1. Updates
  2. Project Summary
  3. Ballistics Testing in Plain English
  4. Lucky Gunner Testing Standards
  5. How to Read the Results
  6. Ballistics Test Results
  7. Conclusions



Update 8/4/2016: We just finished testing another 29 loads, including several from Winchester, Federal, and Remington, bringing our total count to 146 loads tested. Data for the new loads has been added to the charts below along with a “***NEW***” tag following the name of the load so you can easily identify them. If you want to see only the new loads in the charts, click on the search box at the top of each chart and type in “*NEW”. That will hide the data for all loads except the new ones.

Here’s a complete list of the new loads we tested:

.380 ACP
Federal 99 gr HST
Winchester 95 gr Ranger

Federal 124 gr HST +P
Federal 135 gr Tactical Bonded +P
Federal 147 gr HST +P
Federal 150 gr Micro HST
Magtech 124 gr Bonded JHP
Remington 124 gr Golden Saber Black Belt +P
Remington 147 gr Golden Saber Bonded
Speer 124 gr Gold Dot
Winchester 124 gr Ranger T-Series +P
Winchester 127 gr Ranger T-Series +P+
Winchester 147 gr PDX-1
Winchester 147 gr Ranger Bonded
Winchester 147 gr Ranger T-Series

.40 S&W
Federal 155 gr HST
Federal 165 gr Tactical Bonded
Speer 155 gr Gold Dot
Winchester 165 gr Ranger Bonded
Winchester 165 gr Ranger T-Series
Winchester 180 gr Ranger Bonded
Winchester 180 gr Ranger T-Series

.45 ACP
Federal 230 gr Tactical Bonded +P
Magtech 230 gr Bonded JHP
Speer 185 gr Gold Dot
Speer 230 gr Gold Dot Short Barrel
Winchester 230 gr Ranger T-Series +P
Winchester 230 gr Ranger T-Series
Winchester 230 gr Ranger Bonded

Project Summary

Over the last few months, I’ve been working with the rest of the Lucky Gunner team on another one of our epic experiments, which we’re proud to finally unveil: ballistics gelatin testing for over 100 self-defense handgun ammunition loads. 117 to be precise, and that’s just round one. This testing will be ongoing, and we’ll keep adding to the results as we have the chance to test more loads. Watch the video below for a brief overview of the project and an explanation of how to read the results.

If you came here just to see the data from our tests, you can use the handy menu at the top of the page to skip right to the results section. If this whole ballistics testing thing is new to you, or you want to know more about our process, then you might want to keep reading. If you’re more of a “bottom line” kind of person, you can skip over both the setup and the test results and check out the conclusions section. However you use this information, we hope you find it helpful when picking out your next self-defense load.

Recovering bullets fired into a block of ballistics gel.

Ballistics Testing in Plain English

The science of wound ballistics can be a daunting topic, especially if you’re not inclined to use your leisure time to study physics and anatomy. At the end of the day, it’s really just the study of how and why bullets inflict damage. That sounds fairly straightforward, but even experts who study this for a living can’t seem to all agree when it comes to the effectiveness of handgun ammo.

The reason for this lack of consensus is simple: handguns suck. If someone wants to kill you, and the only way to prevent that from happening is to shoot them, a handgun is far from the ideal firearm to use — they just happen to be the type of firearm we’re most likely to have immediate access to. Contrary to what Hollywood has ingrained into our consciousness, shooting bad guys with pistols doesn’t make them fly backwards through the air, crashing into a bloody, motionless heap. In reality, the effects of wounds from handguns are unpredictable and often not very dramatic. So the study of handgun wound ballistics is not always clear cut, and any speculation we can make about how a given self-defense load will perform in the real world will be, at best, an educated guess.

ammo boxes clear ballistics
Just a few of the 117 handgun loads we tested for the first round of our project.

Bullets fired from handguns do only one thing: poke little holes in stuff. If the little hole doesn’t go through something that’s important for a human being’s body to remain upright and functioning, that person can still go about their business, which may include trying to hurt other people.

Of course, sometimes violent attackers give up or flee before shots are actually fired. When the mere sight of a gun in the hands of a would-be victim doesn’t do the trick, an assailant will often give up once fired upon, even if they haven’t sustained wounds that would cause their bodies to shut down right away. But these are examples of what Bob Ross would have called “happy little accidents”. It’s great if the bad guy gives up, but we can’t count on that happening. We have a gun to prepare for the worst, and in the worst kind of violent attacks, the bad guy doesn’t give up until he is physically incapable of doing you harm.

So with that in mind, a handgun can quickly and definitively stop a determined attacker only if two conditions are met:

  1. The gun must be fired at a so-called “vital area” of the attacker. This usually means the heart or the brain/spine. Hits to the lungs and other organs can also be effective, but results may be slower.
  2. The bullet must have the ability to penetrate whatever is between the muzzle and those vital organs in order to disrupt their function — for non-uniformed civilians, this typically includes clothing, tissue, and bone.

That’s it. No matter what else may happen during the course of a lethal confrontation, if you shoot the guy in the right spot with a bullet that penetrates deep enough, the threat will go down.

The first condition depends on the person operating the gun. No amount of bullet technology can make up for a miss. But as for the second condition — how do we know if the ammo we have in our self-defense gun is up to the task?

Conventional wisdom says to use ammunition with a hollow point bullet. These bullets are designed to expand upon impact with soft tissue. The expansion deforms the bullet and increases its diameter, which increases the likelihood of the bullet hitting something vital inside the target. Commercial hollow point technology is decades old, and there are dozens of different bullet designs on the market for all of the popular handgun calibers. So aside from the marketing materials put out by the ammo manufacturers, how are we supposed to know which bullets are the most effective?

Left: Jacketed hollow point bullet pulled from an unfired Federal HST 147 grain 9mm cartridge. Right: An expanded 147 grain HST recovered from a block of ballistics gelatin.

That’s where ballistic gelatin testing comes in. Back in the late 1980s, the FBI began to use blocks of gelatin made from a solution of water and a powdered form of miscellaneous animal parts — called “ordnance gelatin” or “ballistics gel” —  as a substitute for living tissue for testing the effects of duty ammunition. Firing bullets into the gelatin gave them some idea of what the bullet could do inside a person — in particular, how deep the bullet could penetrate, and the degree to which the bullet might expand or deform.

Ordnance gelatin isn’t an exact simulation of living flesh. People and animals have skin, bones, tendons, and organs that are all different in terms of hardness and density. These variables can cause bullets to deflect, fragment, or otherwise behave in unpredictable ways. Conversely, ordnance gelatin is homogeneous, and free of internal obstructions, so the way a bullet behaves in gelatin is indicative of a real life best case scenario. Bullets will not always provide the same results on living tissue that we see in gelatin, but we can expect bullets that perform poorly in gelatin to have a lower success rate on humans, and bullets that perform well in gelatin are more likely to overcome some of the unpredictable variables encountered in the real world.

The other advantage of using a consistent medium like gelatin is that it allows for an “apples to apples” comparison between ammo loads. Each block of gelatin has the same physical properties, so bullet A fired into block A can be compared to bullet B fired into block B. This provides a much more scientific and objective method for comparing ammunition loads than anecdotal reports from real life shootings where there are a plethora of unknown variables to consider.


Today, this type of testing is made even easier with the advent of synthetic ballistic materials. The “real” organic ballistics gelatin blocks used by the FBI today are still made from dehydrated animal tissue. They provide accurate results, but they’re time consuming to make and they have to be refrigerated until almost immediately before they are used. And after all of that, the fired bullets are difficult to see through the cloudy, mud-colored organic gelatin.

Synthetic gelatin from the company Clear Ballistics is temperature stable up to 240° F, so the blocks can be shipped directly to the end user without melting or deforming. These blocks are also completely transparent, so the test results can be observed without cutting into the block. Test results using Clear Ballistics blocks come very close to results using organic gelatin, at least for comparing the penetration and expansion properties of handgun bullets. In addition, the convenience of working with the synthetic gelatin allows testing on a scale that is not practical with a substance as delicate and labor-intensive as traditional organic ordnance gelatin.

Lucky Gunner Ballistic Testing Standards

The goal of our project is to test as many loads as possible in order to determine how they compare to the FBI standard recommended penetration depth of 12-18″. We also want to know how well the bullets expand when they encounter a barrier of heavy clothing before entering the gel. Whenever feasible, we tried to duplicate the testing protocol reportedly used by the FBI, but our first priority was to be consistent, using the same procedure and conditions for every load we tested.

ballistics gel

We fired five rounds of each self-defense load using short-barreled pistols positioned 10 feet from a Clear Ballistics synthetic gelatin block with a four-layer heavy clothing barrier placed in front of it. The first shot of every test was filmed with a high speed camera, and we took high resolution photos of the gelatin blocks after the first and fifth shots of each load. We measured penetration depth and later, we recovered the fired bullets from the gelatin blocks, measured their diameter, and took additional photos.

Here’s a little more on how and why we set up our test this way.


Each shot was fired with the muzzle approximately 10 feet from the surface of the gelatin block. The FBI used to test handgun ammo at 20 yards as well as 10 feet, but they found very little difference in the data at these two distances. The current practice of the FBI is to use the 10 foot test for handgun ammo, and that’s what we’ve followed here.

Heavy Clothing Barrier

To get an idea of how a bullet will perform under various real world conditions, the FBI tests each load with a variety of barriers placed in front of the gelatin. They start with a plain block of “bare” gelatin with no barrier, and follow up that test with a barrier of heavy clothing, and then hard barriers of steel (to simulate an auto body), plywood, wallboard, and auto glass.


Because non-law enforcement self-defense shootings are highly unlikely to involve firing through walls or cars, the bare gelatin and heavy clothing tests are most relevant for the average civilian gun owner. In order to test as many loads as possible, we opted to skip over the bare gelatin testing and conducted all of our testing only with a heavy clothing barrier. Most of us train to fire at the vital zone or “center mass” high in the chest area of the target, which is an area typically covered by clothing.

The heavy clothing test simulates a scenario in which the target is wearing four layers of clothing: two cotton shirts, fleece, and denim. The FBI uses this standard not because it’s common for people to actually wear that exact clothing, but because they are common clothing materials, and when combined they represent something close to a worst case scenario for a bullet.

Clothing can present a challenge for some hollow point loads because the opening in the bullet can become clogged with clothing material and fail to expand once it reaches living tissue. This failure to expand gives the bullet a lower probability of striking a vital area, and also leads to the potential for over-penetration. Expanding bullets lose velocity quickly and are more likely to stay inside the target, but a hollow point that fails to expand can maintain enough energy to exit the target and potentially harm bystanders.

We used the same type of fabric specified in the FBI heavy clothing test, which calls for the following:

  1. cotton t-shirt material (approximately 5.25 ounces per yard, 48 threads per inch)
  2. cotton shirt material (approximately 3.5 ounces per yard, 80 threads per inch)
  3. Malden Mills Polartec 200 fleece
  4. cotton denim (approximately 14.4 ounces per yard, 50 threads per inch)

The four layers of fabric were stacked together and placed against the front of the gelatin block, secured with clothes pins to a bar suspended above the test block.

Five-Shot Trials


For every load tested, we fired five shots through the heavy clothing barrier into a fresh block of gelatin. This gave us multiple data points for each load, which turned out to be important since many loads did not exhibit the same performance from shot to shot. Clear Ballistics gelatin can be melted down and re-used, but we started with a factory-new block for every five-round test.

Gelatin Blocks

The Clear Ballistics blocks we used measure 6”x6”x16”. Since we knew many of the loads would penetrate deeper than 16”, we used two blocks placed end to end, giving us the ability to measure the depth of rounds that penetrated up to 32”. Any rounds that completely penetrated both blocks and continued into our backstop were simply marked as 32” in our data.

Using Clear Ballistics gel blocks allows us to observe the penetration depth and wound channel without cutting into the block.
Using Clear Ballistics gel blocks allows us to observe the penetration depth and wound channel without cutting into the block. Here, we can clearly see the jacket, blue polymer cap, and individual shot pellets from a Glaser Safety Slug. It looks impressive in photos, but does it penetrate deep enough to be effective?

Short Barreled Handguns

This is one area where we intentionally deviated from the typical FBI test. Ballistics testing is most often conducted with full size or “service size” handguns with barrel lengths of at least 4”. However, most armed citizens carry smaller guns with shorter barrels, which means the bullets they fire will fly at a lower velocity than what is advertised by the ammo manufacturer. Ballistics data gathered using full size barrels can be misleading if applied to these small concealable pistols. We ran our tests with popular concealable handguns with barrel lengths we think are more representative of what the average citizen is actually carrying. The test guns used were as follows:

  • .380 ACP: Glock 42, 3.25-inch barrel
  • 9mm: Smith & Wesson M&P9c, 3.5-inch barrel
  • .40 S&W: Glock 27, 3.42-inch barrel
  • .45 ACP: Kahr CW45, 3.64-inch barrel
test guns
Top left: Glock 42 .380 ACP. Bottom left: Smith & Wesson M&P9c 9mm. Top right: Glock 27 .40 S&W. Bottom right: Kahr CW45 .45 ACP.

Measurement Methods

Penetration depth was measured from the face of the gelatin block to the farthest point of the bullet’s resting place. In cases where the bullet fragmented into multiple pieces, the depth of the largest fragment was the measurement taken.

In the photos of the gelatin blocks, you can see lines that appear to be a continuation of the wound channel that extends beyond the resting place of the bullet anywhere from 1/8″ to over 2″. From watching our high speed video footage, it’s clear these lines are the result of bullet “bounce back”. Once the bullet travels as far as it can go, the somewhat elastic properties of the Clear Ballistcs gelatin cause the bullet to “snap” backward slightly before coming to a complete stop. This same phenomenon occurs also occurs in organic gelatin, though the result is more difficult to see. These lines are typically ignored when measuring the penetration depth, and the farthest point of the bullet itself is what most other tests use to measure from.

