9mm Luger Personal Defense Ammunition Testing


After more than 115 years on the scene, the 9mm Luger is America’s favored handgun caliber, being chambered in subcompact, compact, service-size, and long-slide 9mm handguns. Today, there are 9mm Luger loads offering an excellent balance of expansion and penetration, and we got to test a bunch of them in a Walther PDP 9mm pistol with a 4-inch barrel. We fired for accuracy at 15 yards. Read on for our test results.

Norma MHP 108-Grain Monolithic Hollow Point 9mm Luger 299740020, $15.55/20

Monolithic simply means the projectile is manufactured from a single piece of copper. This was the lightest projectile tested at 108 grains. The company claims more than 1300 fps velocity. Actual recorded velocity was 1198 fps average. The Norma load was accurate enough, but it was not the most accurate load in the test. Felt recoil was subjectively lightest of the test. Penetration was adequate at 16 inches. Expansion was the greatest at 0.95 inch.

Our Team Said: We were impressed by the Norma 108-Grain Monolithic Hollow Point’s performance. It offers a combination of light recoil, acceptable accuracy, and a fast-opening bullet.

Gun Tests Grade: A

Norma’s monolithic bullet looks closed at the nose, but it opens into a nicely expanded bullet at 0.95 inch in width.
Norma’s MHP bullet exhibited good expansion.

Barnes TAC-XPD 115-Grain X Bullet 9mm Luger 21551, $26.99/20

The Barnes all-copper hollow point was once pricey compared to other loads. Now it is in line with what other 20-round boxes cost. The all-copper bullet is long for the bullet weight and cannot be loaded as hot as a conventional cup-and-core bullet because the bullet base extends further into the cartridge case. Just the same, the velocity of 1143 fps makes for easy control. This bullet offers very consistent penetration of 18 inches in water and expands to 0.73 inch.

Our Team Said: Felt recoil was mild and accuracy good.

Gun Tests Grade: A

The Barnes X bullet offers good performance with modest recoil.
Considering the Barnes X bullet’s low recoil, but good balance of expansion and penetration, this is a credible defense loading.

Sierra Sports Master 115-Grain Jacketed Hollow Point 9mm Luger A81100120, $9.99/20

Felt recoil was light due to a velocity of only 1114 fps. Expansion was a modest 0.52 inch. This load was reliable and accurate, but it was below the curve in energy and expansion.

Our Team Said: We think there are better choices.

Gun Tests Grade: B-

The Sierra JHP exhibited modest expansion.
Sierra’s 115-grain JHP is slower than most other loads with this bullet weight. Energy is the lowest of the test.

Federal Premium Law Enforcement 124-Grain Hydra-Shok Jacketed Hollow Point 9mm Luger P9HS1G1, $35/50

In testing, the load clocked 1104 fps. Penetration was 16.5 inches of water. Expansion was 0.59 inch, with weight retention of 122.5 grains. Interestingly, decade-old testing of this round shows 1090 fps average velocity, the same penetration, and 0.55 inch expansion.

Our Team Said: The modern Hydra-Shok is an improved cartridge and one with a proven track record.

Gun Tests Grade: A

When the Federal Premium LE 124g Hydra-Shok traveled through the water jugs, it excised a part of the jug during its travel.
Federal’s Federal Premium LE 124g Hydra-Shok offers consistent expansion.

Federal Premium Law Enforcement 124-Grain HST Jacketed Hollow Point 9mm Luger P9HST1, $35/50

The HST bullet is a modern development that offers a choice over the Hydra-Shok. There is no center post in the HST, and its expansion is different. Velocity was 1153 fps. Penetration was 17 inches in water and expansion 0.65 inches. Recovered weight was 124 grains.

Our Team Said: The HST offers slightly better performance than the Hydra Shock. We would take either.

Gun Tests Grade: A

Federal’s Federal Premium LE 124g HST offers good accuracy and a balance between expansion and penetration.
The Federal Premium LE 124g HST offers excellent expansion.

Speer Gold Dot 124-Grain Jacketed Hollow Point 9mm Luger 23618GD, $28.49/20

The Gold Dot is designed to offer excellent light cover and barrier penetration. This means a great deal in law enforcement, but not so much in civilian personal defense. The Gold Dot bullet breaks 1124 fps out of the Walther PDP. Penetration in water was 18 inches, and expansion was a solid 0.64 inch.

Our Team Said: We like the accuracy and reliable expansion of this loading.

Gun Tests Grade: A

We liked the quality control of the Speer Gold Dot 124g JHP.
The Speer Gold Dot 124g JHP is a consistent performer.

