My friends over at the Liberal Gun Club asked if they could have my BBTI blog entries cross-posted on their site. This is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 3/7/2011. Some additional observations at the end.
“What is the best barrel length?”
It’s a question I get a lot, thanks to my involvement in Ballistics By The Inch. And invariably, I say in response: “it depends.” As in, it depends on what you’re going to use it for.
OK, first thing: I’m talking about pistol cartridges, not rifle cartridges. Got that? Pistol cartridges.
That’s what we studied with our BBTI project (actually, continue to study, since we’ve done several expansions of the cartridges and ammunition tested already, and have another big expansion coming up the beginning of May.) Now that we’ve cleared that up . . .
Different barrel lengths are good for different purposes. The longer the barrel, the longer the sight radius, and so the easier it is to be accurate with the gun. The shorter the barrel, the easier it is to conceal.
And barrel length has an effect on the velocity of a bullet (and hence the power of that bullet.) How much of an effect? Well, it depends.
No, seriously, it depends. Do not believe it when someone tells you “oh, the rule of thumb is about 75 (or 25 or 100 or any other number) feet per second for each inch of barrel.” That number may be right for one given ammunition in one given gun for one given inch of barrel length – but it will not hold true as a general case. Don’t just take my word on this – look at the actual numbers from tests we conducted, using almost 10,000 rounds of ammunition. You can go to the BBTI site and see the data for yourself (it’s all free, with no advertising or anything), but here are two examples:
Cor Bon 165gr JHP +P .45 ACP ammo was tested at 1001 fps with a 2″ barrel. That jumps to 1050 fps with a 3″ barrel, or an increase of about 50 fps. Going to a 4″ barrel you get 1163 fps, or an increase of 113 fps. But when you go from an 10″ barrel to a 11″ barrel, you only get an increase of 23 fps.
Let’s look at Federal Hydra-Shok 230gr JHP .45 ACP. It starts at 754 fps with a 2″ barrel, and jumps to 787 fps out of a 3″ barrel – an increase of 33 fps. Go to the 4″ barrel and it tested at 865 fps – an increase of 78 fps. And when you go from an 10″ barrel to a 11″ barrel, you only get an increase of 4 fps.
Do you see my point? It not only varies by ammunition, it also varies by which inch of the barrel you are talking about – the inch between 3 and 4 sees a lot more increase than the inch between 10 and 11.
Almost all handgun cartridges show this effect, and it makes sense: pistol cartridges use a fast burning powder, but it still needs a little bit of time to completely combust. The highest acceleration comes at first, and then usually handgun bullets plateau out somewhere between 6″ and 10″, with little additional velocity with longer barrels past that point. The graph of our first example shows this very well:
Some cartridges even show velocity starting to drop off with longer barrels, as the friction of the bullet passing through the barrel overcomes any additional boost from the gunpowder. Notably, the “magnum” cartridges (.327, .357, .41, and .44) all show a continued climb in velocity/power all the way out to 18″ of barrel length (the maximum we test), though the amount of increase tends to get smaller and smaller the longer the barrel.
So, back to “it depends”: if you want a lever-gun or carbine, which uses a pistol cartridge, you’re best off using one of the magnums if you want maximum power. If, however, you want to use a carbine for an additional power boost and better aiming, one with a barrel length somewhere in the “plateau” for a given cartridge makes sense (and this is why subguns typically have barrels in the 8 – 10″ range).
For a hunting pistol, you probably want to have a barrel of 6″ to 8″ to get a lot of the additional power and still have it manageable. This barrel length will also give you a nice big sight radius for accuracy, making it good for hunting or target shooting.
How about for concealed carry? The shorter the barrel, the better, right? Well, if you look through all our data, you’ll see that usually, most cartridges see the greatest jump in velocity (and hence power) from 2″ to 4″. Now, the smaller the caliber and the lighter the bullet, the more the big jump tends to come right up front – from 2″ to 3″. The larger the caliber and the heavier the bullet, the more it tends to come a little later, from 3″ to 4″. Still, you can decide for yourself whether the trade-off in less power for ease of carry is worth it.
And good news for the revolver fans: because the cylinder basically functions to extend the barrel, your 2″ snubby actually functions more like a gun with a 3.5″ – 4″ barrel. Though there is some velocity/power loss due to the cylinder gap. How much loss? That is actually the next thing we’ll be testing, but I’d bet that . . . it depends.
Since I wrote that six years ago, we’ve done a LOT more testing at BBTI, and have now shot more than 25,000 rounds and greatly expanded our data. The cylinder gap tests mentioned above did indeed show that the amount of loss did vary according to a number of factors, but for the most part established that the effect wasn’t as large as many people thought. And we found an interesting exception to the “magnum” rule in one of our most recent tests: it turns out that the .45 Super cartridge behaves like a true magnum, by continuing to gain more power the longer the barrel, until at carbine lengths it is on a par with (or even exceeds) the .460 Rowland cartridge. Since the .45 Super is based on the .45 ACP cartridge, we expected it to perform like that cartridge and level off at about 10″, but it clearly continues to gain out to at least 18″.
I also want to add a couple of quick comments about how concealed-carry guns have changed, though this is more just personal observation than any kind of rigorous research. I think that as concealed-carry has continued to expand, more gear is on the market to make it easier to do, and I think for that reason some people are able to carry slightly larger guns and there are more guns available with barrel length in the 4″ – 5″ range. In addition, sight/optics/laser options have continued to improve, making simple sight radius less of a factor — meaning that for those who do want to carry a smaller gun, it is easier to use it well (though having better sights/optics/lasers is NOT a substitute for practice!) I expect that both these trends will continue.
My friends over at the Liberal Gun Club asked if they could have my BBTI blog entries cross-posted on their site. This is the second in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 2/16/2011. Some additional observations at the end.
You need to choose self-defense ammunition for your gun. Simple, right? Just get the biggest, the baddest, the most powerful ammunition in the correct caliber for your gun, and you’re set, right?
Wrong. Wrong, on so many levels. For a whole bunch of reasons. We’ll get to that.
Shooters have earned the reputation as an opinionated breed and arguments over ammunition are a staple of firearms discussions, and have been for at least the last couple of decades. Much of this stems from the fact that every week it seems, you’ll see “fresh” claims from manufacturers touting this new bullet design or that new improvement to the gunpowder purportedly to maximize power or minimize flash. And the truth is there have been a lot of improvements to ammunition in recent years, but, if you don’t cut through the hype you can easily find yourself over-emphasizing the importance of featured improvement in any given ammunition.
Perhaps it’s best to consider it by way of example. While the basic hollowpoint design has been around since the 19th century, I remember when simple wadcutters or ball ammunition was about all that was available for most handguns. Cagey folks would sometimes score the front of a wadcutter with a knife (sometimes in a precarious manner—please don’t do this Taxi Driver-style with live ammunition) to help it ‘open up’ on impact. Jacketed soft point ammunition was considered “high tech” and thus distrusted. And yet, these simple bullets stopped a lot of attacks, killed a lot of people and saved a lot of lives.
I’m not saying that you don’t want good, modern, self-defense ammunition. You probably do. I sure as hell do. I want a bullet designed to open up to maximum size and still penetrate properly at the velocity expected when using it. If you are ever in a situation where you need to use a firearm for self-defense, you want it to be as effective as possible in stopping a threat, as quickly as possible.
Modern firearms are not magic wands. They are not science-fiction zap guns. How they work is they cause a small piece of metal to impact a body with a variable amount of force. That small piece of metal can cause more or less damage, depending on what it hits and how hard, and how the bullet behaves. Here’s the key that a lot of people forget: as a general rule, location trumps power. All you have to do is meditate on the fact that a miss with a .44 magnum is nowhere near as effective as a hit with a .25 ACP. And when I say “a miss” I’m talking about any shot which does not hit the central nervous system, a major organ, or a main blood vessel (and even then it matters exactly which of these are hit, and how). Plenty of people have recovered from being shot multiple times with a .45. Plenty of people have been killed by a well-placed .22 round.
Hitting your target is what is most important and for most of us that is harder to do with over-powered ammunition we’re not used to shooting regularly. Chances are that under the stress of an actual encounter, your first shot may not be effective at stopping an attack. That means follow-up shots will be needed, and you’d better be able to do so accurately. If you can’t get back on target because of extreme recoil, then what’s the point of all that extra power? If you can’t get back on target because you’ve been blinded by the flash of extra powder burning after it leaves the muzzle, well hell, that’s not good either.
