Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hornady Critical Duty 40 S&W 175 Grain FlexLock Terminal Test

Critical Duty is Hornady's newest line of pistol ammunition.  Unlike Critical Defense, the Critical Duty line features a bullet that has been constructed with an "Interlock Band" to help the core and jacket stay together as they penetrate various barriers.  I like the Critical Defense line of ammo and it has tested well for me.  I really wanted to give the new Critical Duty a thorough testing with a focus on terminal performance with the shorter barrel lengths that have become quite popular with the concealed carry folks.

While I was on vacation last month, I did a little ammo shopping during some downtime.  I just happened to be on the right website at the right time to pick up some very reasonably priced boxes of 50 rounds.  Having 50 rounds on hand gives me some wiggle room with my testing as I have plenty of extra rounds to spare for velocity testing as well as terminal testing.  Keeping with the short barrel focus of my testing, I opted to run my tests through two of the shorter barrel lengths.

This test was also a first for me.  Up until now, the majority of my testing has been on 9mm and smaller calibers.  Being my first test with .40 S&W, I thought it would probably go well, but you never know until the bullets start flying into the denim and SIM-TEST media.

Test Pistol Specs:

Testing Protocol:
My testing process is pretty simple.  I take one shot at alternate ends of a SIM-TEST block that is loosely draped with 2 layers of medium weight denim.  I take the shots from 8 feet away and impact velocity is measured 4 inches away from the SIM-TEST block.  My SIM-TEST blocks are now closely calibrated to ballistics gel density.  I shoot the blocks at the range and then bring them home and recover the bullets.  There are two videos below.  The first documents the standard denim and gel test.  The second bonus video documents a 4 layer denim and water jugs test that I did just for fun because I had the water jugs left over after testing.

The two recovered test rounds and all their details are shown below. 

During the first video you will see I had a failure to fire on the second round of my velocity test string with my Glock 27.  It didn't show well on the video so I took a better picture when I got home.  I really don't understand why this round failed to fire when the rest worked just fine.  I have to assume it was loaded with a bad primer since the primer sealing red lacquer appears to be consistent with the other rounds.  

If you watched the second video of the water jug test, then you saw how disappointed I was that the bullet passed through all 4 jugs.  I did go to the berm to look for the round and suddenly realized I was standing in the middle of all my velocity test shots that had piled into the very hard dirt/small rocks and came to rest right on top of the dirt.  So I've added a new feature for this blog entry that I'm calling Tales from the Berm.  It's been fairly dry this spring and the rain we have been getting has been evaporating quickly with all the wind we've been getting.  The berms are especially hard right now and you can see how 3 of the 4 recovered rounds held on to their jackets even after plowing headlong into the hard pack berm at 655 miles per hour.   

My Thoughts
Since I've yet to test 40 S&W Critical Defense, I really can't draw any parallels between Critical Duty and Critical Defense.  Pretending that this was my first exposure to any of the Hornady Critical lines of  ammo, I would have to say that I'm impressed with the penetration and expansion of this loading through the sub 3.5" barrels.  Both rounds delivered more than the 12" minimum penetration that everyone seems to be looking for.  The thing that really impressed me about this loading was the consistency of velocities with both pistols.  Even though the PM40 has a shorter barrel, the velocity average was the same from both test strings.  Having both terminal test shots within 1 fps was really pretty amazing.  We didn't get the 1025 fps velocity published on the box, but with barrel lengths of less than 3.5" I wasn't expecting it.  I was actually pleased to see we were only 65 fps shy of the published velocity.  I thought we would lose more than that.

There were some disappointing and confusing points that came out of the test.  The biggest was the dud primer with the G27.  That's a bad deal and it could keep me away from this ammo if I experience any more duds in this box or the next box.  I'm also trying to figure out why the two test shots expanded to different diameters even though they entered the same block at nearly identical velocities.  The expansion difference explains the difference in the penetration depths.  It's not worth agonizing over 5 hundredths of an inch of expansion, but it is puzzling.

I'm not set up to test through barriers so I can't comment about the primary differentiation point between Critical Duty and Critical Defense.  I saw no evidence of core jacket separation and the retained weight of both rounds was exceptionally good.  You can see for yourself in the following photos.

I like the added weight of the 175 grain bullet and I had originally hoped to swap into this ammo for Winter carry when folks dress warmer and in layers.  I still have to run many more rounds down range to assure flawless functioning of the ammo in my specific pistol before I can make that change with confidence.  The results so far look promising.

Disclaimer....This test should not be considered an endorsement or recommendation for the product(s) tested. It is up to each individual to make their own personal decision about 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 should not be used in any firearm unless the firearm manufacturer specifically states you are permitted to do so. 


  1. Hmmm... low velocity, failures to fire, average penetration, poor, less than 1.5x expansion. Seems like an ammo to avoid, to me.

    Great test, thank you for saving me the $ I would otherwise have spent on this!

  2. Your test weapons are appropriate if you are testing Hornady's Critical Defense ammo designed for optimal performance in short barrel weapons such as your Glock and Kahr. From speaking with a Hornady rep I was informed that the Critical Duty line is designed and calibrated for full size duty weapons with 4.5" to 5" barrels and a minimum of 4" for designed performance (Says on their website also). The reduced velocities attained from the shorter barrels you used in these tests could very well explain why they didn't expand as designed. Also that picture from your failure to fire looks a lot like a light primer strike (very shallow hit) so either a very hard primer on that round or somethings up with your weapon.

    1. I'm assuming you are referring to this from the Hornady website. "Critical DUTY® loads are “full power loads” designed to function full-size handgun slides. Although designed to work flawlessly in ALL handguns, these loads are NOT optimized for short barreled, concealed carry style handguns; they will deliver standard recoil during firing."

      I'm ok with standard recoil. I actually prefer it to the reduced recoil of the Critical Defense.

  3. I've got a glock 35 with the 5.3" barrel. Has anyone tested this ammo through a longer barrel like this or a 1911 length gun? I'm interested to see what the differences are in velocity and penetration...

  4. Ive tested the ammo in a Glock 34 in 9mm and had very minimal expansion, also tried the .40S&W from my G23, also had minimal expansion, tested the .45 out of my G30SF and same results also tested one round into jugs of water and the round failed to expand, and somewhat crushed inward on it self, so Im not impressed with any of Hornadys ammo, I only carry Federal HST's never had a round fail to expand, also use the Barnes TAC-XP solid copper bullets also all my tests with them have been flawless, even through 8 layers of denim, had full expansion...

  5. These are not designed for incredible expansion. They're designed to hold together and still give decent penetration after passing through barriers, while at the same time giving at least a little bit of expansion. As a person who has happily carried a 45 ACP with non-expanding ammo, I don't mind a bullet that turns into a .55-caliber mushroom and has good penetration. This is what I'm carrying in my Glock 22 at the moment. I do like the Critical Defense in terms of energy and expansion, but since I never know when some idiot in a pickup truck will try to force me up over a curb and run me off the road--I've had this happen recently--I kind of like the penetration potential if I have to shoot through my windshield when they get out of the truck and decide to take a shot at me--or through their door if they're leaning out the window doing the same.

  6. That FTF was due to the gun not being in battery. The firing pin strike is off-center due to the barrel not being fully locked up. Either the gun was dirty, that particular round is not sized properly to fit the chamber, or it was just one of those Murphy moments that could have happened with any round of ammo. See if the round fits the chamber easily on that gun by dropping it in to the chamber and see if it falls freely back out.