How painful is a gunshot?
As some others have mentioned, I suspect it will vary from person to person, bullet to bullet, the situation etc. In 1990 I was shot in the chest at point blank range with a 22 LR rifle. As guns and bullets go a 22 is almost the bottom in terms of size and power and in comparison to others are not very loud. One thing that has always stood out to me was how loud the gun shot sounded. I guess its the perspective of being on the other side of the gun, cause it was incredibly loud to me. The bullet entered my chest just left of center and according to the surgeon it missed my aorta by 2mm leaving powder burns on my heart. It punctured my lung and exited out my back, causing my lung to collapse and resulting in a sucking chest wound. Luckily (which can be said about many things in this story) it did not hit ribs going in or out.
The pain was delayed slightly but very sharp, very pin point. I think I went into shock almost immediately because the whole experience after the noise from the gun shot itself seemed very dream like and incredibly slow motion. The memory is clear as if it was yesterday, and yet what I experienced felt surreal. I fell backward onto a bed, which from the time of the shot to reaching the bed probably wasn’t more than 3 maybe 5 seconds. In my mind however it was like seeing the world in slow motion. Understanding what was happening seemed to take 5 minutes. Then falling backwards another 5 minutes all the while I am processing what was happening. In this way the pain was magnified, as it seemed to take so long. I percieved that I was in that pain for a long long time but really wasnt but a few seconds.
The actual moment of impact was a sharp sudden type of pain that came and left as fast. A few seconds after reaching the bed is when the real pain started. The sharp sudden pain returned and became steady and increasing pain. I have described as an elephant sitting on my chest. Really its more like an elephant sitting on a knife that is in my chest. Secondarily but pretty horrible was the fact that I couldn’t breath. I was trying desperately to get air but couldn’t. My lung had collapsed. The sudden sharp pain gradually lessened and I was filled with a dull, aching kind of feeling . It wasn’t so bad, that pain anyway, what was bad was not being able to breath. Even though my other lung was working I felt like I couldn’t get enough air and was suffocating, slowly. This pain was not as intense but as one might imagine there is a panic sort of anxious psychological fear that set upon me as I lay there trying to breath, and also trying yell for help but I couldn’t get enough air to properly yell. My attempts to yell were stopped as I began coughing up blood. My brother heard and came to investigate. With in maybe 5 minutes of my family responding I was feeling much better, not really feeling pain but feeling like I was slowly suffocating. Waking up from surgery after having my chest cracked open (like anyone who has open heart surgery) was unreal, horribly painful, but thankfully brief, and followed with morphine and a return to medically induced “coma” , a welcome nothingness when feeling such pain. Not sure if this really answers the question but that’s my story.
At 12, my brother was accidentally shot by a friend in the leg at point-blank range by a shotgun with a buckshot round. His leg was blown nearly off. He was in shock immediately and then unconscious. He was flown directly to a children’s hospital and had several surgeries to put his leg back together. He was so close to dying but pulled through; the end was just the beginning. He was in so much pain for months. His pain continues to this day. Initially you could not touch the bed he was on or even his blanket because of the pain it caused. He would have to learn how to walk again. After 3 months he went home from the hospital and the real work began.
He was shot as a growing child still so he physically recovered 99%… but he was never the same person. The drugs caused wild mood swings. To function he needed pain killers. The drugs ultimately became the addiction. The addiction ultimately became the injury that never healed. Pains, both real and ghost would come and he would medicate himself. When the subscriptions ran out he began buying them off the street. He fell behind in school and never graduated. He never played sports again; martial arts no longer an option. He spent his teenage years using drugs or in a drug rehab; he was either on the mend or on the slipper slope using. His choices; his mistakes but still an unfair plight. The drugs rule his life still to this day.
The impact to the family was overwhelming too. Everyday at the hospital. My parents were zombies with everything going on. The hospital wasn’t close so eating out, traveling took its toll. We were broke and using retirement funds to exist. My other brother fell apart too. My senior in high school affectively came to an end; sports, prom you name it.
For the shooter, he was just a kid and his life was never the same either. Too big a burden for an adolescent led to depression and trouble. It drove him to medical school where he ultimately flunked out. I have known him my whole life and to this day, I do not think he has ever been able to look me in the eyes without tearing up.