Nestled up alongside power is having an ammunition that will actually work well in your gun. Some guns are notoriously ammunition sensitive and you don’t want to just be finding out your gun doesn’t particularly care for an ammo when you really need it to go boom. Check with others (friends or online forums) who have your type of gun, and see what ammo works for them. Then test it yourself, in your actual gun. Some people won’t carry a particular ammunition until they have run a couple of hundred rounds of that ammunition through their gun. Personally, I’ll run a box or two through the gun and consider that sufficient; you’ll know after that if your gun generally handles that ammunition with any problems.
So, once you have an idea of what ammunition will work in your particular gun, how do you choose between brands? As I’ve previously discussed, you can’t necessarily trust manufacturer hype. So, how to judge?
Well, you can do some research online. The fellows at The Box of Truth have done a lot of informal testing of ammunition to see how different rounds penetrate and perform. The Brass Fetcher has done a lot of more formal testing using ballistic gelatin. Ballistics By The Inch (which is yours truly’s site) has a lot of data showing velocity for different ammunition. And most gun forums will have anecdotal testing done by members, which can provide a lot of insight.
But don’t over-think this. Handguns are handguns. Yeah, some are more powerful than others, but all are compromises – hitting your target is the single most important thing. And like I said, ammunition can help, but only to a certain extent. We’re talking marginal benefits, at best, whatever the manufacturers claim. So relax; all of the big name brands are probably adequate, and you’d be hard pressed to make a truly bad decision, so long as the ammunition will function reliably in your gun and you can hit your target with it.
Of course, as you do more research, and get more experience, you’ll probably find you like some ammunition more than others, for whatever reason. That’s fine. It just means that you’re ready to join in the (generally genial) arguments over such matters with other firearms owners. Welcome to the club.
Some additional thoughts, six years later …
Bullet design has continued to improve, with new and occasionally odd-looking designs and materials being introduced regularly. Some of these are *really* interesting, but I keep coming back to the basic truth that the most important factor is hitting the target. No super-corkscrew-unobtanium bullet designed to penetrate all known barriers but still stop inside a bad guy is worth a damn if you miss hitting your target.
And that means practice (and training, if appropriate) is more important than hardware. What I, and a lot of shooters concerned about their self-defense skill, will do is to use practice ammo for training when they go to the range, to keep their basic skill set honed. And then supplement that with a magazine or two (or a cylinder or two) of their carry ammo, so they refresh their knowledge of how it feels and behaves in their gun. This can help keep practice costs down (since good SD ammo can be expensive), but also keeps carry ammo fresh.
My friends over at the Liberal Gun Club asked if they could have my BBTI blog entries cross-posted on their site. I said yes, and got to thinking that perhaps I would revisit some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is the first article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 2/9/2011. Some additional observations at the end.
One of the most bewildering moments for a relatively novice shooter is selecting ammunition. Go online, or into a big-box store, or even into your local gun shop and you can be confronted with a huge array of choices in any given caliber or cartridge design. Most of the boxes have a sort of ‘code’ on the side; some have little charts or even graphs on the bottom. But which one do you want? What does this stuff even mean? Do claims of a certain velocity or energy tell you anything?
Let’s take a look at some terms, first.
Most prominently displayed figure on the box, is the cartridge: .45 Auto, .357 Magnum, 9mm Luger and so forth. There can be some confusion on this, so be sure to check your gun to see what it says on the side of the barrel or slide, or is specified in the owner’s manual – that’s the only kind of ammunition you want. There is a difference between a .45 Colt and a .45 Auto, or a .357 Magnum and a .357 Sig, just for a couple of examples – make sure you get the kind of cartridge that your gun handles. It may seem silly to bring this up, but even experienced shooters can accidentally grab the wrong box of ammo sometimes – I have made this very mistake myself.
Next you’ll find a number, listed with either “grain” or just “gr.” This tells you the weight of the actual bullet.
Then there will be some variety of description of the bullet, indicating intended use. It could say “target” or “range” or just “ball” – all of these mean a basic bullet, probably with a slightly rounded nose, or perhaps a conical shape, or just a simple cylinder which might also have a small flat conical front (sometimes called a semiwadcutter or “SWC”). The actual bullet may be just lead or may have a “full metal jacket” – a thin layer of some harder metal such as a copper alloy. “Hunting” usually means a “JSP” – jacketed soft point. “Self-defense” usually indicates some variety of “JHP” – jacketed hollow point. Some premium self-defense ammunition uses proprietary terms such as “DPX,” “Hydra-Shok,” and “GDHP” but these are largely marketing terms you don’t need to worry about too much, at least at first.
Terms “+P” or “+P+” indicate that the cartridge is somewhat more powerful (“over-pressure”) than standard for that cartridge. Most modern guns can handle a limited diet of such cartridges, but older guns may not. If in doubt, check your gun’s owner’s manual or ask a gunsmith.
Particularly on premium defensive ammunition you may see some indication of the “velocity” or “energy” of the cartridge. Here in the US, velocity is given in “fps” – feet per second. “Energy” is given in “ft/lbs” – foot-pounds (the amount of energy needed to lift one pound one foot off the ground, not the confusingly similar term used to measure torque). The faster a bullet, and the more it weighs, the more kinetic energy it has. Sometimes a little chart will be given, showing velocity and energy at the muzzle of the gun, then at one or more distances (bullets lose velocity and energy due to air resistance).
While more velocity and more energy are generally good things for defensive ammunition, don’t get too hung up on these numbers. Why? Because the manufacturers don’t really give you enough information to compare one ammunition to another one easily. They don’t tell you what the barrel length used was (and this can have a huge impact on velocity). They don’t tell you the type of gun used (a revolver and a semi-auto both have different effects on the speed of a bullet). And they don’t tell you the type of barrel used (some barrels are known to be ‘faster’ than others.)
Then why bother at all with this information? Because it can help in some instances. If all you’re going to do is just use your gun for ‘plinking’, you can probably get whatever ammunition is cheapest and suitable for your gun.
But if you’re after accurate and consistent target shooting, or use your gun for hunting or defensive purposes, you want to be choosy. Once you find ammunition you and your gun like, you want to try to stay as close to that ammunition as you can. What do I mean by ammunition you and your gun like?
Some guns will feed and fire some ammunition better than others. The shape of the bullet can make a difference. The weight of the bullet can make a difference. The amount of energy can make a difference.
Ammunition with greater energy will cause your gun to have greater recoil (‘kick’), and that can make it more difficult to shoot. Ammunition which is touted for being “reduced recoil” likely has less energy than other ammunition, that can make it less effective for hunting or self-defense.
Using the same amount of gunpowder, a lighter bullet will go faster than a heavier one. But a heavier bullet will generally slow down less due to air resistance, and will generally penetrate deeper into whatever you are shooting at.
“Target,” “ball,” and similarly-termed ammo is usually less expensive, and is good for practice. It is less ideal for self-defense purposes, because the bullet does not expand the way a hollow point or “JHP” is designed to when it hits flesh. “Hunting” ammunition is usually designed to expand some, but to still penetrate deeply.
Where should you begin? Start out seeing what ammunition others who own a gun like yours use. None of your buddies shooting a gun like yours? Maybe do a little checking online – many firearms forums post anecdotal information showing testing members have done, and there are some good sites that do more rigorous testing for velocity and penetration. See what is recommended, and give it a try.
So, beyond the numbers, what’s a good general rule when pairing ammo with a gun? I’m of the opinion that, ideally, you should try out a box or two of different types of premium ammunition first to see which brands and type your gun likes. Using this as your guide, you can then launch the search for less expensive practice ammunition that is similar in weight and velocity, because that will behave similarly to your premium ammo in terms of point-of-impact and felt recoil.
Since I wrote this six years ago, there have been some noticeable changes in the ammunition industry, and now most manufacturers provide at least some basic information as to how the numbers they use were gathered — what barrel length, sometimes what gun they used — to make it a little easier for a consumer to know what they are buying. I have been told directly by some engineers and sales people at different companies that this is due to BBTI‘s testing and publication of our data, which has forced manufacturers to be more forthcoming.
Something else we’ve experienced in the intervening years was the Great Ammo Shortage (which for the most part has now passed). But it taught the wisdom of always keeping a bit more ammo on hand than you might otherwise need for a single trip to the range, to help ride out similar shortages in the future. I’ll address ammo storage issues in a future blog post.
Remember this graph comparing Muzzle Energy (ME)?
Well, a discussion elsewhere got me to thinking …
So, let’s take a look at .45 Super:
See what I see? Yeah, at 3″ and 4″ all the .45 Super loads are superior in terms of ME over all the other cartridges in the top graph. At 5″ the .357 Mag catches up with some of the .45 Super loads, and at 6″ it is in the center of the pack.
