How Underpowered is the 30 Carbine ? : Ballistic Gel Test

Terril reviews the power of . 30 Carbine with a fun ballistic gel test.

30 Carbine Test Ammo Subjects
30 Carbine Test Ammo Subjects

USA – -( To give credit where it is due, video games got me interested in firearms. During the early 2000s, World War II first-person shooter games were all the rage and I soon had a list of guns I would like to shoot one day.

American guns, however, were not really on the list. Time marched on, and I have gotten plenty of trigger time behind quite a few of those video-game featured firearms. The lone American gun that finally joined their ranks was one ironically never covered in those early games—the M1 Carbine.

The M1 Carbine was an admission of reality when it came into adoption in 1942. War was changing, and those in non-combatant roles just might have to fight, be it truck drivers, radio operators, etc. These troops had important things to do besides lug around a heavy battle rifle all the time, but they needed something that could punch harder and reach further than a pistol.

M1 Garand vs M1 Carbine
M1 Garand vs. M1 Carbine

The M1 Carbine is a handy weapon that weighs in at just over five pounds, and it fired an intermediate powered round, the 30 Carbine ammunition. The M1 carbine was produced by the millions and served in some capacity until the Vietnam War in the 1970s. Some praised its light weight, ease of use, and healthy magazine capacity. Others hated it for its perceived lack of stopping power. In any case, the M1 rifle remains an American classic with elderly examples still in circulation. New models are still being produced today by several manufacturers. However, the 30 Carbine’s sedate ballistics remain the subject of debate.

In my mind, I wanted to see the results for myself to satisfy my own curiosity. What better excuse than to drag out some 10% ordinance gel to find out?

My Gear

The M1 Carbine is still quite popular today, and my warrant for such a claim lay not only in the numbers still produced but the increased variety of ammunition available, including defensive hollow-points. I selected Hornady’s Critical Defense 110 grain FTX to test against the most common 30 Carbine round you are apt to find, 110-grain full-metal-jacket—my brand of choice coming from Privi Partizan.

My ballistics gelatin comes from Clear Ballistics with my batch being calibrated to 10 % FBI specs, according to the MFG. This simulates human tissue.
The 30 Carbine is available in a few handguns today, as well as some rifles, but the M1 is by far the most common and the specimen I brought along was the excellent new-manufactured M1 from Fulton Armory.

30 Carbine at the Chronograph

Ammunition power varies greatly but it can be measured reasonably well using a chronograph. I fired both the Hornady FTX and the Privi FMJ over my chronograph stationed ten feet downrange in my non-scientific ballistic gel test.

BrandProjectile3-Shot Average5-Shot Average
Hornady110 grain FTX1895 feet per sec.1844 feet per sec.
Privi Partizan110 grain FMJ1941 feet per sec.1978 feet per sec.

I fired the FTX into an eighteen-inch block backed by one nine-inch block shielded by four layers of denim. Upon close inspection, I couldn’t find the projectile, but noted massive damage just inside the entrance wound measuring 1 ¼ inch in diameter before the track settles down at the nine-inch mark. Bits of the polymer tip were embedded in the second block and the projectile was found on the ground. It had enough energy to get through one block, but not into the second. Total penetration—18 inches on the nose. The projectile was mushroomed handsomely with its original .308-inch diameter now expanding to .525.

Hornady Critical Defense 30 Carbine ballistic gel test penetration measured 18 inches.
Hornady Critical Defense, 30 Carbine ballistic gel test penetration, measured 18 inches.
.30 Carbine Ammunition Gel Test Results
.30 Carbine Ammunition Gel Test Results: The excellence of the wound produced by Hornady’s offering (top) is offset by the poor performance of the full metal jacket ammunition (bottom). But this is typical of pistol ammunition fired from pistol length barrels.
Hornady Critical Defense 30 Carbine ballistic gel test
Hornady Critical Defense 30 Carbine ballistic gel test: A closeup of the entrance wound produced by the Hornady hollow-point. Note the small shards of copper and lead.

The FMJ was next with three new nine-inch blocks fronted by our denim mask, but due to my angle of fire, my first round was not a square hit, nor was the second. Both of those rounds angled low, hitting and exiting through my table. I adjusted my aim, and the third shot was accurate. None of those projectiles were captured. The final shot was a complete pass through of a combined twenty-seven inches of gel. The wound track in each exhibited a random, cloud-like formation of upsets around what was a straight and narrow wound with my third round having a distinctive upset from the twelve to the eighteen-inch mark. That upset measured two inches in diameter, but the other two rounds did not exhibit this at that same point in the block.

