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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.

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  1. Excellent! As time goes on I’m developing more respect for the TTAG-voted awards. I didn’t initially realize how difficult it is to obtain Ranger T (currently I have RA40T 180 grain .40 JHPs loaded in all my SD .40s). My source is the LAPD academy, and they have been selling out now and then.

    Kudos to Winchester for simplifying matters and making a product available to taxpayers, LEOs, and non-uniformed shooters. I may check this stuff out in my new Lone Wolf .40-9mm conversion barrel, altough I still have the stock (17 pound?) G23 recoil spring which might not like standard pressure ammo.

  2. I appreciate the review, have not yet settled on an HP load for new LC9, this gives me a hint. I would also like to see the ,45 acp tested, as I believe it is only 230 gr, and my .45s are 3″ and 4″, figured the 230 was too heavy until I saw this review of 147 gr 9mm, which according to common knowledge will not work in a 3″ bbl.

    • Carry the 124 grain 9mm HST, or the mentioned Winchester. “won’t work in a 3″ barrel” According to “common” knowledge? Have you seen any of these video tests?
      Not sure why the .45 is even brought up here. I am confused by what you are saying.

  3. “… how can you vote on ammo when it hasn’t been tested and proven to be worthy of the honor?”

    That’s a problem with “Readers’ Choice;” testing might or mightn’t really enter into it.

    Still, the awards ’round here tend to be well placed and well deserved; hope it works out fer yer…

  4. I’ve always been a critic of this load. The dirtiest ammo I’ve ever fired, dirtier even than the HPR line that I love to hate. But…I do respect STB. He’s appropriately cynical, critical when he needs to be, and not afraid to point out when his initial impressions don’t match his empirical data.

    I carry Federal HSTs in my 9. Great round. But I take the time to do my research. I’m a “gun guy.” There are people that aren’t willing to put in the research time (read that “ammunition obsession magic-bullet internet research”) on ammunition. In particular, newbies, God Bless’em. The people that we need to be welcoming into the firearms fold. They just want to have something reasonably priced that isn’t too abusive at the range that, Heaven forbid they need to use it, matches their EDC ammo.

    So who woulda thunk it. Good for you, Winchester.

    • A friend of mine bought a pocket nine for concealed carry last year and was asking me about ammo. So I rattled off a few brands and then sent him some links to SG ammo and

      • F*#%* smartphone somehow closed out and posted before I was done timing, anyways linked several good carry ammo choices to my friend and his immediate response was “woah! That stuff is way too expensive!” And then just bought a case of fmj to carry.

    • I have not found a “low flash” round that wasn’t dirty. I am thinking there is something there. The cleanest I have seen is PMC e-Range training ammo, but not low flash.

    • dirtiest ammo Meanings what? What does dirty equal? How many rounds fired until _________? Learn to clean your piece after firing?

      • “dirtiest ammo Meanings what? What does dirty equal?”

        Take two brands of ammunition to your favorite range.

        For each brand of ammo, fire the same number of rounds from two identical firearms.

        Inspect both firearms and note cleanliness of each.


        One may (or may not) be cleaner than the other.


  5. Great… maybe this will reduce the buying pressure on HST. The last SGAmmo alert for HST said there was 1600+ people on the mailing list. I think 500 boxes went in an hour or less.

    I would love if Federal did a copycat and provide a low cost HST training round with the physical profile like HST.

  6. Is there a rule of thumb for figuring how an round might perform out of a 4 inch barrel based on it’s performance out of a 3 inch barrel?

    • Yes. The rule of thumb is that it’ll be slightly faster and thus slightly more likely to expand reliably. Actual mileage may vary.

      • Yep, that’s the rule of thumb. And the good news here is that because the W Defend was a very deep penetrator, then with the additional power added by the 4″ barrel, it’s likely that it will still be a very deep penetrator even with the larger size that is likely to be created due to the higher velocity.

        That has me optimistic (but as yet unverified) that the W Defend may actually deliver great results from all barrel lengths. I do mean to test that at some point, I’ll do a three-barrel test to see how the “W Defend” does from a 3″, 4″, and 6″ barrel 9mm.

        • I’ll be waiting to see this video. I have a CZ Scorpion and an FNS-9 Compact and I would really like to be able to use this ammo in both.

  7. I found a great deal on some 124 gr 9mm +P Gold Dot a while back and bought a bunch for my Beretta Nano and my other 9mms. If I hadn’t already done that, I’d give this Winchester load a good hard look. “Cheap” combined with “performs” is awesome.

    • The “+P” 124gr Gold Dot works well from a 3″ barrel. If you’d said they were standard pressure, I might advise you to use them mainly in larger guns, but because it’s the +P version, those will still work well in the 3″ barrel Nano. That 124gr Gold Dot is a good load.

