Take Cover! Bullet Holes From The Real World

In a Facebook discussion on “Paint On Plastic The Group“, a modeler posted some photos of his excellent work simulating bullet holes on a model kit. He really made it look realistic – enough so that it reminded me of a time many years ago when I saw the real thing while in the Army. I’d had the “opportunity” to visit a place with lots of guns and people who shot them – and a few chose to do so at me!

I thought it might be of some interest to pass along some real world experience of how bullets in general will travel, impact a target, and what happens afterwards. Factoring in these items can really add to the realism and cohesion of any battle damage you may be modeling.

The effect of angle and distance

In any combat situation, whether it is a round being fired from a rifle at a person, to an aircraft firing a machine gun at another in a dogfight, the point of the rounds origin, and the angle at which it impacts the target, will affect how the round damages the target. And for the modeler, this can be used to depict a very realistic pattern.

Here’s an example – Illustration A, a simple case of several rounds being fired at a stationary target. (Simple unless you are on the receiving end!)

The rounds originate at the source, and travel to the target. (For this example, the distance is irrelevant.) Most automatic weapons will “pull” off of the original aiming point, and the shooter may sweep the weapon on way or another. In the diagram, this is illustrated by the various radiating lines of bullet travel.

Notice how this variance in the path of the bullet travel affects the point of impact. Each round is impacting the target at a slightly different angle.

Illustration A

In our second example, Illustration B, I’ve “moved” the source of the rounds closer to the target, relative to the first diagram. (Again, the actual distance for the sake of demonstration is irrelevant.) The angle of each bullet’s path changes, as well as the angle of how they impact the target. I changed the initial examples bullet paths to red, to illustrate the difference.

Illustration B

Of course, Illustration B assumes that both sets of bullet paths are impacting the same point. If we model it a bit different, using the same pattern from Illustration A, and super-imposing it on the origin point used in Illustration B, we quickly see that not only can distance and angle effect the angle of impact, but it can also change how far apart the rounds are spaced when they impact a target, as Illustration C shows.

And let’s not forget what happens if we change the angle of the target. Notice how the distance between bullet strikes increases? (See Illustration D)

This is useful information for the modeler, because it provides some solutions to answer the question “how would these bullet holes look on this particular part of my model?” Of course, I understand that I have probably over-illustrated this… modeling is just make-believe, when you get down to it. But taking just a bit from how it works in the real world can really step up the realism of your model’s battle damage.

And if that weren’t enough overthink, we can also consider…

How Bullets Impact A Target

Illustration E

When a bullet hits a target, several things can happen. If the bullet is large, or has a great deal of energy, and impacts straight on, it may simply make a hole, and exit out the other side. If the target is thick, or hardened, the bullet may impact and lodge itself into the target, creating a “crater” that is fairly uniform in shape.

In cases where the bullet is fired at an angle, the effect may be a bit different.

If the round penetrates the target completely, some of the energy will “push” the surface of the target in the same direction as the bullet travel, thus leaving a more oval type pattern, with the bullet entry point at one end, and the gouge in the target stretching away from that impact.

If the round doesn’t penetrate the target, it will likely glance off (that’s where ricochets come from!), and take some of the target with it, thus producing a gouge, but no actual hole.

Illustration E shows a simple example of this effect.

Thoroughly confused yet? Well how about let’s discuss…

Sorting Out Materials And Movement

So far, all of this discussion has been generally theoretical, based solely on illustrated points of origin and impact, drawn with Photoshop. Let’s look at some real world scenarios.

First, material will react differently to bullet strikes. Wood, concrete, steel, and composite armor all have different characteristics. A round small impacting a steel plate at a very sharp angle may produce little more than paint chips. The same steel plate, when impacted by a high velocity anti tank round, may have a hole blasted through it, with molten metal flying all around.

Composite armor often shows more of a shattering effect than a cratering effect. Wood will splinter, and whole pieces may sliver off in large chunks as the bullet’s energy is transferred to the target’s surface. So taking into consideration how your model’s surface may be affected will help determine how you proceed.

Movement may also inform how your battle damage will play out.

Consider two tanks in battle. One is camouflaged, partially hidden behind an earthen berm. We’ll call that one Tank A. The other tank, Tank B, is traveling at a slow pace, unaware of its enemy’s presence. Tank B is traveling towards Tank A generally, but not head on. Its front is turned at a slight angle, and it is about 2000 meters away.

Tank A has a slight, oblique view of Tank B’s tracks, and the commander tells the gunner to aim there. About the time Tank A’s commander is giving the order to fire, Tank B detects its presence, and immediately begins to turn directly towards Tank A, so that its strongest frontal armor will be facing it directly.

As Tank A fires, Tank B begins its turn. By the time the round impacts Tank B, its turn is almost complete, and the round now impacts a glancing blow along the rear armor skirt, almost parallel to Tank Bs line of travel.

The question for the modeler then is “how do you model that situation?” Thinking in terms of real world movement, angle, and distance will help drive how you actually model your battle damage.

Wrapping Up

Now- all of this is probably a perfect example of horrible overthink. And even in that regard, when you consider real world ballistics and material design, we’ve really only generalized. I’m sure a physicist and a weapons expert could factor in a thousand more variables. But my point is not to complicate planning your battle damage, but rather to give you just a few additional things to add in to the mix to help you tell your story. So ask yourself these questions-

  • How far away is the enemy?
  • How big is their gun? What type is it? (Machine gun, high explosive, armor-piercing, etc.)
  • What angle are they firing from, relative to where I want to place my battle damage?
  • What material is the point of impact made of? (Metal, composite, wood, paper mache…. 🙂 )

Answering these questions will really help make sure your battle damage tells the story of your model. Because believe me, it’s much better to imagine this happening to your plastic kit than facing the real thing! 😉

Photograph of wall with bullet holes is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Photographer is Colleen Taugher.

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