Extended Wound Channel
Some bullets “bounced” backward in the gelatin before coming to a complete stop, which leaves an impression of the wound channel extending beyond the bullet’s resting place.


After we recovered them from the gel blocks, the expanded bullets were measured with digital calipers. The deformed and expanded bullets are not perfectly round, so we measured them at their widest point. While this is the most practical way to measure bullet expansion, keep in mind that the numbers can be misleading. Bullets that deform inconsistently with a fragment of jacket protruding unevenly on one side could potentially measure the same at the widest point as a bullet that expands more uniformly, even though the latter may indicate a better potential for tissue damage. We recommend taking under consideration the measured diameter data and viewing the photos of the expanded bullets for consistency and uniformity.

High Speed Video

The first round fired for each load was recorded with a high speed camera at 10,000 frames per second. You can click on the name of the load in the chart to see this footage, as well as additional photos and more detailed data. Here’s an example from one of the 9mm Speer Gold Dot ammo tests.

How to Read the Results

So what can you do with this information? There are a lot of varying opinions on what to look for and what we can learn from ballistic gelatin testing, even among qualified experts. Our goal isn’t to tell you which loads to use or which ones are best. We have thrown in a few of our observations here and there, but we’re not out to make any definitive conclusions. Admittedly, none of us here on the Lucky Gunner team are experts in the science of wound ballistics — there is more that goes into professional ballistic gel analysis than measuring penetration and expansion.

However, this also wasn’t a haphazard back yard experiment we tackled on a bored Sunday afternoon. We went to great lengths to set up consistent testing conditions and follow the same procedure for every trial so we would achieve results that could be reliably compared to one another. We’re providing this information as a service to the shooting community because there are so few resources available to help consumers distinguish one hollow point load from the next other than the brand name and color of the shiny foil-embossed ammo box.

The data from our ballistic tests is presented below in four separate charts, divided by caliber. We’ve simplified and consolidated a lot of the data in order to highlight the most important information and to facilitate easy comparisons between loads. High speed video footage, detailed data, and additional photos can be found by clicking on the product name for each load.

Penetration Depth

The charts below show the average penetration depth of each five shot trial, and the graph displays a representation of each individual shot. Clicking on the graph (or the photo icon if you’re using a mobile screen that’s too narrow to display the graph) will display actual photographs of the gelatin block we fired.

Click on the penetration graph of each load to see photos from the gel test like the ones above. The top image shows the first shot fired and the bottom image shows all five. Green circles indicate the location of each bullet. Bullets that penetrated greater than 32" are "off camera" and indicated with a green arrow.
Click on the penetration graph of each load to see photos from the gel test like the ones above. The top image shows the first shot fired and the bottom image shows all five. Green circles indicate the location of each bullet. Bullets that penetrated greater than 32″ are “off camera” and indicated with a green arrow.

We aren’t ranking any of these test results ourselves, but if you’re looking for some standard to compare these findings to, you can start with the FBI protocol. Their standard requires duty ammo to penetrate between 12 inches and 18 inches in ballistic gelatin. We’ve highlighted this range in the penetration graph on our chart so you can easily see which loads came close to this standard, but that shouldn’t be read as a pass/fail test. We can’t assume that a load with any bullets falling outside of the 12″-18″ range should automatically be regarded as a total failure. Consider penetration, expansion, and weight retention, as well as consistency of a load from one bullet to the next. Also consider that the heavy fabric barrier we used is just one type of test, and results could vary for rounds fired into bare gelatin or hard barriers.

There may be some disagreement on the specifics of what to look for in these kind of tests, but you will find few advocates of ammo that penetrates significantly less than 12 inches, or expanding ammo that consistently fails to expand as designed. Consistent slight over-penetration (greater than 18″) is generally considered acceptable if the alternative is under-penetration, or inconsistent performance.

Why 12 inches?

The 18 inch maximum penetration depth standard makes sense to most people — too much penetration and the bullet can go clean through the target (possibly changing direction slightly before exiting) and onward to harm an unintended target. On the other hand, the 12 inch minimum penetration standard can be more confusing. If the bullet needs to reach the middle of the chest cavity where the organs are, wouldn’t we need a penetration depth less than half of that in most cases? Some of the reason for the 12 inch minimum standard is simply “playing it safe” and allowing for the possibility of attackers possessing greater than average girth. But part of the rationale is based on the simple reality of three-dimensional anatomy.

We typically imagine a potential attacker will be directly in front of us, facing our direction with squared shoulders, much like the paper and cardboard targets we usually use. But it should come as no surprise that this is not how gunfights usually go down. We have to account for a human target that may be turned slightly toward or away form us at an angle, or possibly even above or below us, or with arms partially obscuring the torso.

If you’re having a hard time picturing why this would affect the penetration depth necessary to reliably stop an attack, imagine you’ve just been ambushed by a 275 pound dude wielding a baseball bat. As he is rushing toward you, winding up the bat for a knockout blow, you manage to draw your pistol and fire a perfectly aimed shot at his upper chest. But since he’s in mid-swing, the bullet doesn’t go straight into his chest — it enters his arm just above the elbow and now has to pass through half an arm, a shoulder, a rib cage, and a lung in order to reach the heart or spine. A bullet that can penetrate only 9 inches might lodge in the guy’s rib; unpleasant for him, but not the definitive fight-stopping shot we want.

That’s a somewhat extreme example to illustrate the point, but it’s not an unrealistic scenario. These real life encounters are messy, and what constitutes “adequate” penetration in any given situation is not a universal constant. When ballistics experts have suggested changes to the 12 inch standard, it has only been in the direction of increasing that number, but for the time being, the FBI still deems the 12-18 inch penetration range to be ideal.


For bullet expansion values, the chart shows you the average diameter of the five bullets fired and a photograph of the bullets retrieved from the gel block alongside an unfired bullet pulled from a cartridge in the same box of ammo.

Expanded Bullets
Click on the thumbnail of the expanded bullets in the chart to see an enlarged version. When the heavy clothing barrier clogged the hollow point, we left the cloth particles in place for the photos.

Unlike penetration, there is no widely accepted minimum standard for expansion. One commonly used threshold is an expanded diameter at least 1.5 times the original diameter, but that’s far from universal. Most law enforcement agencies that have a minimum standard for duty ammo tend to prioritize penetration over expansion, and consistent expansion is often considered more important than a specific target minimum diameter.

Weight Retention

One final criteria to consider with self-defense handgun ammo is weight retention. This is essentially a way to measure the bullet’s ability to stay in one piece while travelling through barriers and tissue. This is not as much an issue with modern handgun ammunition as it was with older bullet designs, but a few of our test loads did show a tendency to fall apart in the gelatin. This occurred for one of two reasons: separation of the jacket and bullet core, or a bullet that is intentionally designed to fragment on impact. Fragmenting bullet designs are common in high velocity rifle loads, but not nearly as popular in handgun ammo, though more companies have recently begun to produce them. In our tests, these loads did fragment as designed, but there is some question as to whether the principles that make fragmenting rifle bullets effective can be applied to slower-moving handgun bullets.

Some ammo is designed to fragment on impact. We measured the weight of the largest fragment to determine the percentage weight retention.
Some ammo is designed to fragment on impact. In these cases, we measured the weight of the largest fragment to determine the percentage weight retention.

Because the vast majority of the tested loads exhibited 98% or better weight retention, we haven’t shown that data in our chart (although you can find that info on the individual product pages by clicking on the name of each load in the chart). Instead, we’ve used an asterisk on the chart to indicate the few loads that retained less than 85% of their original weight on average. Looking at the accompanying photos will clearly show whether the weight retention failure was due to fragmentation or core-jacket separation. The core-jacket separation issue tends to be more common when bullets encounter hard barriers such as windshield glass or car doors, and a bullet’s weight retention in our heavy clothing tests can’t be taken as an indicator of how the bullet would perform against other barriers.

Permanent vs. Temporary Wound Cavity

One final aspect of ballistics testing we haven’t yet addressed is the wound cavity — the flesh that is disrupted by the bullet. The permanent wound cavity is the “tunnel” made by the bullet that’s visible in all of the gelatin photos. Bullets that expand or tumble will leave a bigger wound cavity than bullets that fail to expand.

The temporary wound cavity can be seen in the high speed video footage when the gel balloons and stretches as the bullet enters. As cool as that looks, it can be misleading. The Clear Ballistics synthetic gel has more elastic properties than organic gelatin, so the temporary wounding effects tend to appear more dramatic and aren’t a very good representation of the effects on living tissue. Furthermore, most ballistics researchers believe the temporary cavity created by handgun ammo does not lead to any significant wounding effects. Rifle bullets travel at a much higher velocity and can create temporary wound cavities that tear and disrupt tissue not even touched by the bullet itself (sometimes called “hydrostatic shock”). Because handgun bullets typically travel at relatively low velocity, they possess little to no capacity to induce this phenomenon.

Generally, for handgun ammunition, only the permanent wound cavity should be considered to have any reliable effect on the target.

Ballistic Test Results

.380 ACP Ballistic Gelatin Tests

As expected, .380 ACP turned in the weakest overall performance of the four calibers we tested, but a few loads fared surprisingly well. Most loads showed either good penetration but no expansion, or decent expansion with sub-par penetration. Only a couple of loads managed to show decent numbers for both. There’s a reason that .380 ACP is often considered “underpowered”, but careful ammo selection can help to mitigate its deficiencies to some degree.

.380 Auto (ACP) Ballistic Test Results

  • Medium: Clear Ballistics Synthetic Gel
  • Barrier: Four Layer Fabric
  • Test gun: Glock 42
loading chart data...
Ammo Penetration depth Expansion Muzzle velocity
PMC 95 gr Starfire23.060.35882
Corbon 70 gr PowRBall14.940.351087
Remington 88 gr HTP16.780.35840.2
G2 Research 62 gr RIP10.440.3521297.4
Federal 90 gr Hydra Shok25.580.358929
Corbon 90 gr JHP21.940.366982.8
Liberty Ammunition 50 gr Civil Defense9.320.3881342.6
Remington 102 gr Golden Saber19.460.39907
Hornady 90 gr XTP14.140.392910
Remington 102 gr Ultimate Defense15.880.396859.2
Barnes 80 gr TAC-XP8.640.452805.4
Speer 90 gr Gold Dot110.494937.4
Winchester 85 gr Silver Tip Super X11.020.492878.6
Sig Sauer 90 gr V-Crown12.840.506861
Hornady 90 gr FTX Critical Defense13.240.516909.6
Magtech 85 gr Guardian Gold10.520.581018.8
Winchester 95 gr Train & Defend8.70.628895.4
Winchester 95 gr PDX19.50.632870.2
Federal 99 gr HST ***NEW***22.480.354892.94
Winchester 95 gr Ranger T-Series ***NEW***21.90.369917.78

* - indicates bullets that failed to retain an average of at least 85% of their initial weight

9mm Ballistic Gelatin Tests

There were several 9mm loads showing adequate penetration with a decent amount of expansion as well. Some of the loads became partially clogged with the heavy fabric which prevented complete expansion and led to slight over-penetration in the 18-22 inch range. Only a few loads completely failed to expand on all five shots, and the fragmenting bullets were among the few to fall shy of the FBI’s 12-inch penetration depth minimum.

9mm Luger (9x19) Ballistic Test Results

  • Medium: Clear Ballistics Synthetic Gel
  • Barrier: Four Layer Fabric
  • Test gun: Smith & Wesson M&P9c
loading chart data...
Ammo Penetration depth Expansion Muzzle velocity
Barnes 115 gr TAC-XPD +P13.420.6961043.2
Corbon 115 gr DPX13.880.6861122.8
Corbon 115 JHP +P13.640.5561220.8
Corbon 80 gr Glaser8.280.6661308.6
Federal 147 gr Hydra Shok17.720.376961.8
Federal 147 gr HST15.240.606972.6
Federal 124 gr Hydra Shok18.60.4281052.6
Federal 135 gr Hydra Shok18.060.4521074
Federal 124 gr HST18.280.6061135
Federal 105 gr Guard Dog12.620.51180.2
Fiocchi 124 gr XTP17.920.4861038.6
G2 Research 92 gr RIP14.520.3561255.4
Hornady 147 gr XTP Custom19.280.486994.4
Hornady 135 gr Critical Duty19.040.4321053.4
Hornady 115 gr XTP Custom19.040.4641079.4
Hornady 124 gr XTP Custom19.660.4481097
Hornady 135 Critical Duty +P18.080.4681118.4
Hornady 115 gr FTX Critical Defense13.060.5041142.6
Liberty Ammunition 50 gr Liberty9.580.372033.8
Magtech 124 Guardian Gold +P20.360.3761050.6
Magtech 115 Guardian Gold +P15.180.5561175
PMC 124 gr Starfire22.380.351016
PNW Arms 115 gr Tac Ops SCHP13.520.6921044.8
Prvi Partizan 147 gr JHP17.660.35835.8
Remington 147 gr HTP18.960.35919.6
Remington 147 gr Golden Saber16.420.632990.8
Remington 124 gr Golden Saber17.50.4281113.6
Remington 115 gr HTP18.980.4541141.4
Remington 124 gr Ultimate Defense19.760.3541151.6
Remington 124 Golden Saber +P18.220.6581169.6
Remington 115 gr HTP +P17.740.5281171
Magtech 92.6 gr SCHP First Defense12.880.5381330.2
Sig Sauer 124 gr V-Crown17.340.5161071.6
Speer 147 gr Gold Dot16.060.418952.6
Speer 124 Gold Dot +P16.780.5241141.2
Speer 124 Gold Dot Short Barrel +P18.20.5141159.6
Winchester 147 gr Train & Defend18.70.52959.8
Winchester 124 gr PDX1 +P19.60.521142
Speer 115 gr Gold Dot16.440.5521143.4
Speer 124 gr Gold Dot ***NEW***18.140.5381067.2
Magtech 124 gr Bonded JHP ***NEW***26.520.3531135.4
Federal 124 gr HST +P ***NEW***18.280.6591168.2
Winchester 124 gr Ranger T-Series +P ***NEW***22.240.4081153.4
Remington 124 gr Golden Saber Black Belt +P ***NEW***18.340.5881121.4
Federal 135 gr Tactical Bonded +P ***NEW***13.780.6141022.48
Remington 147 gr Golden Saber Bonded ***NEW***19.780.524959.8
Winchester 147 gr PDX-1 ***NEW***20.60.54944.8
Winchester 147 gr Ranger Bonded ***NEW***21.480.508966.2
Winchester 147 gr Ranger T-Series ***NEW***16.460.745941
Winchester 127 gr Ranger T-Series +P+ ***NEW***21.220.5411207
Federal 147 gr HST +P ***NEW***19.160.5971008.4
Federal 150 gr Micro HST ***NEW***17.260.707887.8

* - indicates bullets that failed to retain an average of at least 85% of their initial weight

.40 S&W Ballistic Gelatin Tests

Under-penetration was very uncommon for the .40 S&W loads. On the other hand, some of the bullets had trouble with the heavy clothing barrier, leading to expansion failure and penetration that exceeded the 32″ maximum depth of our dual gel-block setup. Many of the loads that did stay within the FBI 12-18″ range showed excellent expansion, sometimes nearly twice the original bullet diameter.

