December 20, 2022
In the past decade, ammunition companies have introduced a number of new premium defensive bullets and ammunition lines. One of those is the Critical Duty line from Hornady. This ammo was specifically designed to pass the FBI Protocols, which is why their loads feature odd-for-caliber bullet weights. Hornady markets this ammo to law enforcement as duty ammo (hence the name), but it is not an LE-only product. It is sold commercially, which I really like, as the police work for us. Perhaps the most popular load in the Critical Duty line is the 9mm +P, which features a 135-grain bullet at an advertised 1,110 fps. The case is nickel-plated.
A brief aside, this ammunition was designed and built specifically to not just pass but excel in the FBI Ammunition Testing Protocol. If your pistol ammo won’t pass this multi-stage test, most police departments won’t even consider it for their duty ammunition. Hornady was so successful with this ammunition that the FBI has now adopted this exact load, the Critical Duty 9mm 135-grain JHP +P, as their duty load. Which is kind of a big deal. The only difference between the 135-grain +P load provided to the FBI and the one sold commercially is the size of the box, the FBI gets it in 50-round boxes.
The Critical Duty bullet has a cannelure and an “InterLock” band that bonds the jacket to the core to prevent separation. It features a traditional hollow point filled with a red rubber insert, Hornady’s patented Flex Tip. This rubber tip is designed to keep the hollowpoint from getting filled with clothing/drywall/etc. as it passes through barriers, ensuring consistent expansion. The FBI Protocol involves shooting pistol bullets into 10% Ordnance gel blocks, both bare blocks and through various barriers (heavy clothing, drywall, plywood, sheet metal, auto glass) into gel blocks.
While expansion of the hollowpoint is good, it is penetration that is most important. The FBI considers 12 inches of penetration the minimum acceptable, but anything over 18 excessive. At that penetration depth, more expansion is better. That is why this 9mm load features the odd-for-caliber bullet weight of 135 grains.
Hornady found the traditional heavy 147-grain bullets penetrated well, but couldn’t be guaranteed to expand due to their heavy-for-caliber weight and slow velocity. 124-grain bullets expanded well but didn’t penetrate consistently, especially through barriers. Experimentation showed the Hornady engineers 135 grains was the Goldilocks weight, and you’ll see the hollow point cavity itself only takes up the front 40% or so of the bullet. Whether the hollow point expands a lot or not at all, the body of this 135-grain bullet has enough mass to provide the necessary penetration.
I have carried this load more than any other since it was introduced. At the time, I looked at several top-performing loads, all of which I’d seen gel tests for (including true FBI Protocol tests), and shot them side by side. I went with the Critical Duty +P load because it expands and penetrates as well as any other hollowpoint I’ve tested, while barely having +P recoil. It is remarkably soft to shoot, and in my experience, you’ll get the advertised velocity (1,110 fps) out of four-inch or longer barrels. Out of the 5.31-inch barrel of my Glock 34 (EDITOR’S NOTE: yes indeed Tarr’s carry gun is a Glock 34), this load will go even faster, roughly 1,175 fps.
In the past, I’ve done some barrier penetration testing with this load, using Clear Ballistics’ gel blocks. These are not quite to FBI spec for ballistics blocks, but they’re close. Out of my Glock 19 this ammo did 1,101 fps. In bare gel, it penetrated 17.25 inches with excellent expansion. Recovered bullet diameter was .51-inch, and the recovered bullet weight was 135.5 grains including the red rubber insert, so it lost no weight.
Through plywood, this bullet penetrated 16.25 inches with near textbook expansion. Recovered bullet diameter was .56-inch, and the recovered bullet showed 100% weight retention. After punching through two layers of drywall, this bullet penetrated 15.5 inches of gel block. The recovered bullet looks odd, there’s no real expansion, and it looks like a kid tried to peel apart the hollowpoint using pliers, with little success.
When fired through steel sheet metal, this bullet turned into a lopsided lead and copper mushroom, but it still penetrated an even 16 inches. The recovered weight of the bullet was 126.7 grains, with a maximum diameter of .49 inch.
I had some testing of this load done by Black Hills Ammunition’s world-class ballistics lab, which uses true FBI-spec and properly calibrated 10% Ordnance gel blocks. Out of Black Hills’ Browning High Power with its 4.62-inch barrel the Critical Duty load reached 1,116 fps. It created a temporary cavity in the gel block 9.87-inches long, beginning just .37-inch into the block. The bullet penetrated to a maximum depth of 14.5 inches, expanding to an average diameter of .573-inch, and a maximum diameter of .606-inch. The bullet shed one fragment about 13 inches into the block, for a retained weight of 132.6 grains (98% retained weight).
The first shooting I heard of involving this cartridge, from one of if not the first police departments to adopt it as their duty ammo, was a one-shot stop, and this was years before the FBI itself adopted it. This load has continued to distinguish itself on the street, and is a very good choice for personal defense. For more information visit Hornady.com.
Five 9mm Facts You May Not Know
- The 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge was designed by Georg Luger in 1901.
- It was introduced in 1902 by Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionsfabriken (DWM).
- It was first chambered in the Luger semi-automatic pistol.
- The 9x19mm is not only the standard of NATO but it has also been adopted by the Federal Russian Army as well as the People’s Liberation Army of China.
- The name Parabellum is derived from the Latin Si vis pacem, para bellum (If you seek peace, prepare for war).
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 through Amazon.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.