Gunshot Treatment if there is No Doctor: How to Survive

What would you do if you are far away from professional medical help and you came across someone who had a gunshot wound?

What if emergency responders are delayed? For example, what if you’re caught in a riot and there’s so much chaos that no one notices that someone was shot?

Here’s what you could do if you do not have access to professional medical facilities.

First Steps in Gunshot Treatment in a Survival Emergency

1. Stop the bleeding.

In order to do this you need to apply:

  • Direct pressure
  • Elevate the part of the body affected (don’t elevate if shot in the abdomen as it can increase blood flow)
  • Use a pressure bandage

This usually works for most extremities. If it’s a gutshot, the person will not be able to survive very long unless they get medical treatment quickly.

2. Treat for shock.

Cover the victim for warmth. Keep covered unless there’s a reason not to, such as you’re checking for wounds. Hypothermia can be an overlooked danger especially if you are in the backcountry or exposed to the elements.

Unless it’s hot where you are or the person is well clothed and dry, cover them with a blanket or coat.

3. Look for more wounds

Scan the body. Sometimes the bullet can hit a bone, break into fragments, and stray anywhere in the body.You can’t just depend on looking for an entry and exit wound as some types of bullets can cause multiple injuries.

Remeber: Call 911 Immediately, if its not possible get the victim to the hospital as soon as possible 

Saving a Victim’s Life from a Bullet Wound

In addition to acting on the initial treatment, here’s what to do if emergency help was not on the way.

  1. Keep the person flat (in most cases). Bleeding can cause blood pressure to plummet (that’s called going into shock), which can dangerously reduce blood flow to the brain.
  2. Ensure a good airway. If the person were unconscious, place them on their side to keep the tongue from blocking the airway. If placing on the side were impossible or I suspected a neck injury, do a jaw jut: place fingers behind each side of the person’s jaw and jut it forward, without moving the head. Someone would have to hold it that way.
    • Some experts have suggested, if nothing else, pulling the tongue forward and safely pinning it to the lower lip.

Next Steps: Prevent Infection

When you’ve finished addressing the immediate life-threatening problems, then you can work on preventing infection. In most scenerios, you won’t need to worry about this unless help is at least a few hours away.

  1. Irrigate the wounds with drinkable water.
  2. Apply antibiotic ointment or honey if you have it.
  3. Apply a dressing.
  4. Give oral antibiotics if you have them and the person is conscious. Bullet wounds are dirty wounds.

Things Not to Do When Dealing with a Gunshot Victim

  1. Don’t close the wounds. Even if you know how to close a wound with sutures or tape, you shouldn’t close puncture wounds or bullet wounds, for two reasons: Bleeding could start up again without you knowing it, and closing a puncture or gaping wound just makes a perfect place for bacteria to grow and cause a bad infection.
  2. Don’t discount flesh wounds. If it’s only a flesh wound, great meaning that the bullet didn’t go into the abdominal, chest, or head cavity. If a bullet goes in an arm or leg and out the other side that generally is a good sign. A clean shot, meaning a clean entry and exit wound is better than not. But there are blood vessels and bones in those areas. Look for bleeding, quick swelling (which may be from bleeding), or signs of a broken bone, and treat according.


An acronym that makes things a bit easier to remember.

  • M – Massive hemorrhage – Look for massive bleeding, as this is the greatest danger. An adult who has lost two liters of blood probably will not recover. So you have to stop it before then.
  • A – Airway – Are they able to breathe? If they can talk, they can breathe.
  • R – Respiration – How are they breathing? Get a good idea of how fast and deep they are breathing so that you have a baseline to see any change.
  • C – Circulation – How high is their pulse (not an exact number, just an idea)? How are their skin tone and temperature? Are they clammy, damp, dry, ashen, or blue? If you can feel their pulse at the wrist, they have a systolic blood pressure of 80-90. This is good enough. If you can’t feel it there, but can feel it at the carotid artery (the neck) it is 60-70. At this point, they are at risk of losing too much blood.

Remember To Get Help Quickly if At all Possible

Get the victim to medical treatment ASAP. There are all sorts of things that can go wrong. For one thing, if the bleeding won’t stop, surgery may be the only treatment that helps. Also, they may need blood transfusions. Neither of these is an option outside a medical facility.


[1]National model EMS clinical guidelines.

[2]The first aid and hospital treatment of gunshot and blast injuries.

[3] Tactical Combat Casualty Care Handbook, Version 5.

Photo by Roman Poberezhnik/Unsplash

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