Swift | Silent | Deadly

Shooting Through Brush…with Pistols

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I like to shoot my carry pistol in some uncommon ways. I occasionally go to the range after dark (a wintertime activity, since it closes at 18:30). Once in a while I make it a point to go to the range in the rain. Pretty regularly I shoot my carry gun at 100 yards. I even jumped at the chance to shoot up a car with with a revolver, back when I was carrying a wheelgun. Recently I was a the range and needed to walk to the truck. As was walking back to the firing line I noticed a stand of pretty heavy brush between me and my target. That gave me an idea: how would my 9mm pistol perform when shooting through brush?

To regular Swift Silent Deadly readers, I apologize for the break in comms over the past couple of months. I’ve had a lot going on personally and professionally and haven’t had the time to dedicate to the blog that I would have liked. I have some really in-depth, high-quality stuff in the works, so thanks for hanging in there!

Shooting Through Brush

Shooting through brush is generally thought of as a task for rifles. Large-caliber rifles firing heavy bullets are often touted as “brush guns.” I figured this was a task for which my pistol was not exceptionally well-suited, but also figured it was worth finding out. I’m in the backcountry often, so this isn’t the most ridiculous test. I hike on a very frequent basis, and my house is in the woods. If I had take a shot at a feral raccoon, a bear, or even a violent human, what could sort of accuracy could I reasonably expect?

I set up a clean IDPA practice target at 15 yards behind the brush. I set myself up a couple yards behind the brush and fired fifty rounds, trying my best to contact some obstruction with each shot. Lining up the sights with some sort of brush AND the target was a bit of a challenge but not undoable.

I checked on my target periodically throughout this exercise. As it progressed I began shooting larger and larger saplings. I found that my bullets were still relatively accurate.

The picture below shows my target at the conclusion of firing 50 rounds of ball ammo. It’s honestly not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. There is one, single bullet out of of the -1 zone. Admittedly I don’t have perfect shot accountability because of the rat hole in the middle, but as tightly as the shots are grouped I am not lead to believe that a bullet missed the paper entirely.

Shooting Through Brush, Take 2

After this little exercise I was intrigued. I thought about shooting through brush every time I went to the range. I had a few other questions, like “would my carry ammo behave differently?” Today I decided to do it again, but to be just a bit more scientific in my test. To be clear this is not a scientific test, just some slightly more refined observations. There are simply too many variables to fully wring this out and reach broadly applicable conclusions. The results here are my results today, and what I might expect with the same gun and ammo in the future.

The gun used was my Nighthawk Custom 1911 chambered in 9mm. I fired a total of 68 rounds: 50 Blazer Brass 124-grain FMJ and 18 rounds of 124-grain Federal HST +P. Targets were IDPA practice targets. I set the target up 5 yards from the brush, and set myself up two yards behind the forward line of the brush, so my distance to the target was 7 yards. The first thing I did was fire a 10-round control group.

10-round control group, 7 yards.

The control group was good with all shots within a couple of inches. This is an acceptable group, fired offhand in rapid fire.

Part I: Small Brush

Next I fired 10 rounds of ball ammo through “small” brush. This was typically briars/brambles and thin shoots off saplings, no more than about 1/4-inch in diameter.

Sometimes the bullets centered the obstruction and cut it neatly in half. Sometimes the bullet would have a glancing shot

I was pleasantly surprised with the results. Every shot is still well within the eight-inch -0 ring. All of these shots would be “combat effective.” If I ever have the misfortune of being in a gunfight, I would hope to achieve that level of accuracy.

10 more rounds through light brush, 7 yards.

Unfortunately I lost perfect shot accountability even this early in the test due to the mess in the middle of the target. However I’m confident each round is within the -0 ring.

Part II: Thick Brush

Next, I wanted to see what the gun would do against heavier stuff. I tried to hit saplings that were about thumb-sized – maybe 1/2-inch in diameter. I assumed the bullets would have a hard time with these obstacles.

Again, sometimes the bullets hit head-on and plowed right through with little deflection. Sometimes they struck glancing blows, yet the glancing blows didn’t seem to adversely affect them…at least not too badly.

