9mm Ballistics – the 9mm for Defense

One of the classic arguments in the world of handguns is the comparison of the 9mm vs .45 ACP for personal defense. Check out any forum dedicated to concealed carry and hand guns for self defense and you will find arguments about the benefits of the 9mm round compared to the .45 ACP. 9mm Ballistics compares the 9mm for Defense.

The problem with these arguments is that most of the “proof” is anecdotal and opinionated. If the two calibers are compared statically then the heavier larger diameter round will win. There is just no way to dispute that the larger .45 ACP makes a bigger hole. But any self defense scenario is not static but is dynamic where many more variables come in to play. For instance, the target is moving, the shooter is in some heightened emotional state induced by fear of death that ranges somewhere between mild agitation to uncontrolled panic.

Another variable is shot placement. Even if the target was standing completely still, and the shooter was completely calm and not in some state of duress there is no guarantee that the fired bullets would hit a vital organ and stop the threat.

A benefit that the 9mm has over the larger caliber is more ammunition, the ability to carry more ammunition in a smaller easier to conceal package.

The 9mm is commonly available in 115 grain, 124 grain, and 147 grain bullet weight. I prefer the lighter 115 grain for the 9mm because the lighter weight bullet will have higher velocity when it hits the target. However, the chart data does not support my assumption. Also note that the measured energy of the CorBon, MagTech, and Black Hills brands is equivalent to a 230 grain .45ACP. The 9mm bullet is about .355 in diameter before being fired and typically expands to .5 to .55 inch upon impact. As can be seen in the pictures below, the expansion characteristics of the 9mm rounds make them quite suitable for self defense.

While visiting the KelTec Owners Group forum I found a research project by a fellow KelTec PF9 owner that not only provides excellent comparison data of various brands of 9mm self defense JHP ammunition but also shows high quality pictures of the expansion and fragmentation of the tested 9mm rounds. The chart project and pictures compare the 9mm ballistics of various brands of 9mm for defense. Chart and pictures courtesy of Dr Don, who happens to hold a PhD in physics from MIT. The following is an exerpt from his original post:

“help you find a brand of SD ammo that is both reliable (the #1 requirement) and effective (penetration and expansion). Getting all these to happen simultaneously with a single brand of ammo in your own gun may be a daunting proposition.

As for me, I spent a lot of time (and yes, more money than I would have wanted) to test a wide range of 9mm rounds. The following table summarizes my results so far, and the photo following the table gives a rogue’s gallery of the expansion tests (fired through two layers of denim into water filled milk jugs). No, it’s not ballistic gelatin, but still provided me enough data to find what works best in my PF-9.”  Read the original post and view the chart at the KTOG Forum.

9mm Ballistics compares the 9mm for Defense

9mm Ballistics compares the 9mm for Defense

9mm Ballistics compares the 9mm for Defense

9mm Ballistics Using KelTec PF9 9mm for Defense

Brand Type Cal Weight Avg Velocity Std Dev Ft-Lbs Penetration inches of water Comments
Hornady Critical Defense 9mm 115 1041 18.13 298.5
12 – 18
No failures
Speer Gold Dot 9mm 115 1130 8.00 326.1
18
No failures
Federal HydraShok 9mm 124 1083 104.60 323.0
24
No failures
Federal Personal Defense JHP 9mm 115 1081 5.47 298.5
18
No failures
Sellier & Bellot FMJ 9mm 115 1097 13.89 307.4
24
No failures
Sellier Bellot JHP 9mm 115 1097 12.36 295.7
18
1 FTF
Fiocchi Extreme XTP 9mm 115 1026 15.09 268.9
24
No failures
Remington Golden Saber 9mm 124 1087 18.73 325.4
18
1 FTF
Remington Ultimate HD 9mm 124 1036 9.27 295.6 Several FTF
CorBon JHP +P 9mm 125 1210 99.5 406.5
MagTech Guardian Gold +P 9mm 115 1365 3.46 475.9
18
Multiple failures
Black Hills JHP EXP 9mm 115 1317 6.55 443.0
30
Glaser Safety Slug Blue Tip 9mm 80 V/A N/A N/A
12
Winchester PDX1 Bonded +P 9mm 124 1098 14.49 332.0
24
No failures
Winchester Silvertip 9mm 115 1110 37.44 314.7
24
1 FTF
Extreme Shock Fragmentable Explosive Entry 9mm 115 1157 19.82 341.9
18
Multiple failures

After studying the results I decided that I will use the Speer Gold Dot 115 grain and the Federal Personal Defense 115 grain rounds for my 9mm personal defense ammunition. As you can see in the pictures there are several other brands of 9mm that show excellent expansion and penetration under these simple test conditions. It isn’t possible to say definitively which is the best 9mm defense round but it is easy to select several examples that exhibit characteristics to show the 9mm is suitable for self defense.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Don Russell Sep 4, 2014, 11:05 am

    there’s light and fast, and there’s slow and heavy. that’s all you have to bother to test. Some of the 90 gr 9mm jhp, like the hornady frontier, are wussy loaded, so don’t bother. the 2 to test are the corbon’s, the 100 and 90 gr plus p. The heavier, slower 9mm’s are pointless. Many don’t expand In flesh and blood. what the do in jello or water is irrelevant. test on animals, cause flesh and blood remains flesh and blood.

    the other thing to test is the 230 gr .45. the other, lighter .45 bullets mere existence are an ADMISSION that the 230 gr doesn’t work. 🙂

  • cebur19 Dec 9, 2012, 8:35 pm

    Thanks very much for your comment. Excellent information. The typo for 9mm diameter has been corrected. I will visit the Winchester LE website per your suggestion.

  • Dc.sunsets Dec 9, 2012, 11:55 am

    First, you have a misprint. The 9mm bullet is 0.356-0.357″ in diameter, not 0.375″.
    Second, if you look up Winchester’s LE website that shows ballistic test results for their excellent Ranger series of bullets, the 9mm 147 gr Ranger T (the one that is not bonded) delivers everything one can hope to get from a standard handgun bullet. Even the lighter +P+ bullet does not expand more or penetrate better, and the 40S&W and 45 bullets don’t do significantly better.

    Such ballistic testing is the only objective means of comparing bullet performance. EVERYTHING else is just anecdote, conjecture, opinion, and emotion.

    This is why, if I can’t grab a center fire rifle (AR, AK, etc.), I go with a 9mm loaded with Winchester or Speer modern 147gr JHP’s.

  • cebur19 Jul 2, 2012, 2:05 pm

    I received permission to publish the ballistics chart on my blog from Dr. Don. The chart was created by Dr. Don on the KTOG forum (KelTec Owners group forum) The comment below is from the chart.

    “Multiple failures to feed. Complete separation of core and jacket. Core expanded well in water jugs.”

    Follow the link on my post to see the original chart and all the supporting comments.

  • Ryan van Son Jul 2, 2012, 6:45 am

    You’ve noted multiple failures for Magtech’s Guardian Gold. Where those misfires or did the bullet just fall to pieces?