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Important Steps to 9 x 19mm +P Defense Load Success
The first step has to be a conscious decision concerning the possible ramifications of using your own handloads for defense. Arguments both pro and con are numerous. This is NOT a recommendation by the author, or Western Powder Company that you make and carry your own defense loads and by doing so; you personally accept all responsibility and liability. Some respected experts and trainers advise against this practice while the incidents of prosecution after a defense shooting because handloads were used are as rare as hen’s teeth. That does not mean that it can’t happen to you! You must know the legal ramifications in your own state as well as the local political climate. Here in Texas, when a self defense shooting is deemed justifiable you are protected against being sued in civil court. That may not be the case in your state and I am certainly not familiar with the statutes of each and every state. This article is simply a “how to” to make sure that the handloader is correctly following the necessary steps in developing their own loads. And for those that carry 9 x 19mm pistols in the field for small game hunting, you may find this article enlightening as well. That is my aim in writing it.
There will not be any shortcuts taken here and let me just say this up front: if you find some of these steps too complicated or extraneous for your particular skill level as a handloader, I recommend that you stick with good factory loaded defense ammo for now. I am now in my 29th year of handloading and part of the reason why I’m writing this comes from having handloaded 9 x 19mm ammunition according to the pressure standard that existed before 9 x 19mm +P.
Now, I know that there are some great defense loads available today. As good as we’ve ever seen and largely contributable to advances in jacketed hollowpoint design. There are, however, those who believe that they can do better. I feel that you should find it incumbent upon yourself to verify any of the techniques I will provide. Not on an internet gun forum, but in your handloading manuals.9mm Para+P 9mm Parabellum data
My participation on gun forums is very limited today. Largely do to some issues I’ve mentioned in the previous paragraph and it grieves me to no end at how many supposed “experts” will offer advice where you’d be far better off consulting your manuals. In many cases those “experts” should do the same. Discouraging newer handloaders against taking the time to develop technical competency is particularly high on my list of grievances. Like a number of other writers here, there was no internet when I started handloading. I am completely self taught through the writings of true experts and I am glad for it. My background in design and related engineering disciplines was a great benefit to me, but none more so than the handloaders who preceded me whom made invaluable contributions in writing from their own experience. None of the techniques I will offer are particularly difficult. If you are reasonably proficient with arithmetic and using your precision measuring tools with a comfortable level of dexterity, you won’t have any problem using these techniques. If you have any questions about anything stated, consult your manuals. I also encourage your feedback.
As we examine some historical aspects of the cartridge it would be difficult not to consider some of the debate regarding defense load effectiveness or the elusive subject of “stopping power.” In my opinion, in just the past few years we have seen some significant achievements. In particular, some excellent research by Charles Schwartz whom I believe brings some invaluable data to the discussion with empirical evidence for those doing their own testing in regard to expansion, penetration and predicting the performance of jacketed hollowpoints in 10% ordnance gel, the perceived grail for testing defense load effectiveness these days. His book entitled Quantitative Ammunition Selection can be found at retail outlets such as Barnes & Noble or at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Quantitative-Ammunition-Selection-Charles-Schwartz/dp/1475929064
Considering methods used by handloaders to test JHP effectiveness in the past, myself most definitely included, can be humorous to say the least. Some, “LOL” funny! Stuffing strips of paper into 1 gallon water jugs has been used by some fellas I know. I have fired into wet newsprint placed before the water jugs as well as after them. And of course, there are those whom you can find on YouTube who use the real thing, 10% ordnance gel calibrated to the FBI standard. In shooting thousands, if not tens of thousands of rounds to conclude his theorem of modified fluid dynamics rated 94%, “To 700 points of manufacturer and laboratory test data, the quantitative model allows the use of water to generate terminal ballistic test results equivalent to those obtained in calibrated ten percent ordnance gelatin.”
The Schwartz method is without a doubt more exacting than my method where he places a chronograph just before a series of water baggies. Using the velocity and the diameter of the recovered bullet, his formula predicts performance in ordnance gelatin. Accuracy at 94% of 700 data points was enough to convert me from being a skeptic into a believer.
This is one instance where I do use a simplified method of my own. I just line up 1 gallon water jugs touching back-to-back and fire my defense handloads into them from twelve feet after finding the average velocity of 10 rounds with their Standard Deviation firing from the bench with my chrono twelve feet from the muzzle before water testing. From my experience of testing in comparison to factory defense loads, penetration through 2 jugs into the third indicates adequate performance. Penetration through 3 jugs and into the 4th is excellent and the goal for my own loads. What I really like to see is a JHP just barely or not penetrating into the 4th jug. In some cases these JHPs will impact the last wall of the 3rd jug without escaping it while bursting a hole in the 4th jug. Penetration completely through 4 jugs is excessive and a lack of expansion will be the culprit. So, I rarely line up more than 5 jugs and sometimes just the 4. I have yet to see a JHP penetrate all 4 jugs and look like anything I would want to use in a defense load. Some bullet-makers seem to be unaware of how ineffective their JHP designs really are. That is the methodology for all of the handgun defense calibers I use personally: 9 x 19mm, .357 Magnum and .45 ACP.
Also, examine the expanded core; you don’t want to automatically assume that a bullet needs higher velocity, but when the expanded core still has a prominent dimple in its center, it can be made to perform better with additional velocity. For me, this is more of an issue with JHPs that have high mass in relation to caliber; particularly if they find their way into the 4th jug. A recent example would be a .45 ACP load I’ve been developing with the Hornady 230 grain XTP over Ramshot Silhouette. I like the XTPs a great deal and I believe that they are very much underrated as bullets for defense. They share a common feature with Hornady’s Interlock rifle bullets with both having an internal interlocking ring that binds the core to the jacket. In short, they hold together very well. Most of the complaints come from them not expanding as large in diameter as some of the “new tech” JHP bullets. But, when safe pressure allows you to increase the powder charge for higher velocity, things change for the better. Regarding my 230 grain .45 ACP load, at 863 FPS it was barely contained by the 4th one gallon water jug. The dimple in the center of the core was fairly prominent so I wanted to achieve two goals: decrease penetration and increase expansion which I have done to my satisfaction at around 900 FPS from my 4.5” Ruger SR45. Recovered diameter is ¾” or better while the possibility of over-penetration is significantly reduced. A 230 grain JHP with a muzzle energy of 418 Ft/lbs coming to an abrupt stop will definitely get someone’s attention. But let’s look at another aspect that I see mentioned all too rarely, momentum in its true physical form rather than expressing it by power factor. The formula is not difficult and after a shortcut it will be even easier.
