I must admit, I was caught a bit by surprise when Winchester’s W Train & Defend ammo was named TTAG’s Readers Choice for Best New Ammo of 2014. Not that I disagree, even though I cast my vote for Lehigh’s XP… but — I don’t know, it just seems like — how can you vote on ammo when it hasn’t been tested and proven to be worthy of the honor? I’d just picked some up recently and was planning to head out to the range to find out how this ammo performs. Seeing the award just accelerated my plans . . .
It seems like Winchester has tapped into a real market niche with this ammo, because it’s easily the most-requested ammo I’ve been asked to test (other than anything with “Buffalo Bore” printed on it, that is). People have heard about W Train & Defend and they want to know how it works.
I don’t blame them. At the Texas International Firearms Festival, I spent a bit of time talking with the Winchester reps, and they were quite proud of this new line. And while I could point out that this general idea has been sort of done before (as reader Accur81 pointed out, Speer has a Lawman line of FMJ ammo that matches the weight and velocity of their Gold Dot defensive ammo), Winchester was keen to point out a couple of key points that they felt made their line stand apart, such as:
1. The FMJ (“Train”) and hollowpoint (“Defend”) lines are not only the same weight and the same velocity, but they’re also basically the same shape. That’s something that Speer’s Lawman/Gold Dot lines don’t offer. It means that the cheaper “Train” ammo can be used for function-testing the feeding and reliability of their ammo; if the FMJ feeds properly, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the hollowpoints will too. They’re velocity-matched, they’re identical weight, and they’re almost identical shapes. In terms of recoil, feeding, and accuracy, they really truly should be identical — which is exactly what you’d want. And, I tested by mixing and matching the rounds in my magazines, and I really couldn’t tell which were Train and which were Defend — again, pretty much exactly what you’d want.
2. They’re big on eliminating customer confusion — and with this, I totally agree. Look at an ammo store at Winchester’s defensive offerings and you’ll see Silvertips, Super-X, Ranger, Ranger T-Series, Ranger Bonded, Ranger SXT, PDX1, White Box, and who knows how many other offerings. And then you have to start multiplying the brand lines by the various weights (in 9mm alone there’s 115, 124, 127, and 147 grain versions) and then by pressure (Winchester offers various loadings in standard pressure, +P, and even a +P+). When you go to the FMJs, they offer round-nose and flat-nose in various weights etc. It is, quite frankly, a bit of a mess for the customer to sort through, and a time-tested adage in sales is, “A confused mind says no.” So with the Train & Defend line, Winchester is attempting to eliminate all that. There will be one “Train” offering, and ONE “Defend” offering, per caliber. There will be only 147-grain standard pressure in 9mm. There will be only 180-grain standard pressure in 40 S&W, etc. There will be only one shape of “Train” FMJ — the flatnose profile that matches the hollowpoint profile; there won’t be roundnose and flatnose offerings.
Put simply, there won’t be any prospect of mixing and matching, of getting the wrong pressure or the wrong weight. All 9mm “Train” rounds will be ballistically matched to all 9mm “Defend” rounds. You cannot possibly get it wrong. This simplicity seems to have really piqued consumer interest, if my inbox is anything to judge by.
While I applaud them for coming up with a simple, easily-communicated, and highly market-friendly idea, frankly none of that counts for squat if the rounds don’t perform well. And since I’m most concerned with the pocket pistols that so many of today’s concealed carriers are using, to me, I want to see good performance from the pocket pistol. And that’s what had me concerned with Winchester’s “Train & Defend” — their chosen weight offering in 9mm is 147 grain. And 147 grain loads have not proven to be reliable performers from the short barrel.
I’ve tested many 147-grain loads, and typically what happens is the bullet is too big and heavy for such a short barrel, so the bullet doesn’t ever really get up to the necessary velocity before it exits the barrel, and we end up with under-expanding bullets that overpenetrate or fail to expand at all. I’ve only found three 147-grain loads that performed actually very well from the 3″ barrel: the 147-grain Federal HST, the 147-grain +P HST, and Winchester’s own 147-grain Ranger-T. And while those are all superb loads, they’re also rarer than hen’s teeth, because they aren’t sold to the public. They’re marketed as law-enforcement-only loads, and aren’t generally available at your big-box retailers or most online ammo vendors. You can occasionally find them at certain resellers who are authorized law-enforcement distributors who choose to sell to the general public anyway, but you can’t find them at most stores.
On the other hand, Winchester’s “Defend” is easily available everywhere — Academy, Wal-Mart, or wherever fine ammo is sold. And, it’s pretty darn affordable — I think I got a box of Defend and a box of Train for about $30 total at Academy. So — the opportunity is huge. If they got this right, they could really fill a market need. Has Winchester made a 147-grain defensive round that will perform properly from the 3″ barrel, cuts through the market confusion, and is easily available?
Yes. Yes they have.
Without belaboring the point, check the video for details, but…the Winchester Defend 9mm is the best-performing, best-penetrating, most-consistent 147-grain 9mm round I’ve tested yet. It delivers superbly, and it delivers without having to resort to +P pressure, which means it delivers its results with less wear on the gun and with less recoil as compared to its competitors.
Now, it doesn’t obliterate the competition; HST 147+P penetrated just as far through denim and expanded slightly bigger, but in bare gel the Winchester penetrated about 2.5″ further, which is important. It performed about the same as the excellent Ranger T-Series ammo (although, unfortunately, the “Defend” doesn’t have the nasty sharp talons that the Ranger T has).
Seriously, I would be extremely pleased with the performance of any of these loads. But what stands out to me is that Winchester’s Defend matched or bested the performance of these rivals while doing so with less recoil, less wear-and-tear on the gun, at an affordable price, with a perfectly-matched “Train” counterpart, and did so while being vastly easier to obtain since it’s sold to the public instead of solely to law enforcement distributors.
That all adds up to a big win, in my book.
So it seems to me that TTAG’s readers knew what they were doing when they voted it Best New Ammo of 2014. I vote it as definitely one of the best carry ammo choices for a 9mm pistol. I haven’t tested the other calibers, obviously, but the 9mm is a great performer.