High Precision, Down Range. I hoped the claim held true. Frankly, when you test and evaluate as many firearms as I do, you are glad to have something to shoot, whether it is your first choice or not. And while we came in on different ships, we are all on the same boat.
Ammunition is difficult to find in sufficient quantities.
Those who hoard ammunition out of panic and fear are partly to blame; another answer is simply that folks are shooting more. That is good for the economy and for personal proficiency.
Not so good for supply.
Ammunition is an interesting subject. There is some validity in the argument that, in the final analysis, the handgun is only a projectile launcher. If your ammunition is unreliable or underpowered, your life is at risk. I do not agonize over minutiae of performance, although it is obvious there are some loads that offer more performance than others.
There is intense competition among the ammunition companies. A real difference, or a perceived difference, is an important selling point. Performance is important to consumers, although they do not always understand what type of performance is desirable. The development of quality personal defense loads is reality driven. Extensive testing and updating are important.
Recently, I tested the performance of HPR ammunition. I have been pleased with both reliability and accuracy.
Factory-generic ball ammunition is the single most popular training load. Even if you have the time and experience—not to mention the equipment—to handload, you probably will fill in the gaps here and there with factory ball ammunition. Thousands use these loads for training. While we would never accuse ball ammunition of being match-grade accurate, most is accurate enough for practice. Some is accurate enough to win matches. Per my testing, HPR ball ammunition in 9mm and .45 ACP is accurate enough to go the distance in training and competition.
The .45 ACP 230-ball-grain FMJ from HPR is a favorite that is loaded sensibly lighter than the standard 230-grain military loading. That is good for control, comfort and long firearm life. At a later tier in training, it is important to master service loads, although I believe marksmanship is best served by beginning with standard loads.
230-Grain Ball Loads
You likely have heard the credo: “They all fall to hardball.” The original 230-grain jacketed round-nose bullet enjoys a good reputation for effect on motivated targets. The load has excellent penetration and good accuracy and is controllable in rapid fire. There is no better choice as a military handgun cartridge.
I do prefer the hollow point for service use. The hollow-point bullet offers a flat meplat that is less likely to skid off bone, and it is more likely to penetrate in a straight line. Most modern 230-grain ball loadings are intended for practice. A GI .45 with hardball ammunition is a formidable instrument, and the only reason you would be outgunned is from a lack of practice.
Just the same, it behooves us all to use modern expanding ammunition for personal defense.
Personal Defense Loads
Despite the best intentions of product designers, you cannot circumvent physics. There is only so much you can do with the basic energy stored in a cartridge. The bottom line is depth of penetration and size of the wound. The bullet needs not to just get to the vitals; it must penetrate them, hopefully leaving a wound larger than the original caliber of the bullet. Expanding bullet loads are designed to increase wound damage.
Another consideration is public safety. A hollow-point bullet is less likely to over-penetrate or ricochet. When an open-nose bullet catches a concrete drive or a street-light pole, it usually flattens. That is an important consideration in an urban environment.
I have a program I consider vital for proofing personal defense loads.
If the load is not feed-reliable and does not feature good cartridge integrity, then it is not suitable for personal defense.
No amount of ballistic advantage can make up for a malfunction. While I use a variety of loads for practice only, I carry carefully proofed handgun loads for personal defense. I demand good case mouth and primer seal. So, how do we determine which loads are reliable?
I do not begin by firing them. I only fire for accuracy and reliability if they pass the initial test.
- I soak respective examples in water, oil and powder solvent.
- I let them sit overnight. I then attempt to fire them.
- If they do not fire, it is most often the powder that fails, not the primer. Ignition seems to be the easy part. If the ammunition does not pass the first test, it is for practice only.
- Next, I hand-cycle a single round through the action 10 times, at the minimum.
That checks case mouth seal and crimp. The bullet must not be driven back into the case. When you consider how often you may load and unload a personal defense handgun, that is a reasonable test. The case-mouth test also gives us an idea of feed reliability.
- Next I do to the firing test.
- The load must feed, chamber, fire and eject without a problem.
- Muzzle signature should be minimal.
- 230-grain hardball has little flash, usually only a few sparks.
- A good 230-grain JHP, such as the HPR version tested, also has little muzzle flash.
