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: 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: Remington Golden Saber .45 ACP +P 185 grain JHP

remington golden saber 45 185 plus P ammo review

The +P Golden Saber rounds expanded through tough barriers

Recently we added the Remington Golden Saber .45 ACP 185 grain JHP load to our buyers guide. It performed exceptionally well after penetrating tough barriers – like multiple layers of leather and light canvas.

But then we found the same load – in a +P version – The Remington Golden Saber .45 ACP +P 185 grain JHP

+P comes from the Latin word, Powtium, which loosely translates into “I feel the need for speed.”

While the standard pressure load clocked in at an average of 1,062 feet per second out a full size government model 1911, the +P load added just over 100 feet per second in velocity. Measured 15 feet from the muzzle with our Shooting Chrony Beta Master, the +P load averaged 1,165 feet per second from the same gun.

With all of the ammo testing we do here, we’ve found that velocity matters when you start to add barriers. Most any half decent hollow point load will expand decently in gelatin or water jugs. Where projectiles start to fail is when they pass through heavier clothing barriers. In general terms, we’ve found that, all other factors being equal, additional velocity can improve performance after passing through barriers whether or not the hollow point gets clogged on the way in.

As shown by the photo, the Golden Sabers expanded dramatically. In this case after passing through 2 layers of heavy leather and 4 layers of light canvas. Jacket / core separation was more pronounced than with the standard pressure load, but penetration did not suffer and we recovered the jackets very close to the same depth as the lead cores.

AVAILABLE HERE: Remington Golden Saber +P 45 Automatic 185gr Premier 20bx

Hornady Critical Duty 9mm +P 135 grain Flexlock

hornady-critical-duty-9mmWe’ve been doing lots and lots of shooting with both Hornady Critical Defense and more recently Hornady Critical Duty.

Our supply of the relatively new Hornady Critical Duty 9mm +P 135 grain Flexlock arrived this week so we took it out for some testing.

Hornady Critical Duty 9mm +P Ammunition

The first observation – and we’ve seen this consistently with Hornady ammo – is that Hornady tends to be conservative on the published velocity. More often than not, we record equal or higher velocities than claimed on the box. This turned out to be the case with the Critical Duty 9mm +P 135 grain load as well. We shot it from a Glock 17 Generation 4, set up our Shooting Chrony Beta Master just over 15 feet from the muzzle, and recorded average velocity of 1,172 feet per second – noticeably more than the 1,115 feet per second claimed.

We’re going to be doing a lot more barrier testing with this load as the Critical Duty projectiles are designed to perform through tougher barriers than their Critical Defense counterparts. There are a couple of design differences between Critical Defense and Critical Duty. Critical Duty projectiles are generally heavier for the same caliber, but more importantly feature an additional InterLock band to help prevent jacket and core separation when the projectile encounters tougher barriers. For starters, we shot some though a couple layers of leather and fabric into some wetpack. Wetpack is the fancy word for soaking wet newspapers. As you can see by the photo included, it performed just fine.

We’re looking forward to additional experimentation with this load.

Available Here Hornady Critical Duty 9mm +P 135 Gr Flexlock – 25 Rounds

Hornady Critical Defense .38 Special +P 100 grain Ammunition

Hornady Critical Defense .38 Special AmmunitionWe’ve been testing a lot of Hornady Critical Defense ammunition and with rare exception, we’ve observed excellent results.

Critical Defense is designed with a polymer plug in the hollow point cavity which aids with bullet expansion – even after the round penetrates barriers that would clog a normal hollow point round.

We’ve shot it through leather, clothing, rocks, grape jelly, flour, and all sorts of silly things with good result.

Available Here Hornady Critical Defense .38 Special 100 grain Ammo 25 / box

Speer Gold Dot 9mm +P Bonded Hollow Point Ammunition

Speer 9mm Gold Dot 124gr HP bonded hollow point ammunition

Reliable expansion, good penetration, and no jacket separation

With all the ammo testing we do here, we keep coming back to Speer Gold Dots.

Is it the newest? No. Does it contain exotic metals called something-illium? No. Does it play tricks with hyper-velocity? No.

It just works. We find it expands reliably after penetrating all sorts of barriers. Just as importantly, the 124 grain weight in the 9mm load helps it to also penetrate to adequate depth consistently. And there is never jacket / core separation due to the bonded construction.

Speer makes an excellent loading with the Gold Dot projectile, but other companies including Georgia Arms, DoubleTap Ammo, and Buffalo Bore load rounds with the Gold Dot bullet.

We highly recommend it.

BUY NOW: Speer Gold Dot 9mm +P 124 Grain – 20 Rounds

Ammo Review: Will Hornady Critical Defense Ammo Expand in Rocks?

Will-it-expand-banner

We’ve had great success getting Hornady’s Critical Defense ammo to expand after passing through all sorts of crazy things – plastic, old garage rags, honey bears, Wal-Mart house brand grape jelly, spam, flour, e-mail, leather boots, canned vegetables, and more. So we figured it’s time for the ultimate test.

Rocks.

Rocks are hard and as we figure, tough on ammo. And you need to know if your ammo is going to perform should you ever encounter an evil d00d wearing a protective vest made of rocks.

When it came time to head to the range, we found actual rocks to be a bit problematic as they are big and heavy and somewhat uneven. And you know how scientific we are are about these things. We need repeatable uniformity. Sounds sophisticated doesn’t it? Repeatable uniformity.

So we elected to use some stone floor tile that we had laying around in the garage. Because it offers repeatable uniformity. And because it doesn’t seem to match any of the floor in our house. Apparently we stole it from the neighbors while they were distracted by the True-Green lawn guy.

As we’ve already discussed, rocks are hard. So we went full octane – .357 Sig and .40 S&W. Out of a Glock 32 and Beretta PX4 Storm respectively.

We used our standard high tech methodology:

  • Take random stuff to the range
  • Bring lots of Hornady Critical Defense ammo
  • Place cameras out there
  • Get strange looks from people at the range
  • Shoot through said random stuff
  • Catch the bullet in our special wet pack blend (soggy newspaper and cardboard)
  • Dig out the bullets

Surprisingly, both the .357 Magnum and .40 S&W Critical Defense loads expanded properly after passing through, well, rock more or less.

What’s the point you may ask?

The point is… Now you know not to put stone floor tile in your ballistic vest. It won’t help you.

You can buy Hornady Critical Defense and Critical Duty Ammunition here.

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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