Gel Testing Federal Hydra-Shok Deep .380

By Yamil Sued
Posted in #Gear
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Gel Testing Federal Hydra-Shok Deep .380

May 30th, 2021

6:03 runtime

Who said a micro-sized .380 ACP pistol is ineffective for self-defense? Well, pretty much everyone at one point or another. Frankly, this has been a common mantra for decades, even from me — that is, until now.

Federal Hydra-Shok Deep .380 with pistol
The Springfield 911 served as the testing platform for this gel test of the Federal Hydra-Shok Deep in .380 ACP.

What changed my mind? The release of the new Federal Hydra-Shok Deep 99-gr. ammunition. Federal’s Hydra-Shok ammunition has a long and respected history, going back to its introduction in the 1989 Federal Law Enforcement Catalog. And I recently had a chance to conduct a performance gel test of it myself. Check out the video above and continue reading this article below.

A New Classic

The original design of the Hydra-Shok was based around a now-iconic tapered center post within a hollowpoint. Upon impact, the tapered center post was designed to direct material against the inner walls of the projectile’s cavity. This outward force ensured maximum expansion and controlled penetration.

In 2017, 28 years after the introduction of the original Hydra-Shok, Federal’s engineers released Hydra-Shok Deep, designed to deliver dramatically improved terminal ballistics and projectile performance. Although original Hydra-Shok remains very effective, designers knew they could make it better by harnessing ultra-modern engineering and manufacturing techniques.

Federal Hydra-Shok Deep .380 ammo in various stages of expansion
An expanded bullet (left) compared to an unexpanded one (middle). The complete cartridge is shown as well (right).

Hydra-Shok Deep was initially launched in a 135-gr. 9mm loading. Recently, it has also been released in a 165-gr. .40 loading as well as a 210-gr. 45 ACP load. Now, with the new 99-gr. .380 ACP load, there is an option for some of the smallest EDC pistols available.

At first, I was skeptical about this new ammo and its claims of being able to surpass 12” of penetration consistently. In the past, I’ve read several other manufacturers make similar claims — and most of them fell short in my tests.

But what about this new Hydra-Shok Deep offering? The .380 loading is listed as having a muzzle velocity of 1,000 feet per second (fps). Let’s do the math here. With a 99-gr. projectile, that would mean that this ammunition would have 220 ft.-lbs. of energy, which is nothing to sneer at. That is all fine and dandy on paper, but how does it actually perform? This is where I wanted to put this new ammo the ultimate test: ballistic gel.

The Players

Before we perform our ballistic gel test on the Hydra-Shok Deep, let’s select our testbed — the pistol. I wanted something compact and light, with a short barrel of 3” or less. This would be a perfect representation of the pistol that I would want to carry, inside a pocket, fannypack or even on a belly band. Basically, I wanted something highly concealable.

I soon set my sights on the Springfield Armory 911. The best way I can describe the 911 is that someone got a 1911 wet and shrank it. It is basically a mini-1911. I think the only obvious difference between the 911 and the 1911, other than the size, is that the 911 does not have a grip safety. However, it does have all the other features that make it almost identical to a full-size 1911.

Unexpanded Federal Hydra-Shok Deep .380 bullet
The Hydra-Shok Deep bullet design takes advantage of modern engineering for maximum performance.

The 911 Alpha I chose is a variant of the .380 911 pistol that is optimized for price, featuring all the quality of the design but with a single-side safety, polymer grips, simplified front strap serrations and a fiber optic front sight.

The pistol, like all .380 911’s, features a 2.7” barrel, which I knew would indeed be a challenge for the Federal Hydra-Shok Deep. The 911 weighs in at a lightweight 12.6 oz., with dimensions of 5.5” in overall length and 3.9” in height.

Now for the test media. I opted to use Clear Ballistics Gel, a synthetic-based ballistic gel medium. Clear Ballistics Gel is advertised to be a 95-99% approximation of the organic ordnance gel often used for ballistic testing.

