Ballistic Testing of Hornady Critical Defense in 9mm and .45ACP

Welcome to the fourth installment of our ballistic gel testing series. The current series is sponsored by Clark Armory who provided the testing medium (Clark Armory sent us a couple of new gels this month–it is like Christmas in June!) and rounds.

Technical Details of Hornady Critical Defense in .45ACP

The Hornady Critical Defense (both variations) are following the trend of copper projectiles that flower open creating a much larger wound channel.

The patented Flex Tip® technology used in Critical Defense® ammunition eliminates the clogging and inconsistency that often plagues hollow point bullets. Hornady® achieved this by using the same tip material as used in LEVERevolution® ammunition.

All Critical Defense® ammunition is loaded in nickel cases for increased visibility in low-light situations. Premium low fl ash propellants deliver proven performance, even in very shortbarreled handguns, and won’t disrupt your vision. Reliable expansion and dependable terminal performance can be counted on for concealed carry/personal protection.

It is also important to make the distinction that we tested Hornady Critical DEFENSE (not DUTY). Hornady makes a distinction between the two at:

We fired the rounds with a Springfield XDM in 9MM and the HK. I really wanted to test one of the Spike's Jacks (in .308) but the gel is not meant for that...

We fired the rounds with a Glock 17 and the HK. I really wanted to test one of the Jacks (in .308) but the gel is not meant for that…

There were also a few more technical details on the Hornady rounds.

.45 ACP

  • Caliber: .45 ACP
  • Weight: 185 gr.
  • Bullet: Copper Hollow Point
  • Velocity: 1000 fps
  • Energy: 411 ft. lbs.
  • Penetration: 13.75 in. (heavy clothing)

9mm Luger

  • Caliber: 9mm Luger
  • Weight: 115 gr.
  • Bullet: Copper Hollow Point
  • Velocity: 1140 fps
  • Energy: 332 ft. lbs.
  • Penetration: 11.5 in. (heavy clothing)

About Hornady:

Hornady Manufacturing Company is an American manufacturer of ammunition and handloading components, based in Grand Island, Nebraska.

Hornady’s website:

Test Parameters and Setup

Our testing format is to test a single round (potentially with multiple calibers) per article against the following four tests: against bare gel, gel covered with several layers of clothing, gel behind drywall and gel behind automotive glass (both of the last two will also have a layer of clothing over them).

First order of business will be testing the density of the gel with a BB fired at a known rate. We will fire this into a corner of the gel

Each round will be fired through a chronograph at the ballistic gel and this

The test will look like this:

  1. Set up shooting position and recording devices
  2. Fire two rounds through the chronograph at the bullet trap
  3. Set up naked gel
  4. Fire BB at 500 to 600 feet per second at Gel and photograph penetration
  5. Fire round at gel while filming video and then photograph penetration from front, side and top.
  6. Repeat steps 3 to 5 with the other tests.

We again attempted to chronograph both rounds from our chronographs, and again had failures. We think it is an issue with the lighting in the test area (we are going to try some different lighting options next time.

Test 1: Bare Gel

HCD - Bare Gel - BB

Bare Gel – BB

Bare Gel - 9mm - Front

Bare Gel – 9mm – Front

Bare Gel - 9mm - Side

Bare Gel – 9mm – Side

Bare Gel - 9mm - Top

Bare Gel – 9mm – Top



Bare Gel - .45 ACP - Front

Bare Gel – .45 ACP – Front

Bare Gel - .45 ACP - Side

Bare Gel – .45 ACP – Side

Bare Gel - .45 ACP - Top

Bare Gel – .45 ACP – Top



The 9mm round penetrated the gel past 12 inches, staying together, and generating a minimal permanent wound channel.  The .45 ACP fragmented, losing some of the outer copper around 6 inches in.

The .45 ACP round would not technically pass the FBI standards as a significant portion of the mass did not penetrate twelve inches (though it was close; and this was only one trial).

