Sometimes oldies are goodies. Sometimes oldies are moldy and rotten. And sometimes, oldies are okay, but they’re a lot better in your memory than they are in reality. Which brings us to Federal Premium Hydra Shok. Hydra Shok was one of the first great hollowpoints. It’s a legendary design that has endured since 1988 — that’s 27 years of continuously being on the market. Hydra Shok was one of the first bullets introduced . . .
as a direct result of the FBI’s landmark 1987 Wound Ballistics Conference, which defined the standards for how hollowpoint ammo is designed to perform, and those standards are still the prevailing guidelines that govern how modern ammo is developed.
But that was 27 years ago, and while the Hydra Shok has soldiered on, there have also been other substantial designs introduced (including Federal’s own HST). Some of these newer designs have been superb. Some have been … er… disappointing. And still, the Hydra Shok soldiers on.
I’ve fielded many requests to test Hydra Shok. In fact, even here on TTAG, some folks have made statements along the lines of “Wake me up when you find some ammo that performs better than Hydra Shoks.” That’s how iconic Hydra Shok has been. Sure there’ve been complaints about its performance through denim, but it remains a decent design. Heck, up until this month, Hydra Shok has been Federal’s primary premium defensive offering for the .380 ACP when they announced HST.
So while I respect to the venerable design, I also note that not only has Hydra Shok’s parent company surpassed it, but the gun market has experienced a significant shift, too — today’s pocket nines (like the Shield and P938) are everywhere. But they weren’t even on gun manufacturers’ radar back when the Hydra Shok was developed. Even the GLOCK 26 (with its 3.5″ barrel) wasn’t introduced until 1995, a good seven years after Hydra Shok hit the shelves.
So — can the Hydra Shok still run with the best, even when fired from today’s 3″-barreled pistol? It’s rated at 1120 fps; my testing from the shorter 3″ barrel showed an average of just 1010 fps. That’s not unexpected, but it may be a factor in how the ammo performs from the short barrel
In this test, I fired three bullets into a denim-covered gel block, and witnessed one partial success and two complete failures to expand (which resulted in those two bullets over-penetrating all 32 inches of gel I’d set up.) I don’t know how far they would have gone; I had two 16″ blocks set up, and they overpenetrated both of them and were lost. I then used the remaining room in the block to fire two bullets into bare gel. Those two rounds did expand, but one under-penetrated by reaching only 11″; the other performed great, expanded well and penetrated to the required minimum 12″ distance.
The summary here is quite simple — whatever benefits the Hydra Shok may have exhibited in its day, it doesn’t compete against the best modern defensive ammo. Federal’s own HST vastly outperforms Hydra Shok when used in a 3″ barrel.
It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that the state of the art has advanced and there are better options out there. Nowadays Critical Defense, HST, Corbon DPX and Winchester Defend all substantially outperform good old Hydra Shok. When you’re shopping for defensive ammo, there are many viable alternatives, and I can see no compelling reason to spend you ammo dollars on Hydra Shoks anymore.