Thursday, September 5, 2013

380 vs. 9mm Hornady Critical Defense Denim, "Bone", and Gel Test

Back in Spring 2012 I did a series to terminal tests comparing 380 and 9mm terminal performance.  The series proved to be quite popular on the blog and also on YouTube.  With all the updates to my testing protocols over the last year and a half, I wanted to revisit these tests.  I'm starting with the most popular test of the series and may revisit all three of the previous tests if reader/viewer response is positive.  I may even expand the series if folks find value in the results.

A key point to remember as you read through the results and view the video is that this isn't a perfect comparison test.  Ideally, I'd have identical barrel lengths for both 380 and 9mm.  I can't justify purchasing a pair of Ruger LC9/LC380 pistols to run these comparison tests, but that would be ideal.  Also, this isn't a test to determine if 380 or 9mm is "better".  It's a test to discover the terminal performance differences between the two calibers in small pocket pistols.

If anyone reading this is a personal friend of Eric Galloway over at Galloway Precision, please let him know that I would gladly review his full house LC9 and LC380 conversions.  I may even sneak in a few of these 380 Auto vs 9mm tests while reviewing the pistols. [wink]

Test Pistols:

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 8 feet.
Step 3)  Run first test shots through 4 layers of 14 oz/yard heavy-weight denim into a block of Clear Ballistics Gel that is calibrated to 10% Ordnance Gel density.  Shot distance is 8 feet.
Step 4)  Run second test shots through 4 layers of 14 oz/yard heavy-weight denim and 1/2" red oak hardwood block suspended 1/4" deep in a Clear Ballistics gel block placed in front of main test block.  Shot distance is 8feet.
Step 5)  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 Test:
From my perspective, the most frustrating part of terminal testing is when new test results don't jive with previous test results.  Last month I tested Critical Defense 380, from this same lot number, through 4 layers of denim and observed expansion in the same Clear Ballistics gel.  As a viewer of my test results, I'm sure it's frustrating for you too.  Unfortunately, I think that's just the nature of the beast so to put this in a positive light we now know how the 380 will perform when it does and doesn't expand.  The denim and simulated bone test results were really interesting for the 380 with all tested rounds being crushed rather than expanding.  This turned them into a bullet profile similar to a flat nose full metal jacket.  Penetration and weight retention from all 380 test shots was very good.

The 9mm test results were right in line with what I expected to see from this load.  Critical Defense has always displayed limited expansion and deep penetration.  Both test shots expanded and exceeded 16" of penetration.  The denim and simulated bone test shot was really outstanding with expansion, limited bullet crushing, and an average expansion diameter exceeding half an inch.

Since this was the first test of this series, I can't comment on how this test compares with others.  I will say that I place importance on shot placement and penetration over expansion.  With those criteria in mind, these mild recoiling and deep penetrating rounds seem to be a reasonably good match for the pistols used and my defensive needs. 

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'm using the Hornady .380 in my Sig P250 compact as a house gun. I live in a attached town house and am trying to avoid over-penetration. I guess the performance of this round would be better from my 3.9" barrel.

    1. I had to go check the Sig website to be sure, but I'm assuming you mean you are using the 9mm in your P250 since the P250 isn't chambered in 380. If you are using the 380 in your P250 please remove it immediately. That's not the correct ammunition for your pistol.

    2. The Sig P250 is now available in .380 in the compact size. They announced it at SHOT 2013.

    3. I checked the Sig website again and was surprised to see the P250 available in 380 under the Sub-Compact models. Learn something new every day. Has Sig made larger grip frames and slide/barrel combos available yet?

    4. Yes Bruce, I bought mine early this year from Wholesale Hunter. They are still offering them. I don't know about the catalog but the stickers on the side of the case read P250C .380. So would the perfomance be better in a 3.9" barrel? I keep as my house gun since I live in an attached townhouse and don't want over-penetration.

  2. This is the first double serious fail of the Hornady Critical Defense I've seen. So much for expansion "every time" from this round.

  3. If one needs expansion from short barreled 35 caliber pistols one should investigate soft lead hollow points or perhaps conceder using a round that is pre-expanded such as a 45

    1. Or one could ground one's attitude in the last 20 years (rather than parroting embarrassingly obsolete attitudes from the 1970s/1980s) and recognize that there are many quality 9mm+P JHPs that reliably expand from short barrels.

      Soft lead hollow points are fine, viable choices from revolvers but, again, those who try to learn and assimilate at least some data from the last 20 yrs know that you can also get expansion from jacketed loads in short barreled revolvers, e.g., Speer's 135 GD JHP+P.

  4. Need MORE JUICE behind these rounds, Hornady! The XTP is a great bullet but it needs some velocity to work. The short barrels Bruce used are entirely reasonable examples of the kinds of private-citizen CCW pieces in which this ammunition product is likely to be carried. Even another 50 fps in each cartridge would have made a notable difference, I'm guessing.

    Unfortunately this confirms my working assumption, which is NEVER to buy a defense ammo product marketed specifically for the "civilian" (i.e. private citizen) market. They almost always load 'em down, like they don't take citizens' lives as seriously as government employees.

    Stick with Law Enforcement marketed defense ammo. Get the real stuff.

    1. I just came across an October 2010 Brian Pearce article in Handloader on handloading for the .380 in the Ruger LCP. As part of the (impressively broad) testing, Brian fired and chrono'd a bunch of factory ammo. I noticed that he clocked the 90 gr FTX Critical Defense load at 912 fps from the LCP. Your own tests of this load strongly suggest that at that velocity, one could expect the usual good performance from this bullet, instead of the somewhat disappointing results in this test.

      This makes me wonder whether there is a meaningful difference between the LCP's 2.75" barrel and the shorter barrel on the Kahr P380. All of the factory defense loads Brian chrono'd with 90 gr hollowpoints exceeded 900 fps from the LCP. As your tireless efforts suggest, that is good velocity territory to be in with a .380 hollowpoint.

      Thanks for all your work.

  5. The question isn't, "can you make a .380 the functional equivalent of a 9mm?"; the platform just isn't there. Instead, it is "Can you get a .380 cartridge that expands reliably through cloth and penetrates deeply enough to be considered a useful self-defense round?"