Category Archives: Ammo test

The Best Ammo Test Ever

This is a total departure from my normal blog articles, but I just found this video (even though it’s over two years old at the time of this writing).  But not only is it informative, and (unfortunately for the host) quite entertaining, it also really illustrates a very important point, so I’d like to call attention to it.

The test under discussion was a test of the Kimber Pepper Blaster II, a pepper-spray gun.  This is a less-than-lethal alternative for self defense, as compared to using a firearm.  While few serious self defense advisers would recommend pepper spray over a firearm, there are certainly some reasons why one might want to consider something like pepper spray, including:

  1. Depending on your local laws, it may be legal to carry it without any additional licensing;
  2. In a home defense situation, it is nearly inconceivable that it could pose a threat to occupants in nearby rooms or adjoining apartments or condos;
  3. Depending on local laws, it may be legal to carry a device like this into places that prohibit firearms (some places can legally prohibit licensed firearms carriers from carrying their firearms into them);
  4. For those who simply cannot or will not accept the possibility that they, through using a firearm, might cause another person to be seriously injured or die, maybe they would be more comfortable with a less-than-lethal option; and, finally:
  5. It’s gotta be better than nothing, right?

And so it is that I did a little digging into the current state of pepper spray devices.  Pepper spray, when employed properly, can be quite effective in discouraging a person from doing whatever it was that you didn’t want them to be doing (i.e., robbing or assaulting you), but how effective are they, really?

That’s when I found this test, by YouTuber “TheLowBuck Prepper“:

It’s a long video, over 22 minutes long, so if you want to save some time and jump to the relevant parts, here’s an overview:

In this test, the host (an intimidating-looking gent, to be sure) acts out a scenario wherein he attempts to rob someone of their purse, and gets shot with pepper spray, right in the face.   Accordingly, due to language, let me say that this video is most definitely NSFW!

Now, before we go any further, I just have to say — that took cojones, to volunteer to get hit with what must certainly be an extremely unpleasant experience, in the name of science and to inform us all as to what the experience is really like!  It was manly, it was bold, and I’m sure I speak for many when I say “thank you” to TheLowBuck Prepper for quite literally “taking one for us.”

Skipping to the most interesting bits, here’s what I observed:

03:00 – the initial test shot, where the host attempts to grab the purse and gets shot in the face with the first shot.  In this first test, the host was shot in the chin at extremely close range (looked to be no more than about a foot away). The results were completely and utterly ineffective — the host was not incapacitated, he wasn’t slowed down, and while he admits that the impact of the pepper cartridge on his chin didn’t feel good, it certainly didn’t stop him from doing anything that he wanted to.  The pepper itself didn’t do much of anything to him; he could feel a little bit in his mouth and said it basically felt “like eating some hot wings”.  He classified this as a total fail.

08:30 – they decide to test it again, this time at a distance of about 12 feet.  And in this test, the pepper disperses in the attacker’s face, and it drops him to the ground nearly instantly.  And then he goes on an epic 14-minute rant describing the pain, the incapacitation, dousing himself with gallons of milk, having his friends douse him with a hose nearly continuously.  The language is harsh, as you may imagine, and the description of the pain is extremely educational, and the visuals and the description may lead you to giggle like a schoolkid, (especially when he describes what happens to “Roscoe”).

I find this test fascinating for two main reasons: first, because this brave man put his body on the line to get us some legitimate real-world answers, and secondly, because we get to see two real-world examples of how ammo (bullets or pepper spray) may work.  Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.

And that’s the real takeaway here.  The exact same weapon, the exact same attacker, the exact same defender, and two entirely opposite outcomes.  It happens.  Pepper spray could turn out to be worthless in defending you, or it could turn out to be an absolute manstopper.  TheLowBuck Prepper wasn’t killed, he wasn’t permanently injured, but he was STOPPED.  He dropped to the ground, and he couldn’t see.  He would still have been very dangerous if he had been within contact distance, but if the defender was out of reach when firing that second shot, he/she could easily have gotten away and there’s pretty much zero chance that TheLowBuck Prepper could have continued his attack — or would have wanted to.

As I’ve pointed out in prior articles, this is the exact same type of scenario that may happen with a firearm.  Maybe you’ll hit your attacker and they’ll immediately stop.  But maybe you’ll hit the attacker (like the first pepper-spray shot in this video) and the attacker will not even give any evidence that they noticed or cared that they’d been hit.  Either scenario is possible, and your particular choice of caliber or handgun won’t really make that much of a difference — it’s really up to the attacker and to where the shot was placed.

In the first example, the defender placed the shot fairly decently — it did hit the attacker in the face, after all — but it had little to no effect, and it had zero effectiveness in FORCING the attacker to IMMEDIATELY STOP.  Zero.  Bullets can be the same way, whether they’re little .22’s or great big .45’s — just because you hit the attacker somewhere, doesn’t guarantee that the attacker will be FORCED to STOP.  Read my recent articles (such as this one or this one) for case studies of attackers (and defenders) who took repeated, multiple hits from major calibers (9mm, .40, and .45) and simply were not stopped.  In this first shot, even though the attacker was hit in the face, nothing VITAL was hit — the projectile impacted with his chin, bounced off, and leaked pepper spray into his beard.  He was able to ignore all that.

In the second example, the defender placed the shot perfectly, and the attacker’s vital organs were hit (his eyes and nose).  The pepper dispersed properly and brought his actions to a screeching halt.  He was incapacitated — literally, his body was incapable of continuing the voluntary actions of attacking or pursuing the defender.  He wasn’t inconvenienced, he didn’t choose to stop attacking, he was literally forced to stop attacking because he could not keep his eyes open and he could not even stand up.  If you’re ever involved in a defensive gun use (or, for that matter, a defensive pepper spray use) that’s what you would really want to be able to do — cause your attacker to immediately stop their attack.  And the only way to guarantee that is to incapacitate their body so that they simply cannot continue, no matter how much they may have wanted to.

In pepper spray, it’s obvious from the results of this test that:

  • you have to hit the eyes and/or nose with spray, and
  • it has to actually disperse.  You can see in the video how the cloud of pepper disperal made it pretty much impossible for the attacker to avoid getting swarmed with the spray, whereas in the first test it looked like there really wasn’t any cloud of dispersal.

With a firearm, the obvious and unavoidable conclusions are that:

  • You have to place the shot such that it will hit a vital organ, and
  • the ammo has to perform properly.  It has to penetrate deep enough, and expand big enough, that it is capable of doing enough damage to the vital organs that the attacker’s body is incapable of continuing his attack.

A shot that doesn’t hit a vital organ (such as a major artery, or circulatory system organ, or brain or brain stem or upper spinal column), cannot force the body to stop immediately.  It may hurt a lot, and the attacker may choose to stop, but they might not choose to stop either (see the aforementioned articles for examples).  But a hit on a vital organ gives the attacker no choice — their body will be rendered out of their control.  Even so, be aware that the effects may or may not be immediate — even in the case of a major circulatory system hit, the attacker may have enough oxygen in their system that they can control their body for up to 10 or maybe even 15 seconds.  That’s a long, long time when you’re engaged in a life-or-death struggle; someone could easily empty the entire contents of a pistol’s magazine in less than 10 seconds.

Similarly, a shot that is placed to hit a vital organ, but doesn’t have the requisite destructive power to actually destroy or substantially damage that organ, may not do you any good in bringing the fight to a quick stop.  It may eventually even cause the attacker serious complications or even death, but that’s not your concern — your concern is and should be to bring the fight to the quickest possible stop.  If you use ammo that doesn’t penetrate deep enough, or doesn’t expand big enough, it may not damage the organ sufficiently (or even at all!)

