An AR for Home Defense? Clay, Drywall, Raw Meat & A Myth Busted!

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After the high-profile self-defense case in Oklahoma this week (see our piece on it, here: https://www.gunsamerica.com/blog/multiple-teen-burglars-shot-dead-by-homeowners-son-with-ar-15/), in which the homeowner used an AR-15 to defend himself, the question again arises … should we be worried about shoot through inside of our homes, and are pistols or shotguns a better choice than rifles? Basically, is a 5.56mm AR too much for home defense, or is it the right choice?

Among the many pieces of “common wisdom,” a certain segment of the shooting community believes that a 5.56 round will penetrate less against interior walls than a pistol. The belief is that 5.56 is moving so fast, it will start to fragment as soon as it hits drywall. Other people think this is a terrible belief, and pistols will stop sooner since they are moving so much slower. Still, others think a shotgun is the weapon of choice and offers the best trade-off of lethal force, and keeping your own people safe in case of a miss. So what is the correct answer? The truth is I have no idea. I am not sure I buy the rifle theory because 5.56 is a much more reliable penetrator on vehicles than any pistol. So there is only one thing to do.

Any guess as to how the shotgun did against drywall?

For our test, we were concerned with interior walls only. Exterior walls offer so many varieties of construction it would be very difficult to give them a fair assessment. A brick home may stop more bullets than aluminum siding, and it may not. Then we need fake adobe, cedar siding, cinder blocks, and a construction crew. Fortunately, interior walls are fairly predictable. Our set up was for drywall only, for a couple of reasons. You may ask what happens if I hit 2×4, electrical boxes, or any of the other stuff that our sheetrock actually hides. My thought on this is that we are the good guys, we don’t blind fire through walls generally speaking. Sheetrock alone offers our worst case scenario, we missed and now something on the other side of that is in the line of fire. I left insulation out of the equation for ease of cleanup at my shooting range and the fact it would likely make little difference in stopping the round.

Our sheetrock box had a maximum stack of 11 half-inch sheets, which represents a lot more walls than most of our homes have. They were spaced using 2x4s turned the long direction, consistent with construction. I made my sheets 18 inches square because bullets do unpredictable things when they hit obstacles. In other testing, I have seen some very strange deflections.

Shotgun

Let’s begin with what I personally think is the worst choice. I have been pretty vocal in that I generally think of shotguns as a bad choice in home defense. To each his own, but it’s not my weapon of choice. For our test, I only used one shotgun round, a Winchester turkey load. What I discovered is that if you think shotguns do less on interior walls, you are mistaken. The turkey load smoked through seven sheets without stopping for a sandwich. We finally started getting some lone pellets stuck in the sheet rock on sheet six, but the majority of the load stayed together and stayed moving long past our last sheet.

The author tried the good ol’ .45 ACP against drywall. Watch the video to see how it did.

Rifle vs. Pistol

With shotgun out of the mix, let’s look at a rifle versus a pistol in a home. I was pretty surprised by how this test went. I wish I had some magical answer for you, but 11 sheets weren’t enough to stop a mouse fart it turned out. Pistol rounds went 11 deep and out the back, both hardball and hollow points. Both 9mm and 45 ACP. Rifle rounds did the same. The rifle rounds in both 5.56 and 300 AAC started tumbling around the sixth sheet, but they still flew straight through. For 300, that includes both subsonic and supersonic. I tested two hunting-style rounds for the 5.56mm, Federal Power-Shok 64 grain soft points, and Hornady VMax 53 grain. Both of these yielded impressive fragmenting within four sheets, but the lead core still flew straight through the back of the stack. Even frangible ammunition in both 5.56 and .40 S&W, which I had high hopes for, didn’t miss a beat on its way through the stack.

The author got the best performance from the Hornady 53-grain Superformance VMax varmint load.

The Meat of the Matter

Since we are talking about home defense, I wanted to know the answer on over penetration as it relates to a shoot through as well. There is no perfect answer on replicating a bad guy, to include ballistics gel. But for this testing, I wanted to at least give us the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say a perfect scenario, shooting into the upper torso, and we make every shot a hit. To replicate this, I used a rack of baby back ribs with a pork roast behind it. Not perfect, but the best we are going to do for bad guy simulation out of the grocery store. In retrospect, I would have put another rack of ribs in the back, but that one is on me.

The author set up a box with 11 layers of drywall and also put meat in front as a testing medium. Check out the video for the results.

This part needs some more testing, but I was happy with our initial results. I chose the Sig 147 grain V Crown hollow point as the pistol round. It achieved full meat penetration (insert joke here) and stopped in the fourth sheet of drywall. It actually left an impression on the paper of the fourth sheet, which was pretty cool.

The big surprise of the day was the Hornady 53 grain VMax. This is a varmint-specific round, which I thought might lead to less drywall penetration in the first place. It is designed to open up in targets the size of prairie dogs, which is a pretty impressive feat. It penetrated all 11 sheets in the first test, just like everything else. But when some tissue was introduced, prepare to defend your morale! First off, the wound channel through the meat stack was way impressive. It actually hit so hard, it slammed the pork roast through the first sheet of drywall. And while we didn’t find the bullet, it only penetrated the first 2 layers of drywall. The 3rd sheet was unharmed, which to me is a damn fine result. This it also a pretty good indicator that our bullet used all its energy in the bad guy, which is what we want. This particular round needs some more lethality study since it was built for varmints, to make sure it’s a good round for defense. But initial impressions are that it is a winner.

So, what is the overall takeaway? So far, I am going with a rifle, loaded with VMax. And it’s easier said than done, but don’t miss in your house. Oh, and don’t ever miss, anywhere. Easy enough, right?

{ 103 comments… add one }
  • LHTwist June 22, 2017, 10:31 pm

    An interesting test with useful information. The only point that surprised me was the brief note on frangibles. I too was thinking they might hold some promise, although I’ve never shot one to know what they do. Sheetrock is sheetrock, not designed to stop bullets of any sort so you’re correct to admonish people to choose a home defense weapon that you’re comfortable with to reduce your chances of missing!

  • John R Pyles 111 June 22, 2017, 9:34 pm

    golly aren’t we obligated to call 911? the bad guys need to go home and take care care of there families.

  • Russell Seaman April 18, 2017, 9:16 am

    why weren’t any of the home defence ammo tested?

  • JohnE April 17, 2017, 9:44 am

    11 sheets of dry wall is 5 and 1/2 walls. All the rounds went through all 11 sheets. What this fails to simulate is distance. I don’t know any room that is only the thickness of a 2×4. Some of the rounds were tumbling. All would have been diverted somewhat. Is there any difference when you have 10 to 15 feet between each of the 5 walls. Is there shot so far off original line of the shot or is it still going straight through.

  • Eric April 14, 2017, 11:38 am

    OK, so this jackhole is critical of a Winchester turkey load against drywall because it penetrated 7 layers…wow. Yet he’s fine with handgun and rifle rounds that go through ALL of the wallboard? I’m sorry but what the hell have you been smoking? Are you insane? Did you bang your head against the side of the plane on a jump? Get a clue! You may be an accomplished professional shooter, but other than how to make hits you don’t seem to have a clue as to what you’re talking about!

    • ddan April 21, 2017, 1:04 pm

      Clearly you are a fan of the shotgun; and that is fine. We can use our critical thinking skills to absorb one man’s data and form our own defense strategy without berating and resorting to name calling.

    • LHTwist June 22, 2017, 10:21 pm

      Shotgun: “We finally started getting some lone pellets stuck in the sheet rock on sheet six, but the majority of the load stayed together and stayed moving long past our last sheet.”
      It appears that he’s saying, Eric, that the turkey load also went the maximum distance tested, same as the pistol and rifle, when only sheetrock was involved. He’s obviously made his choice based upon the one that exhibited the least potential for collateral damage after having passed through tissue.

  • Edward April 14, 2017, 8:52 am

    I haven’t read all of the above comments, because there are so many but, penetration issues aside, I believe it would be much more difficult to defend yourself in court after you were involved in a home defense type situation, if you used an AR or AK type weapon than if a person used a pistol or shotgun. The anti gun type juror sees an AR and assumes you are guilty, or a “gun nut” With a shotgun, you can explain that you were taking gun advice from crazy Joe Biden. Great article though.

  • Vincent J Randazzo April 12, 2017, 12:55 am

    I’m sorry, but I disagree on every point in this article. I know everyone wants the latest batttle rifle , with everything hanging off it. Hell , if that bump in the night turns out to be the cat I’m sure there’s something hanging off the rifle to pop a cap of a tall cold one.
    Maybe I’m old school and at 61 I am.
    For me I’ll take my sidexside with external hammers,I’m old school but I did upgrade mine to a CZ coach gun with external hammers that can handle any type of ammo, although I’ll stick with bird shot in mine.I can leave it loaded for years with the hammers down and it will work every time.Or how bout a short barrel pump, were if you forget to clean it for a decade or so , it will still work or even a 20 ga youth model pump that my wife,daughter or granddaughter could pick up and use .
    Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone who wants an AR or AK should have one. But for home defense with loved ones sleeping behind that Sheetrock wall, or the neighbors house 20 feet away, I think bird shot would work just fine.

    • KBSacto April 13, 2017, 12:24 pm

      And of course, the racking sound of a pump shotgun being the universal language understood by all that says it is now time to leave my house. I also think another issue here is not just penetration, but how far beyond it. The pellet energy of a shotgun will dissipate rapidly as the bb’s scatter and travel through other materials. I do enjoy Clay’s articles. Great read.

      • Jonny5 April 14, 2017, 2:43 am

        How about… an AR or AK rifle with a cocking mechanism set up like a shotgun!? Then you can have the sound effects of a bad ass shotgun being loaded and made ready AND the killing power of a rifle?!

  • mike ehrig April 11, 2017, 5:11 pm

    i will stick with my short double 12 loaded with #8. helps that i live in a block house with few windows and even fewer neighbors.

  • FirstStateMark April 10, 2017, 9:19 pm

    I ruined a few pieces of steel when shooting .223 & 5.56 in the mountains. The round steel targets that were on the property were the kind of steel that was for handgun use. Handguns would just ding the targets and deflect the bullets to the ground. When I shot the targets with a Ruger 556 using .223 ammo, the bullets put a round hole in the steel. Went clean through leaving a round hole in the steel. That did it for me about using this weapon for self defense home use. No doubt in my mind the bullets would go through multiple walls and go clean through a body at that range and keep traveling. Shotgun or handgun for home defense for me. Just my 2 cents.

    • CrazyP April 21, 2017, 10:40 pm

      What few are considering is that 5.56 tends to begin its yaw at about 2″ to 2.5″ of penatration, by 4″ the majority have turned 180 degrees. In other words once the projectile passes through, if it even does, your perp it won’t be going much further and the velocity will be next to none.

    • Army127 April 23, 2017, 2:15 am

      Actually the above test is fatally flawed and pretty much useless but it’s still a good article. As for an AR as a home defense weapon, they are probably the best weapon for home defense. If you understand balkastics, bullet penetration, and also use the proper ammo in your rifle you will have no issues with your AR’s rounds going through walls. After all the M-4 was designed for close quarters battle and of course shots out to 300 meters, if you can hit someone that far away with one! So do your research and choose your ammo wisely and you will have the best home defense weapon available! As for someone above who said you would be found guilty if you used an AR or AK in home defense. Look at the young guy who was not charged at all for shooting 3 teenagers with an AR and killing them when they broke into his home with knives and a handgun, or shotgun, sorry forget which. The point being no charges filed at all for using the scary black gun! PLEASE! Also with the proper set up you will always hit your target many, many more times with an AR than with a pistol.

      SSG GO OUT,

      “Death Waits in the Dark”

  • Eric W April 10, 2017, 8:30 pm

    Cool, would have like to see the meat with a hoodie, denim or some kind of loose or non form fitting fabric for full effect. The perp ain’t gonna be naked.

  • Caretaker April 10, 2017, 8:16 pm

    I think the demonstration showed exactly what it was designed to do. Good job brother Clay. Just like your mom likes.

  • mike April 10, 2017, 6:37 pm

    Use a shotgun every time. Use # 7.5 or #8 & #6 lead shot will work. I have seen what this will do to a wall. NEVER DID SEE IT GO THROW THE WALL, as long as you were 6 to 10 feet away. Believe me, no one will want to be in front of this combo!

