Ammo & Gear Reviews

Ammo Test: Here Are The Top Performers In .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP

Guns and Gear Contributor
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The world of terminal ballistics is full of hyperbole and in a lot of cases, no apples-to-apples comparison of performance. It can be a challenge to know what ammunition is truly the “latest and greatest” versus just another gimmick that’s attempting to create a buzz with over-the-top promises.

The team at just published a massive resource that includes ballistic testing data for 109 different self-defense loads, covering four of the most popular calibers out there today – 9mm, .45 ACP, .40 S&W, and .380 Auto.

In the test, they used firearms commonly associated with concealed carrying American civilians. The test results are meant to provide a snapshot of data with all loads tested under near identical conditions. This should allow for a fair comparison under the testing conditions, leading to a solid data point as you determine what ammunition is best for your self-defense needs.

Testing protocol called for using a four-layer cloth barrier and 10-foot distance, the results include common performance metrics that most shooters are a bit familiar with. These include concepts such as penetration depth, retained weight, and the expansion capabilities for each hollow point projectile.

Best Fit Based on the FBI Standard 

It’s difficult to say “this ammo is better than that ammo” because, for the most part, we’re all looking for different things. Some of us are looking at how a bullet expands. For others, it’s all about how far the ammo penetrates.

To help guide us, we looked at the results of the testing and selected a “best performer” in each caliber included in the testing. To decide what exactly “best” means, we leaned heavily on what the Federal Bureau of Investigation looks for when it tests rounds.

1. Penetration of between 12 and 18 inches when the ammo was fired from 10 feet away.

2. A heavy cloth barrier sat between the shooter and the Clear Ballistic Gelatin target. This exposed the bullet to the risk of getting clogged, which tends to lead to over-penetration in a soft target.

3. Consistent expansion that is more impressive than peers than its caliber is considered a “must” for any round to claim it performs better than another.

Best .380 ACP:

Federal HST JHP – 99 Grain

These 99 grain rounds by Federal met the F.B.I.’s standards for performance with excellent expansion for the .380 caliber, very consistent penetration and 100% weight retention.

Consistent expansion is a hallmark of this HST and it expanded to more than half an inch of diameter. One area that could leave you asking for more was penetration. On average, the HSTs in 380 ACP just barely crossed the 12” mark in the 5-shot test series with three of the five rounds falling below the 12” threshold held dear by the F.B.I.

Click here to see all .380 ACP results.

Best 9mm:

Black Hills with Barnes XP +P Hollow Point – 115 Grain

The Black Hills 9mm ammo loaded with a Barnes bullet performed very well in the tests with an average penetration of 13.5-inches and a beautiful, flowering copper bullet that spread out to a consistent .69-inches of diameter. Each of the five rounds tested performed within a hair of the others, which suggests this load is a very consistent performer.

The Federal 147 Grain HST round gets an honorable mention in this category and may be one that some shooters would prefer. It scored just a shade lighter in bullet expansion but made it for it by largely out penetrating the Black Hills load mentioned earlier.

Click here to see all 9mm results.

Best 40 S&W:

Winchester Ranger T HP – 180 Grain

The Winchester Ranger T 40 cal test was an interesting one in that four of the Winchester rounds performed just about flawlessly but there was one outlier that appears to be the victim of a plugged bullet.

On average, the 180 grain bullet expanded to .74” and an average penetration depth of 16.46” but in the five round test proved wildly inconsistent. Penetration ranged in the test from 14.3” up to 23.5” and expanded diameter was nearly as scattershot – ranging from .4” to .88”.

While the average penetration and expansion was as ideal as the Winchester Ranger T – the 180 grain Federal HST was another high performer that appeared to deliver a five shot test series that was more consistent.

Click here to see all .40 S&W results.

Best 45 ACP:

Winchester Ranger T HP – 230 Grain

Winchester’s law enforcement only round performed very well when fired from a Ruger SR45 (4.5-inch barrel). The .95” median expanded diameter was the best of the bunch of 31 different 45 ACP loads included in the testing. Like the Black Hills in 9mm, you might be a shooter who desires more penetration though. The Ranger T load fell within the F.B.I.’s standard each of the five shots fired but came in at an average of just 14.18” worth of penetration.

The Winchester Ranger T is quite difficult for most civilian shooters to find. If you need another suggestion for your 1911 or other 45 Auto pistol, check out the Federal HST, which also performed quite well.

Click here to see all .45 ACP results.


There’s no way of knowing what circumstances you might find yourself in when the need for self-defense ammo comes up. Because of that, it’s important that you understand what you load in your pistol and what you can expect from it. Of course there are other factors outside of the firearm and ammunition, one of them being the shooter.

If you can’t place shots appropriately, the best ammo in the world won’t help you much and if you’re not proficient with a firearm, you may not even have the ability to get a shot off.

You can see the full write up on the project and see how your specific self-defense ammo stacked up – click here.

Thanks to Brandon Black and the Ammo To Go team. Click here to visit