In Summary

Hornady’s Critical Defense 110 grain FTX Ammunition
Hornady’s Critical Defense 110 grain FTX Ammunition

It was fun to see a good Hornady hollow-point and a full metal jacket perform as advertised. But is there anything to gain from this little fun “experiment”?

The Hornady ammunition performed impressively, punching well above its bore size, but not over penetrating. The typical range of acceptance varies from twelve to eighteen inches with fourteen to sixteen inches being the sweet spot. But that protocol involves handgun cartridges fired from handguns. The FTX performs like any mid-range pistol hollow-point with the added velocity afforded by the carbine allowing it to do slightly more damage. The full metal jacket penetrated far more than I expected with the added velocity allowing for somewhat more upset than what one might see out of a full metal jacket loading out of a pistol.

While devastating by handgun standards and certainly acceptable for personal defense, Winchester could have designed a more powerful round to realize the M1 Carbine’s full potential. However, ballistics tell only part of the story. The M1 carbine was meant to be better than a pistol. It held more rounds and is far easier to shoot accurately and at further distances than a handgun. In that sense, the M1 accomplished its mission and can still get the job done today.

Terril Hebert
Terril Hebert

About Terril Hebert:

Terril Hebert is a firearm writer native to south Louisiana. Under his motto-Guns, Never Politics-he tackles firearm and reloading topics both in print and on his Mark3smle YouTube channel, where he got his start. Terril has a soft spot for ballistics testing, pocket pistols, and French rifles. When he is not burning ammo, he is indulging his unhealthy wildlife photography obsession or working on his latest novel. Scourge of God, published in 2017. See more from Terril on youtube under Mark3smle.

  • 22 thoughts on “How Underpowered is the 30 Carbine ? : Ballistic Gel Test

    1. At my first duty station (1967), we carried the M16. Then all the M16s were packed up and shipped back to be refurbished for the buildup in Vietnam. In place of the M16, we were issued M2 .30 cal Carbines. In 1969, I shipped out for Vietnam where I was issued the M16. The armory still had some of the M2s which had arrived when the base was first built in 1965. Once in a while, out on patrol, I took the M2 in place of my M16. I never worried about it not putting down what I aimed at. Charlie often got doped up before attacking the base, and quite often they took several rounds of .223 before they dropped. Yes, the M1 the M14 were heavy hitters at distance, but when the enemy is on the wire, you’re not going for distance anymore.

      As an aside, in training for the 90mm using anti-personnel rounds which contained something like 1,000 steel darts, if the enemy was distant it was good, but when they hit the wire, the instructor taught to turn around and fire over the base, letting the exhaust fry Charlie and knock him down. This was because the darts traveled so fast they could pass right through bodies and those who had been hit would not notice until the bled out.

    2. Using the optimum game weight calculation, the M1 carbine comes out as similar to 5.56mm NATO, about 115 to 140 lbs. for 110gr bullets, depending on the velocity.

    3. Wife used her M1 Carbine, to kill a 35-# Black Bear raiding her SmokeHouse, full of Salmon… One shot, One Kill…
      He is NOW a very nice RUG… Used a Hand-loaded 110 Grain JHP Projectile, loaded to Average Factory Specs…
      It resides above the Front Window of the Cabin, on a couple of Wooden Pegs…

    4. The M 1 carbine was a pistol caliber carbine before that was even a thing
      I had one and all my kids learned how to shoot using it
      Soft recoil, light and handy
      Nowadays there are so many pcc’s and I traded my
      M 1 for a CZ Scorpion
      It is better in every way

    5. My Dad was an Air Commando during WWII in the Pacific. After shooting a Jap repeatedly with his M1 Carbine and seeing him run off down a jungle path, he thought he’d missed – until he found a blood trail. Following it cautiously, he found the Jap had run over a hundred yards before bleeding out, having been hit 11 times. ELEVEN TIMES! Dad swiftly acquired an M1 Garand and, shortly afterwards, a Thompson SMG. Knock down power (which is what they called it back then) was no longer a concern. Informal testing showed the carbine would penetrate a coconut, making neat .30 caliber entrance and exit holes, but wouldn’t knock it off a tree. A .45 WOULD knock it off the tree, and a Garand would burst it. Bottom line – though the FMJ ammo is unquestionably lethal, I would NOT rely on it to immediately STOP an adversary.

