By Aaron Carter, American Rifleman
Currently, there are two divergent beliefs concerning defensive handgun ammunition; some armed citizens desire ammunition capable of satisfactorily completing the entire battery of barrier tests prescribed by the “FBI protocol,” whereas others want a reduced-penetration option to minimize the risk of collateral damage. Whichever is the most applicable to you, the personal-protection practitioner, depends upon your target-engagement philosophy and the circumstances in which you forecast the threat would most likely occur. Some considerations are: your definition of “self-defense,” and the actions you’re willing to take to neutralize a threat; potential barriers (both inside and outside the home, and behind which an assailant could take cover); location and proximity of family members, neighbors or bystanders; backstops (or lack thereof); and temperature/season (thin or thick garments). It’s only after carefully considering each of the aforementioned categories that you can subscribe to a specific philosophy and make an informed decision regarding the corresponding ammunition. A change in any of the categories could also dictate exchanging your defensive load. Why?
The reality is that, to date, there is no conventional personal-protection projectile available to “civilians” that performs optimally “across the board”; a bullet that is intended to maintain its integrity—for sufficient penetration—even when encountering difficult-to-defeat barriers, such as automobile glass, cannot be expected to exhibit the same traits as one designed to expend most of its energy in a soft target, even wallboard, to reduce damage from over-penetration or a miss. As such, it’s prudent for an ammunition company to offer multiple loads with distinct performance parameters. That’s exactly what Federal Premium did with HST and Guard Dog Home Defense.
Representative of the contemporary trend in personal-protection ammunition, Federal Premium HST was available only to law enforcement personnel since its inception in 2002; however, in 2013 the company decided to make it available to consumers. I equate it to the open-market sales of “special” estrous deer urine previously provided only to “industry insiders.” As with the urine distributors, Federal Premium and other ammunition manufacturers understand the significant consumer demand for the same products that the “experts,” in this case, law enforcement agencies, are using in the field. With this, the company surely noted the increased presence of competitive consumer products that were formerly law-enforcement-only loads. Such loads upped the ante with regard to terminal performance in the FBI protocol testing, and shed light on Federal’s own aging representative in the “premium” personal-defense load category—Hydra-Shok.
After the infamous “Miami Shootout” on April 11, 1986, the call went out for a handgun bullet with markedly better terminal ballistics than provided by the traditional cup-and-core projectiles the FBI was using at the time. Federal’s response was the Hydra-Shok, which was unveiled in 1988. A non-bonded bullet, Hydra-Shok has skives in its gilding metal jacket that, along with the trademark post centering the cavity, “preprogramed” expansion so that the end result was a slug 11/2 times original diameter with six equal petals. Typical weight retention was 75 percent of the projectile’s pre-expansion weight, which, when combined with the post-expansion diameter, resulted in respectable penetration—even after defeating several types of barriers. Numerous police agencies still use Hydra-Shok, which is a testament to the projectile’s design and effectiveness. That being said, the projectile is not perfect. As with many other hollow-point bullets, Hydra-Shok’s cavity is susceptible to clogging, especially when impacting at low velocities, which effectively makes it behave like a full-metal-jacket projectile—minimal, if any, expansion resulting in reduced energy dispersion and excessive penetration. Such performance is neither desirable in FBI protocol testing nor “in the field”; hence the reason HST was created.
According to a “frequently asked questions” (FAQs) page on the Federal’s website, HST was the result of governmental and law enforcement agencies contacting the company “requesting a bullet that had a larger frontal expansion diameter without sacrificing penetration.” Additionally, it states that Federal “sought to improve performance through intermediate barriers while improving the scores attained through the FBI barriers.” Concerning “scores,” companies vying for the coveted FBI contract must submit a specified quantity of ammunition that will be run through the agency’s rigorous testing—the results of which are also consulted by smaller law enforcement agencies with insufficient internal testing capabilities. Points are lost for not consistently attaining penetration depths between 12 inches and 18 inches in 10-percent ballistic gelatin, after defeating the prescribed barriers (except in the bare gelatin test). In fact, the Dept. of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation Request for Proposal Number RFP0193025 explicitly calls for results of, “… no shot less than 12 inches and no shot greater than 18 inches.” Points can also be lost if the projectile doesn’t “expand to at least twice its original diameter” and “retain all of its [pre-expansion] weight,” among other requirements. A projectile that failed to expand and over-penetrated would be heavily penalized. These criteria certainly informed the jacketed hollow point design of the HST.
