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Episode 85: Red Rag to a Bull, Hot Bullets, Bull in a China Shop

  • Hot Bullets:
    • Bullets in an oven: Bullets stored in an oven can fire with lethal consequences: bullets busted, but a loaded gun confirmed
    • Bullet on a campfire: Bullets thrown into a campfire can kill: busted (injuries, but not lethal)
    • Aerosol cans on a campfire: busted (injuries, but not lethal)
    • Fire extinguisher on a campfire: busted (safety release valve triggers)
    • Beer keg on a campfire: plausible (big boom)
  • Red Flag to a Bull: Does a red flag incite a bull: busted (any moving object will incite a bull)
  • Bull in a China Shop: Do bulls cause massive damage in a china shop: busted The bulls try to avoid the shelves.

The Red Flag to a Bull myth taught me something new: bulls aren't colorblind. While I had known that red flags aren't better than any other color for bulls, it had been explained to me that this was because bulls are colorblind. They are in fact dichromats, which means that they have two color receptors as opposed to the three (or four) that humans have. Regardless, red still doesn't matter to a bull.

The Bull in a China Shop myth was similarly interesting: who knew that bulls would try to go around shelves full of china rather than easily topple them over? One of the bulls even ran through the rows of shelves like a slalom course, china kept intact.

Hot Bullets

Myth: Bullets stored in an oven can fire with lethal consequences.

The MythBusters already had several confirmed reports of this occuring in real life, including live ammo and loaded guns in ovens. Their testing focused on what temperatures were required for the bullets to explode and whether or not the exploding bullets would be lethal.

Bulletproof-ness of oven doors

To first validate the myth, they decided to test whether or not an oven door would stop a bullet. They once again went to the South San Francisco PD firing range to test fire at oven doors. They placed a ballistics gel bust of Grant behind the door and tested various rounds:

  • .22: easily pierced both panes of glass (lethal) but was unable to make it through the metal part
  • .44 magnum: the round made it through the metal door and into the ballistics gel bust
  • shotgun: the shotgun blast made mincemeat of the metal and glass

Hot oven test

They setup an oven in their shipping container to test:

  1. Will the bullets go off?
  2. Will the bullets escape the oven?
  3. If they escape the oven, how lethal are they?

They used soundboard and plywood backstops to catch the escaping bullets. They had previously tested the backstops to calibrate what a 'lethal' hit looked like.

  • .22 bullet test: they lined up a bullet pointing towards the glass of the door. At 500F a bullet went off, but the glass was unmarred. Instead, the bullet casing flew back and dented the back of the oven, causing much more damage than the bullet itself. The casing is heaving
  • .44 bullet test: they increased the caliber of the bullet to a .44 and lined it up with the casing facing the glass. Once again, the blast was contained within the oven.
  • .50 bullet test: the .50 managed to send flame shooting out of the oven and the inner layer of the glass door was shattered. The outer layer remained intact, however, and the only other damaged was some dents in the metal.
  • Loaded .44 handgun: the bullet had no trouble firing with lethal velocity through the glass door.

Ammunition by itself was busted, but a loaded gun was confirmed

Bullets on a Campfire

Myth: Bullets in a campfire can fire with lethal force

Adam and Jamie went out to the Alameda Bomb Range to test a variation on the bullets in an oven myths: bullets on a campfire. Without the oven to absorb the blast, they wanted to see how much damage a bullet can do. Jamie rigged up a remote control vehicle to deliver the bullets to the 1000 degree fire while Adam setup triangles of the soundboard + plywood backboard to gauge the bullet damage -- ballistics gel would melt over a fire. Once again, expert Jamie Nelson to supervise.

As expected, the bullet immediately began to fire like popcorn when they were dumped on the 1000 degree fire. The thermal camera was able to catch individual bits of shrapnel firing into the boards.

After the popcorn noise of the bullets had ceased, Adam wanted to put out the fire in order to protect his soundboard+plywood rig from burning. Adam was just going to walk over to the fire, but Jamie recommended carrying one of the blast shields over to protect them. Adam argued his side but was quickly rebutted by the sound of another bullet going off in the fire: "Alright, let's walk with one of these ahead of us."

