Forensics & autopsy
Types of injuries
Gunshot wounds

Topic Completed: 1 March 2012

Minor changes: 23 October 2020

Copyright: (c) 2012-2019,, Inc.

PubMed search: Gunshot wounds [title] forensics

Lindsey Harle, M.D.
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Table of Contents
Definition / general
Cite this page: Harle L. Gunshot wounds. website. Accessed October 28th, 2020.
Definition / general
  • Entry wounds are categorized based on range

Contact: muzzle is pressed against the skin when fired
  • In areas of "loose" skin (abdomen, chest): circular wound with blackened, seared skin margins
  • On head, where the scalp is tightly covering the skull, entry wounds can have several different appearances:
    • Round wound with blackened, seared skin margins
    • Stellate shaped wound, due to tearing of skin from expanding gas dissecting between the scalp and skull
    • Round wound with muzzle imprint, also due to gas expanding under the skin causing it to press back against the gun

Near contact: muzzle of the gun is held a short distance from the skin (< 1 cm from skin with handguns)
  • Appears as circular wound with blackened and seared edges that are wider than seen with contact wounds

Intermediate: defined by the presence of stippling ("powder tattooing") on the skin surrounding the entry wound
  • Stippling is due to unburned powder grains exiting from the gun causing pinpoint abrasions on the skin; these are not burns
  • Actual distance from skin varies according to the gun; generally from a few centimeters up to several feet

Distant: any distance beyond that which produces stippling
  • Appear as round wounds with sharp margins and an abrasion ring on the surrounding skin

Centerfire rifle wounds:
  • In contact wounds of the head with centerfire rifles, there is massive tissue destruction of the skin, skull, and brain
  • Full metal jacketed bullets produce less tissue damage and tend to travel through the body undeformed
  • Semijacketed ammunition creates the classic "lead snowstorm" appearance on xray due to peeling back of the jacket as it travels through the body, releasing numerous small lead fragments

Shotgun wounds:
  • Shotgun bullets contain numerous pellets
  • At contact range up to a few feet, the entrance wound is a single round defect
  • At a range of 3 - 4 feet, the pellets begin to spread out before reaching the body, producing one large entry wound surrounded by scalloping or several smaller defects due to penetration by individual pellets
  • As the range increases, the central defect becomes smaller and the number of surrounding pellet holes increases

Exit wounds:
  • Usually more irregular in shape than entry wounds
  • Do not show soot deposition, muzzle imprint, stippling, or blackening of the skin edges
  • A shored exit wound is one in which the skin is in contact with another object when the bullet exits; this causes an irregular area of abrasion on the skin, which can be confused with the abrasion ring of an entrance wound

Gunshot wounds in bone:
  • In flat bones (i.e. skull), entrance wounds are round with sharp margins and show internal beveling: the inner table of the skull is more eroded than the outer table, producing a "cone" shape in the direction of the bullet path
  • Fragments of bone travel in the direction of the bullet path through the cranial vault
  • Exit wounds may be more irregular and show external beveling (outer table of the skull is more eroded than the inner table, producing a cone shape facing outward)
  • In the skull, gunshot wounds often produce numerous fractures due to rapidly increasing pressure as the bullet travels through the skull
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