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The Heavyweight Semi-finals: Heavy Bullets for the 9mm
The Heavyweight Semi-finals
By: Kevin Newberry
Not as in a boxing tournament, but my long overdue report. I believe that I mentioned in an article past that I would be focusing on this for a while. The sojourn has had some interesting side trips into discovery as well.
The first 9 x 19mm load I had ever made like this was some years back with the 147 gr. XTP using Vihta Vouri’s 3N37 powder working up to the MAX charge of 6.1 grains and an OACL of 1.142”/29mm which they rated at 1152 FPS from a 4” test barrel with a tested pressure of 36,300 PSI/CIP. Many of you may be aware of the differences between the CIP system used in Europe and the PSI system used by SAAMI. For a reference, the 9mm NATO load is specified in PSI/CIP @ 36,500, or 200 PSI higher than the maximum pressure for the 9 x 19mm that Vihta Vouri showed as MAX at the time. The load Guide is their #2 from the early 1990s. The pistol I used was a SIG/Sauer P-226 and recoil was not as great as some might expect.
Rob Behr and I have discussed these loads for quite a few years now. Then I became acquainted with Charles Schwartz and his Quantitative Ammunition Selection research and the book that bears the same name. I found his work immediately and eminently usable. In fact, I believe that it’s the most beneficial data we have today on predicting wound ballistics. Everything I was familiar with up to that point is, in fact, considered in Schwartz’s research. In particular, I look very closely at momentum as well as energy along with expansion and penetration.
Coincidental to testing various 147 grain Hollow-Points for this project, I had been reading Glowing reviews of Canik pistols. At that time my “chrono 9” was a Ruger SR9 with its 4.14” barrel. I spent some time researching the Canik’s to the point that I took the plunge, sight unseen! I’d only done that twice before, but that was with pistols in .45 ACP when I had used their counterparts in smaller calibers previously. Specifically, I’m talking about the TP9sa, and a good many shooters still feel that it’s their best pistol to date. It got some bad press at first because it wears a decocker on the top of the slide while the trigger action is SAO. Evidently, this confounded the hell out of some who hadn’t even taken the time to learn why Canik would put a decocker on a SAO striker-fired, polymer framed pistol. In some cases it was specified by Canik’s military customers. They left it on the American export pistol because it eliminated the need to pull the trigger before the slide is removed in disassembly.
Hey, I live in N. Central Texas and we had a tornado blow over in 2007. It touched down about 3 blocks from my house and uprooted a tree. That was the extent of the damage and I felt very fortunate. I also know that I will have a hard time moving away from the home we’ve lived in for 23 years now. What I’m getting at here are the odds of another tornado in the future coming so close. From my own experience, not to mention the effort required to depress the decocking lever to deactivate the TP9sa’s striker, the odds of a second tornado within 100′ of my home still seem considerably greater than accidentally decocking this fine pistol. One early detractor even revisited his previous review and pulled a cocked TP9sa behind his pickup over dirt and gravel long enough and fast enough to change his previous opinion. The pistol did not decock.
I am not advocating Turkish made pistols necessarily, just reporting on the two brands I own personally. The other being Sarsilmaz and the SARGUN 9 in particular. The only fault I can find with it is how Sarsilmaz goes about naming pistols. There were some changes in the SARGUN 9 and the updated version is now called the ST9, or ST45 in .45 ACP. They have a new pistol named the Sar 9 that is a very different pistol, just to add to the confusion. The one thing that many do not know is that both of these companies run plants that have been awarded ISO 9001 certification. Both also carry NATO certification and various pistols go through NATO test procedures. Canik55 is publicly owned while Sarsilmaz has been privately owned since starting out in firearms manufacturing in 1880. There has even been some talk about Sarsilmaz manufacturing in the US. Personally, I feel a bit better about a privately owned gun-maker given Turkey’s current political climate.
