Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bullet Expansion Test or...How Nate Warren Spent His Summer Vacation

Firearms instructor Nate Warren spent the summer conducting bullet expansion tests which was both a laborious and time consuming task. I will finish this introduction after I have more information from Nate on the ballistic media he used for the test but I know it was a slow process. Nate's premise was to see how the ammunition for the most popular calibers would perform when fired from some of the most popular carry pistols on the market. So he tested .380 ACP, 9mm, .38 Special, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. For the .380 tests he used both the Keltec P3AT or the Ruger LCP, for the 9mm he used the Glock model 19, .38 Specials were fired from Smith & Wesson J-framed revolvers, .40 S&W's were fired from Glock 27, 23, and 22 pistols, and the .45 ACP rounds were put through a 5 inch 1911.

Nate was able to get his hands on 23 different boxes of defensive ammunition for the various calibers mentioned. Getting this ammunition was a feat in and of itself since good hollowpoint ammo is very difficult to find. That being said, this test is what it is and it is over. If Nate could have gotten a larger selection of ammunition he would have; so if your favorite round is not included in this test it is only because Nate was unable to find any (and trust me, he scrounged and burned up favors to get the variety that he tested).

How the Test was Conducted

Nate tested the ammunition in a product called the bullet test tube (

Nate received this medium which he melted in his Crock Pot and poured into 3 inch mailing tubes. The mailing tubes were less expensive than the tubes on the Bullet Test Tube Web site. The Crock Pot would only hold half of the medium and three hours were required to melt each half for a total of six hours. The process of pouring it into the tubes took 2 hours as it has to cool in layers. So you now have spent 8 hours to produce 8 tubes in which you can test 8 bullets. After that you re-melt the "gunk" and start all over again.

Nate fired at the tubes from a range of about 9 to 10 feet. Here is Nate's feelings about the test:

"Most consistent among all calibers and velocities were the Gold Dots, and XTP's. If I had to choose a non-LEO round regardless of caliber, it would be from the Gold Dot line. Performance of Federal HS in on par with the reputation for failure. Performance will be much worse when I test with clothing."

Yes folks, Nate is going to do this again and cover the tubes with layers of winter clothing.

My Observations
  • The overall best performers seemed to be (in no particular order) the Magtech First Defense Solid Copper hollowpoint ammo, Winchester SXT, Speer Gold Dot Hollowpoint ammo, the performance of PMC Starfire ammunition turned out to be a big surprise to me, and two law enforcement rounds, the Winchester T-series and the Federal HST line, had awesome performance. The jacketing on many of these rounds stuck out in pointed petals that were sharp. I could not imaging them propelling into tissue.
  • I was surprised that the Federal Hydra Shok ammunition was not more impressive.
  • The test made me rethink the use of a small .38 Special revolver since none of the rounds expanded consistently or all that well when they did expand. Federal Hydra Shok's did not consistently expand and the jacketing separated from the bullet and broke off. The PMC Starfire bullets did not expand at all in fact, the recovered bullets could have been reloaded and reused. The Remington Golden Saber ammunition was probably the best performer, but still inconsistent from an expansion standpoint.
  • All of the 9mm ammunition expanded well with the Magtech First Defence solid copper hollowpoints and the PMC Starfires performing very well.
  • All of the little .380 ACP ammo expanded as well as could be expected with the Winchester SXT looking like the best performer.
And with no further wait...on to the expansion photos.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Please disregard the previous post. I found the pics. My bad! Just not where I expected to find them.

This is cool work! Thank You for publishing the results!

Any chance on getting results for 180gr T-Series out of a G-27 and a G-22? I was shocked at the short depth of penetration on a lot of these loads. No wonder so many shootings with .40 S&W have been non-fatal or didn't even stop the bad guy!!!!