5 (More) 9mm Loads to Consider

Bullets ammunition on stone table wide banner or panorama. Bullet background copy space. Rounds and ammo into 9mm hand gun.

The 9mm Luger is a great handgun cartridge. It is the single most popular handgun cartridge in the world, and it is chambered in some of the finest handguns ever manufactured.

The cartridge is also available in economy handguns and carbines. It is difficult to narrow the field down to five loads, but these are impressive and offer good performance.

The 9mm Luger is a relatively high-pressure number. The small cartridge case is very efficient. Most loads have a full powder burn even in the usual four-inch barrel found on defensive handguns.

The 9mm Luger may be very accurate in a high-quality pistol. Velocity is high enough that the cartridge is useful in getting hits beyond what many think of as typical handgun range.

Some prefer a fast bullet, others a heavy bullet at a lower velocity. The 9mm offers enough velocity that expansion of the projectile is assured.

The 9mm also is a relatively modest-sized cartridge and quite a few may be carried on the belt in spare magazines. Let’s look at some of the better choices in 9mm loadings.

During testing, I used the inexpensive but reliable SAR 9 polymer-frame pistol and the Springfield Ronin 1911 9mm.

1. Winchester 147-Grain Silvertip

The Winchester Silvertip has been used by many agencies in the United States and Europe. Expansion is good with the 115-grain 1,200 fps loading.

The 147-grain 980 fps load also expands well, but features greater penetration. While either is accurate, the 147-grain bullet edges out the lighter bullet at longer ranges.

The Silvertip proved accurate and reliable in each loading.

Winchester Silvertip and Handgun
Winchester’s Silvertip offers excellent feed reliability.

2. Winchester Active Duty 115-Grain 9mm

Most 115-grain loads are loaded fairly light for practice use. The Winchester Active Duty clocks 1,243 fps in the SAR 9 and 1,260 fps in the Ronin.

Accuracy is excellent. If you need a full-power practice load or a strong FMJ for carbine use, the Winchester Active Duty is a fine choice.

Accuracy is above average. For competition use against steel plates or in carbine matches, this is a great option.

Winchester Active Duty and Pistol
The Winchester Active Duty FMJ bullet is loaded to full-power military specifications.

3. Federal 124-Grain Punch

I like the Punch! This loading breaks over 1,100 fps in the SAR 9. In the five-inch barrel Springfield Ronin 1911 handgun, velocity was just over 1,160 fps.

This is a hard-hitting but affordable loading with good function and excellent accuracy. The 9mm pistols on hand exhibited excellent accuracy with the Federal Punch loading.

The design is intended to give civilian shooters a reliably expanding bullet and it does just that.

Zombie target with holes
Federal Punch offers excellent accuracy and reliability.

4. Buffalo Bore 124-Grain +P

This +P load jolts a Hornady Extreme Terminal Performance hollow point to 1,270 fps in the SAR 9. Surprisingly, velocity was a strong 1,340 fps in the Ronin.

Function is excellent and accuracy is good. Despite the higher velocity, recoil isn’t a difficulty. Just the same, I would not use this is a sub-compact pistol.

This Buffalo Bore loading offers a good balance of expansion and penetration. If you are looking for a 9mm +P loading, this is among the most formidable.

Underwood ammo and pistol
Buffalo Bore is famous for offering the most performance possible in a handgun caliber.

5. Underwood 90-Grain Extreme Defender

The Underwood 9mm load is among many offered by the company, and is among the most interesting loads tested and is a top rated 9mm.

The solid copper bullet features flutes cut into the nose to increase cutting action, create fluid dynamic and cause a more complex wound. Ballistic testing bears this out.

Total copper bullets go by different rules. Accuracy and penetration are often compromised by lighter weight, but not in this case. A 90-grain all-copper bullet isn’t giving up much in the way of penetration.

Accuracy is excellent, as the bearing surface is still relatively long for the caliber due to the all-copper construction.

Two versions are offered, a standard pressure number at 1,400 fps and a +P at 1,475 fps. I find these accurate and powerful loads that offer good performance.

Underwood 9mm Loads with handgun
Accuracy with each load is excellent at personal-defense ranges.

Conclusion: 9mm Loads

As the most popular cartridge, there are a ton of different 9mm loads.