The developmental phase of HST began in 2000, and two years later it was presented to the law enforcement community—more than a decade after Hydra-Shok was first fielded. In creating HST, the company addressed the Hydra-Shok’s weaknesses in unique ways. For example, company literature reports that “the petals created by skiving [co-aligned, internal and external] result in large diameters across the ‘peaks’ of the upset, yet also create ‘valleys’ between the peaks. These valleys and peaks effectively create a larger diameter upset with a smaller cross-section or footprint which allows deeper penetration over a more conventional ‘round’-type upset at the same diameter.” The sharp edges of the six equal petals certainly enhance penetration, too. Typical expansion diameters are 1.75 to 2 times the bullet’s original width. “HST bullets result in larger expanded diameters than Hydra-Shok; the larger upsets lead to consistent penetration (but not over-penetration) and a large wound channel,” said Dan Compton, Federal Premium Ammunition product line specialist. To ensure expansion, even when penetrating barriers that typically clog a hollow-point, Compton reported that the company, “weaken[s] the nose to make it more forgiving when fired through barriers.”
As with Hydra-Shok, HST is a non-bonded bullet; it relies on a mechanical lock—cannelure—to prevent jacket-core separation. Bonding requires a “soft” lead core that is prone to material “washing off” when encountering barriers such as automobile glass, and can lead to expansion diameters that reduce penetration, so that process wasn’t used. Weight retention figures are dependent on the barrier encountered; however, 95 to 100 percent is average. Additionally, HST loads feature low-flash propellants and nickel-plated cases, the latter contributes to smoother feeding, corrosion resistance and easier chamber checks in low-light conditions.
While filming several episodes for “American Rifleman Television” at Federal Premium’s Anoka, Minn., ammunition plant, I had an opportunity to witness the results of the 230-grain, .45 Auto HST load—fired from a Glock 21—when put to the test against the various barriers as outlined by the FBI protocol. The first test, fired at 10 feet, was into bare gelatin. The bullet, which penetrated about 13¾ inches of the medium, expanded to 0.922 inches and had a recovered weight of 230.5 grains. When encountering denim, the projectile penetrated to depth of 13 inches, weighed 230.1 grains and measured 0.813 inches at its widest (material was trapped in its cavity). All subsequent tests had the bullet penetrate a primary barrier (or barriers) before encountering the denim-cloaked gelatin block. After impacting wallboard (two pieces), the HST bored about 12 inches deep into the gelatin. It weighed 230.1 grains and measured 0.861 inches wide. After striking two pieces of 20-gauge, hot-rolled sheet steel, the bullet stopped 177⁄8 inches into the gelatin, where its recovered weight and diameter were 229.9 grains and 0.498 inches, respectively.
We then tested the bullet against a 3/4-inch thick piece of AA fir plywood; this test is deceptively difficult as the glue and wood particulate combines to clog many hollow-point bullets, thus handicapping terminal performance. After defeating the plywood the HST pierced 14¼ inches of gelatin. It weighed 230.6 grains and measured 0.844 inches, though expansion wasn’t uniform. The most difficult test was saved for last. Shooting through one piece of AS1, 1/4-inch thick laminated automobile glass at a 45-degree angle to horizontal, the HST still penetrated 11½ inches, and the recovered projectile weighed 219.9 grain and was 0.803 inches at its widest. “The bullet was never designed to be a true glass-defeating bullet although it consistently performs well in this area, too,” said Compton. I agree.
Furthering testing, this time with the 124-grain, 9 mm Luger Personal Defense load, demonstrated the ammunition to be both accurate and consistent. Fired from a Smith & Wesson M&P9L C.O.R.E. topped with a Leupold Delta Point at 25 yards, the average for five consecutive, five-shot groups was 2.54 inches, and the standard deviation for 10 shots was a very respectable 10. From the C.O.R.E.’s 5-inch barrel the load averaged 1168 f.p.s, resulting in 376 foot-pounds of energy.
Although Federal has 11 HST loads listed in a range of calibers for law enforcement, it’s currently only offering three for commercial sale: a 124-grain, 9 mm Luger, 180-grain, .40 S&W, and a 230-grain, .45 Auto, with the suggested retail prices being $30.95, $33.95 and $33.95, respectively, for 20 cartridges.
For those personal-protection practitioners who want their carry and home-defense ammunition to perform as well as that used by law enforcement agencies such San Diego, Calif., Phoenix, Ariz., Riverside County, Calif., Orange County, Calif., and Portland, Ore., to name a few, as well as require that their load excel in the “FBI protocol” testing, Federal Premium Personal Defense HST gets the nod. For all others, read on.
Next, the Guard Dog ammo