Finally, multiple shots increase your chances of scoring a hit on a vital organ.  Shoot until the threat stops threatening you (whether voluntarily or through incapacitation, it doesn’t really matter; as soon as the attacker breaks off their attack, you legally must stop shooting them).  But as long as the attacker remains a threat, and deadly force is a legal and appropriate response, many self defense advisors and instructors would tell you that you should continue shooting until the threat stops being a threat to you.

Share Button

NAA .22LR Mini Revolver Ammo Quest Results

I have always been fascinated by the North American Arms mini revolvers, and I’ve been conducting testing from a Black Widow in .22 Magnum.  But, small as it is, the Black Widow is still substantially bigger than NAA’s smallest offerings, the .22 Short and .22LR mini-revolvers.

I loved the size of the .22 Short revolver, but its limited and (comparatively) expensive ammo choices made it a less desirable option to me than the .22LR mini-revolver, and truthfully its size was just barely smaller than the .22LR version.  In other words, the .22LR is only a third of an inch longer, but it gives you much more flexibility in ammo choice.  And, the .22LR mini-revolver is noticeably smaller than the .22 Magnum version (the magnum is about 3/4″ longer, 1/2″ taller, and weighs about 30% more.)  Plus, the .22LR will fit in the NAA Belt Buckle Holster, whereas the .22 Magnum wouldn’t, and … the belt buckle holster is pretty intriguing, so for all those reasons, I went with the NAA .22LR mini-revolver, in the shortest barrel length (1 1/8″).

Why didn’t I go for the longer barrel?  Three reasons, really:

1. I wanted the smallest .22LR revolver.  A longer barrel makes it … bigger.

2. According to NAA’s own ballistic testing, the longer barrel has extremely little effect on the ballistics; the 1 5/8″ barrel delivered (in their testing) only about 2.13% faster velocities, on average, than the 1 1/8″ barrel did.

3. It wouldn’t fit in the belt buckle holster.  And the belt buckle holster is cool.

Accordingly, I picked up one of these mini-revolvers and then commenced trying to figure out what would be the most appropriate ammo to use with it.  But I couldn’t find any sort of standardized test results out there.  There are many tests conducted on .22LR ammo, but many of them have been done from rifles or bigger pistols, and so those results would have little to zero applicability to how the rounds will perform from the tiny 1.13″ barrel… so — as I did with the .380 pocket pistol — I decided to conduct my own testing.

Testing Standards

I set as my standard the guidelines established by the 1987 and 1993 Wound Ballistic Conferences, where wound ballistics experts, medical examiners, forensic pathologists, police officers, trauma surgeons, combat surgeons, and others who worked with street shootings and bullets (and the wounds they cause) day in and day out.  These were the recognized experts in their fields, and they conducted conferences to determine what properties and capabilities caused a bullet to be most effective, and how they could then develop tests that would best and most accurately reflect real-world results, so that ammo designers could then design ammo that would perform most effectively.  Effectiveness was determined to be the ability to penetrate deep enough into the body to reach the vital organs (such as the heart, circulatory system, and central nervous system).  A bullet that can’t reach that far, and can’t be relied upon to disrupt the vital organs, was deemed an ineffective bullet.

When it’s all boiled down to the simplest guidelines possible, the parameters work out like this, in order of importance:

  1. A bullet needs to have enough power to penetrate AT LEAST 12″ of soft tissue simulant.  If it can penetrate through 12″ of ballistic gel, then that means it has enough power to pass through whatever combination of bone, muscle, skin, fat, and organs that it could possibly encounter, and still be able to reach the vital organs.
  2. A bullet should penetrate LESS than 18″ of soft tissue simulant.  Bullets that penetrated more than 18″ of ballistic gel would usually end up exiting the body of the attacker, regardless of how much bone or tissue it had to pass through.  That meant that the bullet posed a very real danger of overpenetration, and also that it was wasting its energy by passing completely through.  This turned out to be a non-issue with the NAA .22LR Mini-Revolver, as none of the bullets I tested could exceed 18″ of penetration.
  3. The bigger the bullets, the better.  The bigger the hole the bullet makes, the more tissue it destroys, and the more likely it is to damage vital structures that a smaller bullet might miss.  In this context, expanding bullets (that penetrate deeply enough!) are much better than solid bullets, because solid bullets tend to pass right through, whereas an expanding bullet grows larger and is more likely to slow down and stop in the desired window of 12″ to 18″ of soft tissue penetration.  (unfortunately, this turned out to be an irrelevant factor, since all .22LR bullets are the same diameter and make the same diameter hole, and none of the hollowpoint bullets expanded in my testing).
  4. Sharper bullets are better than round bullets.  This isn’t the most important factor, but an expanded bullet with sharp petals on it is more likely to cut an artery or other vital structure than a round-nose bullet might, especially at the limit of travel when the bullet is going more slowly.  A round-nose might just push tissue out of the way, where a sharp bullet may still be cutting and damaging tissue.  This is another reason an expanded hollowpoint is a better wounder than a round-nose FMJ (Full Metal Jacket).  Again, this isn’t much of a factor with the mini-revolver; the ammo available is almost entirely lead round nose (with or without copper plating); for purposes of this section I’m including the hollowpoint ammo as lead round nose, since the hollowpoints don’t expand at the low velocities the NAA mini-revolver can produce.
  5. Of all the parameters that matter when evaluating a bullet’s terminal performance, the most important is to achieve sufficient penetration.  Overpenetration is bad, yes, but as Dr. Martin Fackler said, “Overpenetration may get you sued, but underpenetration can get you killed.”

The FBI adopted these requirements for their duty ammo selection, which is only partially related to us in the self defense community; we’re not the FBI and we don’t need FBI duty ammo, but what makes a bullet effective in stopping a criminal are the same factors that make it effective in stopping someone who’s assaulting us.  Of course, none of this matters with .22LR, since the FBI doesn’t issue .22LR guns to their agents, nor do they conduct testing on .22LR ammo.  Even so, the penetration requirements don’t change because the bullet’s smaller!  So — the way I saw it, I was charting new territory here.

I should point out, there are other differences between the FBI testing and self-defense testing.  The FBI requires their ammo to pass additional tests of barrier penetration, including auto windshield glass, plywood, drywall, and other tests.  In the self defense community, those aren’t likely realistic tests that we need our ammo to pass, so I didn’t bother with those tests.  There are two main tests that are most important to self defense shooters: the bare ballistic gelatin test, and the 4-layer denim test.  The International Wound Ballistic Association standardized these two tests as a comprehensive evaluation of ammo performance in best-case and worst-case scenarios, and so that is the testing methodology I normally use when conducting my tests.  But in this case, I didn’t bother with the denim test.  Why?  Because the denim test is designed to evaluate a hollowpoint bullet’s ability to expand even after passing through a lot of fabric, and with the mini-revolver, hollowpoints just DO NOT expand.  At all.  Pretty much ever.  So the denim test would be a pointless and expensive exercise.  Accordingly, my testing here is limited to the bare gel test, using (mainly) ClearBallistics synthetic ballistic gel, and in some cases I used calibrated 10% organic ballistic gel.  I compared the results between them and got extremely similar results, so I believe the results here can be taken as valid regardless of which medium the particular round was tested in.

My goal was to test .22LR ammo from the 1 1/8″ mini-revolver, into ballistic gel test media, and see which (if any) rounds would deliver consistent penetration deeper than 12″.

Now, right here you may think I’m asking too much from this little mini revolver.  And I admit, I am — it would seem absurd to ask that a 4.5-ounce gun be able to deliver 12″ of penetration!  I agree.  However, the standards as set by the professionals seem to me to be a worthy goal to pursue.  Would we be able to achieve it? I didn’t know — but I certainly wanted to see what comes closest.  After all, why settle for something substandard, when it’s possible that there might actually be a round or two out there that actually would deliver the results and meet the goal?

It is also true that you may not NEED a full 12″ of penetration from such a tiny pistol, given that this type of pistol is less likely to be used as your main defensive weapon and is more likely to be used as a “last resort” type of weapon (meaning, it might be used in up-close contact distances where you’re actually shoving the revolver into the bad guy’s body and pulling the trigger.)  In cases like that, you wouldn’t have to worry about intervening arms getting in the way and requiring more penetration to get through them.  In a case of an unobstructed chest shot, it’s possible that an 8″ bullet might be able to get the job done.  But a 12″ bullet would always be able to get the job done.  And since we don’t get to pick and choose our defensive shooting scenarios, I wanted bullets that had the highest probability of delivering deep-penetrating hits in all possible scenarios.  And especially for those who may actually be relying on a .22LR mini-revolver for their main or only defensive weapon, they may very well need the full 12″ of penetration potential depending on the scenario they find themselves in.

With all that said, my final attitude was: I want the bullets to be able to penetrate 12″.  I would find it probably acceptable if they would penetrate at least 10″, that would probably be good enough for many scenarios.  If they’ll only go 8″, that’s pretty shallow and I certainly wouldn’t be happy about that.  But only proper testing can reveal just how far they actually can go.

I’ve blogged previously on the whys and wherefores of ballistic gel (for example, herehere, and here.)  In the simplest terms, it’s a soft tissue simulant that we use to evaluate a bullet’s performance through soft human tissue.  It’s not “jello”, it’s not a dessert, it’s actually powdered and reconstituted flesh.  Professional ballistic gel is made from ground-up and powdered pork skin.  It’s an effective flesh simulant because it actually is flesh.  I used synthetic ClearBallistics gel from www.clearballistics.com for most of the bare gel tests, and I re-confirmed the best-performing bullets’ performance by shooting them into genuine 10% organic ordnance gelatin.  (For reference, I did a comprehensive comparison between the two tissue simulant products before starting this Ammo Quest, and found that the synthetic gel was suitable and quite comparable for handgun bullet testing.)

Testing Procedures

My testing procedure was to fire at least five shots into each block of gel, from 10 feet, through a chronograph.  All 10% ballistic gel was calibrated with a steel BB at ~590 fps, was prepared to FBI specifications using FBI gel preparation procedures, stored at proper temperatures, and shot at proper temperatures, for consistent reliable data.  All bullets were measured for penetration distance while they were in the block of gel.  In some cases I may have shot more than five bullets, to get a higher statistical sampling of that particular ammo’s performance.  This is especially true in the case of the best-performing ammo; I wanted to verify that I wasn’t seeing a “fluke”, I wanted to verify that it was legitimate performance.  In the case of the winning ammo, I shot rounds into the synthetic gel and also into a block of organic gel, to ensure the results were valid.

I tested a total of 25 types of ammunition through bare ClearBallistics gelatin, and retested the best rounds in organic gel. This resulted in a grand total of 32 different tests being conducted (sheesh!)  I didn’t produce a separate video for each, as there really was no need — the bullets don’t expand, they don’t do anything different, there was no need for a bullet exam afterwards, they’re all just solid hunks of lead (or tin or plastic or whatever the bullet was made of).  So the only thing that really mattered was the velocity and the penetration distance.  I have compiled all those results in the following video, and in the tables below.

Results

The results are correlated in the tables below.    Penetration data is color-coded; red is totally unacceptable underpenetration under 9″; yellow is a bad sign (indicating modest underpenetration below 10″), green is considered decent (over 10″ but under 12″), and blue is considered excellent penetration (deeper than 12″).  When looking at these charts, the more blue and green you see, the better that ammo performed.

North American Arms .22LR Mini-Revolver With 1 1/8″ Barrel

Ammunition Test Results

Aguila Colibri

Bullet Weight 20
Bullet Type Lead CB
Average Velocity in feet per second 346
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 1.50
(corrected for bounceback) 2.50
2.50
2.50
2.50

Aguila-Colibri

 

Aguila Interceptor Red

Bullet Weight 40 grains
Bullet Type Lead Soft Point
Average Velocity in feet per second 860
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 10.50
11.00
11.50
11.75
13.75

Aguila-interceptor-red

 

 

Aguila Sniper SubSonic

Bullet Weight 60
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 596
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 6.00
6.00
6.50
6.75
7.00

Aguila-SSS

 

 

Aguila Super Colibri

Bullet Weight 20
Bullet Type Lead CB
Average Velocity in feet per second 509
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 4.00
4.50
4.50
5.00
5.50

Aguila-Super-Colibri

 

Aguila SuperExtra Blue Subsonic

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 648
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 6.50
7.00
7.50
8.00
6.75

Aguila-SuperExtra-blue

 

 

Aguila SuperExtra Orange High Velocity

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 680
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.75
7.75
8.00
8.00
8.00

Aguila-SuperExtra-orange

 

Aguila SuperExtra Yellow High Velocity

Bullet Weight 38
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 685
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.25
7.25
7.50
7.50
8.50
8.50
8.50
8.50

Aguila-superextra-yellow

 

 

Aguila Supermaximum Hyper Velocity

Bullet Weight 30
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 845
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.50
8.00
13.25
13.75
14.25
15.75

Aguila-supermaximum

 

American Eagle Hollowpoint

Bullet Weight 38
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 807
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 9.25
9.00
9.50
9.75
10.75

AE-38gr-HP

 

 

American Eagle Solid

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 823
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 9.25
10.25
10.75
10.75
11.50
12.00
12.00
13.00

AE-40gr-solid

 

 

CCI Mini-Mag 36-Grain Hollowpoint

Bullet Weight 36
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 838
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 12.00
12.00
12.50
12.50
11.50
11.50
11.25
11.25
11.75

CCI-mini-mag-36gr-1CCI-mini-mag-36gr-2

 

 

CCI Mini-Mag 40-Grain Solid

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 752
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.25
8.25
8.50
8.50
9.00

CCI-mini-mag-40gr

 

 

CCI Segmented Hollowpoint

Bullet Weight 32
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 928
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 4.50
5.00
5.50
5.50
5.75
5.75
6.00
7.00

CCI-segmented-HP-32-grain

 

CCI Short-Range Green

Bullet Weight 21
Bullet Type Lead-Free Solid
Average Velocity in feet per second 1005
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 5.50
7.00
7.50
8.50
8.75

CCI-short-range-green

 

 

CCI Shotshell

Bullet Weight 31
Bullet Type #12 shot
Average Velocity in feet per second
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 1 to 2”

CCI-shotshell

 

Eley Match EPS

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Flat Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 721
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.50
8.50
8.50
8.50
9.00

Eley-Match-EPS

 

 

Federal Champion 40-grain Solid

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 808
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 9.50
9.75
10.00
11.00
11.50

Fed-40gr-solid

 

 

Remington Golden Bullet

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 782
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.50
9.50
9.50
9.50
9.75
10.00
10.00
10.00
10.50
11.00
11.00
11.00
11.75

Rem-golden-bullet

 

Remington Subsonic

Bullet Weight 38
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 664
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.25
7.75
8.00
8.25
8.75

Remington-subsonic

 

 

Remington Thunderbolt

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 718
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.00
8.75
9.00
9.00
10.00

Remington-thunderbolt

 

 

SK Standard Plus

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 680
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.00
7.25
7.50
7.75
8.25

SK-standard-plus

 

 

Winchester Varmint LF

Bullet Weight 26
Bullet Type Tin Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 1008
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 6.25
6.50
6.50
7.50
7.50
8.00

win-tin

 

 

Winchester Super-X Super Speed Hollowpoint

Bullet Weight 37
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 774
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.75
8.75
9.25
9.50
10.75

Win-superX-37gr-hp

 

Winchester Super-X Hyper Speed Hollowpoint

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Copper-Plated Hollowpoint
Average Velocity in feet per second 730
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.00
8.00
8.75
8.75
9.00

 

Win-superX-40gr-HP

 

 

Wolf Match Target

Bullet Weight 40
Bullet Type Lead Round Nose
Average Velocity in feet per second 663
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 9.75
9.75
10.00
10.50
11.00

Wolf-match-target

Share Button

Final Results of the .380 ACP Ammo Quest

In July of 2013, I picked up a little .380 pocket pistol (specifically a Taurus PT738 TCP), and I started researching what would be the most appropriate ammo to use with it.

