Understanding Ballistics in Home Defense

The Outdoor Channel performed some tests of common home defense rounds and what they do when interacting with drywall.


The video seems a bit skewed in terms of what they recommend and what the results of the test were. For example, the use of an AR. In the video, you can see the round penetrated 3 walls. And yet the guys in the video say you would be fine in the second room. It is all conjecture and the evidence is not shown in the video.

wall test 2


Another issue I have is their close range bird shot test on the dummy is not scientific. Sure at point blank range, bird shot can do some damage. They should show that in a proper test with ballistics gel.  More than just a hole in the wall and a dummy wearing clothes.

wall test 3

Nicholas C

Co-Founder of KRISSTALK forums, an owner’s support group and all things KRISS Vector related. Nick found his passion through competitive shooting while living in NY. He participates in USPSA and 3Gun. He loves all things that shoots and flashlights. Really really bright flashlights.

Any questions please email him at nicholas.c@staff.thefirearmblog.com


  • derfelcadarn

    Video is BS. Rifles no matter how much fire power they possess are second rate home defense weapons. This is assuming that the use occurs IN the home. If defensive fire could be made on subjects approaching the home they become optimal. As the great majority of states would find this kind of fire unacceptable then it must be eliminated for this discussion. The over penetration of most rifle calibers also limits their usefulness within the home. Shotguns and handguns remain, any handgun shot well will work adequately. There is some concern with over performance from some larger calibers and must be taken into consideration. Shotguns appear to be much more suited to the inside the house roll. Short barreled in 20 gauge or larger utilizing #4 buckshot is a adequate compromise between over penetration through walls to innocents and terminal performance in the intended target. Of course personal preferences and ability are always factors

    • big daddy

      I’m thinking you’re 100% wrong and misinformed.

    • gunslinger

      i’ve heard HGs are good for HD. mainly because of the rage you would be engaging in. you don’t need the extra 16″ sticking out that someone could grab/manipulate.

      but i’ve never had to deal with it so i can’t say for sure.

    • Cymond

      I absolutely cannot understand how a light, nimble, accurate, semiauto rifle is “second rate” while a heavy kicking shotgun is so wonderful. Any long gun will suffer maneuverability issues, but they’re also easier to retain (especially when used with a sling).
      Personally, I like handguns and carbines. If I KNEW that someone was in the house, I would want a well-equipped carbine. However, when I’m just checking on that ‘strange noise’ my wife heard (probably our mischievous pet rabbits) I appreciate the convenience of a pistol.

    • Will

      Well researched. Well stated.
      AMEN to the shotgun/handgun combo.
      I would consider an AK but only AFTER the shotgun/rifle.

    • sianmink

      Know where you’re going to shelter, set it up that your kill funnel has a good backstop. A full bookcase works well. Use what you want.

    • Iceman13

      Hmmmm….Any handgun will work? Did you not see the recent home invasion where the scared mom fired 5 rounds of .38 into the perps face (literally 5 rounds into his head!) and he only left after the 5th round, and he survived! A carbine would have been much more effective.

      BUT….the best option is to hunker down once you have collected the kids, and guard them, not go looking for the perps. If you know they are there, call the cops and go defensive.

      If you don’t KNOW if someone is there, then carrying a weapon is advisable, and carrying the proper weapon is best.

      All our military doorbangers carry carbines, and there is a very good reason for that! Because its the right weapon!

  • Eric

    I’d never recommend birdshot for any type of home defense application. There are scenarios though where a rifle could be a suitable home defense gun even inside the house. There are plenty of calibers that are less likely to penetrate than a 5.56 round. The first one that comes to mind is the .50 Beowulf. Granted I think the largest magazine for them is only 10rds, but it’s probably pretty comparable to a Saiga 12 in terms of power and I would imagine that it would be more reliable too.

    • sianmink

      I can’t imagine .50 beowulf slowing down for petty things like residential walls. It was made to disable vehicles and stuff.

