10 ‘Must Knows’ To Survive A Gunshot Wound

In a time of social unrest and the general breaking down of society as a whole, the risks of getting shot are bound to increase. 

Is it possible to survive being shot? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Whether or not you survive the shooting will be determined by a number of factors.

Even though you may have no control over these factors, it may still help to get some ideas about what you are up against so that you can figure out what kinds of chances you are willing to take when it comes to interacting with others in a time of social collapse.

The Caliber or Gauge of the Ammo

Projectile weight and rate of speed are major determinants of whether you will live or die from a gunshot wound. You can estimate the speed a bullet will travel by the amount of gunpowder it has propelling it and the amount of weight the projectile itself has.

At first glance, if you look at projectile size, it would seem that smaller bullets will be more likely to injure than kill. The design of the casing, type of powder used, and size of the primer will determine how fast the projectile moves. If the projectile is small and moves fast, it can deliver a lethal impact.

On the other hand, if the projectile is larger and moves slower, it may not be lethal. Large size projectiles that move relatively fast are also considered lethal.

With shotgun ammo, you must consider where and how multiple projectiles will hit the target. Distance from the target, velocity of travel also play a key role in determining whether or not you will survive being shot with this kind of ammo.

The Design of the Bullet

The design of the bullet if it moves fast enough, will heat up because of friction between the bullet and the air it is moving through. As a result, higher velocity bullets require a metal jacket that will prevent the bullet from being damaged because of the heat or the initial acceleration.

On the other hand, lower velocity bullets, such as FMJ or full metal jacket ammo for handguns do far less damage because of the jacket. Other bullets also have special jackets that enable the projectile to expand or break apart in order to do more damage on impact.

When it comes to bullet design and the degree of damage it can do upon hitting a target, there is a balance that must be achieved between the design and speed at which the bullet moves. In some cases, the shape of the bullet combined with a high velocity may create a bullet that does less harm than expected because the bullet will pass through the target instead of lodge in it or expand.

Shot Placement: The Critical Determinant in a Lethal Shooting

For the purpose of this article, I am expanding the definition of shot placement to include the distance between the gun and target as well as where the bullet actually hits the target.

Despite all the uninformed opinions out there, a bullet in an area such as the hand or foot is not likely to be lethal regardless of the gun you shoot it from, how fast the gun shoots, the number of bullets in the magazine, or the ammo type. It does not matter if you are shooting with an AR-15 or a derringer.

By the same token, it also does not matter what kind of gun or the ammo you are using if the bullet hits the right part of a major organ. Under the right circumstances, any bullet can kill or not kill based on shot placement alone.

Ballistic Vests and Gear

One of the best ways to survive being shot by a handgun or a shotgun is to be wearing body armor. Body armor comes in different levels of protection from level 1 to 4. The higher the number, the better the vest will be at preventing the bullet from hitting your body.

A threat level 3A wrap around vest with either steel plates or ceramic tiles would offer the best protection against most ammo on the market these days. Some of the newer polymer or composite materials are also making it easier to produce lighter weight vests and other gear that can be useful.

To protect from high power rifles or assault rifles (as in machine guns) the vest would have to be covered with over lapping steel plates or ceramic tiles.

Unfortunately, this kind of gear is incredibly heavy, hot, and very impractical to wear. Your freedom of movement would be greatly impaired just like the armored knights of old.

Today, many people running around buying ballistic back packs, vests, and other gear do not understand that these items only stop the bullet. They do not stop the force behind the bullet. Instead, the bullet’s energy is transferred directly to the individual wearing it, and acts much like the forces that cause injury and death in a car accident.

Even through the bullets never entered the wearer’s body, there will still be impact internal injuries, broken bones, and outer skin cuts/bruising. In most cases the victim will survive, but will be in a lot of pain.

A Comparison of High And Low Velocity Bullet Wounds

Both high velocity and low velocity bullets can cause a lot of tissue damage to the human body. Most military style bullets are designed to stay intact after they impact. But this isn’t the case with hunting or self defense bullets.

