Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher Review [2024]

Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher

While teaching a course on pepper spray and less lethal tools in the Spring of 2022, I was asked my opinion on the Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher. At that point, I was aware of their product, but had never handled one personally. It seemed to have some solid features not found in competitive options, but I couldn't give a valid opinion without first-hand experience. Luckily, one of my students was a distributor, and offered to provide me one at cost for review purposes. Always ready to learn more, I took him up on the offer, and a few weeks later I was the owner of a Byrna SD that I'd paid for out of pocket.

This is a review that I've come back to a handful of times, taking far longer than originally planned. Returning to the Byrna after a long time away reinvigorated me to write this review, and I think my long-term exposure to the tool has helped me cast out some biases once previously held. After all this time, what do I think of the Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher?

Controls and Features of the Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher

The Byrna SD is similar to a conventional pistol in both form and function. Overall I think it's a well thought out design for the most part.  We'll work our way from the muzzle back, with details on some aspects getting their own section. There are a few features which really impressed me that I'll touch on in a bit.


Just below the muzzle of the Byrna SD is the housing for the CO2 cartridge. A threaded aluminum cap keeps the cartridge in place, requiring an allen wrench to tighten or remove. This may seem like an inconvenience at first, but Byrna thought things through here. Each magazine features an integral allen wrench of appropriate size to tighten/loosen said cap, so no worries about leaving your tools at home. While I do have some concerns about damaging the magazines when applying torque, I have not seen any actual issues arising here.

Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher

My Byrna uses an 8-gram cartridge, though different models do use different sizes of CO2. My kit came with two of these included, making sure I was ready out of the box. Packages of 10 cartridges can be ordered directly through Byrna. Luckily the product material and website clearly define which models need which cartridges, so there should be no confusion there.

Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher

One of the best features of the Byrna is how it punctures the cartridge. The seal is not punctured until you press the trigger for the first time. Unlike other products, you can keep a cartridge loaded in the gun indefinitely without concern. Once punctured, the CO2 leaks out within a few minutes, but is sufficient for a few magazines before running out. That means that the gun can sit in storage, ready to go, reliably. This is a huge advantage of the Byrna and what initially made me curious about the product.

Controls on the Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher

If you've handled a pistol, real or otherwise, the Byrna SD will be somewhat familiar. The gun feeds from detachable magazines which insert into the grip. A small, non-ambidextrous magazine release button is located in the traditional position behind the trigger guard. Being fairly low profile, some shooters will likely need to use their support hand to actuate this button.

Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher

The Byrna SD features an ambidextrous thumb safety lever. This is in a natural position, vaguely similar to a 1911. While low profile, there is enough of a ledge on the lever to get a decent purchase to swipe on and off. That said, the lever is not positive, with no distinct feel or sound to indicate a full sweep of the safety. At best I can compare it to that of the Daewoo DP-51 in feel, or the slider of an adjustable light switch.

Atop the Byrna SD is a loaded chamber indicator, referred to as the "breech indicator" in the manual. This lever pops up when the gun is loaded, giving a physical and tactile indication of the gun's status. Once the magazine is removed, pressing the breech indicator will empty the round from the chamber. I'm happy to see this addition since there is no slide to lock open on the gun. I'm not aware of any failures of this component, but I still recommend following the four safety rules no matter the apparent status of the Byrna.

Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher
The "Breech Indicator" lays flush when the Byrna is empty

Finally we have the trigger. Think of a double action revolver, but not a good one. The trigger press is long, heavy, and rough. Additionally, the trigger reach is fairly far as well, thanks to the large frame and DA trigger. My wife shot the Byrna, and struggled to get a proper press despite being a regular revolver shooter with average size hands.


The sights are pretty decent on the Byrna SD. They are a standard notch and post arrangement, and are fixed in place. Sights are black plastic, integral to the Byrna itself. I would paint my front sight with bold color for better visibility, otherwise I have no complaints here.

Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher

One thing to consider is how varying levels of CO2 pressure and projectile weight may impact your point of aim/impact. That said, at the distances this is capable of being used, those issues are relatively minor.

