Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hornady Critical Defense 380 AUTO - My Tests

Every so often I'll get an email from someone that has been following the blog and has read through a ballistics test or two.  Sometimes they will suggest one or two loads that they would like to see me test.  From memory, the 380 Hornady Critical Defense and the Corbox DPX seem to be the two loads that people are most interested in seeing tested and evaluated.  

Initially, I had planned on testing all the Hornady 380 loads in one big test, but earlier this week I got an email from someone who wanted to send me two different Hornady loads to test.  I had the Critical Defense on hand, but not the TAP FPD load.  The requester actually got me motivated to add the "Support My Testing" donations link on the blog.  He was also my first donor.  I tested 5 different loads at the range today, but I've moved the Hornady CD review and test to the top spot and hope to have it wrapped up tonight.  The other 4 test results will have to wait a few days.

I've also decided to do an individual blog article for each ammo tested, rather than lump 3 or 4 tests into one article as I did on this previous 380 auto ammo test.  This will be the new standard going forward.  I can always recap individual tests into a bigger article if it makes sense to do so.

With that out of the way, I'd like to tell you about my experiences with Hornady Critical Defense 380 AUTO FTX that I had today.  Going from memory, the Critical Defense line of ammunition came out in 2009 or 2010 and it's primary selling point was that the hollow point cavity came pre-plugged with a soft polymer to aid in expansion when the bullet passed through heavy clothing.  I've shot some of it over the last few years, but never tested the expansion capabilities extolled by Hornady.

If you follow my blog and my tests, you know my testing process.  If you don't, then I encourage you to view the video in this blog as it shows my process.  I also had 4 full water jugs with me today so I was able to include a bonus 4 layers of denim and water jugs test too.  I captured all fired bullets and they are shown below with their corresponding data.

My Comments: Over the years since Critical Defense came into the market, I've heard mostly good reports about it.  I've never had a problem with it feeding or firing from any 380 or 9mm I've tried it in.  I was looking forward to seeing if it would perform through 2 and 4 layers of denim. I've always found Critical Defense to be a soft shooting loading with a lower perceived recoil than other 90 grain self defense hollow point rounds.  From my testing, I think the engineers at Hornady did a really good job balancing expansion and penetration with the .380 loading.  It increases in diameter without becoming so large that penetration is compromised.

I thought it was interesting to see the expansion differences between the bullet that impacted at 834 fps vs. the 855 fps shot.  With such a small difference in velocity you can really see the difference in overall expansion and penetration.  It seem illogical that the slower bullet would penetrate more deeply, but that's exactly what happened due to the lesser expansion of the slower round. 

Overall, I really like the performance I saw today.  My captured bullets looked almost exactly like the expanded bullets shown on the box.  All rounds expanded and performed as advertised.   


  1. I just bought the Hornaday Critical Defence in 380. Great test, but honestly how could Hornaday advertise 1,000FPS muzzle and retaining 910FPS at fifty yards when your test couldn't get above the 900 mark and 8 feet!! A great round, but I would take a few points off for not making it close to advertised velocity. Kenetic energy is Mass X Velocity squared. Velocity counts!

    1. Hi Brett. You've nailed one of the reasons why I started down my own testing path. Many Manufacturers are less than forthcoming with the length of barrel they use to get those velocity numbers. At least this way I can run my own string of 5 or 10 shots and get an average velocity from my pistol. The single shot tests are just a follow up and we hope the single shots end up somewhere within the 5 or 10 shot averages.

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  3. I really liked your report. Seems that the Hornady doesn't expand as much as some bullets, but has much better penetration. From looking at other data, I'd conclude that many brands over-expand and thus don't penetrate like they should. This bullet seems to be getting all the factors balanced out pretty well to have good expansion and penetration.

    Another thing I really like is the polymer helps prevent clogging and bullet failure. My one wish would be that this ammo were bonded. That would make it nearly unbeatable. I'm going to try some and see how my P380 likes it, as reliable feeding is another factor to add to this as well.

    Great job, and thanks for the good info.

    1. Totally agree with this. I really like what I'm seeing from the XTP loads Bruce has tested in .380 and .32.

      The XTP has always been a design that expands less aggressively than other premium JHPs and gives good penetration (as well as high accuracy). This makes it a great match for the defensive .380 ACP, since as we see from other tests on this site, the cartridge often struggles to deliver adequate penetration when rapidly expanding bullets are used.

      XTPs are also great for loading hot (within safe pressure limitations!) because they are "tough" hollowpoints, they hold up well at speed and don't come apart or overexpand as readily as some others.

      Brian Pearce did a great article in Handloader about 3 years ago on loading for the Ruger LCP. Both practice and defense loads were covered in depth. I remember that some of his best standard pressure loads pushed the 90 gr XTP to a true 1000+ fps from the LCP using powders like Universal and Power Pistol.

