NON-EXPANDING HANDGUN LOADS ARE SOMETIMES A BETTER ALTERNATIVE TO HOLLOWPOINTS
Non-expanding handgun loads are sometimes a better alternative to hollowpoints.
By Bob Campbell
It’s time to start thinking about alternatives to hollowpoint bullets in your defensive handgun.
There is only so much energy behind a bullet. That energy may be used in penetration or it may be used to expand and deform the bullet. The small calibers seldom have enough power to both push a mushroom and offer adequate expansion. The big bores do not need expansion to be effective. Loads in the middle—the
.38 Special and 9mm Luger—benefit the most from hollowpoints as they usually have sufficient power to make the most of a well-designed bullet.
Solid bullets in loads from Black Hills, Buffalo Bore and NovX are examples of effective choices for defense that might just be better than traditional hollowpoints, especially in small-caliber handguns.
In my experience, when small bore cartridges perform beyond expectation it is because they have penetrated adequately. When big bore cartridges fail, it is because of inadequate penetration. The .32 ACP, .32 H&R Magnum and the .380 ACP—especially with hollowpoints—often fall short for personal defense. That isn’t an opinion but a conclusion based on many years of research.
An expanding bullet in a weak caliber doesn’t have enough penetration to be effective. The better choice is a loading that offers deep penetration. If we could add a blunt nose that cuts rather than pushes flesh aside, wound potential would be increased.
A valid comparison is the size of a man and a deer. Both weigh about the same, as least as far as eastern and southern deer go. Both are about as hard to put down, save that animals are not subject to shock through blood loss. There is no psychological aspect as animals do not know they have been shot. Yet deer shot with the .308 Winchester or .30-06 often run 100 yards or more after being shot. We need to stop a threat immediately to stop his actions and to save our life and yet some rely on cartridges with little chance of doing so.
“AN EXPANDING BULLET IN A WEAK CALIBER DOESN’T HAVE ENOUGH PENETRATION TO BE EFFECTIVE. THE BETTER CHOICE IS A LOADING THAT OFFERS DEEP PENETRATION.”
Unfortunately, during the past few years there seems to be a common thread among writers to discount actual experience and authoritative research in favor of opinion and shadowy studies that professionals doubt even occurred. I have not shot drugged goats and probably no one else has either, but I have looked over both ends of the gun barrel and studied the after effects of bullet wounds for decades.
When my experience agrees with the accounts of reputable men of the past, peace officers, soldiers and reliable correspondents, I think I have a conclusion. A repeatable and verifiable experiment will have validity even without practical experience, but I find validity and experience a solid combination. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
PENTRATION IS KEY
The single most important criteria for a defensive cartridge is penetration. The opponent might be a pretty big guy. It isn’t unusual for a member of our protein-fed, ex-con criminal class to top 280 pounds after years of hard time pumping weights and living in a highly dangerous environment. Even the average sized felon will be heavily clothed in the winter, and this clothing will fill the nose of a JHP bullet and cancel expansion. Small caliber non-expanding bullets do not have a good reputation for wound potential. But whichever we use, the bullet must have good penetration. This means 12 to 16 inches in gelatin. I have tested modern fragmenting loads that exhibit perhaps 5 inches of penetration. Some are .380 ACP hollow points, others are 9mm and .45 loads designed to fragment. They are not very useful for personal defense.
The felon may have his arms outstretched and the bullet will have to penetrate the arm bones, clothing and the chest to reach a vital organ. The felon may be behind cover, which is a separate problem.
While shot placement is the single most important component of stopping power, wound potential is dictated by penetration. Consider the entire depth of penetration. As any hunter will tell you, an animal that takes a raking shot and all of the energy of the bullet is expended in the body goes down quickly. While I trust the larger calibers as carry guns, I also believe that the .380 ACP and .38 Special can be useful in the backup category. A cool head that shoots straight will possibly have good results if the bullet has adequate penetration. If the bullet can be designed to damage tissue without expansion, we will have something.
SOLID BULLET ALTERNATIVE
So, what’s the alternative to hollowpoints for defense? One promising design is the Black Hills Honey Badger ammo that provides a good combination of needed penetration and wound cavity that can maximize the effectiveness of your defensive handgun, especially if you carry one of the small calibers.
THE HONEY BADGER
The Honey Badger is an animal with a ferocious attitude akin to that of the Wolverine or Tasmanian Devil. As for the Honey Badger ammunition, like my pet Dingo Lucy with proper understanding there is nothing like them.
Jeff Hoffmann, CEO of Black Hills Ammunition, wanted to develop a non-expanding bullet load with wound potential rivaling that of a hollowpoint bullet. You have to understand that deep penetration with a non-expanding bullet equals more total wound potential than a JHP bullet that offers shallow penetration. The penetration part is easy. Wound potential is more difficult. The Honey Badger is a solid copper bullet. The bullet has sharp scallops cut into the nose. I was
“THE HONEY BADGER... BULLET HAS SHARP SCALLOPS CUT INTO THE NOSE…THE .380 ACP IS SO SHARP I HAD TO BE CAREFUL LOADING THEM IN THE MAGAZINE!”
surprised—the .380 ACP is so sharp I had to be careful loading them in the magazine!
They are designed to rotate and push fluid around in the body creating a wound channel larger than the bullet itself. Instead of a bullet caliber wound, the wound is larger and this is born out in gelatin testing. With gelatin testing a cavity may be created and the cavity is larger than FMJ bullets and comparable to hollowpoint bullets.
Something is going on as the Honey Badger doesn’t penetrate like a FMJ. As an example, the 135-grain .45 ACP loading penetrates 24 inches in water compared to 30 inches with 230 grain FMJ “hardball.” This is despite the
.45 Honey Badger traveling at over 1,200 fps compared to the 830 fps 230-grain FMJ bullet.
There is another component other than fluid dynamics and one more easily understood and demonstrated. A hollowpoint bullet is simply a round nose bullet when it meets flesh and blood. It must expand to push the mushroom and create damage in the body. If the hollowpoint nose strikes bone or fills with intermediate material such as down clothing, it may not expand at all.
The Honey Badger features sharp flutes that are whirling as they strike the target. They create significant damage. This is obvious when you fire at a paper target. There is a unique signature from the Honey Badger bullet.
I was most impressed by the performance of the .380 ACP. After all, it is a light caliber. I am deploying the Honey Badger in my .38 Special revolvers. The .45 ACP gave excellent performance.
“THE HONEY BADGER FEATURES SHARP FLUTES THAT ARE WHIRLING AS THEY STRIKE THE TARGET. THEY CREATE SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE.”
A problem with the .44 Special has been achieving enough velocity to make a JHP bullet work. At 700 fps I have little confidence in a 200-grain JHP in this caliber. The Honey Badger .44 Special jolts a 125-grain bullet to 1,100 fps with excellent potential. I was interested to note that despite more than 200 fps more velocity the .44 Magnum load did not penetrate more than the .44 Special. This exhibits proof the fluid dynamics are at work. While the other loads threw the water jugs about, the .44 Magnum erupted four in line and soaked the author thoroughly! This is a load that should prove reliable for animal defense. CC
The NovX loading is interesting both in terms of the projectile and the modern cartridge case. NovX photo
Performance exhibited by Buffalo Bore’s .32 ACP flat point was impressive.
Above: The .44 Special Honey Badger is among the hardest hitting of factory .44 Special loadings.
Middle: The author was impressed by the .380 ACP Honey Badger.
Bottom Left: Each Honey Badger has a unique design for the caliber.
Top Left: Left to right: .380 ACP,.38 Special, .45 ACP, .44 Special and .44 Magnum Honey Badger loads.