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Can a Tiny 45 gr .223 Varmint Bullet Defeat Level III Steel Armor?

Note:  I want to take a moment and thank Andrew Betts for this article.  I often have tried to explain this to people and I don’t think they believed me.  If you choose or have to wear body armor, be aware of its limits.  And as always, try not to get shot.  -Howard

Can a Tiny 45 gr .223 Varmint Bullet Defeat Level III Steel Armor?

By Andrew Betts


Level III AR500 armor is rated to stop 7.62x51mm NATO. It seems obvious that anything “less” than that would also be stopped. Is it possible that such a tiny bullet from a much less powerful cartridge could perforate armor designed and rated to stop the mighty 7.62x51mm?

As it turns out, yes. That tiny bullet can zip right through the steel armor, even when fired from relatively short barrels. How is this possible? It seems counterintuitive. It seems that it would require more power to get through steel armor but in fact, velocity is the primary factor that influences steel armor penetration. Sectional density, bullet construction, and mass all play a role, of course, but the roles they play are minimal compared to the role played by velocity. In the case of ¼” thick AR500 steel, 3,200 fps is about the cutoff point. Anything faster than that will usually pass through and anything slower will probably be stopped. The actual V50 rating is not published by the company, but it is apparent that it is somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,200 fps. The V50 rating is the velocity at which 50% of the projectiles of a given type pass through. To determine the V50 rating, a laboratory increases the velocity of the bullet being tested until it perforates the armor, then tests statistically relevant sample sizes at velocities near that point to determine the velocity at which 50% of bullets pass through.

It may be tempting to declare that this armor is garbage, but that is far from the case. This test simply demonstrates the design limitations of this type of armor. The plate shown in this test is available for $65 from http://www.ar500armor.com and will stop all handgun rounds and most common rifle rounds such as 7.62x39mm, 7.62x51mm, .300 Blackout, and even most .223 or 5.56x45mm ammo. While it is not specifically rated for M855, this plate will stop multiple hits of it. It will not stop M193, if it is fired from a long enough barrel and impacts at a close enough distance, but it will stop virtually any 60 grain and heavier .223 Rem projectile. Moreover, it will do so even after significant abuse. As we saw in the video, the plate stopped two rounds of 7.62x51mm, even after it had been perforated multiple times by the varmint ammo. Rather than focusing on the few threats that it will not stop, consider that you cannot purchase any lower threat level for the same cost. It stops far more than Level IIIA soft armor does and costs much less.

It is also worth noting that, while the high velocity varmint ammo does a good job of getting through the steel plate, it is not a good choice for defense. As seen in the test below, it penetrates far too shallowly to achieve reliable incapacitation.

Finally, it bears mentioning that the same company that produces this armor also produces Level III+ steel armor, which is designed to stop many of the threats that can defeat Level III armor. Be wary, though. Level III+ is not an actual NIJ rating, just an affirmation by the maker that the plate exceeds Level III by some degree in their assessment. Some manufacturers have had independent labs test their Level III+ plates and give them a special threat rating for specific rounds and others have not. Just because the plate is advertised as a Level III+ does not mean the same thing for various manufacturers. As with any other purchase you must do your own research. You should do your level best to find independent testing results from qualified labs and where that is not available, amateur testing as seen in the video above can help to inform your decision. As always, software > hardware. What is between your ears matters far more than what is on your chest. Train hard.

Trying Floor Tiles As Body Armor, Can It Really Work ?

By Andrew Betts

It could be the recent growth in interest in “prepper” shows or it could be the more general trend toward self-reliance and a DIY attitude, but for some reason making homemade body armor has become a popular thing to do. It may sound sketchy, like a homemade parachute or homemade aqualung, but one guy is taking a somewhat unique approach to the task.

Rather than simply slapping some tiles together to see what happens, The Chopping Block channel is taking a systematic approach to developing a dependable and repeatable design. The goal is to use experimentation and specific metrics to create a design that anyone can build, regardless of skill level. The other unique facet of his open source armor project is his insistence on leveraging the ingenuity of the community as a whole.

But why would someone want to build a homemade plate of dubious quality when quality professionally built body armor is readily available and affordable? While armor is available in most US states, it is not legal for civilians to purchase everywhere and it is always possible that future legislation could restrict the purchase of body armor. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to regulate body armor at the federal level over the last decade. It is also worth noting that while an entry level plate may not exactly require a second mortgage, the $65 price tag is more than the $10-$20 that some of these home built projects cost. Is your life worth more than $65? Of course it is, but when you add the cost of a carrier, it can start getting far more expensive to outfit a family of four with Level III plates, especially if you wanted to keep a set in more than one vehicle. The point is not that a homemade solution is better than a professionally made plate, but that the homemade solution is better than having nothing at all due to cost or legal hurdles. If you have the ability to purchase quality, professionally built armor, you should do so. It still might be handy to know how to build a field expedient rifle plate from a few dollars of home improvement supplies. Aside from any practical application, though, projects like these are fun and fascinating. The project has some interesting challenges to overcome and it will be exciting to see how they address them.

