Ammo Review: Hornady 125gr FTX Critical Defense .357 Magnum

A Ridiculously Unfair Evaluation

Street Price: ~ $20 / 25 rounds
The Good
It does in fact expand – apparently under the worst conditions.
The Bad
We were impressed. The only bad thing about this ammo is the pending impact on the checkbook to try out other calibers like 9mm, .40 S&W, and .357 Sig.
The Ugly
Being on the receiving end of this load would, in fact, be ugly.
Our Rating
4 Nuns Four Nuns!

This ammo just wants to expand. Like how the Kardashian’s just want to be on TV. Like how Rosie O’Donnell just wants donuts. Like how zombies just want brainz! Like how Chuck Norris just wants to roundhouse kick things. Like how Mayors Against Illegal Guns just want to embezzle. OK, enough of that. let’s just say its desire to expand is like an irresistible force of nature.

We recently ordered some Hornady 125gr FTX Critical Defense Ammunition in .357 Magnum as part of an ammo assortment to test in a Ruger LCR .357 Magnum. It’s new, getting a lot of buzz, and offers some pretty aggressive marketing claims. Like Performance you can count on every single time. That’s a pretty bold statement, so we decided to give it a shot – so to speak.

But first, a little background on what makes Hornady Critical Defense special.

The primary feature of Hornady’s new ammo line is the construction of the projectile itself. The FTX flex tip projectiles contain a polymer plug within the hollow point area to aid bullet expansion with no risk of the ‘plugging’ problem with traditional hollow points. This construction also allows projectiles to reliability expand over a broad range of velocities, making the Critical Defense line suitable for pocket pistols, short barrel revolvers, and classic lower velocity cartridges like the .45 Colt and .44 Special.

In addition to improved projectile design, Hornady Critical Defense utilizes a powder blend designed to reduce muzzle blast and flash. Although in our test platform of a 1 7/8” barrel .357 Magnum revolver, we figured that ‘low flash’ powder blends would be about as useful as donning pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers before an atomic bomb test at Christmas Island. As of press time, we were not able to do any night shooting to check out the flash factor or lack thereof.

In its literature about the new Critical Defense rounds, Hornady claims to offer reduced recoil through magic machinations like burn efficiency. We noticed it. Compared to other .357 Magnum loads with identical ballistics, the Hornady Critical Defense perceived recoil was noticeably less. Physics ‘R Physics so while the recoil energy is still there, perhaps Hornady has done some magic to spread out the recoil impulse over more pica-seconds. Or something cool like that. Bottom line? The Hornady Critical Defense load is perfectly usable in lightweight guns like the Ruger LCR .357 Magnum. While aggressive, its controllable. And fierce.

Our Ridiculously Unfair Testing Protocol

Actually we didn’t set out to subject the nice folks at Hornady to unrealistic product evaluation, it just kind of worked out that way. We’re not MSNBC after all. You see, we had great intentions of fabricating a nifty water based shooting box from an old restaurant food tub. These are gi-normous plastic bins made from really heavy plastic. Since the tubs interior dimensions perfectly contain two rows of three or four plastic jugs depending on size, the idea was to use the tub as a stabilizing container that is ‘refillable’ by simply adding more water-filled jugs. If you just line up a bunch of water jugs and shoot them, ,things tend to fly all over the place. it’s great fun and makes for cool slow motion video, but its difficult to test more than one round per trip down range. By having them snugged together in a container, we hoped for more controlled blowing up of stuff. Also, this setup would allow for easy insertion of a variety of barrier materials in front of the first water jug – clothing, wallboard, Justin Bieber CD’s, and other fun and interesting destructibles.

For our simulated clothing barrier, we used a hunk of really crusty and nasty garage towel – one that’s been through a few dozen oil changes, engine cleanings, floor moppings and who knows what else. Mainly because we’re too cheap to shoot holes in perfectly good denim.

Behind the, umm, simulated clothing were three laundry detergent jugs full of water. Heavy plastic ones.

