How to Remove a Bullet

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How to Remove a Bullet

Typically no one wants to read an article on what not to do. I shouldn’t have to write an article to tell you not to stick your hand down the garbage disposal. Yes, if your leftover hooters hot-wings clog up your garbage disposal there are ways to fix it. Doing something stupid and dangerous like sticking your hand down there to fix it is less than ideal.

Why do I mention this? I just read an article on how to remove a bullet on another prepper website. My impulse is to string together a buffet of swear words to describe how irresponsible this article was. Fortunately, I believe we should work together as preppers for a common good so I will just use the Southern approach. This other website ‘meant well’ bless their heart, but by ‘meant well’ they suggested you probe the wound with a knife… You know because Gun Shot Wounds (GSW) also need to be stabbed repeatedly, hence my anger. Now in normal every day society removing a bullet from someone outside of a hospital is a legal mess. I am not suggesting that you do any of the below. You really have to be in a rather fucked up situation to need to perform amateur surgery. Let’s not kid ourselves, surgery isn’t something you want amateurs to do on you.

Here is why you absolutely positively should not attempt to remove a bullet from a patient.

  1. You aren’t a surgeon, the human body really responds poorly to unskilled, ignorant people poking around and figuring out shit as they go.
  2. Even if you were a surgeon you don’t have an Operating Room and in all likelihood none of your equipment will be sterile.
  3. Even if you have all the equipment and were a surgeon you don’t have imaging. You have no idea where the bullet has gone.
  4. Even if you are a surgeon, and you do have all the equipment to perform surgery including imaging, you still need to have the person under anesthesia and you sure as shit aren’t an anesthesiologist.

So if you get shot the best advice I can give you is to go to a Trauma Center ASAP. It is far better even if you were involved in some really illegal shit to go to a hospital and lawyer the fuck up than to trust your life to an amateur surgeon. So trust me when I say this to you, do not try to remove a bullet while we still have rule of law.

The problem is that articles like the one I mentioned exist. Me saying don’t even try it realistically will fall on deaf ears. So if I don’t say how to do this as safely as possible then people will find articles like the one I just read and they will use that as a guide. So let us first assume that you are going to attempt this despite all reasonable arguments I can make to the contrary. I am not here to judge. Now let’s say you are in a SHTF situation like you are in Zimbabwe far far away from medical help and in no way able to sue me. Fine… I am not going to discuss major surgery because I am not a surgeon and I am not going to fake like I am. Even if I were it would get WAY complicated. Major surgery complicates things immensely because typically unless you are the Spanish Inquisition you don’t want to cut someone open while they are awake. Not only that but organs if they dry out… kinda die. So if you are dealing with a bullet to the torso in any way… Then um… I got nothing. You are fucked. My best advice find a veterinarian.

Now the title of the article is how to remove a bullet… and it can be a bullet but this will also work for shrapnel, broken glass, bone fragments, ect. For the sake of brevity let’s continue to call it a bullet. What it shouldn’t be is an arrow or barb that will cause more damage trying to pull it out. Let us also assume you cannot locate said bullet with X-Rays, Ultrasounds, or any such advanced imaging.

Let’s assume that this bullet is not near any major blood vessels or vital organs IE in the arms or legs below the knees… or in fat deposits… AKA your booty.

First off. Sterile Fields are kinda important. The bullet is inside the body and when ever you go poking around inside someones body you need to be as sterile as humanly possible. You can use a pressure cooker as a mini autoclave to sterilize instruments and towels and gloves. You are going to need to make a plan before you do anything. Lay out all your instruments on a sterile towel or drape of some kind. Get ready with tourniquets and combat gauze in case you fuck things up.

What you need and what you have may be two different things. So you might need to some MacGyver shit. 

You are going to need to don sterile gloves. That means keep your dirty paws off of the outside of said gloves. There are YouTube videos on how to don sterile gloves. Go look that up. You are also going to want to wear a scrub top or t shirt. Nothing with sleeves. You are going to want to vigorously scrub your hands for like no less than 2 minutes, and use a brush to scrub under your finger nails.

Next you want to scrub the site. Scrub around where you plan on working. You can use iodine, alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide. Make sure none of this gets in the wound.

You are going to need to know how to deal with wound care and closure techniques. I already wrote articles on that. Get good at it.

Now for the probing. Instead of a knife I have two far less invasive ideas. 1. Medical Q-Tip. 2. IV Catheter or Needle (sterile) >22ga. Before you go sticking instruments in someone you might want to get a general idea of where the bullet may be. Entrance wounds will be a good indicator of the direction you might be wanting to look. Take note of the depth and location of the bullet. If you know your anatomy and you aren’t in danger of causing further harm then go for it. If you need to refer to a book then fine. You are going to look like a dufus and the patient may not trust you but it isn’t like you have much choice am I right.

So you located the bullet. you are going in to retrieve it. If at all possible allow gravity to aid you in the removal of said bullet. The way bullets mess you up is they cavitate and displace tissue when they enter your body. Kinda like a boat that has a hole. That will do a lot of damage. Thus things may be very messy. So part of your plan needs to be plenty of wound packing material and plenty of gauze.

From here on out you are going to need a partner in crime unless you are Mortal Kombat’s Goro and have 4 arms. Typically it has been my experience that when you cut someone open your patient might bleed. That blood may get visually in the way. So have someone spread the flesh open so you can dab away blood and retrieve said bullet. If a bullet has gone in to someone the best idea is to pull it out the way it came, which is the least invasive approach. You are going to want to use good forceps or tweezers to get a hold of this bullet and pull it out. Obviously this is going to require good lighting so perhaps a headlamp will lend itself well to this situation.

