Choosing Ammunition for the Springfield Armory XD-S & Other Short Barrel Handguns

The performance of any gun is only as good as the ammunition you put into it. And I’m not just talking about using any quality self-defense ammunition.

One of the reasons that 9mm guns are more effective today than ever before is the performance of modern 9mm ammunition. Of course, improvements are not limited to 9mm – .45 ACP performance, at it’s lower velocity, is also in a golden age.

How do you choose ammunition for short-barrel pocket guns like these Springfield Armory XD-S pistols?

How do you choose ammunition for short-barrel pocket guns like these Springfield Armory XD-S pistols?

Before we talk about some great ammunition options for the Springfield Armory XD-S, we need to spend a minute discussing bullet design.

Modern self-defense expanding ammunition considers opposing factors to gain the best overall performance – penetration and expansion. Both of these attributes are impacted by velocity. More velocity tends to drive expansion at a faster rate. At any given velocity, a bullet can expand less rapidly and penetrate more, or expand more rapidly and penetrate less. It’s kind of like diving into a pool. If you enter the water vertically, with your hands pointed in front of you like an olympic diver, you’ll go deeper. If you jump off the board and do a spectacular belly flop, you won’t go very deep, although you may wish you would quietly sink to the bottom, thereby ending your misery.

When ammunition companies design a specific round, say a 9mm, they will create a bullet that will travel a certain depth into standardized ballistic gelatin at an expected average velocity for the caliber in an “average” gun. So, as an example, ACME Road Runner Blaster 9mm ammo might be expected to fire at 1,150 feet per second from something like a Glock 17. ACME might design the bullet to penetrate somewhere in the 10 to 14 inch range while expanding fully.

Why all this diversion into ammunition design? Here’s why. While there are numerous ifs and caveats, the shorter a handgun barrel is, the lower the velocity of any given bullet. A rule of thumb is that a handgun will generate 50 feet per second less velocity for each inch lost in barrel length. The Springfield Armory XD-S has a 3.3 inch barrel, so when compared to a full size gun with a 5 inch barrel, you might see velocity for any given ammunition reduced by as much as 80 to 100 feet per second. So, when fired from a shorter barrel, a bullet designed to expand properly at 1,100 feet per second may not expand at all when traveling at 1,000 feet per second. Conversely, a bullet designed to expand properly at 1,000 feet per second may over-expand, and not penetrate enough, when fired at 1,100 feet per second. Is this bad? No, just different.

With the huge popularity of compact pistols similar to the XD-S, some ammunition companies, like Speer have designed ammunition optimized for proper performance in shorter barrels. For example, rather than designing a bullet to expand at a desired rate when traveling 1,100 feet per second, they design bullets to expand at the desired rate when traveling at 1,000 feet per second.

What does all this mean? It’s not enough to just buy any old self-defense ammunition off the shelf. You need to carefully choose your ammunition, considering the gun you’re buying it for. In my testing, I’ve found that Speer’s Short Barrel ammunition line is an outstanding option for guns like the Springfield Armory XD-S. Let’s take a look.

Speer Gold Dot 9mm 124 grain Short Barrel Hollow Point

I wanted to test multiple Speer Short Barrel loads, in multiple calibers, from the same gun. The Springfield Armory XD-S presented the perfect opportunity. Except for caliber, capacity and a very slight weight difference, the .45 ACP and 9mm XD-S are identical.

Almost any bullet will expand almost every time if you just shoot it into water, gelatin or even soaking wet newspaper. As I care about at least trying to replicate some degree of real-world performance, I always shoot through some type of barrier like layers of clothing.

For the Speer Gold Dot 9mm Short Barrel test, I got somewhat cranky and put two layers of leather and four layers of fabric in front of my super-duper sophisticated soaking newsprint bullet catcher. That’s a pretty tough barrier, but when you consider things like jackets and coats in cold weather environments, it’s more realistic than nothing.