To really do the comparison right, I’d need to average all the .45 Super loads, then add them directly to the first graph, but that’s more time and trouble than I want to take. But my point is that of all the ‘conventional’ CCW-caliber/size guns, it looks like the .45 Super is at the top of the pile. We did formal testing of just one .460 Rowland, and it is comparable to the .45 Super at those barrel lengths (though I know from informal testing that some other loads are more powerful). You have to step up to full .44 Mag to beat either the .357 Mag or .45 Super.
All along, we’ve said that if someone wanted to take the time, trouble, and expense to do some additional research along the lines of our protocols, that we’d be happy to include their data on our site. This is particularly true if it helped expand the selection of “real world guns” associated with the data for a given caliber/cartridge. Well, for the first time someone has expressed an interest in doing just that, prompting us to come up with an outline of what standards we feel are required for making sure it relates to our previous tests.
The biggest problem is that ammo manufacturers may, and do, change the performance of their products from time to time. This is why we have on occasion revisited certain cartridges, doing full formal chop tests in order to check how specific lines of ammo have changed. That gives us a benchmark to compare other ammo after a period of several years have passed, and shows how new tests relate to the old data.
But without going to such an extent, how can we be reasonably sure that new data collected by others using their own firearms is useful in comparison to our published data?
After some discussion, we feel that so long as any new testing includes three or more of the specific types of ammo (same manufacturer, same bullet weight & design) we had tested previously, then that will give enough of a benchmark for fair comparison. (Obviously, in instances where we didn’t test that many different types of ammo in a given cartridge, adjustments would need to be made). With that in mind, here are the protocols we would require in order to include new data on our site (with full credit to the persons conducting the tests, of course):
- Full description and images of the test platform (firearm) used in the tests. This must specify the make, model number, barrel length, and condition of the firearm. Ideally, it will also include the age of the firearm.
- That a good commercial chronograph be used. Brand isn’t critical — there seems to be sufficient consistency between different models that this isn’t a concern. However, the brand and model should be noted.
- Chronographs must be positioned approximately 15 feet in front of the muzzle of the firearm used to test the ammo. This is what we started with in our tests, and have maintained as our standard through all the tests.
- That five or six data points be collected for each type of ammo tested. This can be done the way we did it, shooting three shots through two different chronographs, or by shooting six shots through one chronograph.
- All data must be documented with images of the raw data sheets. Feel free to use the same template we used in our tests, or come up with your own.
- Images of each actual box of ammo used in the test must be provided, which show the brand, caliber/cartridge, and bullet weight. Also including manufacturer’s lot number would be preferred, but isn’t always possible.
- A note about weather conditions at the time of the test and approximate elevation of the test site above sea level should be included.
We hope that this will allow others to help contribute to our published data, while still maintaining confidence in the *value* of that data. Please, if you are interested in conducting your own tests, contact us in advance just so we can go over any questions.
OK, kiddies, it’s time for SCIENCE!
Ballistic science, specifically. I promise to keep the math to a minimum, because I don’t like it much, either. Jim Kasper is the one who thinks in terms of equations, not me.
If you look at any of the various pages for test results on BBTI you will see that each caliber/cartridge also has a link for a Muzzle Energy (the kinetic energy of a bullet as it leaves the muzzle of a gun) graph for that set of results. That’s because Muzzle Energy can also give an idea of the effectiveness of a given ammo, since it is a calculation of both the weight of a bullet as well as the velocity it is traveling. This calculation, specifically:
Here’s what that says in English, taken from the explanation that goes with that image on Wikipedia:
The kinetic energy is equal to 1/2 the product of the mass and the square of the speed.
In other words, you multiply the weight of the bullet times the square of the velocity, then take half of whatever number you get. And that gives you the Muzzle Energy, usually (as on our site) expressed in foot-pounds of energy.
So there are two ways you can change the result: change the amount of weight, or change the amount of velocity.
But since it is the square of the velocity (the velocity times itself), changes to the velocity have a larger impact on the final amount of Muzzle Energy. That’s the reason why how the velocity changes due to barrel length is such a big deal, and why we’ve done all the research that we’ve done over the last seven years.
But while Muzzle Energy gives you a good way to compare the power and potential effectiveness of a given cartridge as a self-defense round, there are a couple of other factors to consider. A couple of VERY important factors.
One is the shape and composition of the bullet itself. There’s a very good (surprisingly good, in fact — I heartily recommend you read the whole thing) discussion of the basic shapes and how they interact with the human body in this online teaching tool intended for medical students. The relevant excerpt:
Designing a bullet for efficient transfer of energy to a particular target is not straightforward, for targets differ. To penetrate the thick hide and tough bone of an elephant, the bullet must be pointed, of small diameter, and durable enough to resist disintegration. However, such a bullet would penetrate most human tissues like a spear, doing little more damage than a knife wound. A bullet designed to damage human tissues would need some sort of “brakes” so that all the KE was transmitted to the target.
It is easier to design features that aid deceleration of a larger, slower moving bullet in tissues than a small, high velocity bullet. Such measures include shape modifications like round (round nose), flattened (wadcutter), or cupped (hollowpoint) bullet nose. Round nose bullets provide the least braking, are usually jacketed, and are useful mostly in low velocity handguns. The wadcutter design provides the most braking from shape alone, is not jacketed, and is used in low velocity handguns (often for target practice). A semi-wadcutter design is intermediate between the round nose and wadcutter and is useful at medium velocity. Hollowpoint bullet design facilitates turning the bullet “inside out” and flattening the front, referred to as “expansion.” Expansion reliably occurs only at velocities exceeding 1200 fps, so is suited only to the highest velocity handguns.
Now, while that last bit about needing to exceed 1200 fps may have been true, or a ‘good enough’ approximation a few years ago, it isn’t entirely true today. There has been a significant improvement in bullet design in the last two decades (and these innovations continue at a rapid pace), so that there are now plenty of handgun loads available which will reliably expand as intended in the velocity range expected from the round.
The other REALLY important consideration in bullet effectiveness is penetration. This is so important, in fact, that it is the major criteria used by the FBI and others in assessing performance. From Wikipedia:
According to Dr. Martin Fackler and the International Wound Ballistics Association (IWBA), between 12.5 and 14 inches (318 and 356 mm) of penetration in calibrated tissue simulant is optimal performance for a bullet which is meant to be used defensively, against a human adversary. They also believe that penetration is one of the most important factors when choosing a bullet (and that the number one factor is shot placement). If the bullet penetrates less than their guidelines, it is inadequate, and if it penetrates more, it is still satisfactory though not optimal. The FBI’s penetration requirement is very similar at 12 to 18 inches (305 to 457 mm).
A penetration depth of 12.5 to 14 inches (318 and 356 mm) may seem excessive, but a bullet sheds velocity—and crushes a narrower hole—as it penetrates deeper, while losing velocity, so the bullet might be crushing a very small amount of tissue (simulating an “ice pick” injury) during its last two or three inches of travel, giving only between 9.5 and 12 inches of effective wide-area penetration.
As noted above, the design of the bullet can have a substantial effect on how well it penetrates. But another big factor is the weight, or mass, of the bullet relative to its cross-section — this is called ‘sectional density‘. Simply put, a bullet with a large cross-section and high mass will penetrate more than a bullet with the same cross-section but low mass moving at the same speed. It isn’t penetration, but think of how hard a baseball hits versus a whiffleball moving at the same speed. They’re basically the same size, but the mass is what makes a big difference. (See also ‘ballistic coefficient‘).
With me so far?
OK, let’s go all the way back up to the top where I discussed Muzzle Energy. See the equation? Right. Let’s use the baseball/whiffleball analogy again. Let’s say that the baseball weighs 5.0 ounces, which is 2,187.5 grains. And the whiffleball weighs 2/3 of an ounce, or 291.8 grains. A pitcher can throw either ball at say 60 mph, which is 88 fps. That means (using this calculator) that the Kinetic Energy of a baseball when it leaves the pitcher’s hand is 37 foot-pounds, and the whiffleball is just 5 foot-pounds. Got that?
But let’s say that because it is so light, the pitcher can throw the wiffleball twice as fast as he can throw a baseball. That now boosts the Kinetic Energy of the whiffleball to 20 foot-pounds.
And if you triple the velocity of the whiffleball? That gives it a Kinetic Energy of 45 foot-pounds. Yeah, more than the baseball traveling at 88 fps.
Now let’s go look at our most recent .45 ACP tests. And in particular, the Muzzle Energy graph for those tests:
What is the top line on that graph? Yeah, Liberty Civil Defense +P 78 gr JHP. It has almost 861 foot-pounds of energy, which is more than any other round included in those tests. By the Muzzle Energy measure, this is clearly the superior round.
But would it penetrate enough?
Maybe. Brass Fetcher doesn’t list the Liberty Civil Defense +P 78 gr JHP. But they did test a 90 gr RBCD round, which penetrated to 12.0″ and only expanded by 0.269 square inch. Compare that to the other bullets listed on his page, and you’ll see that while the depth of penetration isn’t too bad when compared to other, heavier, bullets, that round is tied with one other for the least amount of expansion.
Driving a lightweight bullet much, much faster makes the Muzzle Energy look very impressive. Just the velocity of the Liberty Civil Defense +P 78 gr JHP is impressive — 1865 fps out of a 5″ barrel is at least 50% faster than any other round on our test results page, and almost 400 fps faster than even the hottest of the .45 Super loads tested.
But how well would it actually penetrate? Without formally testing it, we can’t say for sure. But I am skeptical. I’m not going to volunteer to getting shot with one of the things (or even hit with a whiffleball traveling 180 mph), but I’m also not going to rely on it to work as it has to in the real world, where deep penetration is critical. I want a bullet with enough punch to get through a light barrier, if necessary. Like this video from Hickok45, via The Firearm Blog:
Personally, I prefer a heavier bullet. Ideally, I want one which is also going to have a fair amount of velocity behind it (which is why I have adapted my .45s to handle the .45 Super). All things being equal (sectional density, bullet configuration and composition), velocity is great, but mass is what penetrates.
About 40 years ago, when I was an idiot teenager (yeah, I know — redundant, particularly in my case), we got this ’48 Willys Jeep. Since the engine was shot, we dropped an Olds V-6 in it. This was, essentially, like strapping a rocket to a skateboard. And it was too much power for idiot teenage me to handle. Twice I snapped the driveshaft on the thing, just dumping the clutch too damned quickly. Twice. My uncle (who I lived with) was certain that I had been racing or something similar. The truth was, I didn’t even have that much of an excuse; I had simply goosed the engine too much and popped it into gear too fast. The original driveshaft just couldn’t handle that much of a power spike.
This is kinda what happens to your poor .45 ACP firearm when you decide to run some .45 Super through it.
With the Jeep, we wound up putting a more robust driveshaft in it. And I learned that if I wanted to keep driving it, I needed to be less of an idiot.
This analogy holds to how you should approach handling .45 Super power out of your .45 ACP gun. Chances are, very occasional use of these much more powerful loads won’t cause any problem in a quality, modern-made firearm. But if you’re smart, you’ll either greatly limit how many times you subject your gun (and your body) to that amount of power, or you will take steps to help manage it better and extend the life of your gun.
Typical ‘standard’ (non +P) .45 ACP loads tend to have a maximum pressure of between say 15,000 PSI and about 18,000 PSI. When you get past that, you get into ‘over-pressure’, or +P territory, up to about 23,000 PSI. This is the range most common modern firearms are built to handle safely.
But .45 Super generates more chamber pressure than that. How much more? Well, it’s a bit difficult to say, since there is a surprising dearth of data readily available. Neither my 49th Edition of Lyman’s Reloading Handbook nor my 13th Edition of Cartridges of the World have data for the .45 Super. Real Guns has some reloading formulas for .45 Super which give results consistent with our tests, but there are no pressure specs listed. Hodgdon Reloading has some pressure specs (in C.U.P.), but all their listed results for .45 Super are well below what our tests results were. Wikipedia lists .45 Super as having a maximum pressure of 28,000 PSI, and given that .460 Rowland is usually considered to run 35,000 – 40,000 PSI, that is probably in the correct ballpark.
I have written previously about converting a standard Glock 21 from .45 ACP over to .460 Rowland, and what is involved with that. Specifically, a new longer barrel with a fully-supported chamber which accommodates the longer case of the .460 Rowland, a 23 pound recoil spring, and a nice compensator to help tame the recoil. I also changed out the magazine springs, using an aftermarket product which increases the spring power by about 10%. This is because even with the other changes, the slide still moves much faster than with .45 ACP loads, and the increased mag spring power helps with reliability in feeding ammo. But even with all of that, shooting full-power .460 Rowland loads tends to cause damage to my magazines (as seen in the linked post).
Do you need to do all that in order for your firearm to handle frequent use of .45 Super loads? Well, I think that if you want to use a .460 Rowland conversion kit, it *will* tame the amount of recoil more than enough, but I don’t think that it is necessary to go quite that far. I should note that I have now run several hundred .45 Super loads through my Glock 21, and the gun has operated flawlessly — WITHOUT any damage to the magazines.
Converted G21 on left, G30S on right.
Rather, I think that the smart thing to do is to start off with going to a heavier recoil spring, perhaps swapping out a metal guide rod for a plastic one (if your gun comes with a plastic guide rod). Stronger magazine springs are probably still a good idea, to aid with reliable feeding. If suitable for your gun, add in a recoil buffer. These are the steps I have taken with my Glock 30S, and am planning for my Beretta Cx4 Storm. So far I have put a couple hundred .45 Super loads through the G30S with this configuration, and it has operated without a problem — again without any damage to the magazines.
As I said in my previous blog post, I still think that the .460 Rowland is a hell of a cartridge. But I think that the .45 Super offers almost as many advantages to the average shooter, with less hassle. I would still recommend that anyone who intends on shooting more than the very occasional .45 Super loads out of their gun consider making some simple changes to handle the additional power and extend the life of their gun. Don’t be like the idiot teenage me; deal with the power intelligently.
At long last, we’ve now put up the page with the results of our .45 Super/.450 SMC tests earlier this year! We’ve also published the additional .45 ACP rounds tested at the same time, which doubles the amount of data for that cartridge available on our site.
As noted on the new .45 Super page:
.45 Super and .450 SMC (Short Magnum Cartridge) are two relatively recent variations on the classic .45 ACP cartridge. They were designed to gain more power from the cartridge than it was originally designed to produce, using modern smokeless powder and more robust case specifications. And these rounds achieve this goal, producing about 100% greater muzzle energy for a given bullet weight over standard pressure .45 ACP rounds, and about a 50% increase over .45 ACP +P (over-pressure) rounds.
Take a look at the Muzzle Energy graph for .45 Super:
One thing I notice right away is that in general, the energy curve for this cartridge is much more pronounced and consistent than the energy curve for .45 ACP loads (whether standard pressure or +P). In other words, this is a round which continues to see impressive gains in energy over a longer barrel length, rather than flattening out starting at 8 – 10″. That’s more like the behavior you see from a magnum revolver round. Even the .460 Rowland tends to not see much gain after about 10″ — with the result that while the .460 Rowland is clearly a superior round for shorter barrels over the .45 Super, most loadings of the .45 Super meet or exceed the energy of the .460 Rowland by the time you get to carbine-length barrels. And you don’t need to rechamber your gun to shoot it.
Seeing this performance out of the Cx4 Storm actually prompted me to act on something I had just been thinking about: to go out and buy one of the remaining new Cx4 Storms out there (Beretta decided to discontinue the gun in that caliber earlier this year). In a future blog post I’ll talk about the alterations I am making to that gun, and that I have made to a Glock G30S, to handle the additional power of the .45 Super cartridge.
For now, enjoy playing with the data. And please be sure to share it with others! Because while I have long been an advocate for the .460 Rowland — a cartridge I still like very much — I now think that the .45 Super is a better choice for most people. Further discussion of that next time.
Following the success of our .45 Super/.450 SMC tests this summer, I sat down to work up some reloads which would mimic the factory ammo we had tested.
Since both of these cartridges are fairly unknown, there isn’t a whole lot of good information out there to draw upon. But there is some, at least for the .45 Super, and late last year/earlier this year I had worked up some preliminary loads, starting with .45 ACP +P (overpressure) published load data. But that was done using .460 Rowland cases and shot through my converted Glock G21, which I knew could handle the extra power. When reloading, it pays to be careful and conservative.
After I had seen the results from the extensive .45 Super/.450 SMC tests (some of which has already been published), I had a pretty good idea of where the power band for these loads was, and how different guns could handle it. Since I had previously worked up loads for .460 Rowland as well as done a lot of .45 ACP reloading over the years, I figured that I could come up with some pretty reasonable load levels to match what we had seen in the factory ammo.
So I sat down, looked through all my results and what was available elsewhere, and came up with loads* for three different bullet weights I had on hand: 185gr XTP, and 200gr & 230gr FP. I chose to use Longshot powder, which I have used successfully for both .45 ACP and .460 Rowland loads. (This is not an endorsement of any of these products, and I have not been compensated from these manufacturers in any way. This is just stuff I have on hand and know has worked previously.) I loaded 50 rounds each in .45 Super cases, using standard Large Pistol Primers.
But as I was doing so, I also realized that I had a bunch of .450 SMC cases left from the tests. And I figured that it might be an interesting experiment to load those cases to the exact same specs, other than the difference in primer size. To give the cartridge the benefit of better ignition, I used Small Magnum Pistol primers. Again, I loaded 50 rounds of each bullet weight.
Again, other than the difference in primers, the reloads I worked up were identical.
OK, before I go any further, I want to toss in some caveats and explanations:
- This was an informal test, using only one chronograph and under less rigorous conditions than the formal BBTI tests. It was just me shooting a string of five shots, keeping mental track of what the numbers were for each, and then writing down a ballpark figure which seemed to best represent the overall performance. Also, I wasn’t using the BBTI light-frame which gives us more consistent chrono results.
- I was using my personal firearms, two of which (the Cx4 and Glock G30S) were brand new — this was their very first trip to the range. Yeah, I got them after seeing how similar guns performed in the .45 Super/.450 SMC tests earlier.
Now, about the guns used:
- Glock G30S with a Lone Wolf 23lb recoil spring and steel guide rod package. 3.77″ barrel
- Glock 21 converted to .460 Rowland (heavier recoil spring, compensator, and Lone Wolf .460 R barrel). 5.2″ barrel
- Beretta Cx4 carbine, standard right out of the case. But I am going to install a steel guide rod and heavy buffer in it. 16.6″ barrel
Ammo G30S G21 Cx4
.45 Super 185gr 1185 fps / 577 ft-lbs 1250 fps/ 642 ft-lbs 1550 fps / 987 ft-lbs
.450 SMC 185gr 1125 fps / 520 ft-lbs 1200 fps / 592 ft-lbs 1500 fps / 925 ft-lbs
.45 Super 200gr 1130 fps / 567 ft-lbs 1225 fps / 667 ft-lbs 1420 fps / 896 ft-lbs
.450 SMC 200gr 1090 fps / 528 ft-lbs 1180 fps / 619 ft-lbs 1420 fps / 896 ft-lbs
.45 Super 230gr 1080 fps / 596 ft-lbs 1160 fps / 687 ft-lbs 1310 fps / 877 ft-lbs
.450 SMC 230gr 1060 fps / 676 ft-lbs 1130 fps / 652 ft-lbs 1310 fps / 877 ft-lbs
Interesting, eh? What seems to be happening is that full ignition of the powder takes longer with the .450 SMC loads. That would explain why there’s more of a discrepancy with the lighter bullets and shorter barrels, so the bullet clears the barrel faster — some of the powder hasn’t yet ignited with the Small Magnum Primer. But with the heavier bullets and longer barrel of the Cx4, there more time for more of the powder to ignite, reducing or eliminating the difference in performance.
That’s my take on it. If you have another one, please comment.
Also, I want to note just how well I managed to emulate the performance of the factory ammo. Compare the numbers above with what I have already published for the Glock 21 and Cx4 used in the tests earlier. And it isn’t published yet, but the G30S numbers are also right on-the-money for how the G36 used in the tests earlier performed (the two guns have the same barrel length). In all instances, my reloads* performed within 10-15 fps of the factory loads.
*So, what exactly were those loads specs? OK, here’s the data, but provided with the understanding that you should WORK UP YOUR OWN LOADS starting below these amounts, and accepting that you do so on your own responsibility. Also note that any changes in bullet weight, bullet brand, or powder type may/will alter the results you can expect. AGAIN: you use this data on your own responsibility. Be safe.
All bullet weights had a 1.250″ O.A.L.
All were given a slight taper crimp.
185gr XTP rounds had 11.0gr of Longshot powder.
200gr FP rounds had 10.5gr of Longshot powder.
230gr FP rounds had 10.0gr of Longshot powder.
Remember this guy?
Well, earlier this summer my pistol suffered a mechanical problem with what Boberg calls the ‘lift mechanism’ — the part which grabs a cartridge out of the magazine and pulls it back and up to position it for loading into the chamber. Basically, a pin which helps hold the mechanism in place broke, and the gun locked up.
I contacted Boberg, told them what happened, sent along some pics. They immediately responded, said that it was likely that since the gun was such a low serial number (just 0120) it had one of an early batch of pins which had substandard quality control. No biggie. They sent out a pick-up tag so I could ship it directly to them. About two weeks later (including shipping time), I had the gun back, with a new pin, all ready to go — without it costing me a cent.
A couple days later I took it out to the range to see how it was working. And on the 19th round fired, it locked up again. Exact same way.
I contacted Boberg again. Again, they responded immediately. And they were astounded that it had happened a second time. The lead smith for the company queried me about the specifics of what happened, what ammo I was using, etc. Not because he thought that I was trying to pull a fast one, but because he was genuinely baffled how this could happen twice. Without hesitation they sent out another pick up tag, and I shipped the gun back in the same box it had arrived in a couple days previously. And I told them that they could take their time to investigate what happened — that I was in no hurry to have the gun back, and that above all I wanted a reliable gun rather than a quick turn-around. The lead smith understood and agreed completely.
So, a couple weeks later I got the gun back. Just yesterday, as a matter of fact (I asked them not to ship it until I was back from vacation). And I have yet to get out to test it myself. But this is what was in the box with the gun:
I want to point to the first item on the invoice, which says:
Repair of firearm. RA#611, Serial #S450120. (Replaced broken lift mechanism. Put 250 rounds through it. Passed test firing.)
They ran 250 rounds through it. Not just one (which is typical for a test firing), or even a mag full (6 rounds). 250. That’s easily $100 of ammo. And probably a couple hours of someone’s time. Because like me, they wanted to make sure the gun was functioning reliably.
Now, *that*, my friends, is customer service.
Anything mechanical can break down. Even the best made items can have weird failures, regardless of the quality of materials or the care of a craftsman. It happens. I’m a conservator of rare books and documents, and it has happened in my work. What matters is whether the person/company behind that product will stand by their work and make it good.
Boberg has. Kudos to them.
PS: Just for grins, here’s a pic of the interior I took before cleaning the gun this morning:
Got a question I haven’t seen for a while. Here it is, with my answer (and a little bit of additional explanation) to follow:
Thanks for the site! You do not post the altitude and temperature of your results (unless I missed that). Can you let us know what your reference points are? Also, what effect would altitude and temperature variation have on your results?
Here’s the answer I gave:
Well, it’s been a while since anyone asked about that … thanks!
We did discuss this early on, and decided pretty quickly that while both of those would indeed have an effect (as would the changes in barometric pressure), that it would be so small as to not matter for the degree of accuracy of our testing equipment and the limited number of rounds tested. If you were trying to get really good data, everything would have to be much more rigorous and controlled … and we would never ever have gotten the data that we did. So as I remind people: consider the results to be *indicative*, not definitive. In other words, don’t try to read too much into variances of a few feet-per-second, or convince yourself that such minor differences really matter.
Hope that helps to give a little perspective.
Oh, and I can answer one of your questions: almost all the testing was done at an elevation of approximately 744′ above sea level, according to commercial GPS systems.
I think that’s pretty clear, but I want to emphasize one part of it: that if we had set out to provide really rigorous and statistically-significant data, the chances are that we would never have even gotten past the first test sequence. And that means there would be NO BBTI.
As it is, we have tested something in excess of 25,000 rounds over the last 7 years. At a personal cost of more than $50,000. And that doesn’t begin to include the amount of labor which has gone into the project. To get really solid data which was statistically significant, we probably would have needed to do at LEAST three or four times as many rounds fired. With three or four times the amount of time testing. And crunching the data. And cost out of pocket.
Which would have meant that we probably would never have gotten through a single test sequence.
So it’s a matter of perspective. Do you want some data which is reasonably solid, and gives a pretty good idea of what is going on with different cartridges over different barrel lengths? Or do you want very accurate, high rigorous data which would never have been produced?
Hmm … let me think about that … 😉
PS: We haven’t forgotten about the .45 Super/.450 SMC tests — it’s just been a busy summer. Look for it soon.
This is the third in a series of informal blog posts about the .45 ACP/Super/.450 SMC testing sequence we conducted over the Memorial Day weekend. You can find the previous posts here and here.
Today we’re going to look at the results out of a stock Beretta Cx4 Storm in (obviously) .45 ACP. I have previously reviewed the Cx4 Storm in .45 ACP for Guns.com, and it is a great little pistol caliber carbine with a 16.6″ barrel. Here is Keith shooting the one we used for this recent testing:
I want to re-iterate that the Cx4 was completely stock, with no modifications or additions whatsoever for these tests.
As I said with the previous posts about these tests, it’ll be a while before we have all the data crunched and the website updated, but I thought I would share some preliminary thoughts and information through a series of informal posts.
