Mythbusters Recap: Two Bangs for Your Buck

by Alan Eggleston / August 16, 2015

It was guns and bullets and hitmen, oh my, in this week’s “Supernatural Shooters” episode of MythBusters, with Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman testing a duo of Hollywood shoot-em-up myths — two bangs for your buck.

Making a Hit Through a Wall

Hollywood often relies on a hitman with “supernatural shooter” powers to take down a wily victim, like “problem eliminator” Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) from Breaking Bad, whom the MythBusters bring in to add some gravitas to the episode.

The typical Hollywood hitman seemingly knows right where his or her victim will be at the perfect moment to take the victim down, shooting right through the wall. But how realistic is that? Adam and Jamie put the question to the test.

They begin by testing a variety of walls to see if it’s even possible for a 9 mm hollow point bullet (the choice of Hollywood hitmen) to penetrate standard walls. They build a six panel wall emulating different interiors: standard dry wall, lathe and plaster, two layers of drywall with 2 inches of insulation, wood studs, copper plumbing, and a steel electrical junction box.

The only interior that stops the bullet or even reduces the speed of the bullet is the section with the steel electrical junction box, even so hit with a lucky shot. With five of the six types of wall interiors clearly susceptible to bullet penetration that only leaves the question of being able to shoot someone on the other side without seeing them.

Adam and Jamie suggest that there are two ways of tracking an opponent as a hitman: “target tracking,” in which the hitman watches as the victim moves and then makes assumptions about where they will track behind the wall; and “acoustic location,” in which the hitman listens for the sounds of the victim’s footsteps and uses a natural sense of distance and direction to assume the victim’s location.

They build a wall with an Adam analog on a movable track and remote control. Using the target-tracking method, Adam and Jamie each take a single shot at the target and each makes a lethal shot.

Then Adam and Jamie move the Adam analog on the movable track using the acoustic-location method with fake footsteps. Using three shots each, Adam and Jamie both miss.

The only way to really test the myth of the supernatural hitman is to ramp it up with Adam and Jamie stalking each other in a walled environment. They build an eight-room assassin’s arena with walls made of paper, hallways, doors, and the element of surprise, using paintball guns. The first one to hit the other through a wall wins.

Starting at random spots within the arena, Adam and Jamie stalk each other, quietly padding around the rooms. It’s not long before you hear the pft-pft of Jamie’s gun and he hits Adam in the gun hand. But it’s so much fun, Adam wants to do it again. “Best two out of three?” he begs giddily. “Sure,” says winner Jamie.

So once again Adam and Jamie start at random spots within the arena. The results are hardly different. Sighting Adam move through a doorway and listening to Adam’s footsteps, this time Jamie shoots Adam in the knee.

“I think the hitmen are onto something,” says Adam. “Shooting through walls has far more efficacy than I began this myth believing.” Jamie agrees: “Interior walls don’t offer much protection, do they?”

  • Conclusion? Confirmed.

Hit in the Fire Pit

The second myth is based on a scene from the 2007 movie Shoot ‘Em Up. The protagonist is caught without a gun and just when the bad guys think the good guy is done for, the good guy sticks his hand – clenching bullets – into a fire and the bullets explode, killing the bad guy. But is that realistic?

Adam and Jamie begin testing the myth by removing the 9 mm bullet from its shell casing and suspending the shell casing over a hot wood fire. The time required for the accelerant to pop to make the myth believable is two seconds – but it takes 43 seconds to go off. So Adam sticks the shell casing into the hot coals. That gets better results, but not the two seconds they require – it takes a full 10 seconds! Not only does it not meet the two-second time limit, but a human hand couldn’t take the heat that long, either.

Even if the myth had met the time requirement, the question arises: Could holding the bullets with a hand shoot accurately? To test this question, Jamie “blacksmiths” an adjustable articulating hand that can take the heat of a hand holding a bullet in a fire.

Adam and Jamie head to the Alameda County Shooting Range to set up their fake-hand experiment with copper tubing-fed flames to simulate the fire. First they test the bullet-fired-in-fire for speed: The bullet goes off at a mere 82 miles an hour, which may sound fast, but it likely wouldn’t be lethal.

Why is the bullet so slow? Adam and Jamie’s analysis notes that with a gun the bullet is fired through a barrel, which contains and focuses the energy, while when the bullets are held with a hand the energy is spread outward, so the bullets fire at only 10 percent of the speed of a normal shot.

Then they test the setup for accuracy. Firing another bullet at a body analog made of ballistic gel, Adam and Jamie at first think the bullet has bounced off the body. But they don’t find a bullet anywhere. Slicing into the ballistic gel, they find the bullet lodged just under the “skin,” too shallow to kill. “It possibly injured him,” says Adam with a shrug, “but it wasn’t lethal.”

  • Conclusion: Busted.

Next week’s MythBusters is titled “Unfinished Business”: Four myths to test sent in by viewers – like, can playing video games train you to do an activity in real life, like playing golf? And, can you can really do those super fast Hollywood gun-magazine changes? Also something about spy cars and road spikes… Join them at 8 pm ET to see what all the fun is about.


Alan Eggleston A writer from the boomer generation, I was among the first Americans to grow up with television and even got my bachelors degree in broadcasting. My first professional job was working in a television station, working camera and then writing copy and promotions. A few years later I turned to writing for print and then adapted to the Internet. I love writing and I love good television and film - I hope it shows in my reviews.