Versatile by nature, the 9mm Luger has grown to become the most popular handgun cartridge in the world. It strikes the balance between stopping power and recoil that defenders have been seeking since long before its creation. As it is also a NATO round, inexpensive (usually) practice fodder can be found at just about any gun store shelf. So it remains realistic to practice with the very gun that you carry. While practice ammunition can be purchased with very little thought, defensive ammo not so much so. As there is a chance that you could be staking your life on it one day, we decided to make it one of this year’s “Ammo Match” features and bring you eight of our favorite 9mm self-defense loads.
Top Dog 9s: Battle Royal Among Best 9mm Self-Defense Ammo
Being that I had to trade a kidney for my test samples, I needed to keep testing confined to just one pistol. But which one? 9mm barrels typically range from 3-5 inches so I decided to go with something that landed in the middle with Canik’s new METE SFT with its 4.46-inch barrel. Because iron sights are soooo 2015, I mounted a Riton 3 Tactix MPRD red dot and quickly co-witnessed it with the iron sights. Other than packing the car with a Caldwell G2 Chronograph and some Clear Ballistics 10-percent FBI gel, there was nothing more to do before hitting the range.
Underwood Xtreme Defender
First up was the Underwood Xtreme Defender. Can you imagine what it would be like getting hit with a Phillips-head driver bit flying faster than the speed of sound? If I didn’t know better, I would think that was the very inspiration for Underwood’s Xtreme Defender projectile. This solid-copper bullet is built to stay together through even the hardest barriers and push fluid outwards when it makes contact with something living. It’s a unique principle because it dismisses velocity as the primary component in the stopping power equation.
Although they looked strange to the user, the magazine and chamber didn’t seem to think anything of them as we popped more than 100 of these downrange without a hiccup. Accuracy was among the top of the rounds that we tested that day, and ironically enough they were the fastest all-metal projectile that our chronograph recorded with a 10-shot average of 1,447 fps.
Wilson Combat High-Performance Tactical
Wilson Combat produces ammunition for good guns that need good ammo. The Wilson team–perfectionists all–pay close attention to the specifics. Most ammo comes built for a specific barrel length. The round tested here produces best results from a five-inch barrel. However, with the market being what it is I am sure that it will see service in a variety of guns so I was more interested in its “off label” use.
Out of our 4.46-inch barrel, we were able to hit the advertised velocity and produce five-shot groups as small as 1.69 inches. I was also fond of the fact that these rounds were built with a 124-grain XTP bullet. Our 100-round test showed us that Wilson puts the same attention to detail into its ammunition that it does in its prized firearms, alleviating any apprehension that one might ever have with keeping these on your hip.
NOVX Engagement: Extreme
Novx was the most unconventional ammunition of the batch with its poly/copper projectile and its stainless-steel cases. These rounds are the epitome of the “speed over weight” argument and launch their 65-grain pills as fast as 1,665 fps out of our mid-sized Canik. One of the other things that it has going for it is that between the projectiles and the cases you’ll notice a significant weight reduction in a full magazine. When shooting them, we noticed negligible recoil with uninterrupted cycling, even to lock the slide back after the last shot. NOVX boasts that this round generates more energy than .45 ACP and after comparing it to the last three .45 ACP loads that I fired, I found that to be completely true. I didn’t need the numbers to know that though, the watermelon that we shot in the past proved that point just fine.
Legendary competitive shooter and hunter, Doug Koenig came out with his own line of ammunition a few years ago and as a Pennsylvania resident, he is no stranger to concealed carry. Therefore, it would behoove him NOT to make a line of defensive ammunition, and that is precisely what we have here. Using a lightweight 110-grain JHP bullet, Doug and the boys were able to hop velocity up to 1,324 fps, making this the hardest-hitting round that we tested.
Doug used this round in the USPSA nationals and with its power factor of 145+, it made minor with juice to spare. That day it also had zero issues knocking down the heavy steel pepper poppers, which usually leave those running mouse fart loads screaming for a calibration. We found them to have a little bit of snap when we touched them off, but the recoil pulse was rather short, and the overall lift was particularly mild. Good stuff when you need to send a rapid follow-up shot.
Fiocchi Defense Dynamics
Fiocchi Defense Dynamics were the only rounds this day that came packaged in boxes of 50. With their affordable price, this allows you to shoot half of the box at the range and save the other half for an emergency. This also eliminates any reason that you may have not to cycle out your carry ammo every few months. Advertised as flying at 975 feet per second, we reached that speed on most occasions and wound up with an average velocity of 954 FPS. Not too shabby for a mid-sized pistol on a cold day.
