Saturday, July 28, 2012

Hornady Critical Duty 9mm 135 Grain Standard and +P 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.

You may notice, in the picture above, that the +P rounds have a brass colored primer and the standard pressure have a nickel colored primer.  The case head stamp on the +P rounds are also designated as such.  Other than these two differences, the standard pressure and +P loads appear to be identical.  

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.  Originally, I planned to post the Standard Pressure and +P tests as individual posts, but in the end I decided to combine them since I used the same SIM-TEST block for both test shots.

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

My Thoughts
Hornady publishes 1015 fps for the standard pressure load and 1115 fps for the +P version.  Obviously, we can't expect to see those published velocities from the 3" barrel we tested with.  I was somewhat pleased to see we only lost 50 fps for the standard pressure load and 100 fps for the +P load based on our 5 shot velocity test strings.  I was very disappointed that the actual test shots that went into the SIM-TEST block were both about 30 fps slower than the 5 shot averages.  Not sure why that happened on both tests, but there always seems to be some "unexplainable" factor that enters into testing regardless of how carefully we try to control the test variables.

Even though the velocity spread between the two shots was only 40 fps, you can see the dramatic impact it had on expansion and penetration.  The slower standard pressure round expanded less, but penetrated deeper.  The +P loading expanded more and penetrated less.  Having both test shots at 15" or more of penetration was something I have not seen in my previous 9mm tests.  I have to believe the limited expansion and heavier bullet are significant contributing factors to the observed penetration numbers.   

Based on the results from this initial test, I like the performance of this load from the short barreled Kahr.  My biggest concern about this new product is scarce availability of the 50 round boxes that I used for testing.  Retail boxes of 25 have started popping up on Retail shelves, but their prices are similar to what I paid for these boxes of 50.  Since I subscribe to training with the ammo you carry, the high price of the 25 round boxes would eliminate these as a viable option vs other similar loads in this caliber.  I almost forgot to mention that the 50 count boxes come with lacquer sealed primers.  I'm not sure if the 25 count boxes include this extra measure of moisture proofing.

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.

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. Nice video and test. Thanks for the information. This the same round that I carry in my PM9 too, and it's nice to see just what kinda performance I can expect outa both the pistol and round.

  2. I always practice with the cheapest ammo I can get my hands on then run a magazine of my self defense ammo at the end of every practice session.

  3. Hey Bruce -

    How's the recoil on the +P from your PM9? Interested to try some in my Solo.

    1. It wasn't memorable. I think it will be fine in the Solo as long as the Solo is +P rated. I don't have one, or even shot one, so I'm not much help on the Solo front.

    2. Is there any significant advantage to choosing the +P over the standard pressure load out of a 3" bbl? Thx...

    3. In this test, 35 feet per second and a larger expanded diameter. My rule of thumb is to start with standard pressure and step up to +P if the standard pressure doesn't perform as expected.

  4. Cool thanks Bruce. Are the petals sharp like on hst?

  5. Thanks for the info. I carry a Kahr P9 with the Hornady 135 gr standard but never fired it at the range. Based on your comments, it doesn't appear that the recoil is of concern.

  6. Bruce,

    If you have the time/energy, I'd love to see the 135gr +P re-tested in the clear gel with the FBI spec 4 layer denim like with your newer vids. I'd be happy to send you 5-6 rounds for the test.

  7. I found your site and what a hidden gem it has been. Thank you, and yes there are other balistics geeks out there!