Turns out that pretty much nobody knew.  Well — I mean, sure, there’s lots of opinions, but I couldn’t find any comprehensive source of professional tests that were done from this particular barrel size, in ballistic gel, with a large sample size.  I found plenty of great tests from PocketGunsAndGear that were shot with a shorter 2.5″ barrel, and some tests from tnoutdoors9 that were shot with a longer barrel, but I couldn’t find any ballistic gel tests that were shot from the 2.8″ barrel.  And I knew that barrel length could affect velocity (especially as compared to the 3.5″ barrel) and that differing velocities can and will cause significant variations in expansion and penetration, so I wasn’t entirely sure that the results these other fine testers achieved would be directly applicable to these pistols with the 2.8″ barrel.

Furthermore, while I applaud the work that other testers are doing, I simply am not satisfied with a sample size of one bullet.  In my experience, ammo performance can vary so widely from one shot to the next, that I believe a larger sample size is necessary in order to have an idea of how the average round of the ammo is actually likely to perform.

So, as announced in a prior post, I decided to conduct my own tests.

Testing Standards

I set as my standard the guidelines established by the 1987 and 1993 Wound Ballistic Conferences, where wound ballistics experts, medical examiners, forensic pathologists, police officers, trauma surgeons, combat surgeons, and others who worked with street shootings and bullets (and the wounds they cause) day in and day out.  These were the recognized experts in their fields, and they conducted conferences to determine what properties and capabilities caused a bullet to be most effective, and how they could then develop tests that would best and most accurately reflect real-world results, so that ammo designers could then design ammo that would perform most effectively.  Effectiveness was determined to be the ability to penetrate deep enough into the body to reach the vital organs (such as the heart, circulatory system, and central nervous system).  A bullet that can’t reach that far, and can’t be relied upon to disrupt the vital organs, was deemed an ineffective bullet.

When it’s all boiled down to the simplest guidelines possible, the parameters work out like this, in order of importance:

  1. A bullet needs to have enough power to penetrate AT LEAST 12″ of soft tissue.  If it can penetrate through 12″ of soft tissue, then that means it has enough power to pass through whatever combination of bone, muscle, skin, fat, and organs that it could possibly encounter, and still be able to reach the vital organs.
  2. A bullet should penetrate LESS than 18″ of soft tissue.  Bullets that penetrated more than 18″ of soft tissue would usually end up exiting the body of the attacker, regardless of how much bone or tissue it had to pass through.  That meant that the bullet posed a very real danger of overpenetration, and also that it was wasting its energy by passing completely through.
  3. The bigger the bullets, the better.  The bigger the hole the bullet makes, the more tissue it destroys, and the more likely it is to damage vital structures that a smaller bullet might miss.  In this context, expanding bullets (that penetrate deeply enough!) are much better than solid bullets, because solid bullets tend to pass right through, whereas an expanding bullet grows larger and is more likely to slow down and stop in the desired window of 12″ to 18″ of soft tissue penetration.
  4. Sharper bullets are better than round bullets.  This isn’t the most important factor, but an expanded bullet with sharp petals on it is more likely to cut an artery or other vital structure than a round-nose bullet might, especially at the limit of travel when the bullet is going more slowly.  A round-nose might just push tissue out of the way, where a sharp bullet may still be cutting and damaging tissue.  This is another reason an expanded hollowpoint is a better wounder than a round-nose FMJ (Full Metal Jacket).
  5. Of all the parameters that matter when evaluating a bullet’s terminal performance, the most important is to achieve sufficient penetration.  Overpenetration is bad, but “underpenetration will get you killed” (quote from Dr. Martin Fackler).

The FBI adopted these requirements for their duty ammo selection, which is only partially related to us in the self defense community; we’re not the FBI and we don’t need FBI duty ammo, but — ammo manufacturers love to sell ammo to the FBI, so many of the modern hollowpoint rounds on the market are designed to meet the FBI requirements.  Which is good for us, because what makes a bullet effective in stopping a criminal, are the same factors that make it effective in stopping someone who’s assaulting us.  The FBI requires their ammo to pass additional tests of barrier penetration, including auto windshield glass, plywood, drywall, and other tests.  In the self defense community, those aren’t likely realistic tests that we need our ammo to pass, so I didn’t bother with those tests, instead I focused on the two tests that are most important to self defense shooters: the bare ballistic gelatin test, and the 4-layer denim test.  The International Wound Ballistic Association standardized these two tests as a comprehensive evaluation of ammo performance in best-case and worst-case scenarios, and so that is the testing methodology I adopted.

I’ve blogged previously on the whys and wherefores of ballistic gel (for example, here, here, and here.)  In the simplest terms, it’s a soft tissue simulant that we use to evaluate a bullet’s performance through soft human tissue.  It’s not “jello”, it’s not a dessert, it’s actually powdered and reconstituted flesh.  Professional ballistic gel is made from ground-up and powdered pork skin.  It’s an effective flesh simulant because it actually is flesh.  I used genuine professional 10% ordnance gelatin from www.gelatininnovations.com for the 4-layer denim test, and synthetic ClearBallistics gel from www.clearballistics.com for the bare gel tests.  (I did a comprehensive comparison between the two gelatin products before starting this Ammo Quest, and found that the synthetic gel was suitable for handgun bullet testing.)

Testing Procedures

My testing procedure was to fire five shots into each block of gel, from 10 feet, through a chronograph.  All 10% ballistic gel was calibrated with a steel BB at ~590 fps, was prepared to FBI specifications using FBI gel preparation procedures, stored at proper temperatures, and shot at proper temperatures, for consistent reliable data.  All bullets were measured for penetration distance while they were in the block of gel, then cut out, cleaned up, measured and weighed for final details.

I tested a total of 18 types of ammunition through bare ClearBallistics gelatin.  I then repeated the test in 10% calibrated ordnance gelatin through 4 layers of IWBA-spec heavy denim, for those rounds that performed well enough through the bare gelatin (or, in some cases, just because I was curious; sometimes rounds did terribly in the bare gel but I was still curious how  or if they might change their performance through denim).  This resulted in a grand total of 27 test videos (sheesh!)

Results

The results are correlated in the tables below.  Links are provided to the YouTube tests for each round.  Penetration data is color-coded; red is totally unacceptable (either gross under- or over-penetration); yellow is a bad sign (indicating modest under- or over-penetration), green is considered good, and blue is considered excellent penetration.  I also include the MacPherson Wound Trauma Incapacitation value (previously blogged-about here).  If you want the brief summary, bigger numbers are more effective at incapacitating an attacker (and if you want the briefest summary, just go by the color code!)