Sarsilmaz pistols were formerly imported by EAA along with a previous CZ-75 type clone sold by Armalite. What occurred in my case was that I noticed as the model designation was changing from the SARGUN 9 to the ST9, the EAA imports were being sold for what I considered a low risk gamble. So, once again within a couple of years, I took a chance on a pistol sight unseen. The SARGUN 9 is SAO also, but its inner workings are what make it truly sensational, IMO. Both of the Turkish pistols were bought knowing that with their barrels at around 4.5”, they would at least be usable for handload testing. But, the SARGUN 9 very much reminds me of the first HP USPs and I was one of the first to buy one of the USPs in the original .40 S&W chambering. I was captivated with their recoil reduction system and most USPs use that same system today. The system that Sarsilmaz uses is similar, but of their own design. It is in no way inferior to the HK system and the same assembly is used in both the 9mm and .45 ACP. My thinking was that it would be a bonus for testing 147 grain Hollow-Points from subsonic to supersonic as the original XTP load was. By the way, CDNN in Abilene is still selling the last of the SARGUN 9s as I write this. Price is $279.99 and in typical EAA fashion, it only comes with a single magazine. TR Imports sells the new ST9 and Sar 9 that come with 2 magazines and extra ST9 magazines are available at $21.99 + shipping. As a side note, the 9mm magazines are made of translucent polymer for those who need to check capacity before slide-lock occurs.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t specify “Jacketed” Hollow-Points, it’s because one of the bullets is a plated hybrid. No so much different than the Gold Dot except that the SPEER bullet uses a harder plating that is near the thickness of a copper jacket. For those not familiar with SPEER’s Hot-Core process, it was around long before the Gold Dot and the Hot-Core process affects an excellent bonding process. Of the commercial bullet makers, SPEER was bonding bullets before most of us realized the potential of bonding handgun bullets.
Now I will outline the various aspects and events that occurred with each bullet. I have loaded 147 grain XTPs from time to time to 1130 FPS out of the SR9. On the first trip to the range with the Canik TP9sa, that same load from its 4.47” barrel chronographed 1170 FPS. The Canik is +P rated and handled it with ease, recoil wasn’t an issue, but, nonetheless I decided to slow it down closer to 1150 FPS.
Some of you might remember my departure from Charles Schwartz’s method and I’m more than glad to say that if you want to achieve the same results he did, use the water filled baggies that Charles recommends. I had been using 1 gallon water jugs so long by then that I’ve continued with them and the convenience they afford. I established penetration requirements first with Winchester’s 230 gr. JHP load in .45 ACP that goes about halfway through the 3rd jug with the jugs lined up straight and touching with their handles to the rear and all pointing in the same direction. The MAX penetration that I want to see personally is when the JHP does not completely penetrate through the 4th jug. So be sure to have 5 or 6 in line just in case when testing a new bullet. There won’t be any penetration into the 5th jug unless the bullet fails to expand properly. Believe it are not, some 9mm JHPs are not good expanders and useful only for plinking or competition use. I should also note that I still run the loads through Mr. Schwartz’s software program. Our results seem close enough, and if you want to hear about real success; over a year ago Charles had over 800 data points comparing the results from water (velocity, mass and expansion) and using his formula compared to the same bullet being fired into calibrated 10% ordnance gelatin at an accuracy rate above 95% for the prediction of penetration from the water test to that of the same bullet fired into gel! One of the really great things about Charles Schwartz’s research is that with a certainty of over 95% it is not necessary to purchase the expensive and inconvenient 10% Ballistic Ordnance Gelatin.
All of these bullets penetrate the 4th jug without leaving it. That’s the good news. The bad news is that each bullet except for the 147 gr. XTP has a definite velocity limit. I am using only 2 different Western Powders for these loads: Accurate #7 and Ramshot True Blue. Before I bought the Berry’s 147 grain Hybrid Hollow-Points I learned that their rating for MAX velocity for this bullet is 1075 FPS. I thought that would be useful for some, and using the ladder load technique, at 1036 FPS I decided to water test.
