Why Selecting Ammunition Fearing Overpenetration is Overblown – Personal Opinion

Quite a few times across the highly opinionated and learned internet sphere, there exists opinions that are often stated as facts. One of the foremost is that bullet selection for self-defense be primarily based on two things: the ability to penetrate enough, and the avoidance of over-penetration. I, for one, wholly disagree with the latter as a motivating factor.

  1. The primary reason one is likely to hit an unintended target is not due to a bullet passing through a target, but far more likely due to a miss. Police, even with a modicum of training, have hit ratios well below 20%. The NYPD is a great example of hitting the wrong targets.
  2. When looking to hard barriers for overpenetration, the difference between ball ammunition and hollow-points through mediums like drywall is negligible. While some may tout that the ball may pass through 2 drywall sections less, its still common for the bullet to pass through the equivalent of a whole house and then some. To me, this is like argying if its worse to be hit by an F-150 or an F-250.
  3. The likelihood of a round actually hitting the intended target and then passing through and then hitting an unintended target with sufficient force to cause major damage is very, very low. I don’t care what the movies show with multiple in-line head-shots. The chances of it are so far remote, when combined with the chances of getting into a gunfight to begin with, even an actuarial will ignore it.
  4. I for one, want two holes in my target. The primary fight-stopping mechanism with a handgun is exsanguination. More holes = more bleeding.


I should note that this is not an argument against hollow-point ammunition, as it’s in my carry firearms. The expanding round has the potential to cause more wounding damage by hitting more issue, but I am not worried about the results from a gel block test.

The Yankee Marshall and I seem to agree on this. If my explanation above is not enough, perhaps he may sway your opinion. If it does not sway you, he is at least entertaining:


What say you?

Nathan S

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


  • So my .458 Lott with solids is good to go as a home defense round? j/k

    • It all depends on what is breaking into your house.

      • Drew Coleman


      • Russ Kell

        Full-sized Chevy trucks

  • Martin M

    All these tests demonstrate is that they don’t build houses like 1911s anymore. Drywall is some seriously flimsy stuff. You can poke through it with a semi-sharp object using your bare hand. If you are worried about over penetration of drywall then I think .22short is the round for you.

    • Swarf

      You may not have been able to poke through John Browning’s plaster & lathe walls with a pointy stick, but I’d take my (more) modern frame house’s fire rating over his.

      I’ll also take the insulating qualities of drywall over older techniques.

      • Martin M

        Here’s my opinion on fire rating; Don’t start fires. Same goes for crash rating: #1 rule is don’t crash. Do all you can to mitigate the risk and ratings become moot.

        Besides, I can’t remember the last time I saw an article on a structure fire that didn’t result in a total/near total loss.

        • nadnerbus

          I don’t know if it is so much preventing damage, as it is keeping fire from spreading before occupants can escape.

      • gordon

        I like insulated concrete forms and ferrocement interior structures even better. Why live in a flimsy, water soluble house at all.

      • Voice_of_Reason

        I’ll take my old brick-over-concrete block house over your house made of sticks!

  • Joseph Goins

    I can’t believe you brought out YouTube’s biggest gun-fu expert to make your case.

    • gordon

      Just because he is a goofy entertainer doesn’t mean he didn’t make a good argument on this issue.

  • TheNotoriousIUD

    Me ex’s father was a Houston Metro cop and shot a knife mugger on the Rice jogging trail.
    The bullet passed through him and tagged a lady jogging with a stroller.

  • Pedro

    So my .308 is too much?

  • Dracon1201

    That’s fine, just remember that you’re responsible for everything that comes out of the barrel of your gun. Taking any steps to demonstrate your understanding of that responsibility (like choosing a round specifically because it penetrates less) is a good thing in the eyes of the law.

  • nova3930

    Agreed, that’s why MA DEUCE protects my house!

  • De Facto

    The odds of being struck by lightning are also incredibly low, but people still tend to stay indoors when it’s storming out. As most of us who conceal carry are not law enforcement and have no immunity even miniscule risks should be addressed.
    If only to make your defense in court easier in the event you do have a self defense shooting.

    Additionally, one of the standing orders for the US Army Rangers (Original orders written in 1759) reads “Whenever you are ordered out to the enemies forts or frontiers for discoveries, if your number be small, march in a single file, keeping at such a distance from each other as to prevent one shot from killing two men”
    So it’s apparently not unheard of for one bullet to kill two men. This is standing doctrine to this day in the US Army Rangers, though it has been updated somewhat to “In a small group, march in single file with enough space between so that one shot can’t pass through one man and kill a second.”