As this is below the speed of sound, these rounds were a few dB quieter than the other ammo that we tested that day. The slow-moving 147-grain JHP projectile generated a long push of recoil that was present on the wrists and barely caused the gun to come off target in between shots. Overall, these make a great choice for the high-volume shooter that wants to practice and defend with the same round.
Federal Hydra-Shok Deep
When something works, leave it alone, right? Wrong. Although in 1989 Hydra-Shok was revolutionary, more than 30 years later it found itself missing out on all of the advances made in modern bullet construction. Federal doesn’t shy away from fiddling, and the Hydra-Shok Deep illustrates this vividly. Using a 135-grain projectile, it felt like they struck the balance between speed and weight and left us with a round that was no slouch in the energy department and at the same time manageable.
The elongated, rounded bullet profile had no trouble feeding, and we gobbled up 100 rounds like it was 2018 again. It landed in the top half of the accuracy chart and came in first in the standard deviation category, showing Federal builds these bullets to exacting standards. Best of all, if you run out of ammo you can strike your threat with the box that seems to be made out of some sort of clear AR-500.
Browning X-Point Defense
The Browning X-Point Defense ammunition was one of the sexiest looking rounds that I fired that day. They look like something designed to kill werewolves or at the very least hang from a stripper’s earlobe. The projectile design is unique yet simple, a classic hollow point with a cross partition helps them to hold their form when crashing through barriers. As these were another slow-moving 147-grain load, the recoil was again very light and let us send lightning-fast double-taps downrange. To top it off, these rounds produced silly tight groups on our 15-yard target with nearly every one measuring less than an inch. Surprisingly to most, (but I see it quite often) these produced the most consistent groups although they had one of the largest standard deviations. This again shows the futility in picking ammo “by the numbers.”
The Barnes TAC-XPD delivers performance in a lead-free design, much like its signature hunting ammunition. I have used said hunting loads to devastating effect, sparking my interest in how this tech performs in a defensive load. The XPD bullet comprises a monolithic construction, helping it break through common barriers with minimal deflection. This ensures that they remain lethal when they get to the other side. I can’t stress the importance of that aspect enough in carry ammunition.The lightweight, 115-grain projectile proved one of the softest shooting of the day, typically uncharacteristic with bullets within this weight range. Accuracy tested suitable for its intended use; generated velocity balanced well compared to yield of shot-to-shot recovery.
For my gel test, I decided to go with the Barnes TAC-XPD and the Browning X-Point as these two designs were the newest I’ve ever encountered. Furthermore, the NOVX nor the Underwood ammo is meant to expand, so I forewent gel testing on these simply because it’s not that exciting to look at. Besides, I’ve already tested this design in the past and have confirmed their energy transfer by making fruit salad the easiest way possible.
The Barnes penetrated both a layer of leather and a layer of denim before passing through 12.5 inches of the Clear Ballistics gel. It started expansion within the first 1.25 inches, working exactly as advertised and earning a spot in the magazine of my nightstand gun. Browning’s entry passed through the same material and a full 16-inch block before landing more than an inch deep into a second block (that’s why I always use two). The expansion started at 1.5 inches and happened over a longer period, making them equally suited for defense against larger, four-legged threats.
The Coroner’s Report
When looking over all of the data and all of the results, it’s important to understand that this column is not intended to crown a winner. I purposely selected rounds of equal quality to show our readers a handful of possible options for the articles given application. Yes, some of these rounds grouped better than others and some generated more energy, but before picking one it’s important to consider other factors like recoil and cost per round. Lastly, this chart gives you eight different options that are all more than adequate for defensive purposes so with that being said perhaps your selection might only come down to one factor, availability.
CHARTING 9MM PERFORMANCE
|Barnes TAC-XPD 115-grain TAC-XPD||1,115||311.8||1.44|
|Browning X-Point 147-grain X-Point JHP||1,011||333.6||0.76|
|Federal Hydra-SHOK Deep 135-grain JHP||1,092||364.1||1.12|
|Fiocchi Def. Dynamics 147-grain JHP||954||297.0||1.63|
|Koenig Defense 110-grain JHP||1,324||429.5||1.88|
|NOVX Engagement EXT. 65-grain poly/copper||1,665||405.0||0.77|
|Underwood Xtreme Defense 90-grain FTM||1,447||410.4||1.03|
|Wilson Combat HTP 124-grain XTP||1,201||371.5||1.69|
This article originally appeared in March-April 2022 issue of Tactical Life magazine. Get your copy or digital subscription at OutdoorGroupStore.com.