Terminal Ballistics Data for Handgun Ammo
The question of terminal ballistics comes up often enough to publish some data that will provide information to aid in the determination of which bullets to select for concealed carry and home protection. The following information was taken from a Guns & Ammo Dec. 1996 article. Newer and better ammo may now be available, however, a few loads in a few calibers produce a one-shot stop 94 to 96% of the time based on a database of more than 500 shootings per load. That is as good as it gets for a handgun load.
22 Long Rifle
The most effective .22 lr load is the same load that started the trend to high velocity hollowpoints decades ago: the CCI 32 grain Stinger. The 32 gr Stinger is advertised at 1,500fps from a rifle, but it still reaches 1,255fps from a handgun. Surprisingly, it does not expand at these velocities. Instead, it tumbles base-over-nose to a depth of 9.8" in ballistics gelatin. The average adult male torso is 9.4" thick front to back. The Stinger produces enough penetration for the frontal upper torso shot. The other "hyper velocity" rimfires like the Remington 33 grain Yellow Jacket perform in ordinance gel just like the CCI 32 gr. Stinger. For years ammo experts have been saying the .22lr does not have enough power to stop hostilities instantly. Now we know the best 22 rimfire load is successful just one time out of three attempts. Based on 395 shootings, the Stinger has a 34% one-shot stop.
Second place in the 22 lr caliber are the 36 to 37gr. lead hollowpoints. In actual shootings, these "high velocity" lead hollowpoints are just 29% effective. The original 40 gr. roundnose lead has the dubious honor of being the least effective of the known defensive handgun loads. This classic RNL plinker is just 21% effective with one torso shot".
The 25 ACP is the least effective handgun caliber, period. The top load is the Winchester 45 gr. Expanding Point (XP). This is effective just 25% of the time. The Expanding Point load uses a lead hollow-point with a number 4 steel birdshot pellet crimped in the hollow-point cavity. This does not assist expansion. In fact, it limits expansion. It does, however, greatly assist feed reliability in auto pistols of all vintages and quality levels. The 45 gr. XP only expands to .29 cal or so in ordinance gelatin. It penetrates a respectable 13.8 inches. The 50 gr. FMJ from Federal, Remigton and Winchester have proven to be just 22 to 23% effective. These results are based on more than 6,200 shootings with this hardball load. The 50 gr. load produces 18 inches of penetration, but only pinhole size crush and stretch cavities.
The .32 ACP has been a popular choice for Seecamp-packing pistoleros. It's popularity took another leap upward with Beretta's 1996 SHOT show announcement of a Mod.21-based auto pistol. We now have .32cal wound ballisitcs from a pistol sized to handle the .22 and .25 calibers.
The hollow-point ammo that defines the .32 ACP is the Winchester 60gr. Silvertip. This 970 fps pure aluminum jacketed hollow-point expands extremely well. In 10% gelatin, we get .57cal recovered diameters. As a result of this large mushroom, the penetration is limited to 6.5 inches. This matches exactly the penetration of the .380 Auto 85 gr. Silvertip. This depth has proven to be enough for a frontal or near-frontal upper torso shot. This may seem to be a little shallow fo most other shot placememts. However, in a cross section of 83 shootings, the .32 ACP Silvertip has been effective 63% of the time with one shot. This is actually better than many .380 ACP loads.
The top load in this popular caliber is the Cor-Bon 90 gr. JHP (+P). With 70% one-shot stops, this rivals the .38 Special 125gr JHP (+P) from duty-length revolvers. Using a Sierra bullet, the Cor-Bon load feeds well in everything from a S&W Sigma to a Colt Mustang. At an honest 1,050 fps, the Cor-Bon 90gr. JHP has enough energy to punch through heavy bone. This was one of the contenders for the U.S. Secret Service contract. Very close behind the Cor-Bon load, and in an absolute tie in street effectiveness, are Federals 90gr JHP and 90gr. HydraShok. Both produce 69% one-shot stops. Both have a substantial database of shootings to validate these percentages. However these two loads achieve their stopping power very differently. The 90gr. HydraShok is a ballistic match to the 90gr. Cor-Bon. Bothe produce a lot of expansion and just enough penetration. The Federal 90gr. JHP, even though it uses a Sierra bullet, is going slow enough not to expand very much. The result is nearly the deepest penetration in the caliber for a hollow-point. Regardless of the indicators from gelatin testing, this is one of the most proven-effective loads in the caliber.
