Which relative extreme for a defensive loading: penetration or expansion?

Discussion in 'Concealed Carrying & Personal Protection' started by Lindenwood, Apr 3, 2011.

  1. Lindenwood

    Lindenwood New Member

    Generally speaking, would you guys prefer loads that penetrated to maybe 20+" with relatively** moderate damage, or would you prefer loads that penetrated to 12-13" but with more damage?


    .223: A heavier hunting bullet that penetrates to 18-20" but with only moderate tissue damage, versus a lighter fragmenting round that penetrates to maybe 11-13".

    12g: 00 or 000 buck loads that penetrate around 16-22" in gel with a relative few pellets, versus (perhaps hypothetically) #2-#4 buck loads that only penetrate to 11-13" but with much more wound volume.

    .380: A non-expanding bullet that will penetrate 20"+ of gel, versus an expanding round that might only penetrate 10-12".

    .44 magnum: A well-expanding bullet that will penetrate about 22" or so in gel, versus a violently-expanding and even fragmenting bullet that will stop around 12".

    **I say “relatively” because using the above examples, it isn’t like the difference between the two types of rounds of the same gauge / caliber is going to be huge. As you know, even a direct frontal shot with a 000 load is not going to be particularly ineffective compared to a #4 buck load, heh. Just the same an expanded .380 that penetrates to 11” of flesh isn’t going to be particularly devastating compared to a flat-point load in the same shot.

    The benefits of the bullets that use their energy quickly in doing damage to shallow depths:
    In any of these cases, with close-range frontal hits it might make the difference between 10 seconds to incapacitation, and 30 seconds. Or, if only a limb is hit, it might make the difference between the threat maintaining partial function of that extremity (with a deeply-penetrating variation), rather than almost none at all (with a violently expanding / fragmenting load), especially with the larger calibers.

    The downside to these types of loads:
    According to my research, perhaps more than half of all recovered bullets from police shootings, specifically bullets that ended up in the vitals, did not go simply through the front of the chest. They came in through arms (i.e. the FBI minimum penetration standard), hands, legs, or simply had to travel angularly through the torso. I am a skinny guy, and when I lift my knee to my chest I can measure 8” of flesh BEFORE the bullet would even enter my torso. Even in my thin chest, there is probably another 1-2” before the bullet would get to my vitals. Take a 200lb guy in the same position, and you add probably 4-6” of flesh between the shin and the heart, compared to me. In short, that means easily 12-14” of flesh to pass through BEFORE the load can even hit the vitals, if an average-sized target is crouched with his knees in front of his torso. Even looking at the basis for the FBI minimum penetration of 12”, one can see that this is really a minimum standard (see below), especially if there is anything at all in the path (like if the forearm were also in the path of the bullet in the below image). Further, add in windshields, car doors, furniture, etc, and one can see that there is indeed a benefit for the ability to penetrate.

    This has been inspired by my search for a good SD load I could use in my .44. A mild 240gr load will still give good expansion of about .7” or so, but penetrate to around 22” or so of gel (a typical .45 expanded to this diameter might only penetrate 12-13”, for example). Alternatively, I could drive a 180gr bullet at much faster velocities with the same recoil and blast (again, still relatively mild in a 4lb Raging Bull--I can still do 3 shots per second on target at close range with these types of loads). These, according to anecdotes of dozens of deer hunters and a couple of ballistics tests, will have less penetration (probably 12-15” depending on the specific bullet), but will do notably greater damage to tissues within a couple inches of the bullet’s path. Part of me leans toward the lighter bullets at high velocities because they should indeed do more damage at shallower depths. But, the other part of me leans toward the 240gr at more moderate velocities because it is capable of good penetration in a wider variety of scenarios. Plus, I do believe in the benefit of “letting ‘em bleed from both sides,” which the heavier bullet is much more likely to do, heh.

    To summarize a very long story, generally speaking, which kind of defensive loads do you guys prefer (relatively moderate damage but with deep penetration), or modest penetration with notably greater damage, and why?

    (As a note, I am not really looking to see everyone’s favorite loads. Rather, in light of the above considerations for tissue damage vs penetration, I’d like to hear which extreme would be preferred for a general defensive load against 2-legged varmints).


    Last edited: Apr 3, 2011
  2. JonM

    JonM Moderator

    thats why for handguns, i use both 45acp and 380acp, both penetrate 12-13" in gelatin tests.

    for rifles its ar15 5.56 55grn fmj which offers superb goblin penetration and surpisingly does rather poorly penetrating multiple walls.

    shotguns i use BB shot with slugs in the holders in the stock just in case of rhinoceros attack.

    im a believer in big diameter heavy handgun bullets i prefer 230 grn hollowpoints. the reason i go the other way with a 380 is because of size. sometimes i need my bersa instead of a 1911 45 based purely on gun size. with the 380 it boils down to better than nothing territory.

