Handgun Ammunition Stopping Power Update
By Evan Marshall
The ability to stop a fight with a handgun bullet is often a difficult goal to achieve. However, the ability to select ammunition designed to protect both officers and citizens is too critical a task to rely on artificial test mediums in sterile lab environments. Such test mediums have value, but unlike the human body, they are a homogeneous substance that offers the same ballistic resistance throughout. Humans, however, offer varying levels of resistance and as such a homogeneous test medium cannot offer us the level of confidence that the collection as the study of actual shootings will. This study shows the results of thousands of actual shootings.
In some calibers, the top performer is the heaviest bullet weight, while in other calibers the best results come from medium weight loads or the lightest loads. In some calibers, the best results come from a total mix of the very heavy and the very light bullets, which defies all theories. What follows is the latest results from a steadily increasing body of actual shooting results. These ammunition effectiveness results have been accumulated for several decades and the results updated in books published in 1992, 1996 and 2000. This is the first update of the results since the September 11 attacks.
Some definitions are in order. For the purposes of this study, a “stop” is defined as: 1) one shot to anywhere on the torso, not counting head, neck or extremity shots; 2) where the subject stops shooting, if he was shooting, or stops striking blows, if that is what he was doing; and 3) runs no more than 10 feet, if he runs. This study only deals with what happens in the first few seconds after the shooting, and does not factor in the eventual lethality of the wound or total recovery from the wound.
Other ways to accumulate the results could have been performed, such as factoring in multiple shots, or allowing different amounts of activity after the gunshot, or counting all shot placements. But I didn’t do it that way. I collected this data for my own use as a detective homicide sergeant starting years ago, and those are the criteria I set. Others, of course, are free to collect and categorize shooting data any way they want. Lots have tried.
In the past five years, some newer calibers have experienced a tremendous growth in law enforcement usage such as the .357 SIG. We have also seen a resurgence in .357 Magnum shootings out of short-barreled revolvers. The lightweight and small frame magnums have brought them back into the limelight. There has been a significant increase in the presence of patrol rifles and the 5.56mm caliber, though rifle results will be covered separately.
The development of compact auto pistols in .32ACP, .380 ACP and 9mm have resulted in a number of these guns being carried as backup guns, and a significant increase in shootings in these calibers from small pistols.
A 9mm pistol with the right load will do just about anything we can reasonably expect a handgun to do. That said, my duty pistol these days is a SIG P220 in .45 ACP because it’s the issue pistol of the agency for which I work. I would rather carry a Browning Hi Power, but I don’t make the policy.
In the calibers typically used for backup and off-duty, only the results from shorter barrels are listed. This includes the sub-caliber autos, but also the 38 Special and the 357 Magnum, which were once used also for police duty from longer barrels. In the calibers typically used for uniformed police duty, only the results from duty-length guns are listed, even though these calibers are also used in compact, more concealable pistols. In these calibers, while the actual effectiveness varies, the trends within the caliber are the same. That means the best loads from a duty auto pistol are also the best loads from a compact, duty-caliber pistol. The detailed results are available on my Web site devoted to handgun stopping power.
When reviewing the results, the ones with the most shootings are, of course, the ones with the most statistical validity. I require at least 10 shootings with each particular load before publishing the results. That is why some newer loads don’t appear. I don’t have a large enough database on those loads yet.
Also, when reviewing the results, don’t tunnel vision on any one particular load. Look for the trends. You will see that most calibers have groups by bullet weight. For example, as a rule, in .40 S&W the 155-grain loads are across the board better than the 180-grain loads. If your ammo bid is not with the company with the top rating, get the same weight from the company you must do business with. Don’t split hairs with effectiveness ratings. Don’t get hung up on 93% versus 91%. Now, 93% versus 87% or 82% is worth arguing about to get better ammo. Pick anything in the top one-third of the caliber’s results.
These are the latest results then in the calibers routinely carried in law enforcement. We need to remember that while ammunition selection is important, it will never negate the need for superior tactics and marksmanship.
The introduction of small semiauto pistols in this caliber has formed a following of small caliber enthusiasts. The 32 ACP has a place in law enforcement, not as a backup, but as a hideout. The 32 ACP is available as a Seecamp and an NAA Guardian. Actually, the NAA Guardian in 32 NAA caliber, the so-called Nuclear Chihuahua, has replaced my original 32 ACP. In the 32 ACP caliber, the Silvertip has amassed the most credible street record. Based on a far smaller database, the more recent loads, like the Hydra-Shok and Gold Dot, are comparable to the Silvertip.
Total Stops %
1. CorBon 62gr JHP 17 11 65%
2. Win 60gr Silvertip 162 104 64%
3. Fed 65gr Hydra-Shok 32 20 63%
4. CCI 60gr Gold Dot 15 9 60%
5. Win 65gr FMJ 219 107 49%
Again, while this caliber makes an excellent hideout gun, I’m not a fan of it as a second or off-duty gun. The results from the 380 ACP are quite similar to the standard pressure 38 Special. The 9mm is now available in such small pistols, the 380 ACP is caught between the 9mm and the 32 ACP.
Total Stops %
1. Fed 90 gr Hydra-Shok 119 83 70%
2. CorBon 90 gr JHP +P 59 41 70%
3. Fed 90 gr JHP 184 127 69%
4. Win 85 gr Silvertip 111 75 68%
5. Rem 90 gr JHP 82 55 67%
6. CCI 90 gr JHP 85 57 67%
7. Fed 90 gr FMJ 245 135 55%
For generations of officers, the .38 Special snub was the off-duty weapon in this country. The introduction of genuinely compact semiauto pistols allowing officers to carry a weapon of significant power and more bullets than either a five- or six-shot revolver changed all that. I consider the .38 Special snub as an excellent backup weapon and carried one for most of my career in Detroit. I’ve replaced mine with a Taurus five-shot .357 Magnum snub loaded with the Federal 125gr JHP .357 Magnum offering. However, the .38 Special snub fills a valuable niche. These results are from two- and three-inch snubnose revolvers, not the four- and six-inch revolvers. In spite of the short barrels, which limit muzzle velocity, the 158-grain lead hollowpoint at +P pressures is the clear load of choice.
Total Stops %
1. Win 158gr LHP +P 178 121 68%
2. Fed 158gr LHP +P 178 120 67%
3. Rem 125gr Golden Saber +P 39 26 67%
4. CCI 125gr Gold Dot +P 48 32 67%
5. CorBon 125gr JHP +P 15 10 67%
6. Rem 158gr LHP +P 134 87 65%
7. Rem 125gr JHP +P 107 70 65%
8. Fed 129gr Hydra-Shok +P 86 56 65%
9. Fed 125gr JHP +P 166 108 65%
10. Fed 147gr Hydra-Shok +P+ 67 43 64%
11.Win 125gr JHP +P 83 52 63%
12. Fed 125gr Nyclad LHP 53 33 62%
13. Fed 125gr Nyclad LHP +P 41 25 61%
14. Win 110gr Silvertip 25 15 60%
15. Fed 158gr SWC +P 277 136 49%
16. Fed 158gr RNL 429 210 49%
The 9mm was the first semiauto caliber to find widespread acceptance as an issue weapon in law enforcement. The better loads do quite well. If it wasn’t for the introduction of the problematic 147-grain loads, I’m convinced it would still be the most common handgun caliber among the badge guys. I’m aware of many departments that switched to .40 S&W simply to get away from the 147-grain loads. The current generations of 147gr JHPs are vastly superior to the originals, but they still can’t hold a candle to loads such as the CCI 124gr Gold Dot +P or the Win 127gr JHP +P+ offerings. Federal’s new HST offerings and CorBon’s PowR’ball look extremely promising, but we haven’t seen any street results with either yet. Clearly, the best 9mm police loads are the 115- and 124 / 127-grain JHPs driven to +P+ pressures.
9mm Service Pistols
Total Stops %
1. Fed 115gr JHP +P+ 209 190 91%
2. Win 115gr JHP +P+ 167 150 90%
3. Win 127gr Ranger SXT +P+ 104 94 90%
4. Rem 115gr JHP +P+ 98 88 90%
5. Fed 124gr Hydra-Shok +P+ 111 99 89%
6. CCI 124gr Gold Dot +P 193 170 88%
7. CorBon 115gr JHP +P 89 78 88%
8. Rem 124gr Golden Saber +P 49 43 88%
9. Fed 124gr Nyclad LHP 271 224 83%
10. Win 147gr Ranger SXT 129 107 83%
11.Fed 124gr Hydra-Shok 261 217 83%
12. Win 115gr Silvertip 474 393 83%
13. Fed 115gr JHP 414 340 82%
14. Rem 115gr JHP 288 236 82%
15. CCI 115gr JHP 132 106 80%
16. Fed 135gr Hydra-Shok 341 273 80%
17. Fed 147gr Hydra-Shok 319 252 79%
18. Fed 147gr JHP 85 66 78%
19. Win 147gr Ranger SXT 111 87 78%
20. Win 115gr FMJ 349 244 70%
Once the king of law enforcement calibers, the .357 Magnum revolver has been replaced by the semiautomatic pistol in a variety of calibers. There has, however, been a resurgence in short-barreled revolvers in this caliber due to the development of light weight and small frame revolvers duplicating the dimensions of the same small revolvers in .38 Special. These results are from those short, two- and three-inch revolvers, not the four- to six-inch revolvers. Those wanting an auto-pistol with .357 Magnum-like performance, which from duty guns had stopping power up to 96%, should consider the 357 SIG caliber.
Total Stops %
1. Rem 125gr JHP 118 107 91%
2. Fed 125gr JHP 105 96 91%
3. CCI 125gr Gold Dot 76 68 89%
4. Rem 110gr JHP 49 42 86%
5. Rem 125gr Golden Saber (MV) 38 32 84%
6. Fed 135gr Hydra-Shok 78 65 83%
7. Win 145gr Silvertip 44 36 82%
8. Rem 158gr JHP 39 31 79%
9. Fed 158gr Hydra-Shok 41 32 78%
The latest contender for the best law enforcement cartridge, the .357 SIG is certainly working well in actual shootings. It may be a bit of a stretch to say it’s the replacement for the .357 Magnum, but it will do its job if the officer does his. The 125-grain JHPs from the 357 SIG have a velocity of 1350 fps from smaller auto pistols and 1450 from larger auto pistols. That matches the 357 Magnum.
Total Stops %
1. Win 125gr Ranger SXT 48 45 94%
2. CCI 125gr Gold Dot 76 71 92%
3. CorBon 125gr JHP 20 18 90%
4. Rem 125gr JHP 28 25 89%
The .40 S&W has proven to be a very popular law enforcement caliber. I consider it a “bridge caliber.” It provides more bullets than is commonly available in platforms chambered for the .45 ACP and yet provides bigger bullets than the 9mm. I’m of the opinion that the 9mm is an excellent police caliber, but since we live in a perception-driven society, the .40 S&W has become extremely popular. The clear trends in the .40 S&W caliber are for the 155-grain and full-power 165-grain JHPs. The more popular 180-grain JHPs are at the bottom half of the caliber’s results.
Total Stops %
1. Rem 165gr Golden Saber 311 292 94%
2. CCI 155gr Gold Dot 89 83 93%
3. CCI 165gr Gold Dot 153 142 93%
4. Fed 155gr Hydra-Shok 94 87 93%
5. Fed 155gr JHP 183 167 91%
6. CorBon 135gr JHP 98 89 91%
7. CorBon 150gr JHP 76 68 90%
8. Rem 155gr JHP 67 59 88%
9. Win 155gr Silvertip 158 139 88%
10. Fed 180gr Hydra-Shok 83 73 88%
11. PMC 155gr Starfire 89 77 87%
12. CCI 180gr Gold Dot 77 66 86%13. Rem 180gr Golden Saber 99 85 86%
14. PMC 180gr Starfire 58 50 86%
15. Black Hills 180gr JHP 56 47 84%
16. Fed 180gr JHP 145 122 84%
17. Win 180gr Ranger SXT 67 56 84%
18. Win 180gr JHP 120 98 82%
19. Fed 165gr Hydra-Shok (MV) 179 147 82%
20. Win 180gr FMJ 134 95 71%
The 45 ACP caliber has been around more than 90 years but still seems to hang in there. It has a hardcore following and continues to be issued or approved by a number of agencies. Based on its reputation alone, LAPD approved it after the North Hollywood shoot-out even though it would not have been effective against gunmen who were equipped with armor designed to stop rifle rounds. It certainly is an effective caliber and there is something about those big old bullets that brings a sense of comfort that smaller ones do not. The large diameter and heavy weight of the bullet are the foundation for the “momentum” theory of stopping power. However, the actual results are a mix of light / fast and heavy / slow JHPs.
Total Stops %
1. Rem 185gr Golden Saber 148 142 96%
2. Fed 230gr Hydra-Shok 211 200 95%
3. CCI 230gr Gold Dot 63 59 94%
4. Fed 230 gr Tactical +P 24 22 92%
5. Rem 185gr JHP +P 89 82 92%
6. Win 230gr SXT 118 109 92%
7. CorBon 185gr JHP +P 46 42 91%
8. Rem 230gr Golden Saber 43 39 91%
9. Fed 185gr JHP 145 128 88%
10. Win 185gr Silvertip 139 122 88%
11. Fed 185gr Hydra-Shok +P 99 87 88%
12. Fed 165gr Hydra-Shok 49 41 84%
13. Rem 185gr JHP 177 145 82%
14. Rem 230gr FMJ 191 118 62%
15. Win 230gr FMJ 241 149 62%
16. Fed 230gr FMJ 239 148 62%
Evan Marshall is a firearms and tactics instructor with Wackenhut Services currently assigned to a federal agency with direct counter-terrorist responsibilities. The author of three books on ammunition effectiveness, he may be reached at email@example.com://www.paladin-press.comhttp://www.evanmarshall.com