The Box O’ Truth #26 – Little Guns vs. The Box O’ Truth

Many of us have, from time to time, carried small guns that are easy to conceal. If asked, we would justify it by saying, “A .32 in your hand is better than a .45 ACP in your safe.”

But, as Clint Smith has observed, “I never met a man that had been in a gunfight and wished that he had a smaller gun. Ever.”

But if we decide to carry a small gun so that we can more easily conceal it, how effective will it be against bad guys? That’s the purpose of today’s test.

We will be shooting a sample of little guns and seeing how well they penetrate into water jugs. As we have observed in the past, water works pretty well to test penetration, in a 2 to 1 ratio as compared to ballistic gelatin.

Most experts say that a round should penetrate at least 12 inches of ballistic gelatin to be sure to reach the vital organs of a bad guy and effectively STOP him.

So, we must see at least 24 inches of penetration in water. The water jugs are approximately 6 inches thick, so we would want to see at least 4 jugs penetrated by an effective round.

For the set-up, wehave a layer of denim over a layer of terry clothe, then water jugs right up against the clothe.

One other item, to avoid confusion. We are not arguing, “Will this round kill a bad guy?” The answer is, “That’s not really an issue.” What we want to do is to “STOP” a bad guy.

If he is attacking us and trying to do us or our family harm, we are trying to STOP him. Whether he dies or not, thirty minutes later, will not make any difference.

First, a round out of a .22 Long Rifle, 1 inch barrel.

This is a Freedom Arms pistol.

This is a Freedom Arms pistol.

It’s kind of difficult to even get a grip on this pistol, it is so small.

But it sure barks loud.


The round penetrated 2 jugs and came to pieces.

Not much penetration.


Next, a round of .32 ACP out of my Keltec P-32.

We will try a round of Gold Dot 60 gr. GDHP.


It penetrated 4 jugs, equal to 12 inches of ballistic gelatin.

But it did not expand at all.


How about a round of .32 ACP Magtec 71 gr. JHP?

This round usually does not expand, but acts like Ball.

The gun had a weak report and the round was obviously a squib load.

It actually bounced off the blue jean material and only made a dent in it.

I am obviously not going to be carrying any of that stuff for social purposes.

This reminds us that we ought to test any ammo that we are going to be carrying.

This is it.

This is it.

How about a .380?

I borrowed a Keltec .380 from a friend, Johnny.

This is it.

This is it.

First a round of JHP.

It penetrated 4 jugs and expanded somewhat.


Then a round of .380 Ball.

The ball penetrated 5 jugs before stopping.

It was so pristine, it could have been reloaded and fired again.

26-9Some folks like the 9mm Makarov.


Here’s my PA-63.

Let’s try a round of Hornady 95 gr. JHP/XTP.

It penetrated only two jugs, and dented the third jug, but expanded well.


Maybe if we want more penetration, we ought to use Ball.

So, let’s give it a try.

The Ball ammo penetrated 5 jugs before stopping.

Just as expected.

26-12The biggest “small gun” I will test is a .38 Special snub nose 2 inch.


First a round of Winchester 125 gr. +P JHP.

It penetrated 4 jugs, but only expanded a little.


How about a 148 grain Wadcutter?

This is often recommended by folks on the Tactical Forums as a good .38 Special round out of a snub nose revolver.

It penetrated 4 jugs with very little upset.


Lessons learned:
  1. Ball ammo tends to penetrate more that the JHP ammo in these guns, as expected. If you want the optimal 12 inches of penetration, maybe that is the best ammo available.
  2. The only rounds that reached the necessary penetration were the .32 ACP, the .380 ACP, the Mak with Ball and the .38 Special. Quite honestly, they did better than I would have guessed.
  3. Ammo quality makes a difference.
  4. These pistols are relatively hard to aim well. They are best at very close distances.

Well, one thing for sure, if you are ever in need of a handgun, you are going to wish your “small gun” was one of these.

26-16And, as Tman reminded me, if you really know you are going to be in a fight, you ought to have one of these.


6 Comments on The Box O’ Truth #26 – Little Guns vs. The Box O’ Truth

  1. Been playing with guns for over 55 years and believe we are kindred spirits. I thoroughly enjoy your site. Always a learning experience and a good visit. I’ve been visiting since the early days of you and TMAN.I’m sad that he is gone.IT was and still is like visiting with friends,a place where B.S. does not exist.where you can shoot guns and have a good time and still learn something. Thank you, your friend, Andy

  2. howard w moore // April 24, 2016 at 1:23 pm // Reply

    I used to carry a NAA 22mag before I upgraded to a 380 . One friend asks me what I would do with the little gun my comment was if you are on top of me I will shove it in your belly and shoot you five times . I told him I thought the muzzle flash/burn alone would probably convince you it was a bad ideal the little 22mag was so easy to slip in your pocket I carried it until the advent of the minascule 380 Keltec/Ruger came along Now days a S&W, Ruger LCP, and a glock 23 take turns in rotation depending on weather and dress

  3. Well now I know that a PPK in either 32 or 380 should do the trick (although I already have an LCP, Kimber CDP and Sig 238.. I always wanted a Walther).

    (Nice to see Tman recommends a (SLR/L1A1?)FAL rather than an AR if you know you are going into a real fight, that way you can stop it before it gets under 300m) 🙂

  4. Darrin French // June 23, 2016 at 10:13 am // Reply

    from my experience, a full load 45 ACP HP will stop in the 4th or 5th jug of water too.

    The only way to stop a bad guy with a NAA 22 mag is a head or heart shot. Personally, I prefer a 10mm for gun fight

  5. John Baltes // August 2, 2016 at 1:09 pm // Reply

    Sometimes I carry a 2″ snubnose loaded with 135 gr +P .38 spcl Speer Gold Dots. When I’m not carrying that, I carry a full size .45 acp 1911, loaded with 230 gr Winchester Ranger-T’s. I feel confident in either one to protect me and the family.

  6. Ed Hollowell // August 4, 2016 at 9:51 pm // Reply

    Just tested 2 loads of 38 Super.110 gr jhp Hornady XTP velocity 1219fps 363 ft lbs energy. It only penetrated 3 gallon jugs of water. Then 125 gr XTP velocity 1044fps and 303 ft lbs energy. It penetrated 4 jugs and dented the wooden backstop. Heavier bullet w less velocity & energy did better. Have not found the bullets yet. To muddy.

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