Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Federal HST 9mm and 380 Auto Comparison Tests

Federal launched their 380 Auto HST load at the 2015 SHOT Show.  This was big news for those of us that have tested, or watched other people test, ammunition loaded with HST projectiles.  Without researching it, I can't tell you exactly how many test shots of HST I've personally sent into gel blocks over the years.  I can say for certain that my gel blocks have caught more HST bullets than any other projectile brand.  I was always curious why Federal skipped 380 Auto in the HST line when they offer HST in 9mm, .357 Sig, 40 S&W, and 45 Auto/GAP.

Every caliber of HST has a slightly different bullet profile
Federal Hydra-Shok, the predecessor of HST bullets, have always tested well for me in 380 Auto so I was curious if Federal skipped the 380 HST because they couldn't make a bullet that performed better than the Hydra-Shok.  Another thought was with the nearly constant ammunition and component shortages over the last several years, Federal didn't want to expand a the line until ammunition supply caught up with demand.  Regardless of the rationale, I was very interested in testing the HST as soon as I could.

If you follow the blog or YouTube channel, then you may remember that the 9mm +P HST 124 grain load is a personal favorite of mine.  I've tested it frequently in many different barrel lengths.  I have not tested the standard pressure 9mm HST 124 grain very often.  Viewers and Readers seem to like the 9mm vs. 380 Auto comparison test format so this is another one of those tests.           

In the video, I added a short discussion about how the recovered rounds are measured.  This measurement practice of averaging the largest and smallest expanded diameters is equal parts art and science.  Recovered bullets are rarely uniform in circumference so extra care is needed to accurately measure the key dimensions.

With bullets that produce very large expanded petals, such has HST, the average expansion diameter may look too small or misleading.  It isn't my intention to mislead anyone.  I understand this method of measuring recovered bullets is the standard practice used by professional ballistics researchers so I have adopted their best practice.  If you are reading this, then you have the benefit of seeing the data sheets below with the minimum, maximum, and average expanded diameter.

Well, enough of that.  Let's get on with the test.

Test Pistols:

Test Protocol:
Step 1)  Measure and record temperature and relative humidity.
Step 2)  Run a 5 shot velocity average 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 has a similar density to 10% ordnance gelatin.  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.

Test Results:

9mm Data Sheet

380 Auto Data Sheet

Video Documentation of the Test:

Direct link to video on YouTube

Pick or Pan:

The Federal HST 9mm 124 grain continues to impress with very good performance from long and short barrel handguns.  The only fault in this test was the limited expansion and penetration exceeding 18 inches with the heavy denim test shot.  The additional velocity of the +P version of this load may allow the bullet to expand to a greater diameter and penetrate less.  It might be a better choice if you may encounter heavy clothing barriers and fear excessive penetration. 

The HST 380 Auto is a bit of a mystery for me.  The packaging end flap has an image of a small handgun with the word MICRO directly under it.  I interpret that as Federal telling the consumer that this load was specifically developed for short barrel handguns.  Our test pistol is a little longer than most micro 380 Autos on the market so we should have met, or exceeded, the published velocity specification of 1030 fps for this load.  Instead we came in a full 100 feet per second slower than specification.

Even at the lower than specified velocity, the expanded 380 bullets were larger than their 9mm counterparts in two of the four test scenarios.  That's the good news.  The bad news is the 380 bullets expanded too much and limited the penetration depth of the bare gel and light clothing test shots.  The denim test shot was unfortunately the slowest of the 4 test shots and it completely failed to expand.

Both the 9mm and 380 Auto performed well in the heavy denim and simulated bone test.

For me, the HST 9mm 124 grain is a pick.  It performed well in all test scenarios from our 3" barrel test pistol.  Sadly, I will have to pass on the HST 380 Auto 99 grain due to insufficient penetration and failure to expand in all test scenarios.  Ammunition makers constantly refine their ammunition to improve performance.  I'll try the 380 Auto again in 12 to 18 months and see if performance improves.          