We may not always be in ideal situations in life. You ultimately have to live with the decisions you make. If a patient is stable then get them to help. If they are circling the drain use tourniquets and try to get them to help. Civil War field hospitals were a death trap. So I imagine that your field hospital won’t be much better. If SHTF and they are stable it might be best to leave the object where it is rather than go digging around for it. You really need to use your best clinical judgement. Do not do something that is over your head. Simple measures save lives. People have lived with bullets and shrapnel in them all the time. So my best advice is do not try to poke around if at all possible.

I would also like to point out that professional surgeons do make mistakes with lots of people watching what they are doing and with lots of safety protocols in place. So trying to be a surgeon is not going to work out well for you. There are a billion things that can go wrong. So don’t be in a rush to be a hero. Stop and think about the risks involved.



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About David Black

Trained and Certified: National Registry EMT, Wilderness EMT, US Army 68W, Tactical Combat Causality Care (TCCC), Basic Life Support for Healthcare Workers, Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Pediatric Advanced Life Support, US Coast Guard Medical Person In-Charge, Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support. International Trauma Life Support. HAM Radio Technician. Trained and Certified to Instruct: Combat Life Saver Instructor and Community Emergency Response Team Trainer. CPR, AED, First Aid.

9 thoughts on “How to Remove a Bullet

  1. This is great advice on what not to do should you or someone nearby suffer a bullet wound. So many times the movies romanticize these types of wounds and show people simply pulling bullets out or going about their day with a bullet inside of them. This is terrifying and can lead to serious infection or worse. Seeking the help of a medical professional is the only logical case should someone get shot. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Just sharing an interesting anecdote: When I worked for a Federal Court, one day I was chatting with a Federal Protective Service Police Officer. We were talking about guns and such. He showed me a scar on his lower leg where he’d been shot in the past. He said that the bullet was in the bone and the Doctors decided that getting it out might severely damage his leg so they left it in. He said that it did not bother him and he could walk OK so he actually forgot about it. One day, a couple of years later, he noticed a lump on his leg so he went to a Doctor, The Doctor had his leg x-rayed and found out that it was the bullet which had worked its way out of his leg up to the skin. The Doctor just numbed his skin, used a scapel and easily removed the bullet. The path that the bullet had taken to come out had already healed up so the Doctor closed the surgical wound with some stitches and it healed up.

  3. I read comments and agree that you should not go rogue and (play) in blood as a doctor said but seems to me in SHTF or TEOTWAWKI the more knowledge the better. OBVIOUSLY this is a tutorial of LAST RESORT in other words THER is NO OTHER options left. The author provided many warnings and caveats, SO PLEASE take information like this for what it’s worth and with a grain of salt.

  4. Where I used to live, there was somebody who liked to shoot at cats. I mention this because some of them were my cats, three different cats that lived long and happy lives with bullets in them. So, if you can’t go to a hospital, your best bet is to leave the bullet where it is.

  5. Brudda’s dat is ONE hole you don’t wanna go pokin’ around in. That cowboy would probably rather sleep with you on Brokeback Mountain and have you pokin’ OTHER holes than that bullet hole. That said, Let GRAVITY and the bodies natural reflex to expel foreign objects work for you. If it’s that deep. You are going to make a bad situation worse. ABC’s, Stabilize and immobilize, CLEAN IT!!!!! Relieve pain and make comfortable and protect from further incoming if possible God bless and be with you all.

  6. In three decades of thoracic surgery….

    The majority of the time the bullet exited. Only one time I can remember we specifically went in to retrieve a bullet that did not exit. Most of the time, we go in to repair arterial or (rarely) venous bleeds that won’t clot well and/or to re-establish blood flow to critical vasculature. That might mean incidentally that we retrieve a bullet or shotgun pellets. They are evidence in criminal investigations.

    In a non-surgical environment, good hemostasis (clotting) is generally what saves lives. Direct pressure to the wound(s), keep the victim immobile and maintain the ABC’s (airway, breathing, circulation). When necessary, apply tourniquets to extremities, but only to the extent that it stops the bleeding. Often moderate constriction works better than extreme constriction. If possible, loosen in 20 minutes or so and observe for good clotting and distal pulses.

    Loss of blood means loss of fluid and healthy oxygen transport. Maintaining fluids and blood pressure to ward off uncompensated shock is important. But not to the point of elevated blood pressure. Also, too much fluid can lower the concentration of critical clotting factors in the blood and lead to unregulated bleeding.

    If the victim makes it through the first 5-6 hours, then bleeding is not usually the killer, but rather infection and or necrosis (dying tissue) from lack of blood flow.

    To paraphrase from the Karate Kid, “Danielsahn, best way to not get hit is to not be there when it happens.”

    If the world falls down around our ankles, stay away from danger if possible, and if not possible, wear some body armor and “hunker down”. And keep your fingers out of other people’s bullet holes.

    • 20 years as a physician here. Listen to the surgeon – smart guy who is absolutely right.

      Stop the bleeding, support the patient’s circulation, and minimize or treat infection.

      The Hippocratic oath is “above all do no harm”. That is, don’t go cowboy on the patient and kill him because you want to play in the blood.

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