Testing 9mm Ammunition for Serious Purposes


Testing 9mm Ammunition for Serious Purposes
Testing 9mm Ammunition for Serious Purposes

Ft Collins, CO –-(Ammoland.com)- Ammunition performance:

In Pensylvania last weekend, during a DTI Urban Rifle Course, we had the opportunity to test the terminal performance of high-performance pistol ammunition on blocks of ten-percent gelatin.

My long-time friend, Mike Shovel, currently the sales manager for Cor-Bon, made all this possible.

Mike has been in the serious ammunition business longer than nearly any of my other friends and has forgotten more about the subject than I’ll ever likely know.

When Mike talks, I listen.

Gelatin, as a ballistic test-medium, or “human tissue ‘simulant’” is undoubtedly not without critics.

Homogeneous (and mostly transparent), “ballistic” gelatin may be useful for comparing various brands of serious ammunition, and it is probably as close to “reality” as we’re likely to get, but its “predictive ability” is far from universally acknowledged.

Thus, we need to be cautious about making sweeping conclusions, derived solely from gelatin data.

Still, I test ammunition in gelatin every chance I get.

I test ammunition in gelatin every chance I get. File Photo
Lehigh Defense 300 Blackout Whisper Bullet 10% Ordnance Gelatin Shot

FBI testing protocol correctly requires that bullets first penetrate “normal” clothing before entering the gelatin block itself. “Normal clothing” is usually defined as four layers of substantial denim, as one would typically find in denim work pants.

That fabric “barrier” is significant! I’ve witnessed more than one high-performance hollow-point bullet monotonously expand “by-the-book” when penetrating bare gelatin, but perform significantly less well, and with far less consistency, when penetrating fabric barriers first.

Under these conditions, I like bullets that reproducibly penetrate twelve to eighteen inches of gelatin (FBI Standard), but many of my colleagues believe nine to fifteen inches of penetration represents a more delineative standard, particularly for personal defense.

A persuasive argument can be made either way.

Out of my SIG 320 (9mm), with its 3 and 5/8 inch barrel, we tested:

These four turned-in superior performance, expanding consistently/symmetrically (with the exception of Lehigh’s FTM bullet) and penetrating to a uniform fifteen inches. Cavitation in the gelatin between the four was essentially identical.

Tissue destruction is accomplished via bullet expansion and jagged frontal area (after expansion) with conventional hollow-point bullets. Something similar is accomplished via plasma jets created by Lehigh’s FTM bullet (which does not change shape) as it passes through tissue.

In any event, between the four, I was able to see no difference in shape, nor appearance, of wound channels. Velocity variation between rounds, with all four, was small, less than 30f/s, indicating excellent quality control during manufacture. Super Vel’s velocity was the most consistent, but all were very acceptable.

My conclusion is that any of the above four represents as good a performance as we are ever likely to see from serious pistol ammunition, from serious carry-pistols.

  • Poor performance was turned-in by Federal Hydra-Shok, 124gr. Expansion was generally incomplete and consistently inconsistent.
  • Federal is a fine company, and their quality control is probably the best in the business, but the Hydra-Shok round, while still in production, represents a dated technology and is mostly obsolete, in my opinion.
  • Federal’s 124gr HST represents a much better choice!
  • Hornady’s 124gr Critical Duty also represents a good choice

The preceding is, of course, my observation and my opinion. When you carry a 9mm pistol, I can comfortably recommend any of the rounds I mentioned favorably.

I should add that ammunition from companies I did not mention, like Underwood, Gorilla, and Black Hills also enjoy good reputations.

Eventually, I’ll test them all!


Defense Training International, Inc

About John Farnam & Defense Training International, Inc
As a defensive weapons and tactics instructor John Farnam will urge you, based on your own beliefs, to make up your mind in advance as to what you would do when faced with an imminent lethal threat. You should, of course, also decide what preparations you should make in advance if any. Defense Training International wants to make sure that their students fully understand the physical, legal, psychological, and societal consequences of their actions or in-actions.

It is our duty to make you aware of certain unpleasant physical realities intrinsic to the Planet Earth. Mr. Farnam is happy to be your counselor and advisor. Visit: www.defense-training.com

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robert little

why didn’t you test the new sig 9mm ammo out of your sig pistol ?


Hornady handgun ammo is superior!!! I’m an Autopsy Tech. Their ammo expands just like the promotional pictures. It’s amazing the way the jacket will expand consistently and not fragment. There isn’t any other brand this reliable. I won’t carry anything else.

Gary D

All good points . last point , I would rather have a Gun in my Hand then a cop on the phone = no matter what ammo , Federal 124 gr HST +P

Tad Pole

Practice, Practice, Practice, The Most Expensive Round You Shoot Will Do No Good Unless It Hits It’s Target !

