Monday, November 23, 2015

The Case of the Wayward Bullet

One sleepy, quiet afternoon late in October, a large-caliber rifle broke the still air with a sharp crack. The bullet left the barrel of the firearm without fuss and traveled gracefully through the countryside, spiralling majestically as it passed over a highway, through a row of trees, and into the quaint little home of an equally quaint little lady.

I had known absolutely nothing about the bullet, the house, or the little lady until my mom sent me a text two weeks later with the message: "Is it true a bullet went thru [Sweet little lady]'s house into her living room. Did you make it right with her?"

I was flabbergasted. Bullet? House? Little woman? Reparations?? I drove straight over to the woman's home to investigate. The sweet little lady was home and invited me in. I introduced myself, briefly mentioning who my parents and grandparents are so she could accurately place me. I then explained where I lived and that I had just heard about a stray bullet. She nodded her head and said, "Here, I'll show you."

The bullet mashed through the living room wall, scouring a hole through the vinyl siding and bursting through the sheetrock and wallpaper. The dust and sheetrock fragments powdered the floor of the living room.

Fortunately, the lady had been away when her house was bombarded with heavy artillery. "I was at a funeral in Tennessee, praise the Lord!" she said. "When I got back from my trip, I just went straight to bed. The next morning, I looked in the living room and saw the mess but I didn't know where it came from. I just saw some dust in the [exceedingly spotless] living room and wondered to myself, now how did that happen? So I just swept it up." Said the sweet little lady.

The bullet had continued through the living room, lanced through a hallway opening and into a closet door, punching a small hole through the thin woodgrain hollow-core door. The closet was filled with neatly folded sheets, pillow cases, and blankets.

"I didn't see the hole in the wall. Or in the closet door. My boys found the holes when they came to investigate." The sweet little lady recounted as she gave me a tour of the bullet's path through her home. "My boys cut some holes in the closet wall to look for the bullet but they didn't find it." She said, pointing to two small squares of sheetrock removed from the interior closet wall. "But I found the bullet. It was laying in a sheet."

Apparently, the sweet little lady's sons had come to visit and discovered the hole in the living room near the ceiling. They immediately deduced it was caused by a bullet and traced its trajectory through the house like eager detectives. Eager enough to empty the closet and cut holes in the wall, for further investigation. Meanwhile, the sweet little lady refolded the sheets that were removed from the closet, and that's when the 30-caliber projectile fell out of the sheet and plopped on the floor.

I stood there, amazed that they had traced the trajectory and somehow managed to find the bullet. The sweet little lady reached into her china cabinet, pulled out the bullet, and handed it to me. It was unblemished,  For all the damage it caused and distance it traveled, it was remarkably clean. So naturally I remarked about it. The sweet little lady commented that the bullet had been dusty when she found it (You know, because it TRAVELED THROUGH HER WALL) so she gave it a good wash. No dust is allowed, even when it enters at speeds faster than Mach 1.

I love little old ladies.

The entrance hole was near the ceiling of the living room, two feet above my head. After chewing through the thin layers of outer wall, insulation, and sheetrock, the bullet ambled through the living room and into the hallway closet door, dropping to about 6' high. The bullet would have scooted right over the head of the sweet little lady, but it would have plowed right through my crainium.

30 caliber is big. Capable of vaporizing small varmints, easily kill any wildlife the state of Iowa has to offer, and certainly big enough to kill the not-so-wild life that consists of sweet little ladies.

To show what I'm referring to, here is a breakdown of three common rifle cartridges. The first is the noisy .223 Remington, which is used by the US military* and thousands of AR-15 owners. When you hear news reports about an "AR-15" or (the incorrectly named) "assault rifle", it uses this cartridge. It's noisy and fast and leaves a hole slightly larger than the little Ruger .22 rifle that you've currently got stashed in your coat closet.

*In truth, the US military currently uses 5.56x45mm NATO ammunition which is a hotter, faster version of .223 Remington. They look almost identical and can be put in the same gun, as long as the gun is rated for the high-pressured 5.56 round. But you didn't really want all that information, did you?

Next is the stout 7.62x39mm that the Russians invented for their world-famous AK-47 rifles.

This cartridge is one of the most widely-used rifle rounds in the world. AK-47's are the rifles that immediately spring to your mind when you hear the word "Terrorist." 
Half of you just shouted "ALOHA SNACKBAR!"

The third cartridge is a .308 Remington round, often used by hunters to take down large game and by firearms enthusiasts that are looking for a larger, louder, punchier round than the .223 Remington. The .308 is also used by the military*.

*In truth, the US military uses THE EXACT SAME ROUND GOOD GRIEF but they insist on calling it "7.62x51mm NATO" because a) they want to prove to the rest of the world that USA can count in metric too and b) pompous generals like to be able to easily say "We're bigger." and that's easy to compare when it's
7.62x51 haha AMERICA IS THE BEST
7.62x39 duhhh what a puny tiny little baby bullet hahahaha
It's not as easy to compare when using the imperial standard. "Do pass me another handful of those delightful .308 Winchesters, Reginald old boy."

But what good does all this boring information do if you can't compare it side by side? Well hold on to your bespectacles, ladies and gentlemen, because I'm getting there.

And here the story gets interesting. .308 Winchester is a 30-caliber round. For those of you still reading (thank you, by the way!), the sweet little lady found a 30-caliber projectile snuggling in her bed sheets. Not in her bed, thank graciousness, but in the spare sheets in her closet.

