The Bullet Expansion Thread

The Bullet Expansion Thread

This is a discussion on The Bullet Expansion Thread within the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; I'm on a small private firearms forum and started a thread a few weeks back on this topic to see what sort of discussion would ...

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    The Bullet Expansion Thread

    I'm on a small private firearms forum and started a thread a few weeks back on this topic to see what sort of discussion would result. So far it's run to four pages and we have fewer than 50 members. The discussion has been fantastic. With their permission I may have to steal snatches of their comments to plug in here later.

    The center of this original post was cut-'n-pasted from a post I made earlier so if a portion of this looks like a retread then that's why.

    Y'all are welcome to shoot all the holes in this original post that you like and substitute your own views. We've been having a discussion of a Hornady YouTube clip over the past few days and this is intended to supplement that thread, being a more general discussion of the topic rather than brand specific. Bullet expansion...how do you feel about it?

    .................................................. .................................................. ......................

    Both self-defense and hunting applications.

    Perhaps the learned members of this august board would be willing to share their honest thoughts about all things pertaining to bullet performance and expansion along with any other aspects of terminal ballistics that come to mind.

    The handgun caliber wars represent an endless debate in self-defense Forumland. Expansion is frequently touted as the great equalizer, especially as it relates to 9mm versus anything else. Much agonizing concern is spent over snub .38 Special revolvers, worrying over inadequate expansion and what's best to feed the little devils. And, can the 230 grain FMJ round nose .45 ACP bullet really be effective without a hint of expansion?

    Hairs are split, first over caliber, then over the relative performance of various brands, weights and styles of expanding bullets currently marketed. Then the split ends of these hairs are further split over insignificant differences perceived, undeniably causing confusion to reign supreme.

    Much importance is placed on the various tests favored, which are linked to forum posts without end, as validation of positions taken over the "best" choice or perhaps the best compromise in bullet selection for self-defense. Various experts' names are bandied about along with the holy FBI studies. Blue jean wrapped "jello" is giving its all and to what end? There's yet to be a single instance reported by any news agency of an assault perpetrated by jello wrapped in the required four layers of denim material.

    Super Vel's jacketed hollow point ammunition and Speer's 200 grain .45 ACP jacketed hollow point, nicknamed "the Flying Ashtray," were the first "specialty" bullets marketed to have enhanced stopping effectiveness that I can recall. The evil Winchester "Black Talon" along with everything else that followed has since descended on us and we can't get enough of it.

    Expansion? Great! What if it is too slow or too soon?

    Expansion is a means not an end in itself.

    Too much is made of expansion. It looms larger in our minds than it does in the wound channel.


    The Cut-'N-Paste Section

    "The market is saturated with a dizzying array of boutique ammunition, all loaded with "trick" bullets designed to capture the imaginations of buyers more than anything else. We have "Gold Dots." Are those like credit card banks' gold cards? When will they be trumped by "platinum dots?" Will bad guys no longer fall to gold dots when the platinum dots hit the streets? It's certain that lowly Silvertips are so "yesterday's news" that they'll just bounce off. Except for vampires, perhaps. And ancient Winchester "Black Talon" got it's nails clipped 20 years ago.

    What about Zombie Max. Will they fail on werewolves, mummies, goblins? Maybe generic Monster Max would be better. Skinny 19-year-old punks? Meth heads? Perhaps some punk max or meth-head max bullets are in order. Hornady's reduced to placing warnings on their ammo boxes: "Warning: This is Live Ammunition. This is not a toy." How embarrassing is that to have to address the immature nitwits who make up Hornady's market in such a way?

    Critical defense? Is that opposed to "non-critical defense?" Critical Duty, as opposed to non-critical duty?

    Remington Golden Saber Bonded? As opposed to " Stainless Vegetable Peeler Bonded"?

    Federal goes for the alphabet soup method of naming their ammo, "HST." Winchester has their "PDX." Hornady has "TAP FPD."

