Feel free to add snickering snarkasm below. When you’re done with that, riddle me this: are you concerned about ammo over-penetration during a self-defense scenario? Given the 5.56 round’s performance, I’ve always considered my AR-15 an “outside toy” and relied on my Benelli M2 (loaded with Winchester PDX1-12) for home defense duty—even though I can’t imagine that 1 oz. slug would be inordinately detained by drywall. More generally, are you worried about hitting an innocent downrange when you’re facing a lethal threat at bad breath distances? To the point where you load frangible ammo in your AR or carry hollow-points in your handgun? If not, why not?

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53 Responses to Question of the Day: Do You Worry About Over-Penetration?

  1. Not since I tested the Hornady TAP in .223 against dry wall. Unlike the FMJs or pistol caliber hollow points I tested, the TAP actually fragmented on exiting. I’m pretty secure in the fact that my AR isn’t going to put rounds into my neighbor’s house.

  2. It’s not my primary concern, but I do keep it as a consideration. I still love shotguns for home defense, but since I’m responsible for everything I send down range, I have my shotgun loaded with Federal #1 hardened buck with a very tight group. http://www.gtdist.com/ProductDetail.aspx?PartNumber=FC-LE1321B

    I picked #1 buck based of the recommendations of IWBA and Dr Gary Roberts

    “For personal defense and law enforcement applications, the International Wound Ballistics Association advocates number 1 buckshot as being superior to all other buckshot sizes.

    Number 1 buck is the smallest diameter shot that reliably and consistently penetrates more than 12 inches of standard ordnance gelatin when fired at typical shotgun engagement distances. A standard 2 ¾-inch 12 gauge shotshell contains 16 pellets of #1 buck. The total combined cross sectional area of the 16 pellets is 1.13 square inches. Compared to the total combined cross sectional area of the nine pellets in a standard #00 (double-aught) buck shotshell (0.77 square inches), the # 1 buck shotshell has the capacity to produce over 30 percent more potentially effective wound trauma.

    In all shotshell loads, number 1 buckshot produces more potentially effective wound trauma than either #00 or #000 buck. In addition, number 1 buck is less likely to over-penetrate and exit an attacker’s body.”

    Since I’m a pretty damn good shot, and the flitecontrol wad makes for a very tight pattern at close range, I’m fairly certain the setup I picked will be effective at both stopping an attacker, and minimizing any chances of collateral damage.

  3. Hitting neighbors (we live in a townhouse) or innocent bystanders (when out and about) has always been a concern of mine. I almost always have my home defense and carry revolvers loaded with Glaser Safety Slugs (blue or silver, depending on the season), unless I’m out in the woods, then I load hollowpoints.

  4. I load my shotgun with 00 buck and my handgun with hollowpoints. Not because of fear of overpenetration, but because at house ranges I want an effective tool. I live in a city and I’ll not be going outside my house in any foreseeable self defense scenario.

    In the future, if I move out of California, I might buy an EBR. As for overpenetration, I’ve never heard of a DGU where a bystander was hit by a round that had already hit the intended target.

    I guess we should specify. Overpenetration or a loose round that missed the target.

  5. I’m worried about it because I have a split bedroom 1 story house. From the end of the master hallway toward either the front or rear door puts a bullet right into a child’s room. I have to move to get to them, so barricade and wait is not a viable tactic.

  6. I do worry about overpenetration because no matter what you use for ammo it still has to have the power to penetrate the badguy. Thus you need to keep your shots to hitting bad people only. Certain doors/windows are thinner and less likely to stop bullets than drywall. Gun control is hitting your target and as hunter safety courses teach you, know what is behind your target. Now this is in the terms of reasonable calibers. I am not guarding our home with a M1 Garand or a Savage chambered in 338 Lapua.

  7. My wife does! :()

    However, I dont worry too much about it. 9×18 hollowpoint, in the pistol. #4 buck in the 870 shouldn’t go too far. Plus my primary firing lanes are into 4ft of brick, into the woods, or towards the ground. If sh1t gets really real, 7.62×39 will still be safe in those directions.