They have the tendency to break up or fragment inside of the body, which causes a great deal of pain and suffering.

Low velocity bullet wounds can be easier to treat because the bullet doesn’t suck debris from outside the body into the wound as it passes through the tissue. That being said, if the bullet impacts bones and breaks them, or hits a major blood vessel or critical part of an organ, repairing the injury will be more challenging.

High velocity bullet wounds can be more dangerous because of the problems caused by debris from outside the body being deposited in the body and the exit wound. The debris can cause anaerobic infections, tetanus, and gaseous gangrene.

The shooting victim may have survived the initial shooting, but may pass away from infections caused by the bullet or the debris.

Gunshot Wound Characteristics and Likelihood of Survival

No matter whether a bullet wound proves to be lethal or not, the location of the injury plays a significant role in the outcome. As you can see from the list below, different types of tissue may also respond differently to the bullet.

Head Injuries

Even though most gunshots to the head are fatal, some people survive even if the bullet hits part of the brain. For survivors, the biggest problem is usually traumatic brain injury and its impact on the survivor’s quality of life.

Depending on how the bullet enters the skull, the force behind the projectile can interact with the opposite side of the skull and increase the amount of damage to brain tissue that does not come into contact with the bullet.

If the individual is shot in the face, there can be severe damage to the nose, eyes, mouth, or spinal cord. Damage to any of these areas can be fatal or non-fatal depending on which area is damaged and how bad.

Neck Injuries

If an individual is shot in the neck, there is a chance of spinal injuries or damage to veins or arteries. Even if spinal injuries do not lead to death, they can cause permanent paralysis as a quad or a paraplegic.

Damage to arteries or veins in the neck can cause severe blood loss. If you do survive this kind of injury, there is a chance of brain damage because of insufficient oxygen reaching the brain.

Heart and Lungs

Depending on the damage to these organs it can be lethal. If the heart is severely damaged it is possible for the individual to bleed out and die. If there is minor damage to the heart and lungs it is still possible to survive if you can get quick medical attention.

It should be noted that wearing a bullet proof vest is no guarantee that you will survive a gunshot to these areas. For example, if the bullet is heavy enough, and lands over the heart, the force or pressure can literally cause the heart to burst.

Stomach, intestines, liver, spleen, or kidneys

Any heavy damage to these areas by bullets can be fatal or at the very least, cause critical damage. In many cases, bullets striking these organs will cause ripping and tearing like injuries. If the wounds do not directly lead to death, secondary infections may prove deadly.

Typically, perforations of the large intestine are the most dangerous insofar as infections because the open wounds may become contaminated with fecal materials.

Arms and legs

Most gunshot injuries are not fatal to the arms or legs unless the bullet tears and rips the veins or arteries apart to cause severe blood loss. Most non-fatal injuries to the limbs include broken bones, nerve damage, or tendon damage.

The Physical And Mental Status Of The Victim

If an individual is in excellent physical and mental condition, there is an increased chance of surviving unless it is a true lethal kill shot. To survive a non-lethal shooting you must never give in to the idea that you are going to die.

To keep you on the right track in the aftermath of being shot, remember the ones you love, an focus your strength on the will to survive. If this doesn’t work for you, hate and revenge are also good reasons to fight to stay alive.

Never underestimate the will of a shooting victim that will do anything it takes to live and get even with the person who shot them.

Amount of Time Between the Shooting and Obtaining Medical Help

When it comes to being shot there are critical time limits that determine if you will live or die. If it was a lethal shot that damaged a vital organ, vein, or artery, death can occur in a matter of minutes from extreme blood loss.

If it was a non-lethal shot, the bleeding can still be excessive enough to cause death. This is why your first response to being shot should be to stop or slow up the bleeding as quickly as possible.  Use tourniquets, direct pressure over the wound, or anything else you can think of to stop the bleeding. Never try to remove the bullet on your own as this can start the bleeding all over again.

How Many Times Was The Victim Shot

In the case of a shooting victim being shot multiple times, there is a chance one or more bullets will hit a vital organ. On the other hand, even if all the bullets have a non-lethal placement, the victim can still bleed out because of all the body damage.