If you thought I was exaggerating earlier about speeds greater than Mach 1, allow me to emphasize that this bullet was cooking.  The .308 rifle cartridge is capable of 2,820 feet per second and can easily travel 500 meters. If that made no sense, allow me to explain that this shooty thing, uh, drives 1,922 miles per hour and it goes over 16 football fields faster than you can say "Starbucks CEO's are rabble-rousers." (By saying "shooty thing" I'm not trying to belittle those of you that don't understand the complex linguistics of ballistics data. I prefer saying "shooty thing" myself.)

On the topic of football fields, a bullet travels similarly to a football. It leaves the barrel of the gun, spiralling just as perfectly as if it was thrown by Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard himself. It travels a very long way but, just like that freshly-spread jelly bread perched over some white carpet, eventually drops to the ground. For .308 Winchester, it drops 50 inches in 500 yards. That's over 4 feet of drop.

"Yaaaaaaawn!" Says the average reader, who like to pronounce their actions verbally.

So there we have it, people! The US Military has gone rogue! They're eyeballing us with satellite predator drones, tapping into our cell phones and reading our text messages, and now they're shooting up quaint little houses! The military uses .308 Winchester. Case closed, the end.

Heh, nope, not yet. See, .308 may be used by the military but guess who likes to buy stuff related to the military? Every boy in the whole world and a few ladies, probably. .308 rifles are widely available. That round could have been from a gun owned by anybody. But the bullet was a helpful start. It could be used to compare against guns in the vicinity. So the sons of the sweet little lady went rushing to and fro interrogating the neighbors about their current weapon stockpiles. Since most of their neighbors were Amish, the interrogations were brief. A few had shotguns. Others had pellet guns. Nobody had a 30-caliber rifle, and many of the households didn't have a gun of any type.

But my household has guns.

In fact, we currently have [REDACTED] guns in our household. Not just shotguns, but handguns and rifles as well.

We do a lot of shooting in the woods, so the sons of the sweet little lady stopped in to ask about our firearms. It just so happened that my roommate had just purchased at .308 Remington bolt-action rifle that week. He pulled out an unfired round from his supply and showed it to the sons, who had the fired cartridge with them. It was a match.


Wait two seconds. Our house is 0.6 miles from the sweet little lady. 1,056 yards, give or take a few. That's twice as far as this round can go, unless someone was shooting in the general direction of the moon.

Wait two more seconds. My roommate had purchased the rifle but neither he nor anyone else had fired it at my place on the weekend in question. I was gone that week, visiting family in Oregon. That statistic has my parents breathing great sighs of relief, because they can dispel the swirling rumors that their son was the attempted murderer of sweet little ladies. 

But my roommates and I aren't the only ones that shoot. My place is a popular hangout for firearms enthusiasts, because we're down in a wooded area with plenty of things to shoot at, all pointed in directions that are safe. Many of my friends have stopped in from time to time to fire a couple rounds at a target or a milk jug. In order to hit the sweet little lady's house, someone would have had to shoot in an entirely unsafe direction (toward civilization) where the bullet would have crossed the highway twice (the bullet doesn't wiggle that much, but the road does), traveled over half a mile, threaded its way between two farmhouses and gone through several stands of trees before saying "howdy" to the sweet little lady's siding.


We don't have a microscope, so we don't know. Yes, it looks similar, but welcome to the vast world of calibers. There are 74 separate calibers listed on wikipedia's page in the 30-caliber range. Many of those are oddball, rare, uncommon rounds but they include some of the most common rounds sold today, including 30-06. (The one that's pronounced "Thirty Aught Six") 30-06 is used by many farmers and hunters in our area, and it could have been any of them. It could also have been a round fired from any one of dozens of Mosin Nagant rifles in our area, which all fire 7.62x54 cartridges (exceedingly close in size, shape and consistency to the 7.62x51 rounds in question, for those of you following along at home.)


I agree, and so does William of Ockham; the English Franciscan friar that stated:

Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

Today we call this principle Occam's Razor, and in simple terms, it says that "the simplest answer is most often correct."

A woman's house was struck by a bullet. The bullet closely matches a gun recently purchased by a young man who lives less than a mile away.

To this day, four weeks after the incident in question, we have no idea who fired the bullet. Halfway between our home and hers is a "Deer X-ing" sign with two bullet holes in it. Did some ne'er-do-well carouse the highways with a rifle shooting road signs? We just don't know.

I have no complaints though. Nobody was injured and the sweet little lady was so kind and gentle. I've agreed to help pay for repairs. At this point, it's the proper thing to do. She offered to help pay for the damages but I refused. "Have you been shooting your own house lately?" I asked her with a laugh. "No, I suppose I haven't." She giggled. As you can well imagine with a scenario such as this, rumors have quickly spread of the gun-toting men down by the river that shot a woman's house, and it does no good to try shifting blame. Shooting a sweet little lady's house costs around $160 these days, which is a bargain considering that most living rooms are filled with expensive flat-screen tv's and Keurig machines that are shockingly vulnerable to bullets. And what if that hallway closet would have been filled with board games? We'd be looking at a bill around $600, most likely!

For now, the Case of the Wayward Bullet remains a mystery. If you have any information regarding this case, please let me know.