M = W / (7000 x 32.174) = W / 225218
Where M is the bullet mass and W is bullet weight in grains. The factor 7000 converts grains to pounds and 32.174 Ft/second/second is the acceleration due to gravity.
Momentum = M x V where the result is expressed in lb-seconds. To simplify, I get the same result by multiplying Bullet weight multiplied by velocity then divided by 225218. Nothing so hard about that, right? In the case of my .45 ACP XTP load that’s 230 x 900 / 225218 = .919 lb-seconds. Also, if you calculate momentum in lb-seconds there is a shortcut to convert it to kinetic energy at the muzzle.
Momentum x (velocity / 2) = Muzzle Energy
By comparison, loads that are becoming too common these days, IMO, are the subsonic 147 grain JHP loads. By no means is this any .45 vs. 9mm debate. I shoot and love both but I don’t use any subsonic defense load in 9mm. I simply wanted to show the numbers for a defense bullet that has a large amount of momentum with energy above 400 ft/lbs. So when your internet gun guru states that kinetic energy is insignificant because of “new tech magic bullets,” ask them what “new tech” JHP performance parameters are most controlled by. From physics we now that energy is defined as the ability to do work. And even for the newest wonder-bullet, their performance parameters are based on necessary energy levels. My particular problem with this is the high degree of dependency on performance in ordnance gelatin and we’ll get to more of that later. I live in the real-world, the physical world with physical solutions. Regarding a subsonic 9mm 147 gr. JHP, I’ll be fair with an average velocity of 975 FPS: 147 x 975 / 225218 = .636 lb-seconds, approximately 2/3 the momentum of the 230 grain .45 ACP load. Since we now have the momentum for the 9mm 147 gr. JHP, lets use it with the shortcut I mentioned: .636 x (975 / 2) = 310 Ft/lbs. combined with .636 lb-seconds of momentum. No thank you, very much.
The momentum isn’t terrible, but with energy so low I’m just not going to count on ballistic gel performance being conclusive enough for the real world. Another example for added perspective would be a 9mm 115 grain +P+ load at 1350 FPS. Energy is 466 ft/lbs with momentum at .689 lb-seconds and higher than the 147 grain JHP load. Power factor is 155. I believe that recoil plays a major role in all of this. Some shooters just don’t want to have to deal with it whether it be for physical or fiscal reasons where you need to shoot as often as your schedule allows; not necessarily what your wallet allows. Sure, you’re wallet is a deciding factor, but low cost cast lead and particularly poly-coated lead bullets will stretch your shooting budget. Not to beat a dying horse but it’s one of the reasons we handload: so that we can shoot more frequently. The velocity limitations of poly-coated bullets are still higher than you’ll be loading with practical defense weights, 115 grains and heavier in 9mm. My personal preference is 124 grains and heavier. Load them fast enough that they can mimic the recoil of your carry load. This is not about making light paper punching loads; it’s about realistic training and learning how to deal with recoil.
Regarding my own shooting history, revolvers were seen at the range much more frequently when I started out. I was shooting .357 & .41 Magnums before I fired my first round of 9mm. I’m not a big fan of 115 grain JHPs and 124 grain JHPs are the norm for me. I feel more comfortable when momentum is above .650 /lb-seconds. 1250 FPS is safely achievable with 124 grain JHPs with proper loading techniques and I can not stress highly enough the importance of using only a few select powders for the application. This is defined somewhat similarly to the case of adequate bullets for big game by Sectional Density which we will also cover.
I recently saw the question of handgun cartridge energy come up and it was addressed succinctly by an experienced hand who simply stated ( to those who believe handgun rounds do not have enough kinetic energy to make any difference in terminal performance ) “shoot the same weight/same velocity FMJ ( or any non-expanding bullet ) and JHP into water jugs and see if you notice any difference.
As I was coming up in handloading and listening to the same old worn out debates on 9mm vs. .45 ACP I would see energy disparaged because of velocity being squared in the formula appearing to give the advantage to the faster bullet. Einstein didn’t think so with his equation of E = MC2. Not that we mind so much in our .3ZX magnum rifle load. By the same token, in the calculation of momentum, mass is the dominant factor. The heavier the bullet, the greater the momentum at a given velocity. Where does the answer lie? IMO, somewhere in the middle. I want as much of both as can be practically achieved. A little later in the article will discuss a 9mm load I’ve developed in the past and revisited recently with a different, and old favorite powder, a 9mm 147 gr. XTP that chronographs around 1125 FPS from my 4.14” Ruger SR9. For pistols with barrels of 4.5” or longer you may see an increase to 1150 FPS from your service pistol. That’s 432 ft/lbs of KE at the muzzle, and higher than that of the 230 grain .451 XTP, while its momentum of .751 lb-seconds is an appreciable increase in momentum over the subsonic load. For comparison, my 124 gr. JHP loads at 1250 FPS produce 430 ft/lbs of KE at the muzzle with .688 lb/seconds of momentum. Again, sectional density comes into play here. This is not about increasing velocity for velocities sake, or just to increase energy. In times past before bullets like the Hyda-Shok, Golden Saber and the Black Talon, some conventional cup-and-core JHPs could experience clogging of the cavity due to things like clothing and other barriers. In most cases these loads were underpowered. If we increase velocity and energy at the muzzle we also increase impact momentum, lessening the effect of potential clogging.
