March 2005

9mm +P and +P+ Cartridges: Winchester & Remington Win

These rounds should have more pop than standard-pressure 9mm Parabellum cartridges, and in three cases we found that to be true the winners shoot on par with .357 Magnums.

Rounds tested were, clockwise from top right, the Winchester 124-grain SXT +P, Winchester 127-grain SXT +P+, Remington 115-grain JHP +P+, Federal 115-grain JHP +P+ 9BPLE, and Federal 124-grain Hydra-Shok +P+.

The 9mm Parabellum cartridge (commonly called 9mm Luger in the US) has traditionally been loaded more lightly on this side of the Atlantic than in Europe. The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturing Institute (SAAMI) has set a pressure ceiling for standard pressure 9mm Para at 35,000 pounds per square inch (psi). By contrast, NATO pressure ceiling is 42,000 psi. In-between U.S. standard pressure 9mm and NATO spec, we have two options. 9mm +P has a SAAMI pressure ceiling of 38,500 psi. There’s no SAAMI spec for 9mm +P+; that’s just a way of saying its pressures exceed +P standards.

The impetus to develop a higher-pressure — thus higher velocity — domestic 9mm load came from our nation’s police. By the mid/late-1980s many departments were trading in their .357 Magnum revolvers for 9mm auto pistols. However, they still wanted .357 Magnum stopping power. Thus was born the concept of the +P+ 9mm. Such loads typically increase velocity of a 9mm projectile from between 100 to 200 feet per second (fps). A 9mm auto stuffed with +P+ ammo is, in effect, a high-capacity, fast-firing, quick-reloading .357 Magnum. (A hot 9mm generates muzzle energies equivalent to a .357 Magnum 110-grain jacketed hollowpoint, a round most shooters take seriously.)

The 9mm’s popularity in police service has taken a hit in the last ten years or so. Once it was the most popular police cartridge in North America; today that title belongs to the .40 S&W. Among ordinary citizens, the 9mm’s popularity was adversely affected by the now-expired Assault Weapons Ban and its prohibition on importation or domestic manufacture of detachable box magazines holding more than 10 rounds. With 9mm and .40 magazines holding the same number of rounds, many shooters decided, “If I can only get 10-shot mags, I want them holding the fattest rounds possible.” Now that the ban’s expiration has restored the 9mm’s capacity advantage, we look for the fortunes of this cartridge to recover somewhat in the future.

As a general rule, 9mm +P ammunition is sold to both police and the general public, but +P+ 9mm is sold only to police agencies, which have to sign a waiver saying they won’t sue if anything goes wrong. The exception to this rule is Winchester, which restricts both its +P and +P+ 9mm to police-only sales.

In this article we tested five hot 9mm loads, because, though this ammunition is ostensibly “police-only,” it does tend to find its way onto the commercial market. For instance, while this article was being prepared, we received word a local commercial gun shop had just gotten in a big shipment of Winchester +P and +P+ 9mm.

Our test ammo included the Federal Classic 115-grain Hi-Shok JHP +P+, product code 9BPLE, basically the company’s famous 9BP load pumped up to +P+ pressures. Also from Federal was the Premium 124-grain Hydra-Shok JHP +P+ (No. P9HS3G1). From Remington we tested the 115-grain JHP +P+ (No. R9MM4). Winchester Ranger brands were the 124-grain SXT +P (No. RA9124TP) and 127-grain SXT +P+ (No. RA9TA).

Our test gun was an older, though lightly used, example of Sig’s P226 in 9mm, a cartridge/design combination with an excellent reputation and track record for reliability and accuracy. Barrel length on the P226 was 4.4 in. We acquired it from Bull’s-Eye Shooter Supply (414A Puyallup Ave, Tacoma, WA 98421, [253] 572-6417).

Our testing procedure had several stages in it. If a round was found wanting at any stage, it was removed from the rest of the test, and the survivors continued. The stages are described briefly below; a more detailed testing procedure can be viewed and downloaded free of charge at www.gun-tests.com/performance/ammunition.html.

Our test gun was a stock Sig P226. Accuracy testing entailed firing four 5-shot groups with the P226 in a Ransom Rest.

Reliability. Every round fired passed the reliability portion of the test. The gun worked perfectly. What did you expect? This was a 9mm Sig P226.

Velocity.Every round tested passed the standard for consistent velocity, and several posted tight standard deviations (SDs). The Federal 124-grain Hydra-Shok +P+, Remington 115-grain JHP +P+, and Winchester 127-grain SXT +P+ posted single-digit SDs. For ammunition whose entire purpose is to offer more energy than standard-pressure 9mm, we wondered how more velocity these +P and +P+ rounds generated above standard-pressure ammo. Typical standard-pressure 9mm defense-load figures would show a 115-grain jacketed hollowpoint at 1150 fps generating 337.8 foot-pounds of muzzle energy (ME), or a 124-grain JHP at 1100 fps generating 333.2 foot-pounds ME. In this regard we’d have to flunk the Federal 124-grain Hydra-Shok +P+ at 357.3 foot-pounds and the Winchester 124-grain SXT +P at 364.9 foot-pounds. They simply don’t offer enough additional ME compared to standard-pressure 9mm to justify their choice over more easily available and cheaper loads. In ascending order of ME generated, the Winchester 127-grain SXT +P+ at 405.5 foot-pounds, Remington 115-grain JHP +P+ at 425.0 foot-pounds, and Federal 9BPLE at 427.7 foot-pounds were another story.