Capacity of the Byrna SD

Byrna includes 2x magazines with the SD. These both feature a capacity of 5 rounds, matching the standard tube of projectiles. Across multiple projectile types, capacity is the same. So whether you choose pepper, kinetic, or eco projectiles, you're full up at five. Rounds are loaded by pressing them straight down into the magazine. Depressing a bar along the top of the magazine will eject your rounds in a shower of projectiles. Use this to unload, but keep your hand cupped, or aim the rounds into a container to avoid making a mess.

Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher
This hinged bar allows you to release the projectiles in the magazine

In an effort to improve capacity, I attempted to load a +1 into my gun, for a total of 6 rounds. This is not recommended by the product material, and is something I suggest you avoid. In my experience this causes a stoppage, requiring you to remove the magazine and hit the breech indicator to clear the chamber. This isn't something you want happening during an emergency.

One touch I like are different color inserts for the magazine floorplate. This is to help users differentiate between different magazines in storage. Maybe you keep some loaded with kinetic rounds for practice, and others with pepper for defense. While not a feature that I plan on using, it has utility for others.


The dust cover of the Byrna SD features an accessory rail, roughly of 1913 picatinny styling. With this in mind I wanted to see if any of my weapon mounted lights would fit onto the rail. Starting with the Surefire X300U, I was a little disappointed to see that my light wouldn't fit. Onto my Streamlight offerings to see how those fare. Somewhat to mu surprise, I had no issues mounting my TLR-1, TLR-7, and TLR-7 Sub onto the Byrna. Of note, the TLR-7 and TLR-7 Sub both feature the Glock key, and the TLR-1 features the Picatinny key.

To date, I haven't checked compatibility with any other lights or lasers. I'm happy to see that some quality options will work on the Byrna SD.

Other Notes

There are a few other things that I find important and want to cover on the Byrna SD. Despite what their marketing material may say, the Byrna is NOT a "non-lethal" tool. When reading the included product documentation there are repeated mentions of the potential for serious injury or death when using this product. While it is certainly less lethal than a traditional firearm, it still has the capacity to cause life altering damage to someone. Keep that in mind when using the Byrna.

Projectiles are stated to remain potent for 5 years, though the manual suggests cycling them out every 18 months from their package date. I don't think this is unreasonable, as duty ammunition is often cycled every 6-12 months. You can keep older rounds around for practice rather than tossing them. Byrna recommends cleaning the SD every 500 rounds, though a cleaning kit is not included.

Additionally, they recommend keeping the gun and projectiles between 20-120 degrees Fahrenheit. I'd highly suggest avoiding higher temperatures to avoid potentially rupturing CO2 containers or projectiles.

Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher
The full Byrna kit. Spoiler alert: The medallion is attached to the case.

Another nice inclusion is a troubleshooting guide in the manual. Additionally, the emergency help line for the US and overseas is listed for those exposed to irritants in the projectiles. Finally, the Safety Data Sheets are available on Byrna's website >>HERE<<

Range Time with the Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher

I took the Byrna SD out to the desert to see how things work in live-fire. In total, I fired 63 rounds of kinetic and biodegradable ammunition, plus 10 pepper rounds I purchased separately from the kit. Shooting was a mix of accuracy and rapid fire to try and get a feel for performance with the gun. My targets were a cardboard USPSA torso with a B-8 Repair Center taped to the high center chest.

It's worth noting that there is zero recoil with the Byrna, just like with a pellet gun. Additionally, the gun is hearing safe and relatively quiet when firing. This should help those who are less familiar with conventional firearms adapt to using the Byrna. With that said, how does it perform?

Pepper Projectile Experience

The first thing I noticed when firing pepper projectiles was their accuracy. Rounds consistently hit high and right, struggling to stay in a B-8 Repair Center at seven yards. This is an important differences from kinetic rounds, which larger hit within point of aim. I think the difference in weight of the projectiles are a factor here. All rounds burst upon impact with small bits of plastic remaining near the target. Powder stayed clumped together on target until subsequent rounds dissipated the previous' payload.

Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher
Shooting an 8-Ring sized board to test pepper projectiles

Initially I expected to get a whiff of pepper powder due to a light breeze. I ensured my wife moved upwind to avoid cross contamination while shooting. These concerns turned out to be unfounded, as nothing could be detected from our position. Curious, we moved closer, cautiously sniffing the air. I picked up our target, still covered with powder, nearly sticking my nose into it and still nothing. For reference, my hat's bill was touching the target at this time. Next, my wife did the same, when a gust of wind blew some pepper powder directly into her face. This caused some minor coughing after a few seconds, but nothing more. She says that she's experienced worse while cooking, equating this to a minor tickle in the throat.

In short, the pepper projectiles were completely ineffective.

Accuracy and Speed Shooting

In product materials, Byrna mentions 60 feet being the approximate maximum range of the SD launcher. My shooting primarily took place at 7 yards, as that is a fairly common distance for personal defense both inside and outside the home. I also took the gun out to 15 and 25 yards to stretch its legs. Accuracy wise, I was able to keep 50% of my shots on a B-8 Repair Center at 15 yards, with the remaining 50% staying on my USPSA silhouette backer.

When pushing distance out to 25 yards, I was only able to keep 50% of my shots on the entire USPSA torso, with the rest going into the background, potentially resulting in unintentional hits on bystanders. Byrna definitely knows what they're doing with their recommended range, keep your shooting within 20 yards and things should be okay. Of course we can't always control where our fight happens, but it's good to keep in mind.

Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher
Testing accuracy with the Byrna kinetic rounds

The first trigger press with the Byrna is much heavier due to it puncturing the CO2 cartridge in the gun. Keep that in mind during your practice. I've had shooters struggle and fail to crack the CO2 cannister, so this may not be the best option for those with low grip strength. This can also impact the accuracy of your first shot, similar to those unpracticed in firing a double-action pistol. Despite this, I was able to easily achieve 0.50 second splits with the Byrna SD. That's a reasonable pace for personal defense, and I'm not too worried with shooting faster than that in public.

Penetration and Reliability

While I didn't perform any scientific ballistic testing, I did note that I got 100% penetration of the cardboard target at 7 yards with kinetic rounds. Out to 15 yards that dropped to 50%, and moving to 25 yards resulted in every round bouncing back at me.

Over my brief range time I experienced zero feeding issues with either kinetic or biodegradable ammunition. That said, I did have multiple examples of the trigger simply not moving when pressed. Removing the magazine and fiddling with the trigger and breech indicator seemed to help fix the trigger, though I'm unsure of the actual culprit here. I couldn't find anything that consistently caused issues, which is a source of concern for me. A non-functional trigger on the range is one thing, but it could be a life and death matter in a defensive situation.

Additional Opinions

I don't personally know anyone who owns the Byrna SD outside of those with a business relationship with the company. To try and get some more information, I went to the depths of hell, otherwise known as the comments section of reviews. As of this writing, Byrna has a 1-to-5 star review system on products on their website with a comments box, similar to what you see on Amazon. On February 7th and 8th, 2024, I scrolled through a couple hundred comments to see if there were any trend items. Below are my findings from those dates.

Byrna MAX Projectiles

At the time of my search there were 829 reviews of Byrna MAX projectiles with an overall 4.6/5-star rating. These are a mix of OC and CS, more commonly known as pepper spray and tear gas. The item description is as follows: "Byrna MAX is the most powerful chemical projectile on the market today. Featuring a 9% concentration of OC and CS (Tear Gas) that incapacitates threats for up to 45 minutes."

Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher

Across these reviews I found ten 1-star ratings mentioning burst projectiles either inside of the gun or in the packaging. Projectiles that burst in guns are a mix of inside the magazine and when attempting to fire. One review mentions multiple failures of the projectiles to burst when used on a raccoon. Nine 2-star reviews mention projectiles bursting inside gun and in packaging. Some reviews mention multiple instances of this occurring. One reviewer claims to have been told not to keep his gun loaded by customer service after experiencing a burst projectile while the gun was in storage in the home. Another review mentions multiple failures of the kinetic and OC projectiles to burst when used on a raccoon, then 2x MAX projectiles having no effect despite bursting on their target.

There were also seven 3-star, and nine 4-star reviews mentioning burst projectiles at inappropriate times. I did not check 5-star reviews due to their being over 25 pages worth. That said, quick browsing shows quite a few short reviews along the lines of "great!", "quality products", "Thanks", "Is what it is!", and more, in addition to more thought out responses. Your typical review section once you get to that tier of stars.