Another consideration? My 230 grain XTP load in .45 ACP has a power factor of 207 where the subsonic 147 grain JHP load in 9mm is significantly lower at 143. The 124 grain handload ( 1250 FPS ) is at 155 while the 147 grain handload ( 1150 FPS ) is at 169 PF. The shooting world believes that the FBI protocols for ammunition performance are the latest gospel. Many are not aware that the Texas Department of Public Safety preceded them by about 10 years with the same barrier tests when they ultimately adopted the SIGARMS P226 & P229 in .357 SIG. The newer “wonder bullets” were not out as yet and no load in .40 S&W or .45 ACP passed all of their tests required for selection. Only one other load did, a 9mm 147 grain JHP load rated +P+ that the DPS passed on it because of the negative connotations that might be associated with the +P+ label by an uniformed press. Concluding the tests, the Texas DPS found that the acceptable level of recoil for new cadets from small females to large males, expressed in power factor, is 160.
So, let’s take a look at some essential tools you’ll need, particularly if you decide to load up toward and into 9 x 19mm +P pressure levels.
- A chronograph is an absolute necessity.
- The caliper that you probably already own. There is one measurement we’ll be making where a micrometer can be used, where with the greater number of graduations for those mics that are accurate to and read to 1/10,000”, that’s one Ten-Thousandth, you can read changes to a more finite scale although not a necessity.
- A fine line felt tip marker.
One of the most important considerations in making high velocity 9 x 19mm handloads is Overall Cartridge Length, whatever abbreviation you use. The one I type and write is OACL and several more are in common usage as we know. What many do not understand is that OACL recommendations given by the data provider are strictly starting points where you’ll often see it stated that the load should not be shorter. The data providers have no way of knowing what pistols the loads will be used with, and as far as pistol chambers go, you won’t see as much variation among different makes and models as you will in 9mm Luger, Parabellum or 9 x 19mm pistols. For those of you who have not started loading for rifles as yet, you may see slightly exaggerated statements regarding the difference between loading for handguns and loading for rifles. In truth, there are a good number of similarities, particularly where exacting results are the expectation. I love to save a buck wherever I can but it is not what attracted me to handloading. The ability to make better ammunition than you can buy was my particular attraction, with the cost savings being a bonus. For benchrest rifle shooters, there are additional steps often taken that are not common to loading for hunting rifles and handguns. There are, however, a number of procedures that I find common to making my hunting loads for rifles as well as my magnum revolver hunting and defensive handgun loads. Production rate is not one of them. My defense loads are crafted as carefully as my hunting loads while I’m the quality control department; usually loading single-stage or single-station with a LEE Classic Turret press. Getting back to OACL, there is a statement in my SPEER #11 printed in 1986 that when the 9 x 19mm’s pressure maximum according to SAAMI was 35,700 CUP. Don’t worry, we’ll get into that as well. The point being that with their 9mm loads (that are not quite as short as many recommendations for OACL that you see today) they state that a load rated 28,000 CUP went to 62,000 CUP when the bullet was seated .030” deeper into the case. You just don’t want to load shorter than what is given by the data provider, and in many cases, it’s just not necessary to load as short. One unique example unto itself being the Remington Golden Sabers (if you can find any) and that we’ll discuss as well as a possible solution for pistol barrels/chambers with short throats.
There are some fine measuring tools for finding the proper OACL for a load in a bolt-action rifle or an auto-loading pistol. This is one of those “crossovers” I mentioned between loading for rifle and pistol. I don’t use the tools personally because I use an older and proven technique. No pistol caliber in my experience is easier to gauge than the 9 x 19mm. It should be done for every weight/style bullet for the pistol it will be fired from! I can’t think of many precise measurements that are easier to do with jacketed bullets of nominal diameter, .355” in this case.
First you’ll need a FIRED 9 x 19mm case with the spent primer still in place as a safety precaution. I use Winchester cases by habit but others will work as well. If not, find a fired WIN case because almost anyone who picks up their brass at the range is going to end up picking up spent cases from someone who fired White-Box ammo and left their cases on the ground. Do NOT resize the case! Remove the slide from your pistol, the one you’ll be carrying the load in, and remove the barrel from the slide. Take the defense bullet you plan to use and just barely start it into the FIRED case. You want it to be longer than the SAAMI max. spec. for OACL which is 1.169”. This I’ll refer to as the “dummy” cartridge. With the muzzle of the barrel pointed down for all following procedures, drop the “dummy” into the barrel chamber. The case-rim will extend above the barrel hood, which most barrels have, which is at the top of the chamber where barrel length is measured from. Now, gently push on the case-rim until it stops forward travel. This is the point where the case-MOUTH has come into contact with the shoulder inside the chamber where the throat/leade is in the barrel, and where the rifling/lands begin. Once the case-mouth has stopped at the chambers shoulder, the rifling/lands of the barrel have seated the bullet to its “Max. Possible OACL.”
Some rifle loaders set OACL to crowd the lands as close as possible. The old rule-of-thumb is to allow .010” of freebore for the bullet to “jump” to the rifling/lands. In other words, your handloads will need to be .010” shorter than the “Max. Possible OACL” that you find from measuring the “dummy’s” OACL with your caliper. Make up 5 “dummies” or use the same one 5 times and repeat this test, what you want to see is that in each test event you’re getting the same “Max. Possible OACL.” Regardless of which autoloading handgun cartridge you load, the bottom of the case should NOT extend beyond the barrel hood. That can cause an out-of-battery condition. You may see diagrams of this at various websites or in your manuals. Ideally, the cartridge base should be flush with the barrel hood or about 1mm below it and no more.