Thirty shots on paper: 10 control, 10 through small brush, and 10 through heavy brush. Thought I don’t have perfect shot accountability I’m pretty confident every shot is inside the 8-inch circle. I’m pretty impressed so far.

10 more rounds through heavy brush, 7 yards.

Part III: Thick Brush with HSTs

The 124-grain FMJ ammo has yielded some damn impressive results. Would my carry ammo perform as well? The FMJ bullets are smooth and streamlined. The 9mm HST bullet has a sharp leading edge that might be more prone to “catching” on heavy brush…or may be it would cut its way through? There’s only one way to find out.

I loaded up 18 rounds (my normal carry loadout: 8+1 and a spare 9-round magazine). I fired both magazines through a mix of light and heavy brush.

Again, I got some head-on, dead center shots, and plenty of glancing shots. When the branch in question is growing on an angle it can be difficult to dead-center it, while keeping the gun on target. At least that’s my excuse.

The group definitely opened up compared to the ball, but not terribly. I half expected really bad results. I thought the hollow points might begin to open up or something else that would cause poor accuracy. Also keep in mind that some of the poor accuracy here may be due to yours truly. Again, aiming at a branch that isn’t straight up and down, while also trying to aim at a target 5 yards in front of that leaves a lot of room for error.

Eighteen Federal HST 124-grain +P JHP through light and heavy brush, 7 yards.

It also looks like a couple of the Federal HSTs were tumbling when they hit. That’s certainly not ideal. However, if someone was presenting a deadly-force threat to me on the other side of some brush, I’m confident I could still make accurate shots. I wouldn’t take a hostage-rescue shot or anything, but I believe I could get the job done against an attacker.

Part IV: Crazy Thick Brush

At this point I had 20 rounds of ball loaded in my mags, so I decided to up the ante a bit. I moved the target back to 15 yards, then I shot through some very thick brush. The brush was so thick I had trouble even seeing the target at times, like the photo below illustrates (target is dead center in the photo).

I fired 20 rounds. Some of them hit the brush and a few seemed to fly through without hitting anything, as evidenced by the brush not reacting. If you look carefully in the photo you can see a few saplings that have been cut down. I imagine some of the bullets hit multiple pieces of brush. The target below shows the results.

I have lost bullet accountability here – zooming in I count 37 rounds of 40 fired in this group on paper. It’s possible that some of the holes contain more than one bullet, but it’s also 100% plausible that I have some rounds off paper here.

Some bullets here are obviously tumbling. I would not feel comfortable firing through brush this thick. I’ve also introduced two variables here – is it the thickness of the brush or the distance that is causing the group to open up? I believe it is the extra-thick brush, based on my least “test” which was fired at 15 yards, but we can’t be sure.

Shooting Through Brush: What Can We Learn From This?

So what did we learn? I learned how my handgun performs when fired through light, heavy, and really heavy brush. I learned that I would feel comfortable shooting through light brush if it saved me a few seconds in a fight. I’d fire through heavy brush if I needed to, but would attempt not to. And I wouldn’t fire through really heavy/thick brush; I’d look for an open shooting lane because I can’t count on my bullets landing where I want them to go. Really, finding an open shooting lane is the better option in all of these scenarios, anyway. You run less risk of inaccuracy, your bullet tumbling, and you keep it intact so it will perform how it was designed to perform.

Keep in mind that these are only my results. Your .38 loaded with wadcutters might perform very differently. Your Winchester Ranger ammo with a completely different profile may perform differently still. Your short-barrel Shield might lower velocity enough to cause substantively different results. If possible you should get out and test your own gun/ammo combo.

I realize that I’m insanely lucky to have access to the range facility I currently used. In my entire life I’ve never had access to such an awesome range. I can do almost anything I want and I have it (almost) entirely to myself. Most of you don’t have this kind of access, either. If you do, I challenge you to see what your pistol can do in these outlier scenarios. The odds that you will need this skill are infinitesimally small but…shooting this test was fun! And if you find yourself in that outlier, you wont’ have to wonder how your gun shoots.

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