      I wish the factories would offer us loads just like that. Buffalo Bore, go buy a few pallets of XTPs!

  4. Sorry, so late to the party. Hornady clearly states on there website that all tests of the 380 auto 90gr FTX were done with a 4in test barrel. Thus the difference in ballistic data. Also there are so many variables that the same load may give different results on any given day when the sample size is so small. i.e. Number of rounds fired and number of lots sampled. However one would hope that with so much at stake, namely our lives, the variation lot to lot would be mimimal at best, given the intended purpose and the high cost per round.

    Thanks for the test info,I just purchased some today for my S&W Bodyguard 380. Taking it to the range to see how it cycles.

    1. Never late to the party on a blog. A blog is forever a resource of information.

  5. Great info. Just shot 25 hornady 380 cd rounds out my bersa thunder. You stats are on the money. Great ammo.

  6. Hey Bruce,

    I assume from the high level of professionalism exhibited in your testing that you calibrated your blocks to match 10% gelatin?

    1. The SIM TEST was close to 10%, but you had to control the water content pretty closely and it's a trial and error process due to the steam it gives off when it's hot. That's the main reason why I like the clear gel so much more. It never needs dilution and maintains 10% calibration with no guess work. These results correlated well with my clear gel test of Critical Defense and Zombie Max.

  7. Yesterday I chrono'd a few rounds of this load and averaged 900 fps out of my Kahr 380. I was impressed!

  8. Hornady should be challenged to shoot this round out of ANY .380 pistol and show a chronograph result of 1000fps.

    If Hyundai can be taken to task about inflated mileage statistics then Hornady should be brought to account for their ridiculous velocity statistics.

  9. Thugs must laugh at us. We worry about penetration, gel blocks, hollows, fps, magazine capacity, etc, A thug runs at the 1st sight of a gun, any gun. He knows that a bullet, any bullet, will make a bloody tunnel in his body, 4" or 14" deep is the same to him. If in a danger zone I unholster and put my piece in the jacket pocket, ready to shoot through the coat. .

  10. Frank,
    I get your point & got a good laugh out of it. The silver lining, however, is that thugs can't or don't read, so most don't know what we write, read and worry about :-)
    Seriously, for some huge (but unknown and unknowable) percentage of us who carry concealed for civilian purposes, we'll win the encounter simply by responding with a gun and/or gunfire, regardless of caliber, terminal performance, etc. That's the really GREAT news & I take a great deal of comfort in it. I'll categorize this sort of BG as a "punk," and they're in it for easy money & the fun-danger factor, and to build a rep. A serious danger, however, is that the punk may decide that firing at you may be his safest option to live or escape, as the case may be.
    The bigger problem is that we may also encounter "thugs"--the toughened-up older brothers and uncles of the younger, softer "punks." These guys often have been shot & are probably encouraged by their survival to believe that there's a good chance they'll survive future shootings, thanks to free medical care of superb quality. They often have decided they will die in a hail of gunfire someday anyway, so our problem is: have they decided that they want you badly enough that "today's the day"? Another problem with this category of thug is that they've fought and fought dirty all their lives, and have already used knives and guns on other human beings. Most of us "good guys" haven't.
    The thug, in other words, has many of the characteristics that make an experienced combat infantryman such a tough opponent for inexperienced opponents, support troops, etc. Unlike the infantryman, of course, the thug's only "code of honor" is to survive and be "respected" as merciless, bound by no rules to limit or control his deadliness.
    Our other problem is the deranged opponent who--intentionally or by pure happenstance--has decided to kill you, even if it's the last thing he does.
    Like the hardened thug, the deranged BG may have to be shot down, literally. The "psychological" stop can still occur, but is far less likely to succeed than with the mere "punk."
    Even combat infantrymen play the odds: on a given mission, they may carry more or less ammo, grenades, etc., depending on their situation.
    We, as CHP guys and gals, play the odds, too. Perhaps most of us choose to arm ourselves against the "punk," which makes it dicey if we encounter the thug(s) or the deranged guy. Few would leave the house with a mere pistol if we expected to encounter three thugs in a convenience store, each likely armed with an automatic pistol, perhaps more. I think this is why I, and so many others, spend so much energy on the "bullet of the month." We're armed on the light side to begin with, and any ammo which is a perceived improvement may give us just enough of an improvement to survive.
    Thanks for letting me think aloud to organize my thoughts--I doubt anything I've said is real news to anyone reading Bruce's blog, but perhaps it may help a few think about concealed carry from rhe perspective of: "What is the threat I'm actually choosing to arm myself against, and what risk level will I accept?"