Part of the decision on how long your handloads can be is a function of the OACL variations from your press and seating die. Do not try to seat and crimp in one operation. It will contribute to greater variations in OACL. Since different presses and dies have different tolerances I recommend that you shorten your defense loads by .010” shorter than the “dummy.” Just as in the case of your best hunting rifle load, the bullet of your handload should NOT be touching anything in the throat/leade upon cartridge ignition. This can cause an unsafe pressure condition. Also be aware that some 9mm pistols like the Ruger SR9 will allow for a longer OACL than what will function in its magazines. Obviously your handloads have to be short enough to have some travel clearance in the magazine. For pistol barrels we’re not quite dealing with the same precision of a rifle load/chamber; neither are we dealing with near the same amount of pressure in most cases. The principles are similar but you can allow for more bullet “jump” without an appreciable degradation in accuracy. To make things even simpler, you can just shorten your handloads to the next lower .5mm. Just so we’re square on that I’ll list those various lengths that I use in both SI and Standard units. The longest I load to is 29.5mm/1.161”, then 29mm/1/142”, 28.5mm/1.122” and only when you’re forced to load as short, 28mm/ 1.102”. Here is one example where maybe we can cover everything and this particular OACL will be coming up later in the article. Okay, you just barely start your JHP into the fired case and drop it into the chamber. To avoid confusion at this point we’re talking about a longer 147 grain JHP. You gently push on the case-rim until it stops, then you remove it from the chamber. With your caliper, say you measure the “Max. Possible OACL” @ 1.175”. Repeat the test 4 more times to make sure the “dummy” consistently measures 1.175” each time. This is over the SAAMI spec. for Max. OACL and may not work in your magazines. A good many brands of pistols have magazines that will not allow you to crowd the Max. spec. of 1.169”. Shortening by .010” for your loaded rounds will get you under that @ 1.165” but here I would drop down to 29.5mm/1.161” and even then, some magazines will not work with loads as long. You could shorten to 29mm/1.142” or seat the bullet shorter in finer increments until the loads will function in the magazine.
One thing I want to stress here is part of my testing procedure at the range. When I’m function testing, particularly if I have the range to myself, I’m going to rip through a few fully loaded magazines firing the pistol as fast as I can while being able to control the pistol: maybe even faster than what some might consider “Spray-and-Pray.” Something I would very much advise against save for the cause of function testing your new load in the magazines they’ll be carried in. If you have a man-sized silhouette target, firing the rounds as fast as you can keep them in the mid torso of the silhouette will suffice. Remember, your range rules may not allow you to do this. Find a place where you can. Your handloads must function with at least 100% reliability! Accept no substitute!
Okay, call me OCD at this point because I’ve heard that many times, as well as hearing that the powder charge does not have to be exactly the same in each cartridge. Maybe I’m OCD on that as well because I prefer to use dense spherical powders, ball or flattened ball in my handloads. One side benefit that can be useful is that they almost invariably give lower and less offensive muzzle-flash, which at night can rob you of your visual acuity after the first round is fired. Then there are commercial powders available such as Ramshot Silhouette that have a flash inhibitor as part of the powders chemistry. Why obsess with minimum OACL variations and exact powder charges? Well, in my case I put 10 rounds over the chrono but only fire a few in the water jug test. The more closely that each round in the magazine performs exactly the same, the more consistent you can expect the result to be at a time when you really have to put it to the test. Another misnomer, in case you don’t own a chronograph at the moment is that the only data you need is average velocity and extreme spread. Pay the $10 more for a unit that calculates and provides Standard Deviation when you want it! I want it at the time of testing and I’m too impatient to wait until I get back home to download the 10 round strings into a spreadsheet program or SD calculator. Extreme spread is simply the difference between the highest and lowest velocity round fired. That I can do in my head. My mathematical expertise is in engineering, I am NOT a statistician. If you ask a statistician about SD, Standard Deviation, you’re going to get a rather lengthy answer covering things like confidence limits, population size, etc. Just a few chronographs have an accuracy rated better than +/- 1% and that’s good enough for handgun ballistics. Chronographing 10 rounds in a string works fine for me. Some guys use 20 round strings and some as few as 5 rounds. I think you’ll find that the majority use 10 shot strings. My quick and dirty description of Standard Deviation is that it will tell you how far your velocities are spread about the norm calculated by the chronograph. The lower you can get the SD of a load the better chance you have of all 10 rounds in the string (or how ever many you fire in your strings) the more similarly those loads are likely to perform on target. You don’t have to obsess, particularly not with high pressure pistol cartridges. You’ll be running near or above the standard Maximum Average Pressure, or MAP, where with a good powder getting an SD of near 10 is not difficult. An SD below 10 is very good and if your load performs like you want it to with SD dropping down close to 5, call it good and go on to the next project. While I’m on this subject, let me touch on poly-coated bullets for a moment. Our esteemed & fearless editor knows that I’m a True Blue fanatic and if you check back a few pages here on the e-mag you’ll see that I wrote an article about it. I have found absolutely nothing that would suggest that poly-coating takes anything away from accuracy. I have a tack-driving 9mm load that I am glad to share. The only problem is that Blue Bullet’s discontinued this particular bullet style that I describe as a 125 grain RN-SWC. The nose is round, but like a SWC the shank above the shoulder/driving band is smaller in diameter. SNS Casting still sells this poly-coated style last time I checked. Do the test for OACL/chamber length for your bullet. You might be able to use my OACL in pistols that would not allow the use of a JHP as long. With the Blue Bullet’s 125 grain RN-SWC over 6.2 grains of True Blue loaded to an OACL of 29mm/1.142” with a CCI-500 primer it’s a tack-driver from my 4.14” SR9. Average velocity is 1122 FPS, extreme spread is 12 FPS with an Standard Deviation of 3!
