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My Friend Mo…..Maximum 9mm Ballistics

Mo, as in Momentum!

By Kevin Newberry

I was lucky enough to read the latest article by Charles Schwartz as it was submitted. It is very timely in my opinion, and in case you haven’t noticed, some of the major players in the defensive ammunition game are re-thinking Muzzle Energy, or ME. By that I mean the recent development where ammo-makers are emphasizing ME again. And, of course, the crowd that dictated energy as meaningless for handgun loads or anything below 2000 Ft/lbs might want to take notice. What I’ll attempt to do here will be to build upon the conclusions reached in that article. There have been some handloaders/ballistic experimenters whom I’ve tried to encourage away from the light and very high velocity type loads for fear that they would lack penetration. And in a conversation of energy and penetration we find the best balance comes from high enough levels of both. How can we be assured that we have enough of both? Read on!

The main argument to counter energy as a major ingredient in the wounding mechanism was DOA in my opinion. Bleed-out simply wasn’t expedient enough in the 1986 Miami Shootout. The 115 gr. Winchester SilverTip that was later determined to be a non-survivable wound in the autopsy, didn’t quite penetrate into the heart. It did however penetrate and expand enough (entering in the shoulder) to effect a Permanent Stretch Cavity, or PSC, large enough to be rated Non-Survivable post-mortem. Unfortunately, the perp didn’t get the memo; killing and wounding after what was later deemed a non-survivable bullet wound.

Since then, a number of theories have been postulated requiring hard science, and let’s face it, some of it was just too rigid in demanding that we only consider the results of the Permanent Wound Cavity. Sometimes I just trust my eyeballs, as in observing the effects to a gel block in slow-motion. The countering position warns that unlike gel blocks, human tissue is elastic enough to make an immediate rebound excepting the PSC, and thus, the only thing that can be relied upon is blood loss via the PSC. In that theorem, handgun cartridge level energy is dissipated throughout the body at low enough levels to prevent what we might term as shock. Often times, however, reports and articles are written where the science lacks objectivity. Higher energy loads tested in gel get criticized even while they were not the best representatives of higher energy among those of the same caliber. To me, that kind of smacks of tilting the field to get a desired result. How scientific is that? The same folks have been extremely critical of the record amassed by the formerly common and very successful law enforcement defense tools: 125 grain JHP loads in .357 Magnum and their 4” revolvers. They rarely mention mistakes in caliber choices made by the FBI after 1986.

Today it is somewhat of an epidemic that requires adherence to the selection of defensive ammunition based upon approval by the FBI. Along the way I have tried to direct shooters back to a test conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety when they decided to replace their 4” six-shooters in .357 Magnum with a high capacity autoloading pistol. I suggest that the history of that event be read and evaluated. The Texas DPS (which includes the Texas Rangers) was focused on penetration after passing through barriers for the first time that I read about any large law enforcement entity conducting such tests. Looking at the time-line you’ll notice that that occurred long before the FBI began doing the same. The Texas DPS certainly had no complaint concerning the effectiveness of their 125 gr. JHP loads in .357 Magnum; they simply chose to give troopers and Rangers a tool to level the playing field in terms of portable cartridge capacity. There was, however, a mandated caveat: they wanted a cartridge that could best emulate the performance of the cartridge being replaced. At that time we were just barely into the age of JHP design advancement with defense cartridges being loaded with higher technology bullets such as the Hydra-Shok, Golden Saber and Black Talon; all of which have been superseded, while these early examples have seen design advancements themselves. I mention this because it relates to the types of bullets/ammo available to the DPS at the time of testing.

At no point did the Texas DPS feel that they needed an outside consultant to direct them. As for actual gun-fighting experience, the only L.E. agency to amass a greater number of officer involved shooting events annually was the INS, i.e. the Border Patrol for the most part. No agency compares to the total combined experience in L.E. History since the formation of the Texas Rangers. Most of us are aware, particularly we Texans, that they were very often the only line of defense while having nearly insurmountable odds against them in the amount of ground they had to cover. That sense of independent spirit imbued on the early Rangers continued throughout the Texas DPS afterward. Even today, which if you’ve ever driven our highways in West Texas, you’ve seen firsthand that towns can be very few and far between; yet those remote highways are often patrolled by a single trooper. Let that sink in a bit. Some of those counties are large enough in area that they could be states in the liberal Northeastern part of this country.

Sure, political correctness is permeated in the large metropolitan areas of Texas. Enough so that recruit officers are now issued the SIG P320 in 9 x 19mm, replacing the caliber chosen for state wide usage resulting from the aforementioned testing procedure to replace the six-round service revolvers and cartridge that they undoubtedly carried longer than any other L.E. Agency in the USA. The replacement caliber chosen in the mid 1990s was the .357 SIG. No cartridge in .40 S&W or the .45 ACP of that day survived those test. In fact, the only other cartridge that did was a 147 gr. JHP load in 9 x 19mm rated +P+ at around 1175 FPS. It was dismissed because of the possible negative connotation associated with a cartridge designating higher power.

Meanwhile, after 1986 I proceeded on essentially without any change except that I found what I consider the best tool to use and which I use constantly today; Momentum and more recently the Q-Model program developed by, and as a result of the book,  Quantitative Ammunition Selection, by Charles Schwartz. I can say without reservation that the fast/light 9mm loads he wrote about in his article, are not the types of 9mm defense loads he would select for his own use, but reporting the facts for those who might consider them, as well as comparing them against 9 x 19mm loads offering greater momentum.

So let’s talk about my friend Mo, as in momentum. The solution was so simple that I don’t quite understand why it wasn’t considered more than it was. When we discuss things like energy and mass, etc., we tend to look at the whole. With Cup and Core bullet construction being easily the most common manufacturing method used, we have two components: the lead core and the copper jacket. Bonding to plating, or jacket takes in other considerations I won’t take the time to explain except that bonding has been around much longer than many are aware. Even before the SPEER Gold Dot design, SPEER was bonding cores to plating that was nearly as hard and thick as copper jackets. Different terms were used while the result was stated as molecular bonding.

In my early handloading and experimentation days it was not uncommon to read cautions about JHP bullets not expanding as they were intended to do. Maybe we just needed to consider that each component has its own mass? So if you had a bad experience with hollow points clogging, it’s more than a pure velocity issue, but under-loaded 9mm JHP loads certainly did not help. So what about 230 gr. JHP loads in .45 ACP that only require 850 FPS (+/-) to expand, you ask? Obviously the mass of the core is high enough to drive forward upon impact, overcoming external impediments, sometimes even their own jackets, thereby spreading the hollow cavity. Some of you may remember me stating that like kinetic energy, momentum can be manipulated by mass and velocity. In the case of the .45 230 gr. JHP, its great mass has an advantage in terms of momentum.

So what to do about the 9 x 19mm? For me the answer is simple. Charles Schwartz mentioned such a load in his article, my 147 gr. XTP handload chronographed at 1154 FPS from an earlier article. Before you try this at home, make sure you know that that load requires a specific OACL, one that many 9mm pistol barrel chambers are simply too short for it. Work up from at least a Mid-Charge. As I’ve mentioned before, for every bullet weight/style you choose to handload, you need to know the OACL it can be safely loaded to for the specific pistol the loads will be fired from. My personal practice mandates 9mm pistols without OACL restrictions, but for every .010” or .25mm in shortening to fit your pistols chamber, that also requires an incremental decrease in powder charge. If you own several 9mm pistols and only want to make just one single load, you’ll need to load for the pistol with the shortest chamber. Neither Western Powder Company or I assume any responsibility or liability for your handloading practices. The handloads being discussed should be considered as +P and are not typical.

Another point I’d like to make is that I will not disagree with anyone who feels it’s best to carry factory defense loads. That is very much a personal and regional issue where your local government might prefer you not even have the ability to carry a firearm for the protection of family, friends or yourself. Texas has statutes to prevent irrational thinking or civil prosecution for a situation where lethal defense was deemed justifiable by the proper authority. In either case, factory ammo or handloads, know in advance the situation you might find yourself in after a self-defense shooting event. That is up to the individual and where I’ll leave it.