      • Sulaco

        That’s about what we found when we tested a light fast 5.56 HP round against .40 and 9mm. In most cases the 5.56 went through less materials then the pistol rounds at close range…

  • big daddy

    From the mouth of true experts at the end of all explanations is this: Use what you shoot best. As I learned shotguns need more training to use effectively. A 20 gauge is OK but not optimal, handguns are very good but limited especially if your mag capacity is limited and a good rifle is best. Birdshot will get you killed. A 16″ barrel AR set up for CQB is the best choice for home defense. A SBR would be a bit better in terms of ergonomics but your terminal ballistics suffer a bit, it’s a trade off. The AR is short, reliable and can carry a LOT of ammo. You can easily attach optics & lights. I use a DDM4V5 with 64 grain softpoint ammo, I will add a light and optic soon. It’s near my bed and ready to go, next to it is a S&W M&P 9mm, I think those 2 weapons are optimal for HD. Train, work out scenarios in your home and remember you’re in a fight with guns.

    • SafeArmsReview

      I gotta raise a red flag on some of the stuff you said…

      “Birdshot will get you killed”

      Do you have any proof of this? Before you make this claim checkout this video and watch from the 2.30 mark…

      Now most home invasions are deterred by just the showing of a firearm; if a gun is fired its usually only 2.6 rounds in all self defense situations (including home invasions) according to FBI and police stats. If you can find some reports of birdshot NOT working, I would love to see them; I haven’t found any as of yet and I keep track of this stuff through the department. With that said the video is pretty clear birdshot can work really well.

      “20 gauge is OK but not optimal…”

      There are even reports of children firing BB guns which scared off intruders – you gotta remember most thieves are cowards and do not want to face any resistance. I don’t recommend BB guns but 20 gauge sgs do work.

      “A 16″ barrel AR set up for CQB is the best choice for home defense”

      That could be true IF you hit the threat with every round fired. Remember this video shows 5.56/.223 rounds go through multiple walls which could hit family, neighbors, etc. Would this be the best choice for someone living in an apartment complex or condo? Probably not, so this might not be the best choice. Now if you used frangible ammo that you tested? Perhaps that would be better. Now if you live in the country with no one around then yes by all means pull out the big guns, but it all depends.

      Again its all situation driven – where you live, ability of family members, training, etc, etc.


      • big daddy

        I wish I had saved the story which was corroborated. A police officer forgot to change his ammo and had birdshot in his 12 gauge. He was killed because of it. You can show all the videos you want, talk with LE professionals, they will say the same thing, birdshot will get you killed.

        • Steve

          A single anecdote doesn’t really buttress an argument. People could trade stories back and forth all day about things they heard or saw.

          Sure, if you’e an LEO, you should use buckshot. You may have to use your weapon outside. At close ranges in a house, I think the birdshot would be adequate. If it isn’t, it isn’t…but I’m no going to risk the kids who live in the condos next to mine.

          • big daddy

            It’s not from one story, it’s from information gathered by LEO experts. Birdshot will get you killed. In the real world ballistics are done by scientific experiments and the forensics of gunshot victims. That’s how the FBI finally came up with their protocol for measuring how certain ammo has to have a minimum effectiveness to be able to be recommended for carry by LEO. You should read up on it by credible sources, they all say the same thing. Everybody has an opinion but based on what? A video? If you bet your life on it make sure it’s accurate information. I see so much BS on the internet and at the gun store counter. Get some training by professionals, they will say birdshot will get you killed.

      • percynjpn

        Thanks for the interesting video.

  • Joe

    Short of getting the kids, my personal opinion is if you truly think there is a bump in the night that is an intruder you are a FOOL to run around the house with ANY gun. Barricade yourself in your room, call the police, and arm yourself with rifle/shotgun of choice. All this crap about cornering and maneuvering is pointless and will just get you killed.

    • Herp

      I see you’ve never had to “get the kids” before. Especially out of bed. It’s time consuming. They are slow and confused and generally a load. Also you’re taking for granted that the perps point of entry didn’t put him between you and the kids. Maneuvering and fighting fast will be the best thing for the kids if your perimeter is broken.

      • SafeArmsReview

        We practice where wife gets the kid while I provide cover and visa versa. Of course now that the kid is in college we don’t have that problem; we also moved to a new house so of course our home defense plans have to totally change.

