Popular culture, especially action movies, are in love with some pretty crazy ideas, and dodging bullets seems to be their favorite. Typically, the not-so-good-guy fires at the good guy and the latter, being the protagonist of the movie, effortlessly dodges the bullet. Perhaps you can picture the smug look on the hero’s face.
As a viewer, you’re like…
It seems rather unrealistic, but sometimes, we have to question “impossible” after we’ve seen it enough times. It would certainly be cool, but is undoubtedly a dangerous thing to practice.
Is it possible to dodge a bullet?
Short answer: In theory, when a host of conditions and variables are in your favor, there might be an infinitesimally small chance that one could dodge a bullet. But with practical conditions of real life, it’s next to impossible to dodge a bullet.
Let’s figure this out in more detail.
If you’re into sports, then you must have heard the term ‘reaction time‘ at least once or twice. Reaction time is a physiological response to an external stimulus; it is essentially a measure of how quickly you ‘react’ to a given visual or physical stimulus. You have likely heard a lot about reaction time in the game of cricket, especially when it comes to fielding; a fielder is considered formidable if they have good reaction times. This is not only applicable in sports; quick reaction time (or reflexes) is quite a useful trait in many different areas of life. Here’s proof… check out this man with quick reflexes saving a child from falling off a swing:
Or how another guy saved his own life by displaying an exceptionally short reaction time.
A ‘good’ reaction time generally implies that a person has a very short or low reaction time; the time elapsed between the moment a ball is hit by the batsmen until it is caught by the fielder, is quite small (running into hundredths of a second!). To react in that short of a span of time with precision is, without a doubt, a rare and impressive skill!
Dodging ‘Normal’ Things
‘Normal’…huh? Now what things would you put in the category of ‘normal’? It is quite difficult to lay the boundaries of normalcy, but since we’re talking about dodging things, let’s formulate some minimum requirements that things have to meet before they grab a coveted spot in the list of things that fall under normalcy.
First off, we want stuff that is big; at least something big enough to clearly see from a distance of a few dozen meters. Then, it shouldn’t be moving a pace where you can’t even see it, much less prepare yourself to dodge it. Even if it’s moving towards you rapidly, there should be some way that you can get the hint to move. There are many other requirements too, but since we’re talking about bullets, those are the only objects that we are interested in.
According to the above guidelines, there are plenty of things that you can safely dodge, and some can be avoided quite easily. Big stuff like chairs, gallons of milk, and someone else’s pet coming to attack you (it happens!) can be easily dodged; similarly, small things like a basketball, a tennis ball, and even a small marble, when thrown by a human being, can be dodged.
But what about dodging a bullet?
Dodging a Bullet
To start with, it’s a very, very dangerous practice. The reason is… well, isn’t it obvious?
A bullet fails at both the criteria of ‘normal’ things that we discussed above; it is extraordinarily small and it moves….well, too damn fast!
Still, just for the sake of argument, can you dodge a bullet?
Well, yes. But that’s not a ‘yes’ that applies to every case; rather, it is a ‘yes’ that comes with a long list of caveats.
Different Guns, Different Bullets, and Different Speeds
There are hundreds of gun varieties out there, and there are just as many types of bullets that are used in each. So, quite naturally, the size, speed and momentum of all those bullets vary significantly.
The speed with which a bullet leaves a gun is known as the muzzle velocity. As I said, different types of guns have varying muzzle velocities that can range from 120 meters/second to 1200 meters/second. However, for the sake of the question, let’s talk about an average speed of a bullet that lies somewhere in the middle, roughly 750 meters/second (2740 km/h).
Seeing the Bullet Emerge From the Gun
Dodging something that is moving that fast through the air is really a challenge, and a crazy one at that! There are a host of dangerous variables stacked up against you here. For example, you must have seen bullets leaving the muzzle of a gun in a flashy burst of light in the movies.
If not, take a closer look at this.
A real gunshot looks like this, right?
It looks (somewhat) like this in movies because they use unrealistically bright blank rounds for effect, but in reality, it doesn’t actually happen that way. Therefore, you won’t get much help from your visual faculties when it comes to dodging a gunshot.
So, what is the other aspect of a fired bullet that can be, and actually is, registered by our human senses?
The ‘Crack’ of a Fired Bullet
You may not see a bullet emerging from the gun, but you can definitely hear the crack as it is fired (provided. they are not using a silencer). However, don’t get any ideas; this doesn’t mean that you can simply step aside gracefully as a bullet races towards you (you have to be Neo from The Matrix to accomplish that). For that to even be a possibility of salvation, you have to consider the speed of sound itself.
The speed of sound through air is 343 meters per second, and the average speed of the bullet (that we are considering) is 750 meters/second.
Therefore, the speed of the bullet is greater than the speed of sound itself, which means that the bullet will reach you before you even hear the crack of it being fired from the gun! Chew on that for a while…
Is it Completely Impossible?
Well, no. With the ideal conditions in place (which is very unlikely to happen in real life), it is not completely impossible to dodge a bullet. In fact, this was demonstrated on a TV show named Mythbusters. Here is the video:
They showed that even with the quickest reaction time of 490 milliseconds, one cannot dodge a bullet standing at a distance of 500 yards (approx. 450 meters) just based on the ‘crack’ sound, because the bullet hits the person before they hear the crack. However, at 500 yards, one can see the flash, and given the same reaction time, can dodge the bullet.
That being said, the conditions in this demonstration are highly controlled; they fired a special blank round that produced a bright flash from a carefully measured distance and the person was totally aware that he was going to be shot at. In real life, however, this is far from practical.
Therefore, it’s perfectly fair to say that you cannot dodge a real bullet in real life. There… I said it!
Seriously, are you kidding me right now?