A Ridiculously Unfair Evaluation

Street Price: ~ $20 / 25 rounds www.hornady.com
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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