Quick note about the data below: All the ammo used, with the exception of the four * items, were part of our overall test sequence and had three shots made over the Oehler chronograph (which is a double-unit, and automatically records and then averages the two readings), representing a total of 6 data points. I’m just giving the overall averages here; the full data will be available on the website later. The four * ammunition types only include two shots/four data points through the Cx4. That’s because we only had one box of each of this ammo, and were wanting to get data which would be of the greatest use to the largest number of people.
Ammo Cx4 Storm
.45 ACP Low Recoil Std P 185gr FMJ-FN 997 fps / 408 ft-lbs
.45 ACP Std P 230gr FMJ-RN 933 fps / 444 ft-lbs
.45 ACP +P 185gr JHP 1361 fps / 760 ft-lbs
.45 ACP +P 230gr JHP 1124 fps / 645 ft-lbs
.45 Super 185gr JHP 1555 fps / 993 ft-lbs
.45 Super 200gr JHP 1428 fps / 905 ft-lbs
.45 Super 230gr FMJ 1267 fps / 819 ft-lbs
.45 Super 230gr JHP 1289 fps / 848 ft-lbs
.45 Super 255gr Hard Cast 1248 fps / 881 ft-lbs
.45 ACP +P 160gr Barnes TAC-XP 1315 fps / 614 ft-lbs
.450 SMC 185gr JHP 1618 fps / 1075 ft-lbs
.450 SMC 185gr Bonded Defense JHP 1556 fps / 994 ft-lbs
.450 SMC 230gr Bonded Defense JHP 1298 fps / 860 ft-lbs
Critical Defense .45 ACP Std P 185gr FTX 1161 fps / 553 ft-lbs
Critical Duty .45 ACP +P 220gr Flexlock 1018 fps / 506 ft-lbs
.45 Super 170gr CF 1421 fps / 762 ft-lbs
.45 Super 185gr XTP JHP 1578 fps / 1022 ft-lbs
.45 Super 230gr GD JHP 1264 fps / 815 ft-lbs
*Federal HST .45 ACP Std P 230gr JHP 882 fps / 397 ft-lbs
*G2 Research RIP .45 ACP Std P 162gr JHP 979 fps / 344 ft-lbs
*LeHigh Defense .45 Super 170gr JHP 1289 fps / 627 ft-lbs
*Liberty Civil Defense .45 ACP +P 78gr JHP 2180 fps / 822 ft-lbs
Something in particular I want to note: that in comparison to .45 ACP loads (whether standard pressure or +P), a number of the .45 Super/.450 SMC loads gain significantly more from the longer barrel. Compare these numbers to the previous posts of handguns, and you can see what I mean. You typically only gain about 10 – 15% in terms of velocity from the .45 ACP loads in going to a carbine — and this is very much in keeping with our previous testing of that cartridge. But you see upwards of a 30% gain in velocity out of some of the .45 Super/.450 SMC loads … and that translates to a 50% increase in muzzle energy!
A heavy, large projectile hitting with 900 – 1,000 foot-pounds of energy is nothing to sneeze at. Particularly when it comes with very little felt recoil out of this little carbine. That means you can get quick and accurate follow-up shots, which is always an advantage when hunting or using a gun for self/home defense.
As noted previously, we noticed no unusual wear on the Cx4 Storm, though a steady diet of such ammo could increase wear on the gun over time. And the Beretta didn’t have any problems whatsoever feeding, shooting, or ejecting any of the rounds. Where we had experienced some problems with the same ammo out of some of the handguns, there wasn’t a hiccup with the Cx4 Storm.
Look for more results, images, and thoughts in the days to come.
… to get all this brass cleaned:
Have a great weekend, everyone!
This is the second in a series of informal blog posts about the .45 ACP/Super/.450 SMC testing sequence we conducted over the Memorial Day weekend. You can find the previous post here.
Today we’re going to see what the results are for a couple of different high-end 1911 platform guns. The first is an Ed Brown Kobra Carry (reviewed here), a Commander-sized (4.25″ barrel) single stack designed as a concealed-carry gun. We made no modifications of it for the more powerful loads. Here it is during our testing:
The second is a Wilson Combat Hunter set up for the .460 Rowland cartridge with a 5.5″ barrel. Here’s my review of it, and here it is on the day of testing:
As I said with the other two posts about these tests, it’ll be a while before we have all the data crunched and the website updated, but I thought I would share some preliminary thoughts and information through a series of informal posts.
Quick note about the data below: All the ammo used, with the exception of the four * items, were part of our overall test sequence and had three shots made over the Oehler chronograph (which is a double-unit, and automatically records and then averages the two readings), representing a total of 6 data points. I’m just giving the overall averages here; the full data will be available on the website later. The four * ammunition types only include two shots/four data points through the Ed Brown Kobra Carry, since it is a typical length for a self-defense gun. That’s because we only had one box of each of this ammo, and were wanting to get data which would be of the greatest use to the largest number of people.
Ammo Ed Brown Kobra Carry Wilson Combat Hunter
.45 ACP Low Recoil Std P 185gr FMJ-FN 798 fps / 261 ft-lbs 791 fps / 256 ft-lbs
.45 ACP Std P 230gr FMJ-RN 811 fps / 335 ft-lbs 819 fps / 342 ft-lbs
.45 ACP +P 185gr JHP 1130 fps / 524 ft-lbs 1139 fps / 532 ft-lbs
.45 ACP +P 230gr JHP 952 fps / 462 ft-lbs 970 fps / 480 ft-lbs
.45 Super 185gr JHP 1257 fps / 648 ft-lbs 1312 fps / 706 ft-lbs
.45 Super 200gr JHP 1175 fps / 613 ft-lbs 1216 fps / 656 ft-lbs
.45 Super 230gr FMJ 1067 fps / 581 ft-lbs 1105 fps / 623 ft-lbs
.45 Super 230gr JHP 1084 fps / 600 ft-lbs 1109 fps / 627 ft-lbs
.45 Super 255gr Hard Cast 1061 fps / 637 ft-lbs 1074 fps / 653 ft-lbs
.45 ACP +P 160gr Barnes TAC-XP 1121 fps / 446 ft-lbs 1162 fps / 479 ft-lbs
.450 SMC 185gr JHP 1310 fps / 704 ft-lbs 1350 fps / 748 ft-lbs
.450 SMC 185gr Bonded Defense JHP 1254 fps / 645 ft-lbs 1294 fps / 687 ft-lbs
.450 SMC 230gr Bonded Defense JHP 1103 fps / 621 ft-lbs 1108 fps / 626 ft-lbs
Critical Defense .45 ACP Std P 185gr FTX 969 fps / 385 ft-lbs 976 fps / 391 ft-lbs
Critical Duty .45 ACP +P 220gr Flexlock 932 fps / 424 ft-lbs 936 fps / 427 ft-lbs
.45 Super 170gr CF 1249 fps / 588 ft-lbs 1259 fps / 598 ft-lbs
.45 Super 185gr XTP JHP 1285 fps / 678 ft-lbs 1339 fps / 736 ft-lbs
.45 Super 230gr GD JHP 1071 fps / 585 ft-lbs 1099 fps / 616 ft-lbs
*Federal HST .45 ACP Std P 230gr JHP 815 fps / 339 ft-lbs
*G2 Research RIP .45 ACP Std P 162gr JHP 961 fps / 332 ft-lbs
*LeHigh Defense .45 Super 170gr JHP 1165 fps / 512 ft-lbs
*Liberty Civil Defense .45 ACP +P 78gr JHP 1843 fps / 588 ft-lbs
As with the other guns I’ve posted about, the general trends are pretty clear with the power rising as you go from standard pressure to +P to Super/.450 SMC, and topping out at about 750 foot-pounds of energy in a couple of loads. And it is interesting to note that the 185gr loads seem to be the “sweet spot” in terms of power across the board.
Of course, pure power is just one component for what makes a good ammunition choice. Bullet design & penetration is extremely important when considering a self-defense load. Shootability in your gun is also critical — because if you can’t recover quickly from shot to shot, then you may limit your ability in a stressful situation. Likewise, if the ammo doesn’t function reliably, or damages your gun, that is also a huge factor.
Most of the ammo we tested functioned very well in both 1911 platforms. Interestingly, while we had experienced FTFs (failure-to-fire) with a number of the different Double-Tap rounds in both the Bobergs and the Glocks, we didn’t experience any such problems with either 1911.
The larger platform of the Wilson Combat Hunter handled the recoil very well, even from the hottest loads. Recoil was a little more noticeable with the Ed Brown, but only by a slight amount. As I noted with the Glock 21 converted for the .460 Rowland, I was impressed that The Wilson Combat Hunter didn’t have any problems cycling even the lightest loads reliably.
