How to Treat a Gunshot Wound – First Aid 101

In the wilderness, there are no doctors. If something happens to you or a loved one, you can’t rush to a hospital. It will be up to YOU to play the role of doctor. It’s simply the reality of being in the wilderness. In this article, I want to teach you how to treat a gunshot wound. While the chances are slim that you’ll be shot when in the wild, it’s still a good idea to be prepared. Accidents with guns happen all the time, so there’s always a possibility that you’ll be at the other end of the trigger. Let’s look at some tips for treating gunshot wounds.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. I’m simply showing you what I’ve learned about first aid for gunshot wounds. It won’t work for every situation, nor will it guarantee your survival. If you’ve been shot, and are able to seek professional medical help, then do it. The information in this article should be reserved only for emergencies. Finally, if you’re going to use a gun, remember to do it in a safe and responsible manner (and NEVER point it at anyone!).

How to Treat a Gunshot Wound

Check for Internal Bleeding

When treating gunshot wounds, the first thing you should do is check for internal bleeding. Here are the signs to look for:

  • Weak Pulse
  • Decreased Alertness
  • Nausea and/or Vomiting
  • Decreased Blood Pressure

Internal bleeding is a very serious matter. Without rapid transfer to a medical facility, the person will probably die. I’m not saying give up if you notice these signs, but just know that the chances of survival are slim in these instances. Also, another sign that a person is bleeding internally is that their lips will turn blue or dark purple.

Living Ready Pocket Manual – First Aid

For Gunshot Wounds to the Head

Here’s the general gunshot wound treatment tips for someone who has been shot in the head:

  • Apply Pressure: Don’t tie any tourniquets around the neck. Instead, try to control the bleeding by applying pressure directly to the area that’s been shot.
  • Watch for Choking: To make sure the victim doesn’t choke on their own blood, have them sit up (if their conscious). If they’re unconscious, then turn them onto their side.
  • Occlusive Dressing: If you think that the carotid artery (the biggest artery in the neck) has been nicked, make an occlusive dressing.

The biggest takeaway here is to think about the airway.

For Gunshot Wounds to the Chest

When learning how to treat a gunshot wound to the chest, here’s what to know:

  • “Sucking” Chest Wound: An open chest wound is often referred to as a “sucking” chest wound. That’s because they have a tendency of sucking air in, which can cause a lung to collapse. You’ll need to apply an occlusive dressing to stop the sucking.
  • Spine Movement: Remember that the spine composes the back of the chest. For this reason, be very careful when moving victims. You’ll want to keep them as still as possible, otherwise, you could cause permanent spinal cord damage.
  • Location: If the bullet has hit a lung, the heart, or a major blood vessel, there’s not really much that you can do. Your best bet in this situation will be to seek expert medical care. Otherwise, the person will probably die.

The biggest takeaway for chest wounds is to think about potential spine injuries.

For Gunshot Wounds to the Abdomen

Here are some things to think about when treating gunshot wounds to the abdomen:

  • Protect Organs: If it’s an open wound (you can see the intestines) then you’ll need to apply a sterile dressing on top of the wound.
  • Injured Intestines: If you notice that the intestines are ripped open, I’m sorry to say that there’s little hope for survival. If they don’t bleed out, they’ll probably die from an infection.
  • Take Nothing Orally: The victim should take nothing by mouth until the pain begins to subside- then wait two days to begin eating and drinking.

The biggest takeaway here is to think about organ protection.

The Survival Medicine Handbook

For Gunshot Wounds to the Arms or Legs

When learning how to treat gunshot wounds to the arms or legs, here’s what to think about:

  • Pressure, Elevation, and Bandaging (in That Order): Begin by applying pressure to the wound, then elevate the wound above the heart. Finally, apply a pressure bandage. If it’s still bleeding after this, use your fingers to apply pressure to the brachial artery.
  • Tourniquet: If all else fails, you’ll need to make a tourniquet. In some instances, it may come down to a “lose a limb or lose a life” type of situation. Remember, tourniquets shouldn’t be used in every situation. I recommend that you learn more about them.
  • Splints: If the area around the gunshot is rapidly swelling, then this could be a sign of internal bleeding. There’s also a possibility that the bones have been shattered. If this is the case, you’ll need to make a splint to help support the shattered bone.

The biggest takeaway here is to think about broken bones.

For Superficial Gunshot Wounds

The gunshot wound treatment plan for superficial wounds (bullets that haven’t penetrated the body) is pretty straightforward. Simply clean the wound as much as possible and begin an antibiotic regimen. This will help avoid an infection. Of all the gunshot wound types, these are the least dangerous. But just because they’re the least dangerous, doesn’t mean they can’t kill you. So take them just as seriously as all the others.

“What About The Bullet?!”

In most instances, you DON’T WANT TO REMOVE THE BULLET. Not only will the bullet very extremely difficult to find, but removing it can actually cause more damage. That’s because the bullet could be corking up a large blood vessel, so removing it could cause you to bleed out. Remember, thousands of military veterans live with shrapnel in their bodies, so if you survive the initial gunshot, your body will probably adapt to the metal without much of an issue. This is a key tip to remember as far as first aid for gunshot wounds is concerned.

The “ABCDE” Acronym for Gunshot Wound Treatment

When learning how to treat a gunshot wound, a helpful acronym to remember is the “ABCDE” acronym. This acronym describes a series of steps that you can take to treat a gunshot wound when you’re all by yourself. Here’s an explanation of each letter:

  • Airway (A): This is the first and most important thing to check for. Basically, check if their airway is obstructed (either by blood or their own tongue). When people go into shock, they have a tendency of swallowing their own tongue.
  • Breathing (B): If you performed the above, then you’ve determined if the person can breathe or not. When learning how to treat a gunshot wound, know that you may have to perform CPR (mouth-to-mouth) to help them begin breathing again.
  • Circulation (C): This relates to the victim’s blood circulation. If the gunshot wound is serious, chances are that they’ve lost a lot of blood. You’ll want to apply pressure to the wound to minimize blood loss as much as possible. If you have nothing else, use your hand to apply pressure.
  • Disability (D): Can the person move around on their own? If they can’t, because of a spinal cord injury for example, then they’re considered disabled. In 99% of cases, you should never move a person who’s had a spinal cord injury.
  • Exposure (E): If there’s one gunshot wound, then there could also be more. Treating gunshot wounds is about finding all possible bullet wounds. Check in areas that aren’t so obvious like the arm pit or groin area. This ensures you won’t miss anything.

The ABCDE acronym doesn’t guarantee survival for the victim. It’s simply a series of steps that you can take as the first responder to increase that person’s chance of survival. Here’s a neat video that will talk about this acronym in greater detail:

How to Treat a Gunshot Wound – Bottom Line

Treating a real gunshot wound obviously won’t this easy. Every gunshot wound is different, so you’ll need to think for yourself. Overall, learning how to treat a gunshot wound is a good skill to have as a survivalist. Hopefully you’ll never need to use this information, but it’s still good to know in my opinion. Remember, when using a gun, always assume that it’s loaded (even if it’s not). That’s a great way to make sure that someone doesn’t accidentally get shot.

Survival MD – The Ultimate Prepper First Aid Course

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