My Choice for Defense Ammo – Federal Premium HST

A while back, I posted about choosing the best personal defense ammunition and discussed my decision to use 230-grain FMJ .45ACP in my home defense, sometimes carry Glock 30SF because of it’s reliability. This round has never failed in my Glock, and to me, reliability is the most important thing when it comes to a round for personal defense. After doing some additional research on defense ammo, I decided to pursue a hollow-point round that is equally reliable to the FMJ ammo I’ve been using. To be fair, I couldn’t actually say any round is as reliable as the 230-grain FMJ unless I shot the same number of rounds in my Glock, and that is very unlikely considering defense ammo costs twice as much or more. However, I refuse to buy a box of 20 expensive cartridges, load up a magazine, and use them for defense without thoroughly testing them first.

So, I bit the bullet (pun intended) and decided to invest in expensive “personal defense” ammo to ensure functionality in my Glock. Until recently, I wasn’t willing to purchase a hundred rounds at $1 a pop. I’ll reiterate my opinion that you should only use ammo in a semi-auto pistol for defense that has proven itself as reliable in that pistol. In other words, you’ve shot a hundred rounds or more of your chosen defense ammo with no failures.  If you can’t afford to do that, stick with your range ammo. I’ll take reliability over expansion and penetration any day of the week!

On a side note, I have a Glock 19 that won’t feed Winchester 147-grain flat-nosed ammo worth a darn. Maybe yours will, but mine won’t. I found it at Walmart on the cheap and bought a few boxes. I love Glocks and think they are nearly perfect, but no pistol is 100% perfect. ALWAYS test ammo, a few boxes at least, before using it for defense. Someone else out there with a G19 probably loves the stuff. Pistols are like snowflakes…no two are exactly alike.

I decided to research Hornady’s Critical Defense and Critical Duty as well as Federal’s Hydra-Shok and HST before making my investment. There’s a myriad of defense loads out there, but these four hollow-points get the most press in addition to Speer’s Gold Dot and Winchester’s Ranger.

Screen shot 2014-10-21 at 9.20.41 PM
147-grain 9mm rounds in Speer Gold Dot and Federal HST side-by-side.
Both are proven, well respected rounds in the law enforcement community.
The HST bullet typically expands to a larger diameter, but the Speer Gold Dot
remains a 
great option.

What’s the difference between Critical Defense and Critical Duty? Look no further than Hornady’s website for that answer. In a nutshell, Critical Defense is designed for shorter barreled pistols including snub-nose revolvers and 4″ and under semi-autos to provide expansion at lower velocities produced by shorter barreled pistols. Critical Defense rounds are also designed to recoil less. Critical Duty is loaded hotter, and the bullet is designed to penetrate through barriers, like drywall, glass, and sheet metal, while still providing moderate expansion. It was created with the FBI’s performance standards in mind.

Screen shot 2014-10-21 at 9.11.36 PM
Images from Guns & Ammo Magazine’s article on Hornady’s Critical Duty load. Note the mushroom shape even when faced with hard barriers. What you will also notice is the diameter of the mushroom is not as large when compared to bullets like Federal’s HST and Speer’s Gold Dot. You must decide what is more important: expansion or penetration.

Some think Hornady’s Critical Duty penetrates too much for home defense. If your target is behind a wall, car door, or window, this round does a great job of getting through the obstacle to the target. That may be great for law enforcement, but when faced with a shooting situation in your house, over-penetration can be a negative. This video shows penetration in ballistic gelatin for the 220-grain +P .45ACP Critical Duty round. I encourage you to compare that with this video by the same person for Federal HST 230-grain .45ACP round.

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 9.53.27 AM“Shooting Illustrated” compiled this table comparing Critical Defense loads shot into various mediums. Nice mushroom, but expansion diameter is smaller than Federal HST and Hydra-Shok. One plus of Critical Defense is reduced recoil, a great benefit for shooters using lighter pistols for concealed carry that tend to kick more.

Hornady Critical Defense sure sounds like a great defense round, but how does it actually perform? Overall reports are quite positive, especially for smaller pistols prone to heavy recoil. My J-frame .357 Magnum S&W is a lightweight 340PD model that’s prone to significant recoil with magnum loads. Like many people, the “bigger is better” mentality got the best of me while shopping for an everyday carry pistol a few years ago, and after deciding on a revolver because of its reliability (a good decision), I convinced myself that I needed a .357 Magnum (a bad decision). I read the reports about .38 Specials being “inadequate” or “not powerful enough” and that got the best of my judgement. Plus, I grew up shooting .357 Magnum revolvers, so I thought recoil would not be an issue for me. What I didn’t take into consideration was that I’d grown up shooting much heavier Ruger Blackhawk and S&W M27 pistols that weighed almost 3-times more.

Practice time at the range convinced me that “featherweight” revolvers are not meant for .357 Magnum rounds! Recoil is excessive, enough to bruise the web of my had after five rounds during my first shooting session. But that’s not the main reason I don’t like it. Big recoil means more time between shots and potentially the equivalent of a flash-bang going off next to you in a confined space, like your bedroom or hallway. When you think about it, is carrying .357 Magnum in a featherweight revolver smart? Opinions vary, but my opinion is absolutely not. I wish I’d saved some money and bought a less expensive .38 Special pistol. I load my revolver with .38 Special Hornady Critical Defense 110-gr. rounds and am very pleased with the pistol’s shootability. While Critical Defense is great for smaller revolvers, I’m not convinced it’s a great choice for semi-auto pistols that can shoot hotter loads with less recoil.

Federal Hydra-Shok has a wonderful reputation for accuracy and expansion and is a long-time favorite of law enforcement. It is available in “standard” and “reduced recoil” configurations. However, you will find reviewers stating hydra-shok bullets failed to expand in some cases because the hollow-point got “plugged” when shooting through cloth test mediums, normally multi-layered, heavy denim, placed in front of ballistic gelatin to simulate real-world conditions. I haven’t personally experienced this, but those reports are one reason I use Hornady Critical Defense over Hydra-Shok reduced recoil in my revolver. You will also find those who say the Hydra-Shok design is “old technology” and while its center post design was a step forward when introduced in the mid-80s, it’s out of date today, which basically means the HST is better.

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 9.25.52 AM
Normally reliable and used by law enforcement for over 20 years, Federal Hydra-Shok does have some short-comings. Failed expansions due to heavy clothing plugging the hollow point is one of them. To be fair, this is not typical, but do you want to risk it?

While any round mentioned in this post is a quality round, my goal is to find the best one. So far Critical Duty penetrates too much, Critical Defense is too light for my mid-sized semi-auto Glock, and Hydra-Shok may have expansion issues. Enter Federal HST. In all of my research, I haven’t found one negative review about Federal Premium HST. Not one. That might change when the next new and improved hollow-point comes out, but until then HST is regarded by many others as the best. Let’s take a deeper look as to why.

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 9.27.32 AM
Fully expanded Federal HST on the left and Hydra-Shok on the right. Both expand
well, but the HST expands to a greater diameter while also penetrating deeper.

As you’ve seen in previous pictures, Federal HST’s expansion is unmatched. Also, HST’s “petals” are razor-like while other bullets have smoother, mushroom-like characteristics. Pistol bullets don’t create that shockwave of rifle bullets traveling at much higher velocities. Because of that, pistol bullets only damage tissue they touch while much faster rifle bullets can damage surrounding tissue inches away without even touching it. A larger wound channel is one key to a pistol bullet’s performance, and the sharp petals are more likely to cut tissue than rounded mushroom shapes.

How does the HST offer both greater expansion and penetration? The petals created by an expanded HST bullet actually have a slightly smaller frontal area compared to its Hydra-Shok cousin. Assuming two bullets weigh the same and have the same velocity, a smaller frontal area will result in greater penetration.

At approximately $25 for 20 rounds of Federal HST, my first trip to the range was with some trepidation. What if my investment didn’t work as planned? What if my Glock 30SF wouldn’t feed it reliably? I would be out of a considerable amount of money. Fortunately, Federal HST fed as well as FMJ ammo in my Glock. I loaded several mags with nothing but HST and even mixed it in randomly with FMJ rounds, and my Glock ate it up every time. Needless to say, I am confidently carrying HST rounds in my G30SF now.

Hopefully I’ll never need to use my Glock in a personal defense situation, but if I do, I’m convinced I have the best ammunition available in my pistol with Federal HST.