Friday, July 11, 2014

Remington's New Golden Saber 45 Auto 230 Grain BJHP - Ultimate Defense Terminal Test

In the wine and craft beer world, the concept of a vertical tasting involves sampling a similar wine or beer from several different vintage years.  This ammunition test follows along with that concept, but we'll be testing Remington's original Golden Saber and new Ultimate Defense 45 Auto 230 grain loads in a limited head to head comparison test.

The Remington Golden Saber line has been Remington's flagship personal protection ammunition line since the 1990's.  It's strange how things play out over decades, but my first Golden Saber purchase was a box of 45 Auto 230 grain that I kept in my S&W 625 revolver for home protection.  This was back in the 1990's.  It seems strangely appropriate to circle back on this load 20 years later and see how it compares to Remington's newest personal protection loads they now call Ultimate Defense and Ultimate Defense Compact Handgun.

Ultimate Defense started appearing on store shelves in 2013, and Remington added the Ultimate Defense Compact Handgun ammunition line in early 2014.  I think we all quickly figured out that Ultimate Defense was the same Golden Saber ammunition in new packaging.  Remington also cut the number of rounds per box down to 20 instead of the 25 rounds in each box of Golden Saber.

Things got very interesting this year when Remington extended the Ultimate Defense line with a load tailored to compact concealed carry handguns.  The information available on the Remington website describes Ultimate Defense Compact Handgun as follows.  "Designed with the concealed carry permit holder in mind to deliver big gun terminal performance out of shorter barreled pistols and revolvers. This round has been engineered to provide optimal penetration and expansion through even heavy clothing at lower velocities for maximum stopping power. It's all of our premium features now finely tuned for your most important handgun."  All that sounded great to me.  I just needed to find some, which didn't take very long.

So now Remington has piqued my interest, and I really wanted to see how this new Ultimate Defense Compact Handgun load compares to Golden Saber and the standard Ultimate Defense.  Lined up side by side, I didn't see much difference between the Golden Saber on the left and the two Ultimate Defense loads in the center and on the right.  It does appear that Ultimate Defense is loaded to a shorter over-all length than the Golden Saber, at least with my testing samples.  The dial calipers confirmed this with Golden Saber averaging 1.232" vs. 1.212" for the Ultimate Defense.

From L to R:  Golden Saber, Ultimate Defense, and Ultimate Defense Compact Handgun.

The biggest difference shows up when you look down into the hollow point cavities of the three loads.  The Ultimate Defense Compact Handgun does have a much different hollow point cavity than the other two loads.  The standard Ultimate Defense looks nearly identical to the original Golden Saber.  I couldn't wait to get out on the range and see how all three loads performed in a head to head test when fired from a compact handgun.

From L to R:  Golden Saber, Ultimate Defense, and Ultimate Defense Compact Handgun.

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 terminal test shots into a block of Clear Ballistics Gel that is calibrated to 10% Ordnance Gel density.  4 layers of 14 oz. denim is placed in front of the block for each shot.  Shot distance is 10 feet.
Step 4)  Run a 600 fps calibration test bb shot into the Clear Ballistics gel block and record penetration depth to verify density.

Test Results:

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

My Thoughts on This Load:
Remington is our home team here in Arkansas, so I was really hoping to see good results from all three test shots.  I was even hoping for great results from the Ultimate Defense Compact Handgun test shot.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case in this test.  All three tested shots completely plugged with denim and passed through the 18" block of Clear Ballistics Gel.

The Golden Saber and Ultimate Defense also passed through an additional 7.5 inches of gel before ending up in the dirt berm.  I had Lucas on the range with me on test day and we suspect he recovered one of these test shots from the berm.  We aren't sure if it was the Golden Saber or the Ultimate Defense test shot.  The Schwartz model predicted both rounds would penetrate more than 25 inches. 

The Ultimate Defense Compact Handgun test shot behaved a little differently as it progressed through the 18" gel block.  Instead of just plugging with denim and passing straight through the block, it tumbled or yawed and decelerated more quickly than the other two test shots.  We caught the bullet in the second backer block and it was recovered completely plugged with denim with no signs of expansion.  We got lucky.

Remington publishes a velocity of 875 feet per second for the Golden Saber and Ultimate Defense.  They don't specify their test barrel length, but I think it's safe to assume a 5 inch test barrel.  As expected, our 3.3 inch test barrel generated about 100 feet per second less velocity.  Remington has not published velocity data for Ultimate Defense Compact Handgun at the time of this write up.  Our sample box tested about 20 feet per second less than Ultimate Defense.

Pick or Pan:
I consider myself a reasonable and realistic person.  I don't consider a single test shot from each of the three tested loads to be comprehensive test, but it does provide some new comparative data points that didn't exist prior to the test.  So far, I'm not impressed with the terminal performance of either bullet design.  The terminal performance of the new compact handgun bullet may perform better in other calibers with lighter bullet weights, but the 230 grain 45 Auto at less than 800 feet per second doesn't look very promising.

It will be interesting to see what other independent ammunition testers discover with their tests.  I'm looking forward to seeing their results.


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. And this is why I will continue to carry the 230 grain Short Barreled Gold Dot load.

    Nicely done BTW.

  2. Thanks for all the hard work and a great test comparison. These should make a good test when they become available:

  3. I've been seeing these for sale and had been wondering if somebody would test them. Thanks for taking the time to do so Bruce, and too bad they didn't perform out of the 3.3" barrel. Maybe a 3.75" would produce better results?

    Personally I like a 3.75" or more in 45acp, but if I was carrying a 3.3" I'd stick to the +P HST's.

  4. I keep my 5" 1911 loaded with old style Golden Sabers. I've seen enough reviews that say they work from longer barreled guns. If I ever get a compact .45 I do appreciate this knowledge. I do want to get some HST's and see how they shoot in my gun as they seem to be the future.

  5. Thank you for publishing this, I was looking at this ammo for my .38 special LCR. May have to look at another ammo instead.

  6. I wonder how they would have preformed if they were spun in the same direction as the cuts in the jacket. Would have to duplicate velocity with a different barrel. With enough distance from gel, could use another pistol with a longer barrel to get the velocity needed. Hope this doesn't "open up a can of worms" ; )
    Great Review! Please keep up the good work.

    1. Unfortunately, the answer is most probably "Why bother to find out" when we have other options available that will expand when fired from compact 45's. Glad you liked the review. I really wish the test results would have been more impressive.

  7. Haven't owned a compact .45 in a while now, so just stumbled onto this article kinda haphazardly. Very depressing that a company with Remington's history, name, and resources, would market ammo that doesn't perform to advertised hype--or even close to it. "Compact Handgun Ultimate Defense" is a straightforward claim that this ammo is specifically engineered to overcome the velocity loss that everybody knows we'll encounter in a shorty .45. In these days of testing like yours, Bruce, and lots of other guys on YouTube and the Internet...decision makers at Remington KNOW that their claims will be independently tested both quickly and publicly. They should be professional and honest anyway, of course, but apparently they'd rather make their money selling to the uninformed rather than providing a well-engineered product that does what it says. Sad.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I believe the ammo makers are focused on passing the tests needed to get those oh so sweet government ammo contracts. After 4+ years of running the blog, and testing for publication instead of just for fun, I think I recently summed up my testing perfectly while responding to a Viewer comment. My tests aren't done to find the best performing ammunition, but rather to eliminate the worst performers.