Federal has been producing both of these 9mm loads for a very long time. From my own personal experience, the first 9mm I ever purchased was a Ruger P89 that was current production and new in the box when I purchased it in early 1991. At the time, I was a handgun novice and the counter clerk suggested a box of Remington UMC 115 grain FMJ and Federal 115 grain Hi-Shok JHP (9BP) as starter ammunition. That was the first of countless boxes of 9BP that I've purchased over the years.
The other load featured in this test is the venerable 9mm +P+ load that carries Federal catalog number 9BPLE. This load is marketed to various law enforcement agencies, but stray boxes will show up on-line from time to time. Over the years, this load has been elevated to iconic status as a proven fight stopper by agencies that issue this ammunition. Loaded to +P+ pressures, this load falls outside of SAAMI specifications and can be dangerous if used in firearms not built to withstand the additional chamber pressure generated by this load.
The two loads appear to be nearly identical with the primary differences being the cartridge cases and packaging. The 9BP is loaded in standard brass cases while the 9BPLE is loaded in nickle plated brass. The 9BPLE headstamp specifically calls out the +P+ pressure of the load.
I've always wondered if there was a significant difference in the terminal performance of these two loads. Other folks have requested that I test one or the other of these loads from time to time. I recently had the chance to test both on the same day, from the same gun, and in the same gel block. Hardly a definitive outcome from such a limited sample of test shots, but the results give me a better idea of the differences between the two loadings.
Step 1) Measure and record temperature and relative humidity.
Step 2) Run a 2 shot velocity test over a ProChrono Digital Chronograph at a distance of 10 feet.
Step 3) Run various terminal test shots, with and without simulated clothing barriers, into a block of Clear Ballistics Gel that is calibrated to 10% Ordnance Gel density. 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.
Video Documentation of the Entire Tests from Range to Bullet Recovery:
My Thoughts on The Tests:
I have to give kudos to Federal for some of the smallest velocity spreads I've seen with 9mm ammunition across a 5 shot sample. Velocity was slightly higher than the published velocity for both loads and that was expected with a test barrel that is half an inch longer than the published test barrel length.
The 115 grain Hi-Shok JHP bullet is referred to as an old technology bullet. Over the years, Federal has progressed bullet technology with the Tactical Hydra-Shok, Tactical Bonded, and most recently, the Tactical HST ammunition lines. From the results of this test, it was clear to me that the 115 grain Hi-Shok bullet is sensitive to variations in velocity. Focusing on just the heavy clothing test, we experienced expansion failure at 1171 feet per second, but observed outstanding terminal performance at 1332 feet per second.
The bare gel and light clothing test results revealed other interesting performance characteristics of the Hi-Shok bullet. At 1165 feet per second the expansion was impressive with penetration falling right around the minimum desired 12 inches. Increasing the velocity to 1325 feet per second induced bullet fragmentation as it passed through the gel block with significant pieces of the bullet jacket and core deposited all through the wound channel. The remaining bullet core and jacket easily exceeded the desired 12 inch penetration target.
Pick or Pan:
The standard pressure 9BP failed to expand when fired through denim even when it was moving at the Federal published velocity specification for the load. Expansion in the no and light clothing tests was impressive, but hampered penetration to the desired 12 inches minimum in ballistics testing gel media. There are other ammunition choices available that deliver better heavy clothing terminal performance so I'll pass on this one.
The 9BPLE performed REALLY well in all tests and I can see why it has developed the street reputation it enjoys. Fragmentation was significant with the no and light clothing tests, but less of a concern with the denim test shot. Personally, I'm not a fan of +P+ ammunition because it falls outside of SAAMI specification and is expressly forbidden by many handgun manufactures for use in their firearms. There is nothing wrong with the performance of this load, but my personal preference is to pass in favor of SAAMI specification +P options.
What I find most perplexing is why Federal doesn't produce a 115 grain Hi-Shok 9mm +P load for the consumer market. It could possibly deliver better terminal performance than the 9BP, without the pressure concerns of the 9BPLE.
If you find either of these loads available, you may be put off by the comparatively reasonable prices versus similar ammunition products. The Federal Classic 9BP and 9BPLE have always been offered at modest retail prices, but as we saw in this test they are loaded with the same care and precision as other premium defensive ammunition.
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.