Thursday, August 22, 2013

Speer Gold Dot 40 S&W 155 Grain GDHP Denim, Clear Gel, and "Bone" Test

Another big thanks to Richard at Guns, Holsters, and Gear for providing the ammunition for this test.

If you follow the blog, then you've seen several tests of Speer Gold Dot Duty Ammunition as well as their Personal Protection Ammunition.  While we will never know exactly how the two ammunition lines differ, the most obvious difference is in the package size.  Duty Ammunition ships in 50 round boxes and has an item number that starts with 5.  In this case, 53961.  A cartridge of the same caliber and grain weight is also available in the Personal Protection line packed in boxes of 20.  That item number is 23961.  The ammunition used in this test was from the Duty Ammunition line.

The major commonality with the two ammunition lines is the Speer Gold Dot bonded bullet.  Gold Dots have earned a remarkable reputation for reliable terminal performance in various structured testing protocols.  Gold Dots also seem to test well for those of us with a less structured testing protocol.

Since the 155 grain is the lightest bullet in Gold Dot 40 S&W catalog, I opted for a short barrel test.  I thought the lighter bullet, and faster velocity, might be a good match for the 3.1" test barrel.

Test Pistol:

Test Protocol:
Step 1)  Measure and record temperature and relative humidity.
Step 2)  Run a 5 shot velocity average over a ProChrono Digital Chronograph at a distance of 10 feet.
Step 3)  Run first bare gel test shot into a block of Clear Ballistics Gel that is calibrated to 10% Ordnance Gel density.  Shot distance is 10 feet.
Step 4)  Run second test shot through 4 layers of 14 oz/yard heavy-weight denim.  Shot distance is 10 feet.
Step 5)  Run a third test shot through 4 layers of 14 oz/yard heavy-weight denim and simulated bone block of 1/2" red oak hardwood suspended in Clear Ballistics Gel.  Shot distance is 10 feet.
Run a third test shot through 4 layers of 14 oz/yard heavy-weight denim and simulated bone block of 1/2" red oak hardwood suspended in Clear Ballistics Gel. - See more at:
Step 6)  Run a 600 fps calibration test bb shot into the Clear Ballistics gel block and record penetration depth.

Test Results:

Video Documentation of the Entire Test from Range to Bullet Recovery:

My Thoughts on This Load:
This test leaves me feeling conflicted.  I love the performance observed in bare gel and also the denim and fake bone tests.  The denim only test results indicate inconsistent expansion when velocities drop into the low 1100's.  If I had selected a 4" test barrel, I bet the denim only test results would have been different.

Pick or Pan:
Inconsistent performance across all three test scenarios convinced me to look at other ammuntion options for the short barrel Shield.  Speer makes a Gold Dot Short Barrel 180 grain load that has been optimized for short barrel pistols.  While I have yet to test them, they may end up being the best performing Gold Dot load for our short barrel test pistol. 

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 love your site. I linked to it in one of my posts. Thank you for all of your hard work gathering data for people to see regarding bullet performance!

    1. Top billing for me I see. =) Thanks very much for including me in your article. I want to get back to your website and read through it all. There is so much there that I didn't have time to get through it all today.

      You nailed the purpose of the blog. It's an information resource for folks that can't get out and do their own testing. I hope to keep it heavy on facts and light on opinion.

      I noticed the last 9mm you have listed in your chart is labeled Critical Defense. That was actually Critical DUTY.

      Best Regards,
      Bruce F.

  2. Bruce,

    Good work, as usual.
    I had the same question, so I contacted Speer via the "contact us" section at
    Their response (paraphrasing) was that the 180gr Short Barrel version has two advantages. First, it has a different, faster burning powder to boost velocity into a better expansion window. Second, the HP cavity on the 180gr short barrel is wider, but shallower, which facilitates expansion.

  3. From a 4 or 4.5 in. barrel, in some 90 actual shootings, this load delivered 93% "one shot" stops according to Evan Marshall's "Stopping Power" study. In short barrelled .40's the round is about 88% with only 19 cases recorded. The key to stopping power is high energy delivered inside the target; whatever energy exists "out the back" is lost to stopping the adversary. This load delivers high energy and expands enough to brake it before leaving. Penetration is much valued by the FBI due to a 9mm stopping failure in the famous Miami Shootout in the mid '80s. The agency which traditionally has more shootings per year than any other agency is the US Border Patrol. Their finding was that 9-12" of penetration was what stopped the most bad guys. The Bureau's 12-18" requirement was based on one bad experience of what didn't work, not a long history of what does work. This round penetrates 11-12 inches in two different gel and denim tests I have seen. It fits the profile of what works in real life.