Saturday, December 22, 2012

Federal Premium 380 AUTO 90 Grain Hydra-Shok Clear Gel Test

Back in the Spring, I terminal tested just about every 380 JHP load that I could get my hands on.  I had just started using the SIM TEST ballistics media and was experimenting with my standard test protocol and also deciding what data I wanted to capture from each test.  After testing over a dozen popular 380 JHPs, I started formulating some general conclusions about the caliber and how it performed in terminal testing.

Three loads stood out as good performers.  All three shared some basic characteristics.  All three demonstrated moderate expansion and good penetration.  There just isn't enough mass or speed behind the 380 AUTO to allow a large expanded round to push through a dense gel block to what I think is the minimum penetration depth of 10".

This test is a retest of one of the three rounds I determined to be a good performer, but this time it was tested in the Clear Ballistics gel media.  I really wanted to see what was happening inside the block as the bullet progressed down through the media.

Last week, I was goofing around with with my 2013 Wish List and commented that I would love to see Federal come out with a 380 load in their HST line of ammunition.  Reflecting on the results of this test, I'm not so sure that would be a good idea.  If the HST expanded much more than the Hydra-Shok tested here, I don't think we would get the penetration required.  That may be why we will never see a box of ammo like the one I mocked up in the photo below.    

Pistol Specs:
Kahr P380 2.53" Barrel

Testing Protocol:
My testing process is pretty simple.  I take one shot at the end of a Clear Ballistics Gel block.  I take the shot from 8 feet away and impact velocity is measured 2 inches away from the block.  Clear Ballistics Gel is calibrated to 10% ballistics gel density.  I shoot the block at the range and then bring it home to analyze the block and recover the bullets.  I forgot to take a 5 round velocity average prior to this test, but the test shot was right in line with previous velocities captured with this load and pistol combination.

The video below documents my entire test from range testing to bullet recovery.

My Thoughts:
Federal publishes a velocity of 1000 feet per second for this load.  I've never had any shot register more than 930 feet per second from the 2.5" short barrel of the Kahr P380.  The load will average about 970 feet per second from a 3.5" barrel.  I don't fault the ammunition.  I think Federal develops their velocity numbers using longer test barrels.  Weight retention and penetration depth were both in line with results seen in previous tests.  The new data from this test was seeing the wound channel left by the bullet as it expanded and penetrated through the block.   

In the first paragraph of this article, I mentioned doing quite a bit of 380 Auto terminal testing this year.  I did a little digging in the archives and found three other recovered bullets from previous tests of this load.  In the photo below from left to right, bullet number 3 is from this test.  The rest were recovered from previous tests.  I really appreciate the consistent performance of this load as it inspires confidence that it will consistently preform as expected.  For that reason, it remains on my short list of good terminal performers in the caliber.

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've seen other gel tests where Federal .380 Hydra Shoks got expansion out to .41, and 11+" of penetration. Out of all the .380 self-defense rounds I've seen, the old school hydra shok got the best results, which is why it's the round that I carry in my Bersa Thunder .380 and the P3AT, back when I had it.

  2. I bought the Federal Premium Hydra Shock for my Sig P232. I could not get a single round to feed correctly. Not one. I went back to Remington 88 grain hollow points and have had no problems since.

  3. That's interesting about the P232. Bersa Thunder 380 is similar and has no problems with this round. Unfortunately firearms can be fickle about what they will eat. That's why I always include this at the bottom of every ammo test. "It's also critically important to test any ammo in YOUR SPECIFIC FIREARM before relying on it for any purpose." Thanks for proving that point.

  4. Great, informative video - thanks!

  5. I just bought a glock42 and so far it jams way to much to be a good carry gun. It jams and sometimes will not eject. I am still trying to shoot different types of ammo but so far no luck. I am pretty sure this gun will have a recall due to I am reading the same.issues with other owners.. Wish I would have bought a lcp

    1. I was annoyed that I missed out on the first shipments sent into our area. From your report, and all the others like it, maybe waiting things out for a bit will work out better for me. Hard to believe Glock would send out pistols that suffer from feeding and extraction issues. Reliability with feeding and extraction has always been one of their greatest strengths.

    2. My Glock 42 has eaten 500+ WWB 25 Hornady CD, 25 Fiocchi EXP and 20 Federal Hydra Shok and NEVER FTE or FTF. Maybe you got a bad one, but I don't think that from a Glock.

  6. Evan Marshall's book tilted "Stopping Power" rates the Federal 90 grain Hydra-Shok as the number 1 stopper in cal. 380 based on actual self-defense shootings.

  7. Well I have a new lcp11 and if it a eat it I am using the old school fed hydra shook stuff to many good reports on the round to ignore

  8. Well I have a new lcp11 and if it a eat it I am using the old school fed hydra shook stuff to many good reports on the round to ignore