Just as in the oven myth, it was the bullet casings that did the major damage.

Bullets on a Campfire: busted

Adam: "Well, you know me and Jamie: the fun can't end just there. Tthere have been plenty of idiotic things that people have thrown into campfires and we're going to try as many of them as we have time for!"

Other things in a fire

  • Aerosol cans (bug spray): one simply exploded, the other rocketed around in a spiraling trajectory. busted (injuries, but probably not lethal)
  • Beer keg: they built a bigger fire to throw in the keg. They had to drain the keg down to a gallon of a beer because it was too heavy for them to throw (who would throw a full keg into a fire?). With Adam in bomb suit and Jamie in fire suit, they set the beer keg in the fire. Twenty minutes later, they got a big boom as the top of the keg split open to release the steam built up inside. No shrapnel was released, but several pieces were close. plausible (high probability of being lethal)
  • Fire extinguisher (online extra): the overpressure release valve triggered, safely releasing the gas busted

Jamie: "It smells like roasted grains."

Red Flag to a Bull

Myth: Does a red flag incite a bull?

Kari and Grant went to the Cow Palace to interview rodeo clown Rodney Gaston. Gaston gave them a list of his own injuries: lacerated pancreas, punctured arm, and femur broken in four places. He also described how a cowboy could easily be knocked 30 ft into the air by a bull.

They also interiewed Profesor Janet Andrews of the University of Pheonix. She explained that bulls are not colorblind. They are dichromats, whereas humans are trichromats (some women are tetrachromats). Thus, bulls can see color, though not as well as humans.

There were three variables that the build team wanted to test: color, human shape, and motion. Rather than risk themselves, they made three foam body casts of Tory and then stuck molds of each of their heads on the bodies. Kari's foam dummy was outfit with red clothes, red hair, and red lipstick. Grant's was made all white and Tory's blue. Grant outfitted each of the foam bodies with a drill motor and crank to move the arms back and forth, thus waving the flag.

The Build Team setup five tests to test these variables:

Test 1: Single static flag (red, white and blue)

The bulls charged the flags regardless of color, which indicated that a red flag doesn't matter.

Test 2: Comparitive static flag (all three flags)

They setup all three flags in a line to see which the bulls would choose. This confirmed the results of test #1: the bulls went after all of the flags instead of just the red flag.

Test 3: Moving flag compared to static

Grant used a remote control to move the blue flags while the red flag remained motionless: the bull went after the moving flag. This indicated that motion was an important factor in getting a bull to charge.

Test 4: Human form with moving flags

The red, white, and blue dummies were setup on the course. The bull immediately went after the white Grant dummy and split it in two.

After checking out the damage, they brought out a Mexican fighting bull, which is trained to attack, to test against the remaining red and blue dummies. The bull took down the blue Tory dummy first, and the finally knocked over the red Kari dummy.

Final test: Tory in red

Tory was dressed in red as two trained cowboys ran around him to attract the bull's attention. The cowboys were able to keep the bull's attention, even after the bull wandered near Tory and stared directly at him.


Bull in a China Shop

The build team setout to test the adage, "Like a bull in a china shop."

Kari constructed shelves out of foam -- so they wouldn't harm to bulls -- which were then safety tested by a diving Tory (they crumble safely). They setup about 10 of these shelves in a bull pen and set a bull loose. The single bull actually managed to avoid almost all of the shelves. One was knocked over when it first turned around, but it was then able to slalom through the rest without causing china damage.

Two bulls were similarly well behaved. Despite charging in side-by-side, they did their best to avoid hitting the shelves. Three and four bulls managed to knock some more shelves down, but still did their best to avoid porcelain damage.

busted The Build Team was far more destructive.


I was burning leaves in my backyard in Illinois when some yahoo (neighbor kid) threw a couple of spray paint cans into the fire. One (or both, I don't know) exploded and the circular end of a can neatly sliced a flap of skin and flesh from my forehead. I actually saw it flying toward me like a shiruken.

Blood gushed everywhere as I held the flap of skin and flesh against my head. Plastic surgeon had to sew it back on. There's still a pretty big scar on my forehead from that injury.

Ouch. There were definitely plenty of "neighborhood kid + aerosol + fire" incidents when I was growing up.