The gun was being played with by boys being boys. There was obviously some best practices not being followed. The gun did have a gun lock on it that failed back when these devices where just coming to market. They were not designed to work with that type of gun. There was lawsuits and money awarded but it all went to drug rehabs in the end.
Short answer: It depends. According to many reports, in many cases, the bullet is moving fast enough to destroy the nerves in the immediate area. So pain is limited, at least for a time. In the case of shrapnel, which is moving comparatively slowly, it can be much more painful.
From Homage To Catalonia, by George Orwell:
It was at the corner of the parapet, at five o’clock in the morning. This was always a dangerous time, because we had the dawn at our backs, and if you stuck your head above the parapet it was clearly outlined against the sky. I was talking to the sentries preparatory to changing the guard. Suddenly, in the very middle of saying something, I felt — it is very hard to describe what I felt, though I remember it with the utmost vividness.
Roughly speaking it was the sensation of being at the centre of an explosion. There seemed to be a loud bang and a blinding flash of light all round me, and I felt a tremendous shock — no pain, only a violent shock, such as you get from an electric terminal; with it a sense of utter weakness, a feeling of being stricken and shrivelled up to nothing. The sand-bags in front of me receded into immense distance. I fancy you would feel much the same if you were struck by lightning. I knew immediately that I was hit, but because of the seeming bang and flash I thought it was a rifle nearby that had gone off accidentally and shot me. All this happened in a space of time much less than a second. The next moment my knees crumpled up and I was falling, my head hitting the ground with a violent bang which, to my relief, did not hurt. I had a numb, dazed feeling, a consciousness of being very badly hurt, but no pain in the ordinary sense.
The American sentry I had been talking to had started forward. ‘Gosh! Are you hit?’ People gathered round. There was the usual fuss — ‘Lift him up! Where’s he hit? Get his shirt open!’ etc., etc. The American called for a knife to cut my shirt open. I knew that there was one in my pocket and tried to get it out, but discovered that my right arm was paralysed. Not being in pain, I felt a vague satisfaction. This ought to please my wife, I thought; she had always wanted me to be wounded, which would save me from being killed when the great battle came. It was only now that it occurred to me to wonder where I was hit, and how badly; I could feel nothing, but I was conscious that the bullet had struck me somewhere in the front of the body. When I tried to speak I found that I had no voice, only a faint squeak, but at the second attempt I managed to ask where I was hit. In the throat, they said. Harry Webb, our stretcher-bearer, had brought a bandage and one of the little bottles of alcohol they gave us for field-dressings. As they lifted me up a lot of blood poured out of my mouth, and I heard a Spaniard behind me say that the bullet had gone clean through my neck. I felt the alcohol, which at ordinary times would sting like the devil, splash on to the wound as a pleasant coolness
They had just got me on to the stretcher when my paralysed right arm came to life and began hurting damnably. At the time I imagined that I must have broken it in falling; but the pain reassured me, for I knew that your sensations do not become more acute when you are dying. I began to feel more normal and to be sorry for the four poor devils who were sweating and slithering with the stretcher on their shoulders. It was a mile and a half to the ambulance, and vile going, over lumpy, slippery tracks. I knew what a sweat it was, having helped to carry a wounded man down a day or two earlier. The leaves of the silver poplars which, in places, fringed our trenches brushed against my face; I thought what a good thing it was to be alive in a world where silver poplars grow. But all the while the pain in my arm was diabolical, making me swear and then try not to swear, because every time I breathed too hard the blood bubbled out of my mouth.