The Speer Gold Dot 9mm Short Barrel load performed perfectly with this 9mm XD-S. Expansion was perfect after passing through two layers of leather and 4 layers of fabric.

The Speer Gold Dot 9mm Short Barrel load performed perfectly with this 9mm XD-S. Expansion was perfect after passing through two layers of leather and 4 layers of fabric.

As you can see from the photo, the projectiles expanded perfectly – even with the leather and fabric barrier. Being a bonded design, where the jacket of the projectile is chemically bonded to the interior lead core, none of the bullets came apart. Just what you want.

Speer Gold Dot .45 ACP 230 grain Short Barrel Hollow Point

I’ve found that full weight .45 ACP ammunition is tricky when it comes to expansion. Given the “standard” velocity of a 230 grain .45 ACP projectile at somewhere in the neighborhood of 850 to 900 feet per second, expansion is tough. Every few feet per second of velocity matters when you want the metals in a projectile to spread apart as it travels through tissue. Of course, lots of folks don’t really care as the .45 ACP is a large and heavy bullet even when it doesn’t expand.

But hey, we’ve got modern ammunition technology at our disposal, so I tend to favor ammunition that expands anyway – big .45 bullet or not.

These Speer Gold Dot .45 ACP 230 grain Short Barrel bullets were shot from an XD-S through four layers of denim and still expanded properly.

These Speer Gold Dot .45 ACP 230 grain Short Barrel bullets were shot from an XD-S through four layers of denim and still expanded properly.

The Speer Gold Dot .45 ACP 230 grain Short Barrel hollow point has advertised velocity of 820 feet per second out of a three-inch barrel gun. The difference is that the projectile itself is designed to expand with less velocity. I fired the bullets shown here through four layers of denim into a big bucket of thoroughly soaked newsprint. As you can see, expansion was right on target. Pun intended. Like all other Gold Dot projectiles, these bullets are bonded so they stay together except under the most extreme circumstances.

Other Ammunition Options

I test a lot of ammunition and continue to be a big fan of most Speer Gold Dot loads, because they work. I’m especially impressed with the Short Barrel offerings based on how they perform in the Springfield Armory XD-S.

With that said, there are plenty of other options out there. Generally speaking, in a gun with a short barrel like the XD-S, I would personally choose a lighter weight .45 ACP bullet in the 160 to 185 grain range. Why? Velocity. All else equal, a lighter weight bullet is easier to push faster. As we discussed earlier in this chapter, velocity aids expansion. So, in theory, a 160 to 185 grain bullet, moving faster, is more likely to expand when shot from a short barrel gun like the XD-S.

We’re entering opinion territory here and I’m just sharing my personal preference based on the testing I’ve done. Non-expanding, full metal jacket .45 ACP ammunition has performed well for over a century, so you may not care whether your particular choice of bullet is an easy expander or not. That’s OK. My goal here is to help you make a more informed decision, as all ammunition is not the same.

This article is an excerpt from our soon to be released Rookie’s Guide to the Springfield Armory XD-S. Be sure to check out The Rookie’s Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition. It’s available in print and Kindle format at Amazon:

The Rookie's Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

The Rookie’s Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

Ammo Test: Speer Gold Dot .40 S&W 155 Grain Self-Defense Ammunition

One thing I’ve found testing thousands of rounds of ammunition through a wide variety of traditional, and sometimes non-traditional, targets is that you can’t generalize. Broad generalizations just don’t hold up. I mean, there’s the obvious exception of Justin Bieber – ALL of his songs are roughly comparable to pre-gelatinized narwhal poop, but in most other things, you need to evaluate each and every unique circumstance independently.

It’s the same with ammunition. You can just say Brand X is a good performer in each caliber and each specific loading within a caliber. So the 9mm ++P+++ 124 grain load of Fire-Breathing Death Harpoon Ammo expands every single time, but does the .380 90 grain load of that same brand perform as it should? Not necessarily. You need to test your desired carry load, in your specific gun to know how it performs.