  8. Outstanding! And, with the price point and availablity I’ve been seen Win Def around town, I’m digging it.

    I always like to rathole away SD ammo for when times are tough. I’m going to put this reasonably priced little gem on my shopping list.

    I’ll probably still train with whatever has the lowest price on the rack, but still a neat concept.

  9. He likes it better than 124 HST simply because it is heavier? It looks to me like not only were the channels bigger for the HST but the souvenirs were also much prettier.

      • The trophy confused me. I confuse easily. However, even so, I thought it was fine if you preferred heavier rounds for religious or artistic reasons as you had already given us the valuable data to draw our own conclusions from.
        I enjoy the hell out of your videos.

  10. I’m going to dissent a bit here. To me, the 12-18″ penetration range is a straight pass/fail test; if the bullets pass that penetration test, I think consistent expansion is more important than an extra couple inches of penetration. While one could argue that the sharp petals on the Ranger T leaves a larger permanent wound track, these Winchester D’s just don’t look like they open up very far.

    Using your own numbers, the average Macpherson WTI scores on these are actually below that of the 115 grain Critical Defense:

    Winchester D 147 gr: 35.13
    Gold Dot 124 gr. Short Barrel: 37.06
    Gold Dot 124 gr +P: 38.87
    Critical Defense 115 gr: 40.40
    Winchester Ranger T 147 gr: 40.63
    Federal HST 124 gr: 41.38
    Federal HST 124 gr +P: 41.74
    Federal HST 147 gr +P: 45.75
    Federal HST 147 gr: 46.59

    I haven’t calculated a t-test or anything, but just eyeballing the WTI numbers, it looks to me like the Winchester D’s are actually significantly lower than average, the 147 grain HST’s are significantly higher, and everything else is more or less in a dead heat in the middle.

    (And yes, I copied those number from the videos into excel and happened to have them handy even though I’m on vacation at my parents’ house right now. What’s your point?)

    • I considered all your points, and they are all worthy of discussion. It does depend on where you set your priorities. The 12″ reauirement is, it should be noted, the bare minimum. Rounds that pass that are deemed good, yes, but in the original report it should be noted that the wording was basically “12 inches is the minimum, and deeper is better, up to 18 inches. ”

      Accordingly, the MacPherson formula gives only partial credit for penetration in the 8-12″ range, and full credit for 13-15″. Curiously he discards any penetration deeper than 15″, but hey, it is his formula and he can set the rules… his book also came out about 8 years after the fbi report so it may represent some additional data.

      Based on his formula, I highly favor bullets that reach at least 15″ whenever possible.

      Is that always necessary in an SD scenario? Likely not, but hey, I want to be prepared for any scenario.

      I do prefer the expansion of the HST bullets. They are fantastic.

      But the last bit I would raise is the issue of momentum. Heavier bullets carry more momentum, which should translate to better straight-line penetration without veering off course and more ability to smash through bones without being deflected. Given the choice between a great-performing light bullet and a great-performing heavy bullet, I would tend towards the heavier bullet in general.

      That said, the Critical Defense and DPX and Gold Dot 115’s were all magnificent. I would be happy with any of them.

      The Win Defend stood out because they are a great-performing heavy bullet, which are easily commercially available, and which are optimized for easy understanding and error-proof utilization by customers at any experience level. For those (like you) who take the effort to categorize and spreadsheet the results, you may certainly find a load you prefer, and may not be dissuaded by being able to find your favorite load at only a couple of online sellers, like SGAmmo (where I have found HST +P and 147 before). And that’s great, and I am glad for the availability of so many good choices. I am (obviously) right there with you. On the other hand, I am delighted to report that there is finally a confusion-free choice that I can wholeheartedly recommend to the many people who ask what ammo they should get for their new gun.

    • I have 200 rounds of the train ammo in .40 being delivered tomorrow. I would greatly appreciate STB410’S input on the train and defend duo in .40S&W. I have an XDM 3.8″ in .40 and a KelTech sub 2000 in .40 that I’m hoping it works well for. The XDM has run 100% flawlessly with cheap ammo. The kel tec not so much. Consistent feeding issues. If the kel tec feeding issues are solved with this ammo the peace of mind knowing the defend version performs well would be nice.

  11. I enjoyed your essay, but am confused by your comments about HST & Ranger-T ammo only being available to law enforcement. For years I’ve had no trouble buying either make of ammo. I presume you know that there’s no legal constraints on selling or buying the HST//Ranger-T ammo.

    Perhaps you could clarify this.

  12. Just remember dirty is what your gun is like after you clean it. The shorter the barrel the lower the back preasure. The light the projectile the lower the back preasure all other parameters being the same.

    • I love the Shooting the Bull Ammo Quest. Very well done. I would like to see more barrier penetration tests. at 60 years old and 40 years of personal carry I can say that cars in the majority of threat situations, in some way, are more likely to be involved than not. i.e. parking lots for example.

      Still love the job you are doing!!! Thank you.


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