However, not all 9mm loads are created equal, but if you choose any of the options from this list, you will have selected a capable and reliable round.

What are your favorite 9mm loads? Why? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (9)

  1. We have reviews coming on the SAR 9 soon, at least in a few weeks.

    Art, your Luger will feed hollow points. The straight line feed makes it relaible.

    It is fine for +P if in good condition. However- I would not recommend a Luger for personal defense. Old springs and magazines are a real concern.

  2. Back in October, I purchased a first-generation Remington R51 pistol from a local dealer. Noticing that its tag called it out as having a 5 shot capacity, I assumed that it displayed the typical feed and injection issues for which the R51 gen 1 had become known and that its previous owner found it would feed 5 cartridges from its more reliably than it would a full magazine of 7.

    Still, the price was attractive and I needed an economically-priced pistol that could be concealed reasonable easily, so I bought it.

    Along with the pistol I purchased a box of Remington 115 grain ball ammo as well as a box of Fort Scott munitions 155 grain Tumble Upon Impact cartridges.

    When my son and I fired the R51 with the ball cartridges we easily produced every type of feed and ejection failure for which the gun had become (in)famous, with feed failures on the first and/or last shells in a full magazine right on through stovepipe jams, with brass being tossed random distances in a 180° arc from straight ahead, around to the right, and straight back. A 9mm case hitting the forehead is a rude surprise! Accuracy was not particularly predictable, no particular group size resulting from firing on full mag after another.

    Switching over to the Fort Scott TUI rounds, the pistol fed and ejected flawlessly, discernable, repeatable groups were obtained, and brass ejected in a narrow arc directly to the right and within a narrow range of distance from the pistol.

    When purchasing this R51 I assumed that it would need some expert attention to improve its reliability, but I’ve concluded that since I know what it likes to eat, that’s what I’ll feed it from now on.

  3. When can we expect reviews of the SAR 9 and the Tisas Zigana shown in the last photograph? Would very much like to get your thoughts on them.

  4. I am a strong proponent of Underwood ammunition. I have carried it (and still do in my .380 back up) and am sure it will perform if/when called upon to do so in a defensive action. However, I have recently tried and have shot not only targets and gel, but have seen first hand what Fort Scott Munitions 90 gr solid spun copper bullets are capable of doing to bone and flesh; i.e. extreme accuracy and solid punching power when contacting target. I set up a side of pork ribs at 15 yards and it delivered on first shot a massive and certainly deadly wound cavity fracturing a rib and turning the meat into splintered flesh. I would love to see a review done by you on this ammunition against similar targets including live hunting game if possible.

  5. I used to shoot the 138 grain Federal Syntech hollowpoints as my personal defensive load, but recently I’ve switched to the 147 grain Speer Gold Dot G2 because it’s what my department will be switching to in our duty weapons. I like both but the Gold Dot is quite a deal cheaper.

  6. I have P-08 (Luger) made by Mauser in 1939 and a Walther P38 made by Walther (AC) in 1942, I have been told to only use “Ball” ammo in the Luger, due to potential feeding problems. I’ve also been told the the loads for the Luger need to be “hotter” for it to chamber properly. Is it prudent to use +P loads in both?

  7. I wonder if Bob ( the author) is familiar with the Norma MHP 108gr. 9mm load? 1,300fps+; 400ft-lbs.+ muzzle energy from a 4″ bbl. This round is devastating on coyote and feral hogs inside of 100ft.

  8. This is another very informative article! While I do not have any guns that shoot 9mm, I do have a ballistics file with 35 handgun and 19 rifle calibers listed, and the 9mm is the seconds largest one with 299 entries. The .45 ACP (which I do shoot) is the largest with 325 entries. But I did not have any Winchester Active Duty rounds listed for the 9mm caliber either, and now I do! This round is fairly important since it is one of the few 9mm rounds that goes above 400 ft. lbs. of ME with 445 Ft’ lbs., and it is a military load also. The Underwood round shown here is even more powerful, with an ME spec of 465 ft. lbs., which I did have listed either. But I do have to mention that the links given here for two of the ammo listed do not go to the ammo, but just to the home page.

    Vincent (12-23-2020)

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