Test 2: Heavy Clothing

Clothing - BB

Clothing – BB

Clothing - 9mm - Front

Clothing – 9mm – Front

Clothing - 9mm - Side

Clothing – 9mm – Side

Clothing - 9mm - Top

Clothing – 9mm – Top

Clothing - .45 ACP - Front

Clothing – .45 ACP – Front


Clothing - .45 ACP - Side

Clothing – .45 ACP – Side

Clothing - .45 ACP - Top

Clothing – .45 ACP – Top.  I’m super proud of this shot–the round took the entire aiming dot inside the gel (leaving it about 4 inches in).




The rounds in this test show reversed results.  The 9mm round was just short of the 12 inch requirement, while the .45 ACP penetrated 13 inches.  Again, we see the .45 ACP round losing pieces of the jacket (this time about the 5 inch mark).

The 9mm round would not technically pass the FBI standards as a significant portion of the mass did not penetrate twelve inches (though again this was only one test).

Test 3: Dry Wall

Dry Wall - BB

Dry Wall – BB


Dry Wall - 9mm - Front

Dry Wall – 9mm – Front

Dry Wall - 9mm - Side

Dry Wall – 9mm – Side

Dry Wall - 9mm - Top

Dry Wall – 9mm – Top

Dry Wall - .45ACP - Front

Dry Wall – .45ACP – Front

Dry Wall - .45 ACP - Side

Dry Wall – .45 ACP – Side

Dry Wall - .45ACP - Top

Dry Wall – .45ACP – Top


Both rounds penetrated the minimum 12 inches, though the .45 ACP exited the gel.  Hornady does note that the Critical Defense round is not meant for “situations that require superior barrier performance”, but in the very next sentence they state “bullet will expand reliably and will not clog like standard hollow point bullets when fired through heavy clothing”.  Which is what we saw, but why would drywall be different with respect to its ability to clog?  We would assume that really any round with a cavity that promotes expansion would pick up debris.

Test 4: Automotive Glass

The automotive glass was conducted using Tom G’s scaffold from the previous tests we did. This time we were able to cut the windshield down into more manageable pieces. The glass was placed at a forty-five degree tilt, rotated forward by fifteen degrees, and set eighteen inches in front of the gel.

Glass - 9mm - Front

Glass – 9mm – Front


Glass - 9mm - Side

Glass – 9mm – Side

Glass - 9mm - Top

Glass – 9mm – Top

Glass - .45 ACP - Side

Glass – .45 ACP – Side (2nd test; you can see the entry of the first test down and slightly to the right of the lower entry channel)

Glass - .45 ACP - Top

Glass – .45 ACP – Top


As in other tests, this test was the most interesting of the set.

The 9mm round fragmented after penetrating the glass and created two entry points into the gel.  The larger portion of the round penetrated almost 10 inches.

The first round (of .45 ACP) was deflected downward nearly two and a half inches and entered the gel near the bottom, skipping along the ammo can we had the gel staged on, and deflecting back into the gel.

Since we were interested in the effects against the gel, we re-conducted the test. This time we placed the aiming dot about 2 inches higher (we had to raise the glass scaffold as the glass segment was too small). The round was still deflected down at nearly the same angle, but did make it into the gel.  The round came apart about 4.5 inches in with the farthest traveling piece making it 7.5 inches into the gel.

Neither the 9mm, nor the .45 ACP round, would technically pass the FBI standards as a significant portion of the mass did not penetrate twelve inches.


Tom G: Hornady Critical Defense ammunition was designed to reliably expand upon impact. Hornady Critical Defense was not designed for extreme barrier penetration, though Hornady does mention in their product literature that this round was designed to penetrate heavy clothing, expand reliably and pass the FBI standards in regards to penetration.  The rounds we tested were very near to the the FBI criteria for penetration in the bare gel as well as Heavy Clothing tests. The 9mm round fragmented when shot through glass though it did perform well in the dry wall test. For general concealed carry this round would work fairly well.