.40 S&W (Smith & Wesson) Ballistic Test Results

  • Medium: Clear Ballistics Synthetic Gel
  • Barrier: Four Layer Fabric
  • Test gun: Glock 27
loading chart data...
Ammo Penetration depth Expansion Muzzle velocity
Barnes 140 gr Tac-XPD12.40.7641036.8
Federal 180 gr HST18.50.724963.8
Federal 180 gr Hydra Shok16.440.596931.6
Federal 155 gr Hydra Shok18.380.6281072
Federal 155 gr Tactical Bonded11.920.6761058.4
Federal 135 gr Guard Dog10.840.6481123.6
Federal 165 gr Hydra Shok20.440.502948
Fiocchi 180 gr XTP27.620.44915.2
Hornady 165 gr Critical Defense16.60.61075
Hornady 180 gr XTP Custom20.920.496932.6
Hornady 155 gr XTP Custom22.420.491100.6
Hornady 175 gr Critical Duty19.40.42969.8
Liberty Ammunition 60 gr Civil Defense12.420.4021846.2
Magtech 180 gr Bonded16.30.646924.6
Magtech 130 gr First Defense17.60.5261073.6
Magtech 155 gr Guardian Gold28.80.4321083.4
Magtech 180 gr Guardian Gold28.440.4929
PMC 180 gr Starfire30.020.398830.4
Remington 180 gr Ultimate Defense15.520.79977.2
Remington 180 gr Golden Saber13.820.82924
Remington 180 gr Golden Saber Bonded13.760.784947.8
Remington 165 gr Golden Saber19.560.6641112.8
Remington 165 gr Golden Saber19.180.6761025
Remington 155 gr HTP320.41074.8
Remington 180 gr HTP320.4922.2
Sig Sauer 165 gr V-Crown20.180.5741014
Speer 180 gr Gold Dot14.50.654955.2
Speer 180 gr Gold Dot Short Barrel12.30.636979
Speer 165 gr Gold Dot27.140.4945.2
Winchester 180 gr Train and Defend14.720.748890.4
Winchester 165 gr PDX-114.60.7361065.8
Winchester 180 gr Defender16.460.714994.8
Winchester 180 gr Ranger14.680.698919.8
Speer 155 gr Gold Dot ***NEW***16.340.6651117.4
Federal 155 gr HST ***NEW***17.180.6741084
Winchester 165 gr Ranger Bonded ***NEW***14.740.7661098.2
Federal 165 gr Tactical Bonded ***NEW***13.960.727977.6
Winchester 165 gr Ranger T-Series ***NEW***20.960.671071.2
Winchester 180 gr Ranger T-Series ***NEW***16.220.698949.2
Winchester 180 gr Ranger Bonded ***NEW***16.920.725930.2

* - indicates bullets that failed to retain an average of at least 85% of their initial weight

.45 ACP Ballistic Gelatin Tests

As with .40 S&W, some of the .45 ACP loads became clogged up in the heavy clothing and showed severe over-penetration, but the loads that expanded successfully did so with impressive results.

.45 ACP (Auto) Ballistic Test Results

  • Medium: Clear Ballistics Synthetic Gel
  • Barrier: Four Layer Fabric
  • Test gun: Kahr CW45
loading chart data...
Ammo Penetration depth Expansion Muzzle velocity
Federal 230 gr HST +P14.940.794844.2
Federal 230 gr HST14.020.848822.4
Federal 165 gr Hydra Shok13.90.648918.2
Federal 165 gr Guard Dog9.180.73951.6
Federal 185 gr Hydra Shok +P18.820.5921001.6
Federal 230 gr Hydra Shok22.220.45794.4
Fiocchi 230 gr XTP17.440.574816.8
Hornady 200 gr XTP +P18.120.592964.6
Hornady 230 gr XTP +P18.560.6908.2
Hornady 200 gr XTP18.040.538863.2
Hornady 185 gr Critical Defense17.620.592940.8
Hornady 220 gr Critical Duty +P21.320.582934.4
Hornady 185 gr XTP23.760.464913.8
Magtech 185 gr Guardian Gold +P29.420.4521057.4
PMC 230 gr Starfire29.20.45745.8
Prvi Partizan 185 gr SJHP21.760.45818.6
Remington 185 gr Golden Saber +P15.540.7541019.2
Remington 230 gr Golden Saber16.320.736724.4
Remington 230 gr Golden Saber Bonded18.160.594814
Remington 185 gr HTP22.620.46933.6
Remington 230 gr Ultimate Defense23.920.45766.8
Remington 230 gr HTP20.720.45804.8
Sig Sauer 200 gr V-Crown31.160.45870.6
Speer 230 gr Gold Dot12.860.706751.8
Speer 200 gr Gold Dot +P13.820.7982.4
Winchester 230 gr PDX-121.580.612862.8
Liberty 78 gr Civil Defense +P10.940.4681844
Barnes 185 gr TAC-XPD13.840.654907.6
Speer 185 gr Gold Dot ***NEW***14.10.717953.6
Winchester 230 gr Ranger Bonded ***NEW***25.70.565862.4
Federal 230 gr Tactical Bonded +P ***NEW***14.620.862887
Magtech 230 gr Bonded ***NEW***15.340.735815
Speer 230 gr Gold Dot Short Barrel ***NEW***14.380.697806.2
Winchester 230 gr Ranger T-Series ***NEW***14.520.997899.6
Winchester 230 gr Ranger T-Series +P ***NEW***14.540.993904.4

* - indicates bullets that failed to retain an average of at least 85% of their initial weight


Looking at all of this data, it’s tempting to try to sift through the numbers and determine once and for all which load is The One Bullet To Rule Them All. If that kind of data analysis gets you excited, then go for it. If, on the other hand, you just want to find a decent load for your carry gun, you probably don’t need to go through all of that trouble. To the contrary, we did all of this work on these tests so you don’t have to obsess over the ballistic performance aspect of your carry ammo.

If the self-defense load you use is listed here, and you’re not confident in the results you’re seeing, just pick another one that performed at a level you’re more comfortable with. But keep in mind, even though the gelatin tests can tell us a lot, there’s plenty of things they don’t tell us. Ballistics testing doesn’t tell us anything about the felt recoil of a load. We also haven’t addressed accuracy or muzzle flash (which can be an issue in low light). And maybe most important of all, no gelatin test can tell you if a given load will run reliably in your own self-defense pistol. This is all stuff you’ll have to test on your own at the range with your gun.

Once you find a load that works, whatever you decide, try to keep all of this in perspective. Choice of caliber and bullet are not the most important aspects of successful self-defense. Awareness, proper mindset, marksmanship, and discernment of when to use your firearm are generally far more critical to your survival than choice of gear. Having said that, knowing your carry ammo works not only provides peace of mind, there’s a chance that choosing a solid defensive load could be the one factor that tips the scales in your favor in a fight for your life.

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  • HolmiumST

    Impressive data and presentation, thanks for the hard work.

  • Ntranced

    Very nice information that is put together in an easy to understand package.
    I carry a G20sf with 10mm Hornady hollow points. Can I assume that it would have performed similar to the. 40S&W?

    • I wouldn’t make that assumption. Some hollow points expand only within a very specific velocity window. Unless the 10mm Hornady you’re using has a velocity to match a .40 S&W load with the same bullet fired from the G27 in our tests, I wouldn’t assume similar performance.

  • gman

    excellent work. and excellent presentation of that work.
    no revolver loads?
    some of these penetration results look ideally uniform, others vary by quite a bit. how much of this is the result of bullet “quality” and how much is the result of variations in powder/primer loadings?
    I would pick two or three loadings and repeat these tests against a simple t-shirt fabric (probably the most common clothing encountered in a shooting) to see if there is any significant difference.

  • Raymond West

    Outstanding. This kind of compiled data layout is absolutely what was needed. In the past I have waded through enormous loads of data, from different sources, and with different testing criteria. Selecting a good load was a lengthy task. You have done the work, and spent the money, to do what I would have done, if I could.

    The only thing I would ask would be some similar testing in the .38/.357 arena. I’m a 9mm guy, but have in the past carried revolvers.

    Finally, I have purchased ammo from Luckygunner in the past, and now even more likely to buy from them again. This is a form of customer service that I find most impressive.

  • DaveP.

    Impressive work.
    I would love to see you do .38 Special out of a 2″ tube, to cover the mass of folks who use a 5-shot .38 as a CCW weapon.

    • Fay

      Dave, I’m with you. I love the way the data was presented but there are a lot of others that love stub nose wheel guns.
      This was very well done. tight groups – Fay

    • Thanks, Dave. We’re working on a plan to do just that.

  • Trent Jackson

    Will you do ballistics test of the Lehigh Defense Extreme Penetrator chambered in 45 acp. I’ve seen reviews of the round in a lot of other calbers, but not in 45 acp. Looking for a good hog hunting round.

  • Russ

    Superb job! Well done!
    Would love to see testing done on 5.56/.223.

  • rcpylon

    thanks for the workup on this.

  • Matthew

    I would love to see the Winchester Ranger T 9mm in 124 +P and 147.

  • Gary Griffiths

    Excellent article! Thanks for all the tedious hard work. Would love to see a comparison of the Lehigh Defense Extreme Penetrator in .380 ACP. Lehigh’s tests show around 18″ of penetration, with almost as much tissue damage as a premium JHP. I have confirmed the greater penetration in water jug tests, and was unable to discern any difference in “explosive” effect on the jugs between the Lehighs and Cor-Bon DPXs.

    • buzzard767

      I acquired 5 boxes of the new Lehigh Defense Xtreme Defense 380’s – 14″ penetration, 2.5″ permanent wound cavity. I’m carrying Xtreme Defense in both my 380 and my 9mm. When the 380’s are released for sale, try them out for reliability. They bring the “little” caliber to big time stopping ability.

      • 7hjd4t78j

        The LeHigh does create a 2.5″ wide damage track in ballistics gelatin. However, that is not what wound ballisticians consider permanent cavity. The tracks left behind in gel are a combination of the permanent cavity and the aftereffects of the temporary cavity in gel. The LeHigh XD rounds trade permanent cavity for temporary cavity, which is not a significant wounding factor for pistol rounds.

  • Mike Dunger

    This is awesome. I was particularly interested in the .45 data, as I carry a Kahr CW45. I’m currently loading it with the Remington Golden Saber in 230, which is good, but I will move to the 185 grain +P at my next purchase! THANKS!!

    • Aphro

      Why switch? they are almost identical in performance and the +P has much more felt recoil (I actually just tested them both this weekend)

      • Mike Dunger

        I was looking at the lesser penetration of the +P. But if the recoil is markedly different, I’ll stand pat with the 230s. Thanks for the info.

        • Only way to know is to try them. I think perhaps Golden Sabers expand a little more reliably with more velocity … on this test at least the 185s seem to consistently end up in the sweet spot. As with Aphro I also found them to recoil a little more, but to be honest it didn’t bother me.

          • Aphro

            Are you looking at the 230 grain bonded? There is two different 230 grain Golden Sabers on the chart. The ballistic performance and expansion of the 185 +P and the normal 230 grain unbonded were almost identical. And while the recoil doesn’t “bother” me, it does affect follow up shot speed, and shoot placement is king.

          • Almost identical? The 185gr GS penetration spread is maybe 2 inches. The 230gr GS unbonded penetration spread is 6 – 7 inches. Not to belabor semantics here, but that’s nowhere near being identical.

            But the biggest fail on the 230 gr GS is the actual bullet performance. Look at picture – the third round failed to expand. Not ammo I would like to rely on.

          • Aphro

            Hey if you want to put that much stock in a 5 shot sample size go for it. I’m comfortable with my choice. Penetration doesn’t do anything for you if you don’t have consistent shot placement. That’s why we love in America, freedom to choose what hollow points we put in our privately owned weapons.

          • A failure rate of one out of five is not good, especially considering it’s supposed to be premium ammo. It could be a complete fluke but after many years of hunting and reloading it indicates to me that the velocity is just a little too low for reliable expansion. This may not be an issue in a weapon with a slightly longer barrel, but given Mike is using the same gun used in these test it makes a lot of sense for him to investigate the ammo that performs the best in this test. The 230gr Golden Sabers ain’t it.

      • Hardly. The 185gr Golden Sabers are the model of consistency while the one 230 gr round shows almost zero expansion.

  • MrApple

    Thank you guys for all the hard work.
    It looks like my choice of Federal HST was a good one.

  • Andrew

    It would nice to see some testing of .357sig.

    Could you include some of the Nosler JHP loads?

  • bmwsid

    I am a revolver guy. I would like to see what the 125 Gr. SJHP in .357 will do out of a 2.2″ barrel, as well as the .38 Sp. with various rounds.