  • chuck April 10, 2017, 4:44 pm

    I had a friend that brought his AR to my 80 year old house to do some upgrades to his rifle. He didn’t realize he had a round in the chamber and accidently discharged it . It was about 15 feet from an outside wall, went thro a lamp shade and lodged in the wall with no outside penetration. So either put lathe and plaster on your walls or use lamp shades LOL!.

    • jack April 10, 2017, 11:36 pm

      I had something almost exactly the same happen, but it went very differently. Old house just like yours, 5.56 accidental discharge, USMC Barrier Blind round, plowed through a perimeter house wall, sliced completely through a parked pickup truck beyond (windows, foam headrest, and chassis sheet metal), then disappeared into the night. No injuries. Not everything stops when it hits stuff.

    • Bruce April 11, 2017, 12:24 am

      Our house is old, built in the mid 1950s, and the sheet rock, or dry wall or whatever you want to call, it is really tough. I have had electricians and plumbers tell me how much harder it is than the current stuff that is being used. I truly can see the .223 rounds breaking up before they leave our house, probably breaking on one layer and surely on the second layer of any interior wall. We also have brick exterior walls so that will contribute to the use of a .223 AR for home defense.

  • Matt Bayan April 10, 2017, 4:30 pm

    I agree with Vince; the test is flawed. What are the odds that a bullet would pass through only sheetrock? Firing perpendicular to a wall, there is a 9.375% chance of hitting a 2×4. I have tested wall penetration and found some surprising and worrying results. Firing perpendicular to a wall and hitting a 2×4 would not stop any handgun bullet I tested. A .45 FMJ will penetrate about 6 inches of wood. If you are firing at an acute angle to a wall, the chances of hitting a 2×4 are greatly increased and now you are hitting it on the flat side. Today’s 2x4s are only 1.5 inches thick. That .45 will pass through 4 2x4s and all the sheetrock. This means that, depending on which interior portions of a wall are hit, the .45 FMJ could pass through several rooms.

    A 9mm FMJ will penetrate almost 8 inches of wood, so it’s far more likely to cause problems in other rooms. A .22 round lead bullet shot from a handgun with 5 inch barrel penetrates most of all the tests, at over 8 inches of wood (pine 2×4). The same bullet fired from a rifle penetrated more than the 9mm.

    I haven’t tested a wide range of FMJ vs. hollow points, etc., but you get the idea.

    To test car door penetration, I’ve used 1/4 inch aluminum diamond plate which is 4 to 6 times thicker than the average car door. A .45 FMJ puts a massive dent in it, but does not pass through. I conclude that it would easily pass through a car door as long as it doesn’t hit one of the steel structures inside the door. A 9mm FMJ fired from a handgun passed through the diamond plate easily. A .22 handgun could not penetrate, but a .22 rifle went through like wet tissue. Sorry, I haven’t been able to get my hands on a real car door, but one can hope the local junk yard will get generous.

    So, in the movies, when the good guys are driving and getting shot up by pursuing miscreants, when they say, “Get down!”, it’s pure bull. Most handgun loads would punch through the trunk, the back seat, the front seat, and turn our heroes to Swiss cheese. With rifles, fuggedaboutit.

    • Army127 April 23, 2017, 2:24 am

      Please never use FMJ rounds as defensive rounds people! The do not have any hollow point or frangible type ballastics and will always pas through more than these other rounds will. The FMJ will almost always pass through a human and continue on where a hollow point bullet or frangible bullet is made to either mushroom or break apart and dump its energy in the body. Yes some bonded hollow points or the Critical Duty ammo may pass through but it depends how far away you are from the target/person and it will have still dumped almost all its energy inside the body.

      SSG G OUT!

      “Death WIts in the Dark”

  • Harris Johnson April 10, 2017, 3:53 pm

    The “test” and associated comments were interesting. May I suggest one other pistol round. Try the Rugar ARX bullets. I don’t know how they will do, but just shooting gallon milk jugs filled with water impressed me enough to load them in my wife’s little .380.

  • DDayDog April 10, 2017, 3:47 pm

    Although I hate to admit it, I can attest to an accidental discharge of a FMJ AK47 round that did this: Went through a closet door – traveled a foot or two of space in the closet – then through the closet’s wall – into my bathroom – traveled a couple more feet of space through the bathroom – then through the bathroom door – and through my bedroom wall – then through the bedroom door – traveling 12′ or so across my bedroom – then through the bedroom wall and the exterior wall (which had added wood siding) – then traveled towards my neighbor’s house. As such, it went: door – wall – door – wall – door – wall – and continued to travel outside. If it hit my neighbor’s house, it did not penetrate or leave any noticeable mark I could find. The round discharged at the perfect angle that only hit drywall and typical interior doors. It started to tumble when it entered the bathroom space. I will definitely say I would not plan to use a rifle for home defense. In my opinion, a shotgun would seem to be a much better option – depending on ammo. However, if I was in a place where there was NO neighbor to worry about, I’d definitely want a rifle with a high round capacity and a big round like an AK47.

  • Shawn April 10, 2017, 3:44 pm

    Played around with sheet rock in the past, my goal was to find a load that would not penetrate 6 layers of wall board, in an attempt to find a “safe” in house load. Steel bird shot was the only option. Low brass steel shot from walmart, looses velocity fast. That being said if you are concerned about stopping power you should realize “stopping” a threat and immediately killing a threat can be two different outcomes. If your definition of a “stop” is immediate shut down of the cns or massive trauma induced blood loss then there is no reason to test dry wall, nothing provides the performance you want and still stops within a shit load of drywall. If you are looking for a “first shot” that MAY stop the attach safely without over penetration then steel shot is for you. Follow up a second shot with your favorite man stopper load and be happy. Try federal 2 3/4 1 oz #6 on drywall and then shoot a pork loin with it. In room distance (within 7 yards) from an 18 inch barrel it’s pretty nasty. Picture that as a face or hands shot, probably gonna solve your problem. If not you got a whole lot of bad ass load options from there.

  • Vincent J Randazzo April 10, 2017, 3:15 pm

    I agree 100% with John Creveling.
    Clays test is flawed in every way.
    Just to add my two cents, who in there
    right mind would use turkey load in a shotgun for self defense, number 4 bird shot would be a far better choice were over penetration is a concern .

    • Jonny5 April 14, 2017, 2:49 am

      Chill out. It’s just an illustration of a few rounds being discharged into a few different materials to see what the effects are. There are thousands of potential variables. It wasn’t meant to be a laboratory test with all the participants in white coats with clipboards.

  • Kim April 10, 2017, 3:10 pm

    Clay you forgot to shoot your meat with the shotgun. (Uh that would hurt)

  • Ollie April 10, 2017, 2:19 pm

    If you’re going to use a 5.56 / AR 15 for home defense at least go to a 65gr to 74gr bullet, in a soft point.

  • Carl Tests April 10, 2017, 1:55 pm

    That was fun and thanks for putting it together. Having video of it provides a nice presentation. Once again, the fact that effective firearms and ammunition will penetrate walls is documented and that it is really a matter of choosing the right tool when needed, as they all will perform well if on target. I think it is useful to keep documenting this because folks will always question it. Here are a few other thoughts:
    1 foot-pound = 1 foot pound (note that muzzle energy is usually published in foot-pounds)
    Things like velocity and hardness of the projectile, and also design of the projectile will affect some aspects of penetration.
    However, if a minimal round (call it what you want – some lower velocity, some smaller caliber, some bullet projectile design, etc.), will penetrate most things, then everything else will also penetrate most things.

  • John April 10, 2017, 1:38 pm

    Very interesting. Something I’ve been wondering a lot about lately. I’ve also heard the debate by others about rifle versus pistol. I’m glad the issue was finally addressed. Use of multiple layers of drywall was a great idea to illustrate how much energy was still left in the round after passing the first drywall. It made me rethink my home defense plans.

  • lost one April 10, 2017, 12:52 pm

    excuse me if i missed it scrolling down but everyone seems to be missing the most important point. a shot that goes through sheetrock is a serious threat to anyone in that direction. that may be your family, 2 rooms over, or your neighbor in his yard or on the other side of wall separating you.

    btw, a good test comparing plaster walls would be interesting as would one determining the energy retained after penetrating one/two/three legitimately constructed walls.

  • Tommy Barrios April 10, 2017, 12:49 pm

    I’ll shoot with what I ever i have at hand, 12 gauge 00, .38 SPL 158 gr Meat Mashers, 22 LR Hollow Points, 5.56 Sierra Hollow Point Boat Tails, it don’t matter, the end result will be TERMINAL for the perp!

    “IF your going to shoot, SHOOT, don’t talk”
    GBU 😉

    • LJ April 10, 2017, 6:34 pm

      That’s funny right there! G-reat B-ig U-terus?

      Just kidd’n 🙂

  • Will Drider April 10, 2017, 12:39 pm

    There is no reference in the article or vid that it was a scientific study. It did say there are too many variables to test them all. This is a “Snap Shot” of info information to get you thinking about the issue. Author just says this is what I used against these barriers, shows results and states HIS opinion based on this and other experiences. Hell, people pick apart the few so called scientific studies/tests that are out there too.

    Don’t bitch about something this article/vid isn’t supposed to be. Go test your own guns/loads/barriers because that is what you are actually responsible for. If you find the perfect home defense gun/ammo combo: write a paper on it, vid the testing and publish it, we will see how its received.

  • Christopher Cherrone April 10, 2017, 12:32 pm

    So, I guess the final lesson is, if you dont want to over penetrate, with whatever you are using, dont miss.

    • CrazyP April 21, 2017, 11:02 pm

      best comment so far, don’t want collateral damages……..don’t miss

  • Jon MILLER April 10, 2017, 12:31 pm

    I love seeing the new take and actual data on an old, much discussed topic. I have often wondered how the super fragile varmint rounds would do for self defense with a non-armored assailant. The shotgun has one advantage that’s hard to calculate, which is it’s intimidation factor, but this does not out weigh actual performance. The bottom line is that there is nothing that is “safe” to fire inside a house and you must be aware of where your rounds are going. There is no alternative to training, practice and situational awareness.

  • Joseph April 10, 2017, 12:02 pm

    Sir,

    Did you recover the Sig 9mm 147gr JHP and Hornady .223Rem 53gr V-Max round post soft tissue testing. I would like to know how much deformation each projectile had, and post shooting bullet weight.

  • Lee Foley April 10, 2017, 12:01 pm

    Like Hillary said ” what difference does it make”. Anybody breaks in my house can expect to be killed by anything, 12 gauge Sabot Slugs, Golden Saber,.556 Penatrator or maybe if they are lucky, Stinger 22. Bottom line is their will going to the morgue. Video was a waste of time. “Don’t mean a thing”

    • TomT April 10, 2017, 12:33 pm

      The purpose of the article was to help you figure out how many of your family members you were going to kill in the process, not if a bullet would hurt a “bad guy.”

      • Lee Foley April 11, 2017, 12:56 am

        Understand what your saying but speaking for myself, I hit what I aim at. If someone breaks in your home, you are not going to think of you might hit an inocence, you will concentrate on the intruder and deal with it to keep your family safe.

    • Oaf April 10, 2017, 1:40 pm

      Yea, but some of us mere mortals aint super deadly ninja warrior expert sharpshootin assassins like you are and sometimes miss our intended target, especially when you wake up in the middle of the night from a dead sleep with your adrenalin pumping. We’d like to see where a certain load would end up if we missed the bad guy and what round gives the least penetration.

      • Lee Foley April 11, 2017, 12:48 am

        LOL, I would rather use empty hands skills and keep it close and personnal. Remember “It’s better to be judged by twelve than to be carried by six”.

        • Jonny5 April 14, 2017, 2:51 am

          Good luck with that option Chuck Norris.

  • Tyler Kent April 10, 2017, 11:50 am

    You mean some people did not know that a shotgun blast would penetrate drywall?????? Jeeesh.

  • Doc Loch April 10, 2017, 11:41 am

    Here are some comparisons of risk of death by various means.
    http://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/mortality-risk

  • Bryan April 10, 2017, 11:31 am

    4 00 buckshot is smaller and will penetrate less. Physics; less mass, less penetration

    • TomT April 10, 2017, 12:34 pm

      That’s what I load into my home defense gun.

  • john creveling April 10, 2017, 11:07 am

    OK Guys As a general contractor of 30+ years I think the tests are missing a crucial point.Interior walls of a typical home are 1/2″ drywall on both sides of a 2×4 stud they are NOT stacked one behind the other as in Clay’s box.The typical bed room is 10’x12′ and unless you live in a mansion your longest shooting distance would be a hallway or kitchen/living room say 30′. So I submit a real life test would be to assume you intruder is 16′ from you and the first wall 4′ behind him so put a 2×4 wall with 1/2″ Sheetrock on both sides at 20′ with subsequent walls at 12′ increments behind it THEN fire whatever weapon you like thru them and see what happens.I happen to think a shotgun in the best home defense weapon and a hot Turkey load is not what to use in that situation.I also think 3 1/2″ of insulation in the wall will make a difference in penetration of shotgun pellets but not a .223 however few interior walls will have it but some may for sound protection mostly in plumbing walls.If anybody wants to give this a try I would be interested in the results. John

    • Greg P. April 10, 2017, 11:44 am

      I agree. This was interesting reading but a totally unrealistic test. A more informative set of tests would be use a single sheet of drywall, some insulation, and an “outside surface” of plywood or OSB with a final layer of vinyl siding. For the shotgun test, I think 2 1/2″ loads of 00 and also maybe #7 or #6 wold be more realistic. For home defense you have to assume in a high-stress low-light situation you are going to miss. An even more informative set up would be shoot through a realistic wall and see what the penetration is into a similar wall, say, 15 yards away, simulating shooting into a neighbor’s house in the typical suburban setting.

    • matthew martinez April 10, 2017, 11:44 am

      agreed. subsequent walls and some cheap red winchester shells and fragmenting ammo all around is more realistic. I can tell you from experience that the insulation is a good point since shooting an old mattress from 10 ft away will tend to capture most pellets. I think the test was meant to show max penetration through multiple layers but a realistic mythbusters style set up would be a good start, then a multiple layer shootout with multiple round choices per category.

    • Mark B April 10, 2017, 3:38 pm

      Your experience/knowledge shows in your summary of this test, and description of an average shooting situation. I have personally seen after effects of 3 different weapons discharged inside of houses, from .22 cal., to .38 special, and .44 magnum. The .22 penetrated at about a 45 degree angle, and went through one wall (2×4 with two sheets of 1/2″ sheetrock), across a 5 foot hallway, and was stopped in a stud of the second wall after penetrating a total of 3 sheets of sheetrock. The .38 special was fired at an upward angle and penetrated one wall of a closet, travelled about 6 feet, and went through a ceiling in adjoining room, and subsequently was stopped in a ceiling joist after going through the ceiling sheetrock. The .44 magnum went 10 feet across a bed room, through one wall, went across a 14 foot living room, penetrated a wall (sheetrock) and was stopped by a metal electrical box for an air conditioner unit after pushing it into the MDF (particle board) sheeting, backed up by a brick veneer exterior wall of the house. We were very surprised not to find an exit hole on the outside of the house, but the brick exterior and metal box actually made the final stop. None of these shots was traveling at right angles to the structure when they made initial contact. The .22 was a copper coated lead solid point, the .38 special was a copper jacketed hollow point, and the .44 was a solid lead semi wad cutter which disintegrated into pieces in the electrical box after really making a mess of the box itself. There are so many factors and variables that negate the results of this authors attempts to simulate projectile penetration. One of those variables is definitely angle of penetration. Many, if not most, shots will not be going straight perpendicular to walls. Another variable with shotguns, aside from guage and shot and powder load, are choke and barrel length. Your comments were right on, to my mind. As many others commented, an 870 being racked has an intimidation factor all its own, and personally, When and if the time comes, I am personally going to shoot my best, and trust God to take care of the rest.

      • Will Drider April 10, 2017, 6:25 pm

        Lets evaluate the intimidation factor. There is a threat present:
        1. Your response is slowed because there is no round in the chamber. This in actuality is the same as carrying your CC handgun with a empty chamber.
        2. You are starting with one less round self imposed handicap. We don’t know how many rounds/shells we will need but more is always better then less.
        3. Your rackin for the additional “intimidation factor” and giving away your position.
        4. Your racking for the additional “intimidation factor” when your already planning to use lethal force and should be on the target or firing.
        5. Racking is a show of force (what you do), but there is no definite response of what the BG will do.
        6. Time in a gun fight or the milliseconds leading up to it, should not be wasted on things that ca not be counted on to deliver results. Leave all that slide racking (shotgun or pistol) to the movies or departments that have empty chamber administrative loading policies, YOU have a choice.

      • john creveling April 10, 2017, 7:36 pm

        Thanks for the comments Guys. Other things to consider are the studs are usually on 16″ centers with 14 1/2″ in between that can be stuffed with plumbing,heater ducting.and electrical.Also in a typical bed room there are things up against the wall such as dressers,bookcases,desks ect.not to mention pictures with potentially heavy frames. In the laundry there is the washer and dryer maybe a hot water heater and furnace.The kitchen has cabinets.The bathroom a shower stall and vanity.Just saying there is a lot of objects in a typical home that could affect bullet or shot travel thru walls not just drywall.Guess the only way to find out is to wait until the wife and kids are at the movies get the guns out of the safe and do a little testing on the old homestead.(Take it easy,just kidding!) John

  • Jim Miller April 10, 2017, 11:06 am

    Interesting reading, but after all is said and done, I will stick with my .38 Spl wadcutters for the 10-20 feet range in my situation.

  • Terry April 10, 2017, 10:58 am

    Although I have many choices around the house, I have an 18″ barreled 12 ga. as one of them. I came across some “law enforcement load-reduced recoil” 12 ga buckshot and loaded up with it. Anybody know how much difference it makes on wall penetration?

  • Mike Mullen April 10, 2017, 10:57 am

    Who cares about the weapon used ???

    Honestly, it all boils down to deploying the weapon you have, and Col. Coopers Number 1 safety rule – Your muzzle covers only that which you wish to destroy. period.
    That and practice, practice practice.
    For the record, I once confronted a burglar, but never had to shoot. Just the sound of the slide racking on the 12-gauge pump shotgun I had sent the would be thief running for the hills…….

  • MIke April 10, 2017, 10:54 am

    Interesting stuff, I appreciate the time that went into doing this, and you’ll never please everyone. I suggest more testing with the shotgun, I’d venture to guess there are more shotguns used for home defense than any other weapon. Get an 18″ shotgun and stack up the same meat. turkey loads, slugs, 00 buck, and 3 shot. No one should be using bird shot (6, 7, 8, 9) for home defense.

  • bob April 10, 2017, 10:48 am

    that sir is a very impressive back yard

  • Kenneth April 10, 2017, 10:39 am

    I have tried the Mag-Safe rounds I know that the .45 ACP round will not go through two layers of sheet rock. I had an entrance hole and exit hole and a cardboard box sitting 6 inches from the exit, there weren’t even dimples on the cardboard box. I will be resuming tests using ballistic gel when I have time, but this was what I considered a more important test in seeing if a missed round would seriously hurt some one on the other side of a house wall.

  • D tros April 10, 2017, 10:23 am

    May be best to move to a better neighborhood if you can and use good locks. If you cannot, then I’d advise an alarm. May be best to get one either way. Then the chances are you will never have to shoot someone inside your home and take a chance on killing a family member. Just shooting in the dark in any direction, not really knowing who are what your are going to hit isn’t the best course of action. You may do more harm than the burglar!
    Should you be prepared? Sure. But the likelihood of ever having to shoot someone inside your home is very low!

    • Peter Nelson April 10, 2017, 1:48 pm

      You are using false logic. Even wealthy homes with excellent security systems are targets of criminals and their owners get robbed and killed. Also never trust an unknown intruder who has broken into your home. You have no idea what they might do to you and your loved ones. Self defense with your fire arm is a last resort but if you do not, can not resort to it, well you may be dead and your family raped and murdered as well. Are you man enough to defend your self and family?

  • Rio Benson April 10, 2017, 10:21 am

    Probably the least scientific test of home defense arms and ammunition I’ve ever heard of, and totally worthless as an article of any import, especially for Guns America’s editors who should know better. The comments were much better than the article, particularly the one from Mike, the former Marine Embassy Guard; leave it to the Marines to boil vague things down to their most informative level to arrive at a straight-forward workable procedure. Semper Fi.

  • Robert April 10, 2017, 10:18 am

    The fact remains that the best weapon is the one that you can get your hands on at the moment you need it. Maybe you can get your favorite AR-15 and maybe you can’t. I still like the .45 with a 200gr. or 230gr. round nose bullet. I may have to penetrate a couple of sheets of drywall before the bullet gets to the target. You just don’t know, and to much penetration is a lot better than to little. Aside from that, the above test was incomplete and unrealistic. Bayby back ribs are to small. Adult pig ribs would be a lot closer to adult people. When a bullet goes through a thorax, there are ribs in the front and back, therefore you would need pig ribs on both sides of the target. Also, lung tissue doesn’t have near the consistency or density of muscle tissue. Lungs are more the density of styrofoam, so you need a sheet of that in the mix as well.

  • Jaydee April 10, 2017, 10:04 am

    Seach out the article About .223 Penetration by R.K. Taubert
    This FBI study clearly demonstrates the following: (1) that .223 rounds on average, penetrate less than the hollow point pistol rounds evaluated, (2) concern for over penetration of the .223 round, at close range, has been greatly exaggerated, (3) with the exception of soft ballistic garment penetration, the .223 round appears to be relatively safer for employment in CQB events than the hollow point bullets tested.
    Bottom Line: In every test, with the exception of soft body armor, which none of the SMG fired rounds defeated, the .223 penetrated less on average than any of the pistol bullets.

  • Notorious ROSCOE April 10, 2017, 9:45 am

    Most people concerned about self-defense talk about stopping power and problems of underpenetration. Remembering I am responsible for EVERYTHING my bullets hit, I have taken my lesson from the European police agencies. Many of my fellow Americans sneer at anything as “puny” as the .38 Special, but I consider the .32 ACP, .380 ACP, and 9x18mm Makarov entirely appropriate for self defense. They punch the target with power, but they won’t go through most portions of the body, be deflected by bones or belt buckles, come out in unpredictable directions on the other side, and murder innocent bystanders. Also, the pistols that shoot them aren’t boat anchors, so they’re easy to carry. I’d love to see you do this same test with those calibers.

  • Frank Ubar April 10, 2017, 9:41 am

    I agree with Bob. Not enough data. In fact this is all opinion backed up by poor (and/or biased) ammo choices. Double OO buck would be the best. There is only one scenario where a shotgun is a bad choice and that is CLEARING a home. If you’re creeping around tight hallways and multiple corners your shotgun barrel is several steps ahead of you waiting to be grabbed. But if you’re in the great room with full view of your intruder, there is nothing better, period. AR ammo is extremely task oriented. Some rounds work better through different materials. Some rounds work better IN different materials. Some rounds work better at different speeds. Some rounds work at different distances. Some rounds work in different barrel lengths. If you shoot standard nato 55gr ball ammo through a 20 inch AR barrel in your house, bullet will leave your house before it’s even properly stabilized in flight since it takes about 50 yards for that to occur. It might even pass through the perp on the way OUTSIDE of your house. Do your research before showing up here as an expert. This whole article was silly.

    • Daniel Antos April 10, 2017, 11:23 am

      The only time I would start clearing the house is to get to my children. Otherwise get everyone into a good hiding spot and defend your location. Easier to prove self defense in Canada or states with no castle laws, when the police arrive and find you barricaded with the assailant lying outside the room. I use a pistol to get to my kids while the wife loads the shotgun, then barricade the doors and defend with the shotgun. Know what is behind your line of sight. Dead bolt locks and alarm and a dog are great deterrents and will buy you some time to get prepped. I know many people with no house alarm but sleep with a pistol beside their bed. Why not reduce risk of problems for yourself.

  • Tom April 10, 2017, 9:40 am

    Once upon a time I had fired an AK 47 inside a room with approx 1/2″ soft wood for interior walls. The round, FMJ military issue, struck a book that was laying flat on a table in the middle of the pages (read not in the book cover or binding). The round changed direction traveling up and out the books cover. It then struck the wall sideways. It penetrated the wood and stopped inside the wall, hitting no studs. Bullets do funny things sometimes. I would have thought that FMJ round would have made a straight path through that book.

  • G. Callen Sr. April 10, 2017, 9:35 am

    I don’t know about any of this but will say from past experience that a laser on a handgun is good for inside a house situation. Also if you want a quick go to rifle you can’t beat a lever action in 44 mag. Just one mans opinion.

  • Viper April 10, 2017, 9:33 am

    This is perhaps the worst test ever concocted, poorly executed and really equates to nothing. Your answer is don’t miss your target. Have you ever been in an in-home self defense scenario where awoken abruptly in the middle of the night? I didn’t think so. Or do you have children in the home, most likely not. You test sucks and so do your findings.

    • Rex April 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

      The worst test ever concocted? Really Viper? Mere sophomoric hyperbole. Please post your tests so we can critique your genius.

  • Fred Ziffle April 10, 2017, 9:33 am

    I enjoy conducting “tests” like this. I did something similar to your drywall penetration test, but used 1/4″ plate steel. I was noting the differences in penetration between ball rounds, hollow points, and mercury tipped rounds. In .30-06, the first two round types merely left spalling/splatter marks on the 1st plate. The mercury tipped made a super clean hole through 4 plates, almost as if they’d been drilled. Thanks for sharing your test, looked like a fun time.

  • Darwin April 10, 2017, 9:33 am

    Every test I have seen against sheetrock, always has the sheet rock close together, about 6 to 12 inches apart. I want to see a test where a wall (two pieces of sheetrock separated by tww-by-fours) is followed by another wall at least 10 feet away (representing an interior room) and then one more 10 to 20 feet away to simulate another home. What happens then?

  • Gary Bell April 10, 2017, 9:26 am

    Use a lower 12 gauge shot like 5 or 8, they might possibly penetrate 2 layers maybe.. this is a meathead test as these results have been tested over and over. a 18 in. improved or open choke shotty is the best home defense weapon to minimize wall penetration.

    • Davud April 10, 2017, 12:57 pm

      he used no. 5 shot. look at the ammo box in the photo.

  • Ben Slam April 10, 2017, 9:23 am

    The ammo used is the choice. The gun is a delivery system only. There are better handgun, shotgun, and rifle rounds to use. I also would have liked to see some number 4-6 shot, down to #3 or #4 Buck. I want more pellets than 00 offers, and less penetration. I don’t think I want less than 6 shot in case for cold weather us where suspects maybe have coats and sweatshirts on. Shot many a grouse where a #7 1/2 shot fell out of the skin layer on an unclothed bird. I too would lean toward an AR for being a precise instrument, loaded with something that is going to fragment after a solid hit. I don’t want 00 buck going exterior to the road with 9 separate bullets waiting to take anyone and anything out. If a 5.56 round did I have 1 to worry about for each pull of the trigger. With #3-4 Buck I have even more, but will they have power to reach the road? We don’t know. I would like to see “misses going through 2 walls lets say, then go into calibrated gel. How much penetration on an innocent, if any, is there for each round.

    • Chris Mallory April 10, 2017, 10:23 am

      Those tests are out there, but GA seems to be censoring the linking to them.

      With four 10 foot wide “rooms” set up, everything other than birdshot penetrated all sheetrock walls. The 5.56 was tumbling wildly and even the frangible 5.56 had it’s pieces go through all the walls. Birdshot was stopped by the second wall after going through 2 sheets of sheetrock and 10 feet of air.

  • Dave April 10, 2017, 9:19 am

    Look at this as a good representation of the effects of rounds and drywall. Remember most interior walls have two pieces of drywall, front and back and yes, there are studs, pipes, wires, and hardware within the walls. This took lots of time, money and patience to document, except for a few choose words it was a good representation of the effetcts of different rounds through drywall and representative human tissue.

  • Greg April 10, 2017, 9:12 am

    Another discussion we should have as well is what it is like shooting each one inside a closed room without hearing protection. On a sidenote my wife always jokes with me that if somebody broke in the house it would take me 10 minutes to decide which gun to shoot him with ..of course this is not true I have several options ready to go …by the way just thinking I need to take my wife and daughter shooting

  • Kenneth Drake April 10, 2017, 9:09 am

    I’m wondering now how the 40gr VMax would rate – higher velocity and faster, explosive disintegration especially out of a 10″ SBR. Not that it matters in home defense, but it is an extremely accurate off the shelf factory load.

  • Mott April 10, 2017, 9:00 am

    When I was younger, A Bud and I found an old abandoned house and doing what kids do, We shot at it with .22. They went through the house so long as they missed any studs. So a .22 LR will also go through.

  • Matt April 10, 2017, 8:46 am

    I laughed out loud when I read about the pork roast going through the wall. Well done!

  • Rick April 10, 2017, 8:41 am

    Looks as though your article got shot down. You failed to make your liking prove to anyone it was right. Having used a shotgun for self defense inside a dwelling with plain #4 shot I can attest to the “real life results”. It in fact will stop an intruder immediately in their tracks. The stray pellets, if any at close range do not in fact or fiction past through 1/2″drywall beyond the studs unless the complete load misses and it will not go through a hallway wall to wall. It can and will, blast a huge would hole in a human at ranges under 20 feet , to the point of not being able to sew the hole shut. Having used the m16 in the jungle and patties. I can attest that it is a good choice as a battle field weapon in it’s given range 50 to 250 yards. But the 870 shotgun was used plenty of times inside those conditions quit well. Ball ammo is extremely hard and passes through most everything. Don’t sit behind a desk and expect to convince your readers of your personal choices. I think your readers have now told you this. U.S Army Vet 1971 – 1987

    • Raleigh Thomas April 10, 2017, 12:15 pm

      Agree, load choice makes all the difference. A magnum turkey load, with a specialized wad made to stay with the shot much longer for a tight pattern at extremely long range, is not a good choice to minimize overpenetration. A field load of #6 or #4 will ‘rat hole’ a person at close range.

