Anatomy of a Defensive Bullet
November 6th, 2020
5 minute read
As with many things in life, there’s more than one way to get the job done when it comes to the perfect bullet for personal defense. From solid copper designs to jacketed hollow-points, bullet technologies have continued to evolve over the years. The question is, which of these bullet designs are most ideal for personal defense?
The majority of defense bullets over the years, from civilian to law enforcement applications, have generally featured a hollow-point construction designed to open up and expand upon entering a target. Likewise, most of these bullets employ sturdy jackets with petals designed to open up and create devastating wound channels. Examples include Federal Premium’s Hydra-Shok, Speer Gold Dot and Hornady Critical Duty.
On the other hand, several other bullet designs have demonstrated exceptional performance and utilize solid construction. Rather than relying on expansion from a hollow-point design, many of these projectiles rely on uniquely cut bullets, polymer or copper construction, and yet still deliver ideal penetration and expansion.
The Magic Bullet
While bullet designs vary, certain characteristics remain the same for a viable defense round. First, a bullet must provide adequate penetration and dump the majority of its energy in the intended target, thus preventing over-penetration. For civilian purposes, this means that a bullet must sufficiently penetrate through articles of clothing and skin and create wound channels in the vital organ region. The additional requirement for some law enforcement scenarios is a barrier-blind bullet that also penetrates auto glass or drywall.
Second, a projectile must be able to create a massive wound channel with devastating trauma. Whether it’s by expansion or unique bullet construction, the only way to stop a threat is by creating trauma in vital regions.
Third, a worthy defense bullet must not over-penetrate but instead dump the bulk of its energy in the intended target. Because many defensive shooting situations can occur in populated areas, whether in the public square or a home with walls and loved ones beyond them, there’s a great concern that bullets disable a threat but not endanger those who do not pose a threat.
The jacketed hollow-point (JHP) with solid shank, expanding petals and lead core has been widely used among law enforcement and civilian markets and is among the most trusted bullet designs for defense. One of the most popular loads is Federal’s HST, which was originally launched in 2002 for LE use and expanded in 2015 to civilians.
The HST was engineered to meet the FBI protocols and offers larger expanded diameters without sacrificing in the penetration department. The 124-gr. load in 9mm leaves the muzzle at 1,150 fps with 364 ft.-lbs. of energy and penetrates to 11″ in bare gelatin. The expanded bullet diameter is a whopping .88″, with 100 percent weight retention.
Slight variations exist, including Hornady’s Critical Duty ammunition, another FBI-approved round that features a FlexLock bullet and patented Flex Tip design. The Flex Tip utilizes a polymer-filled cavity to prevent clogging in clothing, which in turn ensures consistent expansion.
Other bullets retain the hollow point but employ monometal construction. Included in that list is Norma’s Monolithic Hollow Point (MHP) and Barnes TAC-XPD. The result is an incredibly solid construction that performs well against barriers and is as tough as they come. These bullets also offer incredible weight retention and devastating wound trauma.
Several more recent additions to the defensive bullet category include Black Hills Honey Badger and Inceptor ARX. Neither bullet is meant to expand, but instead create a rotational force that produces impressive wound channels. Unlike hollow-point bullets, there’s nothing to clog a cavity and prevent expansion.
Black Hills Honey Badger utilizes a bullet designed by Lehigh Defense with a three-bladed tip that can’t be clogged. Made from solid copper, the flutes on the ogive redirect tissue in a fashion more similar to an archery broadhead than a traditional hollow-point bullet. Not only do the Honey Badger bullets perform against barriers like clothing, they also don’t overpenetrate. Accurate and lethal, Honey Badger loads are available in everything from .380 Auto to .45-70 Government.
Inceptor’s ARX features an injection-molded bullet with three flutes and a blend of copper and polymer materials. The bullet design is meant to deliver devastating kinetic energy, particularly on tissue by creating maximum hydraulic displacement. This works through centrifugal motion, which in turn causes lateral force dispersion. In other words, energy gets dumped rapidly around the bullet as it enters the target. One of the positives of the ARX loads, particularly in 9mm, is that they’re soft recoiling and ideal for massive quantities of training.
So there you have it … a good overview of today’s top defensive handgun rounds. Armed with this information, you should be able to select just the right round for your preferred self-defense handgun.
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