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When it comes to defensive ammo, you’ve probably heard it said many times — “I use what the cops use.”  But is that really the best idea? The thing is, the cops don’t use little 3-inch barreled pocket pistols. So how does cop ammo, designed for full-size duty pistols, perform from a pocket pistol? In this latest installment of the 9mm Ammo Quest, ShootingTheBull410 puts Winchester Ranger Bonded 147gr Law Enforcement Ammunition through the 3″ barrel to find out.

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  1. It would have been nice to show the Ranger’s performance side by side out of a longer barrel too. Even though he said the performance was indicative of the short barrel only, people might get the wrong idea.

    • Agreed. I would like to see him do an Ammo Quest for longer barrels. No matter how many times he qualifies his results in the short-barreled 9mm series, there will always be people who get the wrong idea. It happened with his Critical Duty results. Some people are poor listeners.

  2. I wouldn’t necessarily call penetrating to 18 – 19 inches “overpenetration”, if 16 is ideal, that seems to be in an acceptable range. I was surprised that they had enough get up and go to penetrate that far and still didn’t have enough to expand better. Normally an expanded ranger is a beautiful thing to behold.

    • I was left with the impression that the Rangers expanded *too* much. The petals folded over and presented a smaller profile, which allowed them to “over-penetrate”.

    • I have a case to run out of my Sub2k, where expansion and over-penetration no longer become issues when pushing out at 1350 FPS or so.

      But agree that even at 19″, that’s not out of the range of effectiveness for penetration. Reality is that the bullet usually hits something on the way anyway, and could use that little extra mass and penetration.

      Note: haven’t seen the vid yet.

      • You’ve hit on an excellent and often overlooked point, VF. Granted, nobody expects everyone to be an expert in ballistics, and I am certainly not one, myself. Nevertheless, applying some basic understanding can go a long way toward reaching a reasonable conclusion, or at least of avoiding some silly ones.

        For example, using ballistic gelatin as a proxy for live target penetration is just that, a proxy. It’s only intended to serve as a general stand-in and more or less approximate the basics of what it represents. It’s not meant as an exact model of every circumstance.

        For starters, in testing we shoot directing at the face of a block of gelatin, which itself is a consistent density throughout. In real life, there are layers of clothing involved, which may include metal pieces, and beyond that there’s all kinds of body material. Bones, fluids, and even tissues of different types, all affect how a bullet will behave; including whether it even remains intact.

        So, ballistic gelatin tests are interesting, entertaining, and even legitimately informative. There are just so many factors in a real life shooting that are beyond our awareness, let alone control, that I wouldn’t sweat too much a few inches plus or minus on a ballistic gelatin test.

        • From what I remember of the debate leading up to the current FBI ammo test protocols, what was settled on was already on the high side penetration wise, coming after some very well publicized incidence where agents had gotten killed at least partially as a result of inconsistent penetration from their guns.

          Based on that, and on some limited experience with gel used (it’s pretty tough stuff), I’ll be surprised if even ammo penetrating the minimum 12″, wouldn’t exit most humans more often than not. Meaning 18+ is indeed rather subobtimal, particularly from a relatively low energy round, where the energy available could be put to better use than punching significant holes in backstops.

          I have to say I’m impressed with how consistent new ammo is. Every time I see a controlled test of a given round, all samples penetrate and expand almost exactly the same. No more half the rounds didn’t expand, and the other half exploded on the surface, as was the case with early hollow point efforts.

          When done with the 9, I’d really like to see tests of short barrel .45 offerings. Specifically to see if the standard 230 loadings still perform reliably at even lower than normal velocities. Some manufacturers sell 3″ barreled .45s now……

  3. Be sure to check with another great YouTube ammo test source:


    In addition to great ammo tests, he also recently rocked a mini canon to the 1812 Overture.

