30 Carbine Picks: Hornady, Speer, Buffalo Bore Loads Tested

Shot from a lightweight rifle, this cartridge gives good results compared to any pistol round. We like the Hornady Critical Defense and the Speer Gold Dot for tactical use.

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30 Carbine loads

The 30 Carbine cartridge is an interesting and historically significant round. The M1 Carbine was the first little-maintenance firearm issued to the U.S. Army and was also among the first firearms that might correctly be called a Personal Defense Weapon (PDW). Designed for military officers, back-area troops, truck drivers and other personnel not usually armed with a rifle, it was specifically intended to allow officers to carry a lightweight rifle that was more powerful and accurate than a handgun. The carbine was not a short-barrel full-power rifle as earlier carbines had been, being instead designed for a lower-powered cartridge compared to the 30-06 cartridge used in the M1 Garand. Compared to the Russian M44 or the British No. 5 carbine, the M1 carbine is much easier to use well and handle. The M1 Carbine was designed for close-range area defense and personal defense. The concept was successful, and eventually, the army manufactured more than 6 million carbines. Numerous police agencies used the M1 carbine, including post-war Berlin and the NYPD. For close-range battle, the M1 carbine has much to offer.

30 M1 Carbine

We feel that the attributes of the M1 Carbine might make it even better suited to home defense than the typical AR-15 rifle. For hunting use and predator control, not so much. We cannot recommend the energy level of the 30 Carbines for deer-sized game, but its low recoil and low muzzle flash are essential for home defense, and the 30 Carbine offers both, but with 357 Magnum energy. The rifle is ergonomic and provides high hit probability. We admit the standard 110-grain FMJ load at about 2000 fps isn’t the best choice for home defense, based on over penetration and a lack of wound potential. There have been 110-grain jacketed soft points and jacketed hollowpoints used by police agencies, but most of these loads seem out of production by old mainstays Winchester and Remington. Still, we were able to collect loads using modern expanding bullets and compare them for accuracy penetration and expansion. What we found was that accuracy is good to excellent for all loads, although some were more accurate than others. For use in the home or area defense and animal defense against feral dogs and coyotes to 50 yards or more, the little rifle is plenty accurate.

Speer Gold dot and federal power shok

While we find there was something to recommend about all the loads tested, there are standouts. The Buffalo Bore full-power load and the Speer Gold Dot are at the top of the pack for home defense, with the Critical Defense load a strong contender for tactical use.

In this test, we fired 50 cartridges of each load, which included three cartridges each for penetration and expansion testing and fifteen cartridges (three five-shot groups) for accuracy. The remaining 32 rounds were fired in off hand shooting for personal defense work at 5, 7, and 25 yards. We tested accuracy from 25 yards. The rifle was a vintage Israel Arms International carbine. Here are the results:

30 Carbine Load Performance Data

Israel Arms International Carbine w/ 18 in. barrel Average Velocity (fps) Muzzle Energy (ft.-lbs.) Average Accuracy (in.) Power Factor (pf) Expanded Width (in.) Retained Weight (gr.) Penetration in Water (in.)
110-gr. Buffalo Bore JSP 2120 1097 0.9 233 0.83 100/91% 14
110-gr. Speer Gold Dot 2011 987 1.25 221 0.58 100/91% 18
110-gr. Federal Power-Shok 1978 955 1.1 218 fragments 89/81% 18
110-gr. Hornady Critical Defense 1980 957 1.9 218 0.47 100/91% 20
110-gr. Prvi Partizan JSP 1944 923 2 214 0.83 100/91% 12
Notes: Accuracy shooting was conducted at 25 yards, and we fired three three-shot groups with each load to get the group sizes. We also tested the rifle with the two most accurate loads at 100 yards to confirm its viability as a rifle to dust off predators and pests and also as a personal-defense rifle against threats at long range. Most M1 Carbines are good for 4 minutes of angle, but this rifle, with good ammunition, was a bit better. l The accuracy figures are the average of two five-shot groups. l To calculate IPSC power factor, multiply bullet weight in grains by the velocity in fps, then divide by 1000. l The retained-weight column shows the recovered bullet weight, then that weight as a percentage of the unfired bullet weight.

Buffalo Bore Full Power 110-Grain Soft Point Round Nose 46A/20

Buffalo Bore Full Power 110-Grain Soft Point Round Nose 46A/20

Buffalo Bore Full Power 110-Grain Soft Point Round Nose 46A/20

We bought this for $28.79 per 20 rounds directly from BuffaloBore.com. This load was the fastest tested at 2120 fps, some 120 fps over specification. You could detect the difference in muzzle blast, which was not offensive but stronger than the other loads. There were no malfunctions using both magazines, including the original and one ordered from Brownells.com. Accuracy was excellent with a 0.9-inch group at 25 yards. The carbine used is more accurate than most and will group 2 inches at 50 yards with the right handloads. This BB loading demonstrated excellent performance for home defense. The expansion was a plump 0.81 inch. Penetration was 14 inches. Testers noted that as velocity drops off at 50 yards, expansion will diminish and that will affect penetration. Still, we are primarily interested in personal defense at close-in range, and we find the Buffalo Bore loading to be an excellent choice.

GUN TESTS GRADE: A

Federal Power-Shok 110-Grain Soft Point Round Nose 30CA

Federal Power-Shok 110-Grain Soft Point Round Nose 30CA

Federal Power-Shok 110-Grain Soft Point Round Nose 30CA

We bought this for $22.47/20 at AbleAmmo.com. This loading averaged 1980 fps. The Federal Power Shock was the only load that fragmented; however, it traveled 18 inches in water while doing so. Perhaps having a separated core and jacket might be a better term. Penetration was greater than the Buffalo Bore load, which did not fragment. The jacket measured at 16 inches and the expanded core at 18 inches. If you like more penetration for the worst-case scenario, this is an affordable load with strong characteristics. When foraging for medium-sized game is part of the situation, a round that fragments in water may not be the best choice. Just the same, the loads may behave differently at a lower velocity at 25 to 50 yards. We rated this load down a grade because of the fragmentation.

GUN TESTS GRADE: B

Hornady Critical Defense 110-Grain FTX 81030

Hornady Critical Defense 110-Grain FTX 81030

Hornady Critical Defense 110-Grain FTX 81030

We bought this for $23.75/25 at CheapertThanDirt.com. This load is delivered in a 25-round box, placing it in line with the 20-round boxes for the price. Velocity is good and so is accuracy, at 1975 fps and a 1.25-inch group at 25 yards. This load has optimal penetration for tactical use, with the Critical Defense bullet penetrating a full 20 inches with good expansion and no trace of fragmentation. It is a different choice for a different scenario, and the scale favors penetration in this case. The Hornady Critical Defense would be the hunting load for small deer and feral hogs.

GUN TESTS GRADE: A

Speer Gold Dot 110-Grain Gold Dot Soft Point 24465

Speer Gold Dot 110-Grain Gold Dot Soft Point 24465

Speer Gold Dot 110-Grain Gold Dot Soft Point 24465

This cost us $29.99/20 at SurplusAmmo.com. This round was often difficult to find at the beginning of 2017. We delayed the test until we were able to find enough to conduct this shootout. The Gold Dot looks similar to the Federal 110-grain JSP, but it is a very different bullet with different performance. This load is the fastest tested, save for the Buffalo Bore loading, at 2011 fps. When the loads are souped up a bit, it tells by bumping up bullet performance. The Gold Dot was also accurate. It expanded to 0.58 inch while penetrating 18 inches of water. The Speer 110-grain Gold Dot offered optimal performance we like for personal defense. Because of the sold testing results we rated this round highly.

GUN TESTS GRADE: A

Prvi Partizan 110-Grain Soft Point Round Nose

Prvi Partizan 110-Grain Soft Point Round Nose

Prvi Partizan 110-Grain Soft Point Round Nose

This 30 Carbine load ran $23.79/50 at SCGunco.com. This loading had the potential for being the best buy, with fifty rounds for the price of 20 of any other loading. And it should be a good practice load, comparable to the Federal American Eagle 110-grain FMJ at $29.99/50 rounds. As a personal-defense load, the primary shortcoming was reliability. In firing 50 cartridges, there were four failures to function adequately. In each case, the spent cartridge caught in the bolt and was not fully ejected from the chamber. This failure isn’t acceptable for personal-defense use. The cause seems to be the lower velocity exhibited by the Prvi load at 1944 fps, well below the others. Or it may be the powder used has a different pressure curve. In any case, that is an 8% failure to function rate when the rifle ran 100% with the other loads. When firing for accuracy, the results were okay, with an average 2-inch 25-yard group.

Prvi Partizan 110-Grain Soft Point Round Nose

Prvi Partizan 110-Grain Soft Point Round Nose

The bullet penetrated 12 inches of water, the least of any loading tested, but it expanded the most of any loading, all the way out to 0.83 inch. However, the shot seemed to tumble and not track straight in the water, so expansion was uneven down one side of the bullet. On a positive note for personal-defense use, the first water jug exhibited slashes in the side wall, which indicated that fragments must have been thrown off the bullet in the first few inches of penetration. However, we were not able to recover any fragments. We rated the load down a grade based on penetration and bullet performance compared to the other loads. The real problem is reliability, and we cannot recommend this loading for any use save practice and training.

GUN TESTS GRADE: C

Our Team Said

The selection comes down to the three ‘A’-rated loads. However, the Gold Dot, we learned after testing, is being phased down and is difficult to obtain. Just the same, there are stores with the load in stock, and we stand by rating the round as an A. This leaves us with the Buffalo Bore Full Power loading and the Hornady Critical Defense loading. The Buffalo Bore would get the nod for home defense based on energy and expansion. The Hornady load gets the nod for those who prefer more penetration against light cover. These loads breathe new life into an old warhorse and maximize the cartridge’s utility for a new generation of shooters.

Written and photographed by Bob Campbell, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.

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