Man Shoots Soldiers’ Armor With .44 Magnum, What Happens Might Make You Cringe

By Andrew Betts

Our service men and women are issued body armor systems composed of a carrier, soft panels, and hard plates. One of the most common systems is the IOTV, or Improved Outer Tactical Vest. The military faces different threats than law enforcement does and therefore military body armor is not NIJ rated, but the soft panels are widely said to be roughly equivalent to NIJ level IIIA. That means that they should stand up to a .44 magnum 240 gr jacketed soft point at 1,400 fps with no more than 2.7” of back face deformation in a modeling clay backer.

We wanted to know if the armor would meet that standard so we tested a groin protector panel from an OTV. Be warned, this video might make you cross your legs.

It was interesting that the aramid layers are not stitched around the edges, as they are in many other armor panels. They had just a single stitch in the center. Nevertheless, the groin protector panel came very close to passing this IIIA standard. It stopped the bullet and the back face deformation was only slightly over the standard. Of course, .44 mag is not exactly a common threat on the battlefield.

Military armor is designed with other threats in mind, but it is encouraging to know that our soldiers are protected by excellent armor.

4 Reasons Your Lever Action .357 Is Perfect for Home Defense

4 Reasons Your Lever Action .357 Is Perfect for Home Defense
How an “Obsolete” Design Could Still Be Right for You

By Andrew Betts



Lever action rifles have been around for a very long time. There is no denying that they are great fun to shoot, but can a rifle designed a century and a half ago adequately meet those requirements? Is the lever action rifle obsolete or is it still a viable home defense tool?

Lever action carbines chambered in .357 magnum pack a serious wallop. The .357 mag cartridge is impressively powerful when fired from a revolver but it transforms into an entirely different being when it is fired from a 16”+ barrel. It delivers terminal performance at least as good, if not better than .223 Rem can produce.

This is absolutely phenomenal. There is no such thing as a death ray, but this gets pretty close. So long as we are talking about power, it is worth mentioning that the .357 mag has enough velocity to defeat soft armor when fired from a longer barrel, too. Level IIIA is the highest NIJ rating for soft armor and is designed to stop .357 mag when fired from a revolver, but as this test shows, it is no match for a .357 carbine.

You might wonder why anyone who isn’t a drug dealer would care about defeating body armor. To be sure, body armor is not commonplace among thugs, but it is being seen more often. Used vests can be purchased rather cheaply at pawn shops and military surplus stores and it turns out that thugs are just as reluctant to be shot and killed as the rest of us. The ability to penetrate body armor may not be the highest priority for your home defense considerations, but as the saying goes, it’s better to have it and not need it….

All of that power comes at approximately the price of a used handgun, too. A Rossi M92 can be purchased for about $500, brand new. That is similar to the cost of a decent shotgun and a fair sight less than you are likely to pay for most other defensive rifles. Of course, cost should take a distant second place to functionality when it comes to the safety of your family, but in the real world, cost has a serious impact on our decisions.

Lever action rifles also have a non-threatening appearance, which could matter in court. Now, if you behave in a legal manner and don’t do something foolish like give an ill-considered statement to the police, you should never see a criminal court. That said, it is always possible that you could run afoul of corruption in the legal system, especially in the states that are infested with authoritarian control freak voters. Even if you act legally and are not charged criminally, you could be sued by anyone at any time for any reason. If you do find yourself in a court room, a wood stocked lever action rifle may look a bit friendlier to a jury than an evil black rifle with cheese grater handguards and an optic. Of course, you should not choose a less effective weapon simply to look better in court. You have to survive to see a court room. If you can have a highly effective weapon that also will not scare a jury, that might not be so bad.

Perhaps more important than any other consideration is your own familiarity with the tool. If you cut your teeth on lever action rifles and spent many hours shivering against a tree clutching a Marlin, you are likely to be far more effective with that rifle than you would be with an AR. That does not mean that you do not need training and if you decided that 5.56mm carbine was a better choice for other reasons, you could certainly gain proficiency with it. What it does mean is that, until you receive professional training in another system that lever action is going to be your best choice. All other considerations aside, the best defensive weapon for you is the one that you can operate most competently. As always, software > hardware. Mindset and training will matter more than any other factor. Regardless of the choice you make, a light and sling are strongly recommended for any defensive long gun as is professional training.