There are several reasons I decided to use Clear Ballistics Gel. First, as the name states, it is clear rather than the murky brownish color of ordnance gel. Second, it is reusable. Clear Ballistics Gel can easily be melted to be used repeatedly. Last but not least, being synthetic it does not need to be refrigerated and will not decay like its organic counterpart. The gel comes in several sizes, but for this test, we decided to use the 105 FBI Block, which has the dimensions of 6”x6”x16”.

Federal Hydra-Shok Deep .380 packaging
The Hydra-Shok Deep is part of the Federal Personal Defense line. It is clearly aimed at self-defense.

We have our pistol, our ammunition and our test media, now, the only thing left is our test platform. When I do any kind of testing, whether it’s accuracy, chronograph or ballistic testing, I want to use a secure and sturdy rest. I’ve always been a big fan of Ransom Rests, they have a long and illustrious history of reliability and pretty much the sturdiest machine rest in the firearms industry.

But I didn’t need a tank to perform a ballistic test on a 2.7”-barreled .380 ACP. sub-compact pistol. I decided for something sturdy and reliable, so I picked up a Ransom Multi-Cal. Steady Rest. This new product from Ransom Rests is a compact, fully adjustable machined aluminum rest that gives the shooter a sturdy platform for both handguns and long guns.

Range Time

D-Day was finally here. The great folks at C2 Tactical in Scottsdale, Arizona, graciously allowed us to have a full bay in their indoor range for us to conduct our testing. After carefully setting up a sturdy table for our shooting medium, shooting rest and cameras, it came time to set up our gel and perform the test. My videographer asked me, how many gels are you going to set up?  In hindsight, my reply was a mistake. I told him that since we’re only shooting a .380 out of a 2.7”-barreled pistol, this projectile is not going to go deeper than 16”. I should have thought about that a little more carefully.

Expanded Federal Hydra-Shok Deep .380 bullet
A detailed look at an expanded Hydra-Shok Deep bullet. The conical post is even beefier than the original design’s tapered post.

After three rounds of the Federal Hydra-Shok Deep through the Springfield Armory 911 pistol and into the gel, I was shocked to find there was only one bullet in there. Two of the three projectiles had gone straight through 16” of Clear Ballistics Gel, with the one round that remained having gone through 13.5” of gel before stopping, fully expanded.

My first thought was that the two projectiles that went through the gel didn’t expand at all, but we were soon proven wrong. I found the projectiles about 10 feet downrange from the block of gel, fully expanded. I couldn’t believe it, they were perfectly expanded. Just like the photo on the Federal website. After careful measuring and weighing, I found out that it expanded to a whopping .527” and retained 100% of its original weight.


I honestly had expected some minor expansion and weight loss as well as average penetration. What I got was totally unexpected and quite impressive.  So, how about we ask that question again? Is a micro .380 ACP pistol ineffective for self-defense?

The answer is simple. ABSOLUTELY NOT!!  The Springfield Armory 911, combined with the 99-gr. Federal Hydra-Shok Deep ammunition, is just about the most effective combination I have ever tested in that caliber. In my opinion, the .380 ACP caliber is no longer relegated to a backup pistol role, but rather is now a very effective primary pistol for self-defense. Pretty impressive for a tiny pistol and an “ineffective” round, wouldn’t you say?

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Yamil Sued

Yamil Sued

Yamil is a graduate of the prestigious Brooks Institute of Photographic Arts and Sciences in Santa Barbara, CA with a Major in Illustration Photography and Color Technology with over 34 years of professional experience. Yamil started his professional relationship with the Shooting Industry in 1995 and has since worked with companies like Springfield Armory, S&W, Glock, FNH USA, Remington, Bushmaster, Bushnell, Leupold, Aimpoint, PWS, Vortex Optics, Cor-Bon Ammunition, ERGO Grips, AmeriGlo Sights, Krause Publications, Comp Tac Victory Gear, The Beta Company, IDPA, MGM Targets, Rainier Ballistics, Rock Castle Shooting Center, SIG Sauer and was a Staff Photographer for Cabela’s in Sidney, NE. Yamil is also a Writer and Photographer for Guns & Ammo, Guns & Ammo SIP's and Gun Digest.

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