Byrna Pepper Projectiles

There were 378 reviews of Byrna's Pepper Projectiles with an overall 4.6/5-star rating. Byrna describes these as "Byrna Pepper Projectiles are derived from a 5% OC / Pava formula that is 10X stronger than most pepper rounds found on the market today."

Information here was a little more sparse than on the MAX projectile reviews. In total there were two 1-star, four 2-star, five 3-star, and one 4-star review mentioning burst projectiles either inside the gun or in the packaging. One reviewer mentions multiple issues with stoppages in his gun requiring serious effort to clear. Much like with the MAX projectiles, I did not read through 5- star reviews. As of this writing, there are 24 pages worth of 5-star reviews, which I quickly glanced over while seeing how many pages there were. Contents are similar to those on the MAX page, with some non-sensical and others being more lucid.

Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher
Pepper Projectiles picked up from a local retailer

While taking the number of reviews mentioning burst projectiles into consideration, it appears that about 3-4% of these fail before firing. That's a small number on the surface, but many of these reviews mention repeated issues, to include up to 3/5 rounds in a tube bursting before use. While it's likely impossible to know the true reliability rate of these guns or ammunition, it seems like issues aren't unheard of. When the ammunition can fail while just sitting in a bedside table, that's not something I get excited about. While kinetic projectiles avoid this issue, I'm even less excited about those than something with a chemical agent inside.

Byrna SD Launcher

Finally I took a look at the SD's product page to check reviews. There were 2,703 reviews with an overall 4.7/5-star rating on the Byrna SD at the time of this writing.

Many of these reviews were far more detailed than on the projectiles, though there are still a fair number that are incomprehensible. Here's the breakdown of some common issues I noted across these responses.

  • 1-Star Reviews
    • 2x Mentioning stoppages
    • 2x Mentioning dead triggers
    • 1x Mentioning failures of the magazine to retain rounds
    • 2x With non-functional safety levers
    • 1x Physically broken or cracked launcher requiring a return
    • 3x Mentioning broken projectiles, either MAX or Pepper variants
    • 9x With non-specific "don't work" complaints
  • 2-Star Reviews
    • 2x Mentioning stoppages
    • 2x Mentioning dead triggers
    • 1x Mentioning failures of the magazine to retain rounds
    • 3x With non-functional safety levers
    • 1x Physically broken or cracked launcher requiring a return
    • 1x Mentioning broken projectiles, either MAX or Pepper variants
    • 2x With non-specific "don't work" complaints
  • 3-Star Reviews
    • 4x Mentioning stoppages
    • 1x Mentioning dead triggers
    • 3x Mentioning broken projectiles, either MAX or Pepper variants
    • 4x Broken magazines under normal use

I opted to not read through every 4 or 5-star review. These two categories had well over 25 pages worth of comments. Quick browsing of each showed largely positive comments, without much in the way of complaints, hence the higher ratings. That gives us roughly a 1% failure rate that I could see with the Byrna SD launcher. As with the projectiles, the numbers are actually pretty good, as far as the reviews on their site goes. Clearly Byrna isn't trying to hide negative reviews either, which I appreciate.

Final Thoughts on the Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher

My experience with the Byrna SD Less Lethal Launcher is less than stellar. Between ineffective OC projectiles, reliability issues, a high price tag, and it still being capable of lethal force, it's not for me. I also don't think it's for you. My recommendation is to steer clear of this product. If you need a less lethal tool, choose a quality pepper spray from Sabre or POM, that's what I carry. Those are far more versatile, less expensive, and carry far less risk for the user.

MSRP as of this writing is $379.99 for the Byrna SD.

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About Daniel Reedy 377 Articles
Daniel holds instructor certifications from Rangemaster, Agile Training & Consulting, and the NRA. He has received training from Craig Douglas, Tom Givens, and Steve Fisher among others. He also has experience competing in USPSA, CAS, 3 Gun, and Steel Challenge. In his free time Daniel enjoys petting puppies and reading the Constitution. His work is also published by AmmoLand, Recoil Concealment, and Air Force Times. Daniel has also written and edited for The Kommando Blog.

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