Expanding Handgun Bullets: Better? What's Better?

This is a discussion on Expanding Handgun Bullets: Better? What's Better? within the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; Sometimes I wonder if expanding bullets are truly that much better now than they were as they emerged in the 1970s when I began a ...

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Thread: Expanding Handgun Bullets: Better? What's Better?

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    Expanding Handgun Bullets: Better? What's Better?

    Sometimes I wonder if expanding bullets are truly that much better now than they were as they emerged in the 1970s when I began a shooting career. All sorts of contrived tests we did years ago produced expanded bullets that looked pretty wicked. Only some of these "new-crop" bullets that give the dramatic looking star or saw blade effect really look any better than the expanded bullets of 30-35 years ago and while we may admire the look, are they really better? Did the old designs really give enhanced effectiveness as "stoppers?" Do the current crop of defensive bullets marketed really offer measurably enhanced stopping effectiveness over old designs? Were round nose lead bullets really as bad as they are now made out to be, even if they were "correctly applied," otherwise known as making good hits.

    Wish someone with more money than sense would prowl the gun shows gathering quantities of new-old-stock ammunition that is factory loaded with the expanding bullets of yesterday and subject them to the same silly "jello tests" of today. It's entirely possible that today's bullets are perceived to be better based on nothing more than the strength of the marketing that tells us they are better. Contrived tests seem to support effectiveness but is it all "smoke and mirrors?" Gun rag articles are nothing more than ads extolling the benefits of the modern expanding bullet. Forums and gun talk at the range or club further convinces us that we can possess bullets that make our guns equivalent to heavy artillery or death rays.

    Rest assured there's some "leg-pulling" involved in modern defensive bullet marketing. Who can say how much?

    Is this one of those topics where we aren't suppose to look behind the curtain so much?
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

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    Senior Member Array USM1976's Avatar
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    Marketing perhaps and like golf equipment, many feel the need for the latest and greatest. I can attest to the fact expanding bullets decades ago worked fine.
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    I cannot think of a reason that a mushroomed "FBI load" would be any less effective that a mushroomed <Gold Dot/Golden Sabre/etc.> About the only difference I can think of, and it should be taken with a grain of salt because it seems the source of the information always flows back to the manufacturers, is that the newer designs are more reliable in meeting their intended terminal ballistics.

    I do prefer the mushrooming/HP load, because a couple of square millimeters in area behind breastbone may make the difference in a fast incapacitation and a slow one (so I have read).

    I also think "ballistic tests" are something that the gun aficionados like to dabble in (those videos are kind of cool, you must admit), so there is probably a disproportionate amount of writing on this subject.

    Short answer - I don't think today's bullets are any more "effective" if the terminal ballistics are achieved, but I do think today's bullets are *slightly* more likely to achieve that performance.
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    I've wondered this more than once. I did just pick me up some of the older style Federal 125 HP for my .357.
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    I believe what I read and see on TV.. that's why I only carry ZombieMax ammo! It's far superior because it can kill zombies!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hatrix View Post
    I believe what I read and see on TV.. that's why I only carry ZombieMax ammo! It's far superior because it can kill zombies!
    I am so happy that I live in a "zombie free zone". If they ever come here they will be arrested, fined, lose their CCL's and there weapons......
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    I think the advantage is that they perform better under less than ideal circumstances like after going through barriers/clothing. The 9mm had a horrible reputation in the 80's/90's after reports of real life shootings; not so these days.
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    Maybe it's marketing gimmick, but I really like the test results that I've seen of Speer Gold Dot +P. Not to mention their short barrel load has really nice speeds coming out of today's mouse guns.
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    Very good thread! Of course, you may be exposing the " great wizard ", much like that rambunctious little dog from Kansas did.

    It is my opinion that size and weight play a much greater role in effectiveness than expansion. Meanwhile, the ammo companies laugh all the way to the bank as consumers scarf up those 20 round boxes of " defensive" ammo.
    Its all a grand attempt to take advantage of the move to minuscule calibers to make little bullets act like big bullets.
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    Distinguished Member Array GlassWolf's Avatar
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    Modern hollow-point ammunition is indeed better, because now we have much more sophisticated design and modeling platforms, manufacturing methods, and materials. It's not so much about how a round looks when it expands, but how well it penetrates, how much energy is transferred to the target, time from impact to full expansion, percentage of fully successfully expanded spent rounds, how much of the round is stil intact after it's done penetrating, or if it splintered and came apart, the weight of the round before firing vs after recovery, if any clothing of material is caught in the hollow point, affecting it's expansion and penetration, and so forth. All of these factors filter into the ability of a bullet to perform.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bmcgilvray View Post
    Wish someone with more money than sense would prowl the gun shows gathering quantities of new-old-stock ammunition that is factory loaded with the expanding bullets of yesterday and subject them to the same silly "jello tests" of today.
    There are tons of tests available on Youtube.

