Ballistics by the inch

Four .380 CCW guns compared.

Had a chance to get out in the cool and do some head-to-head comparisons of four different .380 ACP pistols. Here they are:

All 4

From left to right: Remington RM380, Rohrbaugh R380, Glock 42, and Sig Sauer P238.

I’m going to discuss the RM380 and the R380 together, since the first is the latest version of the latter. See, Rohrbaugh was sold to Remington about a year ago, and shortly thereafter Remington began to tweak the design of the R380 a bit, which I think was mostly an improvement.

The original Rohrbaugh was designed to be the perfect pocket pistol, with smooth edges in a *very* compact yet ergonomically-friendly package. And as my original review indicates, I thought it was a great gun.


The new RM380 is essentially the same design. They’ve changed the mag release from the European-style butt plate to a conventional side-button. They’ve given the grips more texture which make it easier to hold onto (many people who owned a Rohrbaugh added either a slip-on grip or some grip tape to accomplish the same thing). And they’ve added a slight beaver-tail to help keep the external DA hammer from pinching the web of the hand. They’ve made it so the slide locks back after the last round in the mag is fired. And they’ve made an additional magazine with a small extension which makes it even easier to shoot the gun. In my opinion, these are all improvements.

Changes which aren’t improvements? Well, the gun is lighter, at about 12.2 ounces (the Rohrbaugh was 13.5), and that contributed to increased felt recoil. The fit & finish are not nearly as nice as the R380. But then again, the Remington now costs about 1/3 what the original Rohrbaugh did.

Both guns have very basic sights. They are not guns to take to a competition at 25 yards. But both of them would pop 6″ spinners consistently at 7 yards. Both operated reliably, though I was just using hardball ammo — you’d want to select your preferred SD load and make sure that it shot out of your gun consistently and reliably.

The trigger on the Remington was still a VERY long pull. First time I shot it, I thought it was even worse than the Rohrbaugh in that regard. But after going back and forth between the two, I think it just felt longer, because in addition to being long it was fairly gritty and rough. That might clean up over time (this gun had less than 100 rounds through it), but it was noticeably worse than the Rohrbaugh.

I’ve done a brief review of the Glock 42 previously. What I said then still stands:

Comments: I did not expect to like this gun. I was REALLY surprised when I did. Seriously, it is the best-shooting Glock I’ve ever handled. For such a small gun, it fit my large hands comfortably and was easy to shoot well. With Glock quality and reliability, this may be the first .380acp I would seriously consider as a CCW gun.

I had done a previous review of the P238 with the classic 1911-style grips, which can be found here. This one was brand-new … literally, it had just been picked up at the store and then brought out to the range. And it has the Hogue-style grips and the finger extension on the mag, which I really liked.

Sig 238

The large front fiber optic sight made target acquisition fast and easy. The grips fit my large hands very well, and made it easy to shoot the gun accurately.

So, how did the four guns feel, shooting them head-to-head?

Jim and Sig

OK, a couple of notes first. We shot Remington UMC 95gr hardball ammo. We loaded up 6 rounds into each mag, then shot first one gun, then another, then another, then another. We mixed up the order of which followed which. And we shot at both 7 yards and 10 yards.

My personal preference for shooting? This order, with notes:

  1. Sig P238. Had the least perceived recoil and greatest accuracy. For fast, multiple hits it was great, getting back on target with minimal fuss. Very crisp and clean trigger.
  2. Glock 42. Slight sting from the recoil, accuracy almost as good as the Sig. Again, getting back on target was fast and easy. Trigger not as good as the Sig, but familiar to anyone who knows how any other Glock shoots.
  3. Remington RM380. The worst recoil of all four guns, but the improvements to the grips and the mag extension really make a difference for accuracy. The long, rough trigger almost moved this to #4.
  4. Rohrbaugh R380. The least accurate and the most difficult to get back on target for follow-up shots.

Now, I want to stress that all four guns were adequately accurate at 7 yards. Shooting fast, I could get at least 5 out of 6 within about a 12″ circle, and hit at least one or two hits on a 6″ spinner. Consistently. Since I don’t own any of these guns, I would expect that I could improve on that with practice. Of course, most Self Defense ammo is usually hotter, and would present more of a problem for recoil and target re-acquisition. But I still think all four guns would perform well.

That’s how I would rank the guns for shooting. But that isn’t the only factor in considering a gun for concealed-carry.

