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Is +P Ammunition Really Necessary?

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Sentry18

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https://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/p-ammunition-really-necessary/

Is +P Ammunition Really Necessary?
by Sam Hoober |

Feb 05, 2020 |




Courtesy Federal Premium

When it comes to defensive ammunition, a lot of people opt for +P loads as a matter of course. It’s certainly not a bad idea on paper; many police departments and federal agencies carry +P or +P+ in their duty guns.

The additional powder load nets an increase in velocity over standard rounds – though how much can actually vary – with the idea being that a jacketed hollow point round traveling at a faster speed will hit the target harder, penetrate deeper, and the extra “oomph” – due to the increase in hydraulic pressure on the bullet – results in more reliable and wider expansion.

Naturally, the attributes of penetration and expansion are desired when it comes to a defensive pistol round.

However, this comes at a cost. The first cost is in increased recoil. An overpressure round will exert a bit more felt recoil on the shooter (though some of us don’t mind too much) which can actually impede accuracy for some shooters.

When a person doesn’t like to shoot a round they tend to flinch or tense up prior to squeezing the trigger, a common reason for pulling shots off point of aim. Use of +P also accelerates wear on the barrel, the frame and the recoil spring in a semi-automatic pistol, requiring service or replacement of parts sooner than would otherwise be needed.


Courtesy SIG SAUER

Granted, the typical civilian isn’t going to fire enough +P to wear out a pistol and, truth be told, neither will many police officers. That’s why police trade-in guns are usually a pretty safe buy. But is the extra velocity actually worth the extra recoil, reduction in accuracy, or the potential expense?

There’s a similar debate among waterfowlers, who are already thinking, “not that stupid 3½” shell thing again.” For those unaware, a 3½” 12-gauge shotgun shell holds the same load as a 10-gauge shell, so you get a bit more shot and a bit more velocity with a slightly bigger shell. The argument (ongoing for decades) is over whether a 3½” 12-gauge shell actually nets enough added ballistic performance to merit the pain of shooting one.

A 2013 Field & Stream article by Phil Bourjaily attempted to answer that by doing extensive testing at Federal Ammunition’s ballistics lab. For that test, they compared a 3½” shell with a 3″ shell, both loaded with steel BB shot.

The larger shell put 77 pellets in a 30-inch circle target at 40 yards. The smaller round put 63 in the same area, about 72 percent. Shot strings were 49 and 42 inches, respectively. The larger shell gave pellets a faster ride — 1500 feet per second vs 1450 fps — but penetration turned out to be five inches in ballistic gel.

In other words, it’s an improvement…but not much of one.

Is it the same with +P ammunition?


Ballistic gel is a poor simulation for human flesh, and even if you add a few layers of clothing, it doesn’t come all that close. However, it comes closer than shooting a bullet into a water barrel.

The fellas over at Lucky Gunner Labs maintain a ballistic testing database, where they fire various self-defense loads and catalogue the penetration, expansion and velocity. While not perfect, it still gives you an approximation of how well rounds perform.

As for +P…it depends on the load, but when compared to a standard pressure JHP variant, it usually doesn’t buy that much more in terms of performance.

For instance, their tests of Federal 124gr 9mm HST rounds had the same penetration in both pressure loadings. The +P variant gained an average of 33 feet per second (1168 fps vs 1135 fps) and an average of 0.05 inches in diameter when fully expanded.

In the 147gr load, Federal 9mm HST +P did penetrate an average of 1.5 inches deeper compared to standard pressure (17.7 vs 19.2) gained an extra 46 feet per second (1008 vs 962) but expanded drastically more, with standard pressure averaging .38 inches to the +P’s .60 inches.

Hornady’s Critical Duty 135gr load in 9mm actually penetrated more deeply in standard pressure (19 inches vs 18.1 inches), though the +P loading gained 65 feet per second in velocity. Expansion was only marginally better in the +P loading.

Speer Gold Dot likewise only netted a gain in velocity in the 124-grain load of 9mm, with 1141 fps vs 1067 fps in the standard pressure load. However, that velocity didn’t net deeper penetration (the opposite; 16.4 inches vs 18.1 inches in standard pressure) and expansion was only 0.02 inches greater in the overpressure round.

And so on. There are other similar examples in their results.

Again, ballistic gel testing isn’t a great facsimile for actual ballistic performance in human bodies, but it can at least provide an objective measure of how a bullet will perform. Additionally, plenty of officers have been able to trust their lives to +P ammunition and gotten good results with it.

However, it could be stated that +P ammunition is not, strictly speaking, a necessity, as the gain in speed and penetration isn’t necessarily astounding. Plenty of standard pressure loads will more than do the job.

Oh, and one more thing: you only need 3½” shells if you’re a bad shot. Until next time!
 

SheepDog

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It is my considered opinion, based on 45 years of reloading, that +P loads are almost never a necessity.
Having said that I will continue with an argument for their existence. The 38 special was a very good round compared to those it replaced but as time went on there was a desire (or need) for a more powerful 38. The 38 Special +P was the eventual outcome but only after the 38 Special had become the 357 Magnum. There is a similar story for the 44 special, the 45 Colt, the 45 ACP and the 9mm Parabellum. (Luger)
The history and progression of firearms and ammunition would stagnate without the creative process of pushing for more velocity. It has led to gigantic failures (the 22 x 50 BMG) as well as some of the best ammo today. (454 Casull) You can also find rounds that have less real value just to be the biggest caliber or the "most powerful handgun cartridge in production" but those rounds become delegated to their proper place in time.

So, while +P rounds may not be necessary, they do hold a place of reverence in the loading world.
 

phideaux

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Necessary ...probably not.

Useful in some applications...absolutely.

I often carry a Ruger LCR 38 spec. When I do, it WILL be loaded high end of +P.

I carry it in certain situations because it is very concealable and weighs 13 oz. The +P gives me that extra velocity.
I practice with +P , it is proven to be quite more proficient than standard 38.

Jim
 

Sentry18

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I generally use Federal Premium HST 147 grain +P 9mm for duty use. It's not that much more effective then the standard 147 grain, but it eliminates the only benefit the .40S&W HST offers over the 9mm HST (penetration of vehicle bodies and windows).
 

hiwall

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While I have shot some +P loads in this and that, they are something I do not normally purchase. If someone else buys them and likes them, I think that's great. That is why there are 100's of choices.
 

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I think the only +P I carry is 38 Special. I don't own a small 357, so +P seemed to be the next best thing. I wanted a little more pop in my snubbie. I find the recoil to be pretty manageable once you practice, and get used to it.
 

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At the price and recoil of +P in 9mill just to get to the performance of standard .40 is it really worth it? Why not just stick with standard 40?

Can opened. Worms everywhere. Not sorry :)
9mm and 40 have nearly identical performance standards other than when shooting at cars. But 9mm +P still has less recoil and muzzle flip than .40 as well as less wear & tear on the gun itself. Plus IIRC the 9mm +P HST is actually less expensive than the standard HST in .40. Also I should add that I don't pay for my duty ammo, the good citizens of my state do. They are some wonderfully generous people.
 

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From everything I have read 9mm ammo has really improved over the last few years. There is not as much of a need to carry heavier calibers, 40 or 45, because the 9mm will do the job. What do you all think?
 

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Some of the newer plastic pistols suggest not using +P.
 

The Lazy L

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From everything I have read 9mm ammo has really improved over the last few years. There is not as much of a need to carry heavier calibers, 40 or 45, because the 9mm will do the job. What do you all think?
I’ve edge hit targets with 45 caliber that would have been a miss with a smaller caliber. :D
 

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From everything I have read 9mm ammo has really improved over the last few years. There is not as much of a need to carry heavier calibers, 40 or 45, because the 9mm will do the job. What do you all think?
I'm sure that with all other factors being equal, like shot placement and bullet construction, 45 is somewhat better than 9mm, but the trade off in cost, ammo cost, concealability, capacity, and recoil makes the 9mm a better choice for me. YMMV...
 

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You should always double tap.
I suppose that depends on the situation. On the Armed Self Protection YouTube channel, that guy says in the case of multiple attackers, everyone should get served one helping, before anybody gets seconds. But I suppose there are plenty of other instructors who might say to double tap each threat. This is probably a topic best left to @Sentry18 as he's the tactics guru around here. What do you think, Sentry?
 

Sentry18

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From everything I have read 9mm ammo has really improved over the last few years. There is not as much of a need to carry heavier calibers, 40 or 45, because the 9mm will do the job. What do you all think?
I suppose that depends on the situation. On the Armed Self Protection YouTube channel, that guy says in the case of multiple attackers, everyone should get served one helping, before anybody gets seconds. But I suppose there are plenty of other instructors who might say to double tap each threat. This is probably a topic best left to @Sentry18 as he's the tactics guru around here. What do you think, Sentry?
There have been numerous real world shooting studies (not testing, not personal preference, actual studies based on actual human beings who were shot) that clearly indicate that every caliber from .380acp to 45acp have almost identical rates of "stopping power". This is in part why the FBI (and hundreds of other LEA's) went back to 9mm.

