, Volume 127, Issue 4, pp 791-797
Date: 19 Dec 2012

Muzzle-loading weapons discharging spherical lead bullets: two case studies and experimental simulation using a skin–soap composite model

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


In current forensic practice, fatal injuries from black powder guns are rare events. In contact and close-range shots, the intensity of GSR deposition (soot, powder particles) is much greater than that in shots with smokeless powder ammunition. The same applies to any burning effects from the combustion gases. Besides, a wad of felt interposed between the propellant and the lead bullet may enter the wound channel. Apart from these findings seen in close-range shots, another characteristic feature results from the mostly spherical shape of the missiles causing maximum tissue damage at the entrance site. Two fatal injuries inflicted with muzzle-loading weapons are reported. In the first case, suicide was committed with a cal. 11.6 mm miniature cannon by firing a contact shot to the back of the neck. In test shots using black powder (1 and 2 g) as propellant, the mean bullet velocity measured 1 m away from the weapon was 87.11 and 146.85 m/s, respectively, corresponding to a kinetic energy of 32.49 and 92.95 J, respectively. Contact test shots to composite models consisting of ballistic soap covered by pig skin at the entrance site were evaluated by CT and revealed cone-like cavitations along the bullet path as known from spherical missiles and penetration depths up to 25 cm. The second case presented deals with a homicidal close-range shot discharged from a muzzle-loading percussion pistol cal. .44. The skin around the entrance site (root of the nose) was densely covered with blackish soot and powder particles, whereas the eyebrows and eyelashes showed singeing of the hairs. The flattened bullet and the wad had got stuck under the scalp of the occipital region. In both cases, there was a disproportionally large zone of tissue destruction in the initial parts of the wound tracks.

This study is dedicated to Prof. Dr. Gunther Geserick on the occasion of his 75th birthday.