As I noted in my review, I don’t like having a “cocked & locked” pistol in my pocket. And if I’m going to have a CCW weapon in a holster, then I might as well step up to a full 9mm as opposed to a .380. So that’s a big strike against the P238 in my book, as nice a gun as I actually found it to be.

It also depends on exactly what you want out of your minimal CCW gun. Do you want the lightest? The thinnest? The smoothest? Or does shoot-ability matter more?

It’s a matter of personal preference. I think that I would rank my selection for concealed carry this way, with some brief explanation for each:

  1. Remington RM380. A really good choice for a light, thin, pocket pistol intended to be used as either a back-up or deep cover gun. But I’d spend some time working on smoothing out that trigger.
  2. Glock 42. Not as small or as light as the RM380. But much better sights, and a most stable platform in my hands. Meaning that I would consider it as a primary CCW, not just as a back-up.
  3. Rohrbaugh R380. Weighs about what the Glock does, but is the smallest/thinnest of all four.
  4. Sig P238. A great shooter. And if you’re willing to carry it cocked & locked in your pocket, then I can easily see how this could be anyone’s first choice. But for me, I’d want it in a belt holster (or shoulder rig), and that’s a big disadvantage — I might as well carry a much more powerful gun.

But hey, that’s just my calculation. Feel free to weigh in with your own.


Jim Downey


December 17, 2015 Posted by | .380 ACP, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Velocity is great, but mass penetrates.

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:

E_\text{k} =\tfrac{1}{2} mv^2

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.

OK then.

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.

Jim Downey

November 8, 2015 Posted by | .45 ACP, Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dealing with power.

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.

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.


Jim Downey



November 1, 2015 Posted by | .45 ACP, .45 Super, .450 SMC, .460 Rowland, Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

.45 Super data now published.

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.


Jim Downey

October 30, 2015 Posted by | .45 ACP, .45 Super, .450 SMC, .460 Rowland, Data, Discussion., General Procedures | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Does primer size make a difference?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


Jim Downey

*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.

October 21, 2015 Posted by | .45 ACP, .45 Super, .450 SMC, .460 Rowland, Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., General Procedures | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

The illusion of precision.

Got an email which is another aspect of the problem I wrote about recently. The author was asking that we get more fine-grained in our data, by making measurements of barrel lengths by one-eighth and one-quarter inch increments. Here’s a couple of relevant excerpts:

what more is really needed, is barrel lengths between 1-7/8 and 4-1/2″.
because of the proliferation of CCW and pocket pistols, and unresolved
questions about short barrel lengths that go all over between 2 and 3.75″,
and snubby revolvers that may be even shorter.

* * *

with that amount of precision, not only would you have data covering all
lengths of short barrels, but you could fabricate mathematical curves that
would predict velocities for any possible barrel length, metric or
otherwise, given the particular ammo.


It’s not an unreasonable thought, on the surface. Our data clearly shows that the largest gains in bullet velocity always come in length increases of very short barrels for all cartridges/calibers. So why not document the changes between, say, a 4.48″ barrel and a 4.01″ one? That’s the actual difference between a Glock 17 and a Glock 19, both very popular guns which are in 9mm. Or between a S&W Model 60 with a 2.125″ barrel and a S&W Model 360PD with a 1.875″ barrel?

Ideally, it’d be great to know whether that half or quarter inch difference was really worth it, when taking into consideration all the other factors in choosing a personal defense handgun.

The problem is that there are just too many different variables which factor into trying to get really reliable information on that scale.

Oh, if we wanted to, we could do these kinds of tests, and come up with some precise numbers, and publish those numbers. But it would be the illusion of precision, not actually useful data. That’s because of the limits of what we can accurately measure and trust, as well as the normal variations which occur in the manufacturing process … of the guns tested; of the ammunition used; of the chronograph doing the measurements; even, yes, changes in ambient temperature and barometric pressure.

That’s because while modern manufacturing is generally very, very good, nothing is perfect. Changes in tolerance in making barrels can lead to variation from one gun to the next. Changes in tolerance in measuring the amount of gunpowder which goes into each cartridge (as well as how tight the crimp is, or even tweaks in making the gunpowder itself) mean that no two batches of ammunition are exactly alike. And variations in making chronographs — from the sensors used, to slight differences in positioning, to glitches in the software which operate them — mean that your chronograph and mine might not agree on even the velocity of a bullet they both measure.