Type of Ground The Victim Fall’s On

The type of ground a person lands on after being shot can have an effect on whether the victim lives or dies, even if the bullet wounds were non-lethal in nature.

  • If the shooting victim with non-lethal injuries ends up on dry dirt, rocks, grass, low growing vines, or woodlands there is a good chance that they will survive because there is a reduced risk of secondary infection from these sources.
  • If the shooting victim fell into a somewhat shallow body of water (either fresh or saltwater) the risk of a secondary infection is high. It does not matter if the original shots were non-fatal or if the water was clean or polluted.
  • If the shooting victim falls into deep water either polluted or semi-clean, there is a good chance the victim will drown before rescue. Basically, in this case, water will flow into the wound and increase the body weight causing the body to sink quicker. Needless to say, water entering bullet holes in the lungs or throat will cause death fairly quickly.

As traumatic as being shot can be, it is entirely possible to survive the shooting and the aftermath.

While many factors are out of your control, you can still set your mind and focus on being determined to survive. You may also want to consider learning more about body armor and other devices that have some kind of ballistic shielding in them.

It is also very important to always be aware of your surroundings and make sure you know what to do if you suspect that someone is about to open fire nearby. As with many other types of injury, being able to avoid being hit by bullets in the first place is the best way to survive a shooting incident.

Written by

Fred Tyrrell is an Eagle Scout and retired police officer that loves to hunt, fish, hike, and camp with good friends and family. He is also a champion marksman (rifle, pistol, shotgun) and has direct experience with all of the major gun brands and their clones. Fred refers to himself as a "Southern gentleman" - the last of a dying way. He believes a man's word is his bond, and looks forward to teaching others what he has learned over the years. You can send Fred a message at editor [at] survivopedia.com.

Latest comments
  • A note to our readers:

    We have no control over the images sent in the emails or on the site. Our apologies for images connected to our articles that would be distressing and offensive to survivors, LEOs that have gone to these scenes, and veterans struggling with the aftermath of wartime shootings. It is not our intent to shock and traumatize.

    Carmela and Fred

  • the whole article is just fine except for one thing, it’s almost patronizing because it is all just common sense, of course if you get hit in the hand you will live. Of course if you get hit in a sensitive organ you are going to die or have more blood loss from multiple gunshots. Then again, I guess a lot of people do not have common sense though and they might benefit. But seriously, all it does is require thinking

    • I got shot in the head and survived. Is that trivial ???

      • yes it is

  • Fred and Carmela. You don’t have to apologize for ‘shocking or traumatizing’. As a journalist it’s not your purpose to monitor or assuage the often flawed knee-jerk subjective emotional responses of persons who should know better. Your mission is just to inform on the expansion of factual truth in the possibility that it will have value production.

    In the cases of these shootings, my personal–and far more experienced empirical knowledge than most people–opinion is that more people NEED to be Shocked and Traumatized to an extent as part of the alternate and more pragmatic way to mitigate gun violence as opposed to the totalitarian gun control and confiscation agenda of the Deep Statist entities now obviously comprised of traitors from both parties. Which is the fact of educating people as early as possible in life, as I believe you mentioned as part of several alternative solutions to gun laws in one of your excellent previous articles, so that people can learn and realize the terrible consequences and horrific life changing damage of using weapons–any weapons– to create mayhem and murder as a final solution to their personal problems or any other reason.? In other words, Anti-Constitutional gun control tyrants are too manifestly moronic to see that it’s the ‘mental’ part of ‘violence’ that is the problem. Not the means of perpetration.

    So I agree that it’s all about education, or maybe ‘re-education’ to better social integrations among ourselves you want to someday stop or prevent most of the violence. Something the coming Dark Nanny State doesn’t want you to develop within their agenda paradigm for control over us..

    • Well said, MM. And it has been said many times before, it’s not guns that kill people it’s the morons that have no respect for life and easy access to guns that kill people. People kill people not guns that kill people and it doesn’t help that Hollywood has romanticized and glamourized gun use. The demonic psychopaths running Hollywood should be at least partially held responsible for the gun situation in the United States,.