  8. My primary personal protection in the home is a .38 revolver. Not too much of an over-penetration problem with .38’s. If six shots of that is not enough, then there is a major disaster in progress on my side of the United States and some serious firepower will be require. My backup is my AK-47. My M-4 will work fine too, but I am more of an AK guy and I have more AK ammo stored up because it is cheaper.

    The problem with the shotgun is very simple and it has nothing to do with how effective it is on the target. It is a matter of the size of the shells. If I load up 4 Saiga 12 magazines I will have a total of 40 rounds. If I load up 4 AK-magazines I will have 120 rounds at my disposal. Shotgun shells are just too big and bulky.

    • Remember, even 38+p ammo has roughly 1/4 to 1/3 less energy than a standard 9mm. If I were you, I would grab my nightstand gun (38) and stick it (time permitting) in a holster at my feet, then move quickly to my AR. If there is a problem with the AR, you have your trusty revolver at your hip (thats why I have a revolver…an 8 shot S@W 627pro 4″ with reduced 357magnum…on my nightstand…and electronic muffs).

  9. While the context of the title infers home use, I try to consider every shot. If I’m conceal-carrying, I try to be cognizant of whatever my down range is going to be. If it’s not clear I won’t draw. Hopefully, I’ll never have to…

    I don’t want to use a shotgun in my home…the drywall, the gore…my plan is to put an intruder down (hollow point), then quickly drag them to an easily moppable location. It’s impossible to plan for every scenario. This would be my optimal strategy.

  10. The last time I had an issue with over penetration our lovely son was born nine months later lol Ok got that off my chest..
    Yes I do worry.. Using hollow points in pistols and not expecting to use a rifle as a primary defensive weapon pretty much solves that. I honestly wouldn’t think of using an AR as a home defensive weapon unless I was clearing zombies from my front lawn or something along those lines.

  11. I just started carrying a few weeks back and I have hardball loaded right now. I don’t think about it too much – but I want to get some hps in there – just a cost issue right now. For home defense I have my G17 loaded with some hps – but the layout of my home keeps me from using a shotgun effectively – too many tight corners.

  12. Yes…so I carry hollowpoints. Even if a 9mm +p 135 grain load passes through 12 in, the amount of damage to whoever is behind will be pretty limited as that puppy will have expended almost all of energy. Plus, you get the most important benefit: the increased likelihood that the intended target will go down.

  13. Not worried . Generally the best used personal defense round is the Federal HST. Which is designed to half way expand and stop in a enemy. This is what the City Police use too, had good test with them. For 5.56mm the Federal TRU 55gr HP is great again same as what local PD uses. Its a small varmeter bullet in a 5.56mm load Police shot a armed suspect in a neighborhood with alot a filled house no one else but the bad guy was hurt.

    Generally for CCW or Security or for PD who chose there weapon and ammo research what ammo and weapons some major LE use and do some HW.

    Generally prefer for urban situation 55gr 5.56mm ammo 62gr over penetrates and was bad enough for the Army to have to redesign the whole round (M-855A1).

    • Watched the video again. Unless your fighting Soviet infantry in Germany wearing body armor. The M-193 and other 55gr ammo will do you fine for any case.

    • I don’t think the issue with M855 is over penetration — it’s lack of velocity which translate into lack of fragmentation out of 14.5-inch M4 barrels.

  14. I kept Glaser Safety Slugs in my .45 when I lived in apartments. Since I’ve lived in a house, I load hollowpoints and am mindful of where the other houses are relative to lines of fire.

  15. I’m a HP/SP type for rifles & pistols. The #1 buckshot is what I’d load in a defense shotgun.

    What would be nice would to see a test where one shot HPs into ballistics gelatin, with another setup of ballistics gelatin behind it some 5′-10′. There is a Myth Busters video testing the idea that one can be killed by one’s own bullet ricocheting off steel. They used FMJ 9mm pistol rounds if I remember correctly – and came up with the conclusion that there was not enough residual energy in the remnants of the bullet to injure the shooter. My thought is “YMMV with a rifle round.”

    I would expect any rifle FMJ to continue to be dangerous after penetrating the gelatin, but the HPs and pistol rounds need to be tested.

  16. Here’s an excerpt from
    Patrick, Urey W. “Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness.
    U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1989.

    An issue that must be addressed is the fear of over penetration widely expressed on the part of law enforcement. The concern that a bullet would pass through the body of a subject and injure an innocent bystander is clearly exaggerated. Any review of law enforcement shootings will reveal that the great majority of shots fired by officers do not hit any subjects at all. It should be obvious that the relatively few shots that do hit a subject are not somehow more dangerous to bystanders than the shots that miss the subject entirely.

    Also, a bullet that completely penetrates a subject will give up a great deal of energy doing so. The skin on the exit side of the body is tough and flexible. Experiments have shown that it has the same resistance to bullet passage as approximately four inches of muscle tissue.

    Choosing a bullet because of relatively shallow penetration will seriously compromise weapon effectiveness, and needlessly endanger the lives of the law enforcement officers using it. No law enforcement officer has lost his life because a bullet over penetrated his adversary, and virtually none have ever been sued for hitting an innocent bystander through an adversary. On the other hand, tragically large numbers of officers have been killed because their bullets did not penetrate deeply enough.

    I carry 9mm FMJ for economic reasons: I can’t afford to practice with enough hollow-point ammo to know how it’s point-of-impact will differ from the FMJ ammo I can afford to practice with.

    • I agree. Use an effective round, and do everything possible to make good hits.

      Thanks to the maker of this YouTube video, I have re-discovered the value of the M193 round, which penetrates about 10-12 inches of gelatin when shot at close range through drywall using a 16″ barrel:

      Check out this video on YouTube:http://youtu.be/RZPGSiDs5_k

      I also use 180 grain JHP .40 Smith, and 140 grain JHP tactical short barrel .357. I’m looking for that 12″ gelatin penetration, and have no use for frangible ammo outside of training.

    • “No law enforcement officer has lost his life because a bullet over penetrated his adversary, and virtually none have ever been sued for hitting an innocent bystander through an adversary. ”

      Of course they haven’t been killed by a bullet wnet through a bad guy – bullets don’t have a “return to sender” function. And of course virtually none have been sued for hitting an innocent bystander. It’s called “qualified immunity” which is not a convenience afforded a non-LEO.

  17. I don’t worry – whenever I shoot badguys in my house, I do it from the floor shooting up, so even it I miss and the round overpenetrates, it’ll fly a mile or so and won’t get traced back to me. Especially since I don’t call 911 and have a dirt-floored basement.
    🙂

  18. Fortunately my walls are plaster, with a stucco exterior. That should take the remaining energy out of any airborne round of mine.

    The Box o’ Truth (http://www.theboxotruth.com) is an interesting, often humorous, blog about the penetration of various types of rounds against different materials.

  19. I live be the Golden Rule so yes, over-penetration is a serious consideration for me. The Golden Rule says that everyone wants to stop bad guys so I have to be armed and able to shoot a bad guy with bullets in order to do that. The Golden Rule also says that a bystander doesn’t want an inordinate risk of injury because I was stupid enough to use full metal jacket bullets. A little research and careful ammunition choice allows an armed citizen to have excellent tools for defending themselves and their families while greatly minimizing the chances of hurting bystanders. Being part of a greater society, I believe I owe that much to my fellow citizens.

    I carry hollow points in major pistol calibers although I do carry hardcast lead in .380 ACP mouse guns. In order to get the best of both worlds — adequate penetration even through a car door or windshield and still be able to stop an attacker and yet not over penetrate — I use 180 grain hollow points in .40 S&W. The heavy bullet means penetration through an intermediate barrier and the ability to still penetrate a human for stopping action. The hollow point greatly improves the chances of adequate bullet expansion upon impact with human or animal targets to reduce the chances of over-penetration.

    As for shotguns, I prefer smaller buckshot sizes such as #1 or even #4 in reduced recoil loads for home defense. At 10 to 40 feet, 1200 fps is more than enough velocity for the buckshot pellets to discourage an attacker.

