If you’re shooting to meet FBI specifications for projectile penetration — 12″ to 18″ in 10% ballistic gelatin — you’ll find that the .32 ACP cartridge is a tough nut to crack. Ball ammo, whether round- or flat-nosed, cast lead or jacketed, overpenetrates and does little in the way of tissue damage while it’s getting there. Hollow points consistently fail to expand due to small bullet diameter and lower velocities and, therefore, act like a ball round. Oddly enough that’s actually the best case scenario, because if the hollow point does expand it then grossly underpenetrates.
Lehigh Defense, makers of 2015 TTAG Readers’ Choice for Best New Ammo, set out to solve this conundrum and to #Make32GreatAgain. Okay, okay, I made that hashtag up myself, but I think it precisely sums up their new .32 ACP Xtreme Cavitator bullet.
You see, this caliber used to be popular back in the day when dying of infection a month after being shot was a likely outcome. It fell off the charts when it was no longer capable of meeting modern self-defense requirements — rapid, threat-stopping incapacitation — and was dead and buried when modern production methods and materials allowed for tiny pistols chambered in much more effective calibers.
But what if you could engineer a projectile that meets modern standards? One that brings .32 ACP back from the dead and into the realm of legitimate self-defense choices? A bullet that delivers on a #Make32GreatAgain campaign (if there were one)?
If you haven’t guessed by now, Lehigh believes they’ve accomplished that with the .32 caliber Xtreme Cavitator projectile, and Underwood Ammo has taken to loading it into really nice, nickel plated .32 ACP cases with flash-suppressed powder. It’s available in standard and “+P” loads, traveling 1,000 and 1,100 fps respectively. Underwood claims penetration in FBI-spec ballistic gelatin is 14″ and 14.75″, respectively.
This was a claim I definitely wanted to put to the test, and Jon Patton of The Gun Collective helped me score two blocks of calibrated, FBI-spec pork jell-o…which I blew up with a .50 BMG. But before turning it into chunky rain, there was some science.
Shot through two layers of t-shirt to simulate “light clothing,” a round of standard pressure .32 ACP Xtreme Cavitator stopped right at 14″. It made a fairly decent wound cavity, too, and traveled dead straight.
Upon reviewing the slow-mo footage later — this is all from the video at top, by the way — the temporary stretch cavity wasn’t too shabby at all.
With four rounds in the block, a clear trend is shown. Bullets are straddling the 14″ mark with extremely (Xtremely?) high precision. Looks like Underwood’s penetration claims are spot-on. FBI spec has been met.
As a control, I also ran two FMJ rounds and two Speer Gold Dots through the gel.
Color me surprised and impressed that both Gold Dots expanded fully and flawlessly. Of course, that came at the cost of penetrating only 8.25″ and 8.75″ of gel, which is well short of spec. I was also surprised to see smaller diameter permanent wound cavities than those made by the Xtreme Cavitators.
The FMJs overpenetrated, although by less than I anticipated. Actually, they only overpenetrated on average, with one stopping right at the 18″ maximum allowable distance and the other edging close to 19.75″. Permanent wound cavity barely existed, looking like a thin white line smaller than bullet diameter tracing its path through the gel.
At this point, I’m fully willing to say that the .32 ACP Xtreme Cavitator round is a legitimate self-defense option on paper. It penetrates to spec — consistently — and is “barrier blind” due to being a solid projectile that doesn’t rely on expansion or otherwise deforming. As expected, except for the rifling grooves, all four of them looked just like they did when brand new.
However, performing properly in FBI-spec gelatin is secondary to proper function. If it isn’t reliable in general or isn’t reliable in a specific firearm, it isn’t a valid self-defense choice. I spent a couple hours scouring the interwebs and found nothing but positive feedback from Beretta, North American Arms, Walther, Kel-Tec, and other pocket pistol owners saying the round has been running reliably and accurately for them and is a low-recoiling pleasure to shoot. I also found it accurate and extremely soft shooting, but it did suffer stoppages in my loaner Beretta Tomcat.
In the first 30 rounds fired, I had three failures to feed. Two of them were jams with the nose of the round pointing much too high and stopping solidly against the roof of the chamber, just barely into it with the base of the round half on the breech face and half still on the magazine. One was a feed failure I can’t say I’ve ever experienced before, in which the round fed so high that it actually cleared the top of the chamber entirely, launching down range well in front of me, slide closing on an empty chamber. I managed to capture that in slow-mo, in fact, as the round flew past the camera’s view following the previous shot:
If I hadn’t caught that on camera I’m not sure I would have known what happened. I was confused to get a “click” and then find the chamber empty, rounds still in the magazine, and hadn’t actually seen the round fly downrange or just thought it was the ejecting brass from the previous shot. It was much later, when cleaning up the range, that I found the loaded round sitting on the ground. Some conspiracy theories crossed my mind, but I quickly dismissed it as being dropped or rolling off the table, etc.
