A CRIME SCENE WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
By F. Carleen Gonder, MIS
READING BULLET EVIDENCE
Written by Tony Latham
It takes no training to read footprints Iin fresh snow left by perpetrators at a wildlife crime scene Any officer can exam the prints to know how many people were at the scene, what their shoe treads look like, where they exited their vehicle and come up with a pretty good theory on what happened at the scene. A comparison to the officer’s stride and shoe length will also give him/her an idea about the physical size of the perps.
In many ways, reading a bullet recovered from a carcass is like reading the tracks in the snow.
The overall appearance of a recovered bullet will tell you the firearm used by the perp is consistent with a rifle, pistol, muzzleloader, or shotgun. The vast majority of wildlife crimes I investigated in Idaho in my career involved rifles.
For the sake of this article, let’s assume you’ve dug out the bullet and have concluded the bullet is consistent with having been fired from a rifle.
And how do we come to this conclusion? Cartridges designed for rifles generally have a longer bullet than those designed for handguns. Most handgun bullets used in wildlife crimes are of a larger caliber than rifle bullets. Thus a relatively short bullet with a diameter between .35″ and .45″ was PROBABLY fired from a pistol.
We can further exam the bullet and come up with a very rough theory of the velocity of the bullet based on it’s deformation and penetration in relation to the distance from where you believe the shot was fired from. Try to break the estimated velocity into low, medium, or high velocity cartridges. Examples of these three categories would include cartridges such as .30-30 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, or .300 Winchester Magnum. If your projectile was fired from about a hundred yards broadside into a whitetail and failed to exit the animal, you can conclude it probably wasn’t one of the “magnum” high velocity cartridges.
The next characteristic you should look at is the diameter of the bullet to fired from. At this point in your examination let’s measure the diameter to a thousandth of an inch (such as .XXX”). Your bullet is probably going to somewhat distorted so make sure you measure the bullet at several points.