      1. @HankB, My Dad was also in the Pacific Theatre. When I enlisted, his wise advice for me was,” Don’t let them issue you an M-1 carbine. You can shoot a man six times, and he won’t go down!”
        But they are a hoot to shoot, and hit harder than a .22. I got one by the door, even now.

        1. And then there is the story of a Grizzly bear that got into an army camp during WW2. Dropped with one shot from an M1 carbine.

          My dad also served is WW2 – aviation engineers. He told me the story of the time his unit was strafed by a jap plane on nearly a daily basis. One day, as usual they fired at it with their carbines – but this time it started smoking and crashed.

          The reality of the M1 Carbine is that it is more powerful than many pistols and a good PDW – but no substitute for a battle rifle. No handgun round can do that – and the M1 carbine is basically a pistol caliber carbine. What amazes me is that some of the same people who talk about how weak the .30 carbine is will talk about how powerful the .357 Magnum is…..

          1. Rev, unlike the .30 carbine, most .357 Magnum ammo is NOT round nose full metal jacket. I’d expect good expanding bullets to greatly improve the carbine’s performance, but those weren’t an option in wartime. Funny story – in Korea, US soldiers thought the padded winter uniforms of the Norks and Chicoms were stopping carbine bullets. In actuality, the FMJ ammo was penetrating just fine – it just didn’t do much on the way through; not enough to STOP the enemy soldiers immediately, though they probably expired later on.

    6. NOT FBI protocol gelatin.
      Not even gelatin.
      Please STOP disseminatining inaccurate info.
      PLASTIC is not gelatiin.
      GELATIN must be calibrated.
      No where in this “test” does the author calibrate his fake gelatin.
      Fake news.

      1. Megan,
        You are correct again. I do real FBI protocol gelatin shoots for a major ammo maker and either mix my own gel or the guys at the factory do it for me. It gets calibrated on the range, at the shoot with my trusty Daisy over a chronograph. The FBI protocol is very specific and does not include that “plastic” stuff he is putting bullets into. “If it doesn’t smell, it ain’t gel”.

    7. I dropped 2 40# ferals with one shot (accident) with my M1 carbine. The shot was a through and through on both pigs. I used the carbine for less noise than my AR in my rural area. It did its job quite well. I used to own a Ruger Blackhawk in 30 carbine. It is the loudest, most piercing sound I have ever heard!

    8. I killed an 11 pt. buck at 65 yds. with Winchester soft points. He turned abruptly just as I pulled the trigger and the round hit him in the spine area at his hips. It severed the artery and broke him down in the back. He managed to drag himself a few yards before expiring. Love the carbine, it is now my wife’s deer gun.

    9. My father was a platoon commander, 1st Lt. 334 combat engineers. They hit the beach on d-day, and shortly thereafter they had set up an overnight spot where a German patrol tested their perimeter during the night. He says this was the only time he had to fire his M1 carbine in action, they found a German soldier with a wound through and through both ass cheeks that they think came from his M1. Plenty of penetration, M1 ball ammo for the win!

      1. Ballistically and penetration-wjse, I believe you’re correct. From a self defense viewpoint however, I like stopping power exhibited by the Hornaday mushrooming to more than a half-inch.

        I’m curious about the mention of .30 caliber Carbine chambered pistols. Does anyone know what is being referred to? This is the first time I’ve ever heard of such a SD tool.

        1. Ruger made a revolver in 30 carbine, AMT made a semi-auto pistol, maybe Israel Military Industries is making a revolver.
          There could be others.

        2. Ruger Blackhawk is the main gun that comes to mind. There are other used examples such as the Automag. Happy hunting!

        3. yeah.
          it was being referred to the model 1911 which is a semi-auto in 45 ACP.
          officer and nocoms mostly carried the M! Carbine back then to replace their pistols for better range.
          i have a M! Carbine and bought some of that Hornady ammo for it.
          haven’t got the chance to try it out as yet.
          but SPRING is coming lol.
          hope this info helped you.

          1. I owned the Ruger Blackhawk and as one of you said it was real loud! I wore foam plugs under my ear muffs and it was brutal. Sold it after a day at the range of about ten shots!

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