  4. I’m curious about something in watching this series (I’m new to this whole pistol thing). Once you settle on a particular round you want to use, would it be best to shoot practice ammo in the same grain weight? Or does that really not matter a whole lot? Reason I ask, most of the really cheap 9 mm is 115 grain, the same weight as the Critical Defense you already reviewed (highly). The 124 grain is a little more, the 147 grain further, and so on. How important is that? Or do you want to better match the round in terms of velocity as well?

    And I’ve already figured out that the self-defense ammo itself is too damn expensive to use for practice, thanks. 🙂

    • You should periodically fire a box of your SD ammo. Do a magazine side by side with your favorite range ammo. Note the differences in recoil and impact on your target. You may find the 115 grain ammo feels and shoots the same as the 124 grain on paper. If that’s the case, practice with the 124 grain ammo. Regardless, you need to practice with carry ammo every once and a while to ensure it functions reliably.

  5. Heavier bullets usually don’t work well in short barreled firearms. Slower heavier bullets will penetrate deeper, but it takes velocity to open up the hollow points. Add to that that the heavier bullets usually have a smaller cavity to keep them shorter and lessen their effect on case capacity and they frequently turn into FMJs.

    • I’m using the Ranger T, but the 127 grain +P+ version in a 4.4 inch barrel (SIG SP2022). I wonder how it would perform in ballistic gel. It’s a lighter bullet with more velocity, so if you’re correct (I don’t doubt that you are), then it should perform just fine, right?

    • Gov., this really isn’t the case with a lot of modern ammo. Powders for defensive pistol ammo are typically designed to burn as completely as possible in very short barrels and in many cases heavier bullets actually lose less velocity (as a percentage and as a raw number) as the barrel gets shorter than light bullets do. The general consensus — or at least most popular choice — in law enforcement and such is to go heavy for caliber. Often due to more reliable penetration, less deflection, and even more reliable expansion.

      Federal HST in 147 grain (for 9mm) is a proven performer in any barrel length. ShootingTheBull tested both the 124 and 147 in a 3″ bbl and 147 took the nod, which is what I would have expected and why I’ve carried it in my Nano since I got the Nano. Also carried it in my previous, 4.7″ bbl gun as well. Heavy for caliber.

      Tons of data on: …and check out their wound ballistics videos and other areas where they’re comparing Gold Dots and HSTs to other brands during police testing events…

    • In addition to the excellent remarks by Jeremy S, I’d like to point out that the 147 grain loadings (at least good ones like the HST, Ranger-T, and Gold Dot) don’t show as much of a drop off in velocity going from longer to shorter barrels. For instance, prolific internet ammo tester Molon’s data show that the 147 grain Gold Dot lost 3.5% of its velocity going from a 3.8 inch P229 barrel to a 3 inch Kahr MK9 barrel. The 124 Gold Dot loads (standard, +P, and short barrel) lost closer to 6%.

      This is significant because hollow point designs have velocity envelopes for which they were designed to work best. The 147 grain rounds appear to be closer to factory spec when fired from shorter barrels, which should help maintain consistency and reliability.

  6. I have followed the tests done by Mr. Zimmerman. I do have a request if he reads this. I think many will agree with this request. I am extremely curious about AR and similar type carbines and pistols with these defensive rounds. The longer barrel allows these rounds to have more velocity. Does that increased velocity improve the expansion and penetration or does it hurt the performance? Many people like myself enjoy those type of guns at the range and wonder with these types of ammo if they are viable for home defense. I do have SBR type AR pistols in 5.56mm and the noise and blast even with something like a KX3 are not a very good choice for home defense situations. The 5.56mm AR with a short barrel must have a suppressor for HD. The blast will cause temporary blindness in a dark room and the noise might cause permanent hearing damage to you and your family. The 9mm is just not that loud, my 9mm AR pistol with a 8″ barrel and a Smith Vortex is extremely maneuverable and has little signature in both noise and blast. Again how do these bullets work in longer barrels with higher velocities. Even the extreme +P+ types like the Ranger T 127+P+ and some of the Underwood +P+ loads. I now use the HST Federal 147+P in my 9mm AR for HD and no longer use the Ranger T until proper testing has been done with longer barrels.

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