Mark Ehlers

Agree, but simply shooting at paper targets is only slightly better. Check out training classes at local ranges and regularly take them to progressively increase your skills, step up your fundamentals of putting rounds on target UNDER TIME, and, more than anything else, CLEARLY UNDERSTAND THE LEGAL RESPONSIBILIIES OF USING DEADLY FORCE. If you don’t have legal representation on call (USCCA, FLP, etc), you are asking for trouble – and the necessity for this is independent of whether your shooting is ultimately justified or not.. Responsibility goes well beyond shooting at paper targets.

Shawn Palmer

Quality control is.lacking in most of the major manufacturing companies. In the last year I have had a Federal match round that would NOT chamber due to the brass casing being too long. Also had that same problem with a Remington .45 round. These were both rounds of ammunition that had been issued to me as a Federal law enforcement agent. If you want TRUE quality control look at Black Hills Ammo. I took a tour through their inspection area a while back. Each and EVERY round is hand inspected and checked in chamber gauges to insure that they WILL… Read more »


The first rule of a gunfight: HAVE A GUN! Second rule: PRACTICE WITH THAT GUN! Shot placement is everything. I saw it many times while working as a Peace Officer in SoCal for over thirty years. The one sure way to drop your target is use the: “CENTER OF FACE” technique first proposed by Gabriel Suarez. This was brought out after the North Hollywood bank robbery shoot out with the two thugs armed with AK’s who took on quite a few of the LAPD. This was back in the 1990’s. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Charles Valenzuela

I’m NOT a fan of Federal ammunition at all. Quality control seems poor. So poor, that they seem to be selling mostly rejects from an assembly line intended for someone other than us common folk. Perhaps their quality control is very very good, and someone is getting the stuff that isn’t rejected by their excellent quality control, and the common folk get all the rejects, eh? But your use of the term “obsolete” is maybe not so correct. After all, criminals are still made the same old way, so the projectile still works the same old way. I’m NOT saying… Read more »

Clark Kent

Now THAT will show them (NOT).

Roy D.

What a bunch of bullshit. Farnam needs to stay in his lane; whatever lane that is. Using the term “plasma jets” just points out how badly he is trying to sell something. Having tested many thousands of bullets I have a good understanding of how terminal ballistics works and how to make happen what you want to make happen. You want to know what screws up expansion comparisons; body fat. Try this experiment: take a jug, or jugs, of water and check a bullet’s expansion. Then repeat the experiment except this time put a quarter cup of oil in the… Read more »


A lot of this newfangled ammo, especially police ammo, is not designed to kill… it is designed to keep people alive by ventilation (ask the Feds).. a lot of police officers are having to fire multiple shots with this so-called controlled expansion ammo.. if you want good ammo for defense use a hunting round or old school Cop load.. look back in time at some of the ammo with real street credibility.. I hear a bunch of talk about how bple 9mm +p+ doesn’t perform well in jello…JELLO IS FOR DESSERT!! Ask an old Illinois State Patrol officer, a DeKalb… Read more »

Clark Kent

How, exactly, does one design a bullet to kill? I’m waiting….


Sounds like a sales pitch.

Deplorable Bill

Go to the market and spend $25.00. Buy a pack of pork ribs and a pork roast. If you want to get real, get a pig torso complete w/ skin, ribs and internals. This is the most realistic test medium I have found. It’s summer now so put a tee shirt around it and start testing. Pig skin, ribs, internals VERY closely duplicates a human body. You might even have enough left for the BBQ. Ballistic gel is expensive, pork isn’t. Ballistic gel IS TEMPERTURE SENSITIVE, pork isn’t. Back in the day, the military did tests of every major type… Read more »

Jack A Furbush

The thing that really sucks is that a lot of SCUMBAGS didn’t read the ballistic reports and don’t know the have been hit with the best bullet technologist can build. What ever you choose to load your favorite blaster with it’s hard to go wrong. TRAIN/ PRACTICE that’s what really counts


So, a pea shooter loaded with a pea can’t go wrong?

Breaker Morant

Aim for the eyes….

Jack A Furbush

There is all kinds of research data available on ammunition of all types of ammunition available. 90 % of it is very good. Shooting into living flesh is pretty much a thing of the past in America. The only real way that ammunition can really be accurately tested is shoot something that is alive when you shoot it, plain and simple. Unlike the NAZI & Japanese research collected during WW2 we can’t actually shoot living people to see what happens. The down side is ballistic gel has never been alive. The performance is very different. Wet news paper being paper… Read more »

Clark Kent

No, it is NOT ‘all the same’. If it was, why are ZERO police departments in the USA issued FMJ ammunition for duty use, which is much cheaper than hollow point rounds? Methinks someone who claims they were in ‘lawenforcement’ (NOT one word, by the way) is full of bilge water. Nice try; no cigar.


