Episode 137: Boomerang Bullet

Air Date: January 4, 2010

A person firing a gun can accidentally kill himself if his bullet ricochets off three surfaces and returns to him.

busted

Adam and Jamie set up three steel plates at 90-degree angles, along with a .45 caliber pistol and a cardboard cutout of Jamie behind it. In three trials with different types of ammunition (unjacketed lead, full metal jacket, and total metal jacket) all of the bullets fragmented after striking the first plate. A fourth trial, using a hardened steel ball bearing in a bullet casing, led to three ricochets and a hit on the shooter; however, the projectile struck at a less-than-lethal speed.

Other materials were then investigated for use as ricochet surfaces, starting with measurements of ricochet angles and speeds from only one plate. Cinder block pavers were chosen over lead due to the latter’s tendency to make bullets tumble and lose too much speed. When Adam and Jamie set up three pavers and fired a total metal jecket round, they observed three ricochets and a less-than-lethal hit on the Jamie cutout.

Finally, the MythBusters bent a piece of metal plumbing pipe into a curve to serve as a bullet guide, firing into one end toward a block of ballistic gelatin at the other end. A 46-inch (117 cm) diameter curve, forming nearly a full circle, resulted in lethal speed and penetration on the target. Adam and Jamie declared the myth busted, owing to the slow speed of the bullet after three ricochets.

A medieval army laying siege to a castle could have used nearby coniferous trees as an improvised catapult to hurl diseased corpses over the wall.

busted

The Build Team began by visiting a tree plantation to determine the amount of bending force a typical conifer could withstand without breaking. Their first test, on a Gray Pine, gave a result of 2,000 pounds (907 kg); they loaded Buster into a second such tree and applied the same force, but he only fell to the ground when they released it.

Returning to the workshop, they set up some small-scale tests with saplings of three different types – Douglas-fir, redwood, and Alaskan cedar – and a miniature Buster figure. Preliminary trials showed that the fir could give the longest range for the same bending angle, so the team trimmed off the limbs and attached a tether to keep the payload in place until the right moment. With these modifications, the sapling flung the dummy all the way to the other end of the shop.

At the plantation, the team found a full-size Douglas-fir and set it up in the same way, aiming at a bouncy castle 100 feet (30 m) away with a 40-foot (12 m) balloon “wall”. With 2,400 pounds (1,089 kg) of bending force on the trunk, Buster flew almost all the way to the castle, but hit the ground just short of it. Because they were unable to hit their target even with the benefit of modern machinery and cutting off all the limbs, the team declared the myth busted.

47 Comments

  1. Rick says:

    When they put buster on the first tree, I almost died. Take another look at it.
    OMG, buster has wood!!!!!

  2. HR says:

    The show needs someone to help make the results creditable. Every time I watch the show I would like to give it a call and explain where you went wrong!

    I have ran ranges for the military for 27 years and have seen rounds hit the bullet catch and come back; once even getting struck in the chest by a ricochet. Like most of the results with firearms Your BUSTED not the myth!

    As for the medieval army laying siege to a castle using nearby coniferous trees as an improvised catapult to hurl diseased corpses over the wall, you missed the key word; “TREES” which suggests the weapon was more like a sling shot. Test that and see how you do.

  3. Daniel says:

    Unfortunately, HR, you don’t seem to listen very well. Adam very clearly stated that they know that ricochets can kill and cause damage. The myth was a 3 RICOCHET hit coming BACK TO THE SHOOTER….not a single ricochet, not a double, or an 8….Three. Pay attention to the show, or shut up and don’t watch it.

    You then claim the show is not scientific, but then in your next paragraph claim they are wrong based on an ANECDOTE! I’m sorry, but I’ll take everything they do on the show with high speed cameras, and gauges, and measurement to your “I saw it happen once” bull crap ANECDOTE any day. Anecdotes are NOT evidence and NEVER will be, in any form of scientific method.

  4. Kolja says:

    The approach they took to the tree catapult was disappointing. That the stick-buster-to-the-tree method wasn’t going to work well is not surprising. Instead they could have based their approach on certain age old techniques that would’ve been well known at the time: build a sling shot. That way you’d get more of a whip effect than with the tree alone. Even better approach: pick 2 smaller, more flexible trees and build a sling shot between them with a tarp or something. I was really surprised they didn’t try this. It seems obvious.

  5. Mazzoul says:

    I have to agree with Kolja. but i also have to add that some trees are closer to a wall then 100′ (30m) how far short did buster land? now move the tree that much closer and maybe a little more and now theres is a diseased corpses on the other side of the wall

    • Dayanne says:

      My son loves air hockey, but I was leery of seipdnng any significant amount of money on a unit that might be too small or of mediocre quality. Face of Frenzy came to the rescue. We have a 36 48 table that this barely fits on, but this allows us to play it off the floor. No, the pucks don’t glide the same as an actual air hockey table you need to give it just a bit more oomph and the puck can occasionally escape under the bands on the long sides of the rink, but these are not issues and just require an adjustment of style and strategy. Games are fast and fun, and the fact that it doesn’t have to plug in and is light enough to move easily are huge bonuses. Also, the quality of the rink, pucks and paddles seems plenty sturdy. I’m sure we’ll be enjoying this for years.

  6. Nav says:

    Some literature suggest that only the heads of the diseased were shoot over the castle wall.

  7. Will says:

    The old timers used to tell stories about how on cattle drives, if the herd of cattle were in a lightning storm and were to get struck by lightning, that the lightning would bounce off the cattle’s horns and dance from one horn to another across the herd. Much like the seen on Lonesome Dove with Robert Duval when the sand storm hits. That would be sweet to see that confirmed.

  8. Lloyd says:

    can you please test if you can melt cheese from the heat of a gunshot

    • Jason says:

      Guns and cheese… I like your thinking my friend! I second this, I also would like some cheese melting gunshot goodness!

      • Alex says:

        use a heatgun and it’ll work!!

  9. Russ says:

    I know a guy named Lee who shot a 7.62×39 round out of an AK-47 clone into the ground. The bullet ricocheted and hit him in the right shoulder. It nicked a rib, bruised his right lung and exited under his right shoulder blade (he didn’t notice he was shot for like 15 seconds just thought the gun kicked really hard). You can say it’s busted but Lee would disagree. I have pictures of the drain tube coming out of his back. A BULLET CAN RICOCHET SUFFICIENTLY TO KILL THE SHOOTER!!!! 1 inch over and lee would be dead.

    • Alex says:

      the myth is that three ricochets would produce the same effect. …. … good job paying attention

  10. jim says:

    Russ, please read what Daniel had to say:

    Daniel:

    Unfortunately, HR(Russ), you don’t seem to listen very well. Adam very clearly stated that they know that ricochets can kill and cause damage. The myth was a 3 RICOCHET hit coming BACK TO THE SHOOTER….not a single ricochet, not a double, or an 8….Three. Pay attention to the show…..

  11. Dray says:

    Just a little thing. The lands around castles were ALWAYS cleared of trees so that enemy forces could not sneak up on the castle. Maybe a slingshot would work, but then it wouldn’t be a catapault, would it?
    As for HR, you state that the myth is busted because a ricochet round hit you in the chest. If the myth were really busted, you would be DEAD.
    I do wish I knew the speed of the bullet in each part of its travel, because TC Arms makes a single shot pistol up to 30-30 caliber. Maybe that would still have enough energy after 3 bounces to be fatal

    • Cayle says:

      UYGdly Very true! Makes a change to see somoene spell it out like that. :)

  12. Francisco Arias says:

    Quisiera saber si la tención de 100000 voltios que existe en una descarga electroestática causa daños en el cuerpo humano

  13. russ says:

    Jim stated “The myth was a 3 RICOCHET hit coming BACK TO THE SHOOTER…”
    The name of the experiment was BOOMERANG BULLET. 1 bounce or 20 I think the idea was to find out if a bullet could return to the shooter with lethal force. (3 just makes sense) Lee’s ricochet was a 1 in a million shot but it did an about face and returned inches from the barrel of the gun at almost an exact reverse trajectory. IT MAY HAVE RICOCHETED 3 TIMES we will never know. Also, I’ll bet that shot could not be duplicated by the best shooter on any time line. (it was a fluke)
    …just sayin’

  14. Nicky Hansard says:

    Russ ‘The name of the experiment was BOOMERANG BULLET. 1 bounce or 20 I think the idea was to find out if a bullet could return to the shooter with lethal force. (3 just makes sense) Lee’s ricochet was a 1 in a million shot but it did an about face and returned inches from the barrel of the gun at almost an exact reverse trajectory. IT MAY HAVE RICOCHETED 3 TIMES we will never know. Also, I’ll bet that shot could not be duplicated by the best shooter on any time line. (it was a fluke)
    …just sayin’’

    It was pointed out you were wrong, deal with it and stop making excuses. You tried to call BS even though you obviously missed an important part of the myth. Why can’t you just say… ‘Oh I am sorry I didn’t realize it was 3 ricochets’ instead of rambling.