    And when it comes to the AR15, I like the heavier blind barrier penetrating loads in hollow point. If I have to shoot a bad guy through a car door or windshield, the blind barrier loads will do it. And the hollow point bullets reduce the chances of blowing through a human or animal target and hurting a bystander.

  20. Well in my .45 I use the Hornady TAP FPD 200gr +p’s and in my 12 ga I use Federal 7 1/2’s w/ 1 1/8 ounce shot. Good tight pattern at in house ranges. Since our little girls bedroom is right next to ours I can fire the 12 if need be from the doorway of our bedroom and still have a clear enough view to know she is either in her bed or our’s before I ever pull the trigger.
    That being said the shotty won’t come out till all else( 2-1911’s and the SW .38spec have all run dry), no worries about overpenetration in public because at bad breath range I am going for center of mass sternum bone shots.

  21. Not worried about overpenetration. Good hollowpoints will dump most of their energy in the target, and if anything goes out the other end they will not possess the same lethality as when they went in. Besides, at my age, nonpenetration is much more of an issue.

  22. Sure, I worry about over penetration. I also worry about fragmentation, FPS speed of my rounds, pound feet of energy, FBI charts of rounds through ballistic jel, if the person on the recieving end has had a tetanus shot in the last 10 years, and if the mayans were right about the world ending. I devote about .1% of my worry to that. The other 99.9% of my worry goes to shot placement. But that’s just me.

  23. I only started carrying last year and after self protection, over penetration was and is a major concern. For that reason I took seriously the advice of my CCW instructor who recommended Mag Safe ammo for my Bersa 380CC and S&W Bodyguard 380. I load my mags with alternating Mag Safes and Federal Hydra Shocks which a local gun shop owner also advised me is a very effective combo. Hopefully I’ll go to my grave never having to find out.

    • Joel, it is not 1989 anymore, I would seriously recommend that you expand your knowledge base beyond two people who have entirely missed the last twenty years of ballistic development. I would suggest you familiarize your self with the FBI’s ballistic requirements as a good starting point.

      To RF
      You must know that a one ounce slug will penetrate many more layers of drywall then a .223 FMJ, so are you try to imply you are unconcerned about over penetration? The whole lack of penetration with .223 has been a subject of much concern of the past several years leading to the development of “barrier blind” round and similar. There are many good reasons not to use an AR indoors, but overpenetration is not one. There is a reason 12 ga is used to open doors, not .223

  24. Yes, and reports of the number of pass through shots by the NYPD who use the gold standard 9mm Duty/Defense load (Speer Gold Dot 124gr +P) does nothing to quell my fears.

  25. I stagger FMJ and expanding rounds as the local narcos tend to use hostages and SBA. But in the end it’s all about Tactical Awarness and having 2 expensive flashlights.

  26. What, me worry?

    The odds of one getting into a DGU are pretty slim. The odds of over-penetrating and harming an innocent are even slimmer.

    Were it to come to pass and I needed to defend myself or my loved ones with a firearm, I’d be more concerned about getting blindsided and caught off guard, therefore being uncomfortably behind the curve. I’m a capable marksman and I don’t spook easily. I’m confident that if I were afforded sufficient time to assess options and act accordingly, over-penetration wouldn’t figure into the any of the calculus. Cover, evasion, escape, defense, and if the option/opportunity presents itself, offense, would be at the top of my list. Any consideration that distracts one’s attention from the primary response could well have tragic consequences. Keep it simple, stay focused, don’t over think the problem.

  27. No. Although I don’t know why not. Gun people seem to worry about everything — am I shooting a heavy enough caliber? Do I carry enough ammo? What about low light? Active shooter scenario? What if he’s wearing body armor? Blah blah blah.

    If bad guys are coming up my stairs in the middle of the night, overpenetration will be the least of my concerns.

  28. Over-penetration is indeed a worry for me. Which is why I would always use a hollow-point or soft-point in my self-defense firearm.

