March 2006

Four 9mm Heavy Hollowpoints: We Would Buy Speer’s Gold Dot

When we tested 9mm Luger cartridges from Remington, Winchester, Federal, and Speer, the Gold Dots offered the best combination of accuracy, expansion, and suitable penetration.

Our test gun for this match-up of 9mm 147-grain bullets was a Smith & Wesson Model 39-2, which we bolted into a Ransom Rest mounted to a 1-inch-thick piece of plywood, which in turn was bolted to a concrete table. Our favorite was Speerís 147-grain Gold Dot GDHP No. 23619, followed by Federalís 147-grain Hydra-Shok JHP No. P9HS2.

The 9mm cartridge has been around for over 100 years. NATO has chosen it as its standard pistol round, and the U.S. military has been using it for many years in its standard-issue Beretta M9s. Although we at Gun Tests tend to favor the .45 ACP cartridge, the 9mm round has its advantages. It can be chambered in smaller, lighter, and more concealable pistols, such as the recently tested Kahr PM9, than the .45 round can. It is also more affordable and has substantially lower recoil than many other pistol cartridges. Although the 9mm Luger is only 2mm longer than the .380 ACP, also known as the 9mm Kurtz and 9mm short, it has substantially higher pressure and can handle bullets that weigh more than 1.5 times than the .380.

Because of the 9mm’s near-universal appeal, we wanted to test a sample of hollowpoint cartridges in the popular 147-grain weight class. Into our test gun, a Smith & Wesson Model 39-2, we fed four self defense–appropriate 9mm hollowpoint loads: Speer’s 147-grain Gold Dot GDHP (Load No. 23619, Gold Dot Hollow Point); the Remington 147-grain Golden Saber Brass JHP (Load No. GS9MMC, Jacketed Hollow Point), Winchester’s 147-grain SXT (Load No. S9, Supreme T-Series Jacketed Hollow Point), and Federal’s 147-grain Hydra-Shok JHP (Load No. P9HS2, Jacketed Hollow Point).

Shoppers can find these rounds for comparable prices, usually within 3 cents a round of each other. We shopped Midway USA <> for our ammo and have included Midway’s product codes for your convenience. The Speer Gold Dot 147-grain GDHP (176843) and Winchester Supreme 147-grain SXT (358719) both sell for $13.79 per box of 20, or 69 cents a round. Remington 147-grain Golden Saber (786954) sells for $16.79 per box of 25, or 67 cents each. Federal Premium 147-grain Hydra-Shok (465852) was the most expensive at $13.99 per box of 20, or 70 cents a round.

We selected the Smith & Wesson Model 39-2 for our test gun. The model 39 was the first U.S.-designed 9mm double-action semi-automatic pistol, first available to the public in 1955. It has been used by the U.S. military, and the older steel-frame models are especially valuable. Our 39-2 had a lightweight alloy frame and was made in the 1970s, but we bought it secondhand about 10 years ago. At the time of testing, we had already fired approximately 1200 rounds through the gun, so it was thoroughly broken in and suitable as a self-defense choice.

The Speer Gold Dot shined with an outstanding average group size of 0.7 inch. The other three tested met the standard, but barely in the case of the Federal Premium.

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 <>. Or log on to, click on Tools & Techniques, click on the Ammunition header, and the test protocol will be the first entry.

• Reliability. Every round fired passed the reliability portion of the test. The gun worked perfectly. Our test gun has never malfunctioned.

• Velocity. Velocities were recorded by firing 20-shot strings over an Oehler 35P chronograph. Every load met our standard for consistency, with the Federal Premium having an exceptional 3 fps standard deviation. The Speer Gold Dot was by far the fastest round at 991 fps. More detailed results appear in the accompanying table.

• Accuracy. The Speer Gold Dot shined with an outstanding average group size of 0.7 inch. The other three tested met the standard, but barely in the case of the Federal Premium. The complete results appear in the table at the end of the article.

• Recoil Level. The felt recoil for all four rounds was comfortable and easy to control. We shot some 115-grain FMJ loads and found them to be similar in recoil to the 147-grain loads. Due to the higher velocity of the 115-grain bullets, the power factor (131.2) was similar to the 147-grain JHP loads we tested. Information for all four loads is provided in the accompanying table.

• Penetration, Expansion, Weight Retention. All four rounds were fired into water. The Speer Gold Dot stopped in the third jug, giving it the most desired penetration (15 inches) of the rounds tested. The expansion was a respectable 0.591 inch with excellent weight retention (99.8 percent).

The Federal Premium hit the back of the third jug, giving it a total of 18 inches of penetration, more than we like to see. It had the second best expansion (0.608 inch) with the least weight retention, just over 97 percent.

Both the Winchester Supreme and Remington Golden Saber over-penetrated, in our estimation, and in the case of the Remington, hit the back of the fourth jug, thus eliminating that round from our consideration as a defensive round. The Golden Saber did have an impressive double mushroom that measured a whopping 0.661 inch in width.

The Winchester Supreme SXT bullet expanded the least of the rounds tested at 0.529 inch. Both of the Winchester and Remington 9mm rounds had nearly 100 percent weight retention.

Both the Winchester Supreme and Remington Golden Saber over-penetrated, in our estimation. The Golden Saber did have an impressive double mushroom that measured a whopping 0.661 inch in width.

Gun Tests Recommends
If you are going to choose the 9mm cartridge for self-defense, we found the Speer Gold Dot to be the clear winner. It had the most desirable penetration, the best accuracy, and was priced about the same as the others. The Federal Supreme penetrated deeper than we would have liked and its accuracy could have been better, but it did meet our standards. The Winchester and Remington rounds overpenetrated, so we can’t recommend them.

• Speer Gold Dot 147-grain GDHP (Load No. 23619), approximately $13.79 per 20-round box. Buy It. The Gold Dots were the most accurate, with an average 0.7-inch group size. They worked with perfect reliability in our test gun. Their standard deviation of 11 fps met our standard. Their recoil was acceptable, and their expansion was more than adequate.

• Federal Premium 147-grain Hydra-Shok JHP (Load No. P9HS2), $13.99 per box of 20. Conditional Buy. The round wasn’t nearly as accurate as the Speer, but a 1.8-inch average group size is within our standards. It was perfectly reliable in our test gun. Its standard deviation of 3 fps was the best in the test. Although 18 inches of penetration is deeper than we like to see, it is within our acceptable limits.

• Winchester Supreme 147-grain SXT (358719), $13.79 per box of 20. Don’t Buy. Although it was accurate with an average 1.2-inch group size, it overpenetrated to a depth of 21 inches. We think the cartridges above are better choices.

• Remington 147-grain Golden Saber (786954), $16.79 per box of 25. Don’t Buy. This round had the most impressive recovered bullet, displaying a double mushroom, but it was also the deepest-penetrating round at 24 inches, so we cannot recommend it.

Also With This Article

"9mm 147-Grain Hollowpoint Performance Data"

• Midway USA, (800) 243-3220,
• Winchester/Olin, (618) 258-3566,
• Remington, (336) 548-8899,
• Speer, (800) 627-3640,
• Federal Premium, (800) 322-2342,