Lucky Gunner has done a plethora of testing lots of self-defense type ammunition in most major calibers (380 ACP, 9mm, 40S&W, 45 ACP, 38 SPL, 357 MAG, 357 SIG, and 10mm) from short barrel handguns. Their findings also repeat the same findings you have above as far as the 9mm goes. They don’t really give any opinions on the rounds, they let the tests speak for themselves.


Charles P

I read that same report and was impressed how thorough it was. It opened my eyes to what was working better than some of the others. Good link.

H. Spires

Their pictures of the rounds that they tested really show a lot more than the numbers. They went the extra mile to give folks a good comparison between the different types of ammo out there. Hard to argue with the pictures of whether the rounds mushroomed or not.


The LeHigh extreme defense screwdrivers is a joke, it only makes cool patterns in gel (not tissue) due the low elastic limit of ballistics gelatin, for the same temporary stretch cavitirs do the same in gel and not tissue. If it actually was doing the same amount of damage/work as a hollow point it would slow down just as much (or accelerates negatively that is. Force = mass * acceleration, for terminal ballistics and car crashes that force is calculated the rate at which an ok biect decelerates) just as much. As it would expending energy to do so, and… Read more »


Very well said, and spot on. Gel isn’t even close to reality. Best way to find out for sure, get some meat and bone. I’ve tried quite a few. I really do like the federal HST. NoI find it open up real quick..which means I might not shoot the neighbors baby if I have an intruder. Hydroshock is as good as a fmj. Hornady critical duty opened, but not much. HST opened huge and dumped all that energy in a short space. If there is something better I can gauntlet test, let me know. I’d love to know a favorite… Read more »


Critical Duty needs to be looked at as barrier ammo. FBI testing has shown it’s the most barrier blind ammo. It’s also the most accurate ammo the FBI has ever tested. There are better rounds for soft tissue only. But traditional JHPs suffering problems when going through things like vehicle doors and glass as well as sheet rock.. I won’t detail those “FMJ-creating” issues here but, if you want to learn more about CD, you might want to try and find the Oct 2018 Guns & Ammo issue. Very informative and it’s the reason my 2nd BU mag is always… Read more »


It’s interesting that you mention the “screwdriver” aspect of the Lehigh projectiles, and that you say they are “a joke.” I had a similar discussion regarding this on TFB about a year ago. I tested out what a rapidly spinning Phillips screwdriver head does when it contacts animal tissue and fluids. The results were . . . interesting. HERE WERE MY OBSERVATIONS FROM THAT EXPERIEMENT: What it appears to me, based on my understanding of physics and fluid dynamics, as well as my observations of the wounds, is that the forward momentum of the round is transferred by the flutes… Read more »

Charles Moore

The biggest problem with what you said is that the bullets are not spinning and “chewing” things up. Most handgun bullets will not make a full revolution if it passes completely through a human body, thus negating much of the hype about the effect of their “high rotational velocity” many manufacturers and writers lavish upon them. As the poster above brought up, my testing of the Ruger ARX +P at 1,657 fps. average “did no real work.” It produced almost no damage or destruction on water-filled gallon milk jugs. The good hollow points practically blew them apart and only penetrate… Read more »


Actually, you’re absolutely incorrect about the rotations within a target during terminal ballistics. A spinning bullet would “not make a full revolution if it passes through” the distance that represents the distance of the width of a human body, THROUGH A NON- OR MINIMALLY RESISTANT MEDIUM SUCH AS AIR. The reason for that is that the rotation rate will slow down much less quickly than the forward momentum, which will cause multiple rotations during that travel distance as the forward momentum is converted to horizontal force transfer. It’s especially noticeable in this video by Lehigh Defense showing both the Xtreme… Read more »


This is nonsense. Not only do you fail to provide any proof of your “hundreds of hours of testing”, you also automatically presume yourself to be more knowledgeable than anyone else in the industry (including professionals) and proclaim anyone who disagrees with you to be automatically wrong. Any one of these things would hurt your credibility by themselves, but together they make you sound like a raving lunatic. I’ve yet to see any proof that Lehigh projectiles reliably inflict more damage than good JHP designs. Baseless claims, yes, but thus far no proof. If your research is so expansive and… Read more »

Gary H.

Thanks for the review. Nice to see the good same results I have seen in other tests for the Remington Golden Saber’s in 185gr .45 acp, my winter EDC and 124gr 9mm, my summer EDC. The bonus with these was stockpiling them when they had the $10 per box rebate a couple of years ago. Nothing like getting 25 high quality defense rounds for $5 a box, 20 cents a round after the rebate w/ free shipping. Cant get .45 FMJ target ammo for that, at least not that I know of. Had a lot of friends and relatives ship… Read more »