April 2011

9mm +P and Other Powerful Loads: Black Hills Is a Best Buy

In a followup to our September 2010 test of standard-pressure 9mm loads, nine hotter rounds uniformly produced fantastic downrange results, with the tradeoff of more recoil, of course.

In this second installment of 9mm Luger ammunition testing, we are looking at +P loads. +P loads may also be called extra-pressure loads. The facts are, these loads are not out of line with the 9mm NATO or many of the hot military loads used by the Germans during World Wars I and II. But what a robust military

accurate 9mm

With a good accurate 9mm and concentration on the fundaments, we believe a shooter is well armed. There are pistols that are completely reliable until fed +P loads, and then they begin to choke. Recoil is another factor. If you do not think the 9mm kicks, put a Cor-Bon 115-grain JHP in a Kel-Tec PF-9, such as the one reviewed earlier in this issue. If the pistol becomes uncontrollable with higher-pressure loads, then you have gained sound, but not fury.

handgun will digest forever and what your pocket pistol will tolerate is a different matter. When +P+ loads are considered, the use of such loads is even more debatable. The question is not necessarily extra pressure. Most pistols have a safety margin built in that will handle increased pressure. Battering is the problem. Eccentric wear, once began, proceeds at an increasing rate. In other words, at 10,000 rounds, the first eccentric wear may appear, and the pistol may be a wreck at 12,000. However, we have it on good authority from a large shop that services thousands of 9mm pistols that the heavy 147-grain subsonic load is harder on the Beretta locking block than the 115-grain +P+ load. It is momentum that is hard on the pistol.

When using a +P load, the same bullet is propelled faster than standard. Often the increase is modest, but sometimes the increase is more than 100 fps. As an example, the standard velocity, more or less, for the 115-grain JHP is 1150-1180 fps. Some loads are a little hotter, but they are not +P loads. The +P is often rated at 1220 to 1265 fps. However, sometimes, with efficient powder blending, we may reach higher velocity in the standard pressure loads. +P loads are rated at over 1300 fps. The +P+ loads are always rated at over 1300 fps, and at times we have clocked these loads at 1380 fps from a service-length barrel of 4.5 to 5 inches. These loads are not illegal for civilians to own or use, but they are restricted to law-enforcement sales by the

Black Hills +P

The Black Hills +P, left, using the XTP bullet, expands considerably more aggressively than the standard velocity 9mm load using the 115-grain XTP, right.

makers, including the big three, Winchester, Federal and Remington. Agencies using these loads must sign a hold harmless agreement. The pistols are not blown up, but wear and tear is greatly accelerated. That is the price of this type of performance in the 9mm pistol.

The problem with function is that when the velocity is stepped up, so is slide velocity. A pistol designed to accommodate the standard-pressure 9mm may begin to short cycle. The slide’s velocity will outstrip the ability of the magazine to feed properly. Using Wolff premium gun springs in the proper rating helps, but you must be certain that the pistol functions with the given loading. If your pistol is not compatible with the 9mm +P, choose a good standard pressure 9mm and be content. Reliability is a

Black Hills Ammunition

Water does funny things to bullets. These are both recovered bullets from the non +P EXP load from Black Hills. This is textbook expansion.

million times more important than ballistics, as important as they are.

There are pistols that are completely reliable until fed +P loads, and then they begin to choke. Our perception is that the Glock and the Beretta 92 are always reliable with +P loads, but then these are military designs. Recoil is another factor. If you do not think the 9mm kicks, put a Cor-Bon 115-grain JHP in a Kel-Tec PF-9! Shot placement is important, and if the pistol is not controllable, then you have gained nothing. That being said, the 9mm +P loads tested below are impressive.