    Pow'Rball? Is that Corbon ammunition or trout bait?

    Extreme Shock? A reference to the ammo's performance or the price tag?

    It's completely ridiculous , that's what it is!

    Just sayin'... "



    How Important is bullet expansion to you?


    Does expansion define the relative effectiveness of a handgun's projectile in your mind?

    Could reliance on bullet expansion promote a false sense of security for the person concerned with handgun self-defense?

    Could scant regard for bullet expansion ill-serve someone compelled to use a handgun for self-defense?

    Are our concerns being played to a great extent by the marketing hype surrounding the ammunition promoted for self-defense?

    Have large strides been made over the past 25-30 years in bullet performance technology to the benefit of the savvy consumer?

    Many modern hunters buy into the notion that modern premium bullets sold for high-powered hunting rifles are worth the sometimes greatly increased cost in order that a performance edge may be gained. It's not certain that riflemen embrace the premium bullets to the extent that the pistoleros do. It's apparent that a number of hunters purchase so called "premium" ammunition or handload expensive bullets that are said to add measurable effectiveness for taking of big game. After all, only the best will do for that "hunt of a lifetime." Which "best" is best? Best bullet or best shot placement?

    The Nosler Partition was the first "specialty" hunting bullet I can remember and my hunting/handloading uncle played with them some. I think Barnes was producing bullets back then. By the late 1970s Speer jumped on the bandwagon with its Grand Slam line and then specialty bullet makers began springing up like weeds. Since then we've seen bullet manufacturers large and small introduce a number of premium bullet products and boutique loadings.

    Is the big game falling any faster to good hits with these new bullet offerings than it was falling to the old tried and true?

    Perhaps a greater philosophical question should be asked. Do we have too many choices for the amount of real substance provided? Do we really need such a comprehensive selection? Has bullet placement been relegated to secondary importance in our minds if we're grasping for ever more high-tech projectile products? Is this a generational thing?

    What about a compilation of documented effective stops that disregards or avoids completely any notation of caliber or bullet style but only critically studies the relative effectiveness of accurate shot placement versus any combination of hits in the periphery? Which is more important, fancy bullets and/or sizable bullets or placing the bullet? Which receives the most emphasis in discussion?

    Or, is this really a rant and I'm I just getting too old and crotchety?

    Just like the myriad channels available for our TVs or the huge array of selections that greet us on the cereal aisles of our super markets, perhaps the sheer numbers of bullet/ammunition choices really is of little true value to us.

    By we Americans like to have our choices. Must ... have ... choices...
    Charter Member of the DC .41 LC Society "Get heeled! No really"

    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893


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    VIP Member Array Cuda66's Avatar
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    I guess what I don't quite get is the implied disdain for improvements in bullet technology (actual improvements only, please; the Hornady Critical Whatever line need not apply).

    Of course, I am not advocating that simply buying a premium JHP round will make up for lack of practice & training; it is not a talisman, it is not self-guiding. That being said, though, in any situation I am going to either miss or hit; be it with ball, a JHP, frangible, whatever. One type is not going to be more or less accurate enough in such a situation to matter. In that case--why not have a bullet which has been proven to cut a wider channel, and have a better chance of expanding after passing through clothing, or any other common light barrier that the bullet may encounter? Please, tell me what the downside of that is, because I'm not seeing it.

    In a self defense situation, we will likely not be given the opportunity to perfectly place our shots; if we could, .22 shorts would be all we need. No, shot placement tends to become marginal; and in such a situation, would we not want to have every last possible edge on our side?

    I guess i do.
    FLArmadillo and RAMIfied like this.
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    VIP Member Array 10thmtn's Avatar
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    Reliability (ignition, feeding) #1

    Shot placement #2

    Penetration to the vitals #3

    Expansion? a very distant #4

    The odds of the increased diameter of an expanded bullet turning a marginal hit into an incapacitating one are very remote.

    A FMJ that over-penetrates might be better than a JHP that under-penetrates.