Well I speak from experience being that I have been shot 2 times. The first shot was a 45acp “through and through” in my right lower leg. The bullet ricochet off the ground entered the middle of the calf and exited just left of knee cap.I had to use crutches for about 2–3 months.. The second bullet is still in and x-Ray shows it in the middle of the calf. I don’t know the caliber of that bullet as I was shot in Iraq from who never found out.. Probably some F-Stick The bullet they left in due to the fact that more damage would be caused by removing the bullet.. They hurt like hell,felt like a horrible leg cramp and as if you “wacked” it with a piece of rebar. There was no “warm” or “burning” sensation. The pain was “”intense” but not so bad that I was worried about going into “shock”. The first one I had to use crutches for close to 3 months as I couldn’t stretch leg fully straight it was in a 45angle about 4″-6″ from the ground. I slowly stretched it till I finally put it flat footed on the ground..The second one I was walking with a cane for about 1–2 weeks and after that with a little “limp” that I still have to this day.. I get bad leg cramps when it’s cold out esp in the right leg. The cramps in right leg get so bad as it feels like the muscle locked up. I can’t stretch it full flat when i sit on my butt and put it straight in front and try and touch it with my head either. The doctor was amazed that I didn’t hit any bone,artery or anything vital. A clean “”through and through”. It was the magic bullet?? The left leg was the same somehow it didn’t hit the bone either. The left gunshot was a ricochet off a grader. It hit the front bucket metal and pinged off it hitting me. The doctors said more muscle or tissue damage would occur if the tried to take it out. They also said that the very seldom sew up G.S.W. as there “dirty” wounds and leave open so body can expell piecea if they try and come out. They didnt sew up either one.. They healed up in about 4–5 weeks and scab was gone healed completly in 7–8 weeks. I was givin antibiotics and pain pills.The body will form a calcium cover like a shell over the bullet. It’s in a few pieces and there are a few pieces of the jacket visible also and no it won’t set of a metal detector as lead and copper are non-magnetic. I asked about any“”lead” poisoning issues and doctors said no.. The best answer he gave me was “think how many WWII,Korea and Vietnam vets there are with more shit in them then you” There’s guys out there that would light up an x-ray like a Christmas tree and they don’t have any issues.. Like I said bad cramps and aches in the winter and a slight limp. I can stand all day long and hell I made it through 4 years of the Marines with first bullet. I got the second one from 5 years in the Air Force. I’m one lucky S.O.B.!!!!!
Several other answers have made the points that the pain will vary with the type of bullet one is struck by, and the anatomical location of the wound. I will try and add a (hopefully) useful neuroscience perspective to this question.
Pain has two necessary components: a noxious tissue injury or stimulus, and a working mechanism to perceive the injury and interpret the sensation as painful. Without the second, there is no “pain”. For example, third degree burns destroy the nerve endings in the burned tissue so there is no sensation if pain.
For gunshots, then, the location matters a great deal. For starters, a sniper shot with a high-powered rifle hitting the target’s head is probably not painful, as loss of consciousness and death may occur so rapidly as to prevent any perception of pain. Also, there are few if any pain fibers in the brain, so a less destructive brain gunshot, for example an attempted suicide with a .22 handgun producing a unilateral frontal lobe injury, may not be very painful even with a fully awake patient (this happens). A shot which transacts or destroys a given level of the spinal cord frequently interrupts all pain pathways from that level and below, so no pain signals get to the brain—ergo, no pain perception. As some have recounted there may be more pain from gunshots to more highly innervated areas of the body surface such as the hands or face. Bone injuries from bullets, like other causes of fractures, are thought to generally be more painful than injuries that only affect soft tissues although wounds to some organs such as the liver are also likely to be excruciating. As others have also stated there may be almost no pain initially then severe pain when one sees the injury or after a few minutes elapse; also shock with severe injuries reduces consciousness and thus the perception of pain.
I have a good answer to this but for reasons that will become apparent I must offer this answer anonymously. I was working as a bank teller several years ago when I was shot in a bank robbery. The bullet entered and exited my penis, entered my upper thigh right where the thigh meets the crotch area, and lodged near the skin about a third of the way down the back of my leg. I immediately went down to the ground while the robber jumped the counter and cleaned out my cash drawer. Right away it hurt pretty bad both in the junk and in the leg, but I don’t recall it as being so excruciating that I felt like passing out or anything. I’d describe the penile and leg entry wounds as feeling like a bad knife cut, and having the round lodged in my leg as feeling like an ice cube under there. Maybe it was being in shock, and then on pain meds, but I never lost consciousness that day. I had a vasectomy years later and I’d say that hurt worse.
