Hunting personality Keith Warren of High Road Hunting recently released a YouTube video (see below) of him conducting a deer management hunt with a .50 BMG rifle. What is remarkable is that Keith takes a headshot at a deer and claims that though he missed, the shockwave created from the 750-grain Hornady A-Max bullet is what killed the animal.
In the video, Keith mentions that the “vacuum from the round sucked the eyes out of the head.” Analyzing the video, I have come to a different conclusion. I believe the projectile actually hit the whitetail. In fact, my take is that the animal was shot in its left eye, the bullet traveled through the orbit into the lacrimal bone, and then out the right eye.
Circled in red you can see the bullet moving away from the deer. The bullet appears to have been slightly deflected. At 5:09 you can also see the bullet’s trace as it slightly deflects to the left as though it hit a solid medium such as osseous tissue.
Keith is shooting a Barrett Model 82A1 with a 20-inch barrel. As mentioned, the round is a 750-grain Hornady A-Max, which has an aluminum tip and was not designed for hunting, nor expansion. The deer appears to be about 50 yards away. At 50 yards the Hornady A-Max would have a velocity of 2,650 fps, 11,000 ft/lbs of energy and in my opinion, would simply punch through tissue without a problem.
If the Hornady round did enter the eye socket, as I suspect, it would then pass through the lacrimal bone then the adjacent eye socket. Eleven thousand foot pounds of energy would send an internal shockwave into the brain. Essentially causing a massive stroke and depolarization of the central nervous system.
A hit to the lacrimal bone would also damage the sinus cavity. It would explain the blood seeping from the deer’s nasal passages and mouth. The deer also had blood splatter on its right ear. This is indicative of a projectile pushing blood matter out of the right eye. At 5:16 you can also see a great expulsion of gas from the deer’s lungs as the diaphragm and intercostal muscles spasm.
Keith released a statement explaining that he and his taxidermist did a necropsy of the deer’s skull, notably the brain cavity, and found no loss of bone. The brain cavity of a deer sits behind the eyes. I bet if Keith and his taxidermist carefully exposed the brain and peeled back the dura and arachnoid layers they would find a hematoma in the frontal lobe.
The million dollar question is, can a near miss from a .50 BMG round be fatal? I do not think so. YouTube star DemolitionRanch fired numerous .50 BMG rounds past stacked cards and red Solo cups at damn near point blank range. There was little to no effect. I believe Keith’s video is perpetuating a myth. I have personally read accounts and talked to hunters who have shot deer with .50 BMGs. The rounds typically punch through a deer with little fanfare.
I need to ask my Editor to get me a .50 BMG rifle. This way we can test the effects of an oblique shockwave on mediums such as glass, sheetrock, and ballistic gelatin. This will give us a good idea about the PSI that is generated from a .50 BMG. We can then compare that to data from blast injury research. My guess is that the results will be underwhelming.