  • Rob Harvey

    Great article! Is there anyway I could get the raw data? I’d love to play around with it in SAS to determine how the different rounds compare statistically. Also, is there a specific reason that you chose to use median as opposed to mean as your measure of central tendency?

    • I think most people are programmed to look for the average value, so that’s what we used on the charts. The graphic that pops up when you click on the penetration graph displays the median values. We anticipated that folks might share those graphics outside of our site, so we used the median values because seeing a single mean value out of context might lead a lot of folks to jump to conclusions (taking into account the number on its own and not the consistency of the penetration depths). The hope is that displaying the median figure on those graphics would leave off-site viewers curious about the other numbers and encourage them to dig further and find our chart. You get a much better sense of consistent vs. inconsistent loads when you can see all the graphs together. It may be a bit optimistic to expect this to actually happen, but it’s our best shot at mitigating a misinterpretation of the data. As for the raw data, send me a message via the contact form on Lucky Gunner Lounge:

      • Rob Harvey

        Ah, understandable. I did notice some of the rounds did have a good bit of variation which could have a chance to skew the mean. Overall this is a well designed chart that gets a lot of the information out there in a format understandable to a large majority, not just those who work with stats. I sent you a message via the Lounge, thanks again!

  • tomstickler

    A lot of testing was involved here. It is notable that in virtually every case that further penetration was achieved by the next bullet fired into the gelatin block, no doubt due to the reduced stiffness caused by the previous bullet “wound channel”. Some of that may be the result of how close a bullet impacts to a previous channel or how far the impact is from the center axis.

    First round performance should be given most weight in factoring your decision, with consistency next.

    • Kyle

      Actually, that’s just how the penetration depths are presented in the graph. If you examine the actual ballistic gel block photos for a given round you’ll find that often times a couple shots following the first one do not penetrate farther than round number 1.

  • Having done a “few” of these tests, I can really appreciate the time, effort, and expense involved with this Experiment. I have nothing but appreciation for the resource you have created for folks struggling with the mind-numbing number of ammunition choices we are lucky to have available to us in the USA. I really like the format of the recap table. Wish I would have thought of it.

    • Thanks, Bruce! Much respect for the extensive test results available on your site as well.

    • Charles Schwartz

      I agree, Bruce. Thanks for letting me know about this project.

  • timothy mather

    I looked at all your data supper job. now when you do your next round of testing please in cud the Taurus copper bullets in .45 cal. (TCB45ACP) .45acp 185 gr. hp.
    i’m carrying a Springfield XD .45 Tactical 5″ . thank you.

  • Andrew Becker

    I haven’t read all of the comments yet, but I would be interested to know the muzzle energies of the various rounds, on average. I supposed we can calculate it based on the bullet weight and average muzzle velocity, but if you have already calculated it would it be easy to publish?

    • Noah Meltzer

      Muzzle energies are just not important. Expansion and penetration are the factors they have found to be most important as well as consistency.

  • Jiří Hajný

    Fantastic work, thank you!

  • Redline

    Excellent and concise. Just what a learned shooter needs to know to make the right choice for them.

  • Vadim

    Excellent page, great job!
    I would like to see the DRT, and the new Ruger Polycase bullets tested as well.

    Keep up with the good work!

  • Jim

    Some of these depth’s are close to 32″. Does that mean they will travel through an attacker?

  • otasan56

    The CorBon 9mm 115gr +p load had a good showing.

  • markej4801

    What a gloriously thought out article! Thanks for all the work put in here.

  • RobertF

    What might be the explanation for rounds that didn’t expand in this test?

    (For example, the Hornady Critical Duty in .40)

    • Most rounds that failed to expand had their hollow points clogged with the fabric. In the case of the Hornady ammo, I’m not sure, but I suspect it has to do with the fabric getting in the way and insufficient velocity to displace the polymer “plug” and allow the bullet to expand as design.

      • Noah Meltzer

        That’s why the barrel length and velocity are things not to be overlooked in testing. Huge different between a 3.5″ and a 4″ barrel.

  • Justsomeguy

    Super job folks. This is greatly appreciated

  • Sam Spade

    This is beyond impressive. Not just the effort required, but the overall uniformity, usability, and accessibility of the presented information. The photography and videography is par excellence (seriously, I want a behind the scenes with the photographer on this gig). My only request would be to make just the test results available on a separate (i.e. easy to get to) page.

  • Dave Hamer

    Thank you sirs for your effort. I have always been impressed with the performance of the Federal HST round.

  • Les

    Chris: this is a great resource. Just coincidentally, I teach a college class dealing with firearms in the Criminal Justice program at my school. I am a retired Police Lieutenant, and current college professor. I have been looking at the data that you have put together, and am very impressed. I have been following the work of Dr.Martin Fackler and his colleagues since the 80s, and find that your work and explanations of wound ballistics are simply some of the best I have found. Would you mind if I shared the link to your web site with my students?


    Les Boggess
    Coordinator of Criminal Justice
    Associate Professor of Criminal Justice
    Pierpont Community & Technical College
    Criminal Justice Program
    315 Hardway Hall
    1201 Locust Ave., Fairmont, WV 26554
    Ph.: (304)367-4678

    • Thanks for the kind words, Les. Please feel free to share the info with your students or anyone else who may be interested.

      • Les


        A little follow-up. I have Internet and projector with good sound in my classroom. This morning I brought your site up and ran the video and brought up a number of different rounds to show the students how the charts work. They now have the link and an assignment to further explore some of your findings and to analyze the choices that they might make if they were given the task of selecting a suitable round for a hypothetical police department to issue.

        By the way, many of my colleagues, as well as my self frequently carry the new lightweight S&W J frames, in my case the M&P 340 and the 340 PD in .357 mag. Of course these are very light, and full house .357s are a handfull. I have been carrying Speer Gold Dot short barrel 135 gr .357 mag loads. I would be interested in seeing how these compare with similar offerings from other manufacturers. I have found them to be somewhat hard to find, and a bit pricey, although it’s hard to put a price on your life.

        Anyway, just wondering if you plan to evaluate some revolver loads in the future? Thanks again for the great work!

        • Thanks for the update. Sounds like a great assignment :)

          We will most likely tackle .38/.357 next and will address the importance of barrel length considerations for these loads.

          • slimjim9

            Ooh, ooh, yes, please! Would love to compare results of 38, 38+p, 357 in something like LCR357 or S&W640. And maybe different barrel lengths like 2″ vs 3″ vs 4″ SP101.

  • tompinto

    Wow – thanks!

  • rlora

    Please help me understand; does the PNW Arms 9mm TacOPS Solid Copper Hollow Point 115 grain be a good choice then since it has the second largest average diameter at .69″, the penetration is constant on all five shots right between the 12-18″ standard FBI guidelines and the muzzle velocity at 1,045?

    • It depends on whether you prioritize expansion or penetration. I personally would prefer to see deeper penetration out of a 9mm load, even at the expense of some expansion. But if you like the PNW ammo and it functions well in your pistol, then it’s probably not a bad choice.

      • rlora

        No, I do not prefer PNW ammo. I’m just looking for a non +p 9mm round for my EDC LC9, that I can also use for my home defense SR9c & 9E to avoid having to purchase different ammo, and that I can actually afford to practice with. I currently have been using Hornady Critical Defense 115 gr, but after looking was considering other options and possibly going with a higher grain. I guess the overall consensus here is to go with Federal 124 gr HST.

        • Noah Meltzer

          Federal HST 147 is a great round as is the +P 124 and Gold Dot 124 +P, even the HST 147+P, those are all I will use. Golden Sabers that are not bonded are known to separate, most non-bonded JHP will separate the core from the jacket which is not good. Most all 115 9mm will not expand consistently and the all copper 115 is recommended over the other JHP at that grain.

  • I’m disappointed you didn’t include .380 Federal HST ammo in your tests.

    • Noah Meltzer

      I saw tests on Youtbe and they disappointed. Poor penetration which for the .380 is most important. I use a xtp Hornady bullet in an Underwood +p loading which is not really a true designation for .380 in my G42. The XTP bullet worked the best in any loading, I am hoping the 1200 FPS gives more consistent expansion and better penetration through clothes and fat. The G42 is there to get to the G26-19-17/AR15/Mossy500 not as a first line of defense.

      • jng1226

        The “new generation” of non-expanding, fluted bullets from Leigh Defense and Polycase Ammunition may be the best choices for defense with a .380 ACP short-barrel gun. As ShootingTheBull410 shows in his excellent gel testing, both the Polycase ARX and Lehigh Defense XP rounds in .380 ACP don’t rely on expansion but rather forcing tissue through their fluid-dynamics-engineered flutes to disrupt tissue for as large, if not larger, permanent wound cavities and near-perfect penetration depths:

        • 7hjd4t78j

          I have to disagree with STB410. The fluted bullets make pretty patterns in gel, but I have not found any expert that believes or study that proves that the flutes actually work in real tissue. These should be considered as no better than FMJ unless research proves otherwise.

          • jng1226

            STB410 has structured his tests to replicate the FBI’s current ammunition testing protocol using calibrated ballistic gelatin, which itself was developed from the work of Dr. Martin Fackler and the International Wound Ballistics Association – whose sole goal is to determine the most scientific way to evaluate the performance of ammunition in human tissue. The majority of experts I have seen subscribe to the validity of this testing methodology. What are the studies and who are the experts that you refer to that don’t believe in “gel” testing? What research to do you think is more accepted by the firearms community and/or is more valid than the aforementioned resources?

          • 7hjd4t78j

            What I thought I said and what you thought I said are quite different.

            I am not knocking ordnance gelatin at all. STB410 deviated from his normal evaluation criteria when testing the LeHigh and ARX ammunition. His normal procedure i believe to be correct, but I cannot find any support for the deviation for pistol rounds and I cannot find any support for the effectiveness of flutes in creating permanent damage beyond the diameter of the bullet.

          • CB

            Absence of evidence is not to be construed as evidence of absence. Both the Polycase and Lehigh offerings are relatively new, and therefore have not been around long enough to generate large bodies of evidence regarding their effectiveness. Let them be tested, and let the chips fall where they may.

            Repeatedly attacking these bullets as “no better than FMJ” because ‘experts’ are not singing the praises of an untested product (gee, I wonder why that is?) is a bit disingenuous and makes me wonder whether you have a horse in the race. To be perfectly frank, your tone makes it seem as if you have a small log lodged somewhere in your nether regions. No offense meant, and I apologize if I come across as overly prickly, but it got a bit irritating reading the same tired argument over and over again every time these bullets are mentioned.

            On a related note, to what discrepancy are you referring in STB410’s procedure for pistol rounds?


          • 7hjd4t78j

            Fluted bullets are an old idea. If LeHigh and Polycase truly believe they made a breakthrough they need to prove it. Since neither company has published the necessary studies we must conclude that either these companies did not perform the research or the design failed and they are selling it anyway. Both are an ethical failure in my book. Am I allowed to be disgusted by that?

            Hand-in-hand with that disgust is disappointment with consumers for buying into old snake oil in new bottles and not wanting to see innocents harmed due to easily avoided bullet failure.

            The correct procedure for testing pistol bullets is that the only examination of the gelatin is to measure the penetration depth and all other measurements and examination are performed on the recovered bullets. This is STB410’s usual method. For the XP and ARX he plays up the gel damage and downplays the complete lack of expansion.

            The first picture is the Devel bullet, patented in 1992. The patent application references a French patent from 1911 with an illustration of a fluted bullet. (I can’t read French so I can’t say any more about it.)

            The second bullet was patented last year and is titled “Bullets with lateral damage stopping power.”

            The last bullet was patented in 1986 and claims that “that the projectile nose having a concave external shape ensures lateral
            rejection of tissues at the time of impact and this produces a
            splayed-out wound.”

          • Stephen

            “complete lack of expansion” The Lehigh Defense projectiles are not intended to expand. Did I understand you correctly?

          • 7hjd4t78j

            That’s exactly what I said and I believe I explained why designing a bullet to not expand is a bad idea.

          • guest

            Well… I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I would observe that some calibers are marginal, like the .380 ACP. They just don’t gin up enough kinetic energy to allow the bullet to expand significantly AND penetrate sufficiently under all circumstances. As such, expanding bullets in these calibers are a compromise and perhaps it’s worthwhile to explore whether something better can be created that does more with the limited power these marginal cartridges possess.

            I am intrigued by the idea of novel bullet designs like the Devel. Ideally I’d like to see them tested on hogs, sheep, goats, whitetail deer, or other animals of approximately human size, and then let’s see whether the flutes really do allow these bullets to tear bigger holes in soft tissue than a nonexpanding round-nosed FMJ. Ballistic gelatin is an approximation only. Living tissue is the real thing. Science is all about doing the experiment, testing the model. Let’s see some science.

          • virtualkelly

            Well, in real life FBI data collected some years back the lowly 380 was one of the deadliest rounds in real world shootings of LE’s. This data is no longer collected in this way, but it seems institutionalized notions might be somewhat incorrect in the real world. That said, one does have to balance expansion verses penetration verses using ball. It is what it is. But one has to make choices with all the calibers.

          • virtualkelly

            Actually, the Hornady Critical Defense in 380 did well in these tests compared to the rest. And bare gel was probably not as penetrating (not tested). However, consider the likely dress locally, your gun’s barrel length and other parameters before making any final judgements. This is just a baseline, and a fairly good one at that.

          • Pixsurguy

            See the impressive test done on the Military Channel of the 9mm Lehigh Extreme Defender. Go here:
            You know – I suspect that you’ve nearly ground off the entire blade of your ax.

          • 7hjd4t78j

            MAC’s ballistic gelatin failed verification* so his results are invalid and he made the same error as ShootingTheBull410 by measuring the crack diameter in the gelatin instead of measuring the recovered bullet. There is nothing impressive about his “test.”

            My axe is fine, but snake oil grinds my gears.