  3. shooter57

    shooter57 New Member

    In something small like a 22, 25 or a 32 I would go with penetration. I used to have a kel tec p32 and kept it loaded with fmj ammo I do the same with my 22 mag Minnie revolver to make sure if I ever have to use it that it will at least hit a vital organ but 380 and up I think the statistics have shown expanding bullets do a better job stopping people in there tracks.
  4. Jesse17

    Jesse17 New Member

    IMHO the answer in regards to a "Defensive Round" would be hands down whatever will give you the most expansion. Most likely if I'm shooting out of self defense the BG isn't going to be crouched with his knee in front of him, and even if he were it's only going to be until the first round hits him. I can see the possibility of firing through a windshield, but the likelihood is low IMO and I would do everything in my power to avoid that scenario, as I would not count on ANY round hitting it's intended target after punching through a windshield at who knows what angle.

    By far, the most common shot (I would think) would be either be directly to the torso, or through an arm/hand/shoulder then into the torso. According to your illustration up there that's still only 12".

    As far as letting them bleed from both sides, internal bleeding does as much damage to blood pressure as external bleeding and you can fit a whole lot of blood in the torso cavities.

    One last note as to the debate about light and fast vs. heavy and slow...I can tell you from hunting mule deer that my .270 tends to punch a little whole straight through the deer, even bone, but my 30-30 will 'explode' the bone into shrapnel, and for me drops a deer much faster.
  5. jeepcreep927

    jeepcreep927 New Member

    That's why this debate exists. There is no "better mousetrap". Slow and heavy vs. fast and light will go on forever. The argument has been perpetuated by theory and skewed or flawed testing. I know for a fact that just as many people have been killed by .22 caliber rounds as have been by .45 caliber rounds.

    In the real scheme of things, there is no control subject or circumstance. If you can figure the average age, physical composure and mental state of say 1,000 of the most likely people to be shot, then find about a billion of them to account for cartridge, bullet weight, bullet design, shot placement and any other variable that can be duplicated, you might begin to scratch the surface of the "best caliber" argument.

    Whatever you can shoot well is what is the best. If that wasn't the case we'd all be packing long barrel (better velocity) six guns (more reliable) shooting heavy for caliber bullets (better penetration) at high velocities (penetration and expansion) with 100 spare rounds.

    Everything is a compromise.
  6. therewolf

    therewolf New Member

    I like this guy.

    I personally prefer the "large hollowpoint, minimum charge" approach.

    My reasoning behind this is in a SD situation, there's little distance or
    accuracy involved, and I want as much terminal energy
    (as well as the mushroomed slug) left in the BG.

    But that's just me...
  7. Lindenwood

    Lindenwood New Member

    I've gone with the heavier rounds that will penetrate beyond what is typicaly necessary. With a frontal shot, it will still be quite effective (not as much so as a fast 180gr, but still more than any other service caliber), but through mild cover or even standing sideways, it should still do everything it needs to do if I do my part.

    IGETEVEN New Member

    "Quoted for the Effing' Truth!" :cool:
  9. Lindenwood

    Lindenwood New Member

    Yes, but it answered a shallower question than I asked :) .
  10. Ploofy

    Ploofy New Member

    I would have to go with the expanding/possibly fragmenting round for self defense. An FMJ could go right through without slowing the target down or taking anything with it, and is much more likely to cauterize the wound. I guess it comes down to the SD situation. If you want the target absolutely positively dead, go with something that would mushroom or fragment. If you just want him to stop, maybe a lighter high velocity round. If you're only going to have time to get a single shot off, I'd go with the bigger bullet. If you might want to keep firing, a lighter bullet and charge would make the recoil a lot less.

    IGETEVEN New Member

    Why not just enlist in the military, an Infantry branch MOS preferred, and find out your queries first hand. :confused:
  12. NGIB

    NGIB New Member

    Probably a bad idea Jack as it may endanger real soldiers. I'd say the interwebz is probably as close as some folks need to get to real experience...
  13. WDB

    WDB New Member

    I thought that was a well thought out response based real life. You can continue to debate with the ever changing calculation and obscure events or you can go by practical application. The ammo used in the military and by Leo's is a good real life example of what works in most cases. I expect you can debate those choices with a ton of facts you can/will dig up. Best way to get the answer is first hand, all military branches are looking for recruits and many PD are hiring. Please let us know what path you take, we look forward to learning from your first hand expereince.

    BTW that 12" picture you have posted a few times is a bit much, pretty hard to put more meat and bone in front of a bullet than that example. Then again I once hit a flying bird with a rock (I was eight years old at the time and felt bad after).
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2011
  14. ViNoM

    ViNoM New Member

    LOL! that is epic! So true...