    All pistols are under powered, and the endless caliber and bullet performance debates are like arguing over which car I can afford least - a Rolls Royce or a Ferrari.

    Rifle bullet terminal performance is a whole different story...
    The more good folks carry guns, the fewer shots the crazies can get off.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cuda66 View Post
    I guess what I don't quite get is the implied disdain for improvements in bullet technology...
    Agreed. What I also don't understand is why folks get so worked up while discussing it, either. Granted, I do think it's a little silly how quickly some latch onto the latest over-priced zombie-killer, but whatever works for them is fine w/me.

    I consider myself an eager student, and will gladly soak up ballistic observations from Bmcgilvray and many others here who have put a lot more time and study into this than I have.

    The EFMJ is an interesting concept and I do see a lot of goodness in it. I guess my bottom line is that there's a big part of me that struggles with spending a dollar (or more) on a handgun bullet. Yeah, I know "how much is your life worth" and all that obvious stuff, but I also do my own shooting and hunting and see first-hand what lswc's do, as well as ball ammo .45, and that's often pretty damn sufficient. I prefer to have sharpened skills over greatest ammo, which means that I shoot a lot, and will generally prefer to carry something similar to what I'm shooting.
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    The post is not intended to be disdainful but is intended to gauge other forum folks expectations regarding expansion and the relative importance of expansion's contribution to a meaningful stop. It would be interesting to find out if others recognize the hype that is undeniably a part of modern defensively geared ammunition.

    I do confess to harboring a little amused disdain for the hype surrounding the "performance" bullets and ammunition of the day. It may be that some of the ad copy and even some forum discussion sets some defense oriented shooters up for unrealistic expectations. Same goes for the FBI tests. These days the FBI tests are so frequently mentioned in cartridge/bullet performance discussions that it would seem that we've become pre-programed to default to the validity of the FBI tests as the measure a defensive loading's capabilities. Do most people accept these tests at face value?

    Could it be that the tests aren't nearly comprehensive enough to justify their use as a proper measure of cartridge or bullet performance? There are almost endless variables left unaddressed. Is it appropriate to defer to such a test because "that's the best we have available?"

    Any test possible is a contrived test of necessity because the spark of life and its frequent tenacity cannot be included. Occasionally in reading forums' comment we see some jestingly (we hope) suggest that ballistic testing be conducted on those convicted of various heinous crimes. This would rightly and morally be considered inhumane, as despicable and sordid as Nazi medical testing that was conducted in their laboratories. Besides it would take numerous such test to reach a valid conclusion. So, do we revert to the FBI test which has replaced other gauges of bullet performance touted down through the years including the Thompson-Lagarde tests of 1904, the Hatcher formula, the Taylor Knock-out formula, or the Strasbourg goat tests of around 1991?

    Several here including yours truly have discussed the observations they've made about expansion when taking game animals but it's been seen that they have been set upon by others who want to completely toss such observations out as irrelevant to a discussion of bullet performance on a human assailant. Is hunting experience relevant and if it is not then why?

    One astute fellow who posted when this discussion topic was put up on the private forum mentioned earlier said that these were his thoughts in a nutshell:

    Anyone who thinks that expansion doesn't matter has not been paying attention. Anyone who thinks that expansion trumps bullet placement is a fool.
    Last edited by bmcgilvray; May 23rd, 2012 at 12:41 AM.
    Charter Member of the DC .41 LC Society "Get heeled! No really"

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    VIP Member Array Cuda66's Avatar
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    As to the FBI test--there is direct corellation between rounds that do well in the tests doing well "on the street". The converse stands true as wel--rounds that fail the test have a record of not doing as well on the street. Will they still work? Sure. But they might not work as well.

    Similar to how vehicles that do well in NTSB (or whoever does 'em) crash tests tend to fare better in real world crash tests. However, according to the thoughts that many have approaching FBI tests, crash tests would only be valid in comparing a stationary vehicle getting hit by a crash sled...and that just ain't so.