            * The standards are:
            4 degrees Celsius (The lowest temperature recorded was 6.9 C)
            .177 BB at 590 +/- 15 fps (His chronograph showed 483.4 fps)
            8.5 cm +/- 1.0 cm penetration being ideal and +/- 1.5 cm being acceptable (3.25″/8.25 cm would be within range if the other two measurements were within specifications)

        • XTS 5

          SUGGESTION –

          Hi i really like the idea behind all of these ammo tests there for I would like to suggest the addition of some aspects to your ammo testing statistics. I feel it would be beneficial to show cross sections of the permanent wound cavity at different depths and give measurements of the width of the cavity.

          Sincerely, XTS 5

          • Thanks for the feedback. I recommend reading the section above titled “Permanent vs. Temporary Wound Cavity” for an explanation of why we haven’t done that.

        • Ponder

          Glad someone else is aware of this round. They also should have included Precision One XTP and Fiocchi Extrema XTP.

    • That load wasn’t available yet when we conducted our tests. We’re definitely planning to add it in the future.

      • Raymond Enriquez

        is the 380 90 gr Hornady XTP test the same as the bullet used in the HPR Hyper Clean XTP 380 ammo?

        • Yes, but the velocity of the HPR load may or may not be the same as Hornady’s own loading.

        • Ponder

          The top 3 in this caliber aren’t included:
          Lehigh Defense Xtreme Penetrator, Precision One XTP and Fiocchi Extrema XTP.

      • Dan

        I would also like to see some Buffalo Bore represented (specifically their .380 offerings.

        • jkmoa

          I’ll second this. My Makarov loves their 90 grain +p load and I’d love to see how it performs in your test. Other youtube videos do not test 5 shots.

    • Ponder

      It is included in .380 Ammo Quest by ShootingtheBull410. Search YouTube. It doesn’t do as well as the top 3: Lehigh Defense Xtreme Penetrator, Precision One XTP and Fiocchi Extrema XTP.

  • nova3930

    I’m carrying Hornady XTPs in .380 and 147gr gold dots in 9mm so I guess I SWAGed pretty decent. I would like to see how the Lehigh Defense solid copper .380s fare in your testing to get another data point on them though.

    • Raymond Enriquez

      the Hornady XTP’s is that the HPR Hyper Clean ones?

      • nova3930

        Not sure if it’s HC or not. Same stuff tested above.

  • What is the “flash” in the various slow motion videos when the temporary wound channel constricts…there is a flash of light? What is the science behind that?

    • LetsTryLibertyAgain

      It’s called sonoluminescence. The energy that’s recovered when the cavity rapidly collapses is converted to light. I love me some science!

      • That explanation sounds much better than mine.

      • Bierwagon

        ive learned something new today, ty

    • My best guess is that hot gasses and unburned powder follow behind the bullet and into the gel as it expands. When the temporary cavity closes, it traps and compresses those gasses, causing a “mini-explosion” of sorts. I have no reason to believe that this contributes to any wounding effect, but it does look cool.

  • Donald Rae Cox III

    Needs 357 sig and underwoods ammo line up

    • Stephen

      Yes, 357 Sig indeed.

      • Michael Woodruff

        Definitely need to see .357 SIG data! Thank you for what you did do though. Very well presented.

    • Bob

      Excellent job with very good detail. The best I’ve found in 40 years!
      Not having the 357Sig in the that line was disappointing. Your specs are auto loaders with roughly 3.5″ barrels. These are normally CCW’s and the Sig is no slouch as it’s currently in use in that configuration by many LEO’s and Federal agency’s. As a “main stream” caliber (even though many don’t believe so) I’d like to see it included in the line up also.

      • Bob

        By the way, just a 357 Sig barrel for that Glock 27 and you have a test weapon. 357sig uses the same mag as the 40 so the barrel is all that’s needed ;)

  • scottumberger

    Awesome job and especially great information given that you used shorter barrels which had to make a difference in the ammo that didn’t perform as expected. All of these companies had to do testing on their own to get their rounds close to acceptable performance, or so I assume, with 4.5” barrels. I’d like to clarify your results here to make sure that I’m coming to the proper conclusion.
    I’m a strong 200lbs. My “waist” is 12”x12” ish. Throw my shoulders in(from a side shot) I’m obviously going to be much thicker. In a perfect world(not hitting bone) 12” of penetration from the side, entering through my delt, would take a round through my “center line”. All of that being said, my question is, any round past 12-14″ should penetrate through a person that isn’t “huge”? With your testing of going through 4 layers of clothing, anything past 12” is coming through the other side of a “normal” human being unless the backside clothing is going to stop the round(which I personally won’t rely on). I know that I’m entering sensitive ground because you have to be PC and not piss all over other companies, but a bullet that hits, expands, and stays in the body would be “ideal” for a round in the CC gun or a home defense gun where over penetration isn’t desirable? So there is a sweat spot where you want maximal expansion(for damage and slowing of the bullet?) and good enough but not to much penetration?

  • Andrew

    would love to see this tested, wondered for a while if it is hype or if these guys are onto something

    • 7hjd4t78j

      Hype. They claim that the bullets “dynamically transfer rotational … force” but the rotational energy of a bullet is trivial. More importantly I am unaware of any credible research proving that fluted bullets increase wounding.

  • Raymond Miller

    Great article, Thank You very much. I am looking forward to more of them.

  • Scott

    Just for fun, how about an add on section for 357 Sig

  • Ray McDermott

    Great article, very thorough & credible. Love to see you test 10 mm rounds. Nice work, thanks,

  • 7hjd4t78j

    Unfortunately ClearBallistics synthetic gelatin is not a valid tissue simulant. Unfortunately that means the results are invalid.

    The proper method of measuring expanded hollowpoints is to measure the minimum and maximum diameters and average them. Only reporting the maximum gives irregularly-shaped or star-shaped bullets a numbers advantage over regular-shaped and circular-shaped bullets. If the minimum diameters are not available please at least re-label as “Maximum Diameter.”

    I am still impressed by the amount of work (and money) spent to collect this data and I do believe that, despite the choice of mediums, it is useful for separating out the obviously inadequate rounds.

    * If you are aware of studies proving that ClearBallistics actually is a valid tissue simulant I would be very interested in seeing them.

    • You’re right in that Clear Ballistics does not provide as accurate results as organic ordnance gel. However, it is our understanding that it does behave very close to organic gel when observing penetration and expansion. Since we’re not factoring in the temporary wound cavity with handgun ammo, Clear Ballistics offers a much more practical medium to work with. I would not attempt to make a direct comparison between our test results and those obtained with organic gelatin, but I also wouldn’t say that makes them “invalid”.

      I can see how the method you suggested for measuring diameter might be more “fair” in a sense, but is there any evidence that an evenly expanded star-shaped bullet like an HST causes any less wounding effect than a more rounded/mushroomed bullet of equivalent maximum diameter? If anything, I would think the potential for the sharp petals to cut through tissue would actually make them slightly more effective.

      • 7hjd4t78j

        I looked at ClearBallistics website and the only specific claim they make about the performance of their synthetic gelatin is that a .177 caliber BB fired at 590 +/- 15 fps will penetrate 8.5 +/- 1 cm. They provide no specifics that the gel is in any other way comparable to the real stuff that I could find. If the manufacturer is not willing to perform and publish the necessary studies proving the correlation between their product and ordnance gelatin or real tissue then it shouldn’t be used.

        If you were not factoring in temporary cavity then why the high speed video? Is it just because it looks cool?

        Or it allows flesh to squeeze between the petals instead of being crushed. I do not know what the evidence is. I just copied the procedure from Dr. Roberts’ explanation of how to measure handgun bullet performance in ballistic gelatin. You could contact him. Since I’m not publishing test data I’m not willing to bother him for my own personal curiosity.

        In defense of the procedure I would like to bring up the LeHigh Maximum Expansion loads. They open up to four long and narrow petals. Measuring only the maximum diameter implies a much larger frontal area than there actually is.

  • Xds Blue

    I really appreciate all the effort you went to to collect this data. It will make me change the ammo I like to carry. I look forward to seeing additions to the data but to have so much over the most popular calibers is such a great service to your customers. With all of your effort you have gained a customer out of me. Thank you for all of your effort!

  • Dave Williams

    Really wondering why some loads showed considerable spread on penetration? For example the .380 Remington Golden saber varied from just over 12″ to about 26″. That’s quite a spread

  • Ca

    Please consider doing .38 special and .38+p

  • jng1226

    Excellent, simply excellent work. Thank you very much for providing this information. I suggest you make this an ongoing series as new bullet designs and other popular bullet design choices become available. I for one will support your efforts with purchases from your store to repay you for my perceived value in the information you provided completely free of charge. I wish you could have tested Winchester Ranger T in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP, as other videos of calibrated gel-testing through FBI-spec ballistic gelatin and denim have shown incredible results with this bullet design. The latest production Blue/Black-boxed Ranger T has been redesigned for even better deployment of the “talons” for increased wounding effect, with the .45 ACP regularly exceeding 1″ in expanded diameter, even after passing through heavy denim. If modern bullet design has vastly increased the effectiveness of 9mm, it stands to reason that similar advances in projectile technology would also increase the performance of .45 ACP. From the testing I’ve seen, the current Ranger T is possibly the best-of-breed in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP, with the wounding effect of the .45 version significantly greater than equivalent 9mm.

    • We fully plan to continue testing and will add more loads in the future. The Ranger-T line is a definite priority.

      • Raymond Enriquez

        I’m glad you added the Liberty Civil Defense 60 gr to your list. I like that ammo and wanted to know more about its abilities. This helped me get an idea of it. I like to load a couple of them followed by Federal HST 180 gr’s. You helped a lot. thank you.

  • LetsTryLibertyAgain

    LuckyGunner is earning a well deserved reputation for ballistic science. This is the most comprehensive and usefully presented handgun terminal ballistic study I’ve ever seen. Thank you! It does seem to corroborate the recent consensus, that the caliber wars are mostly silly, the best self defense ammunition for the most popular self defense calibers perform comparably, and you should probably choose a handgun that fits your carry style, a firearm and ammunition combination that’s reliable (as if your life depended on it), and a firearm and ammunition combination that you shoot well.

    I carry a Kahr PM9 in my back pocket, all the time. It’s loaded with Corbon DPX ammo. That ammo performed well in these tests, which didn’t surprise me based on other ballistic testing I’d seen. I was a bit surprised that some of the Remington self defense ammo performed as well, or possibly a little better. It’d probably be easier to find and a bit less expensive, which is a factor when training with defensive ammo to verify reliability. The Corbon is something of a boutique ammo.

    I do wish these excellent tests had also evaluated some of the full power self defense ammunition from Double Tap, Buffalo Bore, etc. I generally hold these in high regard as well designed, powerful, effective, hand crafted defensive ammunition. I’d have liked to see how they stack up against the more commercial defensive ammunition.

  • Ross

    I did not see any notes about calibrating the gel or temperature of the gel blocks. Critical for comparison. The data is meaningless without it.

    • Clear Ballistics gel blocks are temperature stable up to 240 degrees, so its consistency did not change with the ambient temperature of the building. The company checks the calibration before shipping the blocks. To verify this, we did some random “spot checks” of several of the blocks with a BB at ~600 fps and all penetrated within 3-3.75 inches.

      • Jerry

        Please add this and the accompanying details to the report. Scientific method is a must for any test of this magnitude.

  • Raymond Enriquez

    any chance you add more to the list? i’m curious as to your findings for freedom munitions defense ammo specifically in .40. or HPR Hyper Clean in .380. All in all, thanks. This helps a lot. I can open up my range of purchases to encompass a few more selections. Thank you.

    • Yes, we plan to add a lot more tests in the future.

  • Robert L. Charlton

    Lo, tho’ I walk thru the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil for my .45acp is with me…….(from an “Old Phart” retired Peace Officer)

  • Patrick

    Is there an excel spreadsheet with the complete data of all bullet diameters for each group? I’d love to run an ANOVA on that.

  • Chris Miler

    I’m tired of the “We’re gonna use sub-compact/ pocket pistol guns for testing”, I know I am one of a few people who prefer to carry larger handguns (that includes concealed carry in an OWB holser), specifically a full-size Sig P220 or a Commander length 1911 in .45 (even Officer sized 1911’s would be nice). Those are the results I’d be more interested in, preferably .45 at a distance of 10 yds. I’m sure people would carry and shoot these guns more if they had more exposure outside of range/ service use.

  • Art Brown Sr.

    I appreciate the testing. But the REAL work was in the break down and presentation of the material AND the data. you did an excellent job of explaining how you got there and MANY IF NOT ALL caveats for the data.I’m gonna make a link to this set of data, and it is at THIS forum:

  • Joseph Kool

    Can you do a revolver comparison testing 38 Special, 357 Magnum, 327 Fed Mag and 44 Special?

  • Pitt

    Looks like I need to reconsider my carry load.
    Thanks for a very well done test!!


    federal 9bple 115 +p+…..tried and true performing 9mm round. it is a classic that can be bought in 50 round boxes for roughly the same price as cheap target loads. means u can practice with what u carry. with the velocity and expansion the rounds provide the muzzle energy is insane for a light weight bullet. i would love to see that added to your results

    • 7hjd4t78j

      9mm Fed +P+ 115 gr JHP 9BPLE fired from S&W 5906 (lot # 24C-0684) 5 shot ave:
      BG: vel = 1342 fps, pen depth = 11.7″, RD = 0.47″, RL = 0.21″, RW = 67.2 gr

      Note that the Federal 115 gr 9BP and 9BPLE were very inconsistent in testing, with insufficient penetration in bare gelatin, bullet fragmentation leading to poor expanded diameter, and a high failure to expand in denim testing.

      — DocGKR @

  • Mike Yeager

    Just a suggestion – If you do tests of .38, .357Mag , .44 and .44Mag. compile the .38 and .375 on one chart and .44 .44Mag on one chart. Really wonder how various combinations rate against others. I think some Magnum loads would rank lower then some P+ loads.

  • Los Angeles

    Very well done. Can you please also test .38 special?