The problem is that so many self-proclaimed gun "gurus" (and You Tube celebrities) have put out so much misinformation and disinformation into the shooting community that people confuse the personal preference of someone who is not actually an expert in the field as a fact. And then that bad data is parroted over and over and over again further creating this idea that they are facts, when they are simply opinions (which do not require a factual component).

If you feel comfortable with a .380acp, then that is what you should carry. If you feel you need a 10mm to be adequately protected, that's great carry a 10mm. Just remember that those are preferences and preferences do not make them any more or less effective than other calibers.



I have posted this many times because they really did a good job of putting the factual data into a simple and easy to understand form.

 

backlash

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Very good information in that video.
I carry a 9mm because of its capacity. I have a .38 revolver but it stays in the safe most of the time since I bought my Sig P365. Both will get the job done but 12 rounds verses 5 rounds win out.
If you leave your gun at home, in the safe it's useless. I carry what I'm most comfortable carrying and what I will carry when I need to. Caliber doesn't really play a major roll in the decision for me.
 

dademoss

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I've really only tried +P in my 9mm. It turned a nicely behaved, controllable gun into a snappish, nasty, hard to control pistol with a really long second shot target acquisition. I went back to regular 9mm self defense round. If I need it I want the follow up shot on target fast.
 

CrackbottomLouis

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There have been numerous real world shooting studies (not testing, not personal preference, actual studies based on actual human beings who were shot) that clearly indicate that every caliber from .380acp to 45acp have almost identical rates of "stopping power". This is in part why the FBI (and hundreds of other LEA's) went back to 9mm.

The problem is that so many self-proclaimed gun "gurus" (and You Tube celebrities) have put out so much misinformation and disinformation into the shooting community that people confuse the personal preference of someone who is not actually an expert in the field as a fact. And then that bad data is parroted over and over and over again further creating this idea that they are facts, when they are simply opinions (which do not require a factual component).

If you feel comfortable with a .380acp, then that is what you should carry. If you feel you need a 10mm to be adequately protected, that's great carry a 10mm. Just remember that those are preferences and preferences do not make them any more or less effective than other calibers.



I have posted this many times because they really did a good job of putting the factual data into a simple and easy to understand form.

I would like to see the real world shooting study that shows 380 acp and 45acp having "almost identical rates of stopping power". Do you have a link?
 

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SheepDog

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Well, I carry a 357 magnum. There are no "+P" rounds for it but I do have a 357 Maximum that is .3" longer case and adds about 500 fps to any given bullet weight from a 357 magnum.
It is not my carry gun because follow up shots take a bit longer to make.
I am currently training with my 357 magnum to make a single hit on target in a 1-1/2" point of impact in the forehead. When I get good enough there will be no need for double taps or follow up shots.
I will then transfer that training to my 40. I work with moving targets that are full size head targets and 6" steel plates while I move. I am getting better.
 

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Back to the question about the 9mm getting better.
It is a fact the bullet manufacturers have made great strides in bullet technology over the last ten years. Better bullets mean that well placed shots are more effective.
I, personally, (and this is a deep personal bias of mine) don't believe the 9mm shooting a 124 grain bullet at an average of 1150 fps is any better than a 38 special shooting a 125 grain bullet at 1150 fps. Now that isn't a fair comparison because a 9mm +P will add 100 to 150 fps but not all 9mm pistols accept +P. The police departments stopped using 38 Specials a long time ago when they had access to +P ammo. No police force will ever go back to using the 38 when the 9mm has the same power AND carries 12 to 18 rounds in a magazine.
For me, personally, (in my self righteous bias) The 9mm lacks the power that I feel a defensive gun needs. You can wound a person with it but you can also pump a lot of those bullets into a person without stopping them too. I was trained to fire two shots to the heart and if he didn't stop put the third shot into the head. With the popularity of body armor "for everyone" I am training differently. There is no need to waste two shots into body armor when one shot to the head or neck will stop the threat. The target is the brain or spinal chord not blood vessels or air passages. In all honesty, the 9mm is adequate for these shots too but the weakest caliber I carry is the 40. I have faith in the heavier bullet and it starts out bigger than the 9mm. Using the same type of bullet the 40 has an advantage. I "always" carry my 357 because it has the advantage of 1600 fps with a 140 grain bullet that will kill a deer or a black bear at 50 yards and a bit further. My 40+ years of using it allows me to choose where I want that bullet to go even when firing instinctively and not using the sights. Instinctively hitting that 1.5 inch circle around the point between the eyes is the object of my training. I won't carry my 9mm for defense. I bought it to play the 3 gun game and it works for that just like my 22 rifle works for small bore silhouette but I am not going hunting with either of those guns. I wouldn't use the 22 rifle for defense either even though a head shot has a good probability of stopping an attacker. I want a sure thing not a good probability.
I have never heard anyone say, "I wish I had less fire power." after a dangerous game hunt or a gunfight against another individual.

Sentry is right when he says there is virtually no difference in the damage done between a 380 and a 45. Pistols do not have the kind of power it takes to affect a 200 pound guy without a CNS hit (central nervous system).
To stop the bad guy you need a well placed shot and if you want to stop him fast you need to hit the central nervous system with enough bullet to destroy the connections. The 380 can do that, from certain angles, and so can most other more powerful pistol calibers. Body shots are not likely to stop an attacker - no matter how much damage you do to the circulatory and respiratory systems. He can keep firing for at least 30 second after all blood flow to the brain has stopped. That is a long time.
 

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Yesterday I reviewed an officer involved shooting from another department where the officer fired 5 rounds of .40S&W and hit the suspect 4 times eventually killing him. The gun used was a Glock 22 and the ammo was Remington 180 gr Golden Saber. The officer's first 2 shots were at approx. 65-70 feet as the suspect ran toward him swinging a large knife which he had already used to inflict serious bodily injury on others. He struck the suspect with both rounds. Shot #1 penetrated the suspect's heart. Shot #2 penetrated and collapsed the left lung also breaking 3 rib bones. It did not slow or stop the suspect. As the suspect charged the officer he fired two additional rounds. Shot #3 entered the right bicep and broke the humerus bone, but the suspect did not drop the large knife he was holding and was still able to swing it back and forth as he continued toward the officer. Shot #4 was a miss. The officer began to retreat without losing focus on the suspect. The suspect continued and came within 10 feet of the officer. He fell to the ground, lifted himself back up to his knees, and continued to swing the knife. The officer fired his final round. Shot #5 entered the right temple of the suspect head and the bullet went into his brain. He swung the knife 3-4 more times erratically before he collapsed and expired.

I will let you draw your own conclusions.
 

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Yesterday I reviewed an officer involved shooting from another department where the officer fired 5 rounds of .40S&W and hit the suspect 4 times eventually killing him. The gun used was a Glock 22 and the ammo was Remington 180 gr Golden Saber. The officer's first 2 shots were at approx. 65-70 feet as the suspect ran toward him swinging a large knife which he had already used to inflict serious bodily injury on others. He struck the suspect with both rounds. Shot #1 penetrated the suspect's heart. Shot #2 penetrated and collapsed the left lung also breaking 3 rib bones. It did not slow or stop the suspect. As the suspect charged the officer he fired two additional rounds. Shot #3 entered the right bicep and broke the humerus bone, but the suspect did not drop the large knife he was holding and was still able to swing it back and forth as he continued toward the officer. Shot #4 was a miss. The officer began to retreat without losing focus on the suspect. The suspect continued and came within 10 feet of the officer. He fell to the ground, lifted himself back up to his knees, and continued to swing the knife. The officer fired his final round. Shot #5 entered the right temple of the suspect head and the bullet went into his brain. He swung the knife 3-4 more times erratically before he collapsed and expired.

I will let you draw your own conclusions.
I would conclude that that guy was probably hopped up, and probably no sidearm in existence would have immediately ended the situation. Using hotter ammo probably wouldn't make much difference either. I would expect the head shot to cause all functions to stop though. Must have been somewhat of a glancing hit...
 

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No alcohol, no drugs (illegal, illicit, or prescription) in system. Man was 20-something, not very large, and had average muscle density. Head shot penetrated skull and stopped after traveling most of the way through the brain but did not exit. Shooting took place in daylight.
 

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No alcohol, no drugs (illegal, illicit, or prescription) in system. Man was 20-something, not very large, and had average muscle density. Head shot penetrated skull and stopped after traveling most of the way through the brain but did not exit. Shooting took place in daylight.
Welp...

Guess it just goes to show that handguns aren't the death rays that the movies make them out to be...
 
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