Handguns have been the go-to defensive tool since they were invented. They’re portable, concealable, and in modern times, they pack a lot of power in a small, reliable package.

But a defensive handgun is only as good as the defensive ammunition with which it’s loaded. And, just as handgun and defensive tactics aren’t a static discipline, the ammo you trust your life to has also evolved.

Federal Premium Hydra-Shok has long been the standard of defensive ammo. The innovative hollowpoints debuted in 1989 after the FBI requested better terminal ballistics from handgun projectiles.

Its unique proprietary center-post lead core design and notched jacket combined to provide more reliable expansion and deeper penetration than any projectiles on the market at the time.

Since then, the bullet has advanced to better meet modern performance standards, and concealed carriers can now reap the benefits with new Hydra-Shok Deep.

The bullet features a more robust center post and a core design that penetrate to optimal depths through the barriers most commonly encountered in self-defense situations.

“Hydra-Shok Deep offers shooters consistent, reliable performance through typical defensive barriers and penetration to the depth deemed optimum by the leading law-enforcement agency in the United States,” says Larry Head, director and chief engineer of handgun ammunition.

Hydra-Shok Deep bullets penetrate 15 inches in bare ballistics gel, the ideal depth according to the FBI. They also hit optimum penetration depths through barriers encountered in self-defense situations.

Hydra-Shok Deep
Hydra-Shok Deep Personal Defense ammo was initially launched in 135-grain 9mm. Recently, it has also been released in 165-grain .40 S&W and 210-grain .45 ACP. Federal

Additionally, the iconic center post design has been improved for better, more consistent expansion.

“Original Hydra-Shok was designed toward the end of the ’80s around the then-current FBI philosophy of how a bullet should perform, and protocol testing to evaluate that performance,” Head says. “Over time, the FBI performance requirements have been evolving, and its protocol testing has similarly been evolving to match. One of the most notable changes has been the desire for deeper-penetrating rounds and more consistency in penetration depths though all the intermediate barriers.”

Enter Federal engineers, who, in the 30 years since the introduction of original Hydra-Shok, have learned a lot about terminal ballistics and projectile performance. Although original Hydra-Shok remains very effective, designers knew they could make it better.

Hydra-Shok Deep was initially launched in 9mm Luger 135-grain. Recently, it has also been released in 40 S&W 165-grain and 45 Auto 210-grain. This new ammunition product line is recognized by its customers—and the industry—for its improved penetration and superior reliability.

Range365 contributor Richard Mann tested Hydra-Shok Deep rounds for Shooting Illustrated’s Golden Bullseye Ammo of the Year award—which the ammunition won for 2019.

“Every round of Federal Premium Hydra-Shok Deep I tested penetrated between 15 and 16 inches, and expanded to at least 1.45 times its original diameter. Considering bullets weights ranged in weight from 135 to 210 grains, and in diameters from .356 to .45, that’s quite impressive,” Mann says.

“Federal also supplied me with 100 rounds of each load for follow-up testing,” Mann says. “Terminal performance is one thing, but reliability is another. You can have the best bad guy-stopping bullet in the world, but if it will not cycle and feed in your handgun, all you can really count on is one shot. I tested these loads by firing one box each in a variety of handguns, including a Smith & Wesson M&P, several 1911s and Glocks, a Browning Hi Power and the new SIG Sauer P365. There were no stoppages or failures to fire.”

Hydra-Shok Deep
A cross section of a Hydra-Shok bullet. Federal

Performance for Modern Standards

The new Hydra-Shok Deep bullet features a core design that provides up to 50 percent deeper penetration than original Hydra-Shok and similar loads from competitors, and the center post has been improved so it’s more robust, which provides better integrity and performance through barriers. Testing shows that Hydra-Shok Deep penetrates 15 inches in bare ballistics gelatin, which is the optimal depth, according to FBI standards.

“The primary goal of Hydra-Shok Deep was to penetrate to the FBI’s optimum depth of 14 to 16 inches and at the same time provide more consistent performance though the intermediate barriers,” Head said. “We also wanted to develop a round that would score significantly better through the FBI protocol testing than standard Hydra-Shok. Hydra-Shok Deep does all of this with a 70-percent improvement in FBI protocol score.”

Although the bullet’s performance in ballistic gelatin is impressive, many shooters might wonder how Hydra-Shok Deep will boost their real-world performance. Head explains why the remarkable improvements in expansion, penetration and integrity through defensive barriers are especially important to self-defense.

“Ideal bullet performance is a round that stops a threat by expanding to a large diameter to cause the maximum amount of tissue damage and penetrates deep enough to reach vital organs,” he says.

Hydra-Shok Deep
The tip of a Hydra-Shok Deep bullet. Federal

Reliability Redefined

Hydra-Shok Deep also uses an extremely reliable Federal primer and consistent, specially formulated propellant. Head says those are critical to achieving optimum ballistic performance and reliability.

“In a self-defense situation, your ammunition has to be completely reliable in igniting the propellant and providing the correct and consistent energetics. This not only pushes the bullet to its optimum working velocity but also reliably functions the gun,” he says. “A failure in this area could lead to catastrophic results. The propellants also contain flash suppressants to reduce muzzle flash and minimize temporary blindness in low-light shooting situations.”

Hydra-Shok Deep has quickly become a favorite of those who rely on ammunition to protect themselves and their families. Those shooters can take solace in knowing a longtime self-defense staple has been adapted and enhanced to meet 21st-century challenges.

For more information on the loads mentioned in this article and all other products from Federal ammunition, visit: