The Box O’ Truth #32 – Dum-Dum Bullets and the Box O’Truth

Had a few folks ask me recently about Dum-Dum bullets.

Let’s see what we can find out about them on the Internet:

“The ‘dum-dum’ was a British military bullet developed for use in India – at the Dum-Dum Arsenal – on the North West Frontier in the late 1890s.

The dum-dum comprised a jacketed .303 bullet with the jacket nose open to expose its lead core. The aim was to improve the bullet’s effectiveness by increasing its expansion upon impact.

The phrase ‘dum-dum’ was later taken to include any soft-nosed or hollow pointed bullet. The Hague Convention of 1899 outlawed the use of dum-dum bullets during warfare.”

Some folks have heard rumors of soldiers and others cutting an “X” in the nose of pistol bullets to “improve” performance.

Today’s question: Does altering the nose of a bullet make it more effective against living targets?

Tman cut an “X” in the nose of a couple of rounds of 9mm Ball and .45 ACP Ball, and I cut an “X” in a .38 Special RNL bullet.

Here they are.

Would this “improve” the bullet’s performance?

Only one way to find out.

We will try them against the Waterbox O’Truth.

32-1First, the round of 9mm Dum-Dum, out of my Browning HiPower.

32-2It penetrated 5 jugs or about 30 inches, which would be about 15 inches of BG.

Here's the result.

Here’s the result.

It shed its jacket and lost the “petals”, but the core of the bullet remained intact.

And another look.

And another look.

How about the .45 ACP Dum-Dum, out of my Springfield 1911?

32-5We were surprised to see little damage to the bullet, even though it penetrated 6 jugs, or 18 inches of BG.

32-6I believe I could reload it and shoot it again.

Here's a closer look.

Here’s a closer look.

Lastly, let’s try the .38 Special round out of my Colt Python.

32-8It penetrated only 4 jugs, or 12 inches of BG.

32-9It only lost the petals.

Here's a closer look.

Here’s a closer look.

Let’s look at some rifle rounds.
These were the first Dum-Dum bullets.

I took a standard .30-06 Military ball, 150 grain bullet and used a hack saw to cut off the nose of the bullet and expose the lead inside. I then used a Dremel tool to smooth-up the surface.

Just a word of caution…

Any time you are shooting a round that is “open” on both ends, there is a possibility of the lead leaving the weapon and the jacket getting stuck in the rifling.

Always be sure to check the bore for obstructions before the next shot.


Let’s see how it works against the water jugs.

Here I am shooting it out of my 1903-A3 Springfield.

Water rained down all over me.

32-12It busted the Waterbox all up.

32-13It busted 4 jugs and came to pieces, shedding the jacket..


And a closer look.

And a closer look.

Another method of “improving” a standard ball cartridge was to pull the bullet and seat it backwards in the case.

Elmer Keith, an old gun writer, tried this and even shot big game with the rounds during the Depression when bullets were hard to come by. Keith reported that the bullets seemed to be “just as accurate” out to 200 yards, much to his surprise. He also said that they killed deer and elk just fine.

To pull a bullet, you need to know a little “trick”.

Military ball is sealed with an asphalt sealer to prevent moisture leakage into the powder. You must first break this seal or the bullets are very difficult to pull.

To do this, you set your seating die about 1/16 inch deeper than the full length of the round.

Run the round into the die and it will push the bullet back about 1/16th of an inch and break the seal. Then, the bullet is easier to pull.

I then reversed the bullets and seated then over the original powder charge.

Here they are.

Here they are.

We will shoot them into the Waterbox O’Truth and see what happens.

32-17The hydrostatic shock has about ruined the Box.

32-18We were amazed that the bullet not only expanded, but made a pretty good mushroom.


Another look.

Another look.

Lessons learned:
  1. Cutting “x”s in bullets is harder than you might imagine.
  2. It might make them slightly more effective than Ball, but not nearly as effective as modern Jacketed Hollow Points.
  3. The .45 ACP did not expand at all. This is probably the result of a much thicker jacket than the 9mm.
  4. The lead .38 Special shed its petals, but didn’t expand at all.
  5. Cutting the end off a rifle Ball cartridge will definitely make the bullet expand or break up. Would this make it more lethal? Probably. But not as much as a modern JSP (Jacketed Soft Point) bullet.
  6. Reversing a Ball bullet will cause it to expand and break up. Old Elmer said that it killed game just fine. But Elmer didn’t have access to modern JSP ammo. If he had, I’m sure he would have preferred it.

Oh well, a fine, if hot, day at the range.

It’s still fun to shoot stuff, even with Dum-Dums. smilie

Thanks to Tman for the help and thanks to my buddy Houston Husker for financing the purchase of all that water.

7 Comments on The Box O’ Truth #32 – Dum-Dum Bullets and the Box O’Truth

  1. Thanks that answered a few questions

  2. Lamar Ratliff // February 2, 2017 at 2:37 pm // Reply

    Great article about the Dum-Dum. I am having one of my molds re-done for a 45/70 500g gas check, to see if it will do a better job on deer and elk,, YOU KNOW, YOU HAVE THE ONLY ARTICLE , (that I have found) on dum-dum. There are plenty hand gun molds in the full wad cutter but no rifle molds that can be found.
    Thanks for the info.
    Lamar,, in the hills of Mississippi…

  3. Stephen Boynton // May 11, 2017 at 11:45 pm // Reply

    Very interesting tests and great pictures! My father fought in WW-2 in the Pacific and also in Korea. He spoke about cutting X and reloading bullet backwards in hopes of making the ammo more effective. Apparently it worked.

  4. Rakesh Chaubey // June 2, 2017 at 9:49 am // Reply


    I humbly submit a correction. There was no such thing as a Dum Dum Arsenal. In fact, there was a Military Cantonment near Calcutta (not near the Northwest frontier) called the Dum Dum cantonment where the Dum Dum Bullet was developed. There was an airport called Dum Dum airport nearby. Its name has been changed now, but there are a ton of internet references to both the Airport and the cantonment.

    I know this because I grew up in the Eastern Part of India.

    Please check the following link:

  5. Howdy
    Take a look at Paco Kellys acurizer. It reshapes the nose of 22 ammunition. Flattening the nose was also done by the Hanned Line tool that held the round while you trimmed the nose flat. One of the makers of 22 LR ammo has a SMG or small game bullet which has a flat nose. In every case it hits harder than a round nose. Same with a fmj. Take a look at the info on meplat size on the net. Some bullet makers are now offering a solid with a wide meplat. Cast bullet pistol shooters have known for quite a while that a wide flat nose hits hard and penetrates like crazy. I have a friend that has a tool that lets him trim the 30-06 ball to a flat nose. It does not take a lot to greatly improve performance. Just remember the warning about shooting a bullet that is open on both ends, if the jacket is cut back too far you can shoot the lead core out and leave the jacket n the barrel. not good. You dont need a tool according to him, just a file or a bench grinder. It does not alter flight or accuracy if you are careful he reports. Try some 223 or 556 out on wood chucks or similar and you will be impressed.

  6. Great article on the effect of the meplat. This is the real issue of making a FMJ into a more effective hunting round. It turns a drill into a fist.

  7. David Parish // October 3, 2017 at 1:39 pm // Reply

    Think it was Peter Hathaway Capstick who relayed a story of a hunter who reversed a soft-point .270 to kill an elephant in musth – the closed jacketed base of the bullet functioned as a solid and penetrated enough to do the job.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.