An Uneven Hail of Bullets


Verified SOF
Jan 15, 2008

Gunshot wounds to the head are a major cause of death among soldiers in combat but little is known about where bullets are more likely to impact. A study just published in the Journal of Trauma looked at common bullet entry points among soldiers who died in combat and found clear patterns – but the researchers are not sure why.

The study, led by physician Yuval Ran, looked at Israeli combat deaths from 2000 to 2004 and tracked where bullet entries appeared on the skull (illustrated above), finding that the lower back (occipital region) and front of the temple areas (anterior-temporal regions) were most likely.

The results of our study show that in a combat setting, the occipital and anterior-temporal regions are most frequently hit, as opposed to the anterior-parietal and the posterior-temporal regions, which are rarely hit. Moreover, most of the parietal injuries were in proximity to the occipital bone. In an attempt to explain these findings, we presented them to sniper instructors, only to learn that snipers always aim to center mass, and aiming at high distances to different skull areas is not probable. At this time, we have no plausible theory to explain these findings.

Your first thought may be that the distribution is because helmets better protect certain parts of the head, but as the researchers note, helmets have been shown to be almost entirely ineffective in protecting against direct gunfire.

Getting shot in the head is not just an unfortunate event, it is the result of the interaction between the shooter and the target, and each of their behaviours could affect where bullets are more likely to land.

The researchers also note that the results are strikingly similar to the only other study looking at the location of fatal gunshot wounds to the head, despite the fact that this earlier study only included civilian shootings.

While there is no current theory as to why fatal gunshot wounds are more likely to be distributed as they are, the article suggests that this could be used to save lives in combat.

Effective helmets are not worn by soldiers because sufficient armouring would make them too heavy, but simply adding protective armour to the most common areas would make for a lighter helmet that could stop the majority of fatal bullet wounds.
I think those kinds of wound patters have a simple explanation. The head is what faces an enemy combatant, especially if the recipient of the wound is in the prone or behind some kind of cover. Also, with most combatants aiming center mass, I think we would expect to see wounds in the lower back since the upper back would likely be covered with body armor.
In my experience most people get shot in the legs. Has anyone else experienced this? I mean enemy and friendly. Obviously not usually fatal.
Aren't fatal wounds supposed to be clustered in areas that cause fatality?
Places like the brain stem (occipital lobe) controls all organ functions, instant death.
Temporal Lobe, primary motor cortex, get shot here and you may live but you aren't
going anywhere under your own steam anytime soon.
Most center mass shots to the thorax and head result in adding to the statistics of 100%
dead in six minutes.

Improvements in tactics and technology come from these kinds of studies but covering
four years of engagements with one force's data is not going to give you an acurate picture.
In my experience most people get shot in the legs. Has anyone else experienced this? I mean enemy and friendly. Obviously not usually fatal.

“there is overwhelming evidence
that the majority of survivable war injuries since the
beginning of time have been predominantly extremity injuries.”

MILITARY MEDICINE, 172, 11:1, 2007
This study's author does not seem to take into account that shooters may be affected in their aim by the helmets themselves. Bet if the IDF changed their helmets to armored visor/earmuff combos to protect the areas seen in this study, injury patterns would change.