Critical Defense Vs HST: Which Ammo Is Better For You?

When it comes to picking self-defense bullets like Hornady Critical Defense and Federal Premium HST, the most important things to consider are how far they can go into a target and how much they can expand. You want to make sure that when you need to defend yourself and shoot, the bullets you use do their job well: stop the threat. The bullets should go inside the attacker’s body and cause enough damage to make them stop attacking.

When we compare Critical Defense and HST bullets, Federal Premium HST is the better choice overall for self-defense. In tests where bullets are shot into materials to see how they perform, HST bullets go deeper and expand to a larger size compared to Critical Defense bullets. HST bullets also work more consistently and can stop a threat in many different dangerous situations.

To understand why HST bullets are better than Critical Defense, it’s important to know how self-defense bullets are designed and what makes HST special. It’s also good to know that there are some situations where Critical Defense bullets might be a better option.

Federal Premium HST Vs Hornady Critical Defense

HST and Critical Defense are both hollow-point self-defense cartridges available to consumers. Unlike target or range ammunition, hollow-point rounds are made to pass through hard targets (obstructions) and expand in soft targets, increasing the axial diameter and overall wound channel. This leads to a greater chance of incapacitating a hostile target and diffusing a life-threatening situation. 

In hunting, the same type of ammunition is appreciated. In order to humanely and efficiently take a game animal, proper penetration and bullet expansion are essential. With the wrong ammunition, you run the risk of wounding the animal and losing sign of it, which is something you want to avoid.

Knowing the correct ammunition for the situation is critical, and while hollow-points find popularity with both hunting and self-defensive shooting, there is generally far more testing being done on bullets designed to be used against human threats.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation sets several standards for penetration depth, one of which states that between 12-18” through simulated heavy clothing and ballistic gelatin is considered usable for law enforcement and personal defense. These tests were replicated and published by using both HST and Critical Defense ammunition.

AmmunitionPenetration DepthExpanded Diameter Velocity
Federal 124 gr HST (9mm)18.3”.61”1135
Hornady 115 gr FTX Critical Defense (9mm)13.1”.50”1143
Federal 230 gr HST (.45 ACP)14.0”.85”822
Hornady 185 gr Critical Defense(.45 ACP)17.6”.59”941
Federal 99 gr HST (.380 Auto) 22.5”.35”893
Hornady 90 gr FTX Critical Defense (.380 Auto)13.2”.52” 910
Federal 180 gr HST (.40 S&W)18.5”.67”1084
Hornady 165 gr Critical Defense (.40 S&W) 16.6”.60”1075
HST vs. CD

Federal HST ammunition out-performs Hornady Critical Defense rounds in all four of these popular handgun calibers: 9mm Luger, .45 ACP, .380 Auto, and .40 S&W. While both of the cartridges perform well when matched with the FBI “penetration test”, the HST in most calibers is closer to the target, more consistent, and most importantly: never under-powered.

Federal HST penetrated deeper in each of the calibers above with the exception of the .45 ACP, which is made up for by impressively larger expansion than its Critical Defense competitor. Similarly, the HST expanded larger in every caliber except one—.380 Auto—which is made up for with its impressively greater penetration depth.

What Does HST Mean in Ammo? 

Ammunition manufacturer Federal Premium introduced their HST ammo in 2002. Originally, the ammo was intended only for law enforcement use and was sold as such. In 2015, Federal made a Personal Defense line of ammunition including HST that was available to the public. 

HST doesn’t actually mean anything. It is not an abbreviation as some people commonly think. HST is a uniquely designed hollow-point ammunition created to maximize expansion without limiting penetration, and it has been extensively tested by Federal Premium to meet this goal. Because of this, HST ammo has found popularity within both law enforcement and civilian defensive shooting.

What is Critical Defense?

Hornady’s Critical Defense bullets were not made specifically for use by law enforcement. They were designed for regular people who need to defend themselves in situations with small handguns that have short barrels. Unlike HST bullets, Critical Defense bullets were created to avoid going too deep into a target because short-barreled handguns can have issues with bullets going too far through a target or not expanding enough.

Critical Defense bullets are good for defending yourself in many situations where the attacker is close by and wearing light or medium clothing. However, there are situations where this might not be enough to stop the threat. Unfortunately, we don’t always get to choose when and where we are attacked, so it’s important to consider different types of ammunition for different scenarios.

The Issue With Under-Penetration 

In a