Another note: we were unable to detect any damage or unusual wear to either gun, though it is possible a steady diet of loads of that power could cause some over the long term.
Lastly, I ran some .460 Rowland Buffalo Bore 230gr JHP cartridges through the Wilson Combat Hunter, since we had only had one type of ammo for that gun when we did the .460 Rowland tests. That had been Cor-Bon Hunter 230gr JHP. The Cor-Bon tested at 1213 fps / 751 ft-lbs, and the Buffalo Bore tested at 1349 fps / 929 ft-lbs of energy.
Look for more results, images, and thoughts in the days to come.
This is the first in a series of informal blog posts about the .45 ACP/Super/.450 SMC testing sequence we conducted over the Memorial Day weekend.
Here’s a pic of getting set the first day of shooting:
It’ll be a while before we have all the data crunched and the website updated, but I thought I would share some preliminary thoughts and information through a series of informal posts. In this post, we’ll see how two different versions of a Gen 4 Glock 21 performed with the ammo. The first version was with the Glock in the standard .45 ACP configuration, the second was with my .460 Rowland conversion kit in place.
The standard configuration has a 4.61″ octagonal polygonal rifling, while the conversion barrel is 5.2″ overall with conventional rifling, threaded, and with a compensator. The .460 conversion also has a heavier recoil spring.
Quick note about the data below: All the ammo used, with the exception of the four * items, were part of our overall test sequence and had three shots made over the Oehler chronograph (which is a double-unit, and automatically records and then averages the two readings), representing a total of 6 data points. I’m just giving the overall averages here; the full data will be available on the website later. The four * ammunition types only include two shots/four data points through the standard Glock 21 configuration — we only had one box of each of this ammo, and were wanting to get data from a range of guns.
Ammo Glock 21 Standard Glock 21 .460 Rowland
.45 ACP Low Recoil Std P 185gr FMJ-FN 801 fps / 263 ft-lbs 792 fps / 257 ft-lbs
.45 ACP Std P 230gr FMJ-RN 829 fps / 350 ft-lbs 826 fps / 348 ft-lbs
.45 ACP +P 185gr JHP 1132 fps / 526 ft-lbs 1168 fps / 560 ft-lbs
.45 ACP +P 230gr JHP 951 fps / 461 ft-lbs 974 fps / 484 ft-lbs
.45 Super 185gr JHP 1279 fps / 671 ft-lbs 1299 fps / 693 ft-lbs
.45 Super 200gr JHP 1178 fps / 616 ft-lbs 1203 fps / 642 ft-lbs
.45 Super 230gr FMJ 1069 fps / 583 ft-lbs 1085 fps / 601 ft-lbs
.45 Super 230gr JHP 1094 fps / 611 ft-lbs 1116 fps / 635 ft-lbs
.45 Super 255gr Hard Cast 1063 fps / 639 ft-lbs 1061 fps / 637 ft-lbs
.45 ACP +P 160gr Barnes TAC-XP 1103 fps / 432 ft-lbs 1103 fps / 432 ft-lbs
.450 SMC 185gr JHP 1328 fps / 724 ft-lbs 1351 fps / 749 ft-lbs
.450 SMC 185gr Bonded Defense JHP 1301 fps / 695 ft-lbs 1314 fps / 709 ft-lbs
.450 SMC 230gr Bonded Defense JHP 1097 fps / 614 ft-lbs 1132 fps / 654 ft-lbs
Critical Defense .45 ACP Std P 185gr FTX 984 fps / 397 ft-lbs 979 fps / 393 ft-lbs
Critical Duty .45 ACP +P 220gr Flexlock 945 fps / 436 ft-lbs 943 fps / 434 ft-lbs
.45 Super 170gr CF 1239 fps / 579 ft-lbs 1253 fps / 592 ft-lbs
.45 Super 185gr XTP JHP 1329 fps / 725 ft-lbs 1348 fps / 746 ft-lbs
.45 Super 230gr GD JHP 1075 fps / 590 ft-lbs 1081 fps / 596 ft-lbs
*Federal HST .45 ACP Std P 230gr JHP 813 fps / 337 ft-lbs
*G2 Research RIP .45 ACP Std P 162gr JHP 942 fps / 319 ft-lbs
*LeHigh Defense .45 Super 170gr JHP 1146 fps / 495 ft-lbs
*Liberty Civil Defense .45 ACP +P 78gr JHP 1768 fps / 580 ft-lbs
The general trends are pretty clear with the power rising as you go from standard pressure to +P to Super/.450 SMC, and topping out at about 750 foot-pounds of energy in a couple of loads. And it is interesting to note that the 185gr loads seem to be the “sweet spot” in terms of power across the board.
Of course, pure power is just one component for what makes a good ammunition choice. Bullet design & penetration is extremely important when considering a self-defense load. Shootability in your gun is also critical — because if you can’t recover quickly from shot to shot, then you may limit your ability in a stressful situation. Likewise, if the ammo doesn’t function reliably, or damages your gun, that is also a huge factor.
Most of the ammo we tested functioned very well in the Glock in either configuration. This isn’t surprising to anyone who has much familiarity with Glocks which typically will handle just about any ammo under all conditions. We did experience FTFs (failure-to-fire) with a number of the different Double-Tap rounds. Those seemed to have been due to light strikes on the primer, which could have been due to improper primer seating, ‘hard’ primers, or some other factor.
The larger platform of the Glock 21 handled the recoil very well, even from the hottest loads. I was impressed that even with the .460 Rowland conversion in place, with the additional weight of the compensator and the heavy recoil spring, the Glock didn’t have any problems cycling even the lightest loads reliably.
One other note: as discussed in my blog post about the .460 Rowland conversion, full-power .460 Rowland loads tend to cause damage to the magazines. As far as we could tell, the same isn’t true of the full-power .45 Super/.450 SMC loads. Just one magazine (a new one) was used for all these tests, and there was no detectable damage. Nor was there any other damage detected to the gun otherwise, though it is possible a steady diet of loads of that power could cause some over the long term.
Look for more results, images, and thoughts in the days to come.
With a little luck in about two months we’ll be doing the formal chop tests of .45 Super, .450 SMC, and some additional .45 ACP loads. We’ve now got all the ammo on hand, and it’ll be a fun (but tiring) weekend. I thought I would share what actual ammo we will be testing, with the manufacturer’s velocity data:
45acp Low Recoil Std P 185gr FMJ-FN 850fps
45acp Std P 230gr FMJ-RN 850fps
45acp +P 185gr JHP 1150fps
45acp +P 230gr JHP 950fps
45 Super 185gr JHP 1300fps
45 Super 200gr JHP 1200fps
45 Super 230gr FMJ 1100fps
45 Super 230gr JHP 1100fps
45 Super 255gr Hard Cast 1075fps
45acp +P 160gr Barnes TAC-XP 1200fps from 5” 1075fps from 3.5”
450 SMC 185gr JHP 1310fps from 5” 1911
450 SMC 185gr Bonded Defense JHP 1310fps from 5” 1911
450 SMC 230gr Bonded Defense JHP 1135fps from 5” 1911
Critical Defense 45acp Std P 185gr FTX Muzzle 1000fps
Critical Duty 45acp +P 220gr Flexlock Muzzle 941fps
45 Super 170gr CF 1250fps
45 Super 185gr XTP JHP 1300fps
45 Super 230gr GD JHP 1100fps
In addition to the first data for both the .45 Super and .450 SMC cartridges, this will also almost double the number of .45 ACP loads we’ve tested. We’re looking forward to it!
…whether back over 2014, or forward into 2015, things are pretty good vis-a-vis BBTI.
Yeah, 2014 was pretty good. We didn’t do any formal testing, though I did some informal testing and a fair number of reviews of new guns or guns which were just new to me. Having the chance to do those now and again is enjoyable, without having the same deadline pressures I had when I was doing regular columns and reviews for Guns.com.
The numbers also look pretty good for 2014. This blog went from about 12,000 visits in 2013 to 22,000 last year – nearly double. And the BBTI site itself jumped from 243,230 visitors in 2013 to 318,304 visitors in 2014 — an increase of about a third. Visits have also continued to climb pretty steadily from day-to-day, with typically about 1,250 or so daily by the end of the year. Given that we didn’t do any new testing, that’s pretty impressive.
And of course, we’d like to thank all who linked to us over the past year. Here’s the top ten referring sites for 2014, excluding search engines and Wikipedia:
How about the year to come, then?
Well, we’re planning on doing one largish series of tests, to cover .45 Super, .450 SMC, and a number of additional .45 ACP loadings. We haven’t yet set a date for this sequence, but I will post a note about it here and on our Facebook page once plans solidify.