Winchester USA Ready Defense 124-Grain Hex-Vent Jacketed Hollow Point 9mm Luger +P RED9HP (20), $25.49/20

This new loading uses something called Hex-Vent technology. A polymer ball in the nose instigates expansion. This load breaks 1207 fps, making it the most energetic 124-grain load tested. The bullet stayed together and expanded well as it penetrated 16 inches of water. We measured the lead mushroom at a healthy, plump 0.76 inch of expansion. Had we included in the expansion measurement the single piece of jacket that was attached to the center, the reading would have been well over an inch. One of the bullets of three tested in water slipped its jacket, a mark of a high-velocity bullets.

Our Team Said: This is outstanding performance by any standard. We had a good bit of discussion about this load. It appears to transfer its energy quickly. All agreed it would be formidable.

Gun Tests Grade: A+ Our Pick

Winchester’s 124-grain Ready Defense round is the only load that separated from its jacket.
Winchester’s 124-grain Ready Defense load offered the highest energy of any load tested.

Hornady Critical Duty 135-Grain FlexLock 9mm Luger +P 90226, $33.99/25

This is the load that won the FBI contract. Barrier penetration and reliability is unquestioned. The Hornady 135-grain load breaks 1055 fps out of the Walther PDP pistol. Penetration was a long 24 inches in water. The bullet expanded to 0.52 inch. Most civilian shooters do not need this level of penetration. If you do, this is a fine load and the most accurate of the test.

Our Team Said: For civilian self-defense use, we rated the load down a half grade based on its lengthy penetration in water.

Gun Tests Grade A-

Hornady’s Critical Duty 135g FlexLock is a very consistent loading.
Hornady’s Critical Duty 135g FlexLock loading was chosen by the FBI after rigorous testing. It might be a bit much for most civilian use.

Remington Golden Saber Bonded 147-Grain Jacketed Hollow Point 9mm Luger 29343, $40.99/20

This bullet doesn’t quite look like the Golden Saber bullets tested in the past. These bullets used more of the bullet jacket as a wounding mechanism. The bane of 147-grain loads has been low velocity and expansion. The Remington bonded load breaks a solid 1012 fps, marginally faster than the 147-grain Winchester load. Penetration was 20 inches, and expansion was an average of 0.58 inch.

Our Team Said: If you need deeper penetration and prefer a 147-grain bullet, Remington has provided an answer.

Gun Tests Grade: A

The Remington 147g JHP is a big chunk of lead with a lot of frontal area.
Remington’s 147g Golden Saber bonded load offered penetration on the long end that some prefer.
All Remington 147-grain Golden Saber bullets were very consistent.

Winchester Silvertip 147-Grain Jacketed Hollow Point 9mm Luger W9MMST2 (20), $19.99/20

Winchester’s 115-grain Silvertip has been a staple for personal defense for decades. The 147-grain version is intended to offer more penetration and offer an alternative to bonded-core police-type loads. Velocity was 980 fps, penetration 18 inches, and expansion 0.61 inches. For a heavyweight bullet, we feel the Silvertip offers good performance.

Our Team Said: Compared to the Golden Saber from Remington, the Silvertip expands slightly more and penetrates slightly less. We would be pleased with either.

Gun Tests Grade: A

Winchester’s 147-grain Silvertip builds on the “crease fold design” of the original Silvertip.
The Silvertip offers a good balance of expansion and penetration with a plump and heavy bullet.

The Bottom Line

Personal preference plays a part. Some prefer one bullet weight to the other. We think the best balance of expansion and penetration was in the 124-grain defense loads. Of the four 124-grain loads tested, we find little to no difference in real performance between the Federal Hydra-Shok, Federal HST, and Speer Gold Dot. The rapidly expanding Winchester load penetrates less but offers excellent expansion. If no light cover is involved, then a rapidly expanding bullet may do more damage, given good penetration, which this load has. While the 135- and 147-grain loads offer good tactical penetration, for concealed carry and home defense we don’t think they are needed. Regardless of your choice, be certain the handgun on your hip feeds the round you choose properly and fires to the point of aim in your carry gun.

All of the loads tested expanded to some degree, but others were stand-out performers. The Winchester 124-grain load, like all the loads, was tested in three water set ups, but only one of them, fourth from right, slipped the jacket.
We collected a broad selection of 9mm Luger ammunition for this Gun Tests+ comparison.
Left to right, if were carrying the Federal 124-grain Hydra-Shok, the Federal 124-grain HST, or Speer 124 grain Gold Dot, we would feel well protected.
The Walther PDP-F test gun provided good accuracy and faultless reliability.