I was helicoptered to the hospital, which was cool. They removed the round from my leg and said it was a .22 caliber. An FBI agent came in and took the slug for evidence. They stitched me up and I was home within a couple of days. The urologist said if it had been a .38 or larger caliber weapon I “would no longer have a penis.” Fortunately I ended up with no long term effects whatsoever. Somehow it didn’t hit anything significant to sexual or urinary function. Before they did the surgery to fix the wound they had me drink a Sprite and pee while they x-rayed me to see if there were any urinary issues (I was able to stand with assistance). I even woke up with an erection in the hospital the next day. They compared the leg wound to an athlete’s hamstring tear and said it would take about 6 weeks to recover from, which was about right. When I went home I think I was on some kind of narcotic pain meds for a few days and then ibuprofen a little while or so after that, but that was it. I recall the leg pain during recovery being more painful than “the other part.” That other part healed very quickly internally and externally, and within a couple of weeks I was fully functional (wink wink) with no pain. I had a very small scar from the stitches for a while but eventually even that faded away, and I’m a happy father of 4.
A handful of people know the full story but now when I tell the story it’s interesting enough to simply say I was shot in the leg.
Where are all the soldiers with their answers to this?
I was shot in the left leg, right below the knee with a 22 rifle in 1982 at Barksdale, AFB, LA while out hunting rabbits with a friend of mine. The bullet was a 22LR, went in one side and came down on the other in a downward trajectory.
At first I didn’t feel anything. I felt something strange and looked down and my leg was covered in blood. It took a second for it to register but when it did I yelled, “you fucking shot me!” and took off running towards the road in a complete panic. It didn’t take long for me to come to my senses though and I stopped, took off my shirt, grabbed a stick and used it to twist the shirt as tight as I could in an attempt to stop the bleeding.
By this time my leg felt as large as a tree trunk but there was still no pain so I began limping towards the road, leaning on the guy who shot me. In a short time though, within 10 minutes I’d guess, it began hurting and I mean hurting bad. I could no longer put weight in my leg and the terrain was such that it just wasn’t possible for me to go any further.
My friend ran to the road and flagged down a passerby. They both came to where I was and I was able to lean on both of them and hopped and was half carried by both of them. This took quite some time because we were fairly deep in the woods and quite a distance from the road.
That journey to the vehicle was excruciatingly painful. My leg by this time felt like it had swollen to the size of a 747 even though it didn’t look that way. I could not feel my leg if I touched it, however if I hit it on something the pain was almost unbearable (it stayed like this for almost 20 years and it still feels strange when I rub my hand over my leg)
By the time we got to the car I was almost passed out due to loss of blood because the tourniquet I made came loose and at some point I did pass out once we were in the car and on the way to the hospital.
I woke up screaming in the ER due to the DR’s scrubbing the entry and exits wounds on my leg. They used what looked like a sponge on one end and some type of scrubbing material on the other and some reddish liquid. They were not gentle.
I screamed even louder and they had to hold me down as they took a tube and shoved it into the entry wound and pulled it out of the exit wound. I have no idea why they didn’t put me under but they didn’t.
It was a horrible day.
Unfortunately watching too much television I was going to a bar with friends and we came up on a man beating up a woman. This was pre cell phone. I was young and it seemed cut and dried as to what a man would do under these circumstances. I have a pretty bad flash temper. I ran and tackled the man. He grabbed my hair and ripped out a pretty big chunk. We got back up and he viciously kicked me in the bone of my shin. My side thought was I thought this was a fist fight. I was bigger then him. I grabbed him and threw him to the ground. In a fit of anger I was banging his head on the concrete sidewalk. My friends fearing I would kill him pulled me off. All their attention was on me. The guy I had stopped from beating up stood up and shot me in the stomach and right hand. He ran off.
Ok so my first thought was he really didn’t shoot me right? I didn’t feel any pain. I put my hand up saw the hole and the blood. When I saw the blood I felt a rush of pain in my hand then my leg. My later thinking was that it took a minute for the adrenaline to subside in me from the fight. The shot in my thigh glanced off the bone. It was a 38 short bullet. My last memory was that the pain rotated from head to shin to hand to leg bone pain. It was not excrutiating because I was in medical shock. From there I was pain medicine out of it. Everything was immobilized so I couldn’t move. I had stomach spasms from cutting through my stomach muscles to fix the stomach gunshot. Your stomach muscles tighten up and you wouldn’t voluntarily move because it hurt.