Here is a video that summarizes all my findings and makes recommendations on the various ammo that has been tested.

Below is the summary table, results, and links for the videos of all the ammo tests that were conducted.

.380 ACP Micro-Pistol With ~2.8″ Barrel

Ammunition Test Results

Buffalo Bore 90-Grain JHP Standard Pressure, Item 27G

Average Velocity in feet per second 937
Average Expanded Diameter .472” (12.0 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .505” (12.8 mm)
Average Retained Weight 90.02 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 18.58
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 10.88
11.13
  12.00
23.75
  25.13

 

Copper Only Projectiles 80-grain solid copper hollowpoint

Average Velocity in feet per second 835
Average Expanded Diameter .433” (11.0 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .500” (12.7 mm)
Average Retained Weight 79.82 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 3.96
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.25
  8.38
  9.13
  9.25
  9.63

 

 

Cor®Bon 90-Grain JHP, CorBon part # SD38090/20

Average Velocity in feet per second 932
Average Expanded Diameter .453” (11.5 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .512” (13.0 mm)
Average Retained Weight 90.06 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 26.35
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 11.25
  12.00
  13.00
  15.50
  16.00
MacPherson WTI in Denim Test 16
Penetration in Denim gel, inches: 22.50
  22.75
  23.00
  23.50
  23.75

 

 

DoubleTap DT Defense Lead Free(TM) 77-grain solid copper hollowpoint

Average Velocity in feet per second 895
Average Expanded Diameter .358” (9.1 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .358” (9.1 mm)
Average Retained Weight 77.02 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 18.64
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 11.25
  12.00
  15.50
  15.75
  19.00

DoubleTap-Lead-Free-bullets

 

 

DRT (Dynamic Research Technologies) .380 Auto 85grain HP “Penetrating Frangible”

Note: I tested this round, and it was very different, didn’t penetrate consistently, half the bullets failed entirely and just overpenetrated.  It is such a different round with such different design parameters, it doesn’t fit well with making a consolidated table like the other rounds in the test.  I recommend just going directly to the video to see how the DRT .380 ammo performed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mx8pn5CadXI

 

 

Federal Premium Hydra-Shok® 90-grain JHP

Average Velocity in feet per second 889
Average Expanded Diameter .426” (10.8 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .487” (12.4 mm)
Average Retained Weight 89.46 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 25.68
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 12.00
  12.88
  12.25
  12.75
  12.50
MacPherson WTI in Denim Test 20.85
Penetration in Denim gel, inches: 13.50
  14.00
  14.50
  15.25
  18.75

 

 

Fiocchi Extrema XTP(TM) 90-grain XTP JHP, part # 380XTP25

Average Velocity in feet per second 791
Average Expanded Diameter .414” (10.5 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .455” (11.6 mm)
Average Retained Weight 89.96 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 27.72
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 12.88
  13.25
  13.50
  13.63
  13.88
MacPherson WTI in Denim Test 25.40
Penetration in Denim gel, inches: 14.25
  14.50
  15.25
  18.75

Note: only four bullets were used in the denim test for the Extremas.

 

 

Hornady Critical Defense(TM) 90-grain FTX® JHP with Polymer Tip

Average Velocity in feet per second 857
Average Expanded Diameter .478” (12.1 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .533” (13.5 mm)
Average Retained Weight 88.92 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 2.11
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 7.75
  8.13
  8.25
  8.75
  8.88
MacPherson WTI in Denim Test 18.84
Penetration in Denim gel, inches: 10.13
  11.63
  11.88
  12.00
  17.00

Note: Critical Defense severely underpenetrated in the bare gel test.  In the denim gel test we had one round travel to good penetration, but it failed to expand.

 

 

Hornady Custom .380 ACP with 90-grain XTP JHP

Average Velocity in feet per second 851
Average Expanded Diameter .438” (11.1 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .488” (12.4 mm)
Average Retained Weight 89.96 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 25.81
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 12.00
  12.13
  12.38
  12.88
  12.88
MacPherson WTI in Denim Test 23.80
Penetration in Denim gel, inches: 10.63
  11.75
  12.75
  13.00
  13.50

 

 

HPR HyperClean XTP 90-grain JHP

Average Velocity in feet per second 789
Average Expanded Diameter .414” (10.5 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .454” (11.5 mm)
Average Retained Weight 89.96 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 27.11
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 13.50
  12.50
  13.88
  14.00
  14.50
MacPherson WTI in Denim Test 23.03
Penetration in Denim gel, inches: 12.75
13.50
  14.25
  14.88
  15.00

 

PMC Starfire(TM) 95 grain SFHP, part #380SFA

Average Velocity in feet per second 788
Average Expanded Diameter .381” (9.7 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .405” (10.3 mm)
Average Retained Weight 95.13 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 24.60
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 25.50
  16.00
16.00
  14.75

Note: only 4 bullets were tested and recovered.

 

 

Precision One .380 ACP 90 grain XTP

Average Velocity in feet per second 810
Average Expanded Diameter .413” (10.5 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .446” (11.3 mm)
Average Retained Weight 89.78 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 28.28
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 13.75
  13.50
  13.75
  13.88
  13.63
MacPherson WTI in Denim Test 25.72
Penetration in Denim gel, inches: 12.75
  13.25
  13.75
  14.38

 

 

Remington Golden Saber 102-grain BJHP

Average Velocity in feet per second 756
Average Expanded Diameter .527” (13.4 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .624” (15.8 mm)
Average Retained Weight 102.5 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 8.89
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 10.13
  8.50
  9.00
  9.38
  10.50

 

 

Remington UMC 88-grain JHP, part #L380A1B

Average Velocity in feet per second 884
Average Expanded Diameter .355” (9.0 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .355” (9.0 mm)
Average Retained Weight 90 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 16.00
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 22.75
  23.25
  23.63
  24.50
  25.50

Note: These were hollowpoints, but all failed to expand.

 

 

Speer Gold Dot .380 ACP 90-grain GDHP, part #23606

Average Velocity in feet per second 944
Average Expanded Diameter .447” (11.4 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .487” (12.4 mm)
Average Retained Weight 89.36 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 23.25
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 12.00
  11.75
  11.25
  11.63
  13.00
MacPherson WTI in Denim Test 19.20
Penetration in Denim gel, inches: 10.00
  11.00
  11.00
  11.50
15.00

 

 

Underwood Ammo .380 ACP 102 grain Golden Saber JHP

standard pressure 950 fps, item #142

Average Velocity in feet per second 827
Average Expanded Diameter .503” (12.8 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .603” (15.3 mm)
Average Retained Weight 101.68 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 17.91
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 9.50
  10.50
  10.75
  11.00
  12.00
MacPherson WTI in Denim Test 16.00
Penetration in Denim gel, inches: 16.75
  18.63
  19.25
  20.25
  21.25

 

Winchester PDX1® Defender(TM) 95-grain Bonded JHP

Average Velocity in feet per second 901
Average Expanded Diameter .562” (14.3 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .655” (16.6 mm)
Average Retained Weight 95.28 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 1.80
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 8.25
  7.75
  7.63
  8.38
  9.00
MacPherson WTI in Denim Test 2.76
Penetration in Denim gel, inches: 8.38
  8.50
  8.50
  8.63

 

 

Winchester Ranger-T

Average Velocity in feet per second 907
Average Expanded Diameter .595” (15.1 mm)
Average Maximum Diameter .793” (20.1 mm)
Average Retained Weight 93.9 grains
MacPherson Wound Trauma Indicator 12.07
Penetration in Bare Gelatin, inches: 21.25
  21.88
15.00
8.13
  9.50

Share Button

More on Bullet Penetration — and Why We Don’t Use Bones When Testing Ammo in Gel

In an earlier article I discussed the reasoning behind the recommendation that a bullet needs to be able to penetrate at least 12″ of ballistic gel.  But I’m still seeing confusion and commentary about how people think that’s totally unnecessary, and the reasoning usually goes like this:

“I just measured my torso.  I’m 8″, front to back.  And that means my heart (and other vitals) are only about 6″ deep.  Therefore, a bullet would only need to penetrate 6″, and needing 12″ is just useless overkill.”  Simultaneously, these are usually the same folks who say “Why don’t you (or why doesn’t anyone) ever use bones in your ammo tests?”

The answer to both is the same — ballistic gel, while a tissue simulant, is not a BODY simulant!  Ballistic gel doesn’t attempt to mimic a human body.  It never has been used for that (by professional testers) and it never will be.  Bodies are made of all sorts of tissue — soft stuff, squishy stuff, hard stuff, nearly-empty stuff, really wet stuff, all sorts of things.  No ammo test can accurately simulate all that.  And it’s unnecessary to even try.

Here’s the thing, and I hope that this comes across as non-confrontationally as I mean it to be: the standards that we’re discussing (such as ballistic gel, and 12″) were made by people far, far more expert than the average person.  These standards were arrived at by consensus of ballistics experts, trauma surgeons, doctors, E.R. personnel, coroners, all sorts of people who deal with bullets on a daily basis.  So when considering these recommendations, please understand that a LOT of serious thought went into making them, by the best minds in the business.

Okay, so — back to the bones & 12″ part.  What you need to understand is — the 12″ requirement already includes the presence of bones!  If a bullet can penetrate 12″ of ballistic gel, then it also can penetrate a ribcage and still have enough energy to reach those 6″ into your 8″ torso and hit the vitals.  That’s the whole point, really — specifying 12″ of gel penetration (not body penetration, but gel penetration) means that the bullet has enough reach to hit the vitals from any angle, and through any barrier on the body.  It will have enough power to blast through a bone and reach the vitals underneath.

So when you see people testing bullets by putting pork bones in front of ballistic gel, they’re really going about it the wrong way.  The bone factor is already accounted for in the 12″ recommendation!

Yes a bullet might be able to hit your vitals if it penetrates only five inches of body.  But five inches of body, and five inches of ballistic gel, are not the same thing — not at all.

Think about it from a backwards perspective — gather a bunch of trauma surgeons and ER doctors and combat medics and coroners/medical examiners together, and ask them what bullets have most frequently shown the ability to hit the vital structures.  Then take those same bullets and fire them into ballistic gel, and report the results.  That’s a simplified view of how the 12″ number was arrived at — effective, manstopping bullets that reached deep into the vitals, were then compared using ballistic gel, to see how much penetration is necessary.  And the results were that 12″ of ballistic gel performance equates to “able to reach the vitals from any angle, through bones, and even through a raised arm or sideways through a shoulder or lowered arm.”

In the FBI report “Handgun Wounding Factors & Effectiveness”, the recommendation is made that while penetration up to 18″ is preferable, a bullet MUST be able to reliably penetrate 12″ of soft body tissue at a minimum, whether it expands or not.  For emphasis, let me repeat: “reliably penetrate 12″ of soft body tissue“.  Bodies are not made solely of soft tissue, obviously, and the heart isn’t always 12″ deep.  But ballistic gel is a soft tissue simulant.  It doesn’t simulate bones, and it doesn’t need to.  The bone factor has already been considered, and the determination is: if a bullet can travel through 12″ of soft tissue, then it also has enough power to hit the vital organs even when passing through the ribcage.

Now, a bullet may deflect when it strikes a bone, that’s true.  But how can we possibly test for that? Because a bullet may not deflect when it strikes a bone, it might just pass right through.  There are so many variables involved, that you could literally drive yourself mad trying to account for all of them.  Accordingly, ballistic experts don’t bother with all that.  The one overriding, underlying, and immutable factor is: if a bullet is going to have the power to reach the vital organs, through all foreseeable barriers (such as a raised arm, or an angled shot), then that same bullet, when fired in ballistic gel, will travel at least 12″ and preferably up to 18″ through ballistic gel.

Do you see the difference?  It’s not saying your vital organs are located 12″ deep in the body (although, for some particularly fat or particularly muscular individual, I guess that’s possible).  Ballistic gel is not a body simulant.  It is a soft tissue simulant, and all experts involved with its creation and use are well aware that bodies are made of more than just soft tissue.  They’ve put some serious thought into this, they’ve conducted some serious science on it, they’ve correlated it against many, many “real world” shootings and autopsies, and the consensus recommendation coming from the 1987 and 1993 wound ballistics workshops is: performance of 12″ minimum, and up to 18″ maximum, penetration through ballistic gel is necessary for a bullet to be considered reliably capable of causing instant incapacitation of a target (assuming, of course, that the shot placement is suitable).

So what about overpenetration?  More on that, in the next article.

Share Button

Ammo Quest – the search for the best ammo for the Taurus 738 TCP

Here at Shooting The Bull, I have a bit of a predisposition towards Taurus firearms.  Not that they’re necessarily the highest quality, but — they’re extremely affordable, and in my experience they’re solid performers, and they offer a lot for the money.  Plus, hey, Taurus goes well with the site’s name: I spend a lot of time Shooting The Bull (the Taurus pistol)…

Anyway — I picked up one of the most-talked-about Tauruses, a PT738 micro-pistol (also known as the TCP).  This is a tiny pocket pistol which can easily be used for pocket carry or perhaps even ankle carry.  It’s incredibly inexpensive (at $199, it’s about half the cost of the competition, the Ruger LCP) and it shoots very accurately and with a smooth trigger pull.  I like it a lot.

TCP-velvet

But what to feed it? That’s the question, because, the bottom line is that it’s a .380 ACP pistol.  And .380 ACP is generally considered a marginal round for self-defense purposes.  Now, the TCP isn’t my primary everyday carry weapon; I carry a .45 ACP when I can, but sometimes you just need or want something lighter, smaller, easier to conceal, easier to carry, and the fact of the matter is that it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where you COULDN’T have the TCP with you.  Sometimes a full-size or even compact .45 is just too big and doesn’t fit with what you’re wearing, but the tiny TCP can be a constant companion.  And, hey, depending on how paranoid you may be feeling, you may want a backup gun, and the TCP is darn near perfect for that role.  Except for the power of its main round, the .380 ACP…

… I am not going to be too much of a downer on .380.  I think .380 is an okay choice.  It’s not a great choice for your primary or only defensive pistol, but the .380 has enough oomph in it to serve the purpose of a defensive pistol, if it’s combined with the right ammo.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be caught with anything smaller than a .380, but a .380 is right on the border of being adequate.  I believe that with some ammo, it’s inadequate, but with other ammo it crosses the line to where it’s okay.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m betting my life on a pistol’s ability to defend me, I definitely want at LEAST “okay” and I’d certainly prefer “GOOD” or “GREAT”!  Which is why, again, my daily carry is a .45, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.  What I’m looking for here is — how good can this little .380 be?  It shoots great, it’s very comfortable, it is extremely compact and portable, so if we can just find a type of ammo that delivers satisfactory results, well — how cool would that be?

I’ll tell you — it’d be pretty frickin’ fantastic.

So, I have commenced my Ammo Quest.  I’m testing out various brands and types of ammunition to see how they perform specifically from the TCP (and, I would venture to say, the results from the TCP should be directly applicable to the Ruger LCP or any other comparably-sized, comparable-barrel-length .380 pistol).  I’m conducting controlled testing using ClearBallistics.com’s ballistic gel, and a ProChrono chronograph.  I’ll be testing for penetration and expansion, weighing and measuring the bullets, and coming to some conclusions about each particular ammo’s suitability for the task of personal defense.

Standards For Evaluation

The standard will I be judging against is the FBI report “Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness.”  This is the 1989 study commissioned after the “Miami shootout” wherein several direct hits on some determined shooters failed to actually stop or incapacitate them.  The FBI report is the result of some exhaustive research to find out why bullets stop people, and what factors in ammunition performance are important in bringing about an effective quick stop.  I won’t go into too much of it here (because, hey, I even linked to the report, so you can read it for yourself) but I just want to point out the two main takeaways that I’m going with:

1) Minimum Penetration

In a short summary, penetration is the most important factor in bullet performance; if a bullet doesn’t penetrate deeply enough to hit the vital organs, then nothing else matters.  It doesn’t matter if you have perfect shot placement, if the bullet can’t penetrate deeply enough to affect what you were shooting at.  And, it doesn’t matter how big the bullet is, if it doesn’t penetrate deeply enough to hit something that matters.  If you are being attacked by a morbidly obese person, and you shoot a huge .45 caliber bullet with perfect placement right to the heart, but the bullet stops after penetrating just six inches of outer fat layers, well — it might hurt, and it’ll bleed, but it won’t actually physically incapacitate that attacker.  Simply put, it’s GOT to penetrate deep enough to hit a vital organ, artery, or the central nervous system in order to force immediate incapacitation.  Anything less is, well, less.  The FBI report specifies a minimum acceptable penetration depth of 12″ in ballistic gelatin.

2) Bullet Size

This one’s simple — the bigger the bullet, the more damage it will do, and the more likely it will be to hit something vital.  A little full-metal-jacket might penetrate deep enough, but it may be so small as to slip right between the heart and an artery, causing no significant damage; whereas a big expanded hollow point shot at the exact same point of aim might be so big as to hit both vitals.  When it comes to damage, bigger is better.  Once you have adequate penetration, you want the bullet to get as big as possible.

What Can The 380 Do?

The 380 starts off with its hands tied behind its back, as it’s not a very big bullet and it’s not very powerful.  It is actually the same diameter as a 9mm bullet, but 9mm has so much more room in its casing for powder, and is designed to operate at such higher pressure, that it can propel a heavier bullet at faster speeds and expand more.  380 can’t quite accomplish that.

9mm-vs-380-cartridges

above: 9mm (left) and .380 ACP (right)

So what CAN a 380 do? That’s what I’m trying to find out.  I know the .380 can and has been used effectively before.  But can it do so consistently?  Can it meet the FBI spec, especially when fired from a micro-sized pistol? Probably not, but let’s find out if it can, or at least, how close can it come?  I mean, if I can find an expanding hollow point that grows to the size of a .45, and also penetrates a consistent 11″, well, that might not meet the FBI specification but I think most of us would agree that that would be totally acceptable for us; we are, after all, not the FBI (er, unless you are an FBI agent, I guess); and we’re not going to likely be put in a position of multiple attackers shooting from multiple angles and having to shoot through car doors and windshields and all the other things the FBI tests for.  I’m not really interested in all that; I’m just looking for reasonable performance such that I can have reasonable confidence that the little TCP will be reasonably effective.

What about FMJ’s?

It’s true that a full-metal jacket bullet will indeed provide enough penetration, even more than enough penetration, from a .380.  So why not just use FMJ’s? Well, there’s really three drawbacks to using FMJ’s for defensive purposes:

1) They don’t expand, so they’re usually relatively/comparatively small bullets, and smaller is not better when you’re looking for damage that will incapacitate an attacker.

2) They don’t inherently do a lot of damage, as they’re comparatively “slippery.”  Soft tissue in a human body is usually quite flexible and stretchable, and an FMJ might just zing right through an attacker by pushing the tissue out of the way, without actually crushing or damaging much tissue.  A hollow point expands with sharp petals that cut and slice their way through, causing vastly more damage; an FMJ isn’t all that damaging of a round.  It’ll make a hole, yes, and if that hole were to be placed through the brain or spine that would certainly stop the attack, but — that’s a really tough shot to hit; in general, FMJ’s aren’t all that effective unless they’re bigger and heavier and they tumble.  A typical 90-grain FMJ from a .380 isn’t likely to be a potent manstopper.

3) FMJ’s penetrate very deeply, perhaps too deeply.  There’s a limit on how much penetration you want from a bullet.  Generally 14 to 15″ is ideal.  The FBI’s acceptable range is 12 to 18″.  You don’t want more than 18″, because that’s a pretty good sign that the bullet is not going to stop lodged in your attacker, instead it’s going to exit out the back and keep going — and that’s risky, because it’s going to stop SOMEWHERE.  If not in the attacker, where will it stop? A bystander? In general overpenetration is something that would ideally be avoided, and that’s one thing hollow points are great at; they normally expand to such a large size that they increase their drag so much that they come to a stop without exiting the target.  The same can’t be said for FMJ’s.

So in general, I’m not really looking forward to using FMJ’s.  If I can’t find any ammo that expands well and penetrates deeply enough, then I may have to resort to FMJ’s, but they’re certainly not my first choice.

The Quest

I know the odds are against me finding a reliable, consistent, deep 12+” performer in .380 ACP, but I’m going to give it a good thorough search.  At this moment I’ve secured some of the most well-known defensive ammo brands, including Winchester Ranger-T’s, Speer Gold Dots, Winchester PDX1, Remington Golden Saber, and even some Remington 88-grain UMC hollow-points.  There are lots more that I’d like to test, but the Great Ammo Drought of 2013 is making it hard to find .380 ammo.  If I can find it, I’ll test it, and you can see the results right here on www.shootingthebull.net, or on my YouTube channel.  If you have a request for a specific ammo to test, leave it in the comments and I’ll see if I can accommodate.  Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy future installments of this Ammo Quest.

Share Button

First video launched – review of Bullistic gels

One thing I’ve noticed in using, reviewing, and reading about various rounds of ammo is — a lot of people don’t have any idea how well their bullets actually perform.  For most of us, we pretty much have to take the manufacturer’s word, or pick based on what’s new and fancy or what has a pretty package or the biggest ad in the magazine, or what the bloggers are writing about.

Is that sane? I mean, if you’re carrying a firearm or have one in your home for self defense purposes, you’re pretty much betting your life that the rounds you’ve chosen are going to get the job done, aren’t you?  And since that’s the case, it’d be nice to know how those rounds really perform, from your particular gun…

… which leads us to the whole realm of bullet testing and ballistics gelatin.  There are lots of ammo tests on YouTube, but I’ve been pretty shocked by just how unscientific and, well, let me just say it — random and unreliable many of them are.  There are a few people who seem to know what they’re doing, but for every one of them, there’s a hundred people out there shooting water jugs, or newspaper, or mixing up food-grade jello and shooting that, and they’re doing so in such an uncontrolled and unscientific way that the results they’re getting are … well, they’re maybe entertaining, but they’re far from accurate and definitive.

I plan on doing a lot of ammo testing here at Shooting The Bull, and as far as I’m concerned, if the results aren’t accurate, repeatable, and reliable, then there’s no point in publishing them.  I don’t plan on shooting a plate of jello and claiming that it’s going to be the same as ballistics gel!  When something’s as unpredictable as bullets are, nobody can ever claim that their testing results are absolutely definitive, but — I think we can do a lot better than shooting into a water jug.