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. Thank you once again for doing the hard work to get us the data we need to make informed decisions.

    1. You're welcome Erich. I have to stop buying 2 boxes of this new stuff when I see it. Now I'm stuck with a box and a half of HST and Winchester D 380. I guess I can always use the extras for reviews.

  2. As usual, Bruce, you've done a great job and produced another informative video. Especially well done is the part of your new video format where you show the test results next to a still image of the gelatin block allowing the viewer to compare the test data directly to the test from which it was taken. These comparative tests between calibers using the same JHP design are excellent and the overview on measuring bullets for expanded diameter was perfect. Thanks for another great video!

    1. Thanks Charles. Did you notice how tight the variances were between actual and Schwartz modeled penetration depths in this test. Either I'm getting better at measuring the recovered rounds, or our model may have developed a HST bias.

  3. Yes, I did notice the close duplication of the test results with the QAS (and mTHOR) model. I was trying to avoid gloating in my post above. Did it work? ;)

    The statistical work continues along quite well and shows marked improvement with just this test alone!

    Charles Schwartz

  4. I forgot to mention that I think that you've become significantly more adept at measuring the recovered rounds. I really enjoyed the pictures showing how the measurements are taken. They remind me somewhat of other pictures I have seen but I cannot recall where.

    1. I saw something like it in a post DocGKR made many moons ago. Of course it wasn't quite as visually appealing as my image, but the concept was the same.

  5. Would you say it's a decent heuristic never to carry defense ammo that's marketed with a private-citizen focus? "Personal Defense" etc.? They load it down. Again and again. It's kind of infuriating.

    Carry quality LE-marked ammo, period.

    1. I can't agree or disagree with you on this because I've never tested it. It is a very interesting hypothesis that is certainly worthy of a test or two. It doesn't even need to be a gel test. Just a simple chronograph comparison between ammo from 20 count Consumer focused packages vs 50 count LE focused packages. Possibly Gold Dot 380 and HST 124 9mm. I know both of those are packaged for each market segment.

    2. Just to clarify -- I doubt there's a difference between consumer 20-packs and LE 50-packs of the exact same ammo product, e.g. Speer GD 124+P 23617 vs. 53617. Would expect no difference there. (There is the "Short Barrel" GD, but that's a distinct load.)

      My hypothesis, rather, was that when a distinct hollowpoint load is specifically marketed for "civilian" self-defense (Winchester Train and Defend, Hornady Critical Defense, Federal's .380 load here that says "Personal Defense," etc.) it always blows. Specifically it tends to be unacceptably downloaded.

      I'd love it if you did a test of that hypothesis. Here's an Oxford debate formulation: "This House believes that knowledgeable defense-minded shooters should always avoid "personal defense"-marketed handgun ammunition and instead choose ammo products that are sold to and used by law enforcement agencies."

      It could be very valuable consumer reporting. Might give the manufacturers a kick in the pants.

    3. Thanks Bruce for doing excellent reviews. I came across the site (late, I know) in a search for 9mm and 380 ammo. I have 4 boxes of the Fed. HST 99 gr. 380 ammo listed. I also have numerous other pistols in larger calibers (Glocks, SW, Springfield, Kimber). I purchased the HST ammo for my Bersa, which I really like. It is very accurate for me and has never had a FTF or FTfeed. I usually like to throw the pistol in my suitcase when we travel. What other 380 ammo have you found to be effective? also have a couple of boxers of Buff. Bore 90 gr. +p JHP's which are pretty stout. Thanks. Brian

    4. There are some good choices and some stinkers. Best to discover what is best based on local availability. All 380 tests are cataloged on this page. http://mousegunaddict.blogspot.com/p/ammo-tests.html

  6. I believe the original federal 90 grain hydrashocks perform way better than the hst.
    I have a few boxes stored away in case they stop making it. They need to make the hst more powerful like a +P 380

  7. The original hydrashocks 90 grain 380 perform better than the HST. the hst needs more power.