Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Federal 9mm 115 Grain Hi-Shok JHP Tests - Standard Pressure and +P+ Performance Comparison


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.

Test Pistol:

Test Protocol:
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.

Test Results:

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.


  1. FBI spec testing shows that even the faster BPLE fails to expand about 20% of the time in the heavy clothing or four layer denim testing.

    1. I don't know anything about the "FBI spec" tests you refer to, but when the FBI themselves last tested the Federal BPLE 115gr +P+ ammo on 4/10/1990, it didn't exhibit any failure to expand in their heavy clothing test. Their testing of this load through heavy clothing produced an average penetration of 10.60" with an average expansion of .62".

  2. Curious about the +p+ load and how it would perform out of a 9mm carbine...
    Might be a good match for my HiPoint...

    1. You'll want to check with the manufacturer to be sure the load is suitable for the carbine. I know the Keltec Sub2000 blowback operation isn't up to demands of +P+ ammo. I doubt the Hi-Point is.

  3. I still carry the Federal BPLE 9mm 115gr +P+ load in all my 9mm handguns. This round has an enviable record in actual police shootings stretching over several decades. The fact that this round also does well in ballistic gelatin tests is just icing on the cake, in my view.

  4. I'm in love with both of these rounds. The 9BPLE doesn't leave me feeling under-armed in my Glock 19, and the standard 9BP is a hyper-accurate option for those who are recoil shy or in guns which are questionable in taking the high pressure rounds.

    Thanks for the tests!

  5. Seems like I remember reading back in the 90's, that 9BPLE was made with carbines in mind as well. It is even better launching out of a 20" barrel (as is anything I suppose)

    I have carried 9BPLE in my Glock 17 for close to 20 years now

  6. Federal 9mm BPLE was originally developed to compete for the Illinois State Police Contract during their search for something that would "work" when shot from their then new S&W Model 39 pistols; ISP required that the round produce 1300 fps from their 4" barrels. Winchester usually got the bid but the round's use spread during the 90's to many Glock armed PDs around the country, including mine. According to Evan Marshall, BPLE has demonstrated 91% one-shot stops in over 200 actual shootings where rounds struck the torso. The Federal 9BP is 82% in over 400 shots to the torso. The Federal XM9001 round chronographs at an average of 1245 fps from my Glock 17 and demonstrates the same "explosive" expansion of the BPLE round when fired through two T-shirts and a sweater. It would fall in the +p velocity range but is not designated as +p on the "government issue" white box. XM9001 was supposedly developed for use by the RCMP and is often seen on ammunition websites.

    1. Great additional information Dan that jives with what I've read over the years. I'm trying to track down some XM9001 as it sounds like it generates a bit more velocity while still maintaining the accuracy of 9BP. That sounds to me like something worthy of buying by the case.

  7. Bruce did you get some XM9001? It appears to be in production again. I have some and will get it to you if you'll let me know where to deliver it. I would like to see it tested from the LC9 and Glock 19 or Sig 228. My chronograph shows it gets 1240-1250 fps from Glock 17s and a borrowed Browning Hi-Power. Though brass cased, it has sealant around the primer.

    1. Yes, I did. It arrived last week. No idea when I will get around to testing it though. Very busy here right now.