Hornady introduced their Critical Defense line a number of years ago. This ammunition was designed with Hornady Flex Tip technology to prevent issues associated with traditional hollowpoints. It has since become an extremely popular personal defense round and can be found in the guns of tens of thousands of everyday carriers. Today we will be taking a look at the 110gr .38 Special +P.
The revolver is a not in any way an antiquated type of carry gun. I personally carry a Smith & Wesson 642 every day and it is just a part of my life. The .38 SPL is a cartridge I have a great deal of experience with and the Hornady load here is in my upper tier of carry loads.
This ammo is readily available at most retailers and can be had for about $20 for a box of 25 rounds.
Accuracy and Basic Performance
I tested this ammo in my aforementioned Smith & Wesson 642. This is a gun that I have over 10,000 rounds through and I know it and its accuracy potential quite well. Most people who carry this ammo will likely do so in a five-shot pocket revolver just like mine, be it a Smith, a Ruger, a Kimber or a Taurus. I’d say that it’s best in a small gun and offers the most benefits fired from one.
If you have a bigger revolver with a longer barrel, there are more powerful loads designed for them. That’s just my opinion, but I think it holds water.
I fired five-shot groups at a self-defense range of ten yards and again at five feet. The groups at these distances were fully acceptable and came in at two inches and less than an inch, respectively.
In the course of testing I experienced no failures to fire. Recoil isn’t bad at all. There are some .38 loads that are pretty stout, but this isn’t one of them. It’s powerful, but not unpleasant to fire. Rounds were fired over my Oehler 35P chronograph had a ten-round average of 956fps.
I used a 10% FBI gel block from Clear Ballistics for this section of my testing. I fired into it at self-defense range of five yards.
The bullet penetration was remarkably consistent and routinely delivered 13-14 inches in bare gel. Firing into normal cloth resulted in equally good performance and equal expansion. I got less penetration when shooting through leather, but my expansion was still excellent. All in all, this round delivered the advertised results.
There was no sign of separation of core and jacket, but the red tips did part ways with the rest of the bullet. There’s no way to avoid that and it’s not a point of failure, but rather a part of the design.
The primary wound channels displayed a permanent cavity that measured about six inches in length and about .7 inch wide. The bullets travelled a total distance of 13-14 inches in bare gel with the majority of damage occurring in the first 3-4 inches. Evidence of expansion was present from within the first inch.
This is excellent performance from a short barrel and it was on par with many 9mm rounds that I’ve tested from longer barrels. A person using this load for self-defense can rely upon consistent expansion and good penetration through a variety of fabrics.
Hornady has a reputation for producing excellent ammunition and advanced bullet designs. It’s the Critical Defense line that brought calibers like .380 ACP and 9mm into wider public acceptance and regular use, and the .38 has benefitted as well.
Although the .38 Special never really struggled for acceptance in most carry circles, it has certainly been made better with this load and those like it from Hornady. It has the best of many world when it comes to recoil management, accuracy, and terminal performance.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Accuracy: * * * * *
Out of my snubby revolver this is a winner. It produces excellent groups from compact guns designed for concealed carry.
Handling: * * * * *
Recoil was relatively low, but still more than most. Follow-up shots were easy to make and the gun didn’t come off target much at all.
Reliability: * * * * *
I experienced no problems of any kind while shooting this cartridge. A revolver is by nature extremely reliable and this ammo did nothing to change that opinion.
Terminal Performance: * * * * *
As an everyday carry cartridge, this one is a winner. It does what it’s supposed to do and does it consistently.
Overall: * * * * *
As concealed carry becomes more and more commonplace for more people, ammo like the Hornady Critical Defense .38 Special 110gr +P will only increase in popularity. This is an excellent load that I wouldn’t hesitate to carry in my EDC gun.