.38 Special (+P)
For quite some time, the 158gr. lead hollow-point was the top street load at 78%. This load did, indeed outperform the 110gr.JHP(+P+) against car bodies. More recently, the top .38 Special load was the Cor-Bon 115 gr. JHP (+P+) with an impressive 83% one-shot record. This was an update to the Police-only "Treasury" load and it was available to all shooters. Winchester and the St. Louis Police invented this SWC lead HP circa 1972. While the hyper-velocity 110 gr. (+P+) load produced mostly spectacular results and occasionally dismal results, the St. Louis lead hollow-point was much more consistent. These loads produced 77 to 78% one-shot stops regardless of clothing, car bodies, or other barriers. This load remains as one of history's best loads from duty-length revolvers. However this reputation does not carry over to shorter-barreled guns. The velocity loss from snub-nose barrel lengths must be made up by going to lighter bullets. This explains the growing popularity and street success of the 125 gr. JHP's, led by the Federal (+P) version. This load expands to .69 cal. and penetrates 12.2 inches of calibrated gelatin. These JHP's produce 73% one-shot stops.
The top loads in this caliber are the 115 and 124 gr. (+P) and (+P+) hollow-points. Most of these (+P+) loads are restricted by the manufacturer to police use only. However these same exact wound ballistics are available to all shooters from Cor-Bon, Triton Cartridge, Georgia Arms, and Remington with their 115 gr. (+P) ammo. In fact, with 91% one-shot stops, the Cor-Bon 115 gr. Sierra HP actually leads the caliber. The police-only (+P+) versions produce 86 to 90% one-shot stops. Behind the 115 gr. JHP (+P) ammo, second place loads in this caliber are the 124 gr. JHP (+P) ammo. Remmington makes a 124 gr. (+P) Golden Saber while CCI Speer, Cor-Bon, and Georgia Arms load a 124 gr(+P) Gold Dot. These are 83 to 84% loads. Those shooters with access to police-only ammo should also consider the Federal 124 gr. HydraShok (+P+) and the Winchester 127 gr. Ranger SXT (+P+).
.357 Magnum (my personal favorite)
The .357 Magnum remains one of the most effective calibers in history. Withiin this caliber, one load stands out from all the rest: the 125gr. JHP. With more than 750fully documented shootings, the Federal and Remington versions produce 96% one-shot stops. This appears to be the upper limit for any handgun, period.
These loads expand violently upon impact and fragment back to very small recovered diameters. The penetration depths vary from 12-14 inches. These loads produce large stretch cavities. Regardless of the various theories of stopping power, this kind of performance in gelatin literally defines success on the street. Second place in the .357 Magnum caliber goes to the crop of 110 gr. JHP's led by the Federal and Remington versions. These both produce 10 inch penetration depths ideal for the home defense and concealed carry scenarios. Due to the stiff recoil from the full power 125 gr. loads, the 110 gr. JHP's are a much more popular choice for snub nose .357 Magnums.
Terminal Ballistics Cont'd
Terminal Ballistics Cont'd
The hottest selling police and defensive caliber is the .40 S&W. Those with 9mm pistols are trading for the .40 S&W to gain both stopping power and cycling reliability. Those with the .45 ACP pistols are trading for the .40 S&W to get the same stopping power from smaller weapons that hold more ammo. The chart-topper in this caliber is the dynamic Cor-Bon 135 gr. JHP. Either the original load using Nosler bullets or the current load using Sierra bullets produces an impressive 96% one-shot stops. This equals the incredible .357 Magnum 125 gr. JHP. This load fragments violently after expansion and produces 9.8 to 10.4 inches of penetration. This makes it the best possible load for personal and home defense.
Following the Cor-Bon 135 gr. JHP is a close cluster of medium weight, full-power hollow-points with an effectiveness of 91 to 94%. In order, these are the Federal 155 gr. JHP, Remington 165 gr. Golden Saber, Federal 155 gr. HydraShok, Cor-Bon 150 gr. Sierra JHP, and Winchester 155 gr. Silvertip.
