Thursday, January 10, 2013

Underwood Ammo 380 Auto +P GDHP Clear Gel Test

If you aren't familiar with Underwood Ammo, I'll give you a quick run down on them.  Started by Kevin Underwood, the Charlston, WV based business grew from Kevin's hobby to a full blown family run ammunition company.  Underwood manufactures a full line of ammunition for both pistols and rifles.  If you send an email or call Underwood, there is a really good chance you'll get Kevin on the Underwood side of the communication.  Underwood has developed quite a devoted following of customers through their commitment to quality, reasonable prices, and willingness to load some of the highest velocity rounds available in many pistol calibers.

While there isn't a SAAMI pressure specification for 380 +P, the ammunition covered in this test is labeled as such.  Speer loads this same bullet in their Gold Dot line with a published velocity of 1040 feet per second.  Underwood bumps up the velocity significantly with this load.  I sent Underwood a note to ask what barrel length they use to develop their published velocity numbers.  Kevin responded back that the 380 velocity numbers are developed in a PPK with a 3.5" barrel.

Ammunition labeled as +P or +P+ should only be used in firearms that have been certified by the manufacturer as safe for the additional pressures generated by these ammunition types.

Test Pistol Specs:
Kahr P380 2.5" Barrel

Testing Protocol:
My testing process is pretty simple.  I take one shot at the end of a Clear Ballistics Gel block.  I take the shot from 8 feet away and impact velocity is measured 2 inches away from the block.  Clear Ballistics Gel is calibrated to 10% ballistics gel density.  I shoot the block at the range and then bring it home to analyze the block and recover the bullet.  Immediately prior to shooting the block, I take a 5 shot velocity test over a ProChrono Digital chronograph.

Test Results:
The test results are summarized in the data sheet below along with some close up shots of the recovered bullet.

Video documentation of the entire test from range through bullet recovery is available below.  The high definition video is best viewed on YouTube, but you can also view it here.

My Thoughts on This Load:
My first thought was wow...I definitely got a hot box of ammo.  I fully expected to lose 100 fps off the published velocity specification from my test barrel since it was 1" shorter than the factory test barrel.  The Walther made barrel in the Kahr P380 does a great job wringing out good velocity numbers from any round shot through it, but the speed exceeded my expectations.  I wasn't expecting up to 300 fps faster over the factory Speer loaded GDHP.  Then there was the actual test shot that exceeded even the 1175 published velocity by several feet per second.  Bottom line is the load delivers on speed.

Expansion was extreme.  Much more than we've seen from the same bullet loaded by Speer.  While there were lead fragments scattered down the wound channel, the recovered round lost less than 2 grains of total bullet weight.  I think that is perfectly acceptable and is a great example of the structural integrity of the bonded Gold Dot bullet.

Penetration was marginal at just over 9.25" on this test shot.  I'm sure some would kick this load to the curb on this measure alone, but I'm actually intrigued by this measurement.  As we've seen in past tests with this bullet, it is possible to make 10" of penetration with expansion in the .480's and velocity of about 900 fps. (Speer factory load)  I want to circle back on this load at a later date with a stress test that includes a significant clothing barrier ahead of the gel block.  With the great speed and quality bonded bullet, this load may well make the magic 12" of penetration if it has to clear a clothing barrier before it starts expanding in the gel.  I think the barrier will slow down the rate of expansion and allow the bullet to penetrate deeper into the gel block.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I have a concern about the velocity variation with this load.  The fact that the test shot went out at over 60 feet per second faster than any of our velocity test shots is concerning.  More speed = more pressure and stress on the firearm.

Disclaimer....This test should not be considered an endorsement or recommendation for the product(s) tested.  All tests represent actual performance in ballistics testing media.  Terminal performance in all other media will show different results.  It is up to each individual to make their own personal decision on which specific ammunition to use for their needs.  It's also critically important to test any ammo in YOUR SPECIFIC FIREARM before relying on it for any purpose.

Ammunition labeled as +P or +P+ should only be used in firearms that have been certified by the manufacturer as safe for the additional pressures generated by these ammunition types.


  1. I would like to see a .380 acp test of Speer Gold Dot vs Federal Hydra Shock in the new clear gel.

    I always look forward to reading your new tests.

    BTW, I really like the new index system you have to find past articles.

    1. The ammo test index page is a direct result of your previous request. It just took me some time to get done. Thanks for suggesting it.

      More head to head compares are coming. Just don't know when. Much depends on the weather.

  2. I prefer the Border Patrol's ammo standards to the FBI's anyway, they get in more gunfights than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. And the FBI's standards are based on ONE gunfight that went south in Miami..... By the Border Patrol's standards this is stellar performance.

  3. Any chance of seeing the Underwood 102gr +P Golden Saber tested?

    1. I've had a box I purchased for testing for quite some time. Unfortunately, I think people are burned out on ammo tests and it doesn't make sense for me to invest about 12 hours of my time to make an ammunition review video that doesn't get 5000 views even though I have over 16,000 subscribers on my channel. Subscribers seem to want firearm reviews over ammunition tests.

  4. Have you stress tested this bullet yet? Have you tried any Underwood 38 special yet?