9mm Ammunition Test Drywall Penetration Ballistic Home Defense
image courtesy kiotecorp for thetruthaboutguns.com
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By John Stewart, chief gunsmith of Kiote Rifles.

I live in a 1050 square foot ranch-style house. And, as ranch style houses go, everything inside is very linear. Ingress/egress is by one of two doors at the front of the house. Aside from the living room where you arrive when you walk inside, everything else branches off the main hall – the “fatal funnel” when you cross the front door threshold.

I also have a wife and daughter, and so I have a vested interest in finding out if one could roll his/her own 9mm ammo, using a quality projectile and keep it from penetrating a standard residential household wall.

Obviously, inflicting maximum damage on an aggressor goes without saying. I just don’t want to have to worry as much about the round going through a wall and striking a family member who’s probably seeking cover in another room.

A quick note about the rules for safe firearm usage: always know your target and what’s beyond it. That’s easy enough on a static firing range. But in a real-world situation, nothing is static and nothing is perfect. Thus, the need to satisfy my curiosity and test what it would take for a projectile to penetrate not only an aggressor, but also the wall behind that aggressor.

The testing protocol for this project was as follows:

  • Establish benchmarks for three loads – factory Hornady 115gr Critical Defense FTX, handloaded 115gr XTP, & handloaded 147gr XTP
  • The handgun of choice should be an EDC type, short-barreled, small frame handgun
  • Construct a faux wall with standard use ½” drywall
  • Hang a simulated “aggressor” target no more than three feet in front of faux wall
  • Assume a proper shooting position no more than three yards in front of the simulated “aggressor”
  • Fire once round of each ammo type into “aggressor”
  • Evaluate penetration of faux wall

Ideally, the projectiles would penetrate the “aggressor” but not the wall. The goal is to try to limit the average velocity of each round in order to achieve that end.

I contacted the fine folks at Hornady to find out what the necessary velocity is for both the 115gr & 147gr XTP. They were nice enough to inform me that it’s 850fps & 750fps, respectively. Consulting my LEE Precision Load Data Book (IMO, the best all-around data book because it lists every possible weight and every possible powder for any given caliber) and Hodgdon’s website, I opted for the lowest charge weight with the lowest possible velocity and the lowest possible pressure rating. I then compared that to what powder options I currently had available.

Fortunately, I had exactly what was needed: Titegroup. The 115gr XTP got 4.5gr & the 147gr XTP got 3.2gr. All test ammo was loaded with CCI small pistol primers and brand new Starline brass in order to minimize the variables. Using a Springfield XD-S and the Beta Chrony chronograph (set up exactly three feet from the muzzle), the average velocity for each of the test rounds were as follows:

  • Factory Hornady (lot # 3171470): 1,065 fps
  • Handloaded 115gr XTP: 982 fps
  • Handloaded 147gr XTP: 859 fps
9mm Defensive Ammunition Penetration Test Agressor
image courtesy kiotecorp for thetruthaboutguns.com

The “aggressor” in this test was formed by using two slabs of ribs stuffed with a pork loin between them, bound and hung from an overhead support. The pork loin was left in its plastic wrapper to simulate the resistance found in fascia and the resistance live tissue has as a result of isometric resistance and action potential from nerve endings. How accurate is that? Not really sure. But it represented a variable I couldn’t account for otherwise.

9mm Defensive Ammunition Penetration Test Agressor
image courtesy kiotecorp.com for thetruthaboutguns.com

The test results, for what I’m calling Part 1 (because I’m going to perform the test again with the same set-up but from a distance of three feet to the aggressor in Part 2), are as follows:

9mm Defensive Ammunition Penetration Ballistic Test
image courtesy kiotecorp for thetruthaboutguns.com

Factory load: penetrated meat, penetrated wall.

9mm Defensive Ammunition Penetration Ballistic Test
image courtesy kiotecorp for thetruthaboutguns.com

Handloaded 115gr: penetrated meat, penetrated approximately half of the thickness of the drywall and fell to the floor.

