In this article, I’ll answer a reader’s question regarding shooting Shotshells in Revolvers for personal defense. Specifically, I’ll discuss the difference between revolver shotshells meant for pest control and shotshells designed for personal defense.
“I’ve been reading the Ballistics Series and your articles on personal defense with great interest. Good stuff! Where I live, there are many other people living in my home and there are other homes very close to mine. So, I’m very concerned about using ammo that would either over-penetrate an attacker’s body or go through walls if I miss. I’ve got a Smith and Wesson 686 4″ revolver in .38/.357. I practice a lot with the lighter .38 special rounds, but keep the gun on my nightstand loaded with .357 magnum hollow-points. I’m worried that using that much power may endanger my neighbors. Many personal defense articles highlight the benefits of using a shotgun for personal defense. I don’t have a shotgun, but I’ve come across a shotshell designed for revolvers. I think that I can get the best of both worlds by loading my .357 magnum with these shotshells that will do the job without worrying about shooting through walls. I’d appreciate your thoughts on this.” – Anthony
Anthony, thank you for the question. You bring up a lot of good points worth highlighting here and I’m glad you’re going the extra mile by reading-up on personal defense and asking questions. In the following paragraphs, I’ll address the different aspects of this issue one topic at a time.
Personal Defense Solutions
First, you’ve highlighted an important issue… firearm/ammunition selection. There are many different opinions on this topic available through blog articles, books, and classes. However, there is no single “ideal” solution that will fit every individual and every situation. Every person has a different level of body strength, visual acuity, and training. Every person also has a different home layout, both inside and outside. And everyone lives in a different area with varying levels of criminal activity and concern.
In the most general terms, rifles are terrific stand-off weapons that can deliver powerful projectiles with a high degree of accuracy at a number of distances. This high power may be counterproductive in an enclosed environment. Handguns, on the other hand, are easy to operate and to conceal (throughout the house or on your person), but the shorter barrels produce less velocity and accuracy. Shotguns with a regular stock or pistol grip are a bit more unwieldy in an enclosed environment, but they offer significant power, a wider variety of projectiles or shot choices, and are easier to aim and achieve the accuracy required for the situation.
In the photo to the right, you can see the results of a number of different results from ammunition that was fired through four layers of sheet rock. If you click the photo for a larger view, you can also see that only the #4 birdshot did not fully penetrate the 4 layers. Although the test does not describe how much energy each projectile maintained as it passed-through the fourth layer, it is clear that there was the potential for some degree of injury to an innocent bystander struck by a projectile that continued to travel through the walls. To read Mr. Finn’s article click here.
The bottom line is that there is an ideal firearm/ammunition solution available to meet the requirements of each individual to address threats in their environment. Since you own a .357 Magnum revolver, but are worried about over-penetration, you are making the right considerations for your individual situation.
Shotshells for the .357 Magnum
In this instance, you are both right and wrong. You are right in the fact that there are .357 Magnum cartridges that contain birdshot instead of a solid projectile. CCI/Blazer produces such a cartridge. It is the Blazer Shotshell #3738, which contains a total of 100 grains (about 150 pellets) of #9 birdshot in a small plastic capsule. CCI lists the muzzle velocity at 1,000 feet per second.
At first glance, it seems like shooting an assailant with this cartridge would create a nasty wound. Hell, 100 grains of shot traveling at 1,000 feet per second also sounds like it would produce the result desired. Quick math tells us that this produces 222 ft/lbs of energy… if it was a solid projectile! However, it is not a solid projectile, but a group of small projectiles that weigh about 0.67 grains each and would only produce any degree of damage if they remained clustered close together.
In order to better address your question, I tested the CCI/Blazer #3738 in my EAA Windicator revolver with a 2 inch barrel. I conducted the test by shooting the .357 shotshell at distances ranging from 3 feet to 12 feet. As you can see in the photo, shooting this ammunition at 3 feet produced the highest concentration of shot with the majority of the pellets remaining in the 4 inch inner circle and all 150 pellets striking within the 7-1/2 inch target. You can also see each subsequent increase in distance spread the shot pattern significantly. At 5 feet, all 150 pellets struck the 7-1/2 inch target, but only 130 remained at 7 feet, 63 at 10 feet, and only 44 struck the target at 12 feet.
So, now that we’ve covered the rapidity in which the pattern spreads to become ineffective, let’s talk about penetration. If you recall from our discussion on ballistics, the 1989 FBI study on “Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness” concluded that only two incidents lead incapacitation of the threat… destruction of the Medulla Oblongata or rapid blood loss through maximizing the permanent wound cavity. Short of a shot that destroys the central nervous system, “a handgun bullet must reliably penetrate 12 inches of soft body tissue at a minimum.” Furthermore, penetration to this depth is essential and expansion, while not essential, is a benefit.
OK… so how does the #9 shot in the CCI/Blazer .357 Magnum cartridge perform? Not well. As you can see in the video screen capture to the right, the individual pellets of #9 shot do not have enough energy to produce the level of penetration outlined in the FBI report. In bare ballistic gelatin, the shot penetrated only three inches! The presence of denim, leather, or heavy clothing would diminish this penetration even further.
So, back to your point… the CCI/Blazer shotshell ammo for your .357 would definitely reduce the instances of over-penetration or danger to your neighbors, but it would also reduce the effectiveness of the round to the point that it may not incapacitate the assailant.
Last note on the CCI/Blazer shotshell ammo… the package indicates that it is meant for “Pest Control” only. I think our discussion has confirmed this.
Again, we would have to continue the discussion to determine which option would be best for you.
If you want to stick with the S&W 686, I would recommend that you look into the Glaser Safety Slug as an option. These are not as effective as a jacketed hollow-point, but they are reported to produce 12 inches of penetration.
If you are open to purchasing a shotgun, you have many options available in either 12ga or 20 ga shooting a heavier birdshot, such as #4, or buckshot. Robert Farago published a great article on shot penetration. Click here to read the full article and evaluate the penetration capabilities of different shot sizes.
If a shotgun doesn’t meet your needs but revolvers do, there are a number of options such as the Taurus Judge and others like it. These revolvers are chambered to fire .45 Long Colt or .410 shotshells. The larger shotshell chamber allows for a greater variety of cartridges, such as the Winchester PDX1, which is comprised of three 68 grain copper discs and twelve OOO buck pellets. The combination of heavier discs and pellets combining to a total of 310 grains of payload should provide a suitable combination of penetration in the assailant and limited over-penetration of sheet rock.
Anthony, thank you once again for sending me this question. I appreciate the fact that you are committed to your personal safety and that you are as concerned about your neighbors’ safety as your own. You are doing the right thing by researching, studying, and proactively collecting information to make the best decision.
In the end, only you can determine which firearm/ammunition combination is best for your situation. I believe that we’ve covered some valuable ground in this article and I hope that I’ve provided the data points you need to help you make your decision. If you get a chance, check-back with us to let us know how you are doing in this search. Until then, stay safe and shoot straight!
So what are your considerations in selecting your firearm and ammunition for personal defense? Let us know in the comments below or shoot me an e-mail at HHall@aegisacademy.com
– Howard Hall