9mm Luger Personal Defense Ammunition Testing

Bullet Weight (gr.)Manufacturer & Bullet StyleAverage Velocity (fps)Standard Deviation (fps)Muzzle Energy (ft.-lbs.)IPSC Power FactorAverage Accuracy (in.)Expanded Width (in.)Retained Weight (gr.)Retained Weight %Penetration In Water (in.)Gun Tests Grade
108Norma MHP 2997400201198343441292.90.95108100%16A
115Barnes TAC-XPD 2155111431733413120.73115100%18A
115Sierra Sports Master A811001201114253171281.80.52115100%24B-
124Federal Hydra-Shok P9HS1H11104153351371.50.59122.599%16.5A
124Federal HST P9HST11153253661431.50.65124100%17A
124Speer Gold Dot 23618GD11241234813920.64124100%18A
124Winchester USA RED9HP1207184011501.90.7812298%16A+
135Hornady FlexLock 902261055103341421.50.52135100%24A-
147Remington Golden Saber Bonded 293431012193361491.80.59147100%20A
147Winchester Silvertip W9MMST2980143131441.80.61147100%18A



  1. I used 124gr HydroShocks for years. When Federal came out with their HST line I made the switch. Never looked back.

  2. Glad to see the Winchester Silvertip ammo perform well. That would be my choice as the performance was within FBI specs although penetration was at the max. Having shot some of those before at the range, I can tell you from experience that the recoil is also very light on the 147 grain silvertips.

  3. I also carried 124Gr. Hydroshocks for years and never has a problem. I go back and forth between HSTs and regular HydroShocks and am quite satisfied with either. My Hi-Powers seem to prefer the HSTs and my Sigs will eat either. Can’t go wrong with either. Buy whichever is cheapest.

  4. All those perfectly expanded bullets are pretty when recovered from ballistic gel, but you’d best have a heavy penetrating bullet that will go thru a goosedown coat, a leather vest, a t-shirt and flannel shirt and bib overalls. By the way, it better run flawlessly in your gun.

  5. Neither water nor the synthetic “clear gel” stuff tells us anything useful. Only calibrated 10% ballistic gelatin gives useful results, and of all the FBI and IWBA tests, only two give us any information that is usable for anyone other than SWAT types and the Highway Patrol. In bare gelatin, the bullet must penetrate a minimum of 12″. The bare gelatin test tells us whether the bullet has any propensity to overexpand, fragment, and underpenetrate. In gelatin covered with four layers of 16 ounce cotton canvas denim, the bullet must expand reliably and still penetrate a minimum of 12″. This test tells us whether the bullet has any propensity to clog with fabric and fail to expand. The tests against drywall, plywood, auto glass, and so on, are pointless for those of us who don’t shoot at people in automobiles or storm fortified buildings for a living. But a bullet that passes both those first tests is good to go. A bullet that fails either of these tests is to be discarded in favor of one that passes both.

    The Norma MHP is going for fire-sale prices right now because it’s being discontinued due to poor sales, the poor sales being a result of its propensity to clog with fabric and make an icepick wound track, for example. And the current version of the Sierra 115gr JHP is very prone to clogging with fabric unless it’s loaded about two hundred feet per second hotter than that, at which velocity it disintegrates in bare gelatin and fails to get anywhere near the 12″ mark.

    The short list of proven good 9mm carry and duty loads in the year 2024:

    Winchester T-Series (formerly Ranger-T, SXT, etc.), all bullet weights, Ranger Bonded looks very good in tests but I am familiar with no “street” results, the new M1153 round for the US military is described in some sources as identical to the 147gr T-Series, but it isn’t, it still looks good in gelatin tests but I am aware of no uses of it other than on ranges.
    Speer Gold Dot 124gr +P or 147gr are outstanding. The “G2” variant was mediocre when first released but has supposedly been greatly improved, but I can find no record of anyone using it for keeps since the redesign
    Federal HST 124gr +P or 147gr, Federal Punch and Tactical Bonded likewise look good in tests but I am not aware of any law enforcement lethal force incidents in which either one was used
    Remington Golden Saber, standard or bonded, 124 +P or 147gr
    Any commercial load with the 115gr Barnes solid copper hollowpoint so long as it’s going at least 1100 ft/sec
    Hornady Critical Duty, 124gr +P or 135gr +P, look excellent in tests but I don’t know if they’ve been used or how they performed. Hornady TAP 124gr +P and 147gr were excellent but I don’t think they’re available any more, though there is commercial 9mm ammunition from Fiocchi and Hornady using the same 147gr XTP bullet used in the TAP round, which should give identical performance, and Hornady sells a +P load with the 124gr XTP in the “American Gunner” line which should be identical, just missing the TAP’s sealant and nickel plated case.

    Honorable mention goes to the Winchester white box 147gr hollowpoint. It may be a “budget” load but it looks very good in the gelatin tests. A number of large police departments have issued it over the years. Cincinnati Ohio PD used it for many years and may still issue it, and they have had enough shootings with it to establish a very solid track record for reliable function in a variety of weapons, fairly good accuracy, reliable expansion through clothing, and very good penetration.


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