    • Mahatma,

      We were, and are concerned for the people who have survived a shooting, as well as for those who must go into those scenes. Images like the original posted this morning and with the email, we felt, were too much. We are grateful to our editor for making the requested change to the site.

      As you have read in many of my articles – I believe we need more unfettered access to more kinds of guns, not less. For me, it’s not about the government or deep state, it’s about human nature, self defense, and where our society is heading, in part, because of mind altering drugs paired with violent media.

      I don’t think graphic images are a viable path to teaching people the consequences of taking a life. If they were – given how intense and graphic modern video games are (including the 3D immersion forms) we’d have a very passive society in which no one would want to kill another human.

  • Good article, well done! DOL

  • Shooting someone should only be done as a last resort in a live or die situation. I do not look forward to having to shoot someone if the SHTF. If I have the chance, and I do say IF, then they would get one verbal warning. If they did not heed that warning they would get one shot into a non=lethal part of the body. If after that their intent was to still kill me then I would have no choice but to try and put them down as quickly as possible. Obviously killing another human being is a very serious matter and should not be undertaken lightly. I have heard that it changes you forever and I can believe that. In a SHTF situation we all have a better chance of surviving if we all work together. The mad dogs cannot be tolerated and should be excised as quickly as possible for the good of the whole. If a whole gang comes after you at once that changes the logistics.

  • Perhaps a good follow-up article to this one would be to offer suggestions of first aid for gun shot wounds rather than just documenting the odds of surviving such an injury. Granted, the best chance of survival would be to get someone to a hospital, but during a widespread emergency or in the wilderness far from medical care, emergency care is critical to the survival of the victim, even if the location of the injury is a hand or other non-fatal location.

  • As a former Federal Agent and Rangemaster, I understand the reason bad guys live and good guys do not, is because bad guys expect to be shot and is just part of doing business. Whereas, good guys are John Wayne and do not expect to get shot and when they do, they just give up and die. When I first started we were taught, if you get shot you will die. Later, we were told not to teach that because too many good guys just gave up and died.

  • The most IMPORTANT thing to surviving a shooting or any traumatic event is one’s MINDSET. and keeping calm! Such was not really mentioned in the article NOR can such be stressed enough or too much. DO NOT PANIC for being shot,….PANIC KILLS EVERYTIME

    Female pads and tampons make EXCELLENT bandages…. and they are sterile……… Trivia the products were originally developed for bandages in WWI and turned into products for women and being used for bandages again…..

    MAKE SURE THE PERSON IS BREATHING and AIRWAY IS CLEAR! Position the neck and head so blood does not run into the airway.

    Also SCHOCK was not mentioned.



    People have been told if they get shot they will die! NO MATTER WHERE THE ARE SHOT or how minor or severe the wound.



    All GOOD GUYs must use MINIMUN FORCE.. EVERYONE should read and familiarize themselves with a copy of Use of Force/ Use of Deadly Force /Use of Lethal Force (or what ever it may be called in your area). READ IT,REREAD it, REREAD it AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN. YOUR LIFE Will be decided on it! It determines IF you have a legitimate shooting or charged with murder/manslaughter or other killing or attempted murder they can charge you with.
    The document explains how and what Force one must/ may legally use BEFORE using DEADLY/LETHAL Force…..Such as using Verbal commands to stop repeated 3 times. to what means of Force is considered in your area that escalates up to actual using a firearm.

    When it comes to actual using our firearm,,…
    ALWAYS AIM FOR CENTER MASS! It gives one the GREATEST Chance/Probability of a hit on the target/ BAD GUY/S and TO STOP the THREAT.. Aiming to wound is not suggested or wanted …Doing such reduces the chance of a hit on the target/BAD GUY/S is decreased to near nothing.
    Also aiming in such manner increases the odds of an INNOCENT/GOOD GUY/S being hit..
    You are going to be stressed, breathing hard, sweating, perhaps shaking……. your AIM is not the same as it is on the range and the paper target is not shooting back.
    Think of it as roughly reducing your target size from say from the size of the torso down to smaller than a golf ball……

    NOW another thing about your state …..YOU MUST KNOW ABOUT YOUR STATE…… Is YOUR STATE a “CASTLE DOCTRINE LAW”?

