Treating a Gunshot Wound: How To Do It Properly

While you’re out in the woods, wild animals are not the only ones you should be cautious with. A stray bullet from another hunter could actually be the worst nightmare that ever happened to you or your partner.

Bullet wounds are one of the most extremely traumatic and painful injuries one can suffer as it’s difficult to assess the extent of damage caused by a gunshot, and it typically far surpasses what you can fairly treat with first aid.

Though you can find ways to stabilize the injured person, for the best option, they still need to get to a hospital as soon as possible. However, there are still some first-aid measures that you can take before the professional assistance arrives.

Remember, while you may not be able to know how much damage has been done, controlling the bleeding might be the crucial difference between life and death for the victim.

It is vital that you act within 10 minutes after the gunshot itself. There are many kinds of gunshot wounds depending on where the person is shot, e.g. the head, abdomen or limbs (legs or arms).

Different procedures should be done for different areas accordingly, and you must not mix one treatment for a different wound, otherwise there is a risk to worsen the victim’s condition.

Mechanism of Injury

Before we get to explaining how to treat a gunshot wound we need to look a bit closer to how the damage occurs in the first place. There are many different types of bullets but in general, to put it simply, it’s a small casing, which contains powder charge.

On striking, the bullet may travel at incredible speeds of up to 1500 meters per second – the speed varies and depends on the actual bullet, its weight and type of gun.

Once the bullet hits a target, the powder charge explodes and destroys everything nearby. Commonly the upper body (head and abdomen) are the most vulnerable and are likely to cause more damage, and if hit by a bullet, the person may suffer instant blood loss and serious injury to internal and vital organs.

Injury is inflicted in number of ways as follows:

  • Severe bleeding/blood loss
  • Damage to tissues and critical organs
  • Broken bones
  • Wound infection
  • Paralysis
  • Death

Usually surgery is needed to remove the bullet or its pieces and if there are any broken bones, the shattered pieces must also be removed as well, since they can heavily damage close by tissues and/or organs.

Furthermore, the wound must be cleaned, disinfected and sewn. Gunshots wounds that pass through the body without hitting major organs, blood vessels, or bone tend to cause less damage

How to Treat A Gunshot Wound

Prior to treating the wound you first have to evaluate the severity of the damage caused. Immediately stopping the bleeding and removing the bullet need to be prioritized. If the bullet remains in the body, an infection may progress and make the victim’s condition much worse.

Stop the bleed

There are situations that you’re somewhere in the wild, and far from a hospital or the emergency center, you should at least try to remove the larger pieces of the bullet, so you can clean and disinfect the wound.

Keep in mind that anything you use to get the bullet out should be sterilized or at least cleaned without any dirt on. If you bring any alcohol then you’re all set. If you don’t, try burning it in the fire or use a lighter.

Another important thing is that you have to stop the bleeding by putting direct pressure on it (carefully since it probably hurts a lot), bandage the wound before you can find a hospital.

To bandage the wound you would need the most sterile cloth available to you. The bandage must be changed regularly and be kept clean all the time, so you can prevent infection.

This might be your main concern. If you somehow managed to keep the bleeding in control, then the next threat is infection.


If you happen to have antibiotics, by all means, take some. They will prevent the progress of any infection, which may have already started as you got hurt.

Plus, don’t hesitate to take any painkillers (if you have any). They will reduce the pain and will keep you sane and focused to find your way to civilization so you can get sufficient help.

By any chance, if you could get through the emergency service, try to remain stable and keep the limb or the bullet wound from any movement while waiting for help.

If someone else (your hunting partner, friend or relative) got shot you will have to take care of them yourself, before you can get to a hospital. Here are the first 5 primary steps you should take and they are easy to remember as “A, B, C, D, E”


Airway (A) – It is the first thing to do as it’s like the most important: you have to check if the victim is still alive meaning are they still breathing or not? If yes, then they are fine and their airway passage is clean.

In the cases when the person is unconscious you have to examine if they can breathe or if the airway passage is blocked somehow.

Breathing (B) – Once you have successfully performed the above, then you probably have already determined if the person can breathe or not. Keep the airway open and clear if the victim is still breathing and if not, begin CPR.

Pay close attention to the chest rising or falling (a good indication for breathing) to make sure there’s nothing weird going on with the victim such as rapid or in any way unnatural breathing the person has, even if they are conscious.

Circulation (C) – Put pressure on the wound so you can minimize any further blood loss as much as you can, which may occur. In addition, regularly check the victim’s pulse, either at the wrist, or the throat.

Disability/Deformity (D) – This examination is important before moving on to helping the victim.

Usually the Red Cross suggests that, if a person suffers from a spinal cord injury, they should not be moved until professional help comes, or if you have to move them to help them breathe for instance, you have to be extremely careful and move them slowly. Still this is only in critical situations where helping them breathe is of top priority.

Exposure (E) – Take any clothing off that is on or around the injury. It is also important that you find all the bullet wounds that you can, including any possible exit wound. In some cases, there may be small bits from the bullet that have stayed around the wound, but trying to get them out could do more harm than good, so it’s best that you just leave them there.

It’s a totally different story when you’re in the surgery room and medical personnel do the operation, then they can also remove all pieces from the wound.

Tips on Wound Care

  • Call the emergency as soon as the shooting happened. Surviving a gunshot wound depends immensely on how quickly a victim gets to a hospital.
  • Tell the medical personnel exactly what you did to stabilize the victim as the emergency arrives.
  • Let conscious victims sit or lie in a position most comfortable for them. Unconscious victims should be placed in the recovery position.
  • Do not give the victim anything to eat or drink, even water.
  • Bullets are unpredictable, and can bounce around the inside of a victim. There would also be internal bleeding which you can do nothing about, do not make any attempt for it may worsen the victim’s condition.
  • Do not elevate legs to treat for shock if the gunshot wound is above the waist (unless the gunshot wound is in the arm). Gunshot wounds to the abdomen and chest will bleed more quickly once the legs are elevated, making it harder for the victim to breathe.
  • Stay safe. It is possible that a gunshot wound be lethal for the victim. Do not risk your own life no matter what. You can only advance to help the victim as long as you’re in good condition first.