In my initial test the HHP lost petals at 1036 and the powder used was #7. Consequently, I had another load charged with True Blue that chrono’d 1000 FPS from the TP9sa. I didn’t know at that point what the threshold velocity was, but I figured 1000 FPS or less. 5.3 grs. Of True Blue did the trick at 976 FPS. Recovered diameter was .775” maximum and I have never seen a 147 gr. Hollow-Point of any kind expand so large.
Now it’s time for this statement: All of my data was derived from the Lyman Pistol & Revolver III Handload manual. I will show some loads that are slightly above the Lyman MAX charge, and I will touch on that as we get to them. I have been handloading for 32 years now and Lyman is my data of choice. For one, it’s pressure rated. And for 2, I have never had the slightest problem or seen any evidence of over-pressure loads using their data. While these loads are safe in my pistols, that might not be the case with yours. All loads should be worked up using caution and observation! Make sure that OACL is correct for your pistols chamber and I recommend 010” of free-bore. Your handloads .010” shorter than the MAX OACL that will “plunk” and spin in the chamber with the case-rim flush or just barely below the barrel’s hood.
The handgun load data is identical in the Lyman 49th edition manual, as well. And with over 50 manual editions so far, I think it’s safe to say that these folks know something about pressure testing. I also became a fan of Accurate Powder Company’s ballistician, Johan Loubser, years ago before Western got him in the bargain when they acquired Accurate Powder Company. A good number of my loads correlate to his. And as far as the ballisticians I’ve spoken with over the years, I never talked to anyone that was more knowledgeable than Johan. He was first in explaining the CIP system to me, hell, even that the true burn rate of True Blue, after it being initially rated very close with #7 in burn rate, Johan knew that it is just a tad faster burning than Accurate #5. Johan once suggested, or predicted; that the CIP method of PSI testing would eventually be adopted by SAAMI. It, of course, has not. My personal opinion is that one single pressure MAX or Max Average Pressure for all commercial loads should be that of the 9mm NATO at 36,500 PSI. The.40 S&W per SAAMI carries the same MAP as the 9 x 19mm sans +P. The 9 x 19mm has the stronger case-head and yet SAAMI allowed 40,000 PSI for the Forty’s offspring, the .357 SIG!!! Lyman’s data is reinforced by my own chronograph ratings. There is yet another system used in Europe based on BARs. It’s not commonly seen in the US and is based upon units of Atmospheric Pressure, which definitely makes it the oldest system in use, just maybe not in ballistics. I’ve worked with BARs quite a lot over the years in my hydraulic calculations. The values are smaller and I believe there is some value to that. Where European component makers once used the limit of 2600 BARs for the 9 x 19mm. It has since been lowered to 2350 BARs.
Another point of consideration: I have not subjected these loads to the FBI test protocols. I was aware of all of those test methods well before the FBI began using them. They were predated 10 or 12 years by the Texas Department of Public Safety (to include Texas Rangers) when they set out to find the ideal replacement for their 4” model Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolvers. Not to mention that since the “Miami Shootout of 1986” the FBI has gone from the 9 x 19mm to the 10mm Lite, the .40 S&W and the .40 S&W Lite and have lately arrived back where they started with 9 x 19mm. One of the 2 calibers that passed the DPS tests were, of course, the .357 SIG and eventual winner. Lesser known is that the other load was a 147 gr. JHP in 9mm, unfortunately labeled +P+, where the DPS feared perception concerns from a non-shooting and misleading, mainstream media.
What I eventually took away from the Berry’s Hybrid Hollowpoint load is that with 5.3 grains of True Blue and the necessity of loading short because of the bullet’s bulbous ogive: 1.085” short, you are essentially replicating a good many factory loads. Then another thought occurred to me. What about using them in sub-compact pistols like the S&W Shield? With 7 rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber I put 8 rounds over the chronograph. Velocity is still respectable at 893 FPS and for those who rate recoil by power factor as the short-hand method, you’re talking about 131 PF, or about what most folks load to to make Minor in competition. While firing from a rest over the chronograph where I typically feel greater recoil, the loads were quite comfortable in the Shield.