  • Paul Browning

    Outstanding work guys. This should end the caliber debates (but won’t lol)! Modern self defense ammo out of even a short barreled 9mm is plenty devastating enough to get the job done ;) Thanks to your efforts here, I will be making ALL future ammo purchases through LG. Now let’s see some .357 and .38 tests…

  • Brad Hays

    Excellent Test — Thank you for all your work and effort. PLEASE consider repeating this test with .38’s out of a J frame S&W. If you want to help out huge numbers of CCW carriers you can not over look this combination. As a Life NRA member, Firearms Instructor and retired Cop this is the only CCW weapon I recommend for all my students. I am seriously opposed to a semi-auto as a CCW (defensive) weapon. My reasons are numerous and from first hand life experiences. As a young Agent I worked a lot of UC and credit my life to the fact that during a struggle over the bad guy’s .45 Colt Commander he was unable to get the grip safety engaged.

  • John Pryce

    Hoping you do 10mm at some point.

  • ItsADogsLife

    It was eye-opening how sometimes low velocity can actually penetrate deeper than higher velocity. Also surprising is the data proof that some major names in the industry aren’t able to produce consistency of all 5 rounds travelling at close to the same speed down range. From the consumer point of view, it is really nice to see how the box on the shelf is expected to perform prior to purchase. Thank you for your research and for presenting this valuable ballistics data.

  • joninva

    Excellent work guys! This is a great compilation of meaningful and useful data we can all review in order to aid in the decision making process. I would like to request that .357 Magnum be added to your test library if/when possible for those who carry and use revolvers as well.

  • Charles Story

    I would love to see how the Ruger (Polycase) ARX performs.

    • 7hjd4t78j

      No expansion and adequate penetration in gel.

      The fluted bullets make pretty patterns in gel, but I have not found any expert that believes or study that proves that the flutes actually work in real tissue. They should be considered as no better than FMJ unless research is conducted that proves otherwise.

  • ItsADogsLife

    Regarding future ballistic tests, although the .357 Sig is not necessarily a common round I would greatly like to see what your future findings are. I also appreciate the links to the ammo being tested. Good work!

  • Looks like the 9mm G2 RIP had the best of both worlds with expansion and depth when looking at the Ballistics Gel. I think I would least like getting hit with that than any other round due to the potential of vascular damage. It fans out like a shotgun!

    • 7hjd4t78j

      In organic gelatin the RIP(off) fragments penetrate approximately 4″. Organic gelatin is calibrated by firing a .177 steel BB at 590 fps and the ideal penetration depth is 8.5cm (~3.3″.) It’s like hitting the assailant with a crappy .380 plus a BB gun.

      ShootingTheBull410 on youtube did an excellent debunking.

      • Yeah, the shallow penetration of those “shards” is actually pretty lousy. It might make for a nasty looking flesh wound, but they don’t go deep enough to do the kind of damage we need in order to stop a determined attacker.

        • Aamir Zakaria

          Yeah. They’re beautiful to look at, and the ballistic gel visual is striking, but after plunking $2.50/round at a recent gun show I’ve been disappointed with the consensus that the shards do not penetrate far enough to do much more than create nasty flesh wounds. Your tests also show it falls short in mass retention. Oh well – I can still use them as beautiful hood ornaments.

          +1 on testing the .32 ACP. A number of us carry a Kel-tec P-32 for deep concealed carry.

          Great work, and thank you!

  • DirtDiver9

    Would love to see Double Tap Ammo, Winchester Ranger T series, and of course: 5.7×28! Thanks for all your hard work, this is really an amazing resource you’ve created.

  • Michael Fallon

    Great job. Your tests are well done, and are very helpful and informative. May I suggest that on your next round of Handgun ballistic tests that you test some other common self defense calibers, the 38 special, 38 special +P, 357 magnum, and the 357 sig. Thank you.

  • Mike

    Great resource for trying to figure out a good defense load. Definitely helps to cut through some of the advertising hype by showing how each bullet/cartridge performs. And the way you have presented the information with photo links is outstanding! Thanks for the hard work!

  • Ron

    Great job. Thanks. I would like to suggest a few rounds for the next test, if there is one: 45acp 230 hardball, 45 colt in both 2 inch and 4 inch barrels.

  • Wesson Smith

    I was surprised to see how poorly Hornady’s critical duty and critical defense did in all calibers from carry gun’s. The Gold Dot’s performed as expected. That is why I use their bullets when I hand load my defense ammo.

    • Libertarian Advocate

      Poorly? For 9 MM it seems they were all mostly within the FBI optimal test range of 12-18 inches or very close to it. Where I was a bit surprised is that a lot of +P ammo – not just the Hornady “Critical” – stayed within that range rather than demonstrate over-penetration tendencies which is always a concern.

      • Wesson Smith

        If you look at the consistency of the critical duty and defense in 45acp they are all over the place. Not what I expected from their premium line. I am a hand loader so having access to the Gold Dot’s for 45acp is great. And it’s nice to know they preform.

        • virtualkelly

          True, the Hornady CD .45 did not impress, but the penetration stayed well in check in the other cartridges, and best performed in the 380. So I use it in the 380, Federal HST in 9mm, and Speer in .45. A bullets design is not universally good in all calibers I’ve found.

    • Backwoods Engineer

      Massad Ayoob says it’s a bad idea, from a legal standpoint, to load your own self-defense ammo. It leaves you open to a gun-hating prosecutor who accuses you of being a “vigilante with custom ultra-powerful ammunition.” It’s better to be able to say, I carry the same stuff the cops do.

      • Wesson Smith

        I do carry the same stuff. I just put those components together myself.

      • Todd

        Yep I have heard this too. I hand load but shoot factory in self defense. When the SHTF I bring out the hand loads, just to be sure.

  • Christopher Linger

    10mm. I would like to see 10mm loads tested from a Glock 20.

  • Paul White

    Huh. I’ve been using Remington Ultimate Defense in my 1911 as a house gun. I need to change that apparently (although that does have a longer barrel, that may impact things). The 124 grain federal HST I use in my carry guns and CZ looks great though

  • Kyle Hill

    I will be buying all my self defense ammo thru you guys because I appreciate all the time and effort involved in this experiment. Thanks

  • CB

    Very Impressive body of work, and the presentation is phenomenal

  • CB

    Kudos on compiling a very impressive body of work with a phenomenal presentation.
    I would very much like to see some test data on loads using Lehigh Defense’s fluted bullets. In particular, I would like to see the 9mm flavor of the new Xtreme Defense ( XD) bullet and the .380 flavor of the Xtreme Penetrator (XP) bullet.

  • scaatylobo

    Very good information,nothing really new but in one place at the same time it gives one the ability to compare.
    Will not change the caliber’s I carry nor the maker or load as I am a FIRM believer that all that counts is location of the hit ,but still a great read.
    Thank you

  • Meathead41

    Many thanks. I sincerely appreciate the information and will spread it throughout my contacts.

  • BigFED

    Great and thorough work. These findings are a welcome starting point, but it must be pointed out that while the test medium used in these tests was consistent for all the loads tested, all bets are off when shooting into real life medium (thugs) where NOTHING is consistent, EVER!!!

    Using the charts helped me see that my carry load(s) is/are good to go. And by looking at the many alternatives, I can categorically state “I DO NOT WANT TO BE SHOT BY ANY THING!!!”

  • John Bibb

    Excellent job! And the data is presented in a very clear form. Flying ashtrays indeed! Bookmark this for future reference.

  • Rachel St. John

    I suppose we could extrapolate from the .380 data how similar loads would have performed in .32ACP but it would have been nice if you had tested this. It’s not like it is an obscure cartridge, especially for ultra-concealed carry.

    • We may cover .32 ACP at some point in the future, but in terms of sales volume, it’s very low on the popularity scale. We’ll have to get through some of those other calibers first.

  • Paul Bernard

    45 1911 e-series S&W, 357 magnum S&W 686P, 9mm CZ75 Compact, are my hand guns I love to take to the range. However I just purchased a S&W 637 38 special+P with a 1.875 barrel length, to be my carry revolver and night stand protector. All the guns I have are heavy solid steel range guns that I love, but too heavy for carry. I think you have done an excellent job with all these tests, and I thank you. Reading all the results and the comments have been a BLAST! I also would like to see testing on ammo I would use in my new S&W 38 special+P 1.875 barrel as other guys have suggested. As of yet I have not taken my 38 to the range, so it will be loads of fun shooting different mfg. and grain size bullets, ball ammo, hollow points, etc. I know many folks with these 2″ barrel 38’s, and some technical testing sure would be great.

  • quraina

    Superb! Thanks very much!

  • Libertarian Advocate

    I see results I certainly didn’t expect to see, especially in the 9 mm +P cluster. The results suggest I should re-balance my defensive carry rounds somewhat.

  • Can you add some additional calibers for further testing? .38 special, .32 ACP, 9mm Makarov, 7.62x38R, 7.62X25 Tokarev? I understand that you may think these are not “Self Defense” worthy calibers, however the fact remains that thousands of people still rely on those calibers for personal protection because of budgetary or other needs.

    • .38 Special is high on the list. I wouldn’t rule out the others, but they aren’t a priority for us at this point.

  • Steve Belden

    I’d like to see you add how clean (or filthy) each OEM’s loads are. it’s unlikely anyone in this forum will ever have to fire live rounds at someone, but it’s extremely likely we will all clean our guns occasionally. i can get that info from youtube but i’d rather get it from the guys from whom i buy the ammo

  • TS

    Excellent work. Thanks. Another test using full-size service pistols would be informative.

  • Roger Witt

    The 165 grain Speer Gold Dot in .40 S&W appeared to over penetrate significantly out of a G27. I am running a CZ 40P with a 1″ longer barrel and am getting almost exactly 100 fps more velocity. Any conjecture on whether I might expect less penetration (ie more expansion) with the extra velocity? I like the load and the local PD use it and have tested it pretty thoroughly. Great project-thanks for the work up!

  • John

    And watching several youtube videos from different testers following 10% ordinance gel standards with 4 layers of denim, it seems like golden saber 85 grain for the 380, 124 grain plus P for the 9mm and federal hydroshock 185 +p for the 45 ACP, we’re all about the best loads possible for my short barreled guns so that’s what I bought. Those tests also showed the best expansion with the loads I purchased. From what I can tell from most of the test Speer Gold Dot usually came in about second. Much of your tests paint a completely different picture with Remington golden saber near the bottom and the federal hydra-shok and federal HST. somewhere in the middle.

    I reviewed many internet testers all utilizing ordinance gel and four layers of denim so how is it that your tests are substantially different and when I’d seen before from at least 3 different people that had similar results?

    • Without knowing which specific tests you’re referring to, I can’t account for the discrepancy. However, I will say that the heavy fabric barrier we used is not the same as a 4-layer denim barrier. Results also depend on the medium used. Clear Ballistics gel usually gives similar results to organic gel, but not always. Barrel length makes a difference too.

      There’s also a distinction between bonded and non-bonded Remington Golden Saber. All the non-bonded Golden Saber loads had issues with core-jacket separation. We will be adding more of the bonded versions to our test results in the future.

      Again, I don’t know what other tests you’re referring to, but how many rounds were fired in these tests? We fired five shots for each load and in many cases, results were not consistent from shot to shot.

  • Raymond Enriquez

    Just realized which liberty in 40 you tested. On your next one would you test Liberty civil defense in 40 please.

    • Liberty Civil Defense and Ultra Defense are different names/packages for the same load.

      • Raymond Enriquez

        Oh, okay. Good to know. Maybe you guys can talk them into upgrading their penetration ability to about 16″. I’m glad it passed the minimum 12″ mark, but would be much more comfortable with them hitting closer to 16″.

  • Dan

    I’m a little surprised that they used the M&P9c for Hornaday Critical Duty, that ammo is supposed to be in service pistols with a longer barrel. However, this is a really important thing for carriers to know — Critical Duty will will perform inconsistently and perhaps over penetrate out of a short pistol. It’s probably also going to have a big flash out of a short barrel.

    That being said, this is still excellent data. Thanks!

  • Dan

    These are awesome tests. It’s amazing how many defensive loads perform like crap in short barreled pistols.

  • Ace Man

    Fantastic work! This will definitely help the prepared citizen make informed decisions about handgun ammo options.

    Would like to see the Ruger Polycase and Lehigh defense ammo offerings tested. Thanks.

  • Todd

    Does anyone out there have some similar ballistics data for the 10mm and 44mag, or can direct me where to find it?
    I’m more interested in data on big game hunting ammo rather than self defense hollow points. Thanks!

  • LarryNC

    I wish that the 127 grain JHP Winchester Ranger +P+ 9mm load had been included in this test. This is, from what I have read, THE load in 9mm.


    This is an incredibly useful and well-executed study. Many thanks for the time, effort, and attention to detail. While everyone has their favorite guns and calibers, I would think that the next most useful cartridges to study would be .223/5.56, .38 Special, and .357, since all of them are used by many people for personal and home defense. .223 and 5.56, in particular, are much less frequently analyzed for self-defense purposes than are most mainstream handgun cartridges. Thanks again.

  • Scott

    Wow. It is great to see such a collection of information and the effort put into it. Thank you! One request from me although the hundredth one given would be for a test with pistol caliber carbines (PCC). There is very little practical information about his pistol bullets perform when pushed to their max velocities out of PCC’s. Thank you again!

  • ProfRon

    Would like to see how a 45long colt does compared to the 45acp.

    • Dusty McGuire

      I’d like to see a hot long colt vs a heavy 460 rowland comparison.

  • Jason Gray
  • Brandon

    Excellent work! Any chance you can add Lehigh Defense Extreme Penetrator & Extreme Defense to you .380 line up?

  • BigFED

    While this was a VERY informative article, one thing stands out whether the ammunition was tested here or is among all those “what abouts,…”

    THERE ARE NO MAGIC BULLETS!!! These test results are valid for the tests that were done and bear no semblance to how they may work in reality!!! In a real shooting, NOTHING will ever be exactly the same, from the first shot or even a second shot in hte same place!!!

