A few days ago, we released the results of our epic self-defense ammo ballistic gelatin project. We ordered a truckload of synthetic ballistics gelatin blocks from Clear Ballistics and tested 117 hollow-point loads in the four most popular self-defense calibers: .380 ACP, 9mm, 40S&W, and .45 ACP. The results are live on this post at Lucky Gunner Labs. Here’s a quick introduction to the project in case you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet:


Behind the Scenes

First of all — wow. We knew this was an ambitious project when we made the decision to take it on, but I think the amount of work required to bring it to a completed state surprised all of us. Conducting the actual tests was not particularly difficult, though it was tedious. Matt the Photographer and I knocked out the testing over the course of three weeks, which consisted of shooting the ammo into the gel, taking photographs, high speed video, and penetration depth measurements. In the weeks following, we snuck in time in between other projects to dig the fired bullets out of the gel, measure their diameter and weight, and take more photos.

With that out of the way, the bulk of our effort was concentrated on how to present the information we collected. We could have easily dumped all of the data into a plain old HTML table and called it a day. But that is not, as they say, “how we roll” at Lucky Gunner.

Just a sample of one of our caliber-specific interactive charts found on the ballistic testing post at Lucky Gunner Labs.
Just a sample of one of our caliber-specific interactive charts found on the ballistic testing post at Lucky Gunner Labs.

After some deliberation, we came up with a basic concept for an elaborate table with embedded graphs and photos, having no idea whether our coding team would be able to pull it off. Fortunately, we work with some pretty first-rate coding Jedis who had no trouble turning our crude Photoshop mockup into a reality. As happy as I am with the photo and video elements we came up with, I think the chart is what will make this project a valuable resource for shooters for a long time to come.

What’s Next?

As I mentioned in the video and on the Labs post, we plan to continue testing additional loads and calibers to add to what we already have. Our first priority is to fill in some gaps in the existing calibers. Because of the sporadic availability of certain self-defense loads, there were some that we wanted to test, but simply couldn’t get our hands on when we started testing. Some readers will note the conspicuous absence of some of the more popular Federal HST loads — in particular, 9mm 124 gr +P, 9mm 147 gr +P, 40 S&W 165 gr, and the new .380 HST. We also would like to add the rest of the bonded versions of the Remington Golden Saber loads, a more of the Winchester PDX-1 loadings, as well as Winchester’s Ranger-T ammo.

gel-blocks-line

In terms of which calibers to tackle next, .38 special and .357 magnum are at the top of the list. Following those, we’ve already had several requests to cover .357 Sig and 10mm. We would also like to tackle some rifle calibers at some point, but the Clear Ballistics synthetic gel doesn’t provide as accurate results for high velocity rifle ammo as it does for handgun loads. So while it’s on our wish list for sure, we’ll have to revisit the test medium and our test procedures to figure out a feasible way to make it happen.

At this point, however, none of these plans are set in stone, and the future of this project will be heavily guided by the input we get from you guys. So if you’ve got a specific load in mind, or would like to see us take the testing in a different direction, let us know.

Until we launch into the next phase, take your time absorbing the current info and chart we have available, and if you find it helpful, please share it around!


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  • Uncle Buckshot

    Dang, sounds like some awesome information. I will stay tuned. Hopefully, once y’all find a good system, we can see some buck shot loads and some intermediate rifle round tests.

  • MrApple

    Truly awesome. Well done.

  • augustine44

    Any hope for testing 357 Sig? Golden Sabers from Remington, Gold Dots, Corbon, Double Tap. Just a great project you guys have going.

  • John Posey

    Love this!!!!! Very worthwhile. And I daily look to see the newest articles on “the lounge”

  • JRCrum

    99% of the time I shoot cheap ball ammo. To say that I am afraid of making a mistake buying self defence ammo is an understatement – I still have ammo from the ’90s that I am ‘saving’.
    I will use this to upgrade my self defence magazines…

  • Charles Purvis

    100% of the time I shoot cheap ball ammo or cast lead bullets in my jam-o-matics. I’ve never seen that hollowpoints made any difference. If it’s a good shot, any bullet will work. If it’s a bad shot, no bullet can make up for that.

    • Matt

      True but your ball ammo is far more likely to pass through your target and injure or kill someone else. Hollow points absolutely make a difference.

      • Charles Purvis

        I’ve never been in a gunfight but statistics have shown that something like 70% of all shots fired in a gunfight miss the target completely.

        I’d be more worried about those rounds, which are carrying their full energy, than the ones which had already passed through a body.

        • Matt

          From what I can tell, you’re citing the article from the NY Times a while back that looked only at police shootings and got about a 30% accuracy rate. I’ll assume, for the sake of argument, that the numbers coming from the leftist rag are correct. That does not necessarily apply across the board to the concealed carrier who takes it seriously and trains regularly to minimize the amount of misses. Despite what most people think, most cops don’t own guns outside of their duty pistol and only shoot it at mandatory trainings and qualifications. Many of them are “gun guys” and do spend their own time and money to improve their skill but most of them are not, and don’t.Even so, it seems like you’re basically saying, “I’m going to miss most of the time anyway, so there’s no reason that ALL of my shots shouldn’t be potential liabilities.” If that’s how you look at it, you probably shouldn’t be carrying anyway. Even if seven out of ten of your shots are going to be liabilities that could potentially maim or kill an innocent person, seven out of ten is still better than ten out of ten. The goal, of course, is not to miss. That is why we practice and train, to minimize or eliminate those misses. What would those statistics look like if they only looked at shootings involving people like Steve Fisher or Mike Pannone, or competitive shooters?

          Also you are underestimating the difference hollow points make on a target. If you’ve never seen it, you’ve never looked. For starters hollow points create a larger wound cavity, both temporary and permanent, due to the sudden expansion of the round transferring more energy. When they expand, the petals also continue to tear additional flesh causing more damage. Also, since they penetrate less and are far more likely to stay inside their intended target, that means they are far more likely to transfer ALL of their energy to that intended target. This means more “knockdown power,” to use a term I don’t particularly like. If they do still happen to pass through, there’s a good chance it doesn’t have enough energy to seriously injure or kill someone. It might, but it is far less likely than with FMJ. So in addition to being more dangerous for bystanders, where you might shoot two or three people with one shot of FMJ versus one person with a hollow point, hollow points are also far more likely to stop the threat faster, which is the ultimate goal. There is a reason most people call hollow points defensive ammunition and FMJ practice ammunition. In the end it boils down to spending just a little bit more money that could mean the difference between surviving and losing your life, or between killing an innocent bystander and not killing them.

          • Charles Purvis

            No, that is not the study I’m referring to; the 30% number applies to all gunfights, whether trained cop, untrained civilian, or some hot dog who thinks he knows all about gunfighting and practices constantly but has never been in a gunfight. Plan on it. It makes the ‘overpenetration’ iss
            Temporary wound cavities never stopped anybody. They may eventually cause death by bleeding but that may be too late for you. Handguns have nowhere near enough power to stop anybody from shock alone. The only thing that will stop an opponent is damage to the central nervous system and it makes no difference whether that is done with a solid or expanding bullet. Due to more penetration, you have a better chance of hitting the CNS. Ever wonder why all the ‘dangerous game’ bullets are solids? If expanding bullets kill quicker, why aren’t they used in those circumstances?
            Lastly, half the bullets in this study didn’t expand anyway. I’ll take a good, old solid cast lead bullet any day. I know what they’ll do.

          • Matt

            Well if you’re citing a different study maybe you can link it so I can take a look at it. After that pretty much everything you said was wrong. Temporary wound cavities are basically a visualization of hydrostatic shock. Aside from instant death or, yes, destruction of the central nervous system, that shock is exactly what stops someone. An instant death shot would be either the heart or brain and CNS would be the brain or spine. It is more likely that they will be stopped by hydrostatic shock than by an instant death shot or destruction of the CNS. Handguns certainly do have enough power to do this depending on caliber. People use 10mm, for example, all the time to hunt big game like dear, boar, and even bear, and guess what, most 10mm hunting loads are expanding soft point bullets.

            As for dangerous game bullets, again, you’re wrong, they are not all “solids.” Just as one example, Hornady makes three dangerous game bullets and two out of three of them expand, one is about half expansion and the other is full expansion. However, for a lot dangerous game, FMJ is preferred. The reason is because you have to punch through very thick tough hyde and potentially bone. If you’re hunting elephant, cape buffalo, hippo or rhino you want as much penetration as you can get. If you’re hunting lion or similar thin skinned dangerous game, that’s where you want to use an expanding round. So yea they are used in those applications, the only time you want an FMJ for that is if you need it to punch through stuff that the expanding rounds won’t because it is too thick i.e. hyde, thick muscle and bone (like a charging elephant’s skull).

            Lastly, as for the expansion, the .45s did the worst but I just counted them all up and even .45 fell just short of half not expanding. I counted about 65 or so, including rounds that partially expanded as unexpanded, out of 140 rounds fired. If you were to take out the ones that at least partially expanded it would be fifty something. All the other calibers expanded far more reliably than the .45s did but several of them had 100% expansion. But that’s the whole reason they did these tests. Now I can go to one place and see which rounds expand most reliably. The round I’ve been carrying fared quite well, 100% expansion in every caliber tested, including .45.

          • Matt

            Also, to your dangerous game argument, we’re talking about self defense, almost exclusively shooting humans. Not hunting large animals. Find me a law enforcement agency that still uses FMJ for anything other than practice/training.

          • Matt

            Still waitin for that study…

          • Chill, bro.

          • Matt

            What? I’m just trying to have a civilized debate about carrying target ammo for defense. I think it’s a good way to hurt someone who doesn’t need hurtin. Either way, thanks for doing these tests. Will you be doing AR rounds or any other calibers?

          • Matt

            Still waitin for that study

          • Whiplash

            Charles Purvis said: “Ever wonder why all the ‘dangerous game’ bullets are solids? If
            expanding bullets kill quicker, why aren’t they used in those
            circumstances?”

            There is a vast difference in penetrating an upright human who is 12-15 inches front to back and 24 inches side to side. Large dangerous game is far thicker and their vitals are heavily protected under mass of muscle and bone. One WANTS massive penetration on dangerous game, but 12-18 inches is more then enough in humans, hence hollow points are best because they so quickly dissipate their initial energy. There is a very sound reason Charles, you just don’t see it or don’t want to.

    • Buckshot Johnson

      Charles, I know that it’s a little late, but better late than never. I carry a Beretta, Mod.96, .40 s&w,180gr. HP. I have been for about 15 years. I have replaced 1 barrel. It’s fired at least 1,000+ rd. I have .380’s .38, .45 & .22 cals. I shoot HP even at my gun range. I use a “Name Brand” round. You know the .96 is a semi-auto. Throw away the cheap stuff ammo & the jam-o-matics. For Self-Protection, get a good quality semi-auto or revolver & use good quality Hollow Points. Visit your local range. You’ll know when you have the right set-up. REMEMBER; Every bullet that misses your mark is a lawsuit, Jail-Time or both!!!! Keep on practicing because the Life you save may be YOUR’s!!!!

      • Charles Purvis

        Ha ha, I just call them ‘jam-o-matics.’ My Colt 1911’s and S&W M39 have never shown any tendency to jam, so I don’t believe I’ll throw away anything. The Colts are fed 200 gr. SWC’s and the M39 gets 115 or 124 gr. FMJ. Automatics are OK but they’re just not my cup of tea.

  • Matt

    PLEASE do AR rounds next. Great stuff. And add to this as new stuff comes out.