  15. Tim says:

    Ever see the you tube video of cell phone radiation setting off popcorn?

  16. Chris says:

    this comment is about a different episode about placing a flag pole in bycle spokes and flip it u said that it was busted but i had it happen to me u forgot one very important aspect when u busted the myth u had no one on the bike and carry the momentem forward it’s not busted i got injured pretty badly from it

  17. Paul Malley says:

    I had a range 50 yards on my block in country Australia. Plink beer cans with the HV .22.
    I had a ricochet which came of a chunk of steel
    used as a bullet stop and killed one of the neighbour’s peacocks which was unwisely hiding behind a near buy mango tree.
    The “Fuz” practice shooting their targets at ridiculously short range, 5 /10 yards.
    The odd silly bugger shooting a swinging target at this distance with his Glock has found it to be even more pain full than shooting his toes off.

  18. Steve says:

    To those that complain of Mythbuster’s lack of scientific rigor, I refer them to one of my favorite xkcd cartoons: http://xkcd.com/397/.

    I work in scientific research and while the Mythbusters methods don’t always meet the level of scientific rigor we’d expect from even the greenest graduate student, they do serve the purpose of at least getting people to think about experiment and the scientific method. I’ll take that any day over the vast majority of crapola you find oozing out of the Glass Teat.

  19. Seba says:

    yes, good entertainment AND science. believe or not this show is also famous in germany. Greets from GERMANY!

  20. Saifon says:

    The bullet shot threw the glass thing is not really accurate.. sonic boom happens when the object breaks the sound barrier… they shot the gun from metres away.. it broke the sound barrier at the moment it left the barrel… so the shockwave.. was metres away… they wanted to know if the shockwave would break the glass… not the bullet.. god guys… this aint rocket science… surprised even the the mythbusters missed this one

  21. jokke says:

    like the show. good entertainment and science.hello from fi(n)nish jokke.

  22. navy says:

    I do not know where to leave this message, could somebody send it further.
    In the Finnish Navy we had to tow a military ship until we got the Mercedes benz diesels running again.
    The batteries had no electricity left to start the engines, only a little.
    Confimed or busted?

  23. Randy says:

    Interesting. In theory a ship screw(s) freewheeling while under tow would perhaps transmit enough energy to recharge a battery (after a period of time)as a hydroelectric system in reverse or at least allow a “jumpstart”, if the engines were carefully engaged.

    I’d recommend this for a test.

  24. Carlos Cambra says:

    I see an episode on tv where a pig experiment cut in half with the impact of a steel cable stretched to breaking. The Panama Canal Authority have been several cases of people breaking when the locomotive cables that guide the ships in transit through the canal, just that the tension is 30 tons and the diameter of the wires is a inch.

  25. navy says:

    To Randy: the batteries were not recharged, because it was unnecessary in diesel motors. the question is how to make the motors running fast enough, so that they start without electric power. It was a question of main engines, that are not producing electricity. There are other motor for that purpose.The ship was 35 meters one meter is appr 3 feet.
    Thank for your interest.

  26. navy says:

    To Randy: Because you were interested in the ship question, you will get the answer.
    The military ship was under tow so long, that the screws were running free fast enough. They were running the axles and then the couplings were connected to the main motors. They started without electricity!
    Confirmed.

  27. NAVY says:

    To somebody who thinks this is only entertainment: Yes, this is very good entertainment and very good science, too.
    Confirmed.

  28. James Lambertt says:

    why not use the pine tree lumber to make a catapult. or try a more elastic tree in different area and use something to hold the body in place like the leather on the back of a sling shot to hold the projectile.

  29. James Lambertt says:

    that and cut the branches off the tree to prevent wind resistance and adjust the height of buster in the tree. a notch could hold him in a sitting position. there are a lot of ways that some myths would work out that have been busted in the past.

  30. leslie krause says:

    Your catapult for throwing a body over a castle wall lacked range because you were throwing the body parallel to the ground. Restrain the catapult throwing arm to 45 degrees and you double time that gravity must act on the body. This will double the distance the body will travel.

  31. Candace says:

    Is it true that if little kids drink alot of coffee everyday will they stop growing???