When the manufacturer loads to this pressure, quality control must be good. Many of these loads exhibited unusually low Standard Deviation readings and excellent accuracy. These loads were fired in our Browning Hi-Power to preserve continuity. Although some do not recommend the Hi-Power for +P loads, one of our raters, an experienced peace officer, has used the Hi-Power and heavy loads together for more than 30 years, including driving an Action Works

Black Hills 115-grain +P

Left to right are the Black Hills 115-grain +P, the Winchester Ranger T +P, and the Black Hills 115-grain TAC +P. We’re hard pressed to say that we want anything else related to expansion in these bullets.

custom pistol to some 20,000 rounds without any problem. Take your own counsel. We did take it upon ourselves to fire a represenative sample of these loads in the Beretta M9 to ensure function. They all passed the test, albeit not the same tests the Browning passed. As far as availability, most of these loads are readily available. However, the LEO loads are often pricey. They are restricted, but not illegal, and are often seen at gun shows. We included several of the Law Enforcement loads simply to compare performance. If they offer no advantage over the commercially available 9mm +P, why pay a scalper’s price for such rare-earth loads at the gun show? On the other hand, their performance was in the end measurably excellent. Plus, these LEO loads have excellent track records. One of our raters is very familiar with an agency that used the Winchester 127-grain SXT +P+. They recorded a straight run of over a dozen one-shot stops and "instant drops," according to our source, with the Winchester load. That is impressive.

In the last installment we tested all standard pressure loads and one +P for reference and comparison. In this installment we are concentrating on +P loads, with six examples of +P performance. We also included two specialty loads that are well worth consideration, the Black Hills 115-grain EXP, or extra power load, and the Speer Gold Dot short-barrel load. Both are designed to

+P rounds

Control and accuracy mean a lot. Considering the more-than-adequate penetration and expansion of these extra-power and +P rounds, those three shots (one in Cujo’s tongue and two in the neck) should be charge-stopping hits with the 9mm.

offer the greatest performance possible without entering into +P status, the Black Hills EXP by a careful powder blend and the Speer Gold Dot short-barrel load by changing the bullet alloy so that the bullet will expand well at lower velocity. Without contributing to the delinquency of handgunners, we felt that it was important to compare the performance of the legendary +P+ handguns loads with the +P loads we non-sworn may obtain. (Many law officers addled with poorly performing 9mm loads also wished they could deploy the +P+). We included one +P+ load for that purpose, so, in the end, we compared nine very interesting loads.

Non +P 9mm Specialty Loads

Black Hills 115-grain EXP, $29.99.

This is a loading with much merit. Black Hills calls this the Extra Power load, loaded to the maximum power level possible without venturing into +P category. The bullet is designed to expand quickly at this velocity. This is an interesting load, available in 50-round boxes. We do not wish to rush to the gun show, credit card in hand, chasing a load that may not offer significant advantages over commercially available +P loads. The Black Hills EXP is an interesting load that offers excellent expansion. Although the bullets sometimes threw off fragments, it did not fragment as a rule. As a defense load for those concerned with overpenetration,

Speer Gold Dot Bullet

The Speer Gold Dot bullet was used in two our test loads, with excellent all around results. Top is the Short Barrel mushroom. Bottom is the Speer Gold Dot from the Buffalo Bore load.

this is a recommended load. This load is not loaded to +P pressure, which makes it very attractive, as does its price.


Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel No. 23811 9mm, $18.99.

Many personal-defense shooters deploy a handgun with a barrel length of 4 inches or less. Loads intended for use in service-pistol barrels may expand less at the lesser velocity in the shorter barrel. We may either increase the powder charge or redesign the bullet. In this, Speer offers a special short-barrel version of the popular Gold Dot loading. We were not using a short-barrel handgun, but we were able to compare performance to the standard load. The Speer Gold Dot short barrel load performed as designed, slightly increasing expansion over the standard loading. An interesting load that is not in the league with the +P loading, it is nonetheless a good choice for light 9mms.


+P Loads

Black Hills 115-grain 9mm +P, $35.49.

This load uses the proven Hornady XTP bullet. This is a load that would be a fine service load for any agency, or a loading for a person who is concerned with penetrating heavy clothing. The balance of expansion and penetration favors penetration. This was the single most accurate load tested. The increased velocity adds more penetration and a modest increase in expansion over the standard pressure loads using the XTP bullet. The price for the 50-

+P rounds

More power means more muzzle flip and, depending on the powder, more smoke. Some guns may also short stroke, but we didn’t have that problem during our testing. Bottom: The +P rounds hit the water jugs downrange with a lot of violence.

round box is attractive. In our opinion, the Black Hills +P load has a good balance of expansion and is affordable compared to most of the other +P loads.


