7.62x39mm vs....38 Special?


May 18, 2003, 01:09 AM
In the 19 May issue of the Shotgun News, there's an article about Balkans-produced SKS rifles, written by Peter G. Kokalis. I don't know anything about the author, other than he writes a lot of gun articles.

At any rate, there's an inset entitled "M43 Cartridge -- History and Wound Ballistics". It discusses the development of the M43 ball cartridge (7.62x39mm) used by the Soviet Union and others for decades. One line in particular caught my attention, in regards to the wounding potential of the round (which doesn't really expand, tip, or yaw in a human body):

"Abdominal shots usually exhibit no greater tissue disruption than that produced by a .38 Spl. pistol bullet since, after 10 inches of travel without yawing, the bullet has generally passed through the abdominal cavity. However, of course, this round is capable of inflicting such damage at far greater ranges than a handgun."

Now, a 123 grain bullet at 2300 fps isn't exactly a jaw breaker, but I certainly thought it'd do more damage than, what, a 158 grain bullet at 800 fps?

So what's the story? Is he right on this or wrong?

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May 18, 2003, 01:15 AM


Mike Irwin
May 18, 2003, 01:23 AM
Velocity in its own right normally doesn't cause much damage at all.

May 18, 2003, 01:28 AM
Okay, so if 7.62x39mm is no better (at close range) than .38 Special, what about .308? It's still just a .30 caliber bullet, though it has about 400fps of velocity and 24-57 grains more bullet weight.

I'm confused, not trying to be fecious. Velocity certainly is important; if I simply toss a .451", 250 grain chunk of lead at somebody, it's not going to do much damage.

Propell it at 1000 feet per second and it does a LOT.

May 18, 2003, 01:29 AM
Interesting PS:

In the last week or so, I've zapped two water-filled soda cans (I know, I know; hardly an accurate tissue simulant...) with both 7.62x39 FMJ and 5.45x39 FMJ.

The one hit with the 7.62 jumped in the air and spurted water everywhere, with a .30 cal hole in front and a slightly larger one in the back. The one hit with the 5.45 split wide open, as the bullet was (apparently) already starting to yaw; the two halves of the exit hole evinced a definitely elongated shape... (According to Fackler, at least, the 7.62x39 doesn't start to yaw until it's about 10 inches in, whereas the 5.45 is pretty much sideways at ten centimeters... :scrutiny: )

What does this mean in real life? I dunno, but it sure looked cool. ;)

May 18, 2003, 01:32 AM
what about .308?

Depends on the load. Some drill a .30 cal hole in one side and out the other. Some (Hirtenberger, f'rinstance) yaw and fragment like a giant M193 5.56 round... Think how many veterans there are walking around who have taken hits in the torso with 8mm Mauser, 7.62x54R, .303, .30-'06, 7.7 Jap, et cetera...

One big difference with rifle bullets is that softpoint or hollowpoint bullets dramatically increase the effectiveness on thin-skinned animals in the 100-200 lb. range. :uhoh:

May 18, 2003, 01:35 AM
So...with basic FMJ ammo, at close range, .308 is no more damaging than .38 Special? :scrutiny:

How perplexing. Does this mean a .38 +P hollowpoint will do worse on a badguy than a .308 ball ammunition round, since the pistol bullet will expand?

May 18, 2003, 01:40 AM
I wouldn't say "no more damaging"; any .308 load is going to have a larger temporary cavity, at least. Some will be much, much, much more devastating. Some will be .308" drill bits. Depends on the load.

Did you go read those articles?



May 18, 2003, 01:45 AM
Yes, I did. Both stated that a 12 gauge shotgun was very devastating, which makes sense. A bunch of holes is always better than one (at least, if you're giving instead of receiving).

But I had assumed that the 1800 fps velocity difference between .38 Spl and .308 Win would count for a LOT, regardless of bullet type. I mean, when a meteor strikes the earth, it doesn't make a huge crater because of it's size. A house sized asteroid can create a blast as powerful as a nuclear weapon, because moving at such velocity it creates a lot of energy when it hits something.

I haven't had physics since high school, but it seems to make sense to me...

May 18, 2003, 01:52 AM
Look at the wound profiles; it does create a much larger temporary cavity. But unless the bullet deforms or destabilizes, all it mostly does is drill a hole. A streamlined shape doesn't bleed off energy much; this is good if you want to drill deep holes. Soft tissue doesn't offer much resistance to a streamlined shape. (The earth offers a lot of resistance to the asteroid, hence all those Joules get released at once to run around and cause mischief... ;) )

Even if you are in the camp that believes energy transfer is the main wounding mechanism, how much energy has been transferred if a bullet zips in one side of a target at 3300 fps and out the other side at 3100 fps? ;)

May 18, 2003, 01:57 AM
So, the temporary cavity, as it's called, is essentially the shockwave the bullet creates? It would be the crater, I guess, but human tissue is elastic in nature and it stretches back (whereas the rock the earth is made out of does not, hence big craters).

But exactly what kind of damage is in the "temporary wound cavity"? Does that literally mean that the tissue was blown back that far, and that there was just empty space in there for a fraction of a second?

If so, ouch.

As an aside, it's interesting to see that I'm not the only one who's up all night (hence my screen name). Nothing like spending a Saturday night sitting at home, alone, watching TV Land and talking about guns on the Internet.

Yep, prime of my life...21 years old...*sigh*


Though, the tedium will be broken by the 4-mile run I have to go on this morning. Mercy, I hate running. There ARE things I hate more than running, mind you. They include getting hit in the crotch, having the Shingles, and falling down the stairs...:D

May 18, 2003, 02:16 AM
Hey, I ran 4 miles this evening. Just because.
(well, okay, it was partially because Baby Bear, the youngest guy in our squad, needed some PT. Too bad he couldn't maintain after 1/2 mile or so!) I hate marching even worse than running, though. Not sure if scuba is worse than marching, or not. I hate them both...

That's the thing so many people don't understand about firearm wounding mechanics. Bullet design is a major part of the equation. When one examines 7.62x39mm vs 5.56x45mm, it's not just fast/light vs heavy/slow. Put a good HP on the 7.62, and it'll cause more damage than any puny .223 ever could.


May 18, 2003, 02:20 AM
You know, I've been struggling for months to get myself to the point where I could actually GO 4 miles without stopping, and that's just chugging along, mind you.

I don't mind marching so much. We did this long ruck march last AT, up hill, down hill, back uphill, in REALLY hot weather, super thick woods, etc, and I'm the SAW gunner. My skinny runner man friend (who goes for a 10 mile run for FUN...) was amazed at how well I did that, when I have to struggle with the 2-mile on the APFT...guess I'm more of a beast of burden than a racer, hey? LOL (As a nice bonus, I've lost 25 or so lbs since October when I started getting back in shape...)

Anyway, is having expanding ammo REALLY that important in rifle effectiveness? The wound cavities between the two (according to Firearms Tactical) certainly show that soft point makes a much more devastating wound. But does this mean that 7.62x51mm FMJ is unlikely to incapacitate a person with one shot to the center of mass?

May 18, 2003, 02:27 AM

It's amazing what a 45-70 bullet will do to a soda can. .45 hole in front. In back... Back, what back? Just aluminum streamers sticking out in every direction.:cool:

May 18, 2003, 02:43 AM
As an aside to the effects of velocity on thin-skinned, soft-tissued targets (how politically correct is that? :p ) I've heard and read about the effects of a gut shot on deer or coyote with very high velocity solids from 22-250 and 220 Swift. There isn't always just an in and out hole, there is often times an equal diameter hole in and out and lots of nasty internals literally sucked out of the sort target.

In the scheme of things, a 158 Gr projectile at 900 fps is about the same as a 158 Gr projectile at 2,500 fps. The permanent wound cavity of a 38 Special that goes in and out with no expansion is going to be pretty similar to the one left by that 308 and the much higher velocity assuming they're both non-expanding bullets. The temporary wound cavity should almost always be larger and nastier with the higher velocity round, but different people and animals, those that are more tenacious and maybe those that are on certain amphetamines, aren't going to respond with the near instant shok that the rifle velocities offer. I've shot rabbits and possum with 22 solids and they went right through and the animal bolted so fast I couldn't even watch it through the scope to get another shot off. This has absolutely never happened, not even one time, with .223 and good bullets. Still, I would rather take my chances with a M14 than an M10. ;)

Whole different world when we talk about expanding rounds and the yawing principle on either end. I'd much rather take my chances with a 243 with an X-Bullet or a Nosler Partition than a 30-06 with FMJ if I want to decisively stop whatever it is that I want to stop... be it game animal or a bad guy.

Like Tamara said and I've said a couple times - if you think a FMJ 30-06 is decisive, I bet it wouldn't be difficult at all to find a veteran with an 8mm Mauser hole in him somewhere.

May 18, 2003, 07:26 AM
Posted on TFL in December -

' FWIW here's an extract from Black Hawk Down ( pages 276-277 of the version with the actor Josh Hartlett on the cover ) -

' Then two more holes poked through the tin with loud bangs and dirt flew and Lechner screamed.
He first felt a whipping sensation and then a crushing blow, as if an anvil had fallen on the lower half of his leg. The pain was unbearable. He gripped his upper leg and looked at a gaping hole in his leg.
The bullet had exploded his shinbone and traveled on down his leg and exited at his ankle, shredding the foot beneath the hole. '

And from the rest of the information given on Lt. Lechner, he took no further part in the firefight, and was eventually placed on a morphine drip. He also faced a long recovery after Oct. 3 '93.

So while most often fmj 7.62x39 might pass straight through. It seems it can cause grievous wounds depending on which part of the human anatomy it hits. '

May 18, 2003, 07:46 AM
Perhaps the proponents of each theory should each stand down range and take the others magic bullet and get back to us on the results. What?! No takers?? Comon, its for science and THR's database! We need to really know! :)
These "discussions" go on and on, usually with name calling at the end, but the results are always the same. Most things shot with them go down, reguardless what was being shot. Then again, shooting people and shooting critters usually has different results. Critters keep going until they are dead, because they dont know any different. People can die from non lethal wounds just because they were shot. Aint a TV education a wonderful thing? :) I'd be willing to bet, more people have died from the lowly 7.62x39 FMJ than any of the others.

May 18, 2003, 07:47 AM
I have actually seen people shot with both calibers (not both at once). In fact I have seen at least 4-5 people that had been shot with the 7.62x39 and many more than that with .38s over the years. I can assure you that it doesn't take any medical training to guess which one was shot with the rifle. II think that as rifles go, the 7.62x39 is pretty much at the bottom of the barrel, but when comparing it to a handgun cartridge, there is no contest.

Well actually now that I think about it, the last time I saw someone that was hit with a 7.62x39, there was two of them and one got hit in the back about right where your belt would go. There was no exit wound and I was kind of surprised that he seemed to be in as good a shape as he was. I am sure he required extensive surgery and will have a very long recovery, but if it was definitely not a one shot stop.

May 18, 2003, 08:13 AM
I don't know AK103K. To expand on your point of view about these discussions, 50% of the stuff that gets put up on The High Road are rehashs of the same old arguments...9mm vs. 45, .308 vs .223, creamy vs. crunchy...

But, occasionally, nuggets of wisdom slip through, and so far on this thread, there has been no name-calling.

I myself belong to the 'Energy Dump' camp. I mean, as everyone always says, I wouldn't step up and volunteer to be a target for a FMJ .308. But, a soft-point smaller bullet scares my more than a FMJ .30 caliber bullet. And in defensive situation, given the choice between a .308 FMJ, and a .308 deer hunting load, I'm going to use the deer-hunting load. I don't think there are many people out there that WOULD choose the FMJ, if price wasn't an issue.

Now, to address the original post, I'm not sure how far I would take the FMJ vs. Softpoint argument.