And behind the scenes, improvements continue at the BBTI website. We recently upgraded our hosting set-up, to shift over to more modern software technology. We’ve started discussing how we can do better presentations of our graphs and spreadsheets. I would still very much like to work with someone to develop a mobile app — if you have the necessary skill set to do that, please drop me a note. And whenever someone finds a glitch in our data or how the site renders for them, we try and make the corrections. None of this is very obvious, but it is all a lot of work, and I’d like to once again thank our web guru (and my lovely wife) at Coeurbois Graphic Design for her efforts.
Lastly, thanks to all who use the site regularly, who cite us in online discussions, who help to spread the word. And especially, I would like to thank all who have donated to BBTI in the last year — your tangible contributions make a difference, and help to offset our ongoing costs.
Happy New Year!
As Frank said on Facebook this afternoon:
I knew when you got the 45 you wanted the 9mm too. It was only a matter of time.
Guilty as charged. Look what followed me home today:
Yup, a Boberg XR9-S: a new little brother for my XR45-S. As I did in that post, I thought I’d put up some comparison pix to give a sense of just how small this gun is, even though it really doesn’t feel like it when you hold it or shoot it.
Here it is again with the XR45:
And here’s the view that shows the thickness of both:
Yeah, there’s a difference. Here’s the XR9 with a Springfield EMP (also 9mm, 3″ barrel – the XR9 has a 3.35″ barrel):
And with my J-frame in .38 Special:
For grins, here it is on top of the J-frame:
OK, but how about in comparison to the classic premium pocket 9mm, the Rohrbaugh R9? Here ya go:
The R9 *is* a fantastic little gun, and I love it. I don’t love shooting it, though. The XR9 wins in that category. It will also handle +P ammo and holds one more round (7+1) than the Rohrbaugh. But it is a bit bigger:
Lastly, here it is with a Bond Arms derringer — a great little gun, with a variety of different barrels available. But there’s still just two shots in the derringer, and it actually weighs about 3 ounces more.
While I have shot this gun (it belonged to a good friend), and know it to be dependable, I do still want to make sure that it will be able to reliably digest my preferred SD loads. So more on that to come!
Over the weekend I posted about picking up my new Boberg XR45-S. This afternoon I took it out for a first “getting to know you” session. More about that in a moment.
First, I want to share a couple of things I discovered in getting the Boberg out of the box, taken apart, and cleaned. This wasn’t strictly necessary, of course, because it came from the factory properly cleaned and lubed. But I’m very much a hands-on learner, and wanted to see what I was dealing with.
The gun is very user-friendly. To take it down for field stripping, you just rack the slide back, turn a lever, then move the slide forward. You don’t need any special tools, or an extra hand, or the strength of the pure. In that sense, it is very much in the modern design, as easy as a Glock. BUT without the need to dry-fire the gun first (which always makes me twitch, and may be the only thing I really dislike about the Glock design.)
Once the slide comes away from the frame, there are only 4 parts which come apart (other than the slide itself). There are no little fiddly bits to get lost or to spring out of sight when you’re not looking. You don’t have to disassemble the gun in a paper bag so that you don’t lose anything. It’s easy, obvious, and once you’ve done it following the owner’s manual, I doubt you’ll ever need to refer to the manual again. You can’t ask for more than that.
So, dis-assembly, cleaning, and re-assembly is all a breeze. Nice!
Having done so, I went through my box of misc. holsters to see what the Boberg might fit into. Because the XR45 is so new there are damned few holster-makers out there who have a holster listed to fit it. And I discovered something VERY interesting: the slide has almost the exact same dimensions as the Glock 21 (and similar Glock models). I first found this out in trying it in this little plastic holster: Glock Sport Combat Holster. I got out my calipers and did some measuring, and found that there was less than a millimeter difference in the width of the slide on the Glock 21 and the Boberg. They also have very similar profiles. And if you measure from the deepest pocket on the backstrap of either gun (where the web of your hand settles in) to the front of the trigger guard, there is less than 2 millimeters difference. Meaning that the Boberg fits almost perfectly into an open-muzzle holster for a Glock 21. Good to know!
OK, so what about going out shooting with the Boberg today?
Overall, I was very happy with how it performed on a first outing. I had a couple of minor glitches with improper feeding and ejection, but I am going to hold off on making any decisions about that until I give it at least another range session to break in. It does seem to fling spent cases somewhere into the next county, and I’m going to have to get used to that since I like to recover those cases and reload them. My very mild reloads wouldn’t cycle properly (the ones I took out are *really* mild), so I learned to take somewhat hotter loads. And the trigger is really l o n g … longer than either J-frame I own, and about like the little DAO Rohrbaugh I have. The gun seems to shoot a little to the left for me, but I won’t adjust the sights until I’m more familiar with it. Even so, I was able to consistently ding a 6″ spinner at 10 yards, which is all I expect from a pocket pistol.
How did it handle the different ammos I tried? Quite well, all in all.
I took my Glock 21 (5″ barrel) along for comparison, and shot over a single chronograph. Here are the average numbers:
Glock 21 Boberg
CorBon DPX 185gr +P 1060FPS 1030FPS
Winchester SXZ Training 230gr 850FPS 795FPS
Speer GDHP 230gr 840FPS 760FPS
CorBon JHP 230gr +P 980FPS 900FPS
The CorBon ammo is in line with what we tested formally. So that was good to see.
All together, I put about 100 rounds through the Boberg this afternoon, and wasn’t experiencing any real soreness or tiredness from all that shooting, which is unusual for such a small gun and full power loads. And just for comparison, I shot my .38Sp J-frame with 158gr LSWCHP +P from Buffalo Bore, which is my preferred SD loading for that gun, and the recoil was worse than with the Boberg. That’s for a ME comparison of 386 ft/lbs for the J-frame to 436 ft/labs for the Boberg with the 185gr CorBon loading.
So, that’s that. Already, the Boberg is equal to the J-frame, in my eyes. I shoot it as well. It has the same, or greater, amount of power. Reloading is faster. And it holds 6+1 to start. I still want to put it through its paces before I trust it as a carry gun, and there will be times when I still prefer to have the revolver, but already I can see that the Boberg is going to be a very nice addition to my collection.
More to come.
I’ve written about the innovative Boberg Arms XR9 previously. Here’s the take-away from my review:
This gun is a winner. It is well designed, and well made. The innovative design makes your brain hurt when you first see it. But the recoil is nothing like what you get from any other “pocket gun”, even when shooting full +P defensive ammunition. Usually with a pocket gun, you trade off the pain of shooting it a lot for the convenience of being able to carry it easily. With the Boberg, you don’t have to make that trade-off. I honestly wouldn’t be bothered at all by running a couple hundred rounds through this gun at the range.
Well, guess what followed me home today.
No, not an XR9. Something a little … bigger:
Yup, one of the new XR45s.
Here’s a pic of one from my outing with the other BBTI guys a few weeks ago:
It’s a little hard to tell how big the gun is in that pic. Here it is with some others:
Starting in the upper left corner and going clockwise, those are: A Steyr S9 in 9mm, a Springfield EMP in 9mm, the Boberg XR45 in .45ACP, and a S&W J-frame in .38sp.
Here’s the Boberg back to back with the Steyr:
With the EMP:
And with the J-frame:
And just for grins, here’s the Boberg with the J-frame sitting right on top of it:
Yeah, the 6+1 Boberg is actually smaller than the three other compact pistols. And it has a longer barrel than all three — 3.75″ on the Boberg, compared to 3.5″ in the Steyr, 3.0″ in the EMP, and 1.875″ on the J-frame.
How does it do this? Because of the innovative … some would say just plain weird … way the feed mechanism works. For the best explanation, take a look at the animation on the Boberg homepage, but basically as the slide comes back, it grabs a new cartridge out of the magazine by the rim and then positions it into the chamber. Yeah, you put the bullets in the magazine nose first. Like this:
And here’s a detail of the top of the loaded mag:
It takes some getting used to, I admit.
Now, while the Boberg is actually smaller in overall size than the other guns, it still has some heft to it: 22 ounces, as opposed to both the Steyr and the EMP at 26. The J-frame shown is a Model M&P 360 with the Scandium frame, so it comes in under 14 ounces. All of those are unloaded weight.
How does it shoot? Like this:
“Not bad at all.”
That was with .45 ACP+P high-end self-defense rounds.
Since I just got mine, it will take a while to find out all the little quirks that it has. But based on shooting one a few weeks ago, and in a much longer session with the 9mm version, I have little doubt that I will be very pleased with it. I’ve already poked around my selection of holsters, and found that the XR45 fits perfectly into a little belt slide holster I have for my Glock 21 Gen 4, as well as into a Mika Pocket Holster I use for the J-frame.