Tom R: The rounds behaved as advertised, doing well against bare gel and heavy clothing, but having mixed results going through the dry wall and glass.  Personally, I’m not entirely sure why they made a separate round (the “Critical Duty”) to do this.  As I have mentioned before, I want consistency in my ammo.  In a “self-defense” scenario, trying to remember that your load is going to have different performance depending on what it is passing through is just not going to happen with the average monkey–I would say that most people need something that will be reliable no matter how and where it is used.

As we have seen in a number of tests, rounds penetrating dry wall seem to have some deflection, and generally have been over penetrating–even rounds that don’t have a hollow cavity to collect debris.

The automotive glass showed significant downward deflection with the .45 ACP round (as well as caused the round to come apart–a behavior we did not see in the other tests). We repeated the test as the round attempted to exit the gel early, but was deflected back into the gel by the can. The 9mm stayed in the gel, but did also come apart.

We can debate the efficacy of the FBI standard (in the comments), but it is a pretty well defined and understood test at this point, and provides a good way to compare rounds.


Thanks to Clark Armory and BMC Tactical for sponsoring and supporting this test. Clark Armory provided the Ballistic Gel from ClearBallistics and the Hornady Critical Defense Ammo (they did not have a link on their site–which is very cool that they sent us this round to test anyway).

BMC Tactical provided an indoor lane with consistent lighting and temperature to run the test.

We appreciate these two companies providing necessary materials and infrastructure for the tests.

Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Prior to that he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he has embraced his inner “Warrior Hippie” and assaults 14er in his sandals and beard, or engages in rucking adventure challenges while consuming craft beer. To fund these adventures, he writes medical software and builds websites and mobile apps. His latest venture is as one of the founders of; a search engine for all things gun related. He hopes that his posts will help you find solid gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it–he is known (in certain circles) for his curse…ahem, ability…to find the breaking point of anything.


  • sean

    I think you have some mistakes on your 9mm data as far as weight and speed

    • Doc Rader

      Fixed the data

      • gunsandrockets

        Okay, but 954 fps seems awfully slow for a 115 grain 9mm bullet.

        • Doc Rader

          WTH. It must be cached or something. I updated the 9mm to 1140fps and the .45ACP to 1000fps.

      • sean

        I find it really hard to believe a .45acp had a deeper penetration then a 9mm

        • OJS

          You dare doubt “God’s own round”?

  • CommonSense23

    Critical defense is designed for a shorter barrel. Why wouldn’t you test it with a Glock 19?

    • Doc Rader

      Because ballistically I think it is a non-issue. I would guess that there is somewhere less than 75fps difference between the 4.01″ and 4.48″ barrel lengths.

      According to Hornady’s notes the “Defense” version is designed to reduce felt recoil and muzzle flip which would relate more to faster recovery (allowing you to get rounds on target faster) than dead penetration.

      • JP

        “I think it is a non-issue” is not a statement that should be associated with good testing parameters (*think*). They used a barrel length outside the parameters recommended by the manufacturer. I don’t think this invalidates the test, but it certainly should be called out. As in “Ballistic testing CD 9mm _ from a duty length gun _ “.

        • Thomas Gomez

          So what is the ideal barrel length? Using a “duty length” barrel we got high velocities and maxed the potential of the rounds. The rounds didn’t exactly perform well. Had we shot these through a baby gun we would be bombarded with the “Well you didn’t use an x-length barrel”, “if only you had used this barrel”, type comments. We maxed performance. You can see the results and draw your own conclusions.

          • Chuck Haggard

            The difference being that many JHPs don’t perform well from the micro guns, while the Defense loadings often do.

            Greater velocity in most cases means the bullet expands more, and/or fragments, and thus pentrates less.

          • Thomas Gomez

            Hi Chuck.

            I respect your opinion and you are correct that high velocity rounds break apart faster. Tom R and I have tested several lightweight rounds that echo exactly what you are talking about, however the ammo that we tested was pretty low in velocity due to Hornady wanting to mitigate recoil for CC pistols.

          • JP

            You clearly don’t understand enough about the effect extra velocity (from added barrel length) may have on ballistics. If you did you wouldn’t have said you “maxed the potential”. Faster doesn’t necessarily mean better performance, as the higher velocity may make the HP open sooner and actually penetrate less. Or it could cause the petals to peel away completely and penetrate further than it would have under conditions it was designed for. Again I don’t think your test is completely worthless, but since you tested this round in conditions the manufacturer specifically states it was not optimized for, a credible test would have clearly noted that up front.

          • Shayne Jenkins

            My thought is that Critical Defense was designed for short-barrelled guns like my XDs 3.3. That’s the main reason I carry CD – maximum performance from my chosen platform for self-defense carry. I would definitely NOT blast you for testing from an appropriate handgun, as it would show how the round was intended to perform. Maybe the extra velocity from the longer barrel was the cause of the rounds breaking up?? The difference between the Critical Defense and the Critical Duty bullets is the longer mass at the base of the bullet for the Duty round…

      • R H

        I’m not sure how much it matters with this particular round. It seems like penetration varies widely with Critical Defense. Lucky Gunner’s test from a 3.5″ barrel come in at 13″ but one of the shots was short, but a clear gel test with TNOutdoors9 using a Glock 19 went out to 14.5″. ShootingTheBull410’s tests out of a 3″ barrel averaged 12.5″. I believe all of these tests were done with the clear gel blocks. Either way, we’ve know for quite some time that Critical Defense isn’t exactly the best choice out there. The people who carry it will always get up in arms about it, but it’s been shown over and over again to be mediocre at both expansion and penetration. That being said, you could be carrying much worse than CD, just keep in mind you could also be carrying something better!

    • NeverForget

      I agree with you,a whole lot of testing for naught.

      • Thomas Gomez

        We maxed performance of these rounds. You can see the results. You can draw your own conclusions.

        • Chuck Haggard

          No, you really didn’t “max” them at all.

          • Thomas Gomez

            Hi Chuck.

            So what are your thoughts? The ammo would have performed better had we gone with a pocket pistol? All the FBI tests would have been passed? The ammo would have penetrated more? Survived the glass? In our analysis, the ammo performed exactly like Hornady said it would perform. (It would do well on clothing and not so well on barriers) Hope this finds you well.

          • Jeremy

            The Critical Defense rounds are intended for lower velocities, they have a softer lead so they’ll expand at those velocities. When you launch them from a longer barrel they expand faster, creating more drag and penetrating less.

  • Wayneregina

    I’m certain the 9mm round is NOT 230gr.
    Maybe half that?

    • Thomas Gomez

      You are correct. We are getting it fixed.

    • Doc Rader


    • Austin

      You never know it could be iridium bullets…

  • Big Daddy

    Critical Defense rounds have failed the protocol before this isn’t new. Critical duty has proven to be a good barrier blind round in 135 +P but does not expand as well as the GD & HST.

    • R H

      Another disadvantage is that the Critical Duty doesn’t want to expand in even a 3.5″ barrel. For those who carry multiple guns of different size, it doesn’t really allow you the versatility that you get with other rounds (like the HST).

      • HST 4 (defending your) Life; it deconstructs plastic jugs full of wet mud far more energetically than either CritDef or CritDuty, out of full size and compact pistols.

  • CPT T

    Good test and cool series. I like reading about this kind of stuff better than just politics and new products.

  • Austin

    I think it would be interesting to see how the +P versions compared to this test but I know that it isn’t cheap to do this kind of test.

    • Thomas Gomez

      Hello Austin. We can request some +P for testing in the near future. Hope this finds you well.

      • Austin

        It does, though to be honest I just enjoy seeing barrier testing.

  • BattleshipGrey

    Thanks for continuing the series Tom and Tom. In the last few months I’d been wondering when you’d do another article. As always, great job.

    • Thomas Gomez

      Thank you Battleship. Hope this finds you well.

