We’ve heard of the popular idiom ‘dodge a bullet.’ It’s a figure of speech and not meant to be taken literally.
But can someone dodge a bullet, literally?
The answers (plural) may surprise you.
Yes and no.
It’s all a matter of physics and circumstance.
In most situations, bullets are impossible to be seen by the human eye and travel too fast for anyone to dodge. If the shooter has the proper aim and is close enough to be easily and clearly visible to her/his target, the best a potential victim could do to avoid being shot is to react before the trigger is pulled. However, a spry human is still fast enough to dodge a bullet, literally, in the most favorable of circumstances.
Again, it goes back to physics – more specifically, the speed of the bullet, the distance the bullet has to travel, the time it takes the bullet to reach its destination, and the human reaction time to the gunfire.
At a range of just a quarter of a mile (a little more than a single lap on an Olympic size track) a human with quick reflexes could likely dodge a bullet so long as she/he:
a) knows when and from where the shot is coming and
b) can hear the gunfire or see the blast in order to react fast enough to reduce the chances of being hit.
One lap around an Olympic size track, like the one at your high school or college, is about a quarter of a mile.
In the below MythBusters video, we verify at what distances and in which circumstances someone could dodge a bullet.
At 200 yards…
Using paintballs, the sniper successfully – and consistently – pegged his human target from 200 yards away. Interestingly, the target was still able to react ever so slightly milliseconds before the paint bullet, traveling at 231 mph, landed on his chest.
“At 200 yards, I could see the flash. I reacted to it and tried to get out of its way but I just couldn’t do it fast enough,” said the human target in the study.
It’s safe to say no one, under any circumstance, is fast enough to successfully dodge a bullet at 200 yards, the length of two football fields.
How about at 400 yards?
Using a full flash Hollywood blank, there was a marked difference at 400 yards. Although the sniper was successful multiple times and never missed, the human target, with each passing shot, came closer to dodging the blank with improved technique. In fact, the shot in the final attempt, despite finding its target, was the boxing equivalent of a glancing blow.
Significant progress was made at 400 yards but the result was the same.
And at 500 yards?
Miss, miss, and miss. Even though the bullet reached a speed of 597 mph, the human in the test trial was fast enough to consistently dodge it at a range of 500 hundred yards, effectively turning his body sideways to minimize the sniper’s target area. So, while the decoy bullet was able to attain a higher maximum speed when shot at a greater distance, it still took longer for it to travel 500 yards than 200 or 400.
Of course, the target had the benefit of seeing the extra bright flash of the Hollywood blank. Real bullets wouldn’t have emanated nearly as much.
“If we were using real bullets, I wouldn’t have been able to see a thing,” the target added.
Could boxing speedsters and defensive specialists such as Floyd Mayweather or Vasyl Lomachenko do any better?
Who knows if a top boxer with superior movement and reflexes could pass the 400-yard test?
The man in the study was quasi close so perhaps some could. However, in a real situation, it’s unlikely they’d know when the shot was coming, be able to clearly hear the shot, see the gunfire at that distance, or be in a position to react accordingly when the trigger is pulled.
In the end, no human could dodge a sniper’s bullet at 500 yards in realistic circumstances but it’s not due to his/her lack of speed or reaction time. In fact, extraordinary humans, such as Mayweather or Lomachenko, might be fast enough to dodge a bullet at just 400 yards (or a quarter of a mile), technically speaking.
But, at a range where a human is fast enough to dodge a bullet, she/he, whether on a street or battlefield, would be too far away to hear the gunfire or see the flash created by the blast to sufficiently react.
Moreover, even if they could somehow hear the gunfire, they’d have to know where the shot was coming from, be looking directly at the sniper at the time the trigger was pulled, and be prepared, reflexively, to react.
So yes, in a circumstance highly favorable to the human target someone with good reflexes could probably dodge a bullet that’s shot from 400 yards away. However, in a real situation with the sniper playing by her/his set of rules, it would be nearly impossible for a human to evade an accurate shot.