.223 Drywall Penetration: Conclusion

Cartridge Conclusions

The biggest surprise of the entire test was how much differences in bullet construction affected the way .223 rounds behaved when passing through walls. If overpenetration must be minimized over all other concerns, something based around the V-Max bullet would be a good choice; however, both the Winchester and Fiocchi softpoints turned in very similar wall penetration, but published data for the Winchester suggests it does better in gel penetration than the V-Max loads. Given that the softpoint bullets were heavier and therefore more likely to reliably cycle a gas-operated action, some kind of softpoint would seem the ideal balance between terminal ballistics and minimizing overpenetration.

Bullet construction made a difference in penetration, but there was no significant difference in behavior between the two brands of softpoints tested beyond the fact that the Winchester's fragmentation was more consistent. This could just be a coincidence, though, so it would be educational to track down more varieties of softpoint ammo and see if the observed trend continues.

The amount of unsuspected and surprising behavior we saw with various rifle rounds left us eager to try out more types of ammunition just to see what unusual and surprising results will ensue. I'd love to see what happens with some Hornady TAP 110-grain .308 rounds, or perhaps some of the Wolf Military Classic 7.62x39mm rounds that are said to perform well in ballistic gel. What about the 5.45x39mm rounds currently available as surplus? Or FN's 5.7x28mm round? Truly, blowing gigantic holes in drywall with consequent awesome explosions of gypsum dust demands further study. For purely scientific purposes.

Moving away from rifle rounds takes us from fascinating discoveries into the realm of mythbusting. Handgun rounds, for instance, may penetrate less than rifle rounds--but only if the rifle rounds in question are full-power ball ammo. The relatively slow speed and heavy weight of handgun bullets make them a poor choice for limiting interior wall penetration, which is why professional door-kicker types have abandoned pistol-caliber submachineguns in favor of .223 carbines.

Shotguns may be the most powerful repeating shoulder-fired gun available, but when stoked with 00 buckshot they are certainly not a low-penetration option. In fact, the way the pellets spread out after passing through intermediate barriers makes the safety of anyone or anything within three rooms of a shotgun blast highly dubious.

Testing Conclusions

The most notable thing learned from all these tests has nothing to do with cartridges at all, but with testing methodology. The tests were run in a somewhat ad-hoc manner due to the fact that other people selfishly insisted on using the range at the same time, so it was not always possible to call a cease fire every three shots. This forced us to do shooting and photography by batches, which led to come confusion when sorting through the photos afterward.

Confusion was also caused by the amount of sharing the limited quantities of drywall necessitated. It can be tricky to precisely characterize the fragmentation behavior of a round when a section of wall is already covered in the spattered remnants of another bullet. The subtly different behavior seen in different softpoints suffered the most from this.

Because the test results were so surprising and interesting, it's clear that another round of drywall testing is required, but this time with improved test mechanisms based on lessons learned from the initial test.

For starters, it would be handy to have a way to pull all the wall sections back over the line without calling the range cold. This would allow photographing the holes for each shot without irritating the other shooters at the range or requiring an inordinate amount of time for the entire test. Adding the ability to clamp and remove wall sections from the studs could allow photographing both the entrance and exit holes (even inside the wall sections), thereby providing a more detailed view of how and where fragmentation or tumbling occur.

Finally, there are a lot of cartridges out there just begging to be blasted through drywall to reveal their no-doubt fascinating behavior. 5.7x28mm comes to mind, as does 5.45x39. What about #1 buckshot, or reduced-recoil 00 buck, or softpoint bullets in other calibers, like 7.62x39 or even .308?

With so many questions left unanswered and so many walls yet unshot, it seems clear that there is another article yet unwritten.