    This picture is from one of the homes near the Tsaernev brothers shootout with police.
    (taken from http://getonhand . com/blogs/news/7743337-boston-bombing-suspect-shootout-pictures)

    Granted, it’s not likely that this round went through one of the Tsaernev brothers before making it’s entrance to this gentleman’s home, but I doubt the police would have liked it if someone had been sitting at that desk regardless.

    In my opinion, as a concealed carrier, I should not be worrying about shooting through cover. If a target is behind cover, “imminence” becomes difficult to prove. It’s far more important that if I pull the trigger, the bullet’s chances of hitting and killing a bystander are minimized. Whether that’s after the bullet has passed through a threat, or if I missed a shot and it passed through a wall.

    Personally I like the Russian answer to the problem of overpenetration and firing weapons in a crowded urban environment – extremely high velocity low weight rounds that will get the job done at close range but lose their killing power quickly as range increases or after hitting a target. Personally I can do without the AP core, but if I was military or LEO I might be very interested in this round.

    https://en.wikipedia . org/wiki/9%C3%9719mm_Parabellum#Russian_military_overpressure_variants

  • Joesph Constable

    You have no right to shoot a person in the next apartment or your neighbors detached house. If you do you will face manslaughter charges if you kill. Fortunately house siding slows down a round better than the pathetic walls between apartments. You can sent a round through your ceiling and go up two stories.

    I continue to watch youtube videos of wall penetration looking for a cartridge that will stop an attacker and not go through the walls with a miss.

    Any recommendations?

    • De Facto

      The closest I can think of are Glaser safety slugs. They still penetrate a lot of drywall though.. http://www.theboxotruth . com/the-box-o-truth-4-miscellaneous-rounds-meet-the-box-o-truth/

      I think the answer lies in low weight high velocity rounds. You want a round that will be effective at close range – which is generally the only defensible use of a handgun/rifle if you’re a civilian – but that will lose lethality quickly with distance OR after hitting a target. I think a hollow point bullet with a plastic core using alternative, light metals like zinc, copper, perhaps even aluminum for the base and sheath would fit that bill nicely. To my knowledge no one makes such a bullet though.

      • Hoplopfheil

        They do, but in theory they break up after the first wall. The individual pieces of shot and jacket still have enough energy to penetrate drywall (an airsoft pellet has enough energy to penetrate drywall…) but probably not enough to be lethal.

    • SCLBlackbird

      At the end of the day walls are nothing but paper and hardened powder. Any round that wouldn’t go through that wouldn’t be my choice for personal protection.

    • marine6680

      55-60gr varmint rounds in 223… Yeah a rifle and not an SBR, faster is better.

      The 55gr stuff regularly is well fragmented by the time it leaves the first wall.

      It’s not the best for defense though, as it is a poor penetrator. It works for most bad guys, but the more motivated may not stop, requiring several hits.

      60gr works better, but does have a bit more wall penetration. It still fragments quickly though, limiting pass through of walls.

      It’s a compromise,as they are less effective than traditional expanding hollow points. (Think deer round)

    • Dougscamo

      You might try playing with some DRT rounds. No, not “Dead Right There”….Dynamic Research Technologies…though I wonder if they didn’t find a corporation name to fit the “Dead Right There” acronym…hmm, intriguing thought….

  • marine6680

    Using a handgun for defense, you want a round that penetrates well and does its job.

    While I don’t think the Xtreme Penetrators are the best choice, not because the penetrate so much, but rather the fact that they tend to punch through leaving a wound path that is similar if not a bit better than FMJ.

    The Xtreme Defenders on the other hand, have wound paths similar or better than most hollow points, while still getting very good penetration. I seen tests with it getting 22-24in in gel.

    The problem is that handgun rounds penetrate barriers pretty well, with those tests showing they can go through several internal sheetrock walls with no problem, and still be potentially lethal.

    This is why I use an AR… While wall penetration is still present, sticking to 60gr bullets designed to fragment, similar to varmint rounds (and possibly are varmint rounds marked for defense) the chance of significant damage past the second wall is low.

    I came up with the 60gr figure talking to some people with knowledge on the subject. That the 55gr rounds were recommended by manufacturers for reducing pass through walls, with the bullet often times being well fragmented by the time it left the first wall.

