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[Study] Home Defense Overpenetration: Shotgun, Handgun, Rifle

We use ballistic gel and built interior/exterior walls to test shotgun, handgun, and rifle loads to see the best ammo if overpenetration is a concern.

    Over-penetration in a home defense situation can cause more harm than the original threat.

    If, God forbid, someone should break into your home, you will have a million thoughts racing through your head, and a stress level some people may never feel in their life. 

    My .300 Blackout HD Pistol

    While you are nice and safe reading this article, this is EXACTLY the time to think about over-penetration and the liability that comes with it.

    In this article, I will be discussing over-penetration with 12-gauge shotgun loads, 9mm and .45 ACP handguns, and finally 5.56 NATO/.223, and .300 BLK AR-15s. 

    Less than 1/5th of the ammo I tested. Buckle up.

    This is not a test of the firearms, but rather a test of what the firearms are shooting.

    Assuming you are looking at roughly the same barrel lengths, the exact firearm using these cartridges will be approximately the same.

    Penetration testing was done these loads through real, current building materials, and I will cover the pros and cons of each caliber/load and how they performed in testing.


    This is a long article, but it’s important and worth the full read.

    We’re going to dispel some fudd lore and provide real data to help you make the best decision for your family in your home.

    Table of Contents


    The Setup

    To simulate a real home, I made 2’x2’ frames with 2″x4″ studs and then sheeted them with 3/8″ drywall on each side to simulate an interior wall.

    I also built a simulated exterior wall by framing a 2’x4′ wall sheeted in 3/8″ drywall and 1/2″ plywood on the exterior side. Inside of the exterior wall, R13 insulation was added for added realism.

    Author’s set up, simulating an “intruder” with an interior and exterior wall panel behind the target.

    A card table was placed with a 12″ long 10% ballistic gel block 12 inches in front of the interior wall panel.

    This 12″ of ballistic gel is used to simulate an intruder’s chest cavity. The gel was calibrated per FBI specs for 10% ballistic gel and can be found at Clear Ballistics.

    Ten feet behind the interior wall, the exterior wall was placed. All shots were taken 10 feet away from the 12″ ballistic gel “torso”.

    If a round made it through the gel and both walls, it failed the test for over-penetration. A “clean miss” was also shot with every load to test over-penetration when the shot did not encounter the ballistic gel block.

    Here’s a hint. Don’t miss.

    Soft tissue does a heck of a great job with slowing down projectiles and destabilizing them for potential fracturing. Every load with exception of the #9 Birdshot, blew through both walls and “exited the house” when there was a clean miss.


    I understand that all homes are different, so before people start chiming in what their home is made of, I think my choices show current common materials that are used in the manner they are most often employed.

    You may have brick, cinderblock, plaster and lathe, or have open floor plans in your Scrooge McDuck mansion. My setup would be more typical for smaller single-family homes.

    If this is your home, you might want to look into something in belt-fed so that you can cover the front yard.

    It should also be pointed out that ballistic gel does not represent a human well, it has no bone, fat layer, clothing, or muscle.

    All of these are somewhat different for each person, and exact shot placement will also matter, so real-world results will have a degree of variation to them that we cannot replicate.

    The point of the gel is to give a consistent medium that is dense enough yet soft enough to effectively test munitions. The primary goal is standardization, not perfect replication.

    44 mag gel test bad day
    Gel is also fun. FYI, .44 Magnum will mess you and your gel up!

    Results will also have slight differences depending on the firearm you use. But it shouldn’t be hugely different. The design and overall specs of a cartridge are more important.

    Lastly, please actually read to the end of the article before you start writing your dissertation on why you think I’m wrong.

    And remember that I actually tested all of this, have you?

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Please forgive the parts where Ken reiterates himself, we wanted to make sure that if you the reader only jump to one section to read the results, you would have the critical information needed. As such, we describe in short the set-up and testing multiple times.

    With that out of the way, time for the fun stuff!

    Shotgun Over-Penetration Testing

    The Shotgun And The Shells

    The shotgun that I had for testing was supplied by Remington Arms. It is their 870 DM Predator with an 18″ barrel in a Highlander Kryptek finish. It has a thumbhole stock and utilizes a 3 round or 6 round detachable magazines.

    HD Overpen test 870 shotgun and ammo
    The 870 DM Predator shotgun and the types of shotgun shells tested.

    Cycling has been reliable, and I have really enjoyed the shotgun while hunting, or running defensive drills with it. It also has proven itself to me from multiple hunts with hogs, turkeys, and coyotes.

    at Palmetto State Armory

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    Prices accurate at time of writing

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    Not one hiccup, so for me, it has been my choice for home-defense.

    Mounted on top is an AT3 Tactical RD50 micro red dot sight. Zero has always stayed locked on, and the mini red dot has performed flawlessly. I tested 4 different loads ranging from the whole spectrum of shotshells.

    Shotgun Results

    12GA 2-3/4" Shells12” Ballistic GelInterior WallExterior Wall
    Remington #9 Target LoadsStopped In GelN/AN/A
    Remington 00 BuckPass ThroughPass ThroughPass Through
    Barnes Expander Slugs
    Pass ThroughPass ThroughPass Through
    Federal Premium #4 BuckPass Through/Stopped In GelStopped in WallN/A

    Remington 2 3/4″ #9 Target Loads – PASS… KIND OF

    I wanted to test birdshot first to clear up some possible misconceptions. A lot of people who worry about over-penetration consider low brass, birdshot loads to be a perfect choice for home defense. This is a bit of a gray area in my opinion.