    And the tests, and the test criteria, has led to a newer generation of bullets that can open robustly even after punching through heavy cloth, and penetrate deeply enough to get into vital structure in the not uncommon scenario of punching through an arm first. I fail to see how one can consider that a bad thing.

    As for the "human" tests, I agree with you entirely on the ethics of them...but that notwithstanding, they really wouldn't be all that useful; every person would be different, therefore every test would be unique. Anectdotal at best.

    Until they figure out a way to clone a testing simulacrum, so every shot can be identical, we'll have to use a homogenous, repeatable substance...and that'd be ballistics gel.

    And I would point out that the rounds that tend to actually have the best track records aren't heavily advertised. I can't recall the last time I saw an ad for HST or Ranger-T; even Gold Dot ads are uncommon.

    No, I'd venture the hypothesis that an ammuntion's real effectiveness is inversely proportionate to the amount of advertising for the round...almost as if the manufacturer's marketing division is compensating for something.
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    Hi Cuda66;

    I sure wouldn't consider the admirable goal of developing a bullet that expands meaningfully after penetrating any of a number of real-world barriers to be a bad thing. Color me skeptical though. Read about the Hornady Critical Duty bullet a few months back in a "Shooting Times" article I believe it was and also saw the full-page ad featured in the magazine. Sure wish I was wealthy enough to conduct an independent test of this Hornady Critical Duty bullet along side of other bullet choices.

    "And I would point out that the rounds that tend to actually have the best track records aren't heavily advertised. I can't recall the last time I saw an ad for HST or Ranger-T; even Gold Dot ads are uncommon.

    No, I'd venture the hypothesis that an ammuntion's real effectiveness is inversely proportionate to the amount of advertising for the round...almost as if the manufacturer's marketing division is compensating for something."


    You make good points to consider and it may be just so.
    Charter Member of the DC .41 LC Society "Get heeled! No really"

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    Quote Originally Posted by bmcgilvray View Post
    Hi Cuda66;

    I sure wouldn't consider the admirable goal of developing a bullet that expands meaningfully after penetrating any of a number of real-world barriers to be a bad thing. Color me skeptical though. Read about the Hornady Critical Duty bullet a few months back in a "Shooting Times" article I believe it was and also saw the full-page ad featured in the magazine. Sure wish I was wealthy enough to conduct an independent test of this Hornady Critical Duty bullet along side of other bullet choices.

    "And I would point out that the rounds that tend to actually have the best track records aren't heavily advertised. I can't recall the last time I saw an ad for HST or Ranger-T; even Gold Dot ads are uncommon.

    No, I'd venture the hypothesis that an ammuntion's real effectiveness is inversely proportionate to the amount of advertising for the round...almost as if the manufacturer's marketing division is compensating for something."


    You make good points to consider and it may be just so.
    +1 Interesting observation. And interesting thread bmcgilvray, thanks for the thought provoking read.
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    One astute fellow who posted when this discussion topic was put up on the private forum mentioned earlier said that these were his thoughts in a nutshell:

    Anyone who thinks that expansion doesn't matter has not been paying attention. Anyone who thinks that expansion trumps bullet placement is a fool.
    I'll go with this.

    Bullet expansion is a good thing when you can get it, but there is no end of enemy combatants dispatched with non-expanding ball ammo in 9mm and .45 cal. Likewise, in the cop world there are plenty of BGs who soaked up multiple hits of expanding 9m, .40 and .45 ammo who stayed in the fight because neither bone nor central nervous system nor critical blood vessels were hit. My fundamental rule is "have a competent gun, and aim well."
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    "My fundamental rule is "have a competent gun, and aim well."

    I think I derive the most comfort from that "Smitty Rule."
    Charter Member of the DC .41 LC Society "Get heeled! No really"

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    What I tend to like about expansion is two fold. It limits over-penetration and helps the bullet dump all of its energy. If a bullet passes all the way through a target then it expends a lot of its energy outside (or the other side) of the target, I want it to spend all it's energy IN the target. If the bullet doesn't expand for whatever reason, I want it to put as big a hole as possible, that is why I carry a .45.

