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In the never-ending 9mm Ammo Quest for the best pocket pistol load, TTAG published my test of CorBon DPX 115-grain, and it was really an excellent performer. But it also triggered quite a few requests, all along the lines of “when are you going to test the 95-grain version?” Now, normally I prefer heavier bullets over lighter rounds, all other things being equal, but testing from the short-barrel pocket pistols has forced me to re-evaluate that default position . . .

In general, it’s turning out that the heavier bullets really aren’t performing all that well from the little pistols. The short barrel just doesn’t get those heavy bullets up to enough initial velocity to ensure that the ammo performs properly. I’ve found a couple of 147’s that perform properly from a 3″ barrel, but in general 147’s haven’t really performed well. On the other hand, a number of 124’s and 115’s that are performing better than their equivalent models in 147 have.

So…why not try the 95? 95 grains is very light for a 9mm bullet; 95 grains is more normally associated with .380 ACP than it is with 9mm. But CorBon follows a “velocity is king” philosophy, and they claim that the 95-grain version from a pocket pistol should deliver results comparable to how the 115-grain version performs from a full-size pistol.  Well, the 115-grain was fantastic from a  pocket pistol, and one would presume it’d be even better from a full-size, so — that inspired me to want to test it — and CorBon was happy to supply a box for testing purposes, so — test it I did.

And I was surprised — it performed much better than I was expecting.  The velocity was, on average, over 200 fps faster than the 115-grain version; that was to be expected.  The surprising part was that the bullets basically all met the FBI minimum 12″ penetration guidelines (except one, and that one came in at 11.50″) and they all expanded to a much bigger size than I was expecting.  I was expecting bullet sizes comparable with the .380 ACP Ammo Quest, but no, these little 95-grain bullets turned in a respectable 1/2″ diameter expanded bullet.

The effect of the higher velocity is mainly seen in the size of the initial stretch cavity, where the little CorBon DPX’s created quite a disturbance in the gel when first entering.  Most ballistics professionals don’t put too much emphasis on that however; most body tissue is quite stretchy and handguns are typically not able to produce stretch cavities that exceed the elastic limit of most body tissue, so that big expansion cavity usually doesn’t result in additional damage being done.  However, there are certain body tissues that aren’t elastic can definitely be damaged from stretching (the liver is an example) so there are some cases where that larger stretch cavity may actually result in more wounding.

In general though, I’m looking for the biggest bullets that penetrate deeply (and by deeply, I’d like to see in excess of the 12″ that the FBI and IWBA determined to be the minimum necessary to be able to impact and destroy vital organs from all angles and through arms if necessary).  12″ is the bare minimum, and generally 14-15″ is considered preferable.  The 95-grain DPX generally met that 12″ minimum, which is commendable for such a lightweight bullet.  However, the 115-grain DPX penetrated quite a bit further, and also made bigger holes when doing so because the bullets expanded to a larger size.  Because of those two factors, I would still lean towards using the 115-grain version in a pocket pistol, but the 95-grain version acquitted itself very well.

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        • I definitely prefer the 115gr DPX over the 95, but I was surprised at how close the 95’s came.

          So far the best rounds I’ve tested include all flavors of HST, the DPX 115gr, and the Critical Defense 115gr, with a solid honorable mention for the Gold Dots in 124gr “short barrel” and 115gr. Still have many more to get through.

        • While I’m not really a fan of anything involving Remington, I am curious to see him test Remington’s Ultimate Defense Compact Pistol ammo.

  1. Question:
    I assume a Glock 19, being a compact, performs more like a full size pistol that a pocket pistol? Would I want to carry say 147 gr gold dots like in a full size gun, or 95 gr DPX like in a pocket pistol?

    • Most definitely yes, the G19 would perform more like a full-size pistol (which, in my terminology, would be a G17 or other “service”/”duty” pistol). For that G19 I would defer to other testers such as DocGKR’s list; I wouldn’t recommend using lightweight bullets in a pistol that can handle and properly deliver a full-sized load.

  2. I have a sig 938, used for CC. Now I am wondering about the possibility of the slide not traveling far enough to pick up a new round.
    Have there been any tests on this with the pocket pistols?
    I know that the pocket 9’s are more finicky when it come to “limp wristing” but light bullets may not be as reliable as the heavier 115 gr.,when it comes to slide cycling.
    Any info would be appreciated.

