… unless it doesn’t.
I recently watched ‘Godless’ on Netflix, and in some ways it was quite realistic. Some people were shot and dropped immediately. Others that were shot ran and hid. Some were shot and shot back.
Thinking about this it squares with a lot of accounts I have read of ‘western’ gunfights. One of the Daltons took twelve hits from .44 and .45 caliber guns and assorted buckshot. He rescued his brother and rode away- and survived. There are all sorts of accounts of people surviving serious wounds from these weapons. Shots hitting within the pelvic girdle (gut-shots) were nearly always fatal eventually, but other torso hits? Maybe, maybe not.
It is common knowledge in gun circles that in the Philippines the US Army went back to the .45 because their .38s weren’t working well at stopping fanatic warriors on drugs. The new .45s did not arrive in numbers before the end of the conflict so it’s difficult to assess their effect- but of those that did make it there are no reports that they were more effective.
Evan Marshall recounts a tale of an off-duty police officer out for an evening with his wife and they were accosted by a knife-wielding thug. The officer drew his .45 and put five 230-grain ball rounds into the man. The mugger promptly stabbed his wife and ran. He was arrested 3 hours later when he walked into an emergency room under his own power.
A British officer summed things up nicely, speaking in defense of the .38/200 when he said, “The .38 is an excellent man-stopper; shoot them through the skull and they drop in their tracks!” Yes, it’s kind of darkly humorous, but it touches on a fundamental truth. If a bullet doesn’t hit something important it probably won’t stop someone who is sufficiently determined. 
Big and slow is not automatically a recipe for handgun stopping power. Neither is small and fast. For that matter big and fast isn’t either. Your best chance with a handgun- any handgun- is to hit something they can’t live without. Even a heart-shot is not a guaranteed stop. Yes, they are going to die- but they may not die fast enough to keep them from killing you. No matter what sort of handgun you use the only guaranteed instant stop is a bullet that hits the brain or cervical spine- very difficult targets in the heat of a gun fight..
“But a bigger bullet makes a bigger hole, right?” It may- but human tissue is remarkably elastic. Coroners have said that, in most cases, with a torso hit they cannot tell the caliber until they recover the bullet. Modern hollow-points do tend to leave larger permanent wound cavities regardless of caliber, and are highly recommended for self-defense. Mind you, you still need a good hit or hits to stop an attacker. The tried and true method- regardless of caliber- is to rapidly put multiple hits center-mass. There’s a lot of important stuff there, so you’re likely to hit something that matters.
This is not to say that big, slow bullets don’t work- just don’t rely on the bullet to do your job for you. As long as you can put your shots where they need to go carry whatever works for you.
By the way- I recommend ‘Godless’ on Netflix; it’s a good show. Not only is the story good, but the attention to period details is above average. Among other things it’s not All Peacemakers all the Time; I spotted a number of Remingtons, Colt cartridge conversions, S&W top-breaks and even a Melwin & Hulbert. Rifles are mostly scattered between various Winchesters and Henry’s, but there are a few interesting pieces thrown into the mix as well.
Michael Tinker Pearce  14 December 17

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