That is my gunshot pain story. My lesson was don’t come to a street fight with only your fists. Secondly let the police handle these things.
The end is that the woman never thanked me or acknowledged what I had done throughout the trial. Crazily the shooter apologized. He thanked me for living. Then he said I saved his life. He had been going down the drug addiction tube. He had been thinking the only way out was suicide. Fortunately he shot me and cleaned up in jail.
The biggest part of the answer is in the “gun” word. The second is in the projectile that came from that “gun”. Obviously if one is hit by a gun projectile such as a howitzer, 88 or such most likely there is not pain at all as the explosion of the projectile and gases moving at speeds 2+ faster than sound means the person is destroyed before the signal for pain reaches the brain (if the brain is still there).
Next is the category of simple bullets; a piece of lead traveling at fast speed and hitting a person. Now the third and fourth parts come into play; how far and how fast. If a bullet hits a no-resistance section of the body (meat only, no bones) then the faster the bullet the lesser the initial pain.
The fifth element is the condition of the shooting. One shot during a battle is not even going to notice being shot in the fleshy parts of arms or leg (not the femoral artery). Without hitting any resistance, a fast bullet going through is barely noticeable. If the person is shot in an everyday normal environment; walking the street, sitting at a cafe, etc. obviously there is some change that is noticeable. The initial pain is not more than a bump but a numbers, and as the would gets “cold” the pain increases.
The sixth element is the “where” part. Hands are extremely sensitive, so is the face; the calves, not as much.
The next issue is when the projectile is not just a simple piece of lead, but it is made specially for expansion. Expandable, dumdum and other terms used for a bullet that upon impact shall flatten (pancake) to twice as its size and more. Hollow points are made for this reason. A hollow point shot at a distance of 20–40 yards from a powerful handgun can hit and break bones which the pain is immense and almost immediate from the bone part not the flesh part. Hollow points can also ricochet around upon entrance and “fizzle” or bounce around and damage the internal parts immensely. The pain is severe, mostly putting the person into shock. The exploding bullets; hollow points that might have been loaded with fulminate or other exploding substances can actually act as a small grenade once hitting and entering, totally destroying the body,
In my case, I was shot in two separate occasions. One was of getting shot with a 9mm from a handgun in Afghanistan during war. I didn’t notice it until apparently several seconds later when I moved my arm to change magazine and my arm didn’t act normal. the fear, adrenaline and moving and the action takes a lot of the senses of touch away; you are hit by debris, objects flying and falling on you. The pain came a bit later and then the extraction was the worst pain. I was lucky, the bullet came at the angle which it didn’t hit bones. The scar healed and it looks like a moon crater or old fashion pox vaccination.
The second time was when a bullet hit me in my upper great area but lucking it came so far and was weak enough that it didn’t go through the vest completely and just bruised the skin and didn’t enter, but it felt like a sting/sharp punch. It was a 7.62mm; I had it for years till I gave it to a friend who asked for it. The area was blue and black for several weeks and my shoulder hurt with movement. If it had been shot 20–30 meters closer, most likely I would not make it alive.
Mine did not hurt at all. I was shot in the upper right arm, just below the joint. I suspect shock and adrenaline took care of any potential pain. The bullet entered from the front and shattered the humerus, leaving a “gap” of about 2 inches where there used to be solid bone. The deltoid muscle was made into hamburger. The exit wound bled profusely, but on the front, there was just a hole the size of the bullet . I knew I was hit, but felt no pain. Just before I was shot, I suffered a severe head wound ( a wound which caused a 3″ hole in my forehead skull requiring a plate – my helmet likely saved my life. That wound did not hurt, either – shock is a wonderful painkiller) so I was probably already in shock when the bullet went through. I was crawling when I was shot (I should have “low-crawled” as hands & knees was, obviously, too high, but I was in a hurry as I was quickly bleeding out).