All of those little variations add up. Sometimes they will compound a problem in measuring. Sometimes they will cancel one another out. But there’s no way to know which it is.

This is why we’ve always said to consider our data as being indicative, not definitive. Use it to get a general idea of where your given choice of firearm will perform in terms of bullet velocity. Take a look at general performance you can expect from a brand or line of ammunition. Compare how this or that particular cartridge/caliber does versus another one you are considering.

But keep in mind that there’s no one perfect combination. You’re always going to be trading off a bunch of different factors in choosing a self-defense tool.

And never, ever forget that what matters most — FAR AND ABOVE your choice of gun or ammunition — is whether or not you can use your firearm accurately and reliably when you need to. Practice and training matters much more than whether or not you get an extra 25, or 100, or even 500 fps velocity out of whatever bullet is traveling downrange. Because if you can’t reliably hit your target under stress, no amount of muzzle energy is going to do you a damn bit of good.


Jim Downey

If you want more information about how accuracy and precision can be problematic, this Wikipedia entry is a good place to start.

September 6, 2015 Posted by | .357 Magnum, .38 Special, 9mm Luger (9x19), Data, Discussion., General Procedures | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ammo test results for a pair of 1911s

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:

Ed Brown

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:

Wilson hunter

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

      Buffalo Bore

.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

      Double Tap

.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.

Jim Downey

June 9, 2015 Posted by | .45 Colt, .45 Super, .450 SMC, .460 Rowland, Data, Discussion., General Procedures | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ammo test results in two versions of the Glock 21

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:

getting set

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

      Buffalo Bore

.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

      Double Tap

.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.

Jim Downey

June 1, 2015 Posted by | .45 ACP, .45 Super, .450 SMC, .460 Rowland, Data, Discussion., General Procedures | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

First date with the Boberg XR45-S

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.

Jim Downey

December 8, 2014 Posted by | .38 Special, .45 ACP, Boberg Arms, Discussion., General Procedures | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Boberg XR45

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:

all 4

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 S9

With the EMP:

with EMP

And with the J-frame:

with j-frame

And just for grins, here’s the Boberg with the J-frame sitting right on top of it:

on top

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:

with mag

And here’s a detail of the top of the loaded mag:

mag loaded

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.

Jim Downey

December 6, 2014 Posted by | .38 Special, .45 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19) | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

And now for some newer guns.

Last week I posted about some historical reproductions. Now let’s have a quick overview of some newer guns we got to try on the same trip to the range. I’ll include some *very* brief comments, and may return to do longer reviews later when I have some additional time.

First up, the USFA ZiP .22LR, shown with 25-round mag for additional grip purchase:

Comments: Ugh. I hated this gun. Seriously. It’s awkward to hold, worse to shoot, all sharp angles and weirdly thick. It’s the kind of ugly that isn’t even interesting. The design requires you to put your hand right up close to the muzzle to cycle the action. Since it was brand new, I’ll forgive it having problems cycling properly (this is fairly common with rim-fire guns which are brand new), but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to have to shoot it enough to break it in.

Bottom line: if someone insisted on giving me one of these, I’d just turn around and sell it to use the money for almost any other purpose.


Next, the Excel Arms MP-22 .22mag Accelerator:




Comments: Nice gun. Shot very well, and the 8.5″ barrel is sufficiently long to get some benefit out of the .22WMR cartridge.  The heavy bull barrel also does a good job of taming the recoil and muzzle-flip, as can be seen in this vid:


Next, the SIG 232 .380acp:




Comments: SIG SAUER’s version of the classic PPK. Just what you’d expect: quality, accurate, easy to shoot for even someone with large hands, as can be seen in this image of my buddy who has even larger hands than I do:




Next, the Glock 42 .380acp:




Comments: I did not expect to like this gun. I was REALLY surprised when I did. Seriously, it is the best-shooting Glock I’ve ever handled. For such a small gun, it fit my large hands comfortably and was easy to shoot well. With Glock quality and reliability, this may be the first .380acp I would seriously consider as a CCW gun.


Next, the Kimber Solo Carry 9mm:




And here’s a vid of shooting it:


Comments: Kimber quality. Lot of power in a small package, and I felt it in the web between thumb and forefinger of my dominant hand. But that was just a sting, not uncomfortable, even shooting premium SD ammo. Another good candidate for CCW.


