Ammo Test: Federal Self-Defense Handgun Bullets

I recently visited Federal Premium’s ammunition plant in Anoka, Minnesota, to test its trio of self-defense bullets designed for use in handguns: the Hydra-Shok JHP, Guard Dog, and HST. All have great reputations, but I wanted to put them through first-hand testing to see the results. This test was an eye-opener for me.

Federal Premium employees cooked up a bunch of ballistic gelatin–the target medium that engineers use to test bullet penetration and expansion–for me so I could check the bullets for several performance standards. A self-defense round should contain a bullet that expands rapidly and causes a lot of trauma in order to stop a bad guy before he does bad things. The bullet should penetrate well, but not travel too far, because in a home-defense situation we don’t want bullets to pass through walls and possibly injure or kill an innocent person.

The Bullets

The Hydra-Shok JHP is the flagship of the line. It has a small post in the center of the bullet to help promote expansion, and a notched jacket on the bullet to help it expand as it penetrates.

The HST is similar to the Hydra-Shok in that it is a skived hollowpoint, but has a harder core and a heavy copper jacket.

The Guard Dog is a hollowpoint bullet filled with a rubber insert and then plated to give it a flat point. That rubber insert causes the bullet to expand rapidly and minimize penetration to reduce the chances that it would pass through walls.

Ammo Test: Federal Self-Defense Handgun Bullets
This is the author at Federal Premium’s plant in Minnesota testing self-defense bullets by shooting them into ballistic gelatin and other media.

The Test

I used the venerable .45 ACP as our test caliber for all loads, fired out of a Model 1911 pistol. The Hydra-Shok and HST cartridges had 230-grain bullets, and the Guard Dog had 165-grain bullets.

I fired bullets into three types of targets: bare ballistic gelatin, ballistic gelatin covered with four layers of clothing, and gelatin with two pieces of common sheetrock placed in front it to simulate a wall in a house. Bare gelatin tests give a good idea of a bullet’s potential, but the clothing and drywall tests provide more of a “real-world” result.

Ammo Test: Federal Self-Defense Handgun Bullets

When fired into bare ballistic gelatin, all three bullets gave very good results:

• The Hydra-Shok retained 96 percent of its weight, expanded to ¾ of an inch, and penetrated one foot into gelatin.

• The HST retained almost all of its weight, traveled 13 inches into the gelatin, and expanded to a full inch in diameter.

• The Guard Dog also retained nearly all of its weight, expanded to .72 of an inch, and stopped penetrating after only 6¼ inches–exactly what the bullet is designed to do.

And, all three bullets performed exactly as advertised when fired into gelatin covered by clothing:

• The Hydra-Shok retained 98 percent of its weight and penetrated 13 inches into the gelatin. Expansion was cut down to .65 of an inch.

Ammo Test: Federal Self-Defense Handgun Bullets
Federal Premium’s Hydra-Shok JHP bullet has a small post in its center to help the bullet expand on impact.

• Like the Hydra-Shok, the HST retained most all of its original weight. It gave better expansion at .82 of an inch, and penetrated only an inch more.

• The Guard Dog retained 88 percent of its weight, expanded to .70 of an inch. Its penetration depth increased to 8¼ inches, which is still much less than that of the other two bullet models.

The sheetrock in front of gelatin test, however, was a bit surprising:

• The Hydra-Shok failed to expand. Its front was plugged with gypsum from the sheetrock and wound up weighing more than before firing. It penetrated the full 24 inches of ballistic gelatin, and ended up found 15 yards farther down the tunnel, looking like it could be reloaded and fired again.

• The HST showed to be a dependable design. When recovered from the gelatin it had retained 99 percent of its weight, and expanded to .81 of an inch in spite of the gypsum. It penetrated 8 inches into the gelatin, and took on a nasty shape during expansion.

The Guard Dog expanded to .70 of an inch, and retained just over 98 percent of its original weight. It penetrated just over 8 inches. That’s good performance for indoor self-defense.

Ammo Test: Federal Self-Defense Handgun Bullets
These three self-defense bullets were shot into ballistic gelatin to see how they performed. From left is the Hydra-Shok JHP bullet, the HST bullet, and the Guard Dog bullet.

The Takeaway

I would sleep well at night if I had a magazine full of Guard Dog ammo next to my bed. Based on the penetration and expansion qualities of the Hydra-Shok in bare ballistic gelatin and gelatin covered in clothing, I think it would make a good choice in a carry gun, but because of its penetration, I’d be apprehensive about using it in an indoor situation, when there may be loved ones in adjoining rooms.

The HST was my favorite bullet. It is a perfect blend of both designs, and it deforms into an open-flower-shaped chunk of copper and lead. The edges of the deformed HST were so sharp, I was concerned with cutting myself when we cut them out of the gelatin blocks.

Ammo Test: Federal Self-Defense Handgun Bullets
This is Federal Premium’s HST bullet after being shot into ballistic gelatin. The HST is similar to the Hydra-Shok in that it has a skived hollow-point, although the HST has a harder core and a heavy copper jacket.

The bullets were accurate, and are probably more accurate than I can shoot a pistol. There were no feeding problems with any of the loads. Of course, every handgun is different, so I’d recommend trying a variety before selecting the load for you.