After 40 rounds of Lehigh were shot up, I finished off the box of 20 Gold Dots and went through the rest of 50 FMJs. No stoppages. Both of these rounds had more muzzle flip and felt recoil than the 50 grain Lehigh/Underwood fodder, but either way .32 ACP through a Tomcat is a pussycat that’s easy to shoot and to keep on target.
Yesterday I fired 40 more of these Lehigh/Underwood rounds, hoping that my earlier stoppages were due to a brand new gun needing a bit of a break-in. Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out and I had two more failures to feed. Same thing; nose of the bullet jammed into the top of the chamber. I can’t account for the rotation of the bullet — one of the flat sides down or one of the edges down — although I wish I had paid attention to that while loading the mags in case it mattered.
I’m thinking not, though, as all of the FTFeeds except for the crazy launching-out-of-the-gun one happened on the last round in the magazine. That ain’t a coincidence. As other Tomcat owners have reported flawless function, I can’t really drill this down. Maybe the problem is with the single magazine I have for the gun — although the other ammo seemed to work fine. Maybe a different mag would resolve this. Maybe it’s the rotation of the bullet in the magazine. Maybe it’s the groove around the ogive. Or maybe it’s something else.
It is accurate. Sights on the Tomcat are minimal, and I think groups like this are about all I’m capable of at seven yards no matter how straight the bullets fly. Actually, I’m quite pleased here. The red bullseye, by the way, is 3/4″ in diameter.
If it runs in your gun, which apparently is the norm, the Lehigh/Underood .32 ACP Xtreme Cavitator is a legitimate self-defense choice. It passes FBI spec (at least for bare gel/light clothing, and I’m willing to assume heavy clothing as well due to the solid design leaving no chance for clogging), shoots accurately, and is xtremely light in recoil, blast, and flash.
The next step to truly #Make32GreatAgain falls to the firearm manufacturers. I’d love to see these rounds — which are shorter and narrower than 9mm or .380 — slammed into a high capacity, lightweight, sub-compact pistol (that runs them reliably) or chambered in a teeny little 6-shot revolver. Yes, .32 ACP is semi-rimmed, but there are ways to double stack them effectively. There are other great cartridges in which to load these .32 caliber Xtreme Cavitator projectiles, too, such as .327 Federal Magnum and .32 NAA. (BTW, .32 ACP works in a .327 FedMag revolver)
Specifications: Lehigh Defense .32 Caliber Xtreme Cavitator loaded by Underwood Ammo
Bullet Weight: 50 grains
Bullet Composition: Solid copper
Bullet Diameter: 0.311″
Bullet Length: 0.412″
Bullet MSRP: $28 for 50 projectiles
Loaded Cartridge Caliber: .32 ACP
Loaded Cartridge Velocity: 1,000 FPS standard pressure, 1,100 FPS “+P” pressure
Loaded Cartridge Muzzle Energy: 111 ft-lbs standard pressure, 134 ft-lbs “+P” pressure
Case Type: Ducta-Bright 7a Nickel Brass
Penetration Depth as Tested: 14″ (standard pressure)
Loaded Cartridge MSRP: $25.50 for 20 rounds
Ratings (out of five stars):
Self-Defense Viability * * * * *
Rated against other .32 ACP options, I believe this to be best of breed.
Accuracy * * * *
I’m limiting it to four stars as I have a very small basis for comparison. It shoots as accurately as the standard build and weight FMJ ammo I have, though, and more accurately than I would have expected from such a tiny gun. It also scores very high on practical accuracy with its low felt recoil, minimal muzzle flip, and general lack of flash. I was able to put rounds right on target at a fairly high rate of fire, which is usually a difficult feat from a mouse gun.
Reliability * *
I implicitly trust Underwood’s loading. They’re about as consistent and as high-quality as it gets, and this ammo is no exception. However, it’s possible that aspects of this bullet shape cause problems in my Beretta Tomcat. Although I’ve now seen dozens of positive reviews of this ammo running reliably through other .32 ACP mouse guns, including other Tomcats, I obviously experienced issues with my own that would have to be resolved before I could consider carrying this round.
Overall * * * *
Face it, .32 ACP still isn’t the best self-defense caliber out there, but then again no handgun round is. A surprising (at least to me) number of people still choose to carry .32 for its light, controllable recoil, and I believe now there’s finally a round on the market that can justify it as a proper choice for self-defense. If your gun feeds it. Don’t beat me up on the rating here; it’s a no-go for my Tomcat but if you carry a .32 ACP or want to, this round is promising enough to find out if it runs for you like it seems to for everyone but me.