And here’s a quick look at an old classic: Winchester Model 70 XTR Featherweight in 6.5 Swedish (6.5mm x 55mm)




Comments: Like I said, a classic. And as such, a known quantity. But the first time I’ve shot one in 6.5 Swede, and I was pleasantly surprised by how little recoil there was.

Well, that’s all that I have images of, though we also shot a Chiappa M1-22 and a KelTec PMR-30 .22 mag. Again, both are known quantities and shot as expected. Oh, and my buddy gave my Steyr S9 a go, and you can see that vid here.

As noted, I may revisit any of these with a longer review sometime later, but don’t hold your breath.


Jim Downey


August 26, 2014 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, .380 ACP, 6.5 Swedish, 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Perceived recoil and bullet weight.

Got a great question recently, and I thought I would share some of my thoughts about it, then invite others to weigh in. Here’s the question:

I hope that you folks can help me with a question I have had for many years now. Why is the recoil so much heavier with lighter bullets in the same caliber and powder loadings than heavier bullets of the same caliber and loadings?

For example. With my S&W model 60, Gold Dot L/E 38 special 135 grain JHP +P loads recoil much harder than the Remington 125 grain JHP +P loads. The same thing happens with my Glock mod 23 .40cal when I shoot 180 grain JHP rounds vs 165 grain JHP rounds. The 165 grain rounds recoil much harder. One would think the heavier round with the same powder load would recoil harder. Can you help?

Perceived recoil is a surprisingly complex problem. It’s not just a matter of total force, but the ‘shape’ of the recoil impulse as well. Then there are the ergonomics of how a particular gun fits a particular person/hand. Add in the mechanical action of how the gun operates (some use part of the recoil energy to cycle the action, some don’t), and various psychological/physiological factors (are you tired? just had an adrenaline dump? afraid of a given gun/caliber/cartridge?), and you can see how many different factors might come into play.

A good place to start is to look at the equation for Muzzle Energy (ME). Let’s use the numbers for the Steyr M40 (very similar to your Glock 23) which was one of the ‘real world’ guns used in the .40 S&W tests we did. Calculations are from Airhog.

The 165gr Federal Hydra-Shok JHP has a velocity of 943fps out of the 4″ barrel. That gives a Muzzle Energy of 325.88ft-lbs.
The 180gr Federal Hydra-Shok JHP has a velocity of 989fps out of the 4″ barrel. That gives a Muzzle Energy of 391.04ft-lbs.

OK, that would seem to indicate that the heavier bullet should cause more recoil. The ME is higher, and you’re shooting them out of the same gun.

But I’m a little wary of that example. Usually, a lighter bullet is faster than a heavier one if they have the similar powder charge, out of barrels of the same length. Here’s another example, looking at 9mm from a Beretta 92.

The Cor-Bon 90gr JHP +P has a velocity of 1522 out of the 4.875″ barrel. That gives a Muzzle Energy of 463.05ft-lbs.
The Cor-Bon 125gr JHP +P has a velocity of 1291 out of the 4.875″ barrel. That gives a Muzzle Energy of 462.72ft-lbs.

And those are very close to the same amount of ME, and should feel about the same in terms of recoil were that the only factor.

So what’s going on? Why do we see one instance where the ammo is just a bit faster in the heavier bullet (resulting in higher ME), but much slower in another instance?

I suspect that it’s probably due to differences in loadings between the different ammo. Even with ammo from the same manufacturer (in the examples above), there’s nothing saying that they are using either the same propellant OR similar amounts of the same propellant for loadings which use different bullet weights. That means that trying to generalize the amount of recoil between different bullet weights just on the basis of brand is difficult if not impossible.

Furthermore, if you’ve done any reloading, or spend some time looking over reloading data, you’ll know that even when you’re using the same propellant in the same cases, different bullet weights usually means different bullets (in terms of manufacturer and/or shape) resulting in different seating depths and overall length. It may seem to be a trivial matter, but this results in different pressure profiles (the amount of pressure within the firing chamber of the gun). Just one example, taken from the Hodgdon Reloading site, for maximum-pressure loads using  GDHPs:

The 90gr bullet with 7.0gr of Longshot powder has an overall length of 1.010″ and gives a velocity of 1,378fps, a pressure of 32,300 PSI, and would have a ME of 379.57ft-lbs.
The 115gr bullet with 6.0gr of Longshot powder has an overall length of
1.125″ and gives a velocity of 1,203fps, a pressure of 32,300 PSI and would have a ME of 369.64ft-lbs.