    Lethality has been proven to be less than desirable and fluctuate depending on the range to the target.

    12ga Birdshot, Opened
    12ga Birdshot, Opened

    While I don’t think you will ever meet someone that would want to be hit by birdshot within 20 feet, lethality is an important topic.

    If someone is actively trying to take your life, a load needs to have adequate penetration to reach vital organs.

    While this load did not over-penetrate after it hit 12″ of ballistic gel, on a real human target with fat, dense muscle tissue, and a rib cage, it may not get the job done due to small shot size and shot deformation.

    at Brownells

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    I give these loads a passing grade, but only as a LAST OPTION.

    There are MUCH better loads for lethality.

    Remington 2 3/4″ 00 Buck – FAIL

    00 Buck has always been a popular option, but the problem is that most people do not consider over-penetration. While it has devastating terminal ballistics, the dense and fast-flying .33 caliber pellets do not stop after encountering soft tissue.

    Winchester 12ga 00 Buckshot
    Winchester 12ga 00 Buckshot, each pellet is .33 caliber

    Testing these loads proved that after encountering 12″ of 10% ballistic gel, the pellets continued through the first interior wall and easily passed through the exterior wall.

    HD overpen test buckshot exterior wall
    00 Buck can be a viable option, but over-penetration can be a liability.

    Since this test deals specifically with over-penetration, 00 Buck gets a failing grade for home defense.

    at Lucky Gunner

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    Terminal ballistics would be devastating, but like a freight train, they weren’t deterred by flimsy drywall or 1/2″ thick plywood panels after exiting.

    Barnes 2 3/4″ Expander Slug – FAIL

    Loading the Barnes Expander slugs into the 870 DM’s magazine I hoped for the best.

    I thought that there could possibly be a chance that due to their design, the slug would have enough rapid expansion that they could slow enough to not punch through both interior and exterior walls. 

    All hopes were shattered after my first shot. Once again, the slug pile-drive through a fresh 12″ of 10% ballistic gel without a hiccup and sliced through each wall with little effort.

    HD overpen test slug ex wall
    The Barnes Expander did not have enough expansion to prevent over-penetration. Even on this exterior wall, it was almost totally unexpanded.

    The velocity and the mass of the slugs create a deadly mix of incredibly high muzzle energy, which translates into serious over-penetration through barriers.

    at Target Sports USA

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    Prices accurate at time of writing

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    I wouldn’t think twice about using this slug in a hunting scenario but for a home defense load, almost any slug will likely leave your home and fail.

    Federal Premium 2 3/4″#4 Buck – PASS

    After witnessing the last loads fail the test, I didn’t have much hope anymore that a shotgun load in 12 gauge could meet requirements of deadly lethality, and not blow through multiple walls and exit a simulated home.

    Hope soon returned to me though after firing Federal Premium’s #4 Buck out of the Remington 870 DM Predator.

     This load is loved by many coyote hunters because the pattern and range work well, and the size of the pellets perform well on soft tissue.

    HD Overpen testing #4 Buck inner wall
    #4 Buck stopped by the inner wall

    With most of the 29 pellets either lodging themselves within the 12” gel block or being stuck within the interior wall, this type of load is in the “goldilocks zone” of terminal ballistics and lacks severe over-penetration like 00-Buck.

    Firing into the 12″ ballistic block, it was apparent that not all the .24 caliber pellets passed through the first wall. Upon visual inspection, some of the pellets stayed within the 12″ of gel, while some were planted into the first sheet of drywall.

    at Lucky Gunner

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    A few pellets were stuck within the first interior wall. Out of all the loads tested, this load proved to be the leader of the pack

    Best 12 Gauge Home Defense Loads

    Based on this testing, only one shotgun load is really good enough to recommend, but shotgun loads are more acceptable as a class than other ammo types – so here is a couple of options for #4 Buck you might want to look at.

    1. Federal Premium 2 3/4″ #4 Buck

    As our testing shows, Federal Premium #4 buck is a solid choice that delivers on every front in a shotgun load. We trust it.

    at Lucky Gunner

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

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    2. Federal Power Shok 2 3/4″ #4 Buck

    Power Shok has been around a long time and is a common load for deer, hog, and more. If it works on 4-legs, it works on 2. It is a bit more velocity than the Federal Premium, so if you have thin walls keep this in mind.

    at Optics Planet

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

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    3. Sellier & Bellot 2 3/4″ #4 Buck

    Sellier & Bellot is one of our favorite brands for ammo, in every caliber and cartridge we’ve tried it in we’ve always been pleased with the reliability and stability of their ammo. If you have a semi-auto shotgun that is picky on ammo, give S&B a try.

    at Lucky Gunner

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    Prices accurate at time of writing

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    Pros and Cons for The Shotgun

    The 12-gauge shotgun is a proven weapon that has been fielded by the military, law enforcement, and millions of Americans out in the field while hunting.

    It is a formidable weapon that has impeccable power within short to moderate range, depending on the load being used.

    12ga Shotgun Shells, Opened (L to R: Bird, Buck, Slug)
    12ga Shotgun Shells, Opened (L to R: Bird, Buck, Slug)

    Multiple loads are one of the biggest advantages to the shotgun since a shooter can have a very diverse choice between birdshot, buckshot, slugs, and honestly even less-than-lethal offerings with bean bag or rubber shot loads.

    The shotgun is highly adaptive, and there is no wonder why some people would choose it for self-defense in the home.

    Gun Bed!
    Gun Bed!

    It would seem odd to consider power being a detriment to home defense with a firearm, but a 12-gauge shotgun must be wielded responsibly.

    A higher level of recoil should be considered as well as over-penetration. #4 Buckshot is really the only load that I would recommend in a home defense situation.

    When you also consider magazine capacity, and the substantial recoil of the 12-gauge compared to a carbine or short-barreled AR15, the cons add up quickly.

    With any weapon, train with it to minimize any user error issues that are common with the pump shotgun like short-stroking.

    With regards to over-penetration though, the more lethal loads must be used responsibly, and you need to know your home. Keep in mind, 10% ballistic gel is still not a human being.

    This is the most scientific way to replicate a home intruder shooting, and YMMV.

    Final Shotgun Grade

    Terminal Ballistics – 5/5

    Depending on the load, the shotgun is an absolute powerhouse when it comes to terminal ballistics, shock, and awe. But keep in mind, you need to use the proper ammunition if over-penetration is a concern with you.

    Wound Channels – 4/5

    A slug is a game-ender, but when it comes to better loads for home defense the #4 Buck is still a solid performer.

    #9 Birdshot, if it is the only thing available, is not a horrible option in terms of over-penetration, but it must be understood that it will not be effective on soft tissue unless the range to target is within a few feet.

    Over-Penetration – 2/5

    Overall, the 12-gauge shotgun has either way too much over-penetration or lacks terminal performance in birdshot loads.

    The goldilocks shell is the #4 Buck loads that were tested. If your trusty scattergun is loaded with #4 Buck, there are worse ideas with protecting your home and family.

    Recoil Management – 3/5

    With training and blood sacrifices to Jerry Miculek, anything is possible. The shotgun can be harnessed with enough time behind it, but it is still much stouter than a typical defensive carbine or handgun.

    Overall for Home Defense – 3.5/5

    The shotgun is a powerhouse and at close range, it can be an absolute game-changer, but it must be used with the correct ammunition to avoid over-penetration. Recoil is something to be aware of if follow up shots are needed in quick order. Magazine capacity is limited and reloads must be practiced to be efficient.

    Handgun Over-Penetration Testing

    Between home defense, and self-defense outside of the home, the handgun can be a great choice to protect yourself.

    Or is it?

    The set-up is the same for the shotgun, 12” 10% ballistic gel block that is calibrated to the FBI’s specifications.

    Behind the ballistic gel, I placed a simulated interior wall built of common construction materials. Ten feet behind the interior wall, I placed a larger exterior wall composed of 2”x4” studs, 3/8” drywall sheeting, R13 insulation, and ½” plywood.

    The setup during construction

    Calibers that were tested included the 9x19mm, and the venerable .45 ACP.

    How did they stack up?

    Let’s find out if pistol calibers tear through soft tissue and drywall like a wet tissue.

    The Handguns and Ammo

    With this test, I chose 2 common handgun calibers for better experimental accuracy. Striker-fired, semi-automatics were chosen due to their popularity.

    For the 9x19mm, a Polymer 80 PF940Cv1 80% frame was used that was sent to me by JSD Supply. They supplied the barrel, frame and all the part kits associated with a Glock 19 build. The PATMOS barrel has proven to be very accurate. 

    HD overpen test 9mm 80 percent glock
    Polymer 80 Glock build and the tested ammo!

    The slide and the Trijicon RMR was furnished by Brownell’s. Aesthetically, I love the look of the Brownell’s slide. I am a fan of keeping it simple, and the slide is stylish and functional.

    at Brownells

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    I can’t speak highly enough on the Trijicon RMR. At this point, if you are building a Glock slide, don’t think twice. Get the RMR cut and plant an RMR on it. It’s a beautiful marriage of looks and functionality.

    at Brownells

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    Prices accurate at time of writing

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    For the .45 ACP, my personal Glock 36 was used. This model uses a single stack, six-round magazine and is purpose-built to be a small yet powerful conceal carry handgun.

    It has been highly reliable and further cement Glock’s reputation in my opinion. It is still a complete factory set up, and nothing has been changed since I bought it years ago.

    Ammo supplied for testing came from Remington, Hornady, Federal, Inceptor, and Lehigh Defense.

    HD overpen testing 45 ACP Glock 26 and ammo
    Glock 36 and .45 ACP ammo!

    All ammunition was tested with a “clear miss” shot. Not surprisingly, every round that missed the 12” of 10% ballistic gel passed through both walls and out of the “house”.

    9x19mm Penetration Results:

    9mm Ammo12” Ballistic GelInterior WallExterior Wall
    American Eagle 115 grain FMJPass ThroughPass ThroughPass Through
    Hornady 124 grain Critical DefensePass ThroughStopped in WallN/A
    Federal 124 grain Hydra Shok TacticalPass ThroughStopped in WallN/A
    Federal 135 grain Hydra Shok DeepPass ThroughStopped by Wall (Found on Ground)N/A
    Lehigh Def. 105 grain Maximum ExpansionStopped In GelN/AN/A
    Lehigh Def. 90 grain Extreme Defense +PPass ThroughPass ThroughStopped in Wall

    Best 9mm Home Defense Loads:

    1. Federal Premium 124-grain Hydra-Shok Tactical & 135-grain Hydra-Shok Deep

    Both loads worked great from Federal Premium, which is why I grouped them together.

    Both showed great expansion, and after passing through 12” of ballistic gel, the first interior wall was able to stop the expanded slugs.

    While the 135-grain Hydra-Shok Deep did penetrate further, the slug was found on the ground right behind the interior wall.

    at Lucky Gunner

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    Prices accurate at time of writing

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    Side by side, the Hydra-Shok Tactical (left), and Hydra-Shok Deep (right).

    Either of these rounds would be excellent choices for home defense where over-penetration could be a concern, and it shouldn’t be a surprise.

    Federal Premium’s pedigree with quality ammunition is well known.

    Where the Hydra-Shok Deep penetrated more, it is by design, where barriers may be a concern with carrying for defense.

    at Brownells

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    Prices accurate at time of writing

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    The Hydra-Shok Tactical may be a better choice for in the home.

    2. Lehigh Defense 105-grain Maximum Expansion

    The Lehigh Defense Maximum Expansion line is something to truly behold for self-defense. It truly lives up to its name of Maximum Expansion.

    Lehigh Defense 105-grain Maximum Expansion 9mm

    I tested this ammunition a few times to make sure that there wasn’t a fluke. Each time, penetration was 10.5” inside of the 12” of ballistic gel and expansion was predictable. 

    Lehigh Defense 45 ACP and 9mm
    Lehigh Defense .45 ACP and 9mm, both with amazing expansion.

    Each copper projectile opened its four petals causing impressive wound channels, and I can’t even imagine what they might do to soft tissue.

    If you are in the market for defensive ammo that will not pass through an intruder, this is the top pick. 

    at Lehigh Defense

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

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    While exit wounds cause more trauma, and allow more hemorrhaging, all kinetic energy would be dumped into a target using the Maximum Expansion bullet from Lehigh Defense. 

    3. Hornady 124-grain Critical Defense

    Hornady Critical Defense didn’t disappoint.

    After passing through the 12” of gel, the expanded slug impacted the interior wall and passed only through the first sheet of 3/8” drywall.

    After removing the sheet of drywall, I found the slug resting on the bottom 2×4 plate of the simulated wall. 

    With the flex tip unrecoverable, the recovered slug of the Hornady Critical Defense 9mm

    It was still hot as well!

    The expansion was not quite as large as the Federal Premium, or the Lehigh Defense, but in terms of over-penetration, this round performed great.

    at Brownells

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    Prices accurate at time of writing

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    If expansion is more important in your opinion, the Federal or Lehigh Defense option would be a better choice.

    .45 ACP Penetration Results:

    .45 ACP12” Ballistic GelInterior WallExterior Wall
    American Eagle 230 grain FMJPass ThroughPass ThroughPass Through
    Federal Premium 230 grain Hydra-ShokPass ThroughStopped by Wall (Found on Ground)N/A
    Remington 230 grain Black BeltPass ThroughPass ThroughStopped in Wall
    Inceptor 118 grain ARX Pass ThroughPass ThroughPass Through (Fractured and Broken)
    Lehigh Def. 174 grain Maximum ExpansionStopped in GelN/AN/A
    Lehigh Def. 120 grain Extreme DefensePass ThroughPass ThroughStopped in Wall

    Best .45 ACP Home Defense Loads:

    1. Federal Premium 230-grain Hydra-Shok Tactical

    Just like the 9mm, the bigger brother in .45 ACP performed amazingly. Expansion was even more significant with the larger bullet.

    The bullet, after penetrating 12” of gel, was stopped by the first interior wall and was found lying on the ground. Expansion was large, and the wound channel was impressive after cutting open the block later.

    Federal HST .45 ACP (left) and HST 9mm (right). Both expanded perfectly with near 100% mass retention.

    I tested this round a few times, and every time there was no surprise. Expansion was the same, and the first wall always was able to stop the projectile from flying downrange.

    at Lucky Gunner

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

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    Federal Premium’s widely known Hydra-Shok bullet is something of a gold standard to judge other bullets. You can not go wrong with them.

    2. Lehigh Defense 174-grain Maximum Expansion

    The Maximum Expansion in .45 ACP was surprising. After firing, it was obvious that the bullet did not penetrate out of the 12” of ballistic gel.

    Lehigh Defense 174-grain Maximum Expansion .45 ACP

    Cutting open the block revealed that 10.5” of penetration was achieved, but the expansion was what was even more notable. The .45 caliber projectile opened to double its size with four large, sharp, copper petals.

    Lehigh Defense 45 ACP and 9mm
    Lehigh Defense .45 ACP and 9mm

    The bullet is designed not to expand with harder materials such as bone, wood, and auto glass, but expands rapidly within soft tissue.

    Lehigh Defense has a winner with the Maximum Expansion for home defense.

    at Lehigh Defense

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    Prices accurate at time of writing

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    While it is expensive, this is not plinking ammo, and God willing, you will not have to go through more than a few boxes in your life for accuracy and testing of feeding.

    3. Remington 230-grain Black Belt

    The new addition to the Remington line-up in the Black Belt performed well.

    Expansion wasn’t as large as the previously mentioned bullets, and the slug came to a rest in the second wall. For this test though, the ammunition proved to be a solid performer with a balanced level of expansion and penetration.

    Recovered Black Belt slug for the .45 ACP from Remington.

    This bullet has been tested in defensive situations including auto glass, wood, and heavy clothing where extra penetration is needed to get the job done by the FBI.

    at Lucky Gunner

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

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    It is purposely designed to be a jack of all trades, and in my testing, it proved a viable option for home defense.

    Pros and Cons for The Handgun

    The handgun is an extremely popular firearm.

    Many people who carry a handgun day-to-day will naturally gravitate towards this firearm for home defense.

    A handgun is a compact, light firearm that is a good choice for home defense, but it does have its weaknesses.

    A lot of options when it comes to handguns…

    Projectiles for a handgun are large, short, and heavy by nature. With a clean miss, slugs tend to keep barreling through barriers.

    But, a properly designed self-defense bullet has shown to be suitable for home defense when the projectile encounters soft tissue in my testing. 

    In a high-stress situation like a home invasion, acquiring your sights in low light may be problematic. While a red dot mounted on the slide of a handgun is a quick way to get on target, keeping rounds on target can still be a challenge when your heart rate is off the charts.

    Tested Pistol Red Dots
    Some of the Best Pistol Red Dots we’ve tested!

    Not having a stock planted in your shoulder is a major drawback in an accurate volume of fire. 

    Terminal ballistics are also not comparable to a rifle cartridge either. Law enforcement and self-defense shootings show that multiple rounds are needed to incapacitate someone in a defensive situation.

    Shot placement is key with a handgun so regular training behind a handgun is important.

    Final Handgun Grade

    Kinetic Energy: 3/5

    Regardless if you shoot the baby 9mm, or your 1911 won back to back World Wars, kinetic energy is lacking compared to the shotgun and rifle. It will get the job done, but shot placement is key.

    Wound Channels: 3.5/5

    Velocity levels are relatively low in most pistol cartridges, so wound channels and temporary wound channels tend to be less than a centerfire rifle. The larger a projectile expands though, the more damage a slug can do.

    Over-Penetration: 4/5

    While it should be widely known that FMJs over-penetrate soft tissue, quality self-defense ammunition slows quickly due to rapid expansion.

    A clean miss is going to blow through multiple walls without issue, but if you make the hit count, it is going to stop within the target or stay in the first wall it encounters.

    Recoil Management: 4/5

    Recoil in most common defensive cartridges is manageable. It does require training, and proper grip though. An AR in a PCC would make recoil much more manageable for home defense.

    Overall for Home Defense: 3.5/5

    In the right hands, and with the right load, a handgun can be a viable weapon to defend your home with. I can’t stress enough that training needs to happen in preparation.

    Shooting under stress with a handgun can be difficult, and if you need to defend yourself, you need to make the hits count.

    Rifle Over-Penetration Testing

    Some people are highly skeptical of a rifle, specifically the AR-15, for home defense. Some consider it a bad fit for home defense, due to over-penetration.

    To find out, I went about setting up a test just like the shotgun and handgun. It involves shooting a 12” 10% ballistic gel block that is calibrated to FBI specifications. 

    Behind the ballistic gel, I placed a simulated interior wall used of common construction materials.

    Author’s set up, simulating an “intruder” with an interior and exterior wall panel behind the target.

    Ten feet behind the interior wall, I placed a larger exterior wall composed of 2”x4” studs, 3/8” drywall sheeting, R13 insulation, and ½” plywood. Calibers tested include 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington, and the .300 Blackout.

    Is the AR15 the best defensive weapon for your home?

    Or are you at risk of shooting your neighbor’s neighbor? Does it over-penetrate like a railgun from Eraser with Arnold Schwarzenegger?

    Let’s find out below!

    eraser railgun

    The Rifles and Ammo

    For the 5.56 NATO, the rifle I used in testing was a Bushmaster Minimalist.

    With its mil-spec receivers, 16” nitride barrel, proprietary “tear-drop” free-floated handguard, and lightweight Mission First Tactical Minimalist stock, it made a great test rifle to use for home defense.

    at Bushmaster

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    I have used this weapon while hunting, and while testing different loads for accuracy, and I have yet to encounter a stoppage. The optic used was an ACME Machine 1-8x FFP MOA optic with an Aero Precision 34mm SPR mount.

    hd overpen testing 5.56 rifle
    Bushmaster AR-15 and .223/5.56 ammo!

    It has yet to lose zero on the range, or while bouncing around a truck while hog hunting in Texas. Turret adjustments have always been accurate as well.

    The .300 Blackout is my personal AR15 pistol that I built. It uses an 8.2” Rosco Manufacturing nitride barrel, a BCM MCMR 8” handguard, Toolcraft BCG, and an SBA3 pistol brace sent to me by SB Tactical.

    hd overpen testing 300 blk testing
    .300 BLK pistol and .300 BLK ammo!
    at AR15 Discounts

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    Prices accurate at time of writing

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    This has been my favorite brace they have came out with, and I have used most of the models on the market. 

    We also have a hands-on review of the Best AR and AK Braces.

    The optic that was used is an EOTech XPS3-0 holographic weapon sight. EOTech has always been a solid performer for me when I first bought a 512 model years ago.

    For up-close work, the EOTech 65 MOA reticle performs well and is quick to get on target.

    at Optics Planet

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    Ammunition was sent to me by multiple companies, including Remington, Barnes, Federal Premium, Inceptor, and Lehigh Defense. The results may surprise you.

    5.56 NATO/.223 Remington Results:

    5.56 NATO12” Ballistic GelInterior WallExterior Wall
    American Eagle 55grPass ThroughPass Through (Keyholing)Pass Through (Keyholing)
    Remington 62gr Ultimate DefensePass ThroughStopped In WallN/A
    Federal 64gr Power-Shok SPPass ThroughStopped In Wall (Jacket Separation)N/A
    Inceptor 35gr SRR FrangiblePass ThroughPass Through (Broken)Stopped In Wall
    Lehigh Defense 62gr Controlled ChaosPass Through (Fragmented)Pass Through (Base Only)Pass Through (Base Only)
    IMI Defense 77grPass Through (Jacket Separation)Pass Through (Lead Core)Stopped In Wall

    Best 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington Home Defense Loads:

    1. Remington 62-grain Ultimate Defense PSP (Bonded)

    Shooting this load proved that Remington accomplished everything it claims.

    My first shot had perfect expansion and imbedded into the first sheet of drywall after passing through the 12” of ballistic gel.

    62-grain Remington Ultimate Defense expanded and stopped by the first layer of drywall.

    I was so impressed that I later fired 5 more shots into a 16” block of 10% ballistic gel. 

    Every single time, the 62-grain bonded bullet expanded into a 5-leaf clover shape and had 12” of penetration.

    Awesome expansion on the Remington Ultimate Defense

    The metallurgical bonding of the copper jacketing and lead core makes for a lethal combination in a pointed soft point with great terminal ballistics.

    Remington Ultimate Defense
    at Palmetto State Armory

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    2. Federal Premium 64-grain Power-Shok SP

    The Federal load also did well. My first shot stayed inside of the first wall, but there was jacket separation.

    65-grain Federal Premium, good expansion but most of the jacket was lost.

    The copper jacketing embedded into the first sheet of drywall, while the lead core was found inside of the wall with a reasonably sized mushroom.

    I tested this round 3 more times, and half of the time there was a complete jacket separation.

    Federal Premium 64-grain Power-Shok SP showing inconsistent jacket-separation
    at Palmetto State Armory

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    This bullet did very well for a standard soft-point, but weight retention did suffer. One test shot barely indented the first sheet of drywall.

    3. Inceptor 35-grain Frangible

    This frangible option with Inceptor is a relatively new design of bullet. It is made of a polymer and copper matrix.

    It is designed to disintegrate upon striking anything harder than itself. It did not over-penetrate through the simulated walls of the “house” though even though some shots fragmented more than others, probably depending on how it tumbled through the first wall.

    After encountering soft tissue, the Inceptor 35-grain bullet tumbled violently.

    When firing a “clean miss”, this load was the only cartridge that did not over-penetrate, although it did hit a stud. A copper-colored dust cloud was all that remained on the other side of the interior wall.

    at Midway USA

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    Another “clean miss” shot was done and missing a 2×4 stud the bullet passed through both walls.

    Wound channels were not as great as the other options, but for the sake of this experiment, this frangible bullet did very well.

    .300 Black Out Results:

    300 Blackout12” Ballistic GelInterior WallExterior Wall
    Remington 120gr OTMPass ThroughPass Through (Keyholing)Pass Through (Fragmenting)
    Remington 220gr OTM (Subsonic)Pass ThroughPass ThroughPass Through (Keyholing)
    Inceptor 88gr FrangiblePass ThroughPass ThroughFragments Stopped in Wall
    Barnes VOR-TX 110grPass ThroughStopped in WallN/A
    Lehigh Defense 115gr Controlled ChaosPass Through (Fragmented)Pass Through (Base Only)Stopped in Wall
    Federal Fusion 150grPass ThroughPass ThroughPass Through (Keyholing)

    Best .300 Black Out Home Defense Loads:

    1. Barnes 110-grain VOR-TX TAC-TX

    This Barnes load is maximized for the .300 Blackout, and it was the top contender for this caliber. Expansion proved to be reliable, and penetration ended in the first wall after passing through the 12” of ballistic gel.

    Say what you want, that’s a big bullet getting stopped by dry wall. Awesome display of how much energy it dumped into the gel block!

    With a whopping 1350 ft. lbs. of kinetic energy at the muzzle, and the amount of expansion, the terminal ballistics on this load are impressive.

    I can not recommend this load highly enough, and it exceeded expectations from a rifle cartridge for home defense.

    Amazing performance from Barnes Vor-Tx 110gr .300 Blk

    Not only that, but literally ANY .300 BLK barrel has shot this load with insane precision. For hunting, or for home defense, Barnes would be my top choice.

    at Primary Arms

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    2. Lehigh Defense 115-grain Controlled Chaos

    Where the 62-grain .223 load failed, the 115-grain .300 BLK load pulled through. Both bullets expanded and had great terminal ballistics, but the base of the .223 over-penetrated through both walls.

    The fragmented petals of the Lehigh Defense 115-grain Controlled Chaos

    The .300 BLK expanded and then fragmented within the first 6” of gel. 

    These petals caused secondary wound channels that stayed within the 12” of gel. The base of the projectile passed through the interior wall but ended its travel within the exterior wall.

    at Lehigh Defense

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    Even though the petals are unpredictable, they will wreck soft tissue.

    3. Inceptor 88-grain Frangible

    Just like the 35-grain .223 Remington load from Inceptor, the .300 BLK did not have amazing terminal ballistics inside of the gel.

    This isn’t surprising since it essentially has the profile of an FMJ projectile. The projectile destabilized very well though.

    Regarding over-penetration, the Inceptor performed well and shotgunned into multiple fragments after exiting the interior wall.

    At 1270 ft. lbs. of energy at the muzzle, this load would cause substantial damage.

    at Target Sports USA

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    Pros and Cons for The Rifle

    Where the handgun comes up short with kinetic energy, and terminal ballistics, the rifle takes the lead. Due to the much faster velocities capable with a rifle cartridge, terminal ballistics are substantially more devastating than a typical handgun cartridge.

    Furthermore, stability with a stock or pistol brace under stress is much easier than a handgun.

    Then again, jeans worked for Keanu...
    A stock helps. A lot. But training helps more!

    While the shotgun has impressive terminal ballistics, it takes proper training to stay on target and mitigate recoil. Between a 5.56 NATO or a .300 Blackout, recoil levels aren’t in the same class as the shotgun and require less training to be proficient.

    Given the proper ammunition selection, the rifle also has less over-penetration than the 12-gauge shotgun.

    There are drawbacks to using a rifle cartridge though. Using a typical AR-15 with a muzzle device will produce eardrum piercing and disorienting concussive blasts in smaller rooms and hallways with no hearing protection.

    This can be dropped to safer levels with a suppressor but could be cost-prohibitive to a lot of people.

    Transparent suppressor
    Transparent suppressor

    Also, most carbine length ARs are substantially longer than a handgun and require training to properly navigate around corners and around obstacles.

    Final Rifle Grade

    Kinetic Energy: 5/5

    Kinetic Energy is off the charts with centerfire cartridges compared to the handgun. To get the full advantage of the kinetic energy on target, proper ammunition must be used.

    Wound Channels: 4.5/5

    Wound channels, especially temporary wound channels, are also much more devastating compared to the handgun, or even some shotgun defensive loads. The high velocity of centerfire cartridges, especially in 5.56 NATO are the reason for this.

    Over-Penetration: 4/5

    Clean misses still have major over-penetration, but the projectiles destabilize much more quickly and lose energy compared to the handgun and shotgun. Especially with 5.56 NATO, due to its long and thin profile.

    Recoil Management: 5/5

    Recoil management, whether in 5.56 NATO or .300 BLK is some of the easiest to deal with. Using a stock, or a pistol brace helps stabilize the weapon in the shoulder, and fast follow up shots are a breeze without much training behind a weapon.

    Overall for Home Defense: 4.5/5

    The SBR/Pistol or carbine sized AR15 is one of the absolute best defensive weapons to have at your disposal for home defense.

    While there are cons to the platform, especially with the muzzle report in smaller rooms, overall for performance the AR15 is hard to beat in comparison with the handgun or shotgun.

    Parting Shots

    Okay. We’re done.

    A huge amount of time, effort, and testing went into these results and I think we covered all of the important stuff.

    What works for you and your home will differ, but now at least you have the tools needed to make the best decision. Maybe you’re already using the best set-up, maybe you need to rethink your home defense plan, either way–you can now do so with confidence and tested results.

    What do you think of our testing method? Our results? Does this information change what your HD plan is? Let us know in the comments! For more information on the best home defense ammo, take a look at these articles!

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    104 Leave a Reply

    • Commenter Avatar
      hulk brendan

      "I've always been a fan of shotguns for their versatility. The ability to choose between different loads like birdshot, buckshot, and slugs gives you options for various scenarios. Definitely a solid choice for self-defense." If you're in search of new waders, waterproofitexpert. com is the ultimate destination for reliable reviews. Their exceptional assessments are trustworthy and can guide you in making the optimal decision.

      June 9, 2023 12:09 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Pretty surprised you didn’t use any Speer Gold Dot in your handgun and rifle testing. There are some widely-used options that are well-known as excellent defense rounds.

      March 23, 2023 12:01 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Show me an example of anyone being killed or injured by 'over penetration' and I might be interested, but I am hard pressed to find any example of anyone being killed in this manner. Maybe you can bust a pipe, but the thought of anybody innocent being hurt by overpenetration in a home defense situation is unheard of

      January 22, 2023 11:47 am
      • Commenter Avatar

        show me an example of someone busting a pipe? if you can bust a pipe you can pop a chest....especially in a kid.

        February 28, 2023 6:23 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        Show me an example of someone busting a pipe by "overpenetration". Sounds very possible to me but I am hard pressed to find any examples. If you can bust a pipe, you can pop a chest, especially in a little kid.

        Sorry if I have double posted this

        February 28, 2023 6:36 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        Well actually the Alec Baldwin shooting incident where the round went through the director and hit some guy.

        March 26, 2023 11:51 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        I’m an LEO. I’ve seen it personally. The over penetration didn’t occur from the homeowner, but the intruder. 12 ga buckshot passed through a wooden door and both sides of an interior wall and proved lethal to an innocent occupant of the home.

        May 7, 2023 2:41 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Since my home defense and EDC is the Glock 36 and with ammo described, I (of course) believe you did a great job. LOL

      January 2, 2023 11:34 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Any tests on Hornady's 300 AAC Blackout - 190 Grain Sub-X? I am looking at a 10.5" with Dead Air Sandman K suppressor and curious how it might do (I don't want over-penetration). Thanks!

      November 25, 2022 1:36 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I would be interested in terminal ballistics for short barreled rifles with suppressor. In my opinion those are ideal for home defense because they don’t pierce one’s eardrums and are easier to navigate in close quarters.

      October 23, 2022 8:36 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Ian Shere

      Loved this very well thought-out and put together article for someone very new to the home defense thing. I have seen a s0-called "1/2 load" for some shotgun shells (and I realize not all guns are set up to chamber these). Would this impact pass-through due to less powder making them a "safer" load?

      October 16, 2022 10:43 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Can we please get the SKU of the 124 gr hydrashok tactical? The link provided takes you to sku P9HS1. I also find skus of FE9HS1 and P9HS1G1-K. It appears only P9HS1G1 is “tactical” and therefore the link is incorrect. I would think this would be a critical point that the author should address so that readers are purchasing the correct ammunition. Thanks in advance for a clarification

      October 12, 2022 8:58 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      A really fine article. Most of us guess and assume about over-penetration, but this is handled with a solid scientific approach. Well done!

      September 25, 2022 5:54 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      This is a must read for home defense!

      September 2, 2022 5:33 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      It's absolutely critical to note that Federal HST is *not* "Hydra-Shok Tactical." The HST round tested is a completely different bullet than any product in the Hydra-Shok line.

      August 5, 2022 2:35 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      This is a wildly helpful article! Thank you.

      Once again you have given me a simple location to get the very answer that has been front of mind.

      July 14, 2022 9:13 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Randy Martin

      Please E pand this test to include a 20 Guage shotgun. I'm thinking this could be a good home defense option with lower recoil and more controllability.

      July 10, 2022 4:24 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Dan H

      Ken, I would really like to see how federal Force X2 12 Gauge self defense rounds compare on your over penetration test. According to federal's gelatin block video they only penetrated about half the distance of regular OO buck, but the slow motion video looked like they turned on a blender in the gelatin. From what I've seen they look to be a very effective home defense round, that is neighbor friendly, if you hit your target.

      June 5, 2022 3:56 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Gary S.

      I've done the 5.56 55gr testing in a similar fashion, and the results were the same. The bullet keyholes as it passed through the simulated wall. In this case, a 1/4" thick sheet of plywood. I'd say your results are accurate.

      May 17, 2022 7:53 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Great article but I am curious how a 12 gauge with number two or number for shot would do in the penetration testing

      February 8, 2022 5:51 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Big Tee

      I appreciate this!

      January 25, 2022 6:38 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Howard Butz

      You didn't test mini shells.

      January 11, 2022 6:24 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Might you be doing an update on this test to let us know how subsonic rounds performed? This would provide information in the debate for or against subsonic for home defense.

      January 10, 2022 11:41 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Knife Brisco

      Add deployability and maneuverability? Great article.

      December 10, 2021 9:12 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Michael Orians

      I thought your testing protocols were well thought out. As you pointed out, your results, while
      maybe not definitive, were apples to apples. Nice work and a good read

      June 24, 2021 4:40 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      No replies. Hmmm. Can you do a backhoe test? :D

      June 11, 2021 7:27 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      It would be interesting to take your top 2 in each category and do another test with clothing material and something to represent bone in front of the the ballistic gel to how they perform.

      April 26, 2021 11:43 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Thnak you for all the work! I have a question though. I am wondering about .22LR. People that have hand strength issues are using these small pistols so I am wondering if you will be doing this for .22LR for them?

      February 23, 2021 9:04 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Tim Travis

      Hi, where would using a pistol caliber carbine in either 9mm or 45acp fit in the handgun ammo conversation? Thanks, great article

      December 16, 2020 7:28 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        David, PPT Editor

        It would be roughly the same as the handgun testing, though with slightly more penetration due to higher muzzle velocity. PCCs are something we'll be adding to the testing next time we do a project like this!

        December 16, 2020 10:53 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Michael Stephens

      Why not birdshot or bb's for home defense in shotguns? More wound channels and less penetration than buck or slug.

      December 7, 2020 10:31 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        David, PPT Editor

        Birdshot isn't reliable enough on penetration against humans for us to recommend. The smallest shot we like is #4 buck.

        December 7, 2020 11:45 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Courtney Stanley

      Excellent Report......My wife and I are currently owners of 9mm handguns for personal defense. But I am no where near as confident with them over an AR which I used in the military. I have always wanted an AR and now I have good data to help me purchase the right gun. The .300 Blk out seems to be the optimal choice for Home and Truck based on your testing. Thank You very much!

      December 4, 2020 8:04 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Would have liked to see 12ga mini slugs since that's what's loaded into my KSG....and a lot of them.

      November 26, 2020 6:06 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Great article! Appreciate the extensive standardized hard data to make such critical decisions with. The only .300 BLK subsonic round tested (Remington 220 OTM) happens to be FMJ and so perhaps unsurprising fails the pass through test. Would be nice to know how non-FMJ expanding subsonic .300 Blackout rounds, such as Lehigh 194gr Subsonic Maximum Expansion, would compare as a subsonic expanding non-FMJ seems to be the most logical indoor home defense round for .300 BLK.

      November 22, 2020 2:21 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I don't see this available on Federal website. Federal Premium 124-grain Hydra-Shok Tactical

      Is this the same as this one?

      August 25, 2020 8:35 am