Thus, the Federal 9BPLE, Remington 115-grain JHP +P+, and Winchester 127-grain SXT +P+ rounds continued on to the next phase of testing.

Accuracy.The Federal 9BPLE failed to make the accuracy standard with a 2.2 in. average. This round shot quite high, about 4 inches at 50 feet with the Sig’s fixed sights. The Winchester 127-grain SXT +P+ gave a 1.8-inch average and was spot-on for elevation. The Remington 115-grain JHP +P+ met the standard with a 2.0-inch average, but it shot groups 3 inches high at 50 feet. Shooters choosing this load for self-defense should have guns fitted with adjustable sights to bring point of impact in line with point of aim. The Remington 115-grain JHP +P+ and Winchester 127-grain SXT +P+ continued on to the next phase of testing.

Recoil Level.Both rounds met our standard for controllable recoil. The Remington 115-grain JHP +P+ generated a 148.4 power factor (pf), and the Winchester 127-grain SXT +P+ had a 152.3 pf, both well under our 200 pf ceiling. That’s one very nice thing about 9mm +P+ ammunition: For the power these loads are putting out, recoil is not at all bad.

Penetration, Expansion and Weight Retention.Because of reader requests, we will be providing penetration, expansion, and weight-retention information for all rounds tested, not just those meeting our standards to this point. Therefore shooters who might have different preferences or priorities than Gun Tests staff members can make their own decisions. We’ll begin with the two rounds that, thus far, have satisfied all of our other requirements.

The Remington 115-grain JHP +P+ expanded to 0.52 inch and penetrated 15 inches. Recovered bullet weight was 84.6 grains. Obviously, this bullet had eroded considerably; multiple lead fragments were found in jug #2, and there were more fragments in #3 along with the expanded slug. There’s a theory such bullet break-up is a good thing, that a projectile that expands so violently its edges actually shear off in water or gelatin will always expand in flesh.

The Winchester 127-grain SXT +P+ expanded to 0.69 inch and penetrated 15 inches. Recovered weight was 119.5 grains. The SXT bullet design obviously did its job well by generating great expansion and weight retention.

All the ammunition tested is marketed as police-only, as this disclaimer printed on the Remington box indicates. Though hard to find, these rounds can be legally sold to civilians.

Moving on to the other three rounds, the Federal 124-grain Hydra-Shok JHP +P+ expanded to 0.70 inch and penetrated 12 inches. Recovered weight was 111.2 grains. The Winchester 124-grain SXT +P likewise expanded to 0.70 inch; it penetrated 15 inches, and its recovered weight was 117.8 grains. The Federal 115-grain JHP +P+ 9BPLE penetrated 15 inches, shedding its jacket and coming apart in the process. There were two small pieces of lead in jug #2, likewise two pieces of jacket material. Moving into jug #3, we found two more small pieces of lead, the remainder of the jacket, and the severely eroded main portion of the bullet, 0.43 inches wide by 0.24 inches tall, weighing 51.4 grains. Taking every fragment that made it into jug #3 and weighing them together showed a weight of 84.7 grains.

Gun Tests Recommends
• Federal Classic 115-grain Hi-Shok JHP +P+ No. 9BPLE; Federal Premium 124-grain Hydra-Shok JHP +P+ No. P9HS3G1; Winchester Ranger 124-grain SXT +P No. RA9124TP. Don’t Buy. The Federal 124-grain Hydra-Shok +P+ and the Winchester 124-grain SXT +P don’t offer enough additional muzzle energy compared to standard-pressure 9mms to justify buying them. The Federal 115-grain JHP +P+ didn’t meet our accuracy standard.

• Remington 115-grain JHP +P+ No. R9MM4. Buy It. This load was within a few fps of posting the highest muzzle energy of any round tested. Its accuracy was acceptable, though not wonderful. It expanded violently and penetrated reasonably. If you choose this load, your gun should have adjustable sights, otherwise it might hit high.

• Winchester Ranger 127-grain SXT +P+ No. RA9TA. Our Pick. While not the hottest ammo tested, this load still generated more than 400 foot-pounds of energy and was the most consistent ammunition velocity-wise at a mere 7 fps SD. Accuracy was decent. It expanded well, had great weight retention, and penetrated within acceptable limits. Either of these loads would make a superior choice for self-defense, though we lean toward the Winchester 127-grain SXT +P+ by virtue of its accuracy, consistent velocities, and that it hit point of aim with a fixed-sight gun set up for standard-pressure ammo.

Also With This Article

"Ammunition Performance Data"