Note that while the heavier bullet uses a full 1.0gr less of propellant and has a longer overall length, it generates the same amount of pressure. If we drop back to the same amount of the same powder for each loading (6.0gr), then the pressure generated in the lighter bullet loading drops to 29,400 PSI, velocity drops to 1,278fps, and ME drops to 326.48ft-lbs.

But not all pressure is created equal, even if it is nominally ‘the same’. The pressure impulse also matters. That’s the curve of how the pressure rises and falls over time, which is largely related to how ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ the propellant burns. Propellants used for handgun loads tend to be very ‘fast’ (burn rapidly), so the impulse tends to be sharper.  Here’s a good explanation of the matter.

And if you think about it, the heavier the bullet used, the longer/slower it takes to start moving when the cartridge is fired. That should mean that the impulse is spread out over a slightly longer time than it would be with a lighter bullet. So in some sense, the lighter bullet would result with a ‘snappier’ feel. And that may well be what it is that you’re feeling when you experience more perceived recoil (and have controlled for all the other factors) from lighter bullets.

Other thoughts on the subject?


Jim Downey





June 15, 2014 Posted by | .38 Special, .40 S&W, 9mm Luger (9x19), Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rimfire Roundtable

Well, it’s too damned cold in most of the country to go out to the range, so if you’d like to see hear why I didn’t stay in radio as a career, and maybe enjoy some good discussion about rimfire cartridges and guns, take a listen to this new podcast:

Episode #26 Rimfire Roundtable #1

On this show I was lucky enough to round up three guys uniquely qualified for the first ever Rimfire Roundtable. We discuss what we would like to see come from the firearms industry regarding rimfire, better supplies of ammunition aside. I hope you enjoy our discussion and let us know your ideas too.

It’s about an hour long, all told, and in spite of my participation fairly interesting/informative. Check it out if you have some listening time!


Jim Downey

January 7, 2014 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, Anecdotes, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wait … it’s 2014?? How did THAT happen?

2013 was a busy year for BBTI.

We did the .22Mag tests. We did the 9mm Glock Tests. I got my .460 Rowland conversion up and running. And I found some really fun .44Mag +P+ loads, then figured out a simple hack so that they would feed reliably in my lever gun. Like I said, a busy year.

And we couldn’t have done it without help. Of several types. To see the list of those donors who have helped offset some of our operating costs, pop over to the BBTI site. And here’s a list of the top-10 referring sites (excluding search engines and Wikipedia):


Altogether, we had 243,230 visitors to the BBTI website, and some 12,000+ views of this blog. Since we’ve gone through several iterations of the site over the last five years, it’s hard to say exactly how many visitors or pageviews or hits we’ve had in total — but it’s more than we ever really expected. Thanks, everyone.

And particular thanks to my Good Lady Wife, who has done all the webwork and most of the number crunching over the years.

We don’t currently have any concrete plans for new tests in 2014. But who knows? Keep an eye here and on our Facebook page for news.

Happy New Year, everyone!


Jim Downey


January 1, 2014 Posted by | .22WMR, .44 Magnum, .460 Rowland, 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Happy Thanksgivuk … er, I mean Birthday!

OK, first: Happy Thanksgiving to all my fellow Americans. And Happy Hanukkah to all who observe it!

But most of all,

Happy Birthday to BBTI!

Yeah, it’s our fifth birthday. We officially launched the site on Thanksgiving in 2008.  And it’s been a fun romp since then. We’ve gone through many different iterations on the site, adding in more calibers/cartridges, doing the big cylinder gap test, tweaking this and changing that. We’ve shot something on the order of 22,000 – 23,000 rounds. We’ve had something in excess of 20 million hits to the site. We’ve invested more than $50,000 and untold hundreds of hours of labor. And we’ve become pretty much the default resource for anyone who has needed (or just wondered about) data pertaining to handgun ammunition performance over barrel length. Like I said, it’s been fun! Thanks for helping to make it so!

And since it is our birthday, it’s time for a gift in the form of a whole new section to the BBTI website:

Polygonal v. Traditional L&G Rifling (“Glock tests”)

From that page:

For years people have wondered about the effects of the different styles of rifling, and whether one or the other would offer specific advantages for accuracy or velocity from a given cartridge.  But since many different factors can have an effect on both accuracy and velocity, these discussions have largely remained anecdotal.  We decided to see whether we could generate data as to performance differences between the two styles of rifling as concerns bullet velocity, using our standard chop-test techniques.  The data on this page is the result of those tests.