    Here is a test of the old school Federal Hi-Shok 115gr JHP. 9mm Federal HI-SHOK 115 gr JHP AMMO test - YouTube
    Compare that to the modernized Speer Gold Dot 115gr JHP. Speer Gold Dot 9mm 115 gr Gel test - YouTube

    Here is the 147gr HST, arguably one of the best 9mm loads you can carry. Federal HST 9mm 147 gr JHP SIM-test w/Denim - YouTube

    Besides overall reliability, also take into consideration hard barrier penetration. Modernized rounds are often bonded or have very strong construction so they can retain more weight when pushing through auto glass or metals than an older design.

    When the old rounds (Hydra-shok) costs just as much as the new rounds (HST), why purchase the older rounds? Before the ammo panic, SGammo was selling L.E. packaged HSTs for the same price as L.E. packaged Hydra-Shoks.

    Do you want an $8,000 2008 F-150 in mint condition or an $8,000 1992 F-150 in mint condition? Both will usually get you where you're going, and run over crazy drug addicts just fine, but (fanboyism aside) which is the better choice? It shouldn't be hard.

    By the way, I refuse to purchase self defense ammo in 20/25rd civilian packaging. It's way too expensive!
    Ammo manufacturers don't use dark wizard magic or Jedi mind tricks to make you buy their ammo. An educated consumer buys it because it out-performs the competitors.

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    I'll be your huckleberry on this one.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bmcgilvray View Post
    Sometimes I wonder if expanding bullets are truly that much better now than they were as they emerged in the 1970s when I began a shooting career. All sorts of contrived tests we did years ago produced expanded bullets that looked pretty wicked. Only some of these "new-crop" bullets that give the dramatic looking star or saw blade effect really look any better than the expanded bullets of 30-35 years ago and while we may admire the look, are they really better? Did the old designs really give enhanced effectiveness as "stoppers?" Do the current crop of defensive bullets marketed really offer measurably enhanced stopping effectiveness over old designs? Were round nose lead bullets really as bad as they are now made out to be, even if they were "correctly applied," otherwise known as making good hits.

    Wish someone with more money than sense would prowl the gun shows gathering quantities of new-old-stock ammunition that is factory loaded with the expanding bullets of yesterday and subject them to the same silly "jello tests" of today. It's entirely possible that today's bullets are perceived to be better based on nothing more than the strength of the marketing that tells us they are better. Contrived tests seem to support effectiveness but is it all "smoke and mirrors?" Gun rag articles are nothing more than ads extolling the benefits of the modern expanding bullet. Forums and gun talk at the range or club further convinces us that we can possess bullets that make our guns equivalent to heavy artillery or death rays.

    Rest assured there's some "leg-pulling" involved in modern defensive bullet marketing. Who can say how much?

    Is this one of those topics where we aren't suppose to look behind the curtain so much?
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    Quote Originally Posted by bmcgilvray View Post

    Is this one of those topics where we aren't suppose to look behind the curtain so much?


    ^^Maybe^^^^^^^^^


    But lets not overlook the fact that bullet makeup(what the bullet is made of), the powder mix, and the overall design (how the bullet is put together), I believe make it perform better, and more consistently than days gone by.
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    gman gets it.

    Under normal conditions the "shorty" packages of ammo are not a good deal at all, true enough.

    The pickup analogy gets right by me as I love the 1992 Dodge D150 I bought brand new, preferring it to any newer model for styling, features (appreciate the lack of accessories actually) and dependability. I mostly appreciate the long years without pickup payments.
    Eric357 likes this.
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    Quote Originally Posted by GlassWolf View Post
    Modern hollow-point ammunition is indeed better, because now we have much more sophisticated design and modeling platforms, manufacturing methods, and materials. It's not so much about how a round looks when it expands, but how well it penetrates, how much energy is transferred to the target, time from impact to full expansion, percentage of fully successfully expanded spent rounds, how much of the round is stil intact after it's done penetrating, or if it splintered and came apart, the weight of the round before firing vs after recovery, if any clothing of material is caught in the hollow point, affecting it's expansion and penetration, and so forth. All of these factors filter into the ability of a bullet to perform.
    Whew! That's a lot of " ifs " and other variables just to punch a hole. Sure hope they all come together everytime.

    Make mine 4 something, 200something, and about 800 something. Simple effect, time proven, and easy on the wallet. It has over 100 years of jello tests filled with bone and flesh, and thousands of eyewitness accounts of effectiveness.
    USM1976, OD*, Cuda66 and 1 others like this.
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