This is just my opinion, so I’ll state right away that I feel that the Gold Dot may be the best bullet available to handloaders today for defense loads. Other than from bonding, several other excellent JHPs use technology that is not necessarily new; that being a mechanical lock between the core and jacket. Just before the deadly event of 1986, the FBI adopted the use of what they perceived to be the hi-tech bullet of that day, the rapidly expanding 115 gr. SilverTip; ignoring the successful use of very capable and proven 9 x 19mm defense rounds used by other agencies. The “Secret Service” load used the conventional Remington 115 gr. JHP while the “Illinois State Police” load used the Winchester 115 gr. JHP; both were labeled +P+ and rated up to 1350 FPS depending on barrel length, and not generally available to the public.

Since I once considered myself a great fan of the “Sweet Science,” let’s get right to the tale of the tape! At a rated 1200 FPS at the muzzle, the 115 gr. SilverTip developed 368 Ft/lbs of Muzzle Energy while the +P+ rated service loads used by the USSS and ISP, energy went up dramatically to 465 Ft/lbs. I really don’t believe we’d need Albert Einstein, if he were alive, to enlighten us on why the 9mm +P+ loads held a distinct advantage, particularly with bullets better suited to higher velocity. At 1200 FPS as the 115 gr. SilverTip was rated, not only is energy on the low side, it only provides

.6127 Lb-seconds of momentum, and that’s if the barrel is long enough to get that velocity while many of us who chronograph rarely find a commercial load’s actual velocity equal to optimistic factory ratings. For a better example let’s look at a 230 gr. JHP in .45 ACP where at 850 FPS its momentum is .8680 Lb-seconds. Those USSS and ISP +P+ 9mm loads at 1350 FPS gave .6893 Lb-seconds along with their higher energy of 465 Ft/lbs. Obviously, to get to a higher momentum, it is induced by higher mass, or it’s going to take greater velocity/energy with the bullet or defense load chosen. In 9mm the 147/150 gr. JHPs are the heaviest among those commonly available. When momentum is high enough, the greater mass of the core will make an attempt to overcome the mass of the jacket, and thus, we have mechanical locks with premium defense bullets.

Let’s talk about real world values. In my world, the absolute minimum for the momentum of JHP defense loads is .6000 Lb-seconds, and only for those who would insist that’s enough. None of my 9 x 19mm defense loads will have less than .6500 Lb-seconds of momentum. Charles mentioned a light/fast load with an 80 gr. Monolithic copper-alloy hollow-point at 1451 FPS. It rated higher than the cup and core JHPs of similar weight because they simply lost too much of their mass. For my defense handloads, a 115 gr. JHP is the minimum weight and I’ve long had data for the event of needing something very fast with a large dose of energy. As for the momentum calculation, in case it’s not in your manual, or if you don’t handload, we’ll skip the first step in the calculation that’s simply used to convert pounds into grains. That leaves us with M = BW / 225218 x V. You can get an idea of how this is relatable to energy in that you can get energy from that formula with E = M x (V/2) That can come in handy if you’re looking for both values where M is momentum with mass represented by BW as in bullet weight.

I still keep the Vihta-Vuori #2 handload guide from the early 1990s. I’ve used enough of that data in multiple calibers to be comfortable with it. There is one 9 x 19mm load using the 115 gr. XTP handload that they chronographed at 1423 FPS, at or below a Max Pressure of 36,300 PSI/CIP; 200 PSI below 9mm NATO spec. Energy is 517 Ft/lbs and .7266 Lb-seconds. There are ammo-makers who sell similar loads where the bullets can change from the Gold Dot to the 115 gr. XTP. TNoutdoors9 has YouTube videos for such loads. Several years back he did an expansion and penetration test on YouTube video with Underwood’s similar load with the 115 gr. Gold Dot rated +P+ @1400 FPS that when chrono’d from a G19 with just over 4” of barrel length, average velocity for 5 rounds was 1434 FPS.

What great timing! Just this afternoon I had a package arrive from TNoutdoors9 with a 115 gr. Gold Dot from the past test as well as a couple of recovered 124 gr. Gold Dots. is the address you want to bookmark and by all means subscribe to his channel! I can almost guarantee that there’s more to come on this subject.

I used a Sharpie for a reference point.

That is one scary looking 115 gr. Gold Dot with 525 Ft/lbs of ME! But as we know, somethings gotta give with this type of performance. Firing through 4 layers of denim and into the Sim Test gel gave him 9” of penetration. Results in water would be a bit different and closer to calibrated ballistic ordnance gel, in terms of the predicted penetration. But for curiosities sake, I ran the numbers through the Q-Model using the average recovered diameter I measured for the 3 outside and 3 inside measurements to get an average of .7095” and the recovered mass was 114.4 grains. The stats are impressive to say the least with momentum at .7322 Lb-seconds if the bullet is up to it. I would like to try the Vihta-Vuori load mentioned earlier, except that I would replace 3N37 with Ramshot Silhouette. The chargeweights and velocities are very similar in my experience and I’d definitely use the 1.142”/29mm OACL. Silhouette loads will require 1 less tenth of a grain or 2 tenths at most. For 147 gr. JHPs, Silhouette doesn’t quite have the gas for higher velocity loads while No 7 does. Just keep OACL in mind. Shorten the OACL: lower the powder charge. When I’ve had bullets that didn’t have the ability to hold together above 1050 FPS I use True Blue for its pressure stability and accuracy.

After I re-viewed the 115 gr. Gold Dot +P+ video I found one for the Underwood’s 147 gr. +P+ Gold Dot load rated 1175 FPS that chrono’d 1153 from the Glock G19 used. The bullet recovered from the gel performed exactly as it should have. From a slightly longer barrel like the 4.47” in my Canik TP9sa, 1175 FPS seems very plausible. TNoutdoors9 also mentions some things you’ll want to know like the felt recoil of these loads as well as the level of muzzle-flash they give. That made me curious about the middle child with a 124 gr. +P+ Gold Dot rated 1300 FPS that chrono’d 1298 from the G19. At 1298 FPS, ME is 464 Ft/lbs with .7146 Lb-seconds of momentum.

I won’t tell you that an advanced handloader can’t reproduce those results by handloading, but the advanced handloader likely knows how to safely do that. There are simply too many instructions to list them all here, many of which you will NOT find in your handloading manual. One thing that I can tell you is that with a load like the 147 gr. XTP at 1154 FPS using 7.4 grs. of Accurate No 7 and an OACL of 1.142”/29mm and a CCI500 primer, starting with a Mid-Charge and working up from there, upon reaching the standard pressure Max Charge per Lyman, or getting nearly to it at 7.2 grs., measure the case-head diameter .200” above the rim before and after firing. You’ll need a reference line on the case to do that, and try to be as precise as possible. If you scribe the line by etching the case, make sure it does not get handloaded again. At standard pressure the case head diameter should not grow by much from firing, but it will increase as the powder charge increases and you don’t want it to grow by more than .001” from the diameter established after firing the Max Standard Pressure load. If you have a micrometer that measures to ten-thousandths, 4 decimal places, you can observe as the case-head diameter as it increases and you’ll need to use the bottom edge (for leading edge) of the mic probes.  Dial and vernier calipers can only go down to thousandths of an inch; 3 decimal places. I’m not going to trust a digital caliper that’s supposed to be capable where I’d prefer the higher precision of a mic in ten-thousandths.

Due to receiving the sample bullets recovered by Tnoutdoors9, I will use stats from the Underwood’s +P+ 9mm loads he has reviewed and chronographed, and again, I recommend that you view them as well. This is how things break down. The 115 gr. at 1434 FPS has a muzzle energy of 525 Ft/lbs with .7322 Lb-seconds of momentum. I have long suspected that the 115 gr. XTP (also available from Underwood’s) will penetrate deeper due to expansion not being as great. I can tell you now that I will be making comparisons in the future. At 124 grs, the Gold Dot at 1298 FPS yields 464 Ft/lbs with .7145 Lb-seconds of momentum and very good penetration. The 147 gr. Gold Dot at 1153 FPS yields 434 Ft/lbs of ME with momentum at .7526 Lb-seconds. All three loads are easily higher than my personal mandate of .6500 Lb-seconds of momentum. Remember, that that is my opinion based on my testing over the years.

And before I go I’ll remind you that the Max Average Pressure, before SAAMI simultaneously changed to PSI testing and lowering its MAP to 35,000 PSI (33,000 CUP), the previous SAAMI MAP was 35,700 CUP that when tested accordingly will run close to 38,500 PSI, the SAAMI MAP for 9mm +P. Frankly, I believe a good many warnings about 9mm +P being Voo-Doo are overstated, and there are still 9mm pistols alive and well that were made back when the SAAMI MAP was 35,700 CUP. As far as pistols we consider to be very well made, the major difference is the weight of the recoil spring. When a pistol is made in both the 9 x 19mm and the .40 S&W, the recoil spring weight for the .40 S&W version will assist the 9mm version with these higher performing loads as well: 2# greater is typically what I see for the .40 springs . That I can say from my experience. The Canik TP9sa that I use for handload testing is NATO certified, and before I bought it sight unseen, I verified with the importer that it was rated for 9mm +P loads that can go up to 38,500 PSI/SAAMI while you have no idea concerning the powder used by the ammo-maker, specifically the powders burn rate, whereas I aim for equal performance or better, often times without crossing the line into +P per SAAMI. Back before Western Powder Company acquired Accurate Arms Powder Company, Accuarate had a ballistician named Johan Loubser, whom by telephone gave me some great insights on pressure, and particularly pressure testing. There is no doubt in my mind that his opinion was correct in terms of the Commission International Permanente, CIP, is the superior method for testing in PSI. Both the 5.56mm NATO and the 9mm NATO at 36,500 PSI/CIP had their MAPs established by the CIP method. Any 9mm pistol claiming NATO certification, by definition, includes the requirement for sustained use of the requisite ammo. With their “American” model and its slide velocity reduction system, Ruger states that they are capable of sustained use of 9mm or .45 ACP  +P even while it allows them to eliminate a small portion of the slide mass. I can tell you that my Canik TP9sa has fired many more thousands of rounds that the ammo factories would rate as +P, than it has lighter target type loads. Truth is, the +P rating they use can be as much about velocity as it is pressure.

Here’s a little walk down memory lane for the CZ lovers out there. When they were finally allowed to be imported into the USA after the WALL collapsed, and not the Pink Floyd album, the CZ 75 was available in 9 x 21mm as well as 9 x 19mm. That is a significant event for you CZ lovers, particularly if you wonder why they were among the first to shorten the chambers in their 9 x 19mm pistols. Basically, both pistols were the same to include magazines. The 9 x 21mm pistols necessarily required longer chambers in the barrels, and at that time, the 9 x 21mm was loaded to greater pressure than what IWI had it rated DOWN to by SAAMI. You guys with older European data have no doubt run across this. The point being that the one other difference between CZ 75s in 9 x 19mm and 9 x 21mm was the weight of the recoil springs for the higher performance of the latter. Of course, CZ was not using any MIM’d parts in those days. And while there are shooters out there who might try to educate you concerning MIM’d parts to be as totally reliable as a forged part, I won’t be among them! Particularly not when it comes to high stressed parts, like say, the slide stop pin. What’s the old saying? The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of lower price! I also have enough training and experience in machining technology to make that decision for myself. I have now had experience with pistols from both Canik and Sarsilmaz. Those they have certified with NATO, if it’s not their entire manufacturing plant, I am comfortable with. I am not endorsing any other Turkish brand, nor their current president. I hold no grudge against Turkey as a nation, other than the turkey currently in charge. The writing on-the-wall suggests that he won’t be for much longer.

Kevin Newberry

As always, God Bless, be safe, and good shooting to you all,