    DOES YOUR State make you go to a SAFE ROOM BEFORE you can shoot???

    DOES Your state require you to FLEE/RUNAWAY???
    This is basic first aid everyone should know………
    BEFORE USING A TOURNIQUET LEARN HOW and WHEN TO USE ONE……….YOU MAY needlessly cost someone a Limb
    so I did not mention it.

    Also ANY AND ALL First Aid medical courses they can.


  • Well the article lost me at the very beginning. I will be sure to ask anyone that is going to shoot me what caliber and bullet type they are going to use so I can prepare. Bottom line IF you get shot you need to stop the bleeding,get the bullet out and find some way to clean the wound. You have a much higher chance of dying from the infection than the wound itself

  • I was shot 7 times in the back with .22 Stingers at less than 15 feet. Obviously I survived. Many surgeries later, and with lingering nerve damage, I can only attribute it to my USMC attitude of survival. Some can die of a simple paper cut. I am NOT one of them.

  • Everyone should get a basic first aid/cpr course,and carry a trauma kit…Everyone !!

    • As part of our certification as professional licensed hunting guides, we were required to renew our basic first aid classes every two years Some of us took it farther and spent time in the local ER to watch the pros. I still carry my basic kit in my day pack in the truck. Never know when you’ll need it. I have used it more than once. In the back country far from help, and to local highways and accidents.

  • Two questions, one practical and one philosophical.

    (1). “Poor man” says to remove the bullet from the person who is shot. The article says do not remove the bullet when someone is shot because it may cause more bleeding. I imagine both claims are true in different circumstances. What are the variations in place, degree of medical knowledge, medical supplies, length of time since being shot, proximity to a hospital or medical facility (and likelihood of its being staffed), and other factors that determine whether to remove the bullet? And then how best do you disinfect a bullet wound in the field?

    (2). Several people here talk about the seriousness with which to consider the act of shooting another person and the importance of adequate training, ability to make quick, accurate decisions, and using firearms appropriate to the situation, whether during a home invasion or when you’re out in the cabin you stocked years before TSHTF. I agree and appreciate we all, or maybe at least most of us, have taken the time to be smart about using weapons. It’s not just the mindset of the person who’s been shot that’s key to their survival, but the mindset of any shooter also needs to be as clear and calm as possible, too.

    My question is what do you say to people who aren’t just jerking your chain and aren’t particularly partisan and are not just part of the crowd having a knee jerk response against any weapon whatsoever. These are friends and neighbors who are very reasonable people and still believe that smaller availability of guns will lead to fewer crimes and especially mass shooters.

    If we no longer sell AR-15s or any semiautomatic weapons or bump stocks, the argument goes, there are fewer mentally ill people who buy theme. And then there eat a workplace, dance floor, or concert, say that we need to have fewer guns in this country because then the mentally ill will have more trouble finding one.

    Yes, it’s not the guns necessarily that are causing these mass shootings, the mentally fragile people who grab a gun and shoot other people

    I don’t want to ignite a big gun debate here so let me get more specific: we are always going to have nuts out there—people who are mentally ill or sadistic or psychopaths or just plain off-kilter or too impulsive or have huge anger issues. How do we do a good job at keeping some seriously mentally ill people from getting their hands on one?

    Also, thank you Yosemite for such a clear summary of what to use/what to do in the case of a gunshot wound.

    Adding to the list of unusual but highly effective ways to stop bleeding (beyond women’s menstrual pads, as suggested above, which is kind of an awesome, idea. Cheaper, too, probably, than a comparably sized bandage.

    When I lived up in the Outer Hebrides off the West Coast of Scotland, I learned that the sphagnum moss that grew in many places on the treeless islands was what WWI soldiers used to staunch a wound and disinfect it because it’s a natural astringent. Maybe there’s something like that in the US.