With some semblance of a baseline, I wanted to try several .223 hunting and self-defense loads to see how they would react to interior walls and wood obstacles. This was not intended to be a test of specific ammunition performance, as each variety is designed for different purposes, but rather an observation of what would happen when various projectiles encountered interior walls.
Some of the loads tested against interior walls.
Of the five loads tested in this scenario, only the DoubleTap Ammunition 55-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip and Hornady 55-grain V-Max are designed to somewhat expand when they hit something. The Speer Gold Dot, Black Hills Barnes TSX, and Winchester Ranger loads are built to penetrate deeply and expand in a controlled fashion, so I expected those to go through interior walls without too much upset. Again, this was a curiosity exercise, not a performance test of one ammunition type against another.
You can see that the Barnes Ballistic Tip and Hornady V-Max projectiles started to break part, as designed, quickly.
As expected, the Nosler Ballistic Tip and Hornady V-Max projectiles started to break apart after passing through the first wall. The other three, again as expected, displayed more controlled expansion throughout. The Speer Gold Dot did start to tumble between the second and third wall.
All five loads passed through all four walls. The Hornady V-Max and Nosler are top left and right, respectively.
So, using only drywall segments with no wood barriers, all five loads passed through four mini-walls. As you can see, the exit patterns of the Nosler and Hornady fragmenting projectiles show that those were heavily fragmented by the time they left—most likely having lost much of their initial energy.
As the DoubleTap Ammunition 55-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip and Hornady 55-grain V-Max displayed the least unwanted-drywall penetration, I wanted to re-introduce the 3/8-inch particle board barrier. Remember that the basic idea behind the wood barrier is to account for material inside walls or furniture in front of, or behind, walls.
Both loads displayed aggressive fragmentation.
Both loads started to fragment quickly. After passing through one wall and the wood barrier, the holes in wall number two started to resemble a shotgun pattern. By the time they exited the additional walls, it was clear that all that was left of the additional projectile was fragments.
Pieces and parts made it to the fourth wall.
So what does all this mean?
Again, we’re dealing with somewhat uncontrolled observation, but a few things stood out.
- The pistol rounds were seemingly unaffected by the drywall and/or wood barriers. There was no observable deviation or fragmentation of the 9mm projectiles. You’d be safe counting on a pistol round to keep going, and going, and going. After all, premium pistol ammunition is designed to expand, and lose energy, when striking liquid-based targets—not walls.
- The full metal jacket .223 rounds tended to tumble rather than break apart when they encountered barriers.
- The projectiles designed for rapid fragmentation (Nosler Ballistic Tip and Hornady V-Max) did in fact do that. I wish I had gel blocks to see exactly how much energy remained. By observation of the fragmentation patterns, they were clearly losing velocity and energy. How much damage would they have done to a person at that point? I can’t say more than “less” than the pistol rounds, which were still humming right along.
- Even though the .223 rounds start with a lot more energy, they tend to lose it quickly when encountering the barriers in this test.
- You always have to worry about what’s behind your target. Nearly all of the rounds tested went through at least four walls, although some obviously came out the back end with a lot less energy than others.
- If you live in an apartment, you may want to assume that only softer, interior walls stand between you and neighbors. In a free-standing house, I’m confident none of the AR-15 rounds would have made it through interior and exterior walls. Windows, of course, would alter that assumption.
The Hornady V-Max (top) and DoubleTap Nosler Ballistic Tip (bottom) are good home defense options if you’re worried about over-penetration.
Before all this tinkering, I expected that some of the AR-15 rounds would blow up early and not penetrate multiple walls. Given that almost all did, that was a bit of a surprise.
Moral of the story? Don’t trust the mainstream media. Those high-powered, so called “assault weapons” may be safer than your average pistol for inside-the-home defense.
In upcoming articles we’ll look at issues beyond penetration that weigh into the decision of whether an AR-15 is appropriate for home defense.
Images by Tom McHale