Like Tamara said, a FMJ .30-caliber bullet that enters at 3300fps, and exits at 3100fps is not operating at full efficiency for you. IN that case, you could say that the soft-point .38 actually has a 600FPS advantage over the rifle!

Now, that's through soft tissue...if you hit a bone(ribs, sternum) and start sending bone shards around the chest cavity, that is going to slow up the rifle cartridge, and change the equation again.

May 18, 2003, 09:44 AM
Oh, if the bullet hits bone, it's a different matter altogether, all right.

May 18, 2003, 11:52 AM
I strongly suspect that a HP 7.62x39 is going to far out-perform a HP .38 Special. FMJ bullets are for target practice, nothing more. The military only uses them because it has to, and even that is open to debate since we never ratified the Hague Convention.

Sir Galahad
May 18, 2003, 01:46 PM
A few points:

1.) In a situation where a automobile encases the target, the 7.62x39 FMJ is going to punch right through whereas a .38 Special (even a .38 FMJ) is going to flatten out and fall down against the metal. It was for that reason that the .38-44 and then the .357 Magnum was developed in the 1930s. To defeat autos and body armor. That's also the reason why some police (and guys like Dillinger as well) started using .38 Super in the 1911 platform.

2.) Some people think "oh, .38 Special bad" because of highly publicized "failures" of the round. Just like the highly publicized "failures" of the 9mm. Point is, until baddies started wearing armor and using vehicles in the commission of crimes increasingly, the .38 was fine for dispatching them. The .357 was a continuation of that cartridge to the next level power-wise to defeat the body armor and cars that were being used to get away in. So it was never the bullet diameter that was in question, it was the amount of powder behind it. LOTS of baddies (and non-baddies) have been put under by the humble .38; probably more so than the .357. Historically, the 9mm has probably bumped more people off out of Schmeissers (in its FMJ configuration) than the 9mm HPs in U.S. police handguns has. Yes, it's a SMG but the way some departments "spray and pray" with high-cap pistols, sometimes with several officers emptying their mags into one suspect, what's the dif, eh? Point is, being compared to the .38 Special is actually a compliment.

3.) The 7.62x39mm has more than likely killed more people, bad and good, all over the world, in the post-WW2 20th century, than any other caliber. This has more to do with the proliferation of the AK, AKM, SKS, and RPK as well as the ease by which such weapons were copied by communist satellite nations. But firearms do not get the reputation the AK has just because they were free or cheap. These weapons were never advertised in glossy arms contractors catalogs to the extent Western weapons were. It only took a few sent as military aid to a couple African nations for the whole continent to fall in love with it. The debate over 5.56 versus 7.62x39 will go on and on, but the fact remains that the 7.62x39 in capable hands will produce plenty of casualties. In addition, the 7.62x39 is ballistically similar to the .30-30, another caliber used with great effectiveness by American police from the turn of the century well up until the 1970s.

In closing, the 762x39 is going to be proving its effectiveness well up until the 22nd century and perhaps beyond. Well-preserved caches of these weapons and ammo are buried and hidden all over the world,
awaiting discovery.

May 18, 2003, 02:17 PM
AK103K, no one's resorted to any name calling. I simply read an article and have been asking a bunch of what I feel are legitimate questions, as I'm trying to learn. While these things often can become heated, this really isn't a 9mm vs. .45 thing, so much as it is me trying to understand the physics of wound/impact ballistics.

So, velocity starts to make a larger difference when the bullet hits a solid object, such as a bone?

May 18, 2003, 04:10 PM
I wasnt saying anyone was name calling Nightcrawler, just that historically, when someones favorite round gets picked on, these kind of threads tend to get a little "excited" :)

May 19, 2003, 01:47 AM
Who's picking on anything?

So far, the following highly controversial ( ;) ) statements seem to have been made:

1. Bullets poke holes in stuff.
2. If they don't yaw, deform, tumble, expand or do other funny stuff, they tend to poke holes about as large as the bullet.
3. There's a temporary cavity thingie.
4. Rifle bullets tend to have bigger temporary cavities.
5. Getting shot would suck.
6. FMJ rifle rounds are not, however, death rays.
7. When bone is hit, really, really bad stuff happens to the target.