One last detail on the setup. The plan was to cut holes in the shooty end of the plastic tub so bullets would not have to pass through the tough plastic barrier before hitting our simulated clothing barrier and water jugs.

Haste makes waste. Dashing out to the range with gun, ammo, nifty shooty box, and lots of water jugs, we completely forgot to cut holes in the tub. And even the ever-present Kershaw Onion pocket knife was not up to the task without high probability of bloodletting.

Faced with a choice of heading back to the casa without actually shooting anything, or just blindly plowing ahead, test results be damned, you can probably guess what happened next. Yup, we shot it anyway.

As you can see from the attached photos, we went ahead and shot right through the plastic tub, through the really funky crusty fabric, and into the jugs formerly known as budget laundry detergent.


As we mentioned, this round just wants to expand. After passing through the heavy plastic barrier and through the crusty cloth, the .357 load penetrated two full laundry detergent jugs. This represents about 12 inches of water and four additional layers of not-particularly-thin plastic. And it expanded fully – to a diameter of .590 inches. Let’s see, from a starting diameter of .357 inches, that would be, carry the one… just about a 65% increase. And that is after penetrating both hard and soft barriers. Wow.

After seeing that result, we tried a couple of other rounds through the exact same setup – hard plastic barrier, nasty fabric, lots of water, and more plastic barriers. Both the Winchester 130 grain .38 Special +P PDX1 and Cor-Bon 110 grain .38 Special +P loads passed through with zero expansion, as one would expect of a hollowpoint passing through a solid barrier.

While the Hornady Critical Defense 125 grain .357 Magnum load is rated at 1,500 feet per second out of a test barrel, we wanted to see what a real-world velocity would be out of a common carry gun – in this case the Ruger LCR. Velocity readings at a distance of 15 feet from the muzzle averaged 1,158 feet per second. Not too shabby out of a snubby revolver.

What Does This Prove?

  • If an evil d00d attacks you, and is wearing clothing made from greasy garage rags, no problem. Your Hornady Critical Defense ammo will expand.
  • If the evil d00d has fabricated body armor from restaurant grade heavy plastic, and is wearing undergarments made from greasy garage rags, no problem. Your Hornady Critical Defense ammo will expand.
  • If the evil d00d is carrying laundry detergent jugs full of water as a shield, in front of restaurant grade plastic body armor, and is wearing greasy garage rag undergarments, no problem. Your Hornady Critical Defense ammo will expand.

While this was not exactly a scientific ballistic test, in addition to being quite a bit of  fun, it did inspire quite a bit of confidence in Hornady Critical Defense ammunitions ability to expand after passing through hard and soft barriers. Granted, velocity always helps, and even out of the 1 7/8” Ruger LCR barrel, this bullet was moving along at just about 1,150 feet per second. We’re really anxious to try the Critical Defense rounds in other slower loads like .380 ACP, 9mm, and .45 ACP.

We’ll keep you posted.

BUY NOW: Hornady 357 Mag 125 grain Critical Defense Ammo

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Review: ESS Crossbow Eyeshields

Serious But Comfortable Eye Protection

The Good
Wow. These are really comfortable. The field of vision is by far the best among the dozen or so different types of eye protection in our assorted shooting bags.
The Bad
Three of us have been sharing one set. Fighting erupts over who gets to use them on any given range trip.
The Ugly
None of our reviewers was willing to get shot in the face to test the toughness claims. Wimps.
Our Rating
3 Nuns Four Nuns!
Suggested Retail Price: $105.00

We didn’t know we were supposed to get presents to celebrate the United States Marines 236th birthday. Apparently that’s exactly the case as the folks at ESS, a subsidiary of Oakley, sent us a set of Crossbow 3LS Eyeshields to (abuse) evaluate just in time to celebrate the big event. And, as everyone knows, ESS Eyeshields are the only approved eye protection for United States Marines. Coincidence? We think not.

If you’re not familiar with ESS, they specialize in abuse. Or more specifically making sure that ones eyes are protected in harsh and abusive environments. ESS offers a broad array of glasses, goggles, and other eye protection products for military, law enforcement, fire and rescue professionals. For the general purpose shooter, the Cross Series and Ice product lines are ideal.

The Cross Series includes a family of three product lines with interchangeable components:

Crosshair The entry-level kit. Includes basic protective lenses without advanced anti-fog and anti-scratch coatings. The Crosshair series products are upgradeable with all Cross Series premium components.
Suppressor Specially designed frames for use with cup style hearing protection and communication systems. The ultra-thin frame helps eliminate pressure points and maintain the effectiveness of hearing protection by not interfering with the seal. Lenses are interchangeable with Crosshair and Crossbow frames.
Crossbow The Crossbow is the flagship of the line and features a no-slip frame and includes lenses with anti-fog and anti-scratch coatings.

All Cross Series products are available in a variety of single, double, and triple lens packagings.

In the Box

Our evaluation set was the Crossbow 3LS (3 Lens System) package. This kit includes:

  • Black Tri-Tech Fit Crossbow Frame
  • Smoke grey lens
  • High definition yellow lens
  • Clear lens
  • (2) soft pouches for lens storage
  • Hard zipper case
  • Lens cleaning cloth
  • Snap on retention strap
  • ESS sticker and instructions

Love At First Sight

With any product we evaluate, we like to find the ‘stand out’ feature. With the ESS Crossbow eyewear, that’s easy. It’s the fit. The Crossbows are light and balanced, but that’s not the biggest benefit of their fit. These glasses conform to your face and ride very close to your eyes. The biggest benefit of this is the effect on peripheral vision. Neither the top of the frame or bottom of the lens cluttered up our field of view. This is the only set of shooting glasses that we’ve been able to forget about while on the range. They’re great for shooting sports where peripheral vision is key – sporting clays, IDPA, USPSA, etc.

Lens Swapping

Second to comfort, the other stand out feature of the Crossbow eyewear is the manner in which lenses are changed. Our evaluation set came with three lenses in smoke grey, clear, and yellow to cover a variety of indoor and outdoor light conditions. Our experience with other shooting glasses systems prepared us to expect a lens snapping ultimate fighting bout to remove one lens and add a new one. It’s never easy as most systems rely on high tension lens mounts which force the user to bend and contort frames in order to remove and add lenses. The Crossbow was different. While the outside corners of the Crossbow lenses do snap into place snugly and securely, the method of removal is different. The Crossbow frame features a locking mechanism just above the bridge of the nose. Rotate it upwards and the lenses are unlocked from the frame. Each lens includes holes which are used by this locking clip. Once the lens is unlocked, simply pull the lens downward and it is easily removed. Add the new lens, rotate the locking clip into place, and you’re good to go. Much easier than traditional pressure mounted lens systems. It was plenty secure and at no time was there risk of a lens coming loose.


Dude! You Shot Me In The Face!

Reading through the customer testimonials on the ESS website is quite an experience. Customers describe being shot at, blown up, sprayed in the face with toxic waste, burned up, and a host of other misfortunes. We developed all sorts of aches and pains just reading these stories.

Strangely enough, no one on our editorial staff was willing to volunteer to get shot in the face. So we’ll share this reader testimonial from the ESS website instead:

I am writing to show and tell you of the in-field performance of the fantastic protective eyewear ESS has developed. The attached photos were taken before and after a sniper attack outside of Mosul, Iraq, on July 3, 2006. I was positioned in the right rear hatch of my rolling Stryker when a sniper that had claimed the life of a fellow soldier and good friend three days prior struck again. This time, the snipers bullet hit my gun mount and continued on to fragment and splatter on the right lens of my ESS CDI sunglasses. While I was knocked down with the impact of the bullet, I suffered only minor injuries to my head and was back in action within the week. As strong testimony to the physical toughness of the CDI glasses, after the sniper attack I simply replaced the fractured lenses and continued to wear the glasses in combat for the remaining five months of duty in Baghdad. The frames were dinged a bit, but still functioned as new, even after taking a hit from a 7.62 sniper round.Many thanks to your product development department and all of those associated with making these fine products available to our brave young men and women that continue to fight the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sgt. Ross Shores, 172nd Stryker Brigade, 562nd Eng. Co

Closing Arguments

We really like these glasses. The combination of light weight, close and comfortable fit, and excellent field of view make them a keeper. The close fit and wrap around lens style provide eye protection from all angles. Highly recommended.


Check out other My Gun Culture product reviews here!


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Holster Review: Blade-Tech Looper Gun Belt (An ‘almost year’ of abuse in the rainforest)

Blade Tech and Looper gun belts are a Kydex and Leather sandwich

Blade Tech and Looper gun belts are a Kydex and Leather sandwich

About 10 months ago at SHOT Show 2011, I happened to stop by the Blade-Tech booth. Mainly because they had boatloads of really cool stuff on display. Holsters, magazine carriers, flashlight holsters, Taser holsters, and a whole assortment of tactical things designed to carry other tactical things safely and securely.

After discussing a Sting Ray Belt holster (which is IDPA approved) for a Beretta PX4 which is near and dear to my heart, I happened to notice a retail display of leather gun belts – and I was in need. You see, living in South Carolina, where steam is infused into the atmosphere nine months out of the year by massive Solyndra photo-electic humidity generators, leather belts tends to get bendy and mushy. By the way, while ‘bendy’ and ‘mushy’ are desirable features for the beer belly crowd, these are not welcome features for a belt designed to support a couple of pounds of gun, ammo, and holster.

So I asked what was so special about the Blade-Tech Looper Gun Belts on display. Turns out that this belt is really not a belt, but more like a kydex sandwich. While not particularly appetizing, it is functional – especially with extra mayo. The inner kydex lining is covered on both sides by sturdy leather. This combination results in a belt that won’t flex, bend, or stretch over time – kind of like a competition speed shooting belt that you can wear with business casual attire. You can wear it to the office or fight virtual combat battles against the clock!

The Blade-Tech folks working the booth made it very clear to me that this belt was not built for comfort, but for utility. While I don’t remember the exact words, the conversation went something like this:

Me: “So this belt seems really rigid. Will it stay that way? What will happen after a few gallons of sweat and a daily treatment of superheated South Carolina steam?”

Blade-Tech Marketing Person: “It will stay that way. This belt will not break in. It is NOT going to get soft over time.”

Me: “Awesome. All my other gun belts went south of al-dente months after I got them.”

Blade-Tech Marketing Person: “No I don’t think you understand. This belt will not get softer. It’s going to be like this forever. You realize that right?”

Me: “Yup. Exactly what I’m looking for.”

Blade-Tech Marketing Person: “OK, fine. As long as you realize that this belt won’t break in like a normal belt. It’s going to stay rigid like this. Are you sure you’re OK with that?”

After their unnecessarily apologetic disclaimer, I talked the marketing person into selling me both black and brown belts off the trade show floor.

The Looper belt uses a cowhide leather covering over the kydex interior support. The belts use a sturdy brass buckle with the brown belt version showing a raw brass finish and the black belt version featuring a silver plate over the brass for a sporty black / silver color combination. Belts are available in two widths to match most standard holster loop sizes: 1.5 inches and 1.75 inches. I opted for the 1.5 inch version as these belts were to be used with business casual attire and inside the waistband holsters. The 1.75 inch belts would make great options for outside the waistband carry.

I’ve been wearing one of the two belts in our lowcountry rain forest daily for the past 300+ days – toting either a Glock 32, Beretta PX4 full size in .40 Smith & Wesson, or Beretta 92. No featherweights for sure. I’ve also used the brown one as a double duty competition belt for IDPA and Steel Challenge with outside the waistband holster setups and lots of spare mag pouches mounted on the opposite side. Results? A little normal scuffing where I‘ve mounted holsters and that’s it. Both belts are as rigid as they day I bought them.

The Blade-Tech folks were right. It’s still not broken in. And that’s good.

Read about more carry styles and over 120 different gun holsters in The Insanely Practical Guide to Gun Holsters – available at! Learn more about our Insanely Practical Guides!

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