Hornady Critical Defense 22 Magnum Ammo Testing & Review

The much-praised Hornady Critical Defense brand meets the underrated 22 Winchester Magnum cartridge.

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- I am a fan of the 22 Winchester Magnum cartridge. It is a true chameleon cartridge. Like that underrated predator, the 22 Magnum comes in many forms and is surprisingly efficient at what it does. Designed as a rimfire rifle cartridge and an improvement over the venerable 22 LR cartridge for use against varmints.

As soon as this new hot round hit shelves in 1959, companies began putting the round into handguns despite the fact that the ammunition was designed to perform best out of rifle-length barrels. This has continued, even with the demand for small framed handguns chambered in the zippy little round as the 22 Magnum takes on an unlikely role of defensive handgun cartridge.

22 Magnum handguns are valued for their lightweight and their total lack of recoil or “kickback” while still being far more potent than the much-maligned 22 LR. I always thought of the 22 Magnum as being the 380 of the revolver world. Those of us who spend any time at the gun shop or the online forums will inevitably hear that the “380 with the right ammo is more than adequate”. The same applies to the 22 Magnum.

What is meant by the right ammo? I take it to mean today's new emphasis on defensive hollow-point technology.

I actively carry a 22 Magnum handgun at times and if firearm catalogs are to be believed, I am not the only one. But there is need to improve on the performance of the 22 Mag out of short-barreled handguns, a need that has been capitalized upon. Defensive loadings are out there.

Given my vested interest in 22 Mag, I have tested quite a few 22 Mag rifle rounds out of small handguns, but these new defense loads–Hornady Critical Defense and Speer Gold Dot 45 grain hollow-point loads–left me cold. Designed for optimum velocity and expansion, even out of short barrels, these rounds promise great performance but I worried about such well-designed ammunition expanding too much at the cost of not penetrating deeply enough to impair major organs needed to physically stop an attacker.  Finally, curiosity got the better of me and I picked up both rounds for testing.

Hornady's Critical Defense .22 WMR 45 gr FTX

Hornady is no stranger to ammo innovation. Their Critical Defense line features an FTX projectile. In English, the FTX is a copper-jacketed hollow point bullet with a rubber-like plug in the cavity. This plug serves two purposes: to wedge the bullet, promoting expansion and to prevent clothing and debris from clogging the hollow-point cavity, retarding expansion. I found in testing 380 ACP ammunition that defensive-hollow points are mostly a waste of time with either no expansion at all or expansion that is too aggressive without penetration. One of the few exceptions is Hornady's Critical Defense. With that personal history, I was confident in their 45 grain 22 Magnum load.

The Test

That confidence was muted somewhat when I shot a few three-shot strings over my Caldwell Chronograph. At a distance of ten feet using my North American Arms Sidewinder with a 2.5-inch barrel, the average velocity came in at about the 1,050 feet per second mark with the on-camera string showing an average of 1,058. This is high velocity by handgun standards, but it is lower compared to the previous testing with standard off-the-shelf rifle loads.

This weaker-than-expected showing over the chrono translated into my ballistic gel test. I used four layers of denim to simulate clothing. The gelatin I used is made by Clear Ballistics and is synthetic in nature. This product is easy for me to use and transport for field use, but as I do with other tests, I melted the product, recast it, and calibrated it so I can verify personally that it is a fair medium and simulate of human tissue. Even with this extra effort, these tests shouldn't be construed as scientific but merely a point of comparison against other rounds fired under similar conditions–thus is the purpose of ballistic gelatin testing.

I fired five rounds out of my revolver into the block from a distance of three feet. One round nicked the block but the projectile escaped never to be found. The other four rounds were captured, having traversed the denim barrier and done moderate damage to my first gelatin block. However, three of the four projectiles stopped at the nine-inch mark. The final shot traveled to the 10.5-inch mark where it stopped.

Despite traveling at over 1000 feet per second, these 45-grain pills underpenetrated greatly with only 10.5 inches of penetration at the very best.

These numbers are light compared to the FBI's standard of measurement in this style of the test medium, 12-18 inches of penetration to be acceptable as a self-defense round. The Hornady Critical Defense may look impressive in its store packaging and even in the hand, but that is where it stops. There was no expansion and very little deformation of the recovered projectiles to explain the lack of penetration.