Truth be told there aren’t many defensive cartridges I load where I can’t get standard deviation below 10 using True Blue, even with .357 Magnum loads for my 2 ¾” Ruger Speed-Six. It’s also a very undiscovered powder for .45 ACP, IMO. For carry loads with 124 gr. JHPs in 9mm I tend to use Silhouette because of its very low flash through chemical treating. Powders like True Blue, AA#5 and #7 are low flashing by a combination of their very high bulk densities and small physical size. We’ll explore this later as well. With my 124 grain 9mm loads at 1250 FPS using Silhouette the standard deviations have ran as low as 6. With 230 gr. XTPs in .45 ACP with warm charges of Silhouette I can get SD down below 10. Just keep in mind that in .45 ACP and its much lower operating pressure your Silhouette loads will run better close to or at Max. Charges.
As we get into pressure lets start by clearing up another misconception. In my Lyman 46th edition there is a chapter titled A Limited Comparison of the Crusher and Piezo systems. Some handloaders will tell you that case expansion, or the measure of, it will not contribute any meaningful data. Near the end of that chapter the authors state, “For peak chamber pressures between 15,000 and 40,000 PSI, Figure 3-8 suggests that there is an approximately linear relationship between pressure and case expansion.” In case you don’t have this article, Figure 3-8 is a graph showing the amount of case expansion by thousandths of an inch correlating to pressures from 15,000 to 60,000 CUP. While we’re on this subject, let me state that these authors conclude that:
“The key advantage of the piezoelectric transducer is the ability to generate the complete pressure-versus-time history of the internal ballistic process, whereas the copper crusher gage is capable of measuring on the peak magnitude of the pressure pulse.”
Some will tell you that the piezoelectric transducer system (PSI) is superior to the copper crusher (CUP) method as far as consistency of the peak pressure measurements. Yet, there are those like Lyman and Hodgdon that continue to test pressure in CUP to make sure their data does not exceed established limits. Lyman’s 9 x 19mm data uses the CUP system for both Start and Maximum charges as is the case for much of their handgun data. There is no empirical evidence that the piezoelectric system measures peak pressure any more accurately than by the CUP method. Since both tests can be conducted simultaneously, some choose to do so. We’ll get into this some more when we dig into 9 x 19mm pressure. Now I’ve mentioned Lyman data several times already and I will tell you this: in my 29 years of handloading I have never had a single problem using Lyman data. In fact, in my time at various reloading sections on the various gun forums I have encouraged those who do not have a Lyman manual to get one. The reason being is to help handloaders better understand the pressure characteristics of different powders used to load the same bullet in the same caliber; especially when the pressure is listed. Unfortunately, some of the excellent articles in the 46th have not been included in later editions. One reason I’ve never updated mine. To stay abreast of handgun powders that have come along since then, and newer pistol calibers as well, I have the Lyman Pistol & Revolver 3rd edition. It has also helped me to gain a better understanding of the 3 most common pressure rating system we’ll encounter, SAAMI PSI, SAAMI CUP and CIP PSI. We’ll be discussing all 3 as we progress. There is another that I’m familiar with from hydraulics, but BARS is typically used only by Europeans as well as measurements in Mega-Paschals.
During some of my research in past years I had some conversations with another researcher whose main interest was the .357 SIG, but he made a lot of head-to-head comparisons to the 9 x 19mm including the +P version. He was a fervent practitioner of measuring case-head expansion as he worked toward maximum loads from data, and as he exceeded it. Trying to determine pressure or overpressure from the condition of the primer post firing is not as conclusive as some believe. Craterring is definitely one condition that is an indication of overpressure and there are others like pierced primers. Flattening of the primer is not always conclusive with handgun loads as compared to higher pressure rifle loads. As an example, if an ammo-maker loaded one of my 124 grain JHP loads at 1250 FPS you can be guaranteed that they’re gonna slap a +P label on it. Depending on the powder used, I rarely see anything close to flattened primers with those loads. I can not make the following statement definitively without empirical evidence because I honestly don’t spend a lot of time concerning myself with it. But, it may well be a function of the burn rate of the powder selected in relation to the cartridges operating pressure.
I don’t mean to bemoan the practices of my host, but not so long ago Western Powders provided 9mm +P data for every powder they sell that has application in handgun handloads including Nitro 100 and Competition. In my opinion, such data is misguided. In the Western #5 load guide we see that the data for the powders used for 9mm loads are listed by burn rate. The +P data did the same. It seemed to me as something of an exercise in futility and I strongly recommend that you do not attempt to make any 9mm +P load with a powder that has an inappropriate burn rate, i.e. fast or very fast burning powders that in some cases might even be double-charged. Make sure to examine the powder charge level in every case when developing any handload and particularly high velocity or +P loads. So from the powders listed, disregard those that are faster burning than Silhouette. Accurate #5 is a fine handgun powder, but I would not use it either. Silhouette, True Blue and Accurate #7 have the demonstrated pressure stability that is essential. This is not some exercise to get to 38,500 PSI; its about getting as much velocity as possible with acceptable pressure.
The correct location for measuring expansion of the case-head on the 9mm’s case is .200” above the rim. As an example from the Lyman graph I mentioned, there was an increase of .001” when raising pressure from 30,000 CUP to 35,000 CUP and another .001” of expansion when going from 35,000 CUP to 40,000 CUP. I don’t have the pressure testing equipment I’d like to, but from the 35,700 CUP data I’ve been using for many years none of the loads we’ll be discussing should even reach 35,000 CUP. What I do is to mark as fine of a line as possible at that location and then make a measurement before and after firing the round. I’m mainly concerned with increases of .001” so I use my Mitutoyo dial caliper. I can estimate half of that, or .0005” for test purposes. Now I’ll explain my earlier remarks about using a micrometer for this. Rather than the sharp blades on the caliper a micrometer, unless you have the blade type, will have flat probes. No big deal except that the 9 x 19mm has a tapered case. So when you measure the fine line you marked at .200” above the rim, only the bottom leading edge of the probes should be on that line with the mic. body above it. The advantage of using a mic that measures in 1/10,000th” graduations is that you can more closely examine case expansion with each increase in powder charge. Using the dial caliper, you can wait until you near Max. charges from the data before you began taking measurements of the case-head. When you believe that your handloads are near the SAAMI standard pressure limit of 35,000 PSI (or 33,000 CUP), start measuring case-heads before and after firing to see what is normal. You may see some variation because barrel chambers are not all exactly alike. Case expansion from standard pressure loads near or at the top end will tell you what your particular chamber allows case expansion to be. If you increase powder charges from there and into the +P range, ideally, case-head expansion should not go above .001” and less is better. Rob Behr and I had a good discussion some time back about the case-head strength of the 9 x 19mm cartridge. Pound for pound, very few pistol cartridges have greater case-head strength and some of those that do were derived from the 9 x 19mm, i.e. cartridges like the 9 x 23mm Winchester.
I was one of those who jumped on the .40 S&W bandwagon very early on. I never had one single problem and the opinion I shared with others was never use a flake powder faster burning than Unique, or a spherical faster than N330 for standard pressure loads. In the case of new handloaders and loading for any handgun cartridge I’ve always advised that they use a powder that will fill at least 50% of the case. Double charges should never happen, yet we know that they do. Using a powder that gives greater than 50% case-fill is obviously going to spill over in the event of a double charge. In Lyman’s .40 S&W data you’ll notice 2 things. 1, they rated pressure in CUP, and 2, they did not exceed 24,000 CUP. This is because of pistols that may not adequately support the case-head. While they use powders faster burning than what I’d recommend for standard pressure loads, the data is perfectly safe if you’re looking to make target rounds with a faster burning powder.
Now we get to 9 x 19mm pressure levels. As I stated, when I started out in the mid-eighties, the 9 x 19mm had a SAAMI pressure limit of 35,700 CUP. There is a good bit of confusion regarding various pressure ratings for different designations. In my opinion, it started with the inception of 9mm +P. If you Google overpressure ammunition you can learn a few things on the subject. One article at Wikipedia isn’t bad but it has a few errors in regard to the 9mm. They, like some handloaders will tell you is that +P ammunition is approximately 10% over standard pressure and how the +P limit of 38,500 PSI was reached. SAAMI was testing in PSI by piezoelectric transducer by that time. This is one of those cases where the cart came before the horse because there was no PSI value to raise by 10%. In the early part of the article they mention that +P ratings were derived, in some cases, from the cartridges previous rating before being lowered. So, only having the pre-existing value of 35,700 CUP to work with it appears much more likely that when they tested in PSI it came out very close to 38,500 PSI. After reducing standard pressure to 35,000 PSI some data providers began listing pressure in both standards, 35,000 PSI and 33,000 CUP. It has been my opinion for many years that 9mm +P at 38,500 PSI is little more than those previously rated 35,700 CUP. We are not greatly affected in this country by the CIP system which is tested differently than SAAMI PSI. When Vihta Vouri powders first started appearing in the US, their data for the 9 x 19mm went up to 36,300 PSI. CIP has since lowered that to just above 34,000 PSI.
Unlike the SAAMI CUP and PSI systems where a mechanical or electronic device is pressed or crushed by the cartridge case at a location about mid-chamber, the CIP system requires a hole to be drilled in the case where the piezoelectric transducer is directly affected by the burning and expanding gasses. I was recently enlightened on the CIP method by Rob Behr. Western’s former ballistician, Johan Loubser who was with Accurate Powder Company when they were acquired by Western, once told me that the CIP system was the most accurate of the 3 and expected SAAMI to adopt it in the future. That hasn’t happened yet but there is one cartridge familiar to us that is affected by the CIP, or Commission International Permanente, and that is the 9mm NATO round. Its pressure rating was established by CIP and it is set at 36,500 PSI. In my way of thinking, everything could be made much easier if everyone used one common standard. Since most of the European pistols we buy are used by one country or another’s military, we know that many of those countries are members of the NATO alliance and it just wouldn’t make sense for them to not make their pistols robust enough for the NATO standard and then some. In years past, Ruger stated in their 9mm pistol instruction manuals that their pistols were made to be used with any ammunition loaded to industry standards, including +P and +P+. We know the pressure rating for +P, but +P+ is a bit of a pink elephant in my opinion. While no set limit exists, there is the suggestion that it not exceed 40,000 PSI. Maybe one of these days someone will show me any commercial 9mm load that would pressure test above 38,500 PSI. I’m not an engineer for an ammunition manufacturer but I would certainly hope that those who are know the dynamics well enough to select a proper powder for their defense loads. Don’t be confused when the +P designation is used as a marketing ploy. Back when Ruger introduced their first poly frame pistol, the P-95, they talked about the test pistol they used to fire 20,000 rounds of Federal +P+. That load used the same bullet as the standard pressure 9BP, but with velocity at 1250 FPS, I’d hardly call that +P+. Look at your data sources and you may find that even a +P designation was unnecessary.
Today Ruger states that “no 9mm Parabellum ammunition manufactured in accordance with NATO, U.S., SAAMI, or CIP standards is known to be beyond the design limits or known not to function in these pistols.” I point this out because of the paranoia you may have seen about 9mm +P ammunition causing accelerated wear. Well, not with the pistols designed to handle it! Keep that in mind when you select your next 9 x 19mm pistol. I’d like someone to be able to explain to me how a slightly higher pressure, or the original pressure for me, is going to wear out a quality made pistol prematurely. Using power factor as a means to look at slide velocity in recoil, it doesn’t take long to figure out that the same pistols made for .40 S&W and .357 SIG, where other than bore diameter, the greatest difference is slide mass. I mention this not only as criticism but to make a recommendation from what I’ve done with my SR9 which weighs 26.5 oz. The SR40 weighs in at 27.25 oz. The frames are identical so the weight difference is purely in slide mass. The SR9 comes with an 18# captured recoil spring while weight used in the SR40 is 20#. Earlier in this article I mentioned the velocity of my 147 grain being 1125 FPS from my SR9. That’s a power factor of 165.4 which is technically 9mm Major in power factor while I do not believe its pressure would be above 33,000 CUP/35,000 PSI. Knowing that the 147 grain supersonic load would yield higher slide velocity than say my 124 grain loads. I bought a stainless steel guide rod and 20# recoil spring from Galloway precision. Spring weight alone does not equal the playing field as was learned in the early days of the .40 S&W when some manufacturers simply put a .40 caliber barrel in their existing 9mm and increased spring weight accordingly. There were those like SIG/Sauer that spent a bit more time in development of their .40 S&W pistols and learned that increased slide mass was also required. But in this case we’re only talking about a difference in slide mass of around 3% in favor of the SR40. As far as power factor for the loads, one of the more powerful rounds commonly found in .40 S&W are the 165 grain versions at 1150 FPS. Power factor is about 190 where we see around a 13% gain over the 147 gr. 9mm.
Myself, I could live with a single pressure standard such as the NATO designation. I began using the Vihta Vouri powders when they first became available and have worked up to Max loads rated 36,300 PSI/CIP. In fact, the first time I worked up to supersonic velocity levels with the Hornady 147 grain XTP it was with 3N37 using Vihta Vouri data. Later when 3N38 was introduced I was corresponding with another handloader who was interested in my 147 grain supersonic loads and he wanted to try 3N38 because by that time they had reduced their 9mm data to around 33,000 PSI but still managed to launch the 147 grain XTP above 1200 FPS from their 4” test barrel. They had also started another practice; that of using a CIP minimum dimension barrels for testing. When my correspondent got up to the Maximum Charge of 3N38 and tried to seat the bullet to the recommended 29mm/1.142” OACL, the nose of the XTP was deformed from the powder compression. He wasn’t exactly in awe of the accuracy he got either using a Glock 34 for testing. He had a very good idea and tried using Accurate #7. I can’t remember what his powder charges were now but he found velocity comparable if not better than using 3N38. He had a definite improvement in accuracy.
In the “Dear Labby” section here I asked sometime back if Western used a minimum dimension barrel for their latest 9 x 19mm data. Either the ballistician at that time didn’t understand my questions, or I failed to get them across concisely enough. My questions also involved Golden Saber bullets where I know that we miscommunicated. In the response I was told that it appeared that some of my statements contradicted each other so I want to cover this in regard to the statement I made earlier about pistols with short chambers. When I owned a CZ P-01 I was mostly using the standard Remington 124 grain JHP at that time because of its accuracy, and that it could be bought in bulk quantities. When I checked for the Max. Possible OACL it turned out to be 1.127”. I made my rounds with a REDDING Boss single stage press and my Titanium Carbide die set. I could hold OACL tolerances to +/- .001” or better so I dropped down to the next .5mm at 28.5mm/1.122” which allowed for .005” of freebore. I loved that pistol but ended up selling it to my brother who needed a better carry pistol than the one he was carrying at the time. A few years ago I started using the 124 grain Golden Saber again and started load development with 3N37 and Silhouette. CZ 75 series pistols are known for their short chambers as was the case for my P-01, but the thought occurred to me that the 124 grain Golden Saber might be a solution. I’ve always loaded them as Remington does which is one thing I agree with in the Western #5 data for 9 x 19mm, their OACL of 1.145” for the 124 grain Golden Saber. The reason for that is seating the bullet to where the top of its driving band is flush with the case-mouth. Because of its driving band design, the shank above the driving band up to the ogive is smaller in diameter (approx. .347”). One simple way to find out would be with the “plunk” test by dropping a bullet into the chamber with the muzzle point downward 90 degrees. If the bullet does not touch the lands you should hear an audible “plunk” and the case should spin freely in the chamber. The things is, I have gotten away from owning any short chambered 9 x 19mm pistol and I don’t plan to buy another for 1 single defense bullet only. Another point here, when I loaded the 124 grain Golden Saber to Remington’s spec for their +P load at 1180 FPS the jacket and core separated. I thought I could prevent this with higher velocity and did using Silhouette at around 1222 FPS. Concerning my questions to “Dear Labby,” I’ve loaded enough thousands of the Golden Sabers to tell you that you’re dreaming if you expect to get the velocities in the data. Some of the data is good for other bullets and developed by a different ballistician. Even at similar OACL I have never seen a Golden Saber that didn’t require a higher powder charge compared to a JHP with a copper jacket. 9 x 19mm or .45 ACP. Before the .45 ACP Golden Saber data was developed I used the data for the 185 grain XTP: 1152 FPS with 9.9 grains of Silhouette. Working up all the way to the Max. Charge but using the 185 grain Golden Saber, the fastest velocity I was able to achieve was 1087 FPS. So if you use a Western Powder to load the 124 grain Golden Saber to a velocity at which it works great at, you won’t need to start much below what is shown as the Max. Charge and follow the steps we’ve discussed. The other part that I found rather dubious was the statement that, “our test barrels are SAAMI spec.” That’s all fine and dandy, but SAAMI allows a variation from minimum to maximum where all are technically, “in spec.” The problem with minimum dimension barrels for testing is that the rated pressures are too high for the corresponding velocity. Just sayin’! If the folks in management read this I hope they’ll consider some of my points. I also know where they could find a very good ballistician without much effort!
Okay, I know this article is rather lengthy so let’s start putting things together, except for a few things we’ll discuss in a companion article to this one. Once you’ve confirmed what OACL you need to use for your bullet and carry pistol, work up to the Max. Charge at which time you should start measuring case-head diameter before and after firing. Work up gradually and no more than increases of .2 grains. As far as Western Powder’s are concerned, for 124 gr. JHPs I would use Silhouette or Accurate #7. Obviously your velocity expectations can’t be as high as I’ve quoted for my 4.14” SR9 if your pistol has a shorter barrel. And if it does I would stick with Silhouette or True Blue. Whenever a handloader can not find data for a particular JHP I’ve always recommended the data for the SIERRA 125 grain JHP. There 2 reasons for that. Both SIERRA and Lyman load it short at 1.075” which you now know can be loaded significantly longer once you’ve found the requirements of your own barrel’s chamber as we’ve discussed. Secondly, it has the longest shank/bearing surface of any 124/125 gr. JHP that I’m aware of. The longer the bearing surface is, the more friction the bullet will have in the bore which equates to higher pressure as well. Sierra’s data runs a bit warmer than Lyman’s does.
Let’s talk about Sectional Density now and hopefully they’re given in your load manual. This is why I don’t use 115 grain JHPs except for one possible situation where I might if necessary. I’ll be quoting those for Hornady XTPs but there should be little or no difference regardless of bullet manufacturer. The 115 grain XTP has a sectional density of .130 and sectional density has a great effect on penetration. The 124 grain XTP has a sectional density of .141 which I feel more comfortable with. The 147 grain XTP has a sectional density of .167 which is higher than that of a 180 grain .40 or a 230 grain .45 by just a bit. Penetration has never been a problem for 9mm 147grain JHPs except in the early days of the bullet and subsonic velocity when because of the slow velocities there were a number of over-penetration incidents that could have easily been solved with higher velocity/greater expansion, but only one man at the time had the solution: Peter Pi of CorBon.
When it comes to the ballistic “authorities” remember to listen to all sides of the story and never just one. I have found that just about everyone’s pet theory has some merit. But as some of us know, one single event impacted 9mm ammunition like no other: the 1986 “Miami Shootout.” Several FBI agents were killed in a gun battle following a robbery because the latest “new tech” bullet underperformed with one perpetrator shooting several agents while a Winchester 115 grain Silvertip was lodged within 1” of his heart. The round originally struck him in the upper arm/shoulder and with its soft aluminum gilding metal in the jacket, it gave impressive expansion, but it was that rapid expansion that prevented it from penetrating deep enough to stop the perpetrator. The FBI then began using subsonic 147 grain JHP loads. At around 975 FPS the reverse occurred: too much penetration and not enough expansion. In a number of cases the subsonic 147 grain JHPs had penetrated completely through the villain without great effect then went on to strike innocent bystanders. Fackler and the FBI’s next attempt to find the best service cartridge was the 10mm “Lite.” A 180 grain .40 bullet reduced in velocity from previous loads to around 980 FPS. It did not distinguish itself as a combat round and there were flaws found with the S&W pistols chambered for it. The final solution were Glock pistols chambered in .40 S&W with varying degrees of success depending on the particular load used at the time. It appears now that the FBI is looking back towards the 9 x 19mm.
This is my own take but the only caliber I will use at subsonic velocity is the .45 ACP with a good 230 gr. JHP like the XTP. I sometimes load 185 and 200 gr. JHPs but at higher velocity, particularly in the case of the 185 grain Golden Sabers as mentioned earlier. Since I have to give an opinion on a data source I’m going to recommend one of the current Lyman manuals. Before Johan Loubser’s talents were acquired along with the purchase of Accurate Powder Company he listed the Max. Charge of Accurate #7 for the 147 grain SPEER TMJ at 7.2 grains with a Federal primer while using an OACL of 1.095” giving 1047 FPS. You’ll find that same load in the Lyman 49th edition or the Pistol and Revolver III except that they loaded longer at 1.115” and used a CCI-500 primer to get a velocity of 1014 FPS. Considering the longer OACL I find that very consistent with the Accurate data as well as the results I get. And just as I mentioned pressure increasing with shorter OACLs, it works the same in reverse. Pressure will decrease by loading longer. The Lyman manual lists pressure for their 147 grain TMJ load at 29,000 CUP. That leaves an additional 4000 CUP to work with before the load is technically +P. Remember, these are specific cases and I’m only going to recommend Accurate #7 here because it has few peers when it comes to loading the 147 grain JHPs. My initial loads had an OACL of 29.5mm/1.161” up until I got to 7.5 grains of #7 for 1112 FPS from my 4.14” barrel. At that point, rather than increase the powder charge further and for the benefit of readers who might not be able to load as long as 29.5mm/1.161”, I shortened the OACL to 29mm/1.142” to get the additional velocity. I do use a formula of my own to find the approximate powder charge needed to maintain the same pressure when OACL is lengthened. Over the years in developing these loads I have come to very much believe that the longer burn column allows velocity to increase without a significant pressure increase by lengthening the OACL and adjusting the powder charge accordingly. As you increase OACL with the 9 x 19mm, keep in mind that the brass above the web is thinning as you get closer to the case-mouth, so case capacity increases to a slightly greater degree. For those who may not know, Accurate #7 was originally designed as a propellant for heavier 9mm bullets to be fired from submachine guns. It is ideal for this application. Be sure to chronograph and you’ll only need to line up four 1 gallon water jugs at 1125 to 1150 FPS. The 147 grain XTP expands to what looks like maybe its maximum potential. Remember when I mentioned the 230 grain .45 bullets having dimples or craters? Well the 9mm 147 grain XTP core will flatten at the top with just a tiny dimple sticking up in the center. If it goes into the 4th jug it won’t be by much. A real world load you can make and evaluate yourself without having to depend on a “new tech” bullet, many of which are not available to handloaders.
If you feel like you’d prefer the 147 grain SPEER Gold Dot, the TMJ data will work. In a SPEER manual the data should be the same for both bullets. One more reason I like the XTP is because so far as I can tell it has the shortest shank/bearing surface of any 147 grain JHP.
As I close here, let me recommend that you read the companion article as the editor and I decided things like case-neck tension and taper crimp are worthy of their own article rather than add them to one that has already become quite long. And there will be things relevant to other autoloading cartridges as well.
Kevin Newberry is the author of Kilroy: Kilroy Was Here, an adventure novel available from Amazon.com