A Comparison of Test Media

June 7, 2010
By Jason Wimbiscus
People wanting to test the terminal performance of their ammo (at least those of us who lack access to a ballistics lab) face the challenge of selecting a suitable test material.  Unfortunately, professional grade ballistics gel is expensive stuff and out of the question for us regular people who just want to test a few hunting bullets.  After a great deal of research and consideration, I decided that best material for my projects would be The Bullet test tubes manufactured by Ballistic Technologies.  I decided to pit this stuff against some other common materials used by casual ballisticians.

All materials with the exception of the modeling clay were shot with a CCI .22 LR “Stinger” from an approximate distance of six feet.  The factory data has these bullets leaving the muzzle at 1640 f/s.


Food Grade Ballistics Gel

Apparently, the gelatin used by ballistics labs is not the same stuff that adorns the shelves of the baking section at the local supermarket.  However, I did find a recipe HERE for gelatin blocks made from basic unflavored food gelatin.  Even though the stuff smells like a wet dog while it’s dissolving in water, it makes for a test material that can only be described as really cool.  As is shown in the photos below, the stinger penetrated 8″ into the gel and a permanent and temporary cavity could be seen without having to cut anything open.  The downsides to this stuff are that it is a bit pricey at about $8 per half pound, it breaks down at room temperature, and it’s a bit tougher to reuse than other media.



Wet Newsprint

This is one of the most common materials used for informal bullet tests.  It’s free and readily available, but a bit on the heavy side.  I imagine that bringing to the range enough soaking wet paper to test even a single big game bullet would be a real chore. The bullet penetrated about 6″ into the stack of paper, but the cavity seems a bit exaggerated.



Modeling Clay

I tried this stuff over a year ago during my initial search for a suitable test material.  My mother, who is an art teacher, was kind enough to donate all the modeling clay that was no longer suitable for creative purposes.  I mixed in some petroleum jelly until the clay had an even and softened consistency, and packed it into a box.  I fired one of my 158 grain Speer Gold Dots into it from my carbine at a range of about 20 feet.  The results were simply catastrophic.  The bullet blew an enormous crater in the clay and I had bits of the stuff raining down on my head for a good three seconds after the shot.  Clearly, modeling clay would not do.




Ballistic Technology’s Bullet Test Tube

The Bullet Test Tube is basically a soft, sticky wax packed into a cardboard tube.  After the shot, the tube is split along the length of the bullet’s path to reveal the permanent cavity and the bullet itself.   I like that it takes less of this stuff to stop a bullet than the gel or wet paper, and it’s indefinitely reusable as it can be melted down and recast.  Perhaps the biggest disadvantages are that it’s sticky to the touch and it adheres to anything with which it comes in contact.  The initial cost is a bit high, but its reusable nature makes up for that and it does do its job well.  The bullet penetrated 3.5″ into the test tube material and was recovered in a similar state to the bullets recovered from the other media.


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