    Pick a name brand and go with it. Some of the “exotic” stuff is smoke and mirrors!!!

    Not putting any load down and my EDC load was on the “done good” list. But I am not going to change to another load that did “better”. There are SO many variables that affect performance that NO one load can be crowned “the King’s new load”!!! Even variables between batch/lot numbers of the “exact same load” are NOT the “exact same load”!

  • The Centurion

    Great work! Now, I’d like to see .38 Special, .38 Special +P, and .357 Magnum rounds tested the same way in barrel lengths from 1⅞
    to 6 inches. I’d be interested in the Speer “Short Barrel” 135 grain loads in particular and the Monarch 158 grain JHPs in general, along with the usual suspects.

  • Lewis Moshier

    I’m a firm believer in my .45 ACP ! it has never let me down ! , as a Nam vet ,a .45 ACP is the most affective side arm ever built !

  • DHC45

    While not an often carried round, it would be good to see 45 Colt data captured at some point. I’m either carrying that or .357 as a sidearm while hunting.

  • Lloyd-TX

    Great data to study. Many thanks to the folks at Lucky Gunner for taking the time and expense to test and publish their results!

  • Cynnie N Christopher Cox

    Damn love the Federal HST in .40 S&W, it is what I have chosen to carry in my m&p40 full-size. Can’t beat the consistency, expansion, and penetration!!!!

  • crankysourdough

    I wish I could see the charts. For some reason they have said they are loading for the last two hours.

    • Sorry about that… occasionally there are issues with the server. Try reloading the page. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of seconds for the charts to load.

  • Stephen

    This is an awesome resource. Thank you for the time, effort, and funds committed to this. Is the plan to add to continually add to this project? I’m hoping yes. I’d love to see 357 Sig added to this compilation.

    It would be awesome to see some obscure cartridges (450 SMC/45 Super, 9×25 Dillon and 50 GI) added. Because you can and I’m a curious type of person. I realize the amount of people to benefit from this would be much smaller than the mainstream cartridges.

  • katzkiner

    I carry a .45 with Corbond 165 grain @1250 fps.
    It thinks it is a .44 magnum.
    It runs fine in H&Ks. Recoil is not bad, accuracy is superb.
    I would love to see you test it.
    Stopping power is proven.

  • jdmagoo

    Terrific job folks. Really useful.

  • Michael Tosser

    So, it’s been mentioned before that a 5-shot sample is a little too low to be 100% relied on, but even at five, if you toss the outliers – The one round that goes WAY deeper than the rest, or not nearly as deep, or the one round that failed to expand fully in each group, you get a basic feel for what each sample is showing. For my money, I’ll be looking into the Federal 230gr HST and +P, the 185 Golden Saber +5 (though I want to keep my weight around 230 – the Sig plinker ammo is relatively cheap and same bullet mass) and Speer Gold Dot +p. Each of those (generally) settles in the 12-18″ range, with a .70″ or greater expansion – disregarding the outliers, that seems to say to me that these designs have a solid and (likely) dependable base velocity, providing enough for the expansion we want, without over or under penetrating.

    I’d have loved to see the remainder of the comparisons – Plywood, gypsum board, steel, auto glass – But the reality is that I’m not (intentionally) going to take shots at a target shrouded by those barriers, so knowing what to expect in a winter clothing situation is better than good enough for me.

    Thanks for the hard work, Chris – I’ll be using the Hornady Critical Duty and Sig V Crowns I have as fouling shots, next time I go in to try out ammo in my sidearm.

  • FloridaTiger

    Am I the only guy that wants to see a 5.7x28mm round go all the way though!!!

  • Mike Bassler

    Quite an awesome undertaking and accomplishment. Let’s see Lehigh Defense Maximum Expansion in 9mm please!

  • Backwoods Engineer

    Very nice work. Sharing this with my friends who carry.

  • Bobshouse

    Now if we can only get a comprehensive test of the Ruger AST polymer bullet!

  • Joseph

    Thank you very much! I really appreciate the work and expense involved. The photos showed how many bullets did not expand properly. It is my understanding failure to expand is about 30%.

  • Shaun Stoneking

    are going to see some testing of ammo by LeHigh defense?

  • Brad

    Generally, I agree with one of the closing comments from your article about the “permanent wound cavity” versus the “temporary” wound cavity from hydraulic shock…”generally, for handgun ammunition” (ie: those that have relatively low muzzle velocities”.)

    ********** below cut & pasted from your article *****************

    One final aspect of ballistics testing we haven’t yet addressed is the wound cavity — the flesh that is disrupted by the bullet. The permanent wound cavity is the “tunnel” made by the bullet that’s visible in all of the gelatin photos. Bullets that expand or tumble will leave a bigger wound cavity than bullets that fail to expand.

    The temporary wound cavity can be seen in the high speed video footage when the gel balloons and stretches as the bullet enters. As cool as that looks, it can be misleading. The Clear Ballistics synthetic gel has more elastic properties than organic gelatin, so the temporary wounding effects tend to appear more dramatic and aren’t a very good representation of the effects on living tissue. Furthermore, most ballistics researchers believe the temporary cavity created by handgun ammo does not lead to any significant wounding effects. Rifle bullets travel at a much higher velocity and can create temporary wound cavities that tear and disrupt tissue not even touched by the bullet itself (sometimes called “hydrostatic shock”). Because handgun bullets typically travel at relatively low velocity, they possess little to no capacity to induce this phenomenon.

    Generally, for handgun ammunition, only the permanent wound cavity should be considered to have any reliable effect on the target.

    ************** above cut & pasted from your article**********************************************************

    HOWEVER, there seem to be a few loads that should fall into a different category… IE: Those that have muzzle velocities approaching rifle velocities…such as the Liberty Munitions Civil Defense loads. In their 9mm+p load, the muzzle velocity exceeds 2000 fps, and the videos of the secondary wound cavity (hydraulic shock) are impressive.

    This hydraulic shock combined with the additional primary wounding that occurs with the fragmenting bullet (causing a ‘primary’ wound cavity to be measure in several inches) seems to me to be as potentially lethal as some rifle rounds.

    I’d be very interested in your further studies that compare this potentially “separate class” of handgun rounds.

    It doesn’t seem to me that lumping them into the same group as the more “conventional” handgun loads (read: “low velocity”) gives a fair assessment of their potential as threat stopping rounds.

    Is it?

    • The “hydraulic shock” you see in Clear Ballistics is not indicative of real world results. I’ve addressed this in a bit more detail in this article:

    • tdiinva

      All bullets cause hydrostatic shock just because your body is mostly water and a bullet passing through tissue is going to move liquid. The FBI claims that handgun bullets do not have secondary effects but I believe the Army disagrees. While it is true that handgun rounds do not cause permanent tissue damage the force of the temporary expansion will cause some secondary bleeding and the bigger the round the more significant this will be. It is the primary reason that the military has always preferred a larger round like the 45 ACP ball round.
      It is often said that caliber doesn’t matter. This is a false belief based on advances in trauma care. What can be said is that access to modern emergency medicine is more important the caliber. Get 30 minutes away from EMS you will suddenly discover that handgun rounds are quite lethal and that bigger rounds are more lethal than smaller rounds.

      • Brad

        Given a choice (and assuming similar “expanding” bullet technology), I’d rather get shot by a 45 caliber (230 gr) than a 223 (50-65 gr), even though the 45 is twice the diameter and 4x the mass.

        The difference? Velocity.

        How about you?

        (Also, while perhaps not directly relevant, my understanding is that Army rounds are non-expandable FMJ only, thus do not compare to modern defensive loads.)

        • tdiinva

          No dispute. I was comparing pistol rounds and not rifle versus pistols. The Army is going to junk the ban on JHP. I think they have figured out there is no new pistol in their future and they will go with a modern 9mm JHP instead.

          • Brad

            My point and original question & comment (to the author) was that at least one handgun ammo maker (Liberty Munitions) is making high velocity (>2000fps) handgun rounds, that it seems to me ‘break the rules’ relative to most conventional modern handgun ammo.

  • ronb39339

    Awesome work. would’ve loved to have seen info for winchester 185gr silvertip .45

  • AntiProg

    GREAT test!

    Only one critique-

    No .38 special?

    Lots of people still carry snubnose revolvers…….

    One load in particular that alot of said folks who still carry snubs would like to see tested, is Remingtons new version of the “old school” “FBI load”-

    The 158gr LSWCHP +p.

    Remington went and repackaged the load from the “Express” line to “High Terminal Performance” and there’s been alot of speculation and rumor that it isn’t the same animal in regards to its power level.

    This is of particular importance to those who have .38 snubnose revolvers, because the FBI load has a decades long reputation as a load that “works”, and the Remington load in particular is favored because it expands more readily from a snubnose revolver then similar loads made by other manufacturers.

    This is supposedly because the lead alloy used in the Remington FBI load is softer then the other manufacturers loads, and the transition from Express to HTP has also brought into question this aspect of it.

    Some terminal ballistics tests of the Remington HTP 158gr +p .38 special load (RTP38S12) is something folks like me are eagerly awaiting to see done by folks with the means to do them.

    • .38/.357 tests are coming. Hopefully sometime early next year.

      • AntiProg

        Very good.

        Again, thanks for the tests, GREAT job.

      • David Simmons

        Add a high quality FMJ or solid load to the tests to show comparative penetration to the expanding loads. Some US states and foreign countries ban or restrict hollow point handgun ammunition. Good job on the testing.

  • Lee

    Great study and expertly presented. Thanks for all your hard work.

  • guest

    This is a great start. I know it was a lot of work and I’d like to thank you for that.

    That having been said, I’d like to see bare-gelatin tests also. The four layer denim test represents one extreme, and bullets that perform very well after penetrating four layers of heavy cotton canvas denim sometimes “crump out,” overexpand, fragment, and underpenetrate badly in bare gelatin. The 200gr Speer Gold Dot in .45 ACP has been described as performing this way, all expanding bullets in .380 ACP seem to behave this way with the possible exception of the 90gr XTP from Hornady, and the SIG V-Crown bullets across all calibers. Ideally I’d like to see both clothed and unclothed gelatin tests.

    I’d like to see at least a few tests from full-size service pistols.

    Also, I’d like very much to see .38 Special, perhaps fired from a 2″ snubby, as that seems to be the most common platform for that round in the 21st Century, and .357 Magnum from a 4″ wheelgun, join the lineup.

    Thanks again. These are just the observations and comments of some random guy on the Internet, and are worth what you paid for them. Nothing I say is to be taken seriously, or internally.

  • 1st Boomer

    Wow! Thank you for all the hard work, manhours, and expense. I get that this list may only be a guideline but that’s a tremendous lot of comparison info I did not have before. As a CCL holder, I’m looking f o r ammo that meets the FBI penetration standard and has the smallest group diameter. I don’t want or need a bunch of ‘yah buts’ responses, I’ll refine my needs through trial and error but these charts give me good starting reference. Thanks again.

  • Donald McNany

    WOW is all I say. Was linked here from another forum and glad I was. Keeping this place bookmarked.
    While many would say it’s a waste of time, please consider testing mouse gun loads. .32 has been a European standard for years. Plus it wouldn’t hurt to talk and show the gel performance of the lowly .22 from a pistol and just for equality, the lowest, the .25. Those tests would shut down a lot of debate.

  • JoeNope

    Would love to see a similar test with various 5.56 and .223 loads like the PDX1, Controlled Chaos, and some of the varmint loads.

  • roscommonguy

    Great work, brilliant graphic representation of the results.

  • Tommy Thompson

    Thank you for this! It’s confirmed, to me anyway, that most of my choices for carry ammo have been “spot on.” With that said, it also shows me what other ammo will (probably) give me results that are at least as good.

  • Lynn Mcfadden

    If possible I would enjoy seeing the data on the ‘Ball’ ammo. I have always used factory ball of any number of manufacturers. And … great artcle. Tks for the time and trouble.

  • tdiinva

    Would like to see what these results for full sized handguns. While I have an XD sub compact most of what I carry is full sized or close to it. The tests do confirm my skepticism about 45 ACP in anything less than a 4″ barrel.

    edit: Why the Glock 42? Most 380s have barrels between 2.75 and 3″. I would imagine that performance drops quickly as you approach 3″.

  • narob

    Thank you for your well done testing and presentation of the data.

  • ChuckP

    Thank You very much for all this great work that you did for us. Some of the ammo that I liked the best seemed also to be the most expensive. I would love to carry the Federal Guard Dog and if it ever goes on sale I will “load up”. No pun intended. Also really like the results from the Federal 147 gr. HST. Thank You again for all the super great work.

  • Al Eisen

    Interesting results, and thanks for testing! I used to carry the Critical Defense in .380, but switched to Gold Dot after seeing some poor performance tests on the Hornady. Now I’m not so sure. It looks like the Hornady CD clearly beat the Gold Dots here. I wonder how much difference the G42 made. I often carry an LCP, which has a shorter barrel.

  • a man

    Absolutely love all this data. I’m not starting a caliber debate, but this is proof that the .40 really does the best. In heavy loads it is amazing, and nothing compares to the wound channels of the lighter .40 rounds. So many great ammo types.

  • jmolli

    With the unending succession of amateur, self-proclaimed “expert”, talking head “information” found on the web, the Lucky Gunner Ammo hollow point ballistic testing analysis is easily the best piece of work on the subject that currently exists on the web for public consumption. Excellent photography, video, presentation and web development. It’s just an outstanding effort to provide actionable data to those of a scientific mindset who prefer to make informed, analysis based decisions, rather than be another “sheep” that follows the herd of popular or “resident expert” opinion. I’ll make an effort to buy my ammunition from Lucky Gunner out of respect for their excellent presentation of objective data on the multitude of “self-defense round” options available today.

  • prdatki

    Thank you very impressive data, I will keep my Colt .45 commander with 230 grain plus 1000fps rounds.