    The problem was that the 55gr stuff tended to not penetrate well. It usually worked pretty good anyway, dumping a ton of energy, but sometimes failed to stop a more motivated assailant.

    60gr ammo was shown to penetrate better, with only a limited increase in penetration through walls.

    This would be a bad choice for anyone expecting to shoot though intermediate barriers though… And was reserved for use by those that had to enter occupied dwellings where there would be potential for innocent bystanders.

    So I use similar ammo in my rifle, as I live in a condo complex. It limits my potential problems should I miss. And if the argument is that you miss more than you hit, this seems a good course to me in my living situation.

    This only holds true with 223/556 for the most part though. And the technique is only viable due to the increased energy of the round over handguns.

    • AC97

      No, Xtreme Defenders doesn’t leave a wound channel like hollow-points in actual tissue, that illusion is created because gel is less elastic than flesh and therefore leaves a “larger wound channel” because it tears much more easily. Pistols don’t have the velocity to cause the temporary stretch cavity to contribute to wounding in any significant way, unlike rifles.

      The main method of wounding with a pistol is the permanent stretch cavity, caused by directly crushing tissue, not the temporary stretch cavity, which is essentially useless at pistol velocities that are usually below 2,000 fps, therefore hollow-points are the better choice out of pistols.

      If you want to pay extra for FMJ performance out of a pistol, by all means, buy the Xtreme Penetrator, the Xtreme Defender, and the ARX rounds.

      • marine6680

        While I don’t use them, my comment was a reaction to YM’s comments in the video.

        I am well familiar with the handgun energy argument… It’s why I argue that for defense handgun use… You don’t need anything bigger than a 9mm.

        And clear gel is considered much less likely to tear than ballistic gel. I have seen it said more than once, that clear gel is better for showing an accurate wound path, while ballistic gel is better for accurate penetration numbers.

        In clear gel, the effects are not as dramatic as in ballistic gel, but they do show similar results to hollow points.

  • Hoplopfheil

    Drywall is basically talcum powder and newsprint, even a CCI quiet .22 at 710 FPS will go through an effectivity infinite number of sheets.

  • micmac80

    Depends of your house , if you live in an ‘tornado alley’ cardboard house popular in the states , anything will go trough number of wals, on the other hand in typical brick house anything short of a full power rife round will stop in the first wall.

    • Voice_of_Reason

      recently renovated an older home in my state (not SoCal, but in America!) – the demo crew broke their tools demolishing the old master bathroom, because the walls were thick concrete plaster.

  • DanGoodShot

    I had a very rear chance(for me) to take quite a few shots at a dead flat screen tv in a house before it was demolished. I was very surprised to see how little(in an actual house) penetration there was. I was using a VP9 with Ball, hollow point, hot reloads, standard velocity and +p. What really surprised me was the difference in penetration was minimal. I found every single bullet on the floor in the next room. A couple didn’t even make it to the next room when they would hit a stud. When they did go through I found them all on the floor.
    I even took a couple shots with a saiga 12 with 00 buck at an empty wall with a closet on the other side. It went through the wall into the closet in the adjoining room but thats it. Not one pellet made it out of the closet.
    The house was built in the 50s. Sheetrock and stud fabrication. No insulation, they where interior walls. Sheetrock was baisic but a little thicker than whats typically used today.
    So, my experience coupled with what you said, the slim chance of even hitting someone else after a pass through. No. I don’t worry about “over penetration”. If someone is really worried about “over penetration” they shouldn’t carry anything over a .380. They should go buy a lottery ticket! Just this one keyboard commandos 2 cents.

    • Voice_of_Reason

      sheetrock, or plaster?

      my older home has thick plaster interior walls, which are very tough to demo for renovations.

      • DanGoodShot

        It was plain old sheetrock. I was surprised. Keep in mind they where going through the screen of a dead Samsung flat screen 1st. But I still thought they would have went further than they did. A golden saber +p went through the TV and hit the cheap walmart mount we use to mount it to the wall and it just shattered. Hardly even left a mark on the cheap steel. The 12ga 00 went through 2 peices of sheet and stuck into the 3rd. Again, not what I was expecting. Now I wish we recorded it. But us all being over 40 we seldom think to wip out our phones and hit record.

  • nanoc

    argying? It seems I am not the only one who has fat fingers.

  • Badwolf

    Drywall? Meh… My 45 can blast your soul.

  • gunsandrockets

    Reason #4!