  • Vitor Roma

    From all the reviews I saw, Lehigh Xtreme Defense is king, followed by Federal HST amd Speer Gold Dot.

  • Sianmink

    Indoor lighting does not get along with most photo chronographs.

    • Thomas Gomez

      We found that out many moons ago. We test velocity under the bright sun.

  • DIR911911 .

    seems a bit low on velocity for a 9mm , even for a non +p

  • How the heck did Hornady only get 936fps from a 185gr .45 ACP? Did they forget to load powder and the primer is doing all the work?

    • Thomas Gomez

      These rounds are advertised as having low recoil. To mitigate recoil, Hornady would have probably cut back on the powder.

      • Yeah, a light load with a light bullet will definitely reduce recoil; I missed that being a feature in the ad copy.

        • Thomas Gomez

          No worries! Have a great 4th of July!

  • OJS

    Have they shot these (Critical Defense +P) out of a snub .38?

  • spencer60

    Good tests…

    I carry Critical Defense because it doesn’t have the same kind of barrier penetration as Critical Duty.

    Yes, I’m hampered if I have to shoot through car windshields or drywall, but I’m still trying to figure out a scenario where I would WANT to do so as a ‘civilian’.

    If someone is driving their car at me I’m getting out of the way… shooting them won’t stop them in time to avoid getting run over.

    And I would never fire though a wall anyways, who knows what’s on the other side?

    For me the reduced risk of over-penetration in a ‘street’ type of encounter is far more important than being prepared for a TV-style gunfight that most cops would never even see.

    • Steven Alexander

      And if your in your car and being car jacked and you have to shoot back through your car windsheild, what then??

      • Shayne Jenkins

        Aim 2 inches high….

  • Bill

    1: Cool scale, where’s it come from?
    2: Is that a gross animal-based gel that smells really funky?
    3: I don’t get their separating rounds into barricade penetrating, sort of, and non barricade penetrating. It’s probably a worse issue in LE – we don’t want rounds to penetrate barricades, until we do, and then we get rifles or slugs.

  • LibertyToad

    Thanks for the interesting test. The problem with it is that statistically you cannot draw a meaningful conclusion from firing just a few rounds. Testing with 30+ rounds each would be more conclusive. Thanks again.

  • Reinhard

    The bottom line is standard hollow point pistol bullets do NOT expand in humans. I have shot people and animals with them and done autopsies. One of the better known gun writers in the late 1970’s said if you have to rely on a hollow point for you weapon to reliably defeat an opponent, buy a different calibre.
    In the 1960″s I learned a trick to make pistol hollow pints expand in humans and that is to pack the cavity with dental wax. It must be specifically dental wax. Parafin or beeswax will not work. The heat generated by the bullet traveling through the barrel causes the dental wax to become viscous. As a result, hydro static pressure is created and when the bullet strikes something dense or hard the soft wax puts pressure on the inside wall of the cavity causing expansion. This what Hornady is trying to duplicate
    I also point out that an expanded .38 or 9 MM is rarely larger than a .45 starts out at so I do not see a great need for expanding bullets in that calibre, though I do carry Hornady ammo in my .45 ACP.
    The one other ammunition which did expand in humans was Black Talons. They are still made but the name has been changed and the bullets are no longer black. Not many dealers seem to stock them, but they are an excellent defensive round as well.

    • mig1nc

      Winchester Ranger “T-Series”. I assume the T stands for Talon, but I may very well be wrong. My favorite pistol round.

  • JerryC

    Oh no, my defensive rount did not save me because my barrel was 3/4″ too long! Who said the ammo didn’t work well because the barrel was outside the parameters for the ammo? I really hope you’re kidding! THAT’S the kind of ammo you would stake your life on? Oh, pffffft gon these new specialty rounds. I’m going back to 230 grain fmj .45 acp (or at least 230 grain hollowpoints) and 124 or 147 grain 9mm hollowpoints. And Spencer. If someone was shooting at you from a car stopped next to yo, you wouldn’t wish your ammoo could penetrate a car door or automotive glass????