  • Steve Sparks April 10, 2017, 8:39 am

    Not sure why you seem to have a predisposition about shotguns? The fact that you only tested one load proves you wanted it to fail! A short barreled Shotgun with proper choke and load is without a doubt the best defensive weapon in an urban home situation, The mere sight of a double barreled coach gun would be enough to discourage most would be attackers. Your own biased data even proves it! Unless killing neighbor’s is not a concern for you! I’m just glad I don’t live anywhere around you. The only Myth you “Busted” was that people that publish articles on Guns America know what they are talking about! Congrats!

  • Bob April 10, 2017, 8:32 am

    There’s not enough data here to draw any definite conclusions from.

  • Dave April 10, 2017, 8:28 am

    Back in the late 70’s I caught an article on the same topic. The authors solution was called a Junk Yard Dog load. He took a 44 mag shot capsule and instead of loading it with shot he cut 1/16″ dia brazing rods and stuffed it. If I recall he was able to get about 23 in there and they where around 5/8″ long. When shot out of a pistol at a near target they will hit like a bullet then immediately break out of the shot capsule, expending their energy by ripping flesh. At a longer distance they break out of the capsule and whirl through the air, again tearing flesh. He reported that they did not penetrate drywall because of the low mas to surface area of each of the cut rods. Interesting concept that might carry over to a shotgun load.

  • John Blankenship April 10, 2017, 8:12 am

    Your article on the 3 weapons was very loaded and shows your choice was made even before the “testing” began. Why not use #8 shot and a less powerful load in the shotgun? Most of us that have shotguns (and even half a brain) as their primary home defense weapon do not have them loaded with slugs or turkey loads. It’s like trying to swat flies with a baseball bat. You must know that these loads are for longer distances, yet you threw them in the gun and promptly discarded the notion of a shotgun for home defense.

    • Greg April 10, 2017, 9:03 am

      Agree with you on this one

  • BigC April 10, 2017, 7:19 am

    What it all boils down to is, the variables are infinite……so run what you brung and hope for the best!!

  • BillJ357 April 10, 2017, 6:44 am

    Seems to me that this was just an exercise in the obvious. Half inch drywall, no studs, no insulation or pipes or wiring…In a detached dwelling there would also be the exterior material. In a multi-family – construction musts require a ‘firewall’ between apartments.

    The take-away could be reasonably be guessed without the demo….Any shots within normal dwellings could be expected to penetrate further than might be anticipated, especially if the ‘target’ is missed….

    Maybe test could be run with a shotgun and ..birdshot…at inside home/room distances, how devastating would this be to the ‘target’……and how many layers of sheetrock would be penetrated ?

    just my thoughts..

  • John April 10, 2017, 6:35 am

    It’s a very interesting article, but like one of the other posters who replied, a red flag went up when the only shotgun load that was tested was a turkey load. My understating of a “turkey load” is a round that contains a payload of hardened or copper plated #4 or #5 shot, stuffed into a 3 or 3 1/2 inch shell, designed to maintain a dense pattern at extended distance. Not exactly the round I’m going to keep in my home defense gun for a plethora or reasons. I would have live to have seen the testers use #4buck or OO buck or perhaps the always debated “heavy birdshot” load instead.

  • Rob Petit April 10, 2017, 5:43 am

    I am wondering why you discounted the shotgun that went through 6 sheets, and went with a rifle round that went through all 11 sheets on a “miss” as you put it? Sounds like a flaw in your logic. It seems that you went through the testing until you got a result confirmed your self-declared pre-existing bias. Where is the test of the shotgun through a pork roast? Would’t that have been a more “apples to apples” (or maybe pork to pork!) comparison? I have all 3 options for home defense, and would really like an unbiased assessment. Unfortunately, I’m still looking for that even, after your testing and article.

    • DEFENDER88 April 10, 2017, 7:25 am

      I heard about the “tumbling thing” also.
      So – I did a similar test on Dry Wall last week.
      Took 14 (1/2″ sheets)(10″x10″ squares) to the range.
      Stacked all 14 sheets together – Tot of 7in thickness.
      Test : 1 shot of each cal
      Started with 22cal
      Ammo
      1) 22cal – 35gr, JHP.
      2) 9mm – 115gr, FMJ Ball
      3) 223 – 55gr, FMJ Ball
      Results: “ALL” went Straight thru “All” 14 sheets.
      And still traveling, I guess.
      No “tumbling” of any kind, by any.
      Perfect Round Hole In, Perfect Round Hole Out.
      Would I get tumbling if I separate the sheets by say 1″?
      I don’t know, but doubt it. Maybe next time will try that.
      Hollow points will “tumble”, expand? Maybe but I doubt it. 22 did not.
      Not a “scientific” test, but enough for me to know, for now anyway..

  • Andrew April 10, 2017, 5:41 am

    So you eliminate the shotgun based on drywall penetration but don’t even test it with the meat and ribs. Why?

    • Ray Odgers April 10, 2017, 3:30 pm

      he wasnt in the mood for BBQ

  • John April 10, 2017, 4:30 am

    Lots of good info in this article but i wish you would have tested more standard AR-15 ammo like the 55gr and 62gr mil spec loadings because thats what most of us purchase due to its availability and price point.

  • J Atwood April 10, 2017, 4:27 am

    Why in the hell did he use turkey shot?! I don’t know about y’all, but I’m using buck shot for defense. Pretty much invalidates the test there

    All tou need to say is this that interior walls won’t stop any ammo you’re likely to use for defense. So, use whatever you think will be the most reliable stop. For me that’s 00 buck or a hail of 5.7 v-max from a ps90. And if a bad guy wants to play peek-a-boo around a corner or door frame, then I’m shooting through that wall he thinks is cover.

  • Mike April 10, 2017, 4:21 am

    Allot of this comes down to ammunition. When I was attached to Department of State, serving as a Marine Embassy Guard. We were issued 870\’s with 00 buck, M9\’s and SMG\’s with hydroshock and the M4A1 with ball for \”exigent circumstances\”. The idea being Marines would clear the building with weapons catered to the most effect on target, with the lowest chance of over penetration. Although when authorized, we could utilize the M4 to defend the exterior of the compound.
    That said, I\’m sure much has changed with protocol and what current MSG\’s utilize now.

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