I found a similar situation with the Remington 147 gr. JHP. I don’t even have a guess as far as the number of their 124 gr. JHPs I’ve loaded and fired over the years, and not too far behind them is the 124 gr. Golden Saber. The old Remmy 124 gr. JHP served as our general purpose bullet in 9mm handloads for many years. It doesn’t expand as greatly as the Golden Saber, but it does expand very consistently. Penetration has always been good with them as well. Now I might as well explain why I omitted the 147 gr. Golden Saber. I have never loaded them because the length of their “driving band” (shank) is not appreciably longer than that of the 124. In any review of pistols or ammo I can recall, the 147 gr. Golden Saber never manages to impress as far as accuracy goes. But take that for what it is because we’re talking about defense loads where tack-driving accuracy may not be right up there with feed reliability in the big scheme of things. Then there is the issue of what used to be very good bulk pack values from Winchester and Remington; now costing more per bullet than the others used in this testing. As far as value, the Berry’s Hybrid Hollow-Point is the clear winner. And if you like you can set up all of the tests the FBI uses. Another thing that I do is that I set the first jug to be shot at the same distance I chronograph from the muzzle, which for me is 12′ to the middle of the skyscreens.
Initially, using #7 I got the Remmy 147 up to 1129 FPS when I decided to water test. I was hoping I could get it up to 1150, but that was not to be. The bullet came apart at 1129 FPS. So instead of “laddering up” I had to “ladder back down.” OACL is 1.132” while I have talked myself into believing that CCI500 primers work best for the dense and fine grained spherical powders. That’s what my chrono tells me, anyway. I know that there are some readers of my articles who may be weary of my continual boasting about True Blue, but I decided to switch powders believing that True Blue near MAX pressure with 5.7 grains would yield better uniformity than a download of Accurate #7. 10 rounds averaged 1039 FPS. Extreme spread was 15 with a standard deviation of 5 FPS. Except for the velocity disappointment, I really liked how the 147 gr. “Bubble-Butt” performed. That’s the nickname I’ve chosen for this bullet, and in the pic that follows you’ll see why.
I saved the 147 gr. Gold Dot for last believing that it would deliver everything I wanted to see in these tests. And again I was disappointed! This one was a bit harder to take since there are several smaller ammunition companies that use the 147 gr. Gold Dots in loads rated 1125 FPS (+P) or faster from a 4” test barrel. I worked up to the desired velocity and was disappointed for my trouble! In reviewing the different charges in the ladder test I decided to stay with #7 this time. 7.4 grs. of #7 specifically, and I again used the OACL of 1.132”, or 28.75mm. I list in millimeters for our European friends and also because I generally lengthen, or in some cases shorten loads, in .25mm increments. Now, this is a case I touched on previously. I know from past experience that data for the SPEER TMJ data is the same as the same-weight Gold Dot data. Lyman’s MAX load for the 147 gr. TMJ is 7.2 grs. of #7 at their OACL of 1.115”. The loads pressure rating is 29,000 CUP while we know that the MAP for 9 x 19mm standard pressure is 33,000 CUP (and 35,000 PSI). So yes, I exceeded their charge by .2 grains. Consequently, and having Accurate load guides from before the acquisition by Western, Johan Loubser used the same charge of 7.2 grains, but with an even shorter OACL of 1.095”. Lengthening allows for a slightly greater powder charge, so long as the charge increase is proportional to the OACL and case volume increase. I use a method I’ve talked to Rob Behr about which often applies to just wanting a longer load to minimize bullet jump. And using my estimation I’ve been able to report to him several cases where my longer load was within 5 FPS of the shorter load while I had made an increase in powder charge. So, if a 7.2 gr. Charge with an OACL of 1.115” OACL develops 29,000 CUP, lengthening the load to 1.132” with the charge increased to 7.4 grains, it is highly unlikely that the new load will be very close to the 33,000 CUP limit for standard pressure. At 7.4 grs. Of #7, velocity was 1090 FPS while SD was still good at 8 FPS. Performance is close to perfect as far as expansion and penetration. I would have liked to reach 1150 FPS, but still got very respectable performance.