9mm Defensive Ammunition Penetration Ballistic Test
image courtesy kiotecorp for thetruthaboutguns.com

Handloaded 147gr: penetrated meat, penetrated approximately half of the thickness of the drywall and lodged there.

In conclusion, I think it’s probable that one can load his/her own ammo slow enough so that it will penetrate an aggressor, but  won’t penetrate a wall under these conditions. I recommend you trying it for yourself and deciding if it’s right for you.

Here’s video of the test:

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  1. While the ribs and pork loin may or may not be a good simulation of an aggressor the inconsistency means that you would need many more data points before you could credit anything you discovered. The rounds in question may have behaved differently solely because they traveled different paths through an inconsistent medium.

    A more uniform substance, like gel, may be less like an aggressor’s body, but with only a few data points I would have much more faith in what I learned about the relative performance of the rounds.

    • This test is less like an attacker’s body than gel.
      It’s meat, bone, and some fat. There are no soft organs. There’s no skin. The butcher has bled the pork so there’s far less liquid than in a human body (liquid is great at stopping bullets). And it’s not wearing clothing.

      Really this is just a waste of meat that provided no useful information.

      And wouldn’t the more important question be the reverse of this? Will a round penetrate meat (i.e. your family or neighbor) after it goes through a wall? (Hint: yes, in most cases, with lethal force.)

      • Ballistic gel does not take any of those elements into account. It is based on swine muscle. So in a sense gel is just an averaged version of his pig test… hopefully.

        There is, I think, a bit too much dependence on gel as a magic substance that is somehow scientifically analogous to a human. It’s not. It’s designed to be analogous to part of a pig. That’s about it. Making any declarations beyond that would require testing… probably the kinds with some ethical concerns.

    • A ballistic gel is actually a better representation of a human body than ribs or other meats. Although pigs are very similar in structure to humans, a dead pig (and, obviously, ribs) does not have blood pressure, which makes a significant difference in penetration. Using 10% gel (if you can maintain a cold environment) or 20% in a moderate (air conditioned) environment is a better choice. If ballistic gel is not available (it is generally sold in 55 gal drums at a reasonable price, or smaller quantities at a very unreasonable price), unflavored food gelatin can be used. Food gelatin in normal dilution is 4%, so calculate how much is needed based on that. The main disadvantage of food gelatin is that it is not as clear as ballistic gelatin, so the bullet path and the fragments are a bit harder to observe. Use a high power light on the side of the block for that. For forms, bread loaf pans can be used and refrigerated overnight. Use a KitchenAid mixer and strain any dark pieces that you can, unless ballistic gel is available, which is much cleaner.

    • You don’t miss. . . if you have enough ruined-barbecue-rage. It’s way up there near berserking.

      Yep, that much pork and ribs ought to do it.

    • “But what happens if you miss your attacker?”

      It sucks to be someone in the next room, obviously…

    • once saw a test video where a 9 mm outpenetrated all-comers…including a .44 magnum..

      • I once saw a video where 9mm out preformed a sabot round on a tank, too.

  2. I hadn’t thought of adding meat to the terminal ballistics testing.

    Just remember that any miss is going to go through a 2×4 stud and every sheet of drywall in the house.

  3. A few years back Ayoob referenced a court case where a gentleman went to jail for this sort of concept. He wanted to load some very low recoiling rounds for his significant other. The significant other decided to shuffle herself from this mortal coil and used this ammunition that she found on hand. Because or the powder residue on her body it looked as if she was shot from some distance away which made him the prime suspect. The advantage that factory loaded rounds have is lot numbers and production data which many shooters will not keep from batch to batch. I know a few of you reloaders with meticulous records will blast me for this but you folks are not the ones I’m talking about in this case.
    This was the closest thing I could find:

    I know it is a slim chance of this sort of thing happening, but you may want to rely on the expansion of a factory round to slow it down enough to prevent penetration from being an issue.

