Building a Big game Simulator

June 7, 2010
By Jason Wimbiscus
I’ve spent a fair amount of my free time this summer firing various projectiles into sticky green wax in order to see what happens to said projectiles when they hit said wax.  For the most part, I’ve been enjoying the process (splitting the material in its solid state and spilling it in its molten state isn’t much fun) but lately I have wanted to try something a little different.  The bullet test tube material is an excellent media, but it’s too consistent to approximate what a bullet might encounter on a trip through a large game animal.  Consequently, I decided to alter the makeup of my test block a bit.
As I’ve admitted many times before, I’m not that good a big game hunter and have never been fortunate to bag a deer, moose, or elk.  However, I am friends with people who are good hunters and have had the opportunity to examine such animals both inside and out during the cleaning, skinning and butchering process.  Assuming a textbook perfect broadside hit to large or medium game animal, a bullet will likely encounter fur, hide, muscle, bones, and various organs on its way through the animal.  With this in mind, I set about devising a way to simulate such a shot using inanimate materials.  I decided to use the bones remaining after a feast of spare ribs for bone and 10% ballistics gel as a stand-in for organ tissue and muscle.  Admittedly, 10% gel doesn’t completely mimic the density of organ tissue.  It’s tougher than lung tissue and not as tough as heart tissue, but it’s closer in consistency than the ballistic test tube wax and more photogenic and reusable than wet paper.  I originally wanted to integrate a layer of hide and fur, but I had trouble finding a source and my financial resources for the project ran out before I could purchase any.  Ultimately, I decided to go without the animal hide.

Preparing the MaterialThe first step was to prepare the ballistics gel.  Although it was expensive, I decided to order a large quantity of 250 bloom gelatin from  The preparation process for the gel is actually fairly easy; dissolve 1 pound of powdered gelatin for every 9 pounds of warm water for a 10% gel block.  I decided to make my life a little simpler and mix 1 in 1 pound of gelatin for every gallon of water (1 us gallon of water=8.35 lbs) for a block that is a shade over 10% in gel density.  All the research I conducted recommended keeping the water temperature between 100 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit, so hot tap water was sufficient for the task.  Once the gel was mixed, I poured it into a plastic storage tub and allowed it to cool for 24 hours in the refrigerator.

While the gelatin was cooling, I set about securing the bones so that they would not scatter upon impact.  To do this, I took a box with a bottom that measured 6″x6″ and sealed up the seams with Gorilla Glue.  After that had cured, I sprayed the inside of the box with silicone tent sealer to prevent the wax from soaking through.  Next, I poured in a very shallow layer of ballistic wax and arranged a layer of pork bones in the bottom of the box.  I then poured in more wax until the ribs were just covered.  I was concerned that since the bones had been cooked, and allowed to dry, they may have become softened or otherwise weakened.  To compensate for this, I arranged a second layer of ribs and then covered them with a thin layer of wax.  Ultimately, the block containing the bones measured two inches in thickness.

I assumed that the bones and the 15″ long gel block would not be enough material to stop most centerfire rounds, so I prepared two backer blocks of softened paraffin wax (softened by mixing with petroleum jelly).The combined thickness of the rib block, the gel block, and the backer blocks was 24 inches.  Since ballistics gel can be melted, strained, and reused, I didn’t want the block to jump off the table upon being hit and become covered with debris, so I affixed it to my target stand with a couple of strips of fabric from an old T-Shirt.  The setup may not look pretty, but it works.

The complete test setup.  From left to right: Wax backer blocks, 15″ ballistics gel, 2″ bone box. 24″ of material overall.

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