Want to Take a Bullet for Fun? Head to Bogota Like I Did
James M. Clash
On your next trip to Bogota, Colombia, stop by Miguel Caballero’s company on the outskirts of town. If you’re extra nice, he just might shoot you.
The entrepreneur has a novel way of running his organization. He encourages employees to take a bullet while wearing a piece of the firm’s bulletproof clothing. Occasionally he will even shoot tourists – and journalists – if they ask him.
There is a big market for ballistics garments. Politicians, businessmen, celebrities and the military all are avid consumers. Caballero’s customers include actor Steven Seagal, Spain’s Prince Felipe – even President Barack Obama.
Caballero aims to make his clothing line attractive and discreet while also providing maximum protection to the wearer. Products range from the more fashion-oriented and lightweight – like the off-the-rack Gold and custom-made Black lines – to the more heavy-duty for police and military.
After a personal tour of the factory, including live demonstrations with guns in a soundproof lab to measure bullet velocities and impact damage, I was fitted with a beautiful leather jacket. On the surface the garment is stylish but inside is fitted with lightweight flexible panels a half-inch thick. The bulletproof compound of nylon and polyester used in construction is patented and secret.
Next I was escorted into a large room with workers, many behind sewing machines. Some put in earplugs, others made the sign of the cross. They had seen this routine before and don’t particularly like it.
For extra protection, all “test” subjects wear two layers in the lower stomach area where they are to be shot – the thinner, flexible one that’s standard with the garment, and a harder Kevlar-like back-up plate to reduce trauma and for insurance if the first layer fails.
I wanted to take a shot the way someone in the field might. That meant with just the one flexible layer. At first Caballero refused. He had only shot someone that way once before, an insistent dealer from the Middle East, and the poor soul ended up with a fractured rib.
A .38 revolver – the gun he uses – causes flesh displacement of about 25 mm with just the one layer, within the “safe” range. Still, Caballero said, the impact would be similar to a heavyweight punch from the likes of the late Joe Frazier and would leave a large, painful bruise.
I nodded that I understood, but my stomach was still queasy. I couldn’t help but think of Clint Eastwood’s old “Dirty Harry” movies and Inspector Callahan’s famous line, “The question you have to ask yourself: ‘Do I feel lucky?'” Evidently Caballero thought I was lucky, because he grudgingly agreed to my one-layer request.
First he practiced on me with no bullets in the revolver. As instructed, each time I put my hands behind my back, held my breath and tensed my stomach muscles while he counted one, two, three. Each time with the empty gun he pulled the trigger on three.
Just before the real test, Caballero placed a sticker on the jacket where he planned to shoot me – a fatty area below my ribs but above the hip, and slightly left of center. Then he put on noise-canceling headphones and I put in earplugs.
A nervous hush descended on the room. Caballero carefully placed a single bullet in the chamber – one I had randomly chosen earlier – sighed and said, “Ready?” I took a deep breath and tensed my stomach.
Just as Caballero counted “one,” I saw a yellow flash and heard a loud crack. It was as if a hot poker burned my skin followed by a blunt, but very heavy, thud.
Stunned, I didn’t move in case Caballero would shoot again (he was supposed to fire on three!), but quickly he lowered the gun. The audience, visibly relieved, applauded. Then he dug the bullet lead out of my jacket and handed it to me, still hot, as a keepsake.
He went on to explain that the practice runs were only to gauge my “tensing” routine, and that he had always planned to shoot on one. A little surprise in this case, he said, was my friend. He also shot point-blank to minimize any chance of my moving at the last second.
I am now an honorary member of Caballero’s “Survivors Club,” and to prove it I have the spent shell casing and lead, a signed t-shirt and unfortunately a painful circular lyme-disease-like stomach bruise.
The club’s official members were shot in the line of duty wearing Caballero’s products. Many security personnel have sent testimonials back to the company with photos of their impacted garments – some even stained with blood.
Caballero says his biggest problem is knockoffs.
“Sometimes people mail in a “bulletproof” product to be fixed with my name on the label, but we didn’t make it. Our materials are proven and work. With these other guys, who knows?”
Caballero’s sales mostly are in the Middle East and South America, but Africa is a big market too. And, unfortunately, America is emerging. After the Newtown massacre, Caballero received a barrage of calls from parents. In response, his company has rolled out a line of bulletproof children’s products.
For video of the shooting:
Jim Clash is an adventure journalist and director of The Explorers Club, is author of “The Right Stuff: Interviews With Icons of the 1960s” (AskMen, 2012) and “Forbes To The Limits” (Wiley, 2003).