    A miss even with down-loaded rounds will still penetrate.

    • Shooting at something relatively close leaves burnt gunpowder on the target. Using this residue to determine the exact distance is mature forensic science. However, it only works if the CSI has identical cartridges for his tests. Your reloads won’t be acceptable to the court. They will only trust a sample from a manufacturer. Winchester, Federal, Remington, Speer and Hornady save cartridges from every batch for ten years. As far as I know, they are the only manufacturers to do this. You need to know the batch number because they change powders without notice. The easiest way is to save the box.

    • Even meticulously detailed records wouldn’t help the handloader in that situation because that evidence was literally manufactured by the defendant.

    • I remember reading Ayoobs take on the incident and thought, “how can anyone be this dense”. The lady committed suicide (presumably). The guy was not even trying to use his handloads for self defense. So, now you cannot even role your own because someone might kill themselves with it?!

      The case referred to here is NJ V. Danny Bias. No one should ever reference this case, with regards to handloads, as self defense was never invoked. Someone correct me if I am wrong here, but Ayoob has used handloads himself in competition.

      If you buy into Ayoob’s line of thought you would never use handloads ever for anything, not mod your gun at all for fear of “legal problems”, and you would even select your firearms based on potential “legal problems”. If you are willing to go that far, and are that fearful of “legal problems”, then you might want to reconsider armed defense in its entirety.

  4. A great experiment I will keep in mind if I am ever attacked by pork loins. When it comes to pork loins, I typically do the attacking not the other way around.

    In any case, this test assumes that you hit your target. No sure thing under stress. Especially if the pork loin is moving. My bet is all of the bullets will penetrate drywall if you miss.

    rather than rely on custom loads, which may or may not be reliable and adequate for aggressive pork loins, a better solution is to stage your house so you don’t have to worry about shooting through stuff. Or use highly frangible bullets.

  5. Downloading 9mm to 38 special non +P levels?!? I’d pass or just get a 38…

  6. Idiotic concept. ANY load capable of meeting the FBI 12-18″ calibrated gel standard is going to blow right through a standard indoor double gypsum board wall. That 12″ minimum penetration standard exists for a reason and has years of evidence backing it.

    Get yourself a baseball bat or a wrist rocket.

  7. I once had a 9 mm. I shot a large feral cat that was causing problems on my place. The bullet knocked him down then he got up and walked off. Traded in for a 357 mag. Nothing has ever walked away from it once hit.

    • The only real caliber starts with a 4 and ends with a 5. You can pump 9mm into things all day long and the holes just seal themselves up.

      • Yeah, .44 Mag, .454 Casull, .50AE, .460 Rowland, .460 Mag, .500 Mag, etc., etc. are for wimps. They need to shoot a smaller bullet at much slower speeds, like a .45.

    • Must not have hit it anywhere important. I’ve seen fox hit with 9mm twice (as in two different fox) in the vitals and neither of them went more than about 10yds. A human is going to last a lot longer, even with .357 magnum. .357 and .44 mag leave some decent sized holes, but knock down power doesn’t exist. Disabling ability is what you need and magnum pistol calibers don’t have sufficient velocity for hydrostatic shock to be a factor.

      5.7 does, but it is also still going to poke only little holes, but disrupt a lot around it. Not that I’d consider 5.7 a good SD round.

      You want to DROP someone, spine shot or brain shot. It just isn’t going to happen with a handgun any other way reliably. You might get someone who shrugs of 10 rounds through them and keeps coming till lack of blood pressure drops them on the ground 10 seconds later, or you might get someone who is dropped by a 22lr to the shoulder because it hurts so much. Most people will drop if they get shot once or twice without it being a fatal or disabling shot. They might get back up, they might not. Most isn’t all.

      As Builder Mike says later, the test is flawed by the wall design, a real residential wall in the US is 1/2 drywall, 3 1/2″ air cavity, 1/2″ drywall. OSB of any thickness is going to much better resist a bullet compared to drywall. I don’t know a “OSB to Drywall equivalence”, but in my moderate construction experience 11/16″ OSB is probably about as resistant to a bullet as about 1/2-1 1/2″ of drywall with it being more resistant at higher velocities (similar to how water behaves to a degree).

      Either way, those low velocity rounds don’t have the energy to be fatal to someone hit on the other side even if the OSB was removed in those tests. However, if the target was missed (heat of the moment, good chance of it happening) they’d be very much fatal passing through a wall and hitting someone on the other side. If the bullet struck a thin part of the target, like an arm, grazed a leg, neck, etc. odds are also good they’d be potentially fatal still.

    • [sarcasm] Right, everyone knows that in poorly lit, fast moving and changing situations, no one ever misses. Over penetration is, as you said, a total myth. [/sarcasm]

      Back to the point of the article, the writer had a good idea, find ammunition that does not penetrate more dry wall than can be avoided. However, I think he goes wrong on three point. As has been discussed, the first two are his testing method and using reloaded ammunition. The next is that his bullets are too heavy. For reduced penetration he should be seeking the lightest possible bullet.

      Along that line, I would like to see more defensive arms in .22 magnum. I would also like to see a dry wall test with .22tcm.

      • My experience in Iraq, I never saw a round over penetrate from handguns or rifles in close quarter fighting after hitting a goatfucker.
        That is my personal experience ymmv.

      • .22 TCM indoors, without ear protection?
        Wellcome to my world of the Chochlear Implant!

        • If it really is “shoot or die” which is the only time a shot should be taken, that should not be your concern.

  8. When I saw the video, I thought it was the trailer for a horror movie for muslim and orthodox jewish audiences.

  9. When I saw the comments on this article.
    Beings a whole new meaning to eat your own.

    Brothers we need to stand together as a united front against the left.

    • Nah. There’s such a thing as overthinking shiit. Like this whole project. Just shoot the bad guy and get it over with. Doesn’t matter what you use. 99.9% of burglars are going to haul ass after getting shot with a .22.

  10. Make sure that any family member hits and hugs the floor in an emergency. Shoot in a horizontal fashion and the bullet should not hit “friendlies”. Even in a 2 story home, if the friendlies are on the floor, they should be safe from your gun.

    • Bullets do not travel in a straight line, they fracture, ricochet, and if you watched that horrible movie, curve when you flick your wrist.

  11. Great stuff!!!
    Rather than slow the rounds down speed them up and the hp bullets will be more dramatic and might get less penetration

  12. There’s always a lot of talk about over overpenetration, but does anybody have a real-world story where a homeowner killed a family member during a shootout with a bad guy? I’m inclined to think it’s like worrying about reloading during a civilian gunfight- 1 in a million chance.

  13. Great first try!
    The drywall set up looks flawed in that drywall is mounted on OSB which is backstopping the bullet.
    A typical interior residential wall assembly has the 1/2” drywall, 3-1/2” air space and another 1/2” drywall on the other side of the wall studs which are spaced every 16” or 24”.
    So for your follow up test, penetration should be tested on the above assembly with no OSB to see if it goes thru two layers of drywall.

  14. the real concern is when you MISS. even across the house, a 9mm is going to punch through the wall. thats why i still think a shotgun with birdshot is best for home defense. yes it requires two hands but if you dont have time to put a second hand on your gun, i’m seriously doubt its going to matter anyways. Seeing as that would mean they pretty much already have the drop on you. And to me its stupid to pull a gun on someone who already has you AT gun point. you still have to draw and all he has to do is fire.

  15. Factory ammo only, use what local LEO use. One less item to worry about when an overzealous prosecutor has their eyes on Governor office.

    This man used DEADLY home made ammo.

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