  • Central PA USA

    Wow, what an undertaking! A huge “THANK YOU” to Luckygunner Labs for your efforts and for providing the results in a practical, user-friendly format. Sure hope you guys are considering doing the same for common revolver rounds still used for personal defense—namely, .38 Spl, .357 Mag, 45 Colt.

  • Steven Swingler

    Huh I would like to see buffalo bore and underwoods stuff, as well as .38 special, .357 magnum, 9×18 makarov, and 10mm

  • BBMW

    Why in the summary charts do you give average (mean?) values for expanded diameter and penetration depth, but in the detail page for a round, the bold print (and really only summary number) for these values is median diameter and depth? And it isn’t like you’re using the same number in both places with just a different heading. Your calculation of each number looks correct for each, you’re just using the different values in each place. This isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s just confusing.

    • Sorry for the confusion. We deliberated about how to display these figures for quite a while and we’re well aware that the final solution isn’t quite perfect.

      In reality, both the mean and median values are important for getting an overall picture of performance, particularly for the loads that were less consistent from shot to shot. We showed the average value on the chart because we figured that’s what most people will be looking for, and the visual representation of the penetration depth off-sets the potential to be misled by looking at only the mean depth on its own.

      On the smaller charts on the detail pages, we weren’t originally going to bold or label anything, but we needed a way to make it clear that the values were presented in ascending order within each row rather than in the order they were shot. Adding the bold to the median figure was an easy way to do that. But now that you mention it, it may be helpful to add the mean values to the detail charts as well.

      This project is a “living document” so we’re definitely open to any suggestions for tweaking the formatting as long as it’s feasible for us to pull off.

  • Ben P.

    Very well done tests and formatting! I would love to see some .327 fed mag out of a Ruger LCR. Thanks!

  • Hunterfisherman

    You should include Buffalo Bore and Underwood Ammo. Both are high quality, slightly more expensive rounds than the Remington and Hornady. It would be interesting to see if the performance is significantly better than more common commercial brands. The Buffalo Bore ammo claims speeds and muzzle energy significantly higher than other brands.

  • Ronin

    This is the best factual presentation I’ve ever seen. Very nice work. Thank you.

  • George Kooshian

    Amazing work. What makes is so useful is the concise way you have presented the data and results of your testing. Its apparent that a great amount of care and effort went into the project and I look forward to seeing more of it in the future.

  • Tracy Robertson

    Excellent work on this article. Quite the argument ender.

  • David g

    Thank you thank you !!! This is just amazing. And the video recap of each ammo in the page is just the best ever!!! It so helps. Earned my praise and support. Please continue with new loads and calibers

  • Excellent information. Based on the FBI shootout in Miami in the 1986, bullet placement overrides most other considerations. The only sure way to stop a perp is to nail them in the nervous system, ie: the brain or spinal cord. Even making a shot that will kill a perp, they can still have 2 minutes to kill you, before they die. Baby Face Nelson took on two FBI agents and despite the fact that he took hits from a shotgun and a Thompson 45 submachine gun, he killed both FBI agents he was up against.

    Thanks for taking the time to do a professional assessment of all of these various rounds.

  • Dennis

    Buying hollow-point ammo was a crap-shoot until I seen this data. Thanks so very much. Job well done.

  • disqussion is futile

    Nice work!

    Noticed the Speer Gold Dot LE 9mm 147 grain didn’t expand very well when fired out of a 3 inch barrel. The same is said to be true of the 9mm Speer Gold Dot G2 147 grain. I see the same poor expansion in some of the other 147 grain 9mm bullets tested as well.

    I have read that some of these 147 grain 9mm bullets were designed as law enforcement ammunition, intended for service pistols like a Glock 17 with a 4.7″ barrel, a Beretta 92 with a 4.7″-barrel , or a Glock 17L with its 5.34″ barrel. And that they expand properly when fired from the longer barrels.

    I would like to see this following ammo tested out of a 9mm with a 4″ barrel: Speer Gold dot 124, and 147. And also the Federal HST 124, and 147.
    Curious how they expand, penetrate, and group. It might be totally different than out of the 3″ barrel.

    I found the 147 grain ammo to group better out of my 9mm with a 4″ barrel. So Finding a reliable expanding 147 would be great.
    I am currently using Speer Gold Dot 147 that I bought from Lucky Gunner.

  • clay

    Excellent work guys. Love the way that’s displayed and linked. No Surprise that Speer Gold dots and Federal HST’s were consistently good. Yes I know there were others that performed better in some tests, but I know I can get both of those rounds easily, and they will do what they should.

  • Richard T

    Definitely a well worthwhile read. Changed my thinking a bit.

  • N1583J

    You and Lucky Gunner have my forever customer loyalty.

  • HH2

    Fantastic & got the facts down right straight !!!!! Thanks for your work to shed light on a cloudy subject. One addition, many years ago I read through a law enforcement article that had a compilation of shootings information, laying real world shootings by calibers & ammo types showing the percentage of “one-shot stops”. Combine your data with that to observe any correlation would be additionally interesting & final piece of the ammo puzzle. Great Work Everyone !!

  • RIF

    This is nothing short of colossal. The entire shooting community is indebted to you for the work that this took, the logical and completely intuitive way it was presented and the massive amount of information that it provides. Extremely well done. Thank you! Whoever you are, you have the mind of a naturally born investigative scientist.

    I was wondering:
    1) What do you think accounts for the sometimes very wide penetration for a given bullet?
    2) Is it possible that tracks within the ballistic gelatin itself could have affected tracks, (i.e., depth of penetration) of subsequently shot bullets? That is, could the gelatin track of bullet #1 left a “path of less resistance” for bullets #4 & #5? Generally speaking, and most definitely not in each case, (if I am interpreting the results correctly) the first fired bullet had less penetration than the last. Any thoughts?
    Thank you again. This is amazing.

    • The chart shows the penetration depths in order of least to greatest, not in the order fired. There was no discernable trend in the first shot vs. other shot depths. The actual bullet paths never crossed one another (which is difficult to tell from a 2D image), so I don’t think that was a major factor. It’s possible that firing into the gel somehow changes its density, but I haven’t noticed any explicit evidence of that.

      • RIF

        OK, got it. So what then, do you think is the cause of such variability in the penetration? You took such lengths to ensure that all variables such as barriers, distance to target, type of media, etc. were all controlled for. What could do this? Also, and along the same lines, why does some ammunition display much more uniform penetration than others?…i.e., some of the rounds’ distance are almost right on top of each other? Why are they so tight?

        • I can’t account for all of the variability in penetration depth, but I would suspect that the variability in the ammo itself has something to do with it.

          • RIF

            Yes. Are you able to look at the raw data and specifically show that there is a direct relationship between velocity and penetration?…i.e., the slower the bullet, the less the penetration. BTW, I really appreciate you taking the time to respond. Like I said, you’ve got a new customer just based on this! Thank you.

          • Fish

            RIF. One mans opinion, but I believe there are several interrelated factors in play
            1. More velocity, unit bullet failure, implies faster and more complete expansion, which in tern means reduced penetration.
            2. Momentum is big factor in penetration (not kinetic energy), and that tends to favor heavier bullets.
            3. Depending on bullet design factors, I suspect the best round will be that bulletin that opens to 150% initial size quickly, (950 to 1100) fps, and is as heavy as possible.

  • RIF

    I’m curious…do you mind telling me how long it took to complete this study and approximately how many person/hours it took?

    • Hah, lost count a long time ago. We had a handful of people working on it on and off for the better part of a year.

  • RIF

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. Everything was so well done, the photography, the text, the layout, the ability of the user to change how the data is presented. A modern classic. I had not even heard of your site until I just was curious about some data re .45 ACP self defense ammo, saw this study and also noticed that you sell ammunition. Well, you’ve got a new customer now and I am happy to support something like this.

  • MOblahg

    Great work, really superior data! Any data for the 9mm DRT 85gr?=)

  • Preston Gable

    How about the lehigh xtreme penetrator or the ruger polycase?

  • MrDango

    Thanks for the valuable info guys. I’m sure it took alot of time and resources to complete and it was done very well, a huge collection of data presented beautifully. Maybe .32 acp and .38 special next? Regardless you will be getting my business from now on.

  • Jason Schafer

    Might I suggest one more column in the charts, price per round
    Perhaps another column: in stock, check mark – or – out of stock, X

  • GunsHarleysUSA

    This was amazing, I’ve been searching for the right ammo information for my carry loads for ages, on youtube and on the internet and they’ve always left me with loads of questions still unanswered, but your test have without question answered all my questions fully. I have now picked my carry loads for each of my carry weapons, and I’m certain I have chosen them correctly thanks to your test. A huge Thumbs-Up. I will be buying my ammo from now on from Luckygunner. Thank You for the time and expense involved in these test as they were an awesome help in my choosing the right ammo for my carry weapons.

  • Bill Bischoff

    I really enjoyed the article. Your methodology was excellent and the results are nicely displayed. You can bet that it will be a reference document for me.

    I do need a little help in figuring this out. Take, for example the Hornady Critical Defense in .380 and 9mm. They are about equal in penetration and expansion, so one would expect, from this data, that the .380 and 9mm are equals. We all know they’re not equal. The 9mm is much more powerful, and the energy spec of a 9mm is about twice that of a .380.

    I would have thought that penetration would reflect the power of the bullet. What am I missing? Thanks

    • Fish

      Bill, may I suggest the 9mm expanded relatively quickly on impact (note the much higher velocity), while the 380 penetrated further due to a relatively later starting expansion?

  • kyle sundell

    THIS KICKS SHOOTINGTHEB HI LLS ASS ×about 9,000,001 which is or was the clear best for testing ammo till this,great job and im sure you know this but remember over a years period of time or even ten your pretty much guarenteed to have SAVED one life which im sure that family unknowingly appreciates.great job guys.

  • picrthis

    How can the results on the Hornady Critical Defense 380 FTX be so much different than those from ShootingTheBull410 on youtube? those didn’t perform well at all.
    Luckygunner shows that all 5 FTX expanded very nicely. The Hornady Custom XTP on luckygunner performed poorly for expansion yet just the opposite on ShootingTheBull410 on youtube, the XTP’s performed very well for expansion. To make matters worse the 9mm Federal 124gr HST performed excellent on both sites. So what is going on with the Hornday tests??

  • Tom Willhight

    Really appreciate all the work you put into these test. Top Notch! If you conduct more tests I would love to see the new Ruger ARX 45 Auto from Polycase. Your test would present a great comparison of this new ammo with the established brands and components. Thanks again

  • Jake

    wow finally the Gun Porn I have been looking for!
    Seriously this is some amazing work!
    Any discerning gun owner and daily handgun carrier needs to make sense of all this before they can take themselves seriously!

  • birder

    This was an extremely excellent article. The big surprise to me was the number of HPs that did not expand. I was most interested in the comparison between the 9mm and .40. Thanks so much.

  • Ponder

    Anyone with a .380 can disregard because they didn’t test the top 3 self defense rounds in this caliber.
    Lehigh Defense Xtreme Penetrator,
    Precision One XTP and
    Fiocchi Extrema XTP.

  • Larry

    WOW! AMAZING! The painstaking, thorough, objective information you folks have put together here is awe inspiring! Exactly what a beginner like me needs to make an
    educated decision on a very complex array of ammo choices!!!! THANK YOU!!!

  • dontsh00tmesanta

    Thank you

    HST for me

  • virtualkelly

    You know, it seams the popular service rounds (Gold Dot, HST, Golden Sabre) are more about pushing to the edge of that 16″ to 18″ penetration line, rather than the Fackler “sweet spot” of 14.5″-16″. I’m curious whether competition has them pushing for that LE market, with better barrier needs, thereby getting the civilian market as a result… despite the civilian market being not as concerned about barriers.

    • I wouldn’t over-think it. Remember, this gelatin doesn’t have identical properties to the organic gel the FBI uses, so results will vary a bit.

  • Micheal Tarr

    From the results, it appears to me that golden sabers seem to have a selection that both penetrates to the right depth, and expands most consistently. I wish that they had tested ranger T, but being that it is similar to PDX, and PDX seem to do pretty well too, I suppose that will have to be good enough.

    • We will be testing Ranger T ammo soon. Most of the Golden Sabers had problems with core-jacket separation. The bonded Golden Sabers supposedly don’t have that problem, and we’ll be testing more of those in the near future too.

    • Micheal Tarr

      Holy crap. That civil defense stuff is nuts. Liberty 78 gr Civil Defense +P. Insane.

  • Dylan Jobson

    What a great resource! I’ve always carried 124gr HST’s in 9mm. Maybe put together a top 5 list for each caliber for those of us who don’t enjoy sifting through all this excellent data?

  • Pixsurguy

    Thank you very, very much.

  • jperkins45acp

    i would like to see this same test, maybe not as elaborate but i think a test of target ammo would be very helpful. i always carried the same ammo as i target shot with until i read this article i bought a box of winchester xp1, not as efficent as some of the others but that was all my local store had at the time. it qoukd really show the diffrences in defense and pratice ammo and how dangerouse it can be to use or you may find a paticular round that would be good for both target and defense. most defense ammo is so expensive poeple dont want to buy it muchless shoot it. each time i go out and shoot i usaully shoot 100-200 rounds, cost me about 50-60$. if i shot defense ammo it would cost 100-200$. there must be a round out there thats cheap enough to practice with and safe enough to carry at the same time…i would really like to see a mini test of these pratice ammos and value priced ammo to see if theres any out there safe enough to carry on a daily basis.

  • Jonathan Townson

    So from these results can you make a recommendation for a caliber or specific round that would be just as useful as a sidearm when hunting wild boar as well as for home defense and EDC? I’m partial to the Rem Golden Saber .40 165g myself.

  • larryjrmarlyn

    The somewhat disappointing performance of Barnes 140 gr Tac XPD proved sobering, as it’s been in the mix for my carry load! Thanks for posting.

  • kristen

    can you answer questions on gun fragments and how or when it became fragmented… I need some expert advice.. if all possible could you email me please at