Over Penetration and Home Defense Ammo

Posted: October 9, 2012 in Tactics
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What is over penetration when it comes to home defense ammunition?  Over penetration refers to where the bullet will end up regardless of whether it finds its target in your home or misses its target and hits the wall.  Where will the bullet then go!  The bullet needs to expend all of its energy before stopping.  This needs to be balanced with does your caliber or gauge have sufficient power to stop a threat while at the same time minimizing how much over penetration can be expected.

Sheet rock walls are not very good at stopping a bullet and almost any caliber or gauge has the potential to cause over penetration.  Important considerations when choosing a caliber or gauge for your home defense firearms are what is the layout of your home?  How thick are your interior and exterior walls and what are they made of?  What is your neighborhood like, what surrounds your home and how close together are other homes, apartments, condos, etc.?

Generally speaking and from a design perspective at close ranges,  rifles will penetrate more than handguns and handguns will penetrate more than shotguns due primarily to weapons design and ammo selection.  So whatever caliber or gauge you select it is extremely important to know who or what your target is, what is behind and around your target even if not in plain sight and the capabilities of your weapon and ammunition.

Spend time analyzing the layout of your home and carefully research whatever calibers or gauges you intend to use in your selected home defense firearms.  There are many websites available with specific data on various calibers and gauges and their testing results on penetration and over penetration.

For myself my first priority is keeping my family and myself safe and for home defense firearms I rely on my Smith & Wesson M&P 45 handgun and my Mossberg 590A1 12 gauge pump action shotgun.  It is my hope that having to shoot an intruder would be a last resort option and only undertaken if my life or my families life were in imminent danger, within my home from a home invasion.

  1. A 12 gauge is considered on of the most effective home defense shotgun, the saturation of buckshot is devastating to soft tissue and offers a high degree of stopping power. Recoil on a 12 gauge is forceful so a suitable option would be to use low-recoil ammunition or switching to a 20 gauge weapon. Shotgun slug loads are an example of ammunition that could cause an over penetration situation and should be used out doors for targets and hunting. I would personally stay away from small bore 28 and .410 bore weapons, as they do not pack enough payload or stopping power, but remember select a shotgun that you a confortable using. Most gun ranges will allow you to try different models to help you with the selection process. Good examples of pump action riot guns are the security models of the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500, yet Shotguns are large and unwieldy in close quarters so replacing the buttstock with a pistol grip makes it easier to wield in a tight space.

    • rmactsc says:

      I’m a big fan of the 12 gauge shotgun for home defense. I would tend to go for my handgun first but I have a good selection of Mossberg, Remington and H&R Pardner models in my home to choose from. Currently using the Mossberg 590A1 as my home defense shotgun to back up my Smith & Wesson M&P45 handgun.

  2. torvalamnell says:

    My home defense firearm also happens to be my every day CCW. I carry a Glock 17 loaded with Hornady Critical Defense ammunition. I chose to go with the 115 gr load, not because I think it is the superior self defense load for my pistol but because it is the most commonly sold load for the 9mm in my area. When I go to the range and throw some lead, it is always 115gr. It might be Winchester Whitebox, Federal’s cheapo line or the more expensive Seller & Bellot but it is always 115gr. Since that is what I practice with I decided that I wanted my self defense loads to match. I do not normally practice with my self defense rounds but when I first selected them, I sent about 100 of them down range to see how they would perform.

    That being said, over penetration is something that I am concerned about. Like you, actually discharging my firearm in a hostile situation is my absolute last resort but if I do have to resort to it, I want to ensure I have prepared for what the aftermath will be. One point that I’d like to make for readers who may not have a lot of firearms experience is that your choice in ammunition will greatly affect over penetration. A FMJ (full metal jacket) round will typically penetrate much further than a JHP (jacketed hollow point).

    I think you may have given me my next topic, rmatsc. Discussing why certain self defense rounds are popular and why over penetration should be a concern even for the people who do not think it is a concern (wasted energy).

    • rmactsc says:

      Thanks for the additional information torvalamnell. You bring up some excellent points. I look forward to reading your blog post on why certain self defense rounds are popular, etc.

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