I know, “yawn,” right? Hey, I could have written the title like “16 Secrets About Ammo Testing the Government Doesn’t Want You to Know!!!11!!!” In all seriousness, there are a lot of folks out there who think that ammunition is mostly the same and completely disregard testing. It isn’t my place to tell you what to do and you can’t help it if it bores you, but here are a few reasons that you might want to pay a little more attention to ammo testing, even if you’re not a bullet nerd like me.
YouTube channels like The Chopping Block, Buffman, The wound Channel, and ShootingTheBull410 and of course our own TFB TV produce independent tests of ammunition. This independent testing is very important to understanding the potential of effectiveness of a given load. Most people do not have access to the testing results from professional labs and if you have even the slightest bit of skepticism, testing published by the manufacturers themselves might be less than perfectly credible. To be sure, the testing from some YouTube channels amount to little more than paid advertisement. Separating the wheat from the chaff can be a difficult task. But those honest reviews really are important.
The reason they matter is that not all ammunition works the same. Even high quality loads with excellent reputations may not function properly in the right circumstances. Gold Dot is widely considered to be the “gold” standard of defensive ammunition but in one of our tests on TFB TV the short barrel 9mm + P 124 grain failed to expand in heavy clothing. That was a very surprising result. These informal tests can open our eyes to things that the community always just accepted as fact.
Granted, the difference in stopping power between a 9mm JHP that expands and one that doesn’t is not profound. But there is a difference. And when the outcome is literally life-and-death that performance difference, small as it may be is very important. I want to carry the very best possible ammunition. When the worst day in my life comes, when everything is going wrong, I want the things that I can control to go right. Informal testing can tell me whether Sig V-Crown is a mediocre performer and it can show that Liberty civil defense penetrates way too shallowly to be considered.
As important as this informal testing is, one should still remain cognizant of the fact that the people performing the tests are not themselves experts. Although I have performed hundreds of gel tests, I know that I am not actually an expert. While the experience from those tests and the knowledge gained from reading about the subject is certainly useful, I have not made a career of it. I haven’t read nearly as much on the subject as a professional and I lack the medical and physics foundation to really understand the subject the way they do. That is why I have to refrain from forming my own opinions and you should disregard any other amateur who indulges in their own opinions. We must defer to the findings of actual experts. What that means, is to refer to papers such as “Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness” or this article on defensive ammunition choices and apply those concepts to the performance observed in informal testing. It would be to your benefit to then seek out professional testing for the same loads. Amateur testing is much more useful for ruling out a defense load and should not be taken as the final word for its effectiveness. It’s also important to consider that not all informal testing maintains the same level of professionalism. While most of us understand that we aren’t an actual ballistic lab we do attempt to maintain those standards which are practicable in the field. It’s not sufficient to just shoot a bullet into a block of goo and marvel over the pokiness of it. The purpose of testing is to gather empirical measurements, not subjective interpretations. So as you watch these informal tests look for the measurements, compare them to the established standards, and ignore the opinions of the testers. And yes, that includes myself.