  • Nocternus

    I live in an apartment complex. Over penetration is a very real concern for me if I ever have to defend my home. The thought of a round missing my intended target and killing the lady across the hall worries me. I have heard of mirrors and paintings with ballistic backers but haven’t checked into them yet. Anyone have any experience with these?

  • Matthew D Herrmann

    Thought-provoking read!

    The argument that over-penetration is less likely than missing the target being aimed at is a bad argument. It’s also incredibly unlikely any of us will ever be involved in a situation that requires deadly force. Even in the TFB comments section, which is not a random sample, the number of writers involved in those situations is slim. That line of thinking goes nowhere.

    Even though the chances are slim: the consequences are very serious. Guns are designed to deliver a projectile at lethal force. If over penetration does occur, anything behind that target can be killed, maimed or injured. The seriousness of it means it should be taken into consideration.

    It’s been mentioned elsewhere in the comments section, but it should be
    mentioned again: We’re responsible for everything and anything that
    comes out the barrel of our weapon. Not only should you be competent
    enough to shoot your firearm well to minimize the risk of missing, but
    yes things like over-penetration should at least be of passing concern
    to all of us. Especially in today’s anti-gun climate, we don’t get the benefit of being judged individually. Our actions, especially the bad ones, are magnified until they represent the whole entirety of gun owners.

    Carry what you want, shoot what you want, but understand you’re responsible for the consequences; intended or otherwise.

    • Tim Pearce

      Addendum: Yes, the immediate threat is the primary concern. That doesn’t mean that secondary and tertiary concerns don’t exist or are unimportant. Worrying about the consequences of over-penetration only after it has happened is not responsible firearm ownership and use.

  • hingedthinker


  • Tim Pearce

    My concern about over-penetration is generally in the realms of avoiding having “too much gun” for defense, such as using full power .44 Mag for self-defense, coupled with the chances that the defensive shooting will happen in the average city or suburban neighborhood where there are occupied buildings/cars and pedestrians beyond the intended target.
    Nine years of selling guns has shown that there are people who think a .44 Mag is a round for self-defense. I had a regular customer that concealed carried a .50 AE Desert Eagle (he was a BIG guy) and was totally self-assured that that was the right choice. He once came in looking for a Ruger Alaskan in .44 Mag as an ankle-carry gun.

    While the recent development of extreme penetration defensive ammo is what I consider a risky idea, I’m generally not concerned about over-penetration from common defensive cartridges.

  • MikeSmith13807

    A company named Gigacrete makes a stucco/plaster product that is bulletproof with relatively thin applications. If bullets leaving or entering your house are a concern it’s worth exploring.

    Otherwise, I’d take issue with the idea that you are aiming to stop the target by bleeding them out. If that’s the effect of your bullet then it’s going to take way too long to accomplish the intended purpose. I prefer the goal to be disrupting the central nervous system and/or destroying organs. The additional benefit of headshots is that you don’t have to be so worried about hitting your kids if you miss.

  • redsr

    You do realize that a round exiting the body does not make the internal organs, etc, already pierced by the bullet bleed any slower… So long as the bullet traverses one layer of skin, ribcage, and internal organs, the amount of damage between that and if it passes through ribcages and skin on exiting WILL NOT BE dramatically different… Bodies bleed an incapacitating wound will bleed out with or without any exit or in fact any entry wounds (internal bleeding such as in auto accidents).
    Skin is elastic, so may bounce bullet back, and any bone fragmenting on exit (if bullet is sufficient to fragment bone, odds are enough momentum to exit body) will be pushed outside of the body and very unlikely to be pushed back into the core of the body where they could do any substantial injury — bone fragments are desired on the inbound, not outbound portion of equation.

    Lastly, where overpenetration does matter is that a bullet exiting the body is a bullet that likely expanded/fragmented later in the body and also did not dump its full energy into the body. So wasted energy means a less effective round… For instance, 7.62×39 vs 7.62 NATO, 7.62×39 is often more effective w/in 200 yards than is .308 given equivalent bullets (when comparing FMJ to same, ballistic tip to same, soft point to same, etc).
    So by settling for an bullet/caliber that over-penetrates at expected engagement distances you are in fact selecting a less capable cartridge, not a more capable one…

  • AirborneSoldier

    .22 can penetrate most homes end to end unless it strikes a barrier tougher than sheetrock

  • ozzallos .

    …Or you could have just visited box of truth dot com.