10mm Medium Velocity
In the medium velocity version, all the 10mm loads perform close to the same. This makes sense. They all weigh from 180 to 200 grs. and have velocities from 980 to 1,050 fps. They all produce 12 to 15.5 inches of penetration with .62 to .68 cal expansion. The street results for the Remington, Federal, and Winchester versions are 81 to 82%. The alert reader will notice these are less effective than most 9mm hollow-points.
The only 10mm full-power load with enough shootings to publish a stopping power result is the Cor-Bon 150 gr. JHP. In 10 shootings, this load was instantly effective 9 times. Frankly, with over 560 ft.lbs. of energy,this author expects this number to rise to 92 to 94% as more shootings occur. Based strictly on gelatin analysis, the Winchester 175 gr. Sivertip is an extremely promising load. With 12.5 inches of penetration, and .81 cal. expansion, this load has a Fuller Index of 92%. Another very serious full-power load is 135 gr. JHP from Cor-Bon. At 1,400 fps, these loads produce stretch cavities much larger than most .357 Magnum loads, violent expansion, and 12 inches of penetration.
Clearly the best defense load for the .41 Magnum is the Winchester 175 gr. Silvertip. This is nearly identical to the 10mm 175 gr. Silvertip and has an 89% one-shot stop. The Silvertip fragments partially after expansion, and produces a controlled 14 inches of gelatin penetration. The 1,250 fps Silvertip produces 20% less recoil than the 210 gr., 1,300 fps hollow-points. For most shooters, this is a welcome reduction in recoil and increase in control.
At a mere 82% one-shot stops, second place in the .41 Magnum caliber goes to the Winchester 210 gr. JHP. This full-house hollow-point packs nearly 800 ft.lbs. of energy but takes nearly 18 inches of gelatin to transfer it. This makes it a great hunting load but a personal defense load that almost guarantees over-penetration. The .41 Magnum 210 gr. JSP and SWC loads have ratings from 74 to 81%. These loads clearly produce too much penetration for home and personal defense.
The most proven .44 Special load is the Winchester 200 gr. Silvertip. However, the 75% one-shot stop rating is no better than the .38 Special (+P) 158 gr. LHP. This is a disappointment for many snub-nose revolver enthusiasts. However, readers must remember the .44 Special operates at chamber pressures even lower than the standard pressure (non +P) .38 Special. The .44 Special 200 gr. Silvertip makes up in caliber what it lacks in energy. It expands reliably to .61 cal from my three-inch Taurus and penetrates 10.4 inches of gelatin.
The most promising new .44 Special load appears to be the Cor-Bon 180 gr XTP (+P). This reaches an honest 1,000fps from three-inch guns. The .60 cal expansion and controlled 14.2 inches of penetration result in a Fuller Index stopping-power estimate of 87%. That is in the high .45 Auto range of effectiveness. Close behind this (+P) load is the CCI Speer 200 gr. Gold Dot loaded at standard pressures to 875 fps. The copper plated Gold Dot expands more than any current production bullet to .64 cal. The 12.5 inch penetration is ideal. This dependable big-bore load has a Fuller Index of 84%. That is as good as most .45 Auto loads, better than all .38 Special hollow-points, and more effective than all the standard pressure 9mm hollowpoints.
The .44 Magnum is not widely used for defense due to recoil, especially from shorter barrels. According to street results, the top load in this caliber is the Winchester 210 gr. Silvertip at 90% one-shot stops. The 210 gr. Silvertip produces about 10% less recoil than the 180 and 240 gr. full-house loads. The .357 Magnum actually produces more stopping power than the .44 Magnum. The .44 Magnum cannot transfer as much of the energy as the .357 Magnum in the first 8.4 inches where it counts. Cor-Bon makes an "urban defense" load fo the .44 Magnum. Their 180 gr. XTP produces about 20% less recoil than even the Silvertip. The big-bore Hornady XTP opens to .70 cal. and penetrates just over 15 inches. With a Fuller Index of 90%, this is the one .44 Magnum load that makes the most sense for defense.
According to 69 shootings, the top load for the oldest big bore is the Federal 225 gr. lead hollow-point. This has a one-shot-stop record of 78%. The Winchester 225 gr. Silvertip expands to .70 cal. and stops in 13.5 inches. This is excellent. The 74% actual effectiveness seems way under-rated. The .45 Colt load with the highest Fuller Index at 92% is the Cor-Bon 200 gr. Speer JHP (+P). This is basically the same "flying ashcan" bullet used in the Speer .45 ACP load. The Cor-Bon .45 Long Colt (+P) version at 1,100 fps expands to .80 cal. and penetrates 9 inches of gelatin. The standard pressure version of this load from CCI Speer expands a little less and penetrates a little more. The CCI Speer 200 gr. JHP has an 85% rating.
