The Byrna SD Launcher Pistol is a cutting-edge, less-lethal self-defense launcher made in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. It’s designed to offer an effective self-defense solution while keeping the defender at a safe distance. This launcher fires an assortment of paintball-sized .68 caliber projectiles with an effective range of 50 feet. Less-lethal self-defense weapons are made to divert an attacker’s attention. In the case of the Byrna SD, that diversion can be created via either kinetic (impact) projectiles or Byrna Pepper or Max Pepper Powdered CS Tear Gas projectiles. When I contacted Byrna, they quickly sent me an SD Launcher Universal Kit to test out.

The Universal Kit

The Byrna SD Universal Kit is priced at $379.99 and includes:

  1. Byrna SD Launcher: main device for less-lethal self-defense
  2. Byrna-branded EVA/storage soft case: for convenient storage and transport
  3. Two five-round magazines: allows for quick reloading
  4. Two Byrna 8-gram CO2 cartridges: powers the launcher
  5. Training projectiles: tube of five rounds filled with inert white powder
  6. Solid Byrna kinetic projectiles: tube of five solid rounds
  7. Eco-kinetic projectiles: tube of five rounds that dissolve in water

In addition to the kit, Byrna sent a pack of extra CO2 cylinders and kinetic rounds, as well as a five-round tube of Byrna Max OC/CS projectiles. Also included was a five-round tube of the Byrna Max OC/CS “Kinetic” Projectiles to try out. Byrna’s combination OC (pepper spray)/CS (tear gas) projectiles set this launcher apart from other available systems.

The Max OC/CS projectile is well-suited to outdoor defense. Its CS component contaminates an area longer than the OC component and spreads further than plain OC pepper. However, there are shipping restrictions to certain states and cities, all of which Byrna lists on its website.

For in-home defense, I would use the Byrna Pepper Projectiles, especially if you live in an apartment building with main hallway access. With Byrna’s two five-round magazines — and more available for separate purchase — you can keep a magazine loaded with each type of OC-based projectile or plain Kinetic rounds so you’re ready for anything.

About the Byrna SD Launcher

A work of design genius and trimmer than many competing designs, the SD launcher is roughly the size and shape of the HK USP Compact pistol. It is available in orange, black or tan. Any less-lethal device should be a distinctly different color such as blaze orange or bright yellow so that it is clearly identifiable.

Though the Byran SD appears similar to a conventional semi-automatic firearm, its operation differs as there is no moving slide or need to chamber a round prior to firing. Once a magazine is loaded and the CO2 placed in its compartment, simply inserting the magazine positions the top round for immediate firing or long-term carry. There is a loaded chamber flag that pops up between the sights when a loaded magazine is inserted.

The launcher is one solid piece of polymer with only three moving parts: trigger, magazine relase and manual safety. Byrna also included a molded-in Picatinny rail for mounting lights or lasers. The manual safety is ambidextrous, with the switch up being safe and down as fire. The sights are plain black and molded-in atop the upper frame. You can purchase a Hi-VIZ Pro-Slide Light Pipe/Tritium sight kit for an additional $120 that can replace the original upper in just a few minutes.

Holsters are available on the Byrna website, but for carrying a mounted light or laser, you may need a generic tactical holster. For home defense, the current rail setup works well.

The location of the CO2 cartridges keeps the design compact. Rather than being housed in the grip, the 8-gram cylinder is inserted into a parallel chamber located underneath the barrel. It is kept in place by a threaded plug that screws in via an Allen key. Each magazine has a short Allen wrench located at the rear for opening or closing the threaded plug. To change or add a CO2 cylinder, use the magazine as a handle to unscrew the front plug. Insert the cylinder nozzle-end first, replace the plug and then load a magazine to prepare the SD for firing.

Inserting the CO2 cylinder into the front chamber does not puncture it and make it ready. That cylinder can be kept in place as long as needed after inserting it. The CO2 cylinder top is penetrated by the first pull of the trigger. Like any other CO2-powered arm, the open cylinder will need to be removed and discarded. If it remains in with a partial charge, it will affect the seals in the firing system. But with a fresh cylinder, the Byrna SD can be kept ready to go at a moment’s notice for months on end. Storing the Byrna SD in a car in a cold winter climate will slow velocity and make the projectile less effective.

Testing the Less-Lethal Launcher

At a friend’s range, I tested just the Kinetic projectiles first, as it was a breezy day that would have affected the contamination zone of the OC/CS rounds. The SD launches the Kinetic Impact type rounds at 280 feet per second, which delivers an impact of 11.8 Joules/8.70 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. I wanted to see if the impacts would clang the human torso steel silhouette. I started shooting the Eco-Kinetic projectiles first at about 20 feet.

Wearing eye protection in case of ricochet and backing up to 20 feet, the first round resulted in an audible clang, and the silhouette wobbled. The steel was marked with a centered lump of light green chalk-like powdered material sticking to the silhouette. Subsequent shots left the same lumps on the silhouette, which could be brushed off with our hands. We moved up to about 10 feet to prevent the wind from taking the shots off course and were able to run 15 rounds before the cylinder lost too much pressure. The Eco rounds are excellent for backyard practice (where legal) due to their lack of ricochet potential and degradability.

We backed up to 20 feet with a magazine loaded with the kinetic rounds. These projectiles do not break on impact and present a ricochet hazard. The impact was noticeably louder than the Eco projectiles. The Kinetic rounds were also able to puncture a water-filled milk jug, though the test round did not come back out the rear side.

On a less windy day, I tested the training projectiles, which are filled with inert white powder to simulate the dispersion of the Max live load. These rounds left a powder mark on the wall it struck and generated a small powder cloud that dispersed in the breeze. The impact sound was much louder and more solid than the sound made by the Eco-Kinetic Round.

I then fired a Max projectile. It hit with authority and also produced a white powder puff that was blown sideways by the breeze. I walked toward it to experience a mild exposure. The powder was well dispersed, and all I got was some minor nose irritation. However, videos of volunteers taking a Max hit show the full effect is quite unpleasant.

Who Should Buy a Byrna SD Launcher?

The Byrna SD is the finest launching system on the market and a solid less-lethal defensive tool. It is a great choice for folks who want to defend themselves against attack without using a firearm or for those who want to supplement their firearm to and increase their self-defense options. It’s also suitable for situations where firearms may not be allowed or preferred. *Verify your local laws.