Cor-Bon No. PB 09115 115-grain JHP 9mm +P, $26.99.

Cor-Bon’s 115-grain JHP is among the best known of all +P loads. This was the first commercially available loading (to our knowledge) to break 1300 fps with a 115-grain bullet. Quality control is good, and the +P load is as fast as most +P loads. Water is harder on bullets than either gelatin or wet newsprint, and this bullet fragmented in our water jugs.

Despite the high velocity of this load, control was good and accuracy more than acceptable. Those who wish to see great

expansion and even fragmentation will favor this load. While we may prefer more penetration and a bullet that stays together, the facts are that this Cor-Bon +P loads offers at least the same quality control, accuracy, and reliability as the restricted +P+ loads but operates at SAAMI pressure for the +P loads. No need to pay scalpers prices.


Black Hills 115-grain 9mm TAC +P, $49.99.

The Black Hills TAC load uses the Barnes all-copper hollowpoint. This is a space-age bullet. We have experimented in handloading this bullet, and we learned it does not suffer a poorly schooled loader. All copper bullets are long for the caliber and will take up more space in the cartridge case, leaving less room for the powder charge. All must be done perfectly. Black Hills has met the challenge with a good loading. Accuracy and feed reliability were top notch. Expansion was consistent. Velocity was not as high as with some loads, as is to be expected with the long Barnes bullets that limits cartridge capacity. The Barnes bullet cannot be loaded to the same velocity as conventional 115-grain bullets, but performance is outstanding. Like all ammunition loaded with the

TAC bullet, this one is expensive.


Cor-Bon No. PB 09100 100-grain PowRBall 9mm+P, $24.99.

 Cor-Bon’s PowRBall loading uses a bullet designed to feed perfectly in any handgun. However, the design also lays claim to the ability to instigate expansion even after meeting intermediate objects, such as wallboard and heavy clothing. This is accomplished by using a polymer ball imbedded into the main projectile, a wide-mouth hollowpoint. The design works as advertised. We were able to run a full magazine through a Star BM, a pistol that is usually reliable only with ball ammunition. This load fed and gave reliable expansion, all that we could ask. Recoil was subjectively lower than any load tested. This is a recommended load for those who might otherwise choose the expensive Glaser Safety Slug.


Buffalo Bore 124-grain 9mm +P, $23.99.

The Buffalo Bore 124-grain +P uses the Speer Gold Dot bullet. This is the fastest load we have tested with the 124-grain Gold Dot bullet, and we were interested to see how performance held up. Buffalo Bore is practically a custom loading operation, but the quality control and performance were faultless. When you boost the speed of a bullet by 100 fps, you really see a difference in

LEO loads are often pricey. They are restricted, but not illegal, and are often seen at gun shows. This Winchester LE load has an excellent track record.

performance. The Buffalo Bore load is accurate and reliable and clearly packs a punch. If you are looking for penetration on the longer end, the Buffalo Bore load has it, but not in excess. Expansion is impressive. Recoil was the greatest of any load tested, but still not approaching the uncomfortable level when fired from the Hi-Power or Beretta 92. Based on performance, this is the top-running load of this test.


Winchester Ranger T No. RA9124TP 124-grain 9mm +P, $21.70.

We were able to find this load at a surprisingly low price, but this new load does not yet have the reputation of the SXT +P+. Accuracy is good and performance, overall, faultless. We almost did not include this loading, as it is designed for law enforcement and does not seem to be on the dealer’s shelves. Just the same, if you look hard enough you can find a few boxes. This load is

Here are two views of the Winchester Ranger T loading. Top, the Ranger T bullet is caught in the side of a water jug. Why it stuck becomes more apparent when you look at the hooks on the expansion at right.

faultless. It does not run overpressure, but shows excellent performance. The balance of expansion and penetration is ideal and the expanded petals show the classic SXT on steroids look. It is slower than some loads, but the performance cannot be faulted.


Federal No. 9BPLE 115-grain 9mm +P+, $26.99.

This load is often sold at scalper prices of $40 to $50 at gun shows, but we suspect Cor-Bon and other +P loads have made inroads into these scalper’s profits. A very reliable load and among the great all time performance loads ever fielded in the 9mm. Not always available, as most sources were out of stock and no word on when it would be available.