Tag Archives: blanks

As a comic writer, I’ve been portraying muzzle flashes as incredibly bright, just like the ones seen in films. But when I saw a muzzle flash in real life, it seemed smaller. So what can you tell us about muzzle flashes? What separates the ones seen in fiction from the ones in real life? And if I was to show them in a more realistic light, how could I go about that? Thank you!

The ones you’ll see in films and TV are, for the most part, blanks. These are cartridges that lack a projectile. They’ll have a full, or mostly full, powder charge, with some paper wadding to keep the powder in the shell before firing.

These are much safer than firing live rounds, for somewhat obvious reasons.

When you fire a normal, modern, cartridge: the primer detonates, igniting the powder, pushing the bullet into motion. The muzzle flash you see is burning powder escaping the barrel.

With a blank: the primer detonates, igniting the powder, ejecting most of the still burning powder down the barrel. Propellant that would normally be consumed pushing the projectile gets to wander free and burn in the open atmosphere.

At least, that’s my recollection. I haven’t spent much time with blanks, and all of that was with nail guns, so I could be wrong about exactly why this happens.

It’s probably worth pointing out that blanks can actually be quite dangerous at close range. The biggest risk is the burning powder. With a normal round, fired at close ranges, burning powder can cause minor injuries. Called “stipling,” this is often useful in establishing if the shooter and the victim were within a few yards of each other. It can also result in minor burns from a short range near miss.

With a blank, you’re looking at the entire load of powder being dumped into someone’s face, the burns can be nasty. It’s not quite the same as pumping a round into them, these burns can be lethal. At very close ranges, the kinetic shock from high power blanks can break bones. In some cases, the wading (usually paper or light plastic) can penetrate and function as an impromptu bullet.

Incidentally, you could scale back the powder to produce a more “realistic” muzzle flash. But, with any automatically cycling firearm, under-powered cartridges have a nasty habit of not delivering enough force to cycle the mechanism. A good example of this would be loading 12 gauge flare shells or dragon’s breath shells into a semi-automatic shotgun. The gun can fire them, but you’ll need to manually cycle it between shots, because neither produces enough force to actually cycle the action. This can also happen when crossloading rounds, like chambering a .380 in a 9x19mm pistol or a .40 in a 10mm pistol (do not try this, the results can be far worse than the pistol not cycling).


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How much damage would wooden bullets and rubber bullets cause?

Wooden bullets, probably not much. I’d have mocked the concept entirely, but apparently, wooden rounds used to be common for blanks, particularly as training rounds. Generally speaking, the powder detonation would reduce the bullet to sawdust when fired. Individually the fragments could be nasty, but not life threatening outside of a freak occurance.

There’s a persistent myth floating around that the Germans and Japanese issued them late in World War II. It holds that the rounds would splinter on impact and result in wooden shards that wouldn’t show up under x-ray. But, it’s the actual gunshot that shatters the bullet, which makes this whole myth a little suspect.

It looks like the Germans actually used them to launch rifle grenades, (a forerunner to modern under-barrel grenade launchers.) So they would have seen some use in the field. It also stands to reason most of the countries involved in World War II would have done the same.

Now, if you’re a soldier in the field, and your side is loosing, you’re ill equipped, running out of munitions, anything you can fire will look like a valid choice, eventually. So some people probably did get shot with these, but, I’m not finding any credible information that they’ll do anything.

If I was going out on a limb, I’d guess these could be lethal up to a few feet if you placed your shot correctly, but really these are blanks.

If you’re looking at a setting that actually requires wooden bullets (to deal with vampires, for instance), then you could make wooden bullets from a hardwood with a metal jacket to protect them from the worst of the powder charge, but I’ve got no idea how those would work in the real world.

Rubber bullets can kill. They’ve been kicking around at least since the mid-70s as a riot round. To their credit, they are less lethal than a gunshot, but they’re still pretty nasty. Rubber bullets are usually chambered for shotguns or riot guns (basically re-purposed grenade launchers), though there are a lot of different variants. This means you’re dealing with a very large, slow, projectile. And they still kill people.

If you really want to see what these will do you can just Google image search “rubber bullet injuries.” Just be ready for some really graphic content.

Rubber rounds for shotguns come as both slugs, and buckshot. The slugs are slightly more common, and alternately referred to as riot slugs.

Supposedly, rubber rounds exist for handguns. These are primer only cartridges (meaning no powder), and have muzzle velocities on par with airsoft. They’re intended for target shooting, though, I’ve never actually seen these personally, so I’m going by “things people wrote on the internet.” If the published muzzle velocities are trusted, these should be easily survivable.