Check it out when you get a chance! And thanks again to all who have shared links to our site, who have sent us emails, who have contributed to help offset our costs — you folks have made our success possible, and it is very much appreciated.


Jim Downey

PS: as a personal thanks as well, I have made both my first novel and our care-giving memoir available for free download for today and tomorrow (Nov. 28th & 29th).

November 28, 2013 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

M1 .30 carbine performance.

Got another nice email with a video link from John Ervin at Brass Fetcher Ballistic Testing, this time covering the performance of the venerable M1 Carbine .30 cal cartridge. From John:

Despite its handsome wood furniture and vaguely military-type appearance, the M1 Carbine is an effective firearm for self-defense and small game hunting.  Hornady makes ‘Critical Defense’ ammunition for it now and Federal continues to make its excellent 110gr SP, so good ammunition choices are available for M1 Carbine owners.

The M1 Carbine is excellent for its low recoil, small mechanical sight offset and cartridge that is sufficient in lethality to repulse human attackers (when using good soft point ammunition) at distance.

And here’s the video so you can see for yourself:



I’ll leave it at that for now … I have a lot to do this week to get ready for our 9mm “Glock Tests” this coming weekend. Yup, those are finally happening. I’ll post some preliminary thoughts/results probably this weekend or the first of next week, with full info to come after we have a chance to crunch the numbers a bit.


Jim Downey

October 1, 2013 Posted by | .30 carbine, 9mm Luger (9x19), Data, Discussion., Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s like flinging thunderbolts.

You may remember that I have a small bit of an obsession with the .460 Rowland cartridge.  Ever since we tested it for BBTI, I’ve wanted one. As I noted in one of those articles:

I said it before and I’ll repeat it here: if you carry a .45, you should instead be carrying a .460 Rowland.


So, early this year I put in an order for a .460 Rowland conversion kit for a new Gen 4 Glock 21.

I’m planning on doing a full formal review of the kit and the resultant gun, but I thought I’d share some of my experience so far. Why “so far”? Well, because I haven’t worked out all the minor kinks yet.

OK, first thing: it didn’t just take the 3 weeks for delivery which was promised. It wasn’t even 3 months. It was almost six months. And a buddy of mine who ordered his before I ordered mine still hasn’t gotten his. So, there’s that.

Second, and part of the reason for the delay, I didn’t receive a new barrel which was marked .460 Rowland. Rather, I got what looked like a standard Wolff .45 barrel. But it had indeed been rechambered to handle the .460 Rowland cartridge. Before I received the kit I got an email advising me of this problem, and I figured I could just roll with it. This is what I got in the kit:

.460 Rowland Conversion Kit.

.460 Rowland Conversion Kit.


Going clockwise from the top: That’s the threaded barrel, a screw-on compensator, spring assembly adapter, small serving of red loc-tite, and the heavy spring assembly (which is actually the Gen 3 design, but with the adapter works just fine in my Gen 4).

As advertised by .460 Rowland, the conversion takes like 30 seconds. If you can field strip your Glock, you can do the conversion. I’ve opted for using blue loc-tite rather than red, since it still works well but allows me to remove the compensator easily if I need to.

How does it work? Well, I’ve taken it out to the range several times now, shooting both factory rounds as well as my own reloads. Doing some informal chrono tests, I have gotten exactly the kind of performance promised and expected. The Buffalo Bore 230gr JHP were right at 1300 fps. 200gr RNFP reloads were at 1380 fps, and 185gr XTP (JHP) reloads were at 1410 fps. And those reloads are actually fairly mild — just 12.5gr of Longshot powder — based on what data I’ve seen, I could probably push that to 13.5gr without any risk. (Don’t consider this an endorsement — do your own research, and work up your own loads using published data and standard safety practices.)

Shooting the .460 loads out of the Glock is like shooting a .44 magnum (which I have a fair amount of practice with), but having 13 rounds on tap. Seriously, it’s like flinging thunderbolts with each shot. And the recoil is surprisingly manageable, though I’m not someone who is very recoil shy.

So, why did I say I was still working out the kinks?