    • I would encourage personal experimentation using your actual pistol to get hard data of this type. In my opinion, there are too many variables (such as age/smoothness of the action, cleaning/lubrication habits, magazine condition, hand/arm strength) for a person to rely on another person’s testing in this area.

      Shorter version: buy some and try it!

      • Agree that you have to try it for yourself. I tested these in a 938 and found zero difficulty with feeding or extraction, but what works in my 938 isn’t necessarily a guarantee that it’ll work in yours…

  3. “In general, it’s turning out that the heavier bullets really aren’t performing all that well from the little pistols.”

    Is this a surprise?

    Hasn’t that general idea that different barrel lengths “favor” different bullet weights been known for decades from reloading for rifles and revolvers?

    Barrel length matters because the pressure time curve is not constant as the bullet travels down the barrel and if you change bullet weight, you change the shape of the P vs T curve.

    So, it’s not really “turning out” that this is true, it’s more like just demonstrating a known consequence of the vagaries of interior ballistics.

    The key fundamental take-home lesson is to reiterate that there is NO SUCH THING as “one load to rule them all.” The idea of “tuning” a load to a particular firearm is very real, even solely within the realm of factory ammo.

    • I would say it’s only a surprise in that there’s a snippet of “common internet wisdom” that says that you’d be better off with a heavier bullet because it will maintain its momentum better than a lightweight bullet would. And, there’s the general principle that heavier bullets usually penetrate better than lighter bullets.

      Both of those may be true, but when it comes to a pocket pistol, neither statement is relevant. It makes little difference whether the 147gr retains its (limited) velocity better, if it never gets up to suitable velocity in the first place, right? Furthermore, when we’re talking about a defensive pocket pistol, retained velocity at 25 or 50 or 100 yards is a pretty moot point, since you’re unlikely to ever be taking shots at that range (nor, in most self-defense encounters, would you likely be justified in taking shots at those ranges!)

      There is definitely no “one bullet to rule them all”. That’s why in my testing I’m specifying that this series of tests is specifically for a 3″ barrel. What performs well in a 3″ may choke or fail when used in a carbine; what performs well in FBI testing for duty-size guns might be a serious underperformer from the 3″ barrel, etc. So this series of my testing is focused on, and only relevant to, the pocket pistol with the 3″ barrel.

      • Ah yes, ‘common internet wisdom.’

        Good testing and demonstration is the antidote.

        Thanks again for the tests you do and publish online.

    • The problem of bullet performance from short barrel (3″ and under) barrels is one that isn’t easily be solved.

      The problem goes like this:

      Even in faster burning pistol powders, the pressure in the chamber doesn’t maximize until the bullet is 1.5 to 3″ down the bore. So stoking more powder into the cartridge is of only moderate benefit. With the fastest pistol powders in short (< 3") barrels, you typically see huge muzzle blooms, which are basically unburned powder burning forward of the muzzle.

      Going to a lighter bullet will result in a more rapid acceleration to a higher muzzle velocity for any cartridge.

      • I thought the reason that rounds like 9mm NATO exist not so much for better ballistic performance but to get more reliable cycling.

        • The nato 124 grain fmj is loaded to +p levels to give consistent reliability in a wide variety of pistols and smg’s.

          Oddly enough my sigma is most accurate with the 124 grain +p loads.

  4. In the real world I doubt a bad guy will care which bullet you use.
    If I had 10 rounds of 9mm ball ammo I would feel very comfortable. I think the best hollow points only give us a slight advantage over FMJ.

    • I’ll agree with you, but probably not for the reason you’d think.

      I do think that JHPs are more effective that FMJ in almost every common circumstance, but the problem that I see (or hear about) with the vast majority of casual gun carriers, is that they rarely (or never!) shoot their actual carry ammo. Usually cost is the main driver (“these are too expensive to shoot-up at the range”), but occasionally availability is the problem (can’t find a regular supply locally, and large online purchases may be too expensive).

      With reliability and shot placement two critical factors in defensive ammunition use, many (most?) folks haven’t shot more than a box or two (20-40 rounds) through their carry weapon, and have no real idea of where their carry load impacts in relation to their cheap practice load(s).

      This is NOT a good situation. It reminds me of the sign at the military parachute packer’s table: “If it doesn’t work when you need it, you won’t ever need it again.”

      Practice with what you carry every now and then, folks. It may be expensive, but you are worth it (if you DIDN’T think you were worth protecting, you wouldn’t be carrying a gun!).

      • True but you should turn over your self defense ammo every six months or so and dispose of the old ammo by shooting it at the range.

        • Hope you mean turning your ammo over as an excuse to go shooting. Ammo doesn’t go bad unless it’s very badly treated. I’ve shot ammo that I loaded 30 years before and it functioned perfectly.

      • Shot placement is the key, but a few inches difference in POI is irrelevant when shooting a moving person in a gunfight. Most people do not shoot more because of other commitments, work, family, other hobbies and lack of ranges.
        Better bullets may make a slight difference, but in most cases it will not make a difference. Ammo companies have to introduce new better products to keep selling and make money

        • The ONLY way to connect the diametrically opposed phrases “shot placement is the key” and “a few inches difference in POI is irrelevant” in the same sentence is to limit the circumstances to a moving target, and a full-size/width target, to boot. For any side-profile, CNS, behind cover, or other targets, a couple of inches can make the difference between hits and misses, or critical stopping hits and minor flesh wounds. For MOST sighted shooting, starting out with a pistol that does not shoot to POA is deliberately adding difficulty to a situation where there will already be plenty of challenges to go around, that you have NO control over. Starting with the BEST circumstances you can arrange (not the worst) is a far better recipe for overall success in a dangerous endeavor. If you end up having to use a pistol to defend your life, you’ve ALREADY busted very high odds; at that point, I think most folks would prefer to have the rest of the odds stacked solidly in their favor rather than trusting to luck.

          And I fully understand that many folks will never shoot their pistols beyond one or twice; I was not addressing those lost causes, just the folks who do go to the range regularly/semi-regularly and only shoot cheap FMJ practice ammo. Not knowing how well, where, or even IF, your pistol will shoot with high-buck defensive ammo is simply crazy-stupid in my eyes. Especially with the current crop of popular, small-to-tiny pocket/purse pistols, ammo selection is absolutely critical to reliable functioning.

    • Well, I don’t know about a slight advantage. I suppose it all depends on the individual shot. Considering an individual shot, a hollow point might be a DISadvantage, no advantage, or of great advantage. But yes, being able to launch any projectile is better than nothing; FMJs have killed a lot of people no doubt.

      If the money bothers people, reloading is the solution. For pistols I practice with both FMJs I buy, and hollow points I reload or sometimes buy to compare against my reloads. It’s probably 8:1 This way I can practice all I want cheaper FMJs for technique, and with premium projectiles to learn their POI & ballistics.

      On a single stage press I don’t want to spend the time reloading cheap stuff cuz you only save a dime. Reloading the premium stuff brings the cost down to what FMJs cost to buy though, so .30 -.40 / round savings. So I always pay in the .20 – .26 / round range. Plus, on the defense rounds, I get to dictate the speed (within safe limits of course) which allows me to extract the performance I want from the projectile.

  5. STB410’s excellent 9mm ammo review collection steered me to the Federal HSTs in 147. I like to go heavy for caliber but hate having to switch ammo depending on what 9mm I’m carrying, and my previously favored Gold Dots were pretty lackluster out of the shorter barrels in 147 weight.

    The HSTs show excellent penetration and expansion across a variety of barrel lengths, so it’s become my go-to 9mm ammo.

    Thanks for all of the careful work you’ve put into these reviews!

  6. What about Powr’Ball? Is jacket separation everything? It ran great in my TCP. Also Corbon.

  7. Of all the components of the ballistic equation barrel length is probably the most important. Most 9mm rounds are optimized for a 4″ or longer barrel and the optimal length for 45 ACP is the standard 5″ barrel found in the 1911. Many people prefer to carry carry small pistols and pay the penalty in reduced ballistic performance. Personally I prefer not to go much below 4″ in 9mm unless circumstances require it.

  8. Thanks for the great reviews and hard work! So much better than guessing. One question I still have is recoil. In my PF9 124gr+p muzzle flip is excessive. Did you notice any difference between the 95gr and 115gr corbons?

  9. did the 115 gr actually expand wider or did the extra velocity of the 95 gr reach the same expansion and the fold backwards after reaching as wide as the 115gr?

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