So, even though I’ve had great success with all of the Speer Gold Dot loads tested to date, I’m gradually working my way through the product line to try them all.

Speer Gold Dot 40 SW 155 grain self-defense ammo

Expansion performance of the Speer Gold Dot .40 S&W 155 grain load was excellent and velocity was just as expected.

Recently I spent some quality time with the Speer Gold Dot .40 S&W 155 grain load. At the lighter end of the .40 caliber spectrum, I expected to get some serious velocity out of this one. And with expanding hollow point ammo, velocity is king when it comes to consistent expansion performance.

Standout features of the Speer Gold Dots include a bonded-core construction and a two-stage hollow point cavity construction. Bonded-core construction “melds” the copper jacket and lead core so they are not two separate layers. This allows the projectiles to stay together regardless of barriers encountered. Penetration is boringly consistent as almost all projectile weight is retained. The two-stage hollow point core construction process allows the gurus at Speer to control both diameter and rate of expansion. Basically, they can match projectile performance to caliber and expected real-world velocity.

Speer Gold Dot 40 SW 155 grain

That black stuff in the hollow point core is leather. So the projectile got completely clogged, yet still expanded perfectly.

I shot a bunch of this out of a Beretta PX4 Storm. The PX4 Storm full-size model features a 4.0″ barrel, so I expected measured velocity to approach, but not quite meet the factory specs.

First I checked actual velocity out of the Beretta PX4 Storm. Using a Shooting Chrony Beta Master Chronograph placed 15 feet downrange, I clocked the Speer Gold Dot .40 S&W 155 grain load at an average of 1,169 feet per second, or just over 30 feet per second below the factory spec of 1,200 feet per second. This works out just about right assuming the factory tests velocity using a standard 5″ test barrel. That extra inch should easily account for 30 feet per second velocity improvement. So, doing a little serious math, the actual energy of this load, out of my Beretta PX4, works out to 470 foot-pounds actual measured energy. This compared to 496 on the Speer Gold Dot website.

I also wanted to get an indication of expansion performance when projectiles were shot through common and expected barriers for self-defense situations. I set up two layers of leather and 4 layers of light canvas in front of a pile-o-wetpack – a fancy word for soaking wet newspaper. I snapped photos of a few representative samples, but every single projectile demonstrated excellent expansion performance. This has been a consistent observation with the Speer Gold Dot line. The bonded projectiles don’t seem to suffer from heavy material barriers. The three projectiles in the photo measured .583, .685 and .652 inches in diameter after expansion. Not too shabby.

Like the other Speer Gold Dot loads we’ve tested so far, this is excellent self-defense ammunition.

You can get it at Brownells

Cci/Speer Cci/Speer Gold Dot Handgun Ammunition
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Ammo Test: Winchester PDX1 Defender .38 Special +P 130 Grain

When I lug my ammunition testing setup to the range, I get more strange looks than Michael Bloomberg lactating at a Mayors Against Legal Governing (MALG) press conference.

That’s because I bring a couple of now-perforated trash cans full of soaking wet newspaper, some old boots and a bunch of discarded clothing. Shooting into water or plain ballistic gelatin doesn’t tell too much about bullet performance after it has passed through real-world barriers. So I assemble a suitable range wardrobe.

Recently, I brought 1/2 of a fully stocked thrift store to the range to test the Winchester PDX1 Defender .38 Special +P 130 grain self-defense load.

Winchester's PDX1 Defender .38 Special +P self-defense load.

Winchester’s PDX1 Defender .38 Special +P self-defense load.

This load is solid for .38 Special handguns, but also makes a good option for .357 revolvers. Some folks like to shoot .38 Special loads out of sturdier .357 revolvers for less recoil and wear and tear on the gun. Of course, the option is always there to load 357 Magnum cartridges whenever you like.

Velocity

Considering that this load uses 130 grain projectiles, velocity was appropriate. I tested it from a Ruger LCR .357 Magnum revolver, which features a 1.875 inch barrel. That’s shorter than NY Governor Cuomo’s debate on the SAFE Act! Using a Shooting Chrony Beta Master Chronograph, I measured a bunch of shots with the chrony placed 15 feet down range. The average of the Winchester PDX1 Defender 130 grain load worked out to 903 feet per second. Not too shabby, and enough for pretty reliable expansion.

Winchester PDX1 Defender .38 Special +P Expansion Performance

I shot another pile of these bullets into a pretty tough target to get an indication of expansion performance. While anything will expand if you shoot it into ballistic gelatin, things start to get crazy when you shoot through real-life barriers like leather and fabric clothing. To put it to the test, I shot through two layers of leather and 4 layers of light canvas. Not counting anything hard that might get in the way, this starts to approach a worst case heavy clothing scenario.

Winchester PDX1 38 Special +P

Expansion was good overall. Throughout testing over 75% of projectiles expanded properly.

I shot everything through the leather and canvas barrier into a deep container of wet pack. That’s a fancy word for soaking-wet newspaper. As you can see by the photo, most projectiles displayed good expansion. About 1/4 of the time, one would slip through with minimal or no expansion. That’s not a big surprise given .38 Special velocities out of a short-barrel revolver.

Closing Arguments

This was a good load. After testing thousands of self-defense rounds, in virtually all pistol calibers, I’ve become a big fan of bonded bullet designs. I’ve yet to encounter a quality bonded bullet that came apart while passing through a tough target. Like jacketed designs, expansion is always measured in probability, not certainty, but overall, bonded bullets have proven to be solid performers.

Check out other My Gun Culture product reviews here!

You can find Winchester PDX1 Defender Self Defense Ammunition at Brownells

Ammo Review: Winchester PDX1 Elite Defender .40 S&W 165 Grain

The .40 Smith & Wesson cartridge has been called many things since it was introduced in 1990.

Winchester Supreme Elite PDX1 40 S&W 165 grain.JPG

Winchester Supreme Elite PDX1 40 S&W 165 grain

Slow & Weak

Save your bacon & Walk free

Sexy & Winchester

Shoot & Wound

Sledgehammer & Wallop

Shortened & Widened

Sluggish & Wimpy

Slay & Waste

Studious & Well-spoken

Oh yeah, and Smith & Wesson

Used by the majority of law enforcement organizations, the .40 S&W round has somehow managed to gain flocks of proponents and many vocal detractors. One thing we’ve found in our testing is that broad caliber generalizations are absolutely meaningless. Everything depends on the specific projectile and load being tested with any given caliber.

Let’s take a closer look at the Winchester Supreme Elite PDX1 Defender ammunition in .40 S&W 165 grain loading.

Winchester Supreme Elite PDX1 Defender .40 S&W 165 Grain Ammunition Overview

Winchester PDX1 ammunition is a bonded hollow point design. In average Joe’s English, that simply means that the jacket of the bullet is chemically attached to the lead core interior. Speer Gold Dot ammunition uses a similar design process.

Why?

Winchester believes that a bonded design allows more control over the delicate balance between penetration and expansion – without risk of jacket separation that is prone to occur with traditional jacketed / lead core bullets. The Winchester PDX1 round is pre-programmed by shape and cuts to expand into six segments as the projectile expands.

165 grain .40 S&W: Feel the need for speed…

We clocked a veritable pile of the Winchester PDX1 Elite .40 S&W 165 grain ammo through our Shooting Chrony Beta Master, placed 15 feet down range. When all was averaged out using some complex addition and division with a touch of calculus, we found that the PDX1 ammo achieved average velocity of 1,195 feet per second. Factory specs listed on the box claim 1,140 feet per second at the muzzle, so this round outperformed the claims in our evaluation.

The test gun for the velocity test was a Beretta PX4 Storm full size – we did a full gun review on this one a while back. This particular handgun features a 4 inch barrel, so we’re not getting the full velocity advantage of an extra inch on a longer barreled pistol – and the round still outperformed the velocity claim.

Why?

Could be a number of factors. Perhaps the claimed velocity is a conservative number. We’ve seen that before and we always welcome conservative marketing claims – it’s a pleasant surprise when your ammunition performs even better than expected. Or perhaps our testing is done in a higher temperature environment. We’re in South Cackalackee where weather conditions are generally 90/90/90. That’s 90 degrees, 90 percent humidity, and 90 times hotter than it should be. The hotter it is, the higher the pressure, and higher the measured velocity.

Winchester PDX1 ammo expansion performance

Winchester Supreme Elite PDX1 ammo expansion

Expansion performance of the Winchester PDX1 was excellent – most rounds doubled in diameter.

Our expansion testing always considers performance through barriers. Any reasonable ammo will expand in picture perfect manner when shot into water or gelatin. It’s like reality TV. Real, but not really. Many fail however when you place the water or gelatin backstop behind real world barriers like clothing. Not too many thugs run around buck naked as far as we know, so we’d rather see how our carry ammunition performs against clothed attackers.

For the Winchester PDX1 Defender tests, we used a barrier consisting of 2 layers of light canvas and 2 layers of cotton fabric. We’ve settled on this combination to provide an average “clothing” simulation for average weather conditions. We’ve found that many brand name hollow points have failed to perform consistently behind even this relatively simple barrier. Some rounds will expand while others will clog with fabric and behave like full metal jacket ammunition – passing right through the target. Behind the fabric barrier, we used simple wet pack. That’s just thoroughly soaked newsprint.

We obtained excellent results with this particular Winchester PDX1 ammo. The extra velocity available with the 165 grain load made a noticeable difference in expansion performance. The packaging claims 1.5x expansion capability. In our tests, we found that projectiles expanded to over .6 inches in diameter easily, with many rounds doubling in diameter. Performance of the programmed petal expansion was consistent as well with all six petals expanding in nearly every case.

Closing arguments

This particular Winchester PDX1 ammunition performed in stellar fashion. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it’s important to look at each specific loading independently as performance may vary. We’ll be testing the heavier, but slower, 180 grain Winchester PDX1 ammo as well and will report on that separately. Considering that this test was done with a Beretta PX4 Storm with average barrel length, we highly recommend this round for mid size to full size handguns. We’ll try to test it in a short barrel .40 S&W handgun to see how it fares.

Our Rating

4 Nuns Four Nuns! Velocity was better than advertised through an average length barrel and expansion performance through moderate fabric barriers was excellent. What more can you ask?

 

Check out other My Gun Culture product reviews here!

Ammo Test: Hornady Critical Defense vs. a Bear – Will It Expand?

Self defense ammo vs. a bear. We find out!

Hornady’s Critical Defense Ammo: Will It Expand? You Suggest, We Test!

will-it-expand

Inspired by our recent review of Hornady’s Critical Defense ammunition in .357 Magnum, we’ve decided to kick things up a notch. We were pretty impressed with how this ammo expanded even after passing through hard barriers. So, with some help from the good folks at Hornady, we’re going to really put both Critical Defense and the new Critical Duty ammunition to the test.

Yup. We’re going to shoot stuff. A lot of it. With a lot of different guns. It’s a tough assignment, but someone has to do the dirty work.

We do things a little differently here, so we’re not going to stick to the basic denim in front of ballistic gelatin routine. That’s boring. And gelatin is a pain to make. We’re going to see how this ammo performs in a wide variety of, umm, real world scenarios. Real world in our slightly half-cocked view anyway.

So what do you think? Will it expand in cottage cheese? Kleenex? Old shag carpeting from the 70s? Fruitcake? Sand? Justin Bieber CD’s? A Shake-Weight?

Here’s how it works:

  • You send ideas on what we should shoot
  • We shoot it
  • We’ll take photos and post a story relating the experience

Pretty simple huh?

So send your ideas. Either comment on the post, contact us, post it on our Facebook wall, or Tweet us about it. We’re ready. And willing.

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