Why care about ammunition tests?
Bullet makers and ammo manufacturers want to sell ammo …
So they all claim to have the “latest and greatest” when it comes to self-defense ammo. That’s why it’s important to look at testing to verify these claims and see how the bullets — consistently — perform.
Also, more and more over the past decade, there has been a switch not only from ball ammo (FMJ) to Hollow points (JHP) but now the new standard is “barrier blind” ammunition.
This is a reference to how the bullet performs in ballistic gelatin AFTER it has passed through an intermediate barrier. In other words, can it shoot through some type of barrier and still perform well in the ballistic gelatin.
This can greatly affect how the bullet performs in real life (because most criminals are NOT naked and many times are not standing straight in front of you giving you a perfect silhouette shot!)
For instance, The Federal Hydra-Shock was a well respected hollowpoint when I first started shooting. But it’s now not the best choice because testing has shown its lack of expansion after passing through clothing.
So therefore, if it did well in ballistic gelatin, but then did not do well after passing through clothing in the gelatin, that bullet is not on the list.
The testing protocol
The ammo on the “approved” list is from DocGKR’s (http://www.firearmstactical.com) online postings. The good doctor explains a solid testing protocol for pistol caliber bullets …
“Gelatin calibration needs to be performed on each block of 10% Type 250A ordnance gelatin that has been stored for several days at 4 degrees Celsius. To accomplish this (GEL CAL), a 0.177” steel BB is fired into each block at 590 fps +/- 15 fps, with an ideal range of penetration defined as 8.5 cm +/- 1.0 cm of penetration, although up to +/- 1.5 cm is considered acceptable. Duncan MacPherson’s book Bullet Penetration has more information on gel calibration.
Common testing includes either an FBI type assessment using at least the six standard FBI tests at 10 feet (bare gel, heavy clothing, sheet steel, wallboard, plywood, auto glass), with the possible addition of the heavy clothing and auto glass tests at 20 yards or a three event IWBA type test using bare gelatin, 4 layer denim, and auto windshield tests all at 10 feet.
Typically weapon type and barrel length are reported, along with ammunition type, manufacturer part number, along with lot number.
Generally, at least five rounds of each ammunition type should be shot into gel for each test event.
Velocity (VEL) is recorded using an appropriate chronograph.
After penetration depth (PEN) is recorded, the bullets are recovered, then weighed on a digital scale and measured using digital vernier calipers. Ideal penetration for duty projectiles is in the 12 to 18 inch range.
The recovered diameter (RD) of each bullet is calculated by averaging the largest and smallest diameters measured at the leading edge of the deformed bullet. The length of each recovered bullet (RL) is also measured. Good RD’s are around 0.60″ for 9mm/357Sig, 0.65″ for .40S&W, and 0.70″ for .45ACP.”
So what does all this mean?
Well, if you can’t find your ammo on the list … then it most likely did not perform as well as it should have during at LEAST one of the tests.
Typically, the bare gellatin and then gelatin covered in heavy clothing are shot first. If it doesn’t pass these two, then it won’t pass the others, so a lot get thrown out immediately at this point …
Then after that, I hear the hardest intermediate barrier to deal with is auto glass that simulates shooting through a car windshield.
For example, one reader of mine asked …
“Cor-bon Pow-R-Ball, a particular favorite of mine in .45, is noticeably absent! I also use Hornady Critical Defense when the Cor-bon isn’t available – a regular event for some time now. Other than availability, any personal objections to Pow-R-Ball and why?”
Well, I don’t have a good answer for that because I didn’t do the testing on those loads and am quite ignorant. However, I did search the internet for Hornady Critical Defense and DocGKR’s name and found this tidbit …
“In general, the Hornady Critical Duty ammunition did NOT perform as well as several current JHP loads. The best performing Critical Duty load was the .45 Auto 220 gr +P and the worst performing was the .40 S&W 175 gr. In areas where conventional JHP designs are prohibited, the Hornady Critical Duty joins the Federal EFMJ as an option that is better than the Corbon Powerball or FMJ loads.
The Barnes all copper JHP bullets are an outstanding choice when lighter weight service caliber handgun projectiles are desired.
The Fed HST line is among the best duty loads currently available for service caliber pistols. HST’s tend to work best using heavier bullets (147 gr, 180 gr, 230 gr) at moderate velocities, with standard pressures.”
So there you go. You can research these things yourself if you like, you just have to spend the time on search engines and doing a lot of reading.
My advice is choose a load off the list, then get to practicing …
Just find a couple of the listed loads that you like. Buy a few boxes and take them to the range (100 should be enough of each type). Yes, I know it’s expensive but you’re going to make sure your gun doesn’t choke on them first …
Shoot 100 of each brand. Decide from there if you still like it based on the fact that it fed reliably, is accurate, etc from your handgun.
Then go buy a bulk “case” of the one you like best in 500-1000 rounds. Preferably 1000. Then go shoot at least 100-200 more rounds from it to make sure you’re still not seeing any malfunctioning.
(This would also be a good time to verify where your point of aim is VS your point of impact at various ranges like 7 yds, 10 yds, 15 yds, 25 yds — so you KNOW where you need to aim to make hits at various ranges with your self defense ammmo.)
So now you’ve got anywhere from 200-500 rounds of your chosen self-defense ammo fired through your gun, so you know it’s reliable because there have been no jams, etc and you can trust it. Then load up your actual magazines you’re going to put in your self-defense gun and leave those magazines alone.
Then spend the rest of your time, money and “worrying” on practicing with the cheapest ammo you can find (that matches your overall self-defense ammo in point of aim vs point of impact at those same ranges for best results. Inside of 10 yds, honestly, you’re not going to see much difference in anything most likely.)
In short, instead of spending hours researching and/or arguing on the internet about what bullet performs best, realize there is no “perfect” bullet and spend your time practicing your skills because being able to put your rounds center mass is better guaranteed to save your life (or your family’s life) than carrying the “best” ammunition.