Thursday, April 13, 2023

The Pelvic Shot

Dave Spaulding has published an article at Guns & Ammo titled "Pelvic Shots: Fight Stoppers or Self-Defense Fiction?" This appears to be an expanded version of an article he had published on his now-defunct Handgun Combatives blog, and which I mentioned back in 2017. I've come across numerous articles that have discussed this topic (in more or less detail) over the years, some of which I list below:

    The theory of the pelvic shot is similar to shooting dangerous game (e.g., a charging bear) in the shoulder, which is to break the bones of the joint or leg in order to anchor the game in place--safely away from the hunter--and allow the hunter to then follow up with a second and more accurate killing shot. Of course, you can probably already see where the theory breaks down when applied to a human attacker, which is that it works against dangerous game because that type of animal is trying to get to the hunter with its teeth and claw--i.e., contact weapons--not a firearm or other ranged weapon.

    Spaulding illustrates this point by relating the story of a murder attempt on the famous gun slinger, Bat Masterson, where Masterson was shot in the pelvis. Spaulding relates (bold added):

    The most "famous" pelvic shot/wound ever recorded historically, probably belongs to western lawman, buffalo hunter, gunfighter and legend Bat Masterson. In 1875 in Sweetwater, Texas, Masterson was involved in a shootout with Corporal Melvin King (U.S. Army) involving either hard feelings over a card game or the affections of a woman, historians go both ways on the issue. I know, I know, the shooting involved liquor, gambling and a woman, hard to believe those three would result in a fight, right?

    Near midnight, Masterson left the Lady Gay Saloon accompanied by Mollie Brennan and walked to a nearby dance hall. Masterson and Brennan sat down near the front door and began talking. Corporal King, intoxicated and angry over the night’s events (either losing at cards or Brennan's attention to Masterson), saw the two go into the dance hall and watched them through the window before he approached the locked door. King knocked and Masterson got up to answer it. As he did, King burst into the room with a drawn revolver and a string of profanity.

    While stories as to exactly what happened vary, somehow Brennan found herself between the two men when King fired (whether she was trying to protect Masterson or simply trying to get out of the way is unknown). The first shot narrowly missed her and struck Masterson in the pelvis taking him down. King’s second shot hit Brennan in the chest and she crumpled to the floor.

    At this point, Masterson raised himself up and fired the shot that killed King. Some say Bat Masterson walked with a cane the remainder of his life due to the severity of the pelvic wound while others say he merely used it as an excuse to keep an impact weapon with him at all times — a weapon he was known to use with great effectiveness. What can be said is that Masterson was seen throughout his later life without the cane.

Now, it is arguable that if Brennan's second shot had struck Masterson rather than Ms. Brennan, it would have been Masterson that died. But it does illustrate that even a successful shot to the pelvis cannot be counted on to take someone out of the fight. Moreover, based on his recovery, it also illustrates that such a shot is not necessarily crippling, particularly when using a handgun.

    On the latter issue, Spaulding quotes the following from Dr. Martin Fackler's comments on the pelvic shot:

Other than soft tissue structures not essential to continuing the gunfight (loops of bowel, bladder) the most likely thing to be struck by shots to the pelvis would be bone. The ilium is a large flat bone that forms most of the back wall of the pelvis. The problem is that handgun bullets that hit it would not break the bone but only make a small hole in passing through it: this would do nothing to destroy bony support of the pelvic girdle. The pelvic girdle is essentially a circle: to disrupt its structure significantly would require breaking it in two places. Only a shot that disrupted the neck or upper portion of the shaft of the femur would be likely to disrupt bony support enough to cause the person hit to fall. This is a small and highly unlikely target: the aim point to hit it would be a mystery to those without medical training — and to most of those with medical training.

    Both of the articles from Aaron Cowen also discuss why, anatomically, a pelvis shot is not ideal. From his excellent Breach Bang Clear article, Cowen explains (bold added):

    The last ideal area of the body to target is the lateral pelvis. Also called the pelvic girdle, this area is comprised of very dense bones designed to support weight, resist omnidirectional forces and assist in the generation of movement.

    The number of vital organs located in this area is zero, as in none. The pelvic girdle has seen a resurgence in popularity as a place to intentionally target. Some even saying they would shoot here before trying for the chest (which makes zero sense). The pelvic area does contain arteries. Unfortunately those are small targets and very, very few people can even point to their general location, let alone target one.

    The aorta enters the pelvic region, branches out into the iliac arteries which move through the pelvic girdle to become the femoral arteries, essentially an inverted “y.” While it’s very true that ballistic trauma to this area can cause immobilization via the breaking and shattering of bones, it is highly unlikely to cause incapacitation in a reasonable amount of time. One of the most recent studies into pelvic gunshot trauma found that out of over 2,800 gunshot wound related patients, 42 had suffered trauma to the pelvic region, only 18 of those resulted in fractures to the Ilium and only 7 of those actually required surgery

    That is not exactly reassuring.

    This is not to say that you should completely discount the pelvis shot, as Spaulding goes on to explain, but that it should not be at the top of your places to shoot someone. Obviously, we try to shoot the center of mass of a target. Thus, if all we can see of a target is a foot, we would shoot the center of the foot. Likewise, if the center of mass that is visible to us is the pelvis or pelvic girdle, we probably should take that shot. But as Cowen remarks:

The pelvis is a viable target barring a better one to shoot at, but it’s not the magical incapacitation button some people sell it as. My feeling is that the popularity of pelvic shooting is because on the vast majority of ranges across the US, the pelvis is the point of aim when practicing hip shooting because the range will not allow higher angle shots. It certainly isn’t because there is a wealth of examples of pelvic incapacitations, because those examples are very rare. I don’t discount the pelvis as a place to shoot, though I would only choose it if other areas of the body were not available to me( or if it was the first stop on my way up the body). Any other methodology is snake oil. Dirty, nasty snake oil.

    Of course, that doesn't mean that a pelvis shot is completely useless, either. In his article, Massad Ayoob writes:

    Jim Cirillo was a good friend of mine from the early 1970’s until his death, and I learned a great deal from him, his partner Bill Allard, and other members of the legendary NYPD Stakeout Squad. In Jim’s Guns, Bullets, and Gunfights (Paladin Press) he said, “We found that whenever we shot gunmen in the pelvis or butt, they were knocked off their feet. They could still be dangerous, but at least their aim would be disturbed.”

    Obviously, an offender wielding a knife or club would be out of action at that point since—without mobility—they could no longer approach to stab or strike. And even a downed gunman would now be stabilized and much easier to hit with a (hopefully) fight-stopping brain shot if he tried to shoot from the ground. More recently, a retired SEAL with extensive combat experience told me pelvic shots worked dynamically for him and his colleagues.

    Can the pelvic hit fail? Of course. A mere hairline fracture of the pelvic girdle—or just a neat, round hole drilled through it—can’t be expected to have much immediate effect. A bullet that merely chips the top off the ileac crest is about like shooting the tail fin off a 1959 Cadillac, it simply won’t break down the whole machine. But put a powerful handgun bullet close to where the pelvis joins the femur, and instant collapse is highly likely. Ditto a bullet that smashes the sacrum. Pelvic shots may not guarantee “1-shot stops,” but neither do head or center chest shots. ...

    All this brings me back to the Bat Masterson example. The shot to the pelvis certainly put him on the floor and "disturbed" his aim. It seems to have given the shooter the chance to get off a second shot (which, unfortunately for him, was squandered by his striking a bystander); and if Masterson had been armed with a knife, may have been enough to keep him from reaching the shooter. But it didn't stop Masterson from using his own firearm to kill his attacker. Thus, like Spaulding and Cohen conclude, the pelvic girdle is a third rate target behind the thoracic cavity or head, and probably should be limited to those occasions when it is the only shot available to you because it is what is visible, or you can't bring the firearm to bear on the chest or head (e.g., being forced to fire from the hip). Some have also suggested the pelvis as a good target where the chest and/or head is protected by body armor and ballistic helmet. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Reformers Prevail At NRA Meeting

The legal troubles--including allegations of corruption--was apparently too much even for the proxy voters in the NRA. As The Reload report...