Quandary over the subject line. Test Barrel Ruint or a somewhat longer Don't Underestimate the Value and Power of the 38 Special as a Viable Self-Defense Caliber.
And that's plain old .38 Special, not the +P.
Yup, after ~5 years of faithful service my water test barrel finally met its match. Put all kinds of shots into it up to 300mag without problem. Course none of those high power rifle rounds were FMJ or even the 223 probly would've gone right thru.
The setup. The barrel is a plastic (maybe nylon - it's white) 55(?) gallon drum that the top was cut out of. I fill it to a couple inches from the top, making about a 38" water column. I cover it with an old double-folded bed cover (not a quilt but a lot thicker than a sheet) held in place with a bunch of spring clamps. (Yeah, I learned my lesson the first time I put a shot into it...uncovered. Wanted to see what my old 30-30 would do. Emptied half the barrel and what water I didn't catch the old Marlin did.)
Anyway, I got me some cheap (relatively speaking) practice ammo for the 38s & 357 last week and, as has become habit over the past few years, any time I get a new bullet I put one or two into the water barrel to see an indication of what the self-defense terminal effects might look like. FWIW this was MagTech 158 grain SJSP (semi-jacket soft point).
One of the two 38s stuck in the bottom seam dead center, couldn't budge it with my little minnow net on a stick retriever. At first figured it lodged in a week spot, later found that it penetrated 3/4 of its length thru. Very impressive.
Then I put both 357 rounds thru the bottom and 5-6" into the ground. To say I was "impressed" doesn't begin to describe it.
To me, although the shot results were impressive for overall penetration, neither the 38 nor the 357 makes a "good" self-defense round. Neither mushroomed, which didn't surprise me, although the flat lead point did flatten out a bit more. They'll probly pass right thru a body, the majority of the damage done being the hole itself; would likely be devastating to any bone they hit straight on.