  29. I use JHP (Winchester RA45TA) in my self-defense handgun, because they are much more lethal than FMJ. If I ever get into a fight for my life, I want to stop the threat as quickly (with as few rounds fired) as possible. The fact that a JHP tends to remain inside the bad guy (and a FMJ tends to pass straight through several people) is a only a nice side-effect.

    If you use good JHP ammo and hit the target in center mass, then over-penetration is not a problem. As has been said several times on this blog, “Shot Placement is …”

  30. Unless I’m downtown, no, I don’t worry about over-penetration in a life/death scenario.

    My hand guns all carry premium hollow points to stop threats (and never innocents) as they hopefully never occur and my AK is designed to over-penetrate with prejudice as needed.

  31. I’ve seen enough tests where hollowpoints plug up with drywall and act like FMJ solids to discount the theory that JHPs are the ticket for avoiding overpenetration in a typical US house.

    I used to run hyper-velocity Federal .40 135gr JHPs in my USP for home defense loads. After extensive research and much thought, I’ve switched over to Winchester Silvertip 155gr JHPs, which at 500ft*lb hit HARD. The ballistics are nice, too — relatively flat out to my personal limits for hitting a man-sized target center-of-mass with my USP.

    Currently running Federal 3″ #2 buck loads in the Weatherby SA-459, but I’ll be upgrading to #1 buck from custombuckshot.com sometime this month. As with the Silvertips above, my choice of shotgun loads is about hitting hard with on-target shots, not worrying about overpenetration. It’s also pretty awesome that I can put two shots on target with the 459 in the time it takes any of my shooting buddies to fire a pump 12ga once and get halfway through racking the next shell.

    I’ll be trying some of the custombuckshot.com #1 buck loads on coyote over the next few months. That should be a fun, and a good test.

  32. I dont worry about over penetration in my home (for good reasons), so i use a Mossberg 500 loaded with 00 buck (slugs on the side mounted cartridge holder).

    The AR15 with the 55 grain M193 is a pretty hard cartridge to beat if you are concerned with over penetration however. For my AR, I prefer 77 grain OTM.

  33. Primary Home Defense – Mossberg 500a with “OO” buck. Only thing loaded at home. Rest are locked away, mostly in one of the sheds in a locked DOJ approved gun cabinet. With ammo. So I could technically retreat to the back shed.

    Hoping the sound of chambering a round will wake them up that my home is not a good crime target. Stucco, plaster with concrete rock looking facia on the outer walls should hold it.

  34. I don’t worry about over-penetration. My main concern is under-penetration of bullets on he intended target. I’ll explain:

    I was on a rescue mission with my team. A cabinet member was in an aircraft that strayed over the border and was shot down. Some guerillas were holding him hostage and we were sent over the border for the rescue. Well, unbeknown to all of use, an alien was hunting armed human males in the jungle. After he killed a few of our team members, one of my weapons sergeants capped off a thousand rounds in a mini-gun after he had fired a belt from his M-60. The rest of the team members formed a firing line and fired almost our entire basic load to include a few 40mm grenades. At first, we thought we had not hit anything. Later, we discovered we had injured it when we discovered some flourescent green blood. At point blank range, 7.62mm ammo only wounded it. I could understand why the 5.56mm and 9mm rounds did not inflict significant injury. But when you consider the volume of fire and the lack of performance of our bullets, it was troubling. Since that mission, I switched to a M41 Pulse rifle which fires standard caseless 10mm explosive tip light armor peircing ammo. It does penetrate the targets.

  35. hymmmn, carrying mostly, now, my “Bond Arms, “Snake Slayer IV”, chambering Buck Shot, 5 pellots, coming out with the velocity, of 5 .357 magnum Rounds, i was UnAware, that you say the Single “O” Buck, leaves a better “Wound”?…. Not noticing, if it comes in handgun rounds?… Suggestions, please!
    Sincerely,
    Captain George

  36. Yes. With an attached neighbor (on one side only), I stick to big-mouthed HPs for my .45 ACP, and my Remmy 870 (named “Sister Ray”), is fed a diet of #4 Buck ONLY. There is a parking lot on the other side, but a brick wall in between (that was once “penetrated” by a hollowpoint pick-up truck!).

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