- Most 185-grain JHP loads little flash with an orange glow. That shows that little unburned powder is evident.
- Accuracy should be commensurate with the proven ability of the handgun.
As an example, my personal Springfield Mil Spec has proven capable of 2-inch groups at 25 yards; the Remington Commander has proven capable of 3-inch groups at the same distance. Each gave similar performance with the HPR loads. There were several unusually small groups, as is the norm with a good pistol, a trained shooter and good ammunition, and the average was a standard previously set with those handguns.
An expanding bullet does not solve all your problems. You have to deliver the bullet to the area that does the most good, although even a partially expanded bullet is more effective given equal shot placement. I do not think perfect expansion is in the cards. And most expanding bullets expand to some degree on meeting flesh and blood.
Rather than pushing a .451-inch bullet, an expanded bullet creates a wound channel of .500 inches or more. Once the mushroom is present, the bullet cuts flesh rather than pushing it aside. While we can check bullet expansion by various artificial means, none exactly duplicates the effect seen in flesh and blood.
For example, if a bullet expands to .68-inch in 14 inches of gelatin—just about ideal—where exactly did it expand to .68-inch? I do not lose any sleep over it. I test my ammunition thoroughly on the range and know it will feed, go bang! every time, function and hit the target. Expansion is a bonus.
There are three basic depths of penetration in personal defense loads: shallow, medium and deep.
You cannot always gauge penetration by bullet weight or velocity. High-velocity bullets do not always fragment. Much depends on the design. Some low-velocity loads plump up well after moderate penetration. The consensus is that a bullet must penetrate to a depth of 12 to 14 inches in gelatin.
Hardball penetrates to about 30 inches, so 230-grain hardball is unnecessarily penetrative. The bullet should expand to 1.5 times its diameter, or to about .68 caliber, in .45 ACP. I found the HPR loads in that ideal range.
The 230-grain HPR hollow point uses the proven Hornady Extreme Terminal Performance bullet, which is often match-grade accurate. Expansion is reliable and penetration on the long end. When it comes to penetration, it is true that many of us would like to limit penetration in a home or apartment building or even the mall.
This is a laudable public safety measure, and:
- What if the bad guy takes cover behind your sofa?
- What if you are in the open and must respond to a drive-by and penetrate a vehicle door?
- What if the adversary weighs 300 pounds and is clothed in heavy winter garments?
I think the 230-grain loads have earned a reputation as the hammer of .45 ACP loads. Expansion and penetration balance with those loads is often ideal. Another important consideration is function. The 1911 was designed to feed and cycle reliably with 230-grain loads. The 1911 is remarkably reliable with modern loads, although the 230-grain load or a load with the same power factor is most reliable.
That being said, the HPR 185-grain load, also using the XTP bullet, proved a happy combination. That load clocked at 970 fps from the Remington Commander. It fired to the point of aim and gave excellent practical accuracy.
Considering the high velocity, it is surprising that the load does not exhibit greater recoil, and that is a product of bullet mass. The XTP demonstrates good expansion, and even in the lighter bullet weight, excellent penetration. That is the type of loading that would convince me to deploy the lighter, faster bullet. The load also performed well in the Rock Island Tactical compact handgun.
I would not hesitate to deploy this handgun with the HPR 185-grain loading.
When conducting accuracy testing of the HPR 115-grain 9mm Luger loads in FMJ and JHP, I used the CZ 75B rail gun. That is the single, most accurate 9mm I own and probably will be in the future, although the HK P30 comes terribly close—and the HK is much lighter.
Firing from a solid bench rest at 25 yards, I delivered a number of 1.5-inch, five-shot groups, which is not bad at all on a good day.
I also had test-fired the loads in an HK 2000 SK, HK P7M8 and Smith and Wesson M&P compact. All are short-barrel 9mm handguns. Velocity ranged from 1030 to 1100 fps, respectively, which is decent performance for a short-barrel 9mm. The powder burn is very clean; the cases looked as if they had not been fired, in most instances. Considering we obtained a clean powder burn in a short-barrel 9mm, that is excellent performance.
When all is said and done, HPR made the grade. In the near future, I will test and review HPR rifle loads.
What is your favorite load? Share in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
Trackback from your site.