Ballistic Gelatin

So how DO you test ammo to see how it performs?  The standard is genuine 10% ordnance gelatin, otherwise known as “ballistic gel”.  It’s consistent, it emulates the density of muscle tissue, and it has been correlated against actual bullet wounds in people and in animals to show that it is, indeed accurate.  Which is fine and dandy, but how does that help you? Because ordnance gelatin is not exactly something you have in your cupboard, you don’t pop down to the Wal-Mart and pick up a block of ordnance gelatin, and even if you were to buy some (from these guys) then you still have a lot of work in front of you — you have to properly prepare it, you have to properly cool it, you have to properly store it, and you have to properly shoot it.  It’s no picnic, especially because, well, I guess you could eat it at a picnic, but I wouldn’t recommend it, as it’s basically boiled up pig skin and ligaments and tendons and all that nasty stuff.  And once you’re done shooting it, you really want to get it examined and discarded as soon as possible because the longer it sits there, the nastier it gets.  It’s basically boiled up meat products, and it’ll start to rot and stink like rotting meat after a little while.

But, if you manage to buy the right stuff, and mix it properly, and refrigerate it for two or three days so it gels properly, and you can keep it at no more than 41 degrees, and you manage to shoot it within less than 20 minutes of pulling it from the refrigerator, and you manage to shoot a steel BB into it at 590 feet per second and the BB penetrates between 2.95 to 3.74″, no more, no less (these are all the steps you need to take to make sure the gel is actually usable), then you can get excellent results.  And if you mess up on any of these steps?  If you buy Knox gelatin from the grocery store, or you heat the water too hot, or you don’t dissolve the gelatin perfectly (takes about 20 minutes of constant stirring, trickling the powder into the water slowly and methodically), then your block won’t be any good and your results will be useless.  Or if you don’t store it properly, in a refrigerator set for 39 degrees, for at least 36 hours, it won’t set properly, and again won’t be useful.  And if you leave it in the sun or take too long to shoot it (so that the core temperature rises above 41 degrees in the block) then it won’t calibrate properly, again rendering your results useless.  Oh, and did I point out that these blocks cost around $42 each to make, and can only be used once?

So, yeah, real ordnance gelatin is not really for the hobbyist.  It’s too expensive to do on an ongoing basis, and it’s too much work with too many “gotchas” if you mess up any of the steps.  It’d be profoundly disheartening to spend the money, the time to make it, the time to cool it, find a way to safely and properly transport the gelatin to a shooting range, and then find out that when you shoot a BB into it you get the wrong results!  Then you have to throw the block away and start over.  (Note, there is a formula that can be used to rescue you in such a situation, in Duncan Macpherson’s book “Bullet Penetration”, but the book’s out of print, the author’s deceased, and the only way to buy it now is used, and my copy cost over $80 so … there’s no easy way out of that mess).

Common Alternatives

With so much precision necessary, is it any wonder that people have turned to alternatives? Water jugs, “wet pack” newspaper, or Knox unflavored gelatin are three of the most common, but they’re all, for various reasons, just bad ideas.  The water jugs, well, I’ll leave that for another article, I’ve got lots to say about that, but let me just say that I think water jugs are a terrible way to test ammo.   Popular, certainly, but still a lousy, inaccurate, deceptive, misleading way to do it. Wet pack newspaper is better, but it still isn’t reliable, or accurate, and doesn’t give controlled results.  And Knox gelatin… that’s just kind of silly, because while it is in the same family as ordnance gelatin, it by very definition ISN’T ordnance gelatin.  If it was, it’d have been sold to the ordnance gel industry; gelatin that fails to qualify for ordnance gel specifications gets sold to the food industry, so, by very virtue of it being sold as food, you know it isn’t real ordnance gelatin.  It doesn’t meet the standards.  That said, if you had to go with a homemade solution, you could come closer to accurate by using the Knox stuff than by using water jugs or wetpack, but … why bother?  To get the most accurate results you’ll have to go through all the same work, all the same effort, all the same storage and temperature requirements, and … here’s the kicker … if you’re buying enough Knox gelatin to make a 20-pound block (you’d need 32 ounces of gelatin powder to make one 20-lb block) then… it’ll cost you just about as much as ordnance gelatin would!  So why not buy the real stuff instead of using some homemade grocery store substitute?

Viable Ballistic Gelatin Alternatives

So what’s a person to do?  If you can’t afford, or don’t want to deal with, ordnance gelatin, what are the real and useful alternatives? There are two.  One, shooting real water (NOT water jugs!), is a true no-cost way to go, and can, when done properly, yield real world results.  I will be doing a complete article and video on how to use water for real ammunition testing; for those who don’t want to wait for the article and want to start exploring it now, you can get Duncan MacPherson’s book “Bullet Penetration” or Charles Schwartz’s book “Quantitative Ammunition Selection”.

The other option, and one that I find very appealing, is to use one of the new synthetic ballistic gel substitutes on the market, such as the clear ballistic gel from www.ClearBallistics.com.  This product has been introduced to the market within the last year, and it presents itself as a comparable substitute to genuine, organic 10% ordnance gelatin.  That’s really interesting to me, because — as a synthetic, it should be immune to most of the problems I have with using regular ballistic gel: it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, it doesn’t rot, it doesn’t require being at a specific temperature, and, perhaps most significantly to the independent ammo tester, the gel blocks can be reused!  You can re-melt and reform them multiple times, which really brings down the cost-per-block cost.  They’re initially more expensive than a block of ordnance gelatin would be (today’s pricing looks to be $129.99 for an “FBI Block”) but if you re-use it twice, you’re already money ahead.  Re-use it 10 times and it’ll be way less expensive than ordnance gelatin.  And, there’s no rush!  You can leave it stored at room temperature for a week, or a month, or a year, and it’ll still be there.  With ordnance gelatin, you have to use it within a few days or it’ll start rotting.

Testing ClearBallistics Gel

So, yes, I was very intrigued by this stuff.  I didn’t expect it to be exactly the same as ballistic gel (heck, one’s organic and one’s synthetic, after all) but — I mean, how good is it? Does it work? Can you actually use it and get usable, real-world results from it?

Let’s find out.  Head on over to the YouTube channel and watch the review.

 

 

Spoilers!

Watch the video first before reading this section.  Or, if you don’t want to watch the entire video review, I’ll tell you right now the basic take-away: yes, it works.  No, it’s not 100% exact.  With hollowpoints, I got about 94.4% the same penetration, and 94.5% the same expansion.  With buckshot, it was basically 100% the same penetration and 98.9% the same pellet deformation.  May not be perfect, but it beats the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out of shooting a pack of wet newspaper or a jug of water!  I was really impressed with just how usable this stuff is, and how close it mimics real ordnance gelatin.  It was basically 94.4% the same penetration, plus or minus about 5%, so definitely close.  I’ll be doing more specific tests to narrow down the statistical deviations and get a specific comparison, but for now, I would say that I would definitely trust ClearBallistics gel over homemade Knox gelatin, or wet-pack, or clay or wax or estimating penetration in water by saying “well, a bullet in water will travel about 1.6 to 2.5x as far as it would in gel”.  Those results are all unscientific and ballpark, whereas the ClearBallistics gel delivers results that are quite comparable to real ballistics gel, but without any of the associated hassles or inconveniences.  It ain’t perfect, but in my opinion it’s far and away the best substitute for ordnance gelatin.  If you can’t (or don’t want to) use the organic stuff, ClearBallistics gel is a great alternative.

Share Button