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Hydrostatic shock

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Hydrostatic shock is a term used to describe the theory that a remote wound caused by the impact of a bullet results in neurological incapacitation. The theory is defined by the event of a pressure wave that travels from the remote wound to central nervous system of a human or game animal. The effect of the pressure wave is to disrupt the central nervous system in such a way as to cause instant incapacitation and or death of the living target.

Gun Wiki's Position on Hydrostatic ShockEdit

The use of the term and meaning of hydrostatic shock shall not be used in Gun Wiki articles. At this time Gun Wiki takes the position that hydrostatic shock is unproven science. Since this theory is surround by controversy and skepticism Gun Wiki believes the use of hydrostatic shock is both inappropriate and hyperbole.

The History of the TheoryEdit

Scientific literature presented by E. Harvey Newton and his research group at Princeton University in 1947, is the first discussion of pressure waves created when a bullet hits a living target.

Within just a few years the sporting arms manufacturing community began using this theory for the purposes of advertising. It is most notable during the early 1950's sporting arms writers would write about the “tremendous” hydrostatic shock transmitted by the .257 Weatherby Magnum. The sporting arms manufacturing community continues to use hydrostatic shock as an advertising tool. The theory can be viewed on Youtube as advertising material in slow motion videos of game animals being impacted by hunting bullets. These slow motion videos are explains as an event of hydrostatic shock.

In recent years many new experiments to record hydrostatic shock have been conducted. The firearms used are rifles, shotguns and handguns. The materials used range from: living game and or farm animals to; dead game and or farm animals; game and or farm animals and their parts thereof; water tanks and ballistic gelatin. The experiments are typical conducted using some sort of pressure transducer array connected to the material to record the pressure curve.

What is Known?Edit

There are two known facts and one supposition that when put together become the theory of hydrostatic shock. The first fact is that pressure waves created by bullets impacting a target can be measured. Typical this measurement is that of a pressure curve represented by a time and magnitude graph. These pressure curves are usually read as transverse parabolas. The second fact is that bullets impacting a yielding material will create a wound channel. The wound channel volume is dependent on a bullet's ability to transmit its translational kinetic energy to the target. A wound channel is the destruction of living tissues that leads to organ failure and loss of blood pressure. The extent to which a wound channel becomes fatal is dependent on the size of the target. That is, a fatal wound to a 2 lb (1 kg) prairie dog may not be fatal to a 250 lb (100 kg) mule deer. Conversely a flesh wound to a 1800 lb (800 kg) Cape buffalo may be a fatal wound to that same mule deer.

The supposition is that living targets are made mostly of water, therefore materials made mostly of water will transmit a pressure wave in the same or near the same manner as a living human or game animal. Hence the use of such materials will allow a valid scientifically extrapolation of a pressure wave measurement when employed in theoretical modeling.

The ControversyEdit

The controversy starts with the most basic parameters. What constitutes a remote bullet impact and what constitutes a local bullet impact. Common sense dictates that an impact to an ancillary extremity such as an arm or leg would be a remote impact. Even impacts to the lower abdomen or paunch could be a remote impact. But science has not defined or unified its definition for remote.

This being known the lines between local and remote becomes blurred. An impact by a bullet to the shoulder (a heart-lung shoot) of a game animal that leads to instant death is a correctly placed bullet that creates a fatal wound channel. Empirically this shot is local and fatal. However, to the researcher that may be conducting such tests and experimentation, this fatal wound channel could be considered a remote impact.

This is because the impact was to the heart-lung area, sagittally from the shoulder and is a measurable distance from the central nervous system. Depending on the sensitivity of the equipment used a pressure wave can be measured to any point of the central nervous system. A necropsy of the test subject may indeed show signs of trauma to neurons and axons.

The problem comes when event a leads to event b to event c. The untrained or biased researcher may believes that if a leads to b and b leads to c, then a must have cause c. Here again, the energy of an impacting bullet (a) is transmitted to the living tissues beyond its ability to absorb all the translational kinetic energy. Then the extra translational kinetic energy is transmitted a long a path of destruction (b). This is the wound channel. Then the translational kinetic energy (the pressure wave) is measured by the researcher (c). The researcher then mistakenly attributes incapacitation or death to the measurement calling it hydrostatic shock, disregarding the organ failure and/or blood pressure loss.

Another, example is that no current research has use pressure transducers connected directly to the central nervous system of a living test subject. All research has been conducted using an electroencephalograph. Then, correlating the measurements from electroencephalograph with other test equipment's measurements to derive a conclusion.


Gun Wiki accepts a wound channel to a human or game animal that creates tissue trauma and blood loss, which leads to organ failure and or loss of blood pressure constituting incapacitation or death as scientific fact.

Gun Wiki at this time rejects the theory of hydrostatic shock that from a remote impact and despite organ failure and or loss of blood pressure, a pressured wave acting on the central nervous system leads to unconsciousness or death.

Gun Wiki will review its policy when and if science can definitively prove that a remote impact causes incapacitation or death due to a pressure wave to the central nervous system.

Finally, Gun Wiki will not engage in any discord that redefines “hydrostatic shock” as only a pressure wave (shock wave) or that it also refers to the transference of energy (damage) to organs or systems other than the central nervous system.

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