Ins and Outs of Gunshot Wounds


Shots fired from close range leave tell-tale marks called stippling, or tattooing. These marks are discolorations of the skin caused by burning gunpowder. Evidence of contact with hot gunpowder can be seen just above the “V” opening of the shirt (the blackened area) in the photograph above. The person who wore this shirt was the victim of a shooting at close range—less than a foot away—with a 9mm pistol. Notice there’s no hole in the back of the shirt. No hole, no exit wound. The bullet stayed in the body even from a shot at this short distance.

The next photograph (post autopsy) – *WARNING. REAL GUNSHOT WOUND – GRAPHIC *- is of the wound the victim received in the upper image.

The wound is round and neat, and it’s approximately the diameter of an ink pen. It’s not like the ones we see on television where half the guy’s body is blown into oblivion or beyond by a couple of bullets from a hero’s gun. Sometimes exit wounds are nearly as small as the entrance wound. The amount of damage and path of travel depends on the type ammunition used and what the bullet struck as it makes it way through the body. I’ve seen officers who easily mistook exit wounds for entrance wounds, at first glance. A close examination reveals stark differences. Exit wounds normally present pieces of avulsed flesh angled slightly away from the wound. Normally, there’s also no trace of gunshot residue around the outside of the wound.

In the picture below, the hot bullet entered the flesh leaving a gray-black ring around the wound. The tiny black dots are the stippling, or tattooing.


The impact of the bullet and gases striking the tissue also left a distinct bruising (ecchymosis) around the wound.

Contact wounds caused by the barrel of a gun touching the skin when the weapon is fired may present the imprint of the muzzle. The wounds sometimes show an abrasion ring (a dark circle around the wound) that’s caused as the hot gases from the weapon enters the flesh. The force of the gas blows the skin and tissue back against the gun’s muzzle, leaving the circular imprint.

9 thoughts on “Ins and Outs of Gunshot Wounds

  • Joyce Tremel

    Very interesting, Lee!

    Btw, I didn’t think the photo was graphic at all! I expected something really cool and gross.

  • Lee Lofland

    Joyce – I didn’t think so either, but you never know. Actually, I cropped out the rest of the body.

  • l.c.mccabe


    Speaking of ins and outs of bullets and their trajectories…do you have any thoughts about Arlen Specter’s Super Bullet theory he put forward to explain the path one of the bullets that killed President Kennedy?


  • Lee Lofland

    For those of you who don’t know:

    (From NNDB):

    Specter’s theory was that one bullet, fired from Oswald’s gun on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building, hit Kennedy in the back, then ricocheted up and exited from the front of Kennedy’s throat, then entered Texas Governor John Connally’s back, shattering five inches of his rib bone, then exited through Connally’s chest and struck his right wrist, shattering the radius bone, and then embedded itself in Connally’s thigh. If Oswald had no accomplices, then the bullet would have to be the same one that subsequently loosened itself and fell out of Connally’s body as he lay in a stretcher on the way to the hospital. And that bullet was pristine, as unsmudged and undented as a bullet that had never been fired. This was Arlen Specter’s theory. It proved conclusively that Oswald acted alone, and that there was no conspiracy to kill Kennedy.

    Police sharpshooter Craig Roberts, author of “Kill Zone: A Sniper Looks at Dealey Plaza”, had this to say about Spector’s theory.

    “How in the world could anyone look at that {Zapruder} film and say that the fatal head strike had come from the rear? The so-called experts who stated that the rearward jerk of Kennedy’s head was due to ‘muscle reaction,’ ‘jet force from an erupting bullet’ or some other violation of the laws of physics, had obviously never served in combat, where witnessing high-velocity bullet strikes was commonplace…

    “Some of the supporters of the Warren Commission…stated that the bullet came from the rear because the eruption of brain matter and blood came out of the front of the president’s skull. I saw something else. In a head shot, the exit wound, due to the buildup of hydrostatic pressure, explodes in a conical formation in the down-range direction of the bullet. Yet in the Zapruder film, I could plainly see that the eruption was not a conical shape to the front of the limo, but instead was an explosion that cast fragments both up and down in a vertical plane, and side to side in a horizontal plane. There was only one explanation for this: an exploding or ‘frangible’ bullet. Such a round explodes on impact–in exactly the manner depicted in the film.”

    My thoughts, Linda – Anything’s possible, and then again, anything can be made to look possible. How’s that for a decisive stand on the subject?

  • Rhonda Lane

    First, I know I haven’t said so yet, but thank you So Very Much for the info you give us in this blog, Lee.

    That said, I apologize for not having commented on this post yesterday in a timely fashion, but I ran out of day before I ran of out things I wanted to do, like ask my question, which went into my Back2It file.

    So — in the close-up of the wound … what is that on the right upper corner? Fingers?

  • Lee Lofland

    I wondered how long it would be before someone asked this question.

    That zig-zag pattern you see is the post autopsy stitching of the “Y” incision in the victim’s chest. I purposely cropped it from the photograph. I just couldn’t remove it all.

  • Rhonda Lane

    So THAT’s what it really looks like. Thanks, Lee.

  • wendy roberts

    Another great post! I too was wondering about that zig-zag pattern but now I want to see an entire ‘Y” incision. Guess I’m just sick that way.

  • Lee Lofland

    Hmm…a blog on autopsies sounds interesting.

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