Federal dropped something of a bombshell on the .380 ACP world recently releasing their HST in .380(!) For a long, long time, the only personal defense offering Federal made was the venerable, but (relatively) ancient Hydra Shoks. Now, about a dozen years after HST was first put on the market, it’s finally available for the .380 chambering. And not only that, it claims to be particularly optimized for micro guns . . .
I don’t know about you, but I was extremely interested in this new offering and put in an order immediately. HST has been an outstanding performer in my 9mm Ammo Quest, and I was optimistic about its potential in .380. HST was designed specifically to pass all the FBI testing protocols. Seeing as my testing is devoted to finding bullets that can pass the self-defense-related portions of those tests (the bare gel test, and the IWBA standard 4-layer denim test), I was extremely interested to see how Federal’s new offering would perform.
But I retained a bit of healthy skepticism, too. This isn’t my first rodeo, and so far I’ve already conducted upwards of 35 ammo tests on the little .380 pocket pistols, most of them disappointing. Perhaps my biggest disappointment was with Winchester’s PDX1, which was advertised as being “the duty round of the FBI” — and heck, you’d think that with advertising like that, it’d pass the FBI tests, right? Well, in the bigger calibers, it does. In .380, though, the PDX1 was a severe under-penetrator, delivering only around 8.5″ of penetration, far short of the minimum 12″ through gel that the experts established as the baseline.
So, we’d been here before, and came up (literally) short. Same story with Hornady’s Critical Defense — too much expansion, leading to too shallow penetration. How would the HST do?
My reasons for optimism centered on the notions that the HST has been a great penetrator in other calibers, the fact that HST itself was designed to pass the FBI tests, and that it’s a heavy bullet for its caliber (it weighs 99 grains, whereas most .380 defensive rounds usually clock in at around 90 grains). My reasons for pessimism were that HST is a gorgeous expander, and if they tried that kind of expansion in .380, it’s almost guaranteed to come up short. And, right on the box, it says “Extreme bullet expansion for caliber.” That gave me cause for concern.
Unfortunately, that concern was very much justified. The bare gel performance exhibited severe under-penetration. The bullets expanded beautifully, even gigantically; they averaged .543″ in diameter, so they expanded to over 1.5X their initial size, and the maximum expanded edges reached an average of .65″. Utterly huge for a .380.
But, the more a bullet expands, the harder it is to push it through the gel (or the body); expansion acts like a “parachute” that slows the bullet. And with a .380, where there isn’t a lot of power available, you usually can’t have both, so you have to choose — do you want expansion, or do you want penetration?
The HST’s designers went for expansion. Again, expansion is gorgeous, huge, and (in the bare gel) consistent. But the penetration was woefully below the standard; they averaged only 8.40″.
In the denim, the story is — well, it’s better, and it’s also maybe a little worse, depending on how you interpret it. Generally the bullets expanded a little less, and accordingly they delivered more penetration, but still not quite enough. And they didn’t all expand properly.
Three of the five bullets expanded, averaging just under .500″, and they penetrated between 10.25″ and 11.50″. So, while not quite meeting the standard minimum of 12″, they were at least getting close. The other two bullets didn’t expand properly at all; they only expanded partially and, as a side effect, their minimal expansion allowed them to push deeper. Those two partial expanders made it to 12.00″ and 12.25″.
So we got better penetration results from the denim bullets, but we didn’t get the consistency or proper expansion that HST is famous for. To be fair though, I can’t really knock the partial expanders for not performing properly because, after all, this is a .380 we’re talking about, and partial expansion or inconsistent expansion has been a fairly common occurrence in my testing with .380 ammo. Even the best-performing .380 hollowpoints I tested frequently showed inconsistent expansion through the denim, so the HST is on par with other offerings in that respect.
Interestingly enough, the results of the HST tests are almost identical to those of the PDX1. The penetration and expansion through bare gel are extremely similar. It’s also quite similar to the performance of Critical Defense. It seems that Federal was more concerned with making bullets that match what their big-name competitors were producing, and less concerned with delivering the penetration power that has been demonstrated and proven to be necessary to be able to reach and destroy the vital organs of an attacker.
All three companies know how to produce ammo like that, but none of them have done it in their premium defense loads for the .380. Hornady makes the best-performing hollowpoint I’ve tested in a .380, the XTP. It’s an extremely mild expander (usually expanding to only about .41″) and, as such, penetrates deeply; XTP bullets usually penetrated around 12″ to 14″. But they don’t exhibit the kind of expansion that the HST does, that’s for sure.
In the end, the results are that eight out of the 10 HST rounds didn’t meet the 12″ minimum penetration standard as set by the IWBA and the FBI. And of the two that did, the only reason was because they didn’t function properly, only partly expanding. Overall, it adds up to a load that I can’t recommend and won’t be carrying.
There are several other choices on the market that consistently reach 12″ or more, with some expansion (or, in the case of the Lehigh XP, they can go up to 19″ and do more damage than a hollowpoint, while not needing to expand at all!) So since there are other viable alternatives that meet the standard, I simply don’t see a good reason for settling for a bullet that won’t.