooting, it’s not enough to know what direction the wind is traveling where you’re positioned, but also what the wind is like at the target. In situations like this a scope can be helpful for determining what the wind is doing over there. As with drop, some iron sights are designed to be adjusted for windage. It’s not incredibly common, but these do exist.

We’ve talked, before, about how most rifle rounds are hypersonic, and that the signature crack of a rifle is, actually, a small sonic shockwave caused by the bullet breaking the sound barrier. At extreme ranges, over 2,500 yards (if I remember correctly, this value is affected by atmospheric density, which is calculated based on altitude and humidity), friction will bring the round back down through transonic speeds (around 600-700mph), at this point the shockwave will usually overtake the bullet destabilizing it and severely affecting accuracy.

When you’re talking about a sniper, the least important part of their equipment is, ironically, their rifle and scope. Those are both useful, and high quality equipment will offer the best results, but the difficult part of their job are things that have nothing to do with the hardware itself.

Beyond that, the scopes are just optics, they help a marksman hit their target, but they’re not necessary. However, the benefits they offer do go beyond simply providing a firing point.

So, the short answer is, no, your character wouldn’t need a scope, but they would still be better off with one than without. The one exception I could think of is if the have some cybernetic augmentation which provides firing solution data to the user, which is more accurate than simple optics.


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What are some non verbal indications that someone is good with guns (any and all)? Like, how someone holds a gun, their stance, where their holster is, etc.

In most cases it’s easier to know when someone doesn’t know
what they’re doing. With that, there are enough that I wouldn’t pretend to be
able to create an exhaustive list. The big ones that will send anyone with
firearms training up the wall are trigger discipline and barrel control.

Trigger discipline is about keeping your finger off the
trigger until you are ready to fire. It’s a really simple thing, and something everyone handling a gun should
practice. Hollywood hates it. Or at least, some directors in Hollywood
(apparently) think their actors should have their fingers on the trigger at all
times, “because it looks more dangerous.” Which, you know, it actually is.
Stupidly dangerous.

Most people who know what they’re doing will rest their
index finger along the frame over the trigger. This isn’t the only way, some
will simply have their finger sticking out at an awkward angle (and a lot of
people will do that during reloads).

Barrel control is keeping the firearm pointed in a safe
direction at all times. “Safe,” is a bit of a loaded term here, since, if your
goal is to use the gun on someone, you’re going to be pointing it at them.
Again, this is basic safety. This is a little more involved, because no matter
what you do, the gun will be pointed somewhere. The important part is
remembering that, and not pointing the gun at someone’s thigh when you’re not
using it.

As with trigger discipline, this is an incredibly basic
element of gun safety, that a lot of people who don’t know what they’re doing
will easily miss.

There are a lot of other potential tells, someone who drops
their magazines rather than retaining them, probably doesn’t know what they’re
doing. (This is the practice of discarding a partial or empty magazine when
reloading, instead of keeping it.) TV and film love presenting people dropping
mags, probably because it looks more dramatic, but it is a pretty good sign
that someone’s only education came from mass media.

Concealment isn’t cover. This is one of the few that does
tend to separate trained shooters from untrained ones. In a shock to no one, bullets
pass through objects in their environment. Taking cover means far more than hiding
behind a car door or couch.

So, concealment means you cannot see your opponent. Cover
means they’re hiding behind something that will take a bullet. Most of the
time, just because you can’t see someone, doesn’t mean you can’t shoot them.
Someone hides behind a wall in a home or office? Yeah, you can shoot straight
through that. Drywall, almost all furniture, most parts of a vehicle, most
garage doors… none of that will stop a pistol round. When you start dealing
with rifle rounds, even things like exterior walls start getting iffy. Trained
shooters will fire through concealment. Amateurs who learned how to shoot from
Call of Duty and reruns of old Arnold movies will try to take cover behind a

Firing until you run dry. This is a little trickier because
trained shooters will do this on the range. No one’s shooting back, and you’re
going to immediately repack the mag anyway.
In the field though, emptying your magazine is a seriously dangerous
situation. Reload partials when you have the opportunity to, don’t wait for it
to run empty, and have a non-functional gun when you need it.

The problem with all of this information is; it doesn’t
really answer your question. It tells you things to look for with someone who
doesn’t know what they’re doing. Not how to identify someone who really does.
This is because it’s far easier to identify things that an incompetent shooter
will do, rather than tells that are exclusive to someone who really knows what
they’re doing in contrast to someone who has a basic understanding of gun use.

Some of these also aren’t easy to operationalize. For
example, with stance, There’s Weaver, Chapman, Center Axis Relock,  Modern Isosceles, and many more. There isn’t
a, “correct,” or, “elite,” way to do choose one of these, and many experienced
shooters will tailor their stance to match the situation they’re in on the fly.
The exact way they do that, or if they choose something that isn’t a functional stance, like Gangster
Style (holding a handgun horizontally at arm’s length), can tell you about
their training and how comfortable they are with a gun, but it’s not something
you can easily explain in abstract. (At least not without going into all of the
pros and cons of the various stances, and spending a lot of time going through
all of the debate on the subject.) There’s also a lot of blending between some
of these stances, and “adapted,” “reverse,” or “modern” variants of them.

It’s easy to distinguish someone who doesn’t know what they’re
doing from someone who’s had some basic training, but distinguishing between
someone who knows what they’re doing, and someone who is actually good with the
weapons can be tricky.

I am sorry if that doesn’t really answer your question.


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