Art Eatman
May 19, 2003, 08:56 AM
Re Tam's water cans: Good example of comparative energy release. I'd bet the AK bullet stayed in one piece, but the 5.45 bullet didn't just tumble; it came apart. The can rips, in either case, because in water the forces go up, down and sideways as well as towards the rear. The higher energy--due to velocity--of the 5.45 means greater forces and thus greater destruction.

I remember being a bit startled, the first time I shot a water-filled beer can with a .223, at how it flattened out to a piece of ragged sheet metal.

A 12-gauge shotgun is 0.729 inches in idameter. It's not uncommon for an expanding 30-caliber bullet of the .308/.30'06 class to attain 0.6 to 0.7 inches. This size of "push", at common 100-yard/200-yard velocities, means a larger wound channel than that of a tumbling solid--particularly the slower AK.

Nothing's absolute in an animal's body, of course. Hitting bone, or the difference between an abdominal hit and a muscle hit, means different types and amounts of damage...

Purely a guess, but the reported difference between the AK and a .38 special would derive from the differences in diameter and in shape. The latter might be an SWC or possibly have had a larger meplat, in modern ammo. I note that many complaints have been made about the way a round-nosed, 158-grain .38 special bullet over-penetrates without unduly incapacitating the recipient thereof.

There ain't no "always", other than it's no fun to get shot.

:), Art

May 19, 2003, 02:45 PM
As many of you may know from my posts I'm not a big fan of SKS/AK's (7.62x39) but If I'm know I'm going to a gun fight I'll take an SKS over a 38 Spec. any day.

I've seen numerous hits for the AK/SKS and they make a hole I don't want in me. I can't believe I'm defending the AK/SKS rifles.


Dave R
May 19, 2003, 03:47 PM
Yes, I can see where a 7.62 X 39 FMJ may not injure any worse than a .38.

I tried an experiment to see what kind of difference bullet construction makes. Lined up 2 rows of 5 x 1gal plastic milk jugs filled with water. Shot the first row with a .308 milsurp FMJ from 25 yards. Thought I missed, till I saw the water dribbling out of the .308 hole. Exit holes in each milk jug looked about the same.

Shot the 2nd line of jugs with a Remington 150gr Core Lokt. Holy cow. Water exploded everywhere. First jug became one sheet of plastic and landed several feet away. Other jugs shredded to a lesser degree.

Bullet design makes a BIG difference.

May 19, 2003, 09:09 PM
I have to wonder whether Peter G. Kokalis was comparing FMJ 7.62x39 to FMJ .38 special in his SG News article, or was he comparing 7,62x39 FNJ to JHP .38 Special?

In his article, he was describing how the M43 cartridge would not reliably yaw until after a depth deeper than the human body, therefore drilling a .311 hole. Clearly an expanding .38 special round would make a considerable larger wound (assuming it would penetrate as deeply and that may be a big assumption depending on the gear and clothing of the enemy soldier). So he was using a little sensationalism to prove his point.

May 19, 2003, 11:27 PM
Figures and statistics can be very useful, but they can also be very misleading. At some point you just have to rely on your common sense. I don't pretend to have any definitive knowledge or answers, but if I had to choose between getting shot with a .38 or a 7.62x39, it would be an easy choice.

July 26, 2003, 06:06 PM
I don't think the military uses FMJ just because of the Hague convention.

For one, it feeds more reliably. For another, it's cheaper, and when you're buying millions of rounds of ammunition, that can mean something.

But more importantly, it penetrates. The military switched to SS109 from they "mythically fragmenting super-lethal non-over-penetrating" 55 grain because you don't want your bullets fragmenting and stopping in the tree the bad guy is hiding behind, or his body armor, or whatever.

Being able to punch through light cover and concealment (sandbags, logs, helmets, etc.) is very important on the battlefield, especially on support weapons like machine guns and such.

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