The idea behind Federal Premium Ammunition's Practice & Defend Combo Packs is simple…which is what brilliant ideas often are.

It’s based on the fact that shooters don’t typically use the high-end hollow point ammo that costs more than a dollar per round to poke holes in a paper target. After all, that’s what inexpensive ball ammo is for. But it isn’t likely that you’ll be using budget ammo to load your nightstand gun or fill the magazine of your everyday carry pistol.

The trick has been finding affordable training ammo that replicates the ballistics of the high-end rounds you keep in your gun for self-defense purposes, so you can train with loads that perform like the ammo you’d have to use in real-life situations.

Ammo Test: Federal Premium HST Practice & Defend Combo Packs
The Practice & Defend Combo Pack includes one 20-round box of premium HST hollow-point ammunition, and...mfg photo

Federal simply took out the guesswork and came out with Practice & Defend Combo Packs, which pair training rounds with ballistically equivalent defensive loads. The company has been doing this for years, and they were so well received that this year Federal added the extremely popular HST self-defense ammo to the line. It pairs the popular self-defense loads with matched American Eagle training ammo.

Each pack includes 100 rounds of target loads and 20 rounds of HST Personal Defense ammo.

The bullet weights of both loads are ballistically matched, making for for a familiar feel and realistic practice sessions. The practice loads are full-metal-jacket (FMJ) bullets, while the HST ammunition features specially designed hollow point bullets for reliable expansion. Federal says the rounds' weight retention allow for reliable penetration for personal defense situations, while controlled expansion prevents them from over-penetrating. The bullet nose profile is optimized to facilitate reliable feeding. These high-end bullets come atop nickel-plated cases that will resist corrosion and feature one of Federal's top primers.

Ammo Test: Federal Premium HST Practice & Defend Combo Packs
...four 50-round boxes of American Eagle FMJ ball ammo, all ballistically matched.photo from ammunitionstore.com

The Practice & Defend packs are available in four calibers: .380 Auto in 99-grain HST and 95-grain FMJ ($80.95); 9mm Luger in 124-grain HST and FMJ ($67.95); .40 S&W in 180-grain HST and FMJ  ($84.95); and .45 ACP in 230-grain HST and FMJ ($96.95).

The only pairing that isn’t perfectly comparable is the .380 Auto combo pack, but Federal says the loads are as close as possible from the Federal lines.

At the Range

The folks at Federal were good enough to send me one of their .45 ACP Practice & Defend packs for testing.

I often practice with American Eagle 230-grain .45 loads, so that was familiar territory. Still, I put 50 rounds through my 1911 to get warmed up.

Then I settled in for a magazine of FMJ from the Practice & Defend pack, concentrating on accuracy and speed. I followed that with a magazine of FMJ fired from a pistol rest.

Ammo Test: Federal Premium HST Practice & Defend Combo Packs
The combo packs are offered in four calibers: .380 Auto, 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP.mfg photo

After that, I switched to the included 20 rounds of .45 ACP 230-grain HST and shot the same series. They cycled, recoiled, and hit the same as as the FMJ loads.

It’s worth noting that my Taurus 1911, which I used for this test, is typically very finicky about most flat-nosed bullets. It won't even bother to feed Federal’s Guard Dog rounds. So I was pleased to see that the slightly rounder-than-normal-nosed HST hollowpoints fed with ease.

As a quick test, I shuffled up my targets and asked my shooting partner to see if he could pick the HST silhouette from the rest without looking at the notes on the back. Then I did the same. We both picked FMJ targets as the HST targets.

Even though the FMJs give you a realistic shooting session at the range, it’s a good idea to take those self-defense rounds you keep unfired in your magazines to the range after a year or so and shoot them, just so you remember how they feel and so you can put some fresh rounds in your mags.