Back to the future! I have used various powders and OACLs with the 147 gr. XTP. I have never pushed it to failure but Hornady does have a MAX velocity rating, it’s just not likely you’ll reach it in 9 x 19mm unless you’re shooting a carbine rather than a pistol. Maximum expansion always seems to run .6” +/- very little and the XTP does not over-penetrate. I’m not sure that you’d really see any difference in expansion going from 1100 – 1200 FPS. Vihta Vouri even shows a standard pressure load achieving just over 1200 FPS using 3N38. But from tests run by some of my fellow experimenters, as well as myself, #7 gives better accuracy.
Now I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed the recent articles by Charles Schwartz. In fact, this article is a bit longer and better detailed because of them. So, using the calculations from Quantitative Ammunition Selection, I will give the data for each load after running them through his Q-Model.
For those who may believe that this is all an exercise in chasing velocity . . . let me just say that there’s far more to it than that. My belief is that after the “1986 Miami Shootout” the FBI might well have chosen to stay with the 9 x 19mm had they had a good talk with Peter Pi of Cor-Bon. So far as I know, he developed the first commercial 147 grain +P JHP load rated 1125 FPS. Just to give you an idea about the potential difference of his load versus the 115 grain SilverTip, we need to consider momentum. At a rated 1200 FPS, the 115 grain SilverTip developed 0.6127 Lb-seconds. Personally, I want more momentum than that for a defensive load. With a 147 grain JHP at 1125 FPS momentum goes up to 0.7343 Lb-seconds. Even higher than my 124 grain JHP handloads at 1250 FPS that rate 0.6882 Lb-seconds and that’s still higher than the newly selected 135 grain +P Hornady Critical Duty load rated 1110 FPS from a 4” test barrel yielding 0.6656 Lb-seconds.
Excellent, but no over-penetration with good to excellent expansion? What a novel idea! I am a big believer in momentum, and like Muzzle Energy, it can be manipulated through mass, velocity, or both. This is why I like the higher velocity 147s in 9 x 19mm. As far as recoil expressed by power factor, the Cor-Bon load is 165 PF and would just barely make Major power factor. So let’s consider power factor for a moment. With a 180 grain JHP the 10mm Lite at a rated 975 FPS gives 175.5 PF, the same for the .40 S&W load using the same bullet. So there is still a measurable recoil advantage with the heavyweight 9s, even at +P like Cor-Bon’s at 1125 FPS that still has a muzzle energy advantage over the 10mm or the 40 S&W loads the FBI once used.
When the Texas DPS conducted their tests that led to the adoption of the .357 Sig cartridge and pistols, they also evaluated what the ideal power factor would be for troopers ranging from the largest male to the smallest female. The level that they decided was ideal was 160 PF. In my opinion, people that shoot regularly should be able to master that level of recoil while my 147 grain XTP load is a bit higher at 170 PF with a rise in momentum to 0.7532 Lb-seconds, nearly as high as the momentum for .40” 180 grain JHPs traveling 975 FPS while the sectional densities of the 9 x 19mm 147 grain JHPs are higher than the 180 grain .40” caliber JHPs. Higher than a 230 gr..45 JHP for that matter. Just make sure that you’re 9 x 19mm pistol is rated for +P ammo with power factor running this high. A change to a heavier spring may be required, One reason that I really like the SARGUN 9 (ST9); the recoil spring guide with its double springs and integral unlocking block does not need to be changed when converting from 9 x 19mm to .45 ACP. It does, however, have a requirement of its own: your ammunition will need to be powerful enough to properly function with the pistol being made to 9mm NATO spec. Generally, loads of 124 grains work fine and it will handle all of the 9mm NATO ammo you care to shoot.
And, even though I still use the jugs, I run the data through the QAS formula. That was made a bit easier for me with the software program he developed for the calculations. This is concluded with the percentages each bullet fired will have in terms of incapacitation within 30 seconds. I grew up in the handgun shooting world hearing that I should always fire at least 2 rounds in a lethal confrontation. This formula will go almost into infinity before it predicts 100% results, if it ever does! I’ve never ventured that far because it just isn’t necessary. A 4th shot with a good performing JHP is about as close to 100% as you’ll ever need. What I look at mostly is the differences with the 3rd shot. So, while I use to practice and keep my mindset on the double-tap, it has now become the Triple-Tap while trying to keep Massod Ayoob’s sound advice as part of my mindset. We know there have been shootings in the US where the criminal was wearing body armor, It has even resulted in the deaths of engaging CHL holders who were on the scene before LE arrived. Massod Ayoob’s advice is that if a hostile doesn’t go down after multiple shots, you’re either missing them, or, they may be wearing some sort of body armor. At that point, your best course of action is a shot to the pelvic area to get the criminal off his feet.
Another data point that I consider closely is the value for ΔE15, the amount of energy expanded from 1 to 15 centimeters of bullet penetration. While I rely a great deal on momentum, particular;y with these bullets and their very high sectional densities, I don’t discount the benefits of kinetic energy. There have been a number of studies conducted over the years that measure the Ballistic Pressure Wave with electronic (piezoelectric) transducers implanted into the test animals. Whatever the opinions some may hold, oscilloscopes do not lie. With science like Quantitative Ammunition Selection, you will be better prepared to analyze many different aspects of wounding mechanisms.
147 grain Berry’s Hybrid Hollow-Point.
10 rounds chronographed @ 976 FPS
Average Recovered Diameter = 0.6130”
Retained Weight = 146.5 grains
Momentum at impact = 0.6370 Lb-seconds
DoP = 11.7878”
Wound Mass = 1.7132 oz.
Wound Volume 2.8498 cubic inches
P[I/H] 1: 0.6984
P[I/H] 2: 0.9090
P[I/H] 3: 0.9726
ΔE15 -218.5979 Ft/lbs
Remington 147 grain JHP
10 rounds chronographed @ 1039 FPS
Average Recovered Diameter = 0.6380”
Retained Weight = 147 grains
Momentum at impact = 0.6782 Lb-seconds
DoP = 11.2855”
Wound Mass = 1.7766 oz
Wound Volume 2.9554 Cubic inches
P[I/H] 1: 0.7208
P[I/H] 2: 0.9221
P[I/H] 3: 0.9783
ΔE15 -254.3823 Ft/lbs
SPEER 147 grain Gold Dot
10 rounds chronographed @ 1090 FPS
Average Recovered Diameter = 0.5505”
Retained Weight = 145.8 grains
Momentum at impact = 0.7114 Lb-seconds
DoP = 16.0047”
Wound Mass = 1.8759 oz
Wound Volume 3.1204 cubic inches
P[I/H] 1: 0.7142
P[I/H] 2: 0.9183
P[I/H] 3: 0.9766
ΔE15 -243.0690 Ft/lbs
Hornady 147 grain XTP
10 rounds chronographed @ 1154 FPS
Average Recovered Diameter = 0.6035”
Retained Weight = 131.5 grains
Momentum at impact = 0.7532 Lb-seconds.
DoP = 12.2102”
Wound Mass = 1.7200 oz
Wound Volume 2.8611 cubic inches
P[I/H] 1: 0.7330
P[I/H] 2: 0.9287
P[I/H] 3: 0.9810
So there you have it, something I really wasn’t expecting. Four good loads at four different power level maximums: 1000 FPS, 1050 FPS, 1100 FPS and 1150+ FPS. I believe there is a use for all of the loads and plan to do more testing with the Berry’s Hybrid Hollow-Point in sub-compact pistols like the S&W Shield. I’d really like to see Hornady offer their Critical Duty bullets to handloaders; maybe a 147 gr. version since they don’t offer that weight as a factory loaded option
God Bless, Be Safe and Good Shooting to you all,