    As for bullet design, I think Hornady is demonized and despised because they advertise. Well so does Coke and Pepsi, do you hate them too? The fact is, Hornady is more well known for hunting loads than defense loads, we all know if a hunter will buy pee in a bottle, they will buy a "special" bullet. Capitalism I have no issue with.

    As for what I carry, either Hornady CD or Gold Dot 200gr. I prefer medium weight to caliber in my .45's. Good mix of penetration and velocity and I can put em in the 10 ring so if the SHTF then I can hopefully hit what I aim at. That's my $.02.

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    I think Cuda 66 pretty much hit it spot on. While shot placement is key it requires that the bullet has the ability to reliably reach the vitals under less than ideal conditions to be effective. Expansion is bonus points as it increases the damage done to those vitals. The FBI protocol has proven to be a good indicator of those rounds most likely to be the most effective on the street in real self defense shootings. The organizations that train professional trigger pullers pay attention to these denim wrapped jello tests, so I tend to follow suit.
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    Many years ago, when I was single and could get away with stuff like this, I would grab all my neighbors old phone books each year and soak them in the tub overnight. The next day I would be out at the range shooting my little heart out and recovering all those sexy expanded 7.62x39, Black Talons, Hydra-Shoks, and Barnes .44 magnum bullets. Between those and a couple of recovered 12 gauge slugs from deer I harvested, I had a neat little collection going. I really enjoyed seeing what the recovered rounds looked like and how they compared with others of the same caliber.

    Spin the clock ahead 15 years and I'm back at it again, but this time I'm using SIM-test ballistics media instead of phone books. I started back into terminal testing after reading about how miserable .380 JHP loads performed from short barrels and FMJ was the only .380 ammo worth anything in a carry pistol. Depending on the performance criteria you are looking for out of the .380 some do perform better than others, and now I know which ones are the better performers. Before running my own tests, I just followed the herd with ammo choices.

    As far as .380 goes, would you rather shoot a slow FMJ target/range load, or a JHP at defensive speeds that expands a little and still penetrates deeply? I wanted the second option and after testing much of what is currently available, I found a couple of gems that have a nice balance of both expansion and penetration.

    I'm not done testing. I'm going to continue my work and look at short barrel terminal performance of .38 Special, 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 Sig, and .45 ACP. I think there will be gems to find in each caliber that have an optimal balance of expansion and penetration.
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    "Many years ago, when I was single and could get away with stuff like this, I would grab all my neighbors old phone books each year and soak them in the tub overnight. The next day I would be out at the range shooting..."

    Hah, lots of fun! I used to do this. I had access to a lot of discarded Fort Worth phone books through my employment with a bank. We have a place on a lake where the family hunts deer and duck in season and fishes and shoots year round. I used to throw the phone books in the lake and fetch them out later in the weekend for ballistic "non-tests." The popular hollow points and other expanding bullets of the day (1970s/early 1980s) weren't completely dependable, at least in such testing.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ljutic View Post
    Spin the clock ahead 15 years and I'm back at it again, but this time I'm using SIM-test ballistics media instead of phone books. I started back into terminal testing after reading about how miserable .380 JHP loads performed from short barrels and FMJ was the only .380 ammo worth anything in a carry pistol. Depending on the performance criteria you are looking for out of the .380 some do perform better than others, and now I know which ones are the better performers. Before running my own tests, I just followed the herd with ammo choices.

    As far as .380 goes, would you rather shoot a slow FMJ target/range load, or a JHP at defensive speeds that expands a little and still penetrates deeply? I wanted the second option and after testing much of what is currently available, I found a couple of gems that have a nice balance of both expansion and penetration.
    I'd love to see your results, and if they differ much from what is here:

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