Interestingly, when I was lying on the table, covered with blood, and the docs were working on me, they asked, “Where else are you hurt?”. I said, “The inside of my right knee” ( it stung, like a cigarette burn). They looked and said, “Nothing there, you are fine”.
I think the bullet that went through my arm grazed my leg, maybe not enough to draw blood, but enough to “sting”. Given how drastic my other wounds were, it was probably barely noticeable. But, even today, there is a faint scar there.
Also, it could depend upon where (which part of the body) one was shot, and, the severity of the wound. I’ve noticed when I have experienced a major impact/hit or injury, there is little or no (immediate) pain. But, on the other hand, the smaller, less traumatic injuries are nearly always painful.
I have never been shot, but I have talked to a number of people who have been, and know some medical people with substantial experience treating gunshot wounds.
The short answer is mostly it depends on where you are hit, and what with.
A single small pellet , from a shotgun at long range ( for a shot gun ) can be compared to a bee sting or small accidental cut with a kitchen knife. (At sixty yards number 8 birdshot will not not generally penetrate a lightweight canvas jacket of the sort often worn by hunters in moderately cold weather. Large shot, known as buckshot, might go all the way thru a skinny person front to rear at that range. )
An ordinary twenty two from some distance away in a major muscle hurts a lot, but you can still function with your right arm if hit in the left arm etc. You could probably bind the wound yourself and drive yourself to a doctor, if the bullet didn’t hit the bone.
More serious wounds will make you scream and beg for mercy and black out.
It is important to note that the pain is often delayed for a few seconds maybe up to a few minutes. If the wound is numb, not painful, it is going to start hurting like hell very shortly.
Please note this is hearsay but faithfully repeated from conversations with nurses and other medical people.
I do know about the shotgun from personal experience using one many years but have not been personally hit. At short ranges a semiautomatic shotgun loaded with buckshot is as or more dangerous than a full fledged assault rifle. A ” full grown” shot gun loaded with “buy them anywhere” magnum “shells” packs a punch equal to an elephant rifle.
During an offensive operation in the Bosnian war, I got hit by a machine gun bullet in my right shoulder.
First, I didn’t even realize that it was a bullet that had hit me. It felt as if someone had given me a friendly clap on my shoulder, just a little bit stronger.
I fell down and put my hand under my shirt and when I looked at my fingers, they were blood red. That was the moment when I realized that I got hit.
The enemy was still shooting at me, so I was too busy to feel any pain. When I arrived at a safe location, I removed my gear and my shirt and one of my buddies inspected the wound. He said “Yip, that’s from a bullet!” and that was how I learned that it was a gunshot that had hit me.
I felt a burning sensation and I slowly lost the ability to move my arm. I still felt no pain, though. I was driven to a hospital and after they gave me some painkillers and a bottle of beer, I felt great!
The next two days, I was relying on painkillers, but it wasn’t a big deal. I just couldn’t use my right arm the way I wanted.
Of course, I was extremely lucky. I knew a guy who got half of his genitals shot off and when I visited him in hospital a few days later, he was still in excruciating pain.
Still, bullet wounds usually don’t hurt that much. They cause small wounds which are easily treatable.
On the other hand, when you get hit by a big chunk of an artillery shrapnel, you will be in severe pain for the next months and maybe even for years.
President Ronald Reagan didnt even know he was shot during his assassination attempt until driving half way back to the white house.. obviously depends on where you get shot, and what caliber of bullet it is. a bullet from a .50 cal or a high powered rifle could easily rip a leg or an arm off. a bullet can also shatter bones, sending splinters of those tiny pieces of bones throughout your body. if you have a jagged little bone fragment that is caught in some nerve endings then it will be extremely painful! there are pretty much three factors that decide whether or not your going to live or die if you get shot by a bullet.. (1)any shot to the head area, these could kill you instantly and you may be dead before you experience any pain. (2)any shot that pierces your heart. if a bullet severs your aorta, your going to bleed out and die in less than 60 seconds. (3)any shot that hits an artery. the aorta is the biggest. depending on which artery is hit you are going to experience massive blood loss. im also gonna guess that a bullet getting lodged in your lungs doesnt feel too pleasant either.. ive heard that when soldiers get wounded in combat though pain can be a Very good thing, why, because that means your still alive!!