  32. john says:

    to Candace it is a myth pure and simple that moms and dads told their kids to keep them from drinking coffee. coffee will not stunt the growth of of a kid but that is the least of the problems that a mom or a dad would be worried abt hello caffeine and kid dont make good bed fellows. watch hoodwinked or over the hedge and you will understand

  33. GWB says:

    It is premature to call the tree catapult, “busted”.

    In medieval trebuchets, the missile was loaded into a sling attached by a rope to the end of the firing arm. On release, the sling followed a curved trajectory, developing significantly more speed than the end of the rigid firing arm. (Effectively, the sling greatly improves conversion of potential to kinetic energy).

    The experiment should be repeated placing Buster in a sling attached by a rope close to the top of the tree. The difficulty will be in designing the sling both to hold buster and to release him at the right moment. It may help to tie Buster into a ball, also improving his aerodynamic efficiency. Alternatively one could fire Buster’s head only, although further investigation would be required as to how effectively a head will transmit disease!

  34. Sammy says:

    Way back in 1965, when I was on the shooting team of my R.O.T.C. unit, we used .22 shorts. The targets were 25 feet away. One day some idiot who had no business on the range, he did not even know how to use the safety, fired off a round that hit in the corner, bouncing off two walls and hit the instructer in the chest. He did not even get a bruise.

  35. Logak says:

    Guys, the myth was about the tree itself being used as a catapult. Not a slingshot in the trees.

    Again, my only quibble with that myth is rigidity in the numerical values. I doubt anyone was making any official measurements of how far away the tree was from the castle – they could be off by five feet too far away and that might be enough to get Buster over the edge. But that’s their decision to make, and if they want to stick to the estimated numbers, then that’s their call.

  36. Brandon says:

    on the subject of bullets making unusual flight paths, I have always wondered if that scene in Sukiyaki Western Django, where Yoshitsune fires his gun up into the wind and the bullet arcs down and hits his target without revealing where he really was, had any merit.
    I know it would take immense planning and many tries to pull it off, but my question is can it be done and would the bullet hit with enough force to do any damage?

  37. colinrodale says:

    Regarding the tree myth, with the amount of work and know-how required by a medieval army to make this work, they could have just cut the tree down and built a catapult.

  38. tom b. says:

    Brandon: A quick google search determines that the Mythbusters covered vertically fired bullets. News reports suggest that falling bullets “may” be deadly – there are confirmed cases of falling bullets killing, however, studies suggest non-lethal velocities. I suspect that the scenario you are referring to is veritably impossible because of the precision calculations necessary. For one, the wind would need to be consistent and secondly, primer and weapon deposit buildups would make the specific feat relatively inaccurate. Furthermore, it is unlikely that a human could fire a weapon with enough precision to reliably hit a specific target in your scenario.

  39. Ryan says:

    I wonder how many times the bullet ricocheted in the pipe. I also wonder if it would have had the same return velocity if the bullet had been shot at a sheet of rounded metal with the same radius as the pipe.

  40. ERIC says:

    My brother {stupid} shot his 40 cal glock at a tree.. i heard him shooting..My next door neighbor called and asked if i was shooting i said no ,but the bullet ricocheted of the tree going at a nearly 90% turn and tumbled into the side of the neighbors house.it was a full metal jacket, and him and my neighbor dont like each other now.all my neighbor wanted was the siding of his house repaired… people LIKE THIS NEED their concealed weapon carry permit taken.. He is dangerous and dos nt care about other people//his name is John Hairston

  41. Darren says:

    Hey guys I was watching ur ricochet show and my dad says a normal bullet could lose quite a bit of speed during flight which could affect how the bullet bounces. Less speed, less bullet damage. Just a thought, luv ur show

  42. Kanay says:

    My son loves air hockey, but I was leery of spinnedg any significant amount of money on a unit that might be too small or of mediocre quality. Face of Frenzy came to the rescue. We have a 36 48 table that this barely fits on, but this allows us to play it off the floor. No, the pucks don’t glide the same as an actual air hockey table you need to give it just a bit more oomph and the puck can occasionally escape under the bands on the long sides of the rink, but these are not issues and just require an adjustment of style and strategy. Games are fast and fun, and the fact that it doesn’t have to plug in and is light enough to move easily are huge bonuses. Also, the quality of the rink, pucks and paddles seems plenty sturdy. I’m sure we’ll be enjoying this for years.

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