Well, there’s a problem with the magazines. Here’s what happened after the first outing:

Glock 21 magazine

Glock 21 magazine


Look closely on the left side of that magazine, and you’ll see that there’s a tab which has been torn a bit loose and pushed forward. That’s from the force of the .460 cartridges slamming forward. At about this point the magazine would no longer release or insert smoothly. That was after my first outing, with about 60 .460 Rowland shots fired. And actually, I damaged two magazines to that extent with those 60 rounds.

So after that first outing, I took a Dremel tool to the magazines and cut away about 1/8″ of material, and flattened the whole face back into position. Today I took those two magazines back out to the range, and ran about another 50 rounds through the gun using the two of them. Here’s one of them after today’s outing, next to a new unaltered magazine:

Two Glock 21 magazines.

Two Glock 21 magazines.


More problems. This time, the little metal tab snapped off, as well as distorting the face of magazine again. Clearly, I need to sort out how to fix this.

Two other things I want to mention. One, I tried shooting standard .45ACP cartridges out of the .460 Rowland conversion. They work wonderfully. Seriously, there’s almost no recoil, the gun cycles just fine (with my mild reloads as well as factory +P self defense ammo), and there’s no accuracy loss that I could determine casually shooting the gun. So, that’s a plus.

But the other thing? Heh — take a look at what happened with my front site today:

Glock 21

Glock 21

Yeah, it really shouldn’t be facing that way, nor sticking up quite so much. But I can fix that easily enough.

If you have thoughts on how I can correct the magazine problem, I’d love to hear ’em.


Jim Downey

September 23, 2013 Posted by | .45 ACP, .460 Rowland, Anecdotes, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Ammo shortage? What ammo shortage??

Oh — THAT — ammo shortage.

Yeah, the beginning of January I wrote that we were finally moving forward with the testing of polygonal vs. traditional rifling; the so-called “Glock Tests“, and outlined how we were planning on conducting a bit of an experiment in asking for suggested ammo loads to include in the tests, and then seeing what kind of support there was for a slate of different choices by allowing pledges to help purchase ammo.

But, as someone who wrote me put it: where did we think we were going to *find* any such ammo?

Initially, I thought that the shortage we were seeing would be a fairly temporary problem, and that by the time spring rolled around we’d be able to locate sufficient quantities for our testing (we need about 350 rounds of each type).

Yeah, so much for that idea. Now you know why I don’t play the stock market or bet on races.

The ammo shortage has just continued to deepen. It’s to the point where people are having a hard time finding enough of any kind of ammo just to keep in practice with a trip to the range once or twice a month.  I’m damned glad I reload my practice ammo, and have a decent store of most components.

But that doesn’t do a damned thing for our testing. The whole idea is to test factory ammo, not some cobbled-together handload version of factory ammo.

So we’re putting off the “Glock Tests” again, until the situation gets better. Keep an eye here and elsewhere for news about when this will change.

One good bit of news, however: we already had a decent selection and sufficient quantity of each ammo type to do the .22WMR (.22Magnum) tests.  So we’re going to go ahead and do that sequence of tests here this spring — sometime soon!

Sorry for the bad news, everyone — really. These tests have been delayed several times for one (good) reason or another, and we’re just as frustrated by that as everyone else.  But when ammo supplies start to become more available, we’ll be sure to try and get them done as soon as we can.


Jim Downey

March 4, 2013 Posted by | .22WMR, .45 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes, Data, Discussion., General Procedures | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Now, about those “Glock” tests…

As mentioned previously, for some time we’ve been planning on doing a series of inch-by-inch chop tests on the Glock-style polygonal barrels  (Glock was unable to supply 18″ barrels, so we’ll be using 6 grove poly and 6 land traditional barrels from Lothar Walther).  We’ve run into a number of unexpected delays, but now have the barrels we need, and are planning on doing the series of tests sometime later this year, hopefully in spring/early summer. For testing purposes, we’ll be conducting traditional ‘land & groove’ barrels in the same calibers at the same time, so that we have direct head-to-head comparisons. Because we’re expecting a fairly subtle difference in performance, we’re going to do 10 (ten) shots for each inch of barrel for both style barrels. And to keep the scope of the project manageable, we’re only going to test two cartridges/calibers: 9mm (9×19) and .45 ACP.

In order to do the tests this way, we’ll need a minimum of 340 rounds of each ammo to test. Add in “real world guns” and allowing for errors/glitches which mean extra shots, we’re planning on getting 400 rounds of each ammo to be tested. Figure an average of about $1 per round for premium self-defense ammunition, and we’re looking at about $400 for each ammo selected for testing. There are some specific ammunition types/loads we’ve tested previously that we want to revisit for comparison purposes, but our selection is hardly comprehensive — time and money are limited.