        • Sulaco

          My “kid” when he’s home from college carries a Beretta 92 🙂

    • Nicks87

      So people that have CQC training (military/police/veterans) are fools? You must be an expert since you are so eager to give advice to people you dont know. Chances are, I know my home better than the bad guy does and I’m probably better trained than he is as well. I’m not going to just sit back and let some thug ransack my home and hurt or intimidate my family. So keep your victim mindset to yourself. If you want to hide in the corner and wait to become a statistic then so be it but dont preach to others how they should defend their own family/property.

  • Jeff

    What about wall insulation?

    • UpChuck.Liberals

      Generally, interior walls aren’t insulated. But, as a completely unscientific guess, fiberglas should be minimal and foam ‘should’ provide a bit more resistance but not enough to matter. i.e. if your finger will go through it a round most certainly will.

  • phuzz

    The walls in the house where I live are four inches of brick in most places, isn’t drywall quite a modern (less than 100 years) building material?

    • davethegreat

      Yes, but the predecessor to drywall was lathe-and-plaster. Thin wood strips nailed up with plaster sort of wiped over them. The end result was not much different than drywall.

      Both were used for basically the same thing: coating interior walls with something paintable.

  • SafeArmsReview

    At 4.08 “You would have been safer if someone was firing a rifle at the other end of the house than if you would have been firing a .45 …”


    Pincus usually has some good info but not here IMO. If you look at the 3.30 mark the AR bullet travels in a straight line through all 3 wall as opposed to the pistol round that veered down where it hit the table at the end. As most home invasions/break-ins occur at night and people are sleeping in bed, the .45 round would more than likely hit a person sleeping in bed versus the carbine. To me both the pistol and carbine rounds can pose a problem. What I was hoping he would highlight was being smart and knowing what is behind your target. Also hoped he would shoot some frangible ammo that does not over penetrate multiple walls. As a homeowner with a good home protection plan, you need to know where people are, what directions you can and cannot shoot to avoid friendly fire; also so rounds don’t go outside the home and possibly hit innocents.

    Part of our home defense plan includes having family members assemble at a ‘safe room’ and defending in place; or if that is not possible, hiding low to stay out of the line of fire from carbine and/or 12 gauge slugs which travel in a straight line as they do not veer down as much as pistol rounds do. With that said…

    I can’t say that rifles are second rate, or shotguns are better or that pistols suck for home defense. Its all situation driven. For a husband and wife all three firearms would work; for a family with kids perhaps not so much; for city, mobile home park or apartment living perhaps frangible ammo is a better consideration. So many variables to consider that you cannot make such a blanket statement on what is good and what is not. Yet we hear this all the time.

    Case in point, I responded to a video of a firearms celebrity, Yames Jeager (name was changed to not offend any of his fanboys) put up up a “carbine home defense’ video about the same things I mentioned here and he cussed me out. How immature & stupid to NOT consider the entire situation and make a plan that works, training family members on what to do, etc instead of just firing 30 rounds out of your carbine that could hit family, neighbors, etc. As a firearms instructor I feel Yames is lacking in certain aspects of ‘home defense’ but whatever.

    The problem of ‘my way is the best’ because I was on TV or as Yames Jeager said “because I have shot people and I know what I’m doing” is detrimental because people do not take into account their own situation which might require different firearms, ammo, training, etc. Case in point I was at a big gun store and heard a guy say he has an AR10 for home defense… ok. There he is telling a couple of guys no one will survive if they break into his 2rd floor APARTMENT! Yea I pray to God that no one breaks into his apartment because it will probably result in many innocent people getting hurt or worse.

    You need to be smart and consider everything and not just the gun.

    Thats my story and I’m sticking too it.

    • Herp

      How dare you talk about Nuttinfancy that way!

      • SafeArmsReview1

        Yea you can’t tell nutn nothing either.


    • billyoblivion

      Yeah, the .308 basically turns the human body from light cover to poor concealment.

  • sianmink

    The Box O’ Truth did this years ago. Anything that can stop a person will plow through sheetrock. The lighter the projectile, the faster it stops when going through walls. 230 grain .45 goes a long way. .308 and shotgun slugs don’t give a damn about walls, and birdshot should be used on birds.

    • Herp

      Jeff Quinn did a video on birdshot that might change your mind. Also it’s not like pistol cartridges work great on people either. I agree with you on light fast loads.

      • billyoblivion

        If you’ve got an unobstructed shot on a “bad guy” wearing summer clothes at the distances you find in most lower to middle class homes, it’s going to hurt or kill him.

        Concealment and Cover are two points on a continuum. What is Cover for birdshot is concealment for a 9mm or buckshot.

        I totally understand what these guys are selling, I just disagree.

        Train until you don’t miss. Then train some more.

        • RH

          Birdshot will only penetrate a few inches into ballistics gel, and 1″ of gel doesn’t equate to 1″ in the body. I’ve read that just to penetrate the skin you’d get 2″ of penetration into gel (remember these are calibrated with bbs that go 3″ in). Basically, there is no range at which birdshot will penetrate deep enough to disrupt vital organs.

      • Achmed

        Jeff Quinn’s stuff is very entertaining and I watch his videos all the time. However, nothing he recommends should really influence anybody’s decision making on ammunition. Just because a bird shot round fired into a ham hock made a nasty looking wound does not mean it’s good self-defense ammo. I totally support Jeff’s right as an American to get free guns from manufacturers and then sell them on Youtube. That’s America right there. But it’s not the same as actual, well supported information.

    • MattCFII

      The problem with the Box o’ Truth test is that the drywall sheets were stacked together and weren’t at room distances. The room sized distances betewwn the boards give the .223 bullets time to tumble and hit on the side and tear apart. A more realistic test that recorded the results better: http://how-i-did-it.org/drywall/results.html

  • CaptainSlaughterboard

    Conclusion: Dads should not shoot inside house. Better leave it mothers.

  • Martin

    I live in a brick home. Thick walls with reinforcing. Doubt this would be a problem.

    • billyoblivion

      Interior walls. You miss, it’s a problem.

  • I’ve been trying wax slugs for just this reason, 1 1/8 oz slug of them is pretty damn good at making someone stop whatever they are doing, but once they hit anything the individual 7 1/2 bird shot pellets aren’t going to be very dangerous to anyone in the next room.

  • Aaron E

    The gist of the video and “test” is to know what some common rounds will do. For that I applaud the effort, but some of the conclusions must be viewed in some testing errors.

    When the shooters are firing pistols they are close enough to the first target, that their aim for “center mass” actually creates a downward trajectory. Both shooters are taller than the targets, with the guy shooting the .45 being much taller. Even though he squats a bit before firing, that only gets him to about Pincus’ height. The trajectory of the pistol rounds stays fairly consistent based upon the angle of the shot, though the .45 did drop a bit from a straight trajectory by the 3rd wall. If you look at 3:34, a view from the farthest target back towards the firing line, the real trajectory is more easily verified.

    Look at 2:52. Yes, the bullet hit the table, and skipped into the last wall, but it punched through as well. In addition, it hit with such force it moved the stand and then knocked the wall out of alignment. Though I agree with Pincus that the .45’s mass and slower speed will cause a flight path deprivation quicker than the 9mm, the .45 didn’t look like it lost too much energy at the last wall.

    I do agree with these guys that the hotter 9mm will punch through more walls. I was an eye witness to a shooting where 9mm bullets travelled through a human body, then through an interior wall, another interior wall, an exterior wall, and then into the exterior wall of the house next door. They were Federal Hydra Shok’s for those interested.

    When shooting the rifle, the shooter squats even more, into a tactical style long gun shooting platform. He also fires at a point slightly higher than the pistol shots, and understandably, the bullet stays in a relatively straight trajectory through all the walls – albeit likely with some bullet fragmentation due to the lighter weight of the bullet.
    All-in-all a good video for those who have never seen results like this before, but understand the limitations of the testing process before you jump to conclusions.

  • michel Baikrich

    Structural ballistic protection PolyTenex + wall with Cal. .50 M33



    Ballistic & weapons Eng. (Liege-Belgium)