December 16, 2022
Homogenous or “copper solid” bullets have been around for a while, but it has taken the public a bit of time to appreciate what they offer. You can now find both pistol and rifle copper bullets in premium defensive loads, and one to consider for personal protection is Black Hills Ammunition's 9mm 115-grain TAC-XP +P load. This load features the 115-grain monolithic copper alloy Barnes TAC-XP bullet which has a large hollow point cavity. It has an advertised velocity of 1,200 fps and is my daily carry load, and I know several other knowledgeable people who carry it as well including Firearms News Senior Field Editor David Fortier.
Why a monolithic copper bullet? Traditional bullets have a lead core and a copper jacket. Upon impact, especially through intermediate barriers such as auto glass, that jacket has a tendency to separate from the core, reducing terminal performance. One popular solution is “bonded core” bullets. They stay together better, and so penetrate and expand more reliably. With monolithic (I'll refer to as solid) copper bullets, instead of a traditional copper jacket wrapped around a lead core, the entire projectile is one piece of copper alloy. There is no jacket to separate, so generally you get better penetration, especially through intermediate barriers, superior weight retention and impressive expansion.
Copper alloy weighs slightly less than lead, so the bullets are slightly longer than lead core bullets of the same weight. Traditionally, a 115-grain +P 9mm bullet is traveling faster than 1,250 fps, sometimes over 1,300 fps. However, copper solid bullets produce slightly higher pressures, so they can't be pushed quite as fast. Remember, while +P rounds generally go faster, in fact “+P” actually means increased pressure. As a result, this is one of the softer-shooting +P rounds on the market, which makes it a valid choice for smaller CCW guns or full-size duty pistols.
The advantage of copper solid construction is these bullets perform like heavier/faster traditional projectiles. The Black Hills loaded Barnes TAC-XP 115-grain bullet tends to penetrate similar to a 124-grain bullet at the same velocity, while retaining close to 100% of its weight. Copper bullets are often described as “punching above their weight”.
Copper solid bullets are usually referred to as “barrier blind” bullets. This means they tend to perform well even after being fired through barriers. As I mentioned, traditional bullets often shed their jackets when fired through tough barriers like wood, sheet metal, or (especially) auto glass. This reduces the weight of the projectile, reducing its penetration, and it is penetration that kills. Expansion is great, but if the bullet is not reaching the vital organs, it likely won't stop a bad guy.
Shooting bullets into properly calibrated 10% Ordnance gelatin blocks is a great way to compare apples to apples. I've done a lot of gel testing myself with this ammunition, and also seen many tests done by Black Hills Ammunition itself, which has one of the best ballistic laboratories in the country. I've shot this load through a wide variety of barriers as well to check its performance.
And, truthfully, gel tests of these bullets are boring. Whether fired into bare gel blocks or through various FBI-spec barriers into gel blocks, these 115-grain pills provide consistent and impressive performance. The hollowpoint opens up into a copper flower, but even when fired at extreme velocities I've never seen this bullet shed the petals of its hollowpoint. They just bend back further at higher velocities.
So, just how well does Black Hills Ammunition's 9mm TAC-XP +P load perform? It was put to the test using properly calibrated 10% Ordnance gelatin and a Browning Hi-Power pistol in Black Hills Ammunition's ballistics lab. Muzzle velocity for this load measured 1,200 fps. It penetrated to a depth of 12.5 inches into a bare block of 10% ordnance gel. The temporary cavity began three-quarters of an inch into the block and extended almost eight inches, with a max diameter of 2.5 inches. The bullet expanded to an average diameter of .68-inch, which is excellent. For a 9mm JHP to expand to almost .70 caliber is very impressive. It also retained 99.9% of its weight.
FYI, the FBI considers 12 inches of penetration the minimum acceptable depth. Interestingly, this bullet tends to provide similar penetration no matter the velocity. At slower velocities, the hollowpoint doesn't expand as much, and thus doesn't slow it down in the gel. At faster velocities, the hollowpoint expands more, slowing the bullet down as the petals open.
In the past, I've done some higher velocity testing with this and other 9mm loads. Out of an 8.5-inch barreled AR pistol this load averaged 1,487 fps. When fired through the FBI-spec “heavy clothing” barrier into a gel block, the bullet as you see penetrated 14.5 inches and expanded to 0.59 inch. Heavy clothing is known for plugging up hollowpoints and inhibiting or preventing expansion, but you don't see that with this bullet no matter how fast or slow it's going. You'll see the higher impact velocity bent the petals back, but they did not separate.
As this is their own load, Black Hills has done a lot of gel testing with it, and the accompanying photo shows five consecutively fired bullets that are nearly identical in expansion. In my experience, this is par for the course with copper solid bullets, no matter the make, weight, or caliber. They have consistent, near-textbook, almost boring performance, uniform expansion with deep penetration, even if you're shooting through barriers. This is the type of performance you want when selecting a load for personal protection. For more information visit Black-Hills.com.
Five 9mm Facts You May Not Know
- The 9x19mm is currently the world's most popular military pistol cartridge.
- The German Navy adopted the cartridge (1904) before the German Army did (1906).
- The first 9x19mm submachine gun fielded was the German MP18/I, which saw combat during World War I in 1918.
- The 9x19mm cartridge entered US military service in 1990 as a replacement for the .45 ACP.
- In an attempt to increase performance, higher pressure loads labeled +P and +P+ were introduced
About the Author
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O'Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.
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