The definitive load for the venerable .45 ACP big bore is the Federal 230 gr. HydraShok. From a 50-50 mix of 5" and 4.5" auto pistols, the heavy HydraSHok has been 94% effective in 71 shootings. The 230 Gr. HydraShok is as good as the .45 gets, period. Very close behind the HydraShok, but based on far fewer shootings, is the Remington 230 gr. Golden Saber. This brass jacketed hollow-point expands to a full .75 cal. and penetrates 14.3 inches. This checks in with a Fuller Index of 93%. The next two most proven hollow-points are the 185 gr. (+P) JHP's from Cor-Bon and Remington. The Cor-Bon version at 1,150 fps is long on crush cavity. The Remington Version at 1,140 fps is long on stretch cavity. These two (+P) loads have an actual stopping record of 91 and 92%, respectively. The Federal 185 gr. HydraShok (+P) delivers the same punch and carries the same 91% Fuller Index.
:) Interesting read!
It's incomplete, however, without similarly comprehensive information on the, 'new kid on the block' - the 357 SIG. ;)
(Notice how I didn't say anything about the 45 GAP?) :D
I have a "Table" of 'Best Frangibles Vs. Best JHP's' for the abovementioned calibers , but I compiled it in MS Word and can't "copy and paste" it here, nor can I upload it due to the size restriction of 97kb for attachments. If anyone has any suggestions for how to upload a table I'm listening...
:) That's a very good handgun cartridge synopsis, RL! If you're able to, I think you should update the list to include the 357 SIG, and 45 GAP.
'Back then The GAP was a clothing store!' I love that one! :D
As to the 125 gr JHP .357 Magnum, I've read of several reports in which the bullet failed to penetrate deeply enough to reach vital organs. In on case involving an FBI shooting, the bullet stopped 1" short of the heart, failing to stop the assailant and resulting in a seriously wounded FBI agent. This in Florida, as I recall.
For all 'round shooting conditions, the mass of extra bullet weight provides penetration where expansion often fails. For years the standard was the 250gr. .45 Colt slug moving at around 900 fps. I believe the late Jef Cooper formulated a minimum of ".40-200-1000" for stopping power. That is, a minimum of .40 caliber, 200 grain bullet, at 1000 fps velocity. I believe this still holds true.
The above description sounds, suspiciously, like the ultimately fatal wound received by Michael Platt during the early stages of the 1986, 'FBI Miami Shootout'. That would have been a 9mm Winchester Silvertip 115 grain JHP bullet - One of the crappiest and most ineffective combat rounds ever invented!
My compliments on the rest of the post! That, pretty well, sums up, 'Why' I often carry 230 grain FMJ in my G-21. (especially in the wintertime!) ;)
I believe you are right about the 9mm JHP. I cannot fathom a 125 gr. .357 Mag bullet stopping 1" short of the heart, which is only less than 4" into the average chest cavity! Unless of course it first penetrated his "bullet-proof" vest...
I believe it was Jerry Dove who fired the second shot to hit Michael Platt. It was a 9mm round fired from about 30 feet away. The bullet traversed Platt's arm, severing the brachial arteries and veins, and exited on the inside of his upper arm near the armpit. Then this same 9mm bullet successfully penetrated Platt's chest and passed almost completely through the right lung before it stopped just short of his heart.
This wound was, both, mortal and irreparable. Ultimately it proved fatal; however, in the time it took Michael Platt to die he managed to continue fighting, continued to move around and, in the interim, shot two agents to death when he ambushed them with a Mini-14 while they were crouched and reloading behind one of the FBI vehicles.
For some reason, I don't think anyone was wearing a bulletproof vest during this gunfight. I believe those FBI agents had vests in the trunks of their cars, that day, but failed to put them on before the battle erupted. (It was 1986; and the world hadn't gone quite all to Hell, yet!)
Are you sure that was in Miami - I remember a similar scenario in the mid-west somewhere on an indian reservation around that same time...
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