So we’d like to try an experiment: do Kickstarter-style crowdfunding to see what ammunition types/loads people want to have us test. This will allow two things:

  1. To let people help support the project by offsetting our costs.
  2. To help us find new ammunition types/loads.

Now, Kickstarter itself isn’t firearm-friendly. And that’s OK — we can do this on our own, just using our own site. What we’ll do is put up a list of different ammo types/loads, and solicit donations targeted for each during a specific time frame. When pledges are made, we’ll keep a running tally total for each ammo, and once it crosses a certain threshold, then that specific type/load will be added to our testing list.

But first we need to create our list of ammo. So, for the next two weeks, either add a comment to this blog post or send an email to with one specific 9mm ammunition type/load you would like to see us test. Please, just one type/load per comment or email, and just five or six such entries per person. I’m going to have to collate these myself, so help make it a little easier on me. Just sending in a selected ammo doesn’t obligate you to support that ammo with $ in the second phase of this test, but it’s probably a good idea to only recommend ammo you would be willing to actually support, and ones you think you can get others to support. And remember, keep your recommendations limited to factory mass-produced ammo; handloads or artisanal ammo which the average person doesn’t have access to will not be selected for inclusion in the tests. Also: we’re only accepting recommendations and donations from individuals, not ammo manufacturers.

You can see all the 9mm ammo we’ve tested previously here: 9mm Luger Results.

As I said, this is an experiment. If it works for selecting 9mm ammo to test, we may extend it to the .45 ACP tests, and then see about using a similar approach for other testing. We hope that this will be a way we can expand our research and make it more responsive to what data the firearms-enthusiast community wants to see. You can help by sending in your suggestions, but in also spreading the word on the different forums/blogs where our data may be used.

Thanks, everyone, for your ongoing interest and support!

Jim Downey

January 4, 2013 Posted by | .45 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19), Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

And once again…

…I am reminded of how happy I am to not have to deal with the public day in and day out.

As I said two months ago:

People really will always find something to bitch about, won’t they? Even if it is free & unencumbered research data that they can’t get elsewhere.

This time I got a complaint from someone about our having excluded a particular make of handgun. No “Hey, thanks for the data, I wonder why you haven’t tested This Brand?” Or “I love the site, but is there a reason why you’ve not included This Brand?” Just an email with the header “WHY NO GLOCKS TESTED?” Yeah, all caps. Nothing else other than the question repeated in the body.

I actually get some variation of this  question just about every week. Let me rephrase that: at least every week. Which is why that question is at the top of the FAQ on the BBTI site.

I responded, as I usually do, with that link and some variation of: “we didn’t include them because we hate them” (which is joking off of what the FAQ says). Usually this takes care of the issue.

But sometimes people either don’t go look at the FAQ, or are too dense/sarcasm-impaired to “get” my response. That was the case with the current querent. After a couple more exchanged emails I finally convinced him that we don’t actually hate Glocks.

But the truth is, we *have* intentionally excluded Glocks so far. As I told my querent in my final email:

There are a lot of different factors which go into the selection of the guns we include in our tests. Glocks have a different barrel structure, so comparing them with the ‘standard’ rifling tends to skew results. For this reason we’ve so far avoided including them.

I say “so far” because we’re presently in the process of finalizing a test sequence where we do the formal inch-by-inch chop tests on Glock polygonal barrels. It’s taken us two years to be able to get the necessary 18″ blanks to do this properly. Having that data will allow us to do head-to-head comparisons with the ‘standard’ rifling results, and so give everyone data which actually is useful rather than just anecdotal. And yes, as part of that sequence we will be testing actual Glocks in different calibers and with different barrel lengths. We hope to be able to conduct these tests yet this fall, but are waiting on the gunsmithing work to be done.

This isn’t actually “news” – I hinted at it in June on the BBTI Facebook page (which you should “Like” if you’re on FB, so you see these things sooner), but it is the first I’ve mentioned it here or on any forums.

Anyway, yeah, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with the public on a daily basis any longer. My blood pressure problems would be a lot worse than they actually are.

Jim Downey

August 29, 2012 Posted by | .45 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19), Data, Discussion., General Procedures, Links | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments