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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  1. Bil Sowels says

    Appreciate your test and comments on the Hornaday CT. In an effort to gain info and not to be argumentive, I’d like to relate our experience. My friend and I both carry the “CT” 45 cal. In our carry guns because of the advertisements. He used his for deer hunting, hopefully to get an idea of performance. He shot a young buck, about 25 yrds behind the left sholder, center. The deer staggered about 25 yrds and collapsed. The bullet struck a rib entering and COMPLETELY fragmented creating shrapnel to the other side of the body cavity, with one small exit wound. Of course the deer was dead on its feet. Thats our experience, seeking answers, not arguing. Thanks for your time and articles. Bill

    • says

      Hey Bill – Thanks for sharing! Looking at the construction of the FTX it appears to be a traditional jacketed bullet as opposed to a bonded (something akin to a Gold Dot) and this might explain the fragmentation you saw when hitting hard bone. Interesting observation and we’re looking to do some follow up work with other calibers in this line. We’ll be shooting it into all sorts of stuff to take a closer look.

      Thanks for the insight!

      • ron says

        hey gentleman I’m ron in california.
        thanks for all the good info on the .357 125gr. FTX
        I have been carrying them in my 357 S&W Mod. 66-3, 2″
        Revolver But have not had the opportunity to collect 1 of the bullets I fired.
        QUESTION) Given the pistol I just described,
        What would be the approximate free range distance in case of a stray round being fired.
        concerned about distance and maybe hurting someone else accidentally.
        please advise have a great day.

  2. Anthony says

    Hornady Critical Defense 125gr .357 magnum. The best out there that’s for sure doing what it is designed to do every time that’s not to fail to mushroom every time. And at 1500 fps @ 624 ft-lbs now that is a man and many big game stopper thats out there. Can’t go wrong picking this ammo up.

  3. Stephen Cappelletti says

    Hope someone can give me the answer to this. I recently shot myself in the left big toe with this ammo. (Hornady Critical Defense 357mag 125 gr FTX) The bullet went through an UGGS slipper, then the sock. There is a bullet size whole in both. It did not go through my toe. Is it possible the bullet expanded after the sock or on impact with the toe bone. The bullet is as flat as a penny. The wound looks as though someone smashed the toe with a hammer. The whole toe and part of the foot is bruised pretty bad and the toe bone may be broke.

      • Stephen Cappelletti says

        Hey Tom, Thanks for the feed back. Still didn’t give me an answer on my situation. Have pics and the bullet was in my sock. Not a Superman-maybe lucky. I’m thinking these rounds are stopped by a heavy leather/like the slipper. After this, I’m not sure I would use them in serious conflict. I don’t know.

        • says

          I guess I am having trouble visualizing this. A 125 grain projectile cooking along at 1200+ feet per second is going to go through the stuff you described like butter. I’ve shot that load through stone floor tile and it still went 12″ into dense wetpack. Assuming you’re not pulling my leg, what else did that bullet encounter on the way?

          • Stephen Cappelletti says

            Tom, I’m really not kidding. The gun went off about 3′ from my left foot and hit nothing else before the slipper. The bullet never went through the bottom of the slipper and was in my sock as flat as can be. Could it be it was a defective round. I’m new to this gun and after reading what you are telling me I feel puzzled but lucky. Is there a way to send a view pics of the bullet and my foot to you? Thank you for your response.

          • Stephen Cappelletti says

            Tom, I feel pretty bad about bothering you about this. You were very right. I have a heavy gage steel gun safe. I opened the door and what I saw explained in all. The bullet hit the steel frame on an angle before hitting my toe. When I saw what that bullet did to that steel frame it would have clearly taken my toe off. Thank you for taking the time to reply. I am glade you did. I will continue to follow this site.

          • says

            Oh you’re not bothering me, this is a heck of a story and I appreciate you sharing it with our readers. I’m really happy that hit the safe first. While it sounds like your foot is dinged up it could have been a whole lot worse! I’m just glad to hear that you survived getting shot with a .357 magnum without too much long term damage. Not many people can say that! If you want to share any lessons learned with our readers when things settle down just let me know.

          • Stephen Cappelletti says

            Tom, Thank you soo much on your input. I would like to let gun owners know; (and i’m sure most know this) when you get a new gun don’t think its like all the others you have owned. Get to know it well before playing with it. This 357 mag Rugar has a hair pin trigger. It doesn’t take much for this gun to fire after the hammer is pulled. I was lucky and a lesson well learned. Thanks Tom for a web site that actually gets back.

          • says

            This is great time to remind everyone of the 4 cardinal safety rules:

            1. A gun is ALWAYS loaded.
            2. Finger OFF OFF OFF the trigger until ready to shoot.
            3. Never point a gun at something you’re not willing to destroy.
            4. Be sure of your target and what’s behind it.

  4. Blue says

    I know this post is about a year old, But I appreciate the test you did. I am recently bringing my 4″ Ruger Security Six into my CC rotation, Reason being, on my side of the the valley here in Utah, the worst I worry about is buttheads and the occasional wayward mountain lion, on the other side however, add black bears, bull elk, and bull moose. Now I know full well that they would like to avoid confrontation with me as much as I with them. For my scouting and hiking there I’ll use Buffalo Bore heavy .357 loads. but for general self defense carry ammo back in butthead areas, my first set of six will be .38 +Ps and reloads will be.357 Critical Defense. I was wondering about their performance through a few other mediums since Hornady only talks about the clothing

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