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The Forensic Aspects of Contemporary Disintegrating Rifle Bullets

Haag, Lucien C. BS

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: March 2013 - Volume 34 - Issue 1 - p 50–55
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e31827a05b7
Original Articles

A relatively new type of rifle bullet has appeared in the last few years that contains no lead and rapidly disintegrates into very small particles and jacket fragments immediately upon entry into soft tissue. These bullets are intended for use by varmint hunters in high-velocity centerfire rifles where the effect on such animals as prairie dogs, gophers, ground hogs, and other similarly sized animals is nothing short of explosive. The shooting of much larger animals to include human beings will typically result in nonperforating wounds with short wound paths. X-ray views of a decedent or gunshot victim will lack any recognizable bullet or projectile. Only 1 jacket fragment among the many present in the wound tract is suitable for subsequent firearms identification purposes, namely, the small copper disc that represents the base or heel of the bullet jacket. This small circular fragment bears vestiges of the rifling marks of the responsible firearm.

This article will aid the forensic pathologist in recognizing gunshot wounds produced by these atypical bullets and the importance of recovering the base portion of the disintegrated bullet jacket.

From the Forensic Science Services, Carefree, AZ.

Manuscript received November 18, 2010; accepted October 18, 2012.

The author reports no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Lucien C. Haag, BS, Forensic Science Services, PO Box 5347, Carefree, AZ 85377. E-mail:

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.