Taken together, the Critical Defense underperforms on every level despite it being one of the ammunition to buy specifically for self-defense in 22 Magnum. I left the range disappointed. I expected better and I had wanted to put the CDs though some meat and bone, but why bother when it failed even this primitive test? Needless to say, I won't be trading in my CCI Maxi-Mag FMJ loads anytime soon.


About Terril Hebert:Terril Hebert

Terril Hebert is a firearm writer native to south Louisiana. Under his motto-Guns, Never Politics-he tackles firearm and reloading topics both in print and on his Mark3smle YouTube channel, where he got his start. Terril has a soft spot for ballistics testing, pocket pistols, and French rifles. When he is not burning ammo, he is indulging his unhealthy wildlife photography obsession or working on his latest novel. Scourge of God, published in 2017. See more from Terril on youtube under Mark3smle

  • 15 thoughts on “Hornady Critical Defense 22 Magnum Ammo Testing & Review

      1. Probably better, but the PMR is not what most 22wmr users will carry due to the challenge of concealing it, vs other options like the author’s NAA – or a snubbie. This round is supposed to perform out of a 1.875″ revolver, that’s what Hornady uses for their published data on this laod.

    1. Expansion technology has yet to compensate for weight. The .22 mag is light, and a short barrel drops velocity. For self defense, if it’s .22 anything, a solid bullet is my preference. As heavy as possible. Maybe someday technology will change that.

    2. Good information since I carry this same exact pistol with the very same ammunition for my first round in personal defense with a back up 9mm inside my truck console. The NAA .22 Magnum hides very well in my pocket. I would have thought that this Hornady Critical Defense 45 Grain Hollow Point ammunition to be a good choice for self defense. I guess according to this article I was wrong? Now if the person doing this testing would have offered a good choice of ammunition for the .22 Magnum his article would have been complete. I used to carry my pistol loaded with Winchester 40 Grain, Hollow Point or Winchester DynaPoint ammunition. I may go back to using the DynaPoint.

      1. He did tell you what he carries:
        “Needless to say, I won’t be trading in my CCI Maxi-Mag FMJ loads anytime soon.”
        Something like this is just a hole poker. Stay with ball

      1. Actually this IS specifically a pistol self defense load, Hornady’s published data is even out of a 1.875″ barrel. But unfortunately this test says that the bullet didn’t perform as advertised.

    3. You need a 6-7 inch barrel in a revolver, to get to the same stopping power(ft lbs) as a snubnosed 38 with defense ammo. Think about it. It’s math. A 40-45 grain projectile traveling at 900-1000 fps vs a 125-135 grain, at 800-900 fps. The only way to get better is a longer barrel.

    4. Matt, you know that he is just another wannabe “gun writer.” There wasn’t even a comment section for this article until after I asked “Ammoland” about it earlier today. And after just three posts I see that the article written by the NRA”s Mr. Cox has had it’s comment section closed. I think there is an “East wind blowing” in Ammoland. We’ll see.

      1. Oh my did the grapes sour at the board of directors wine club due to truthful comments? Whatever will we do now that they are mad?
        East wind indeed blowing in from the barn and the outhouse.
        I’ve hunted for decades with a 22mag revolver in a decent barrel length and know it’s capabilities. A belly gun is just that. It’s to air out the lungs of someone who is on you and has gained the upper hand.

    5. The .38 special is the .380 of the revolver world. These two are very close. The .22 mag is no comparison.

      I would, however, like to find a round to expand adequately out of my 6 inch barrel single six more for pest purposes. I use the .357 mag of the revolver world for self defense.

    6. I can’t believe you thought velocities would be higher out of the little thing. Little guns usually don’t need expanders rather they need penetration from the limited velocity it can muster from the short barrels.

      1. Velocities are higher than this with maxi-mags. The Hornady just plain sucks in this caliber. Fmj terminal performance without the speed to reach depth all at a premium defense load price.

    7. Wouldn’t 4 layers of denim be unrealistic( vs. one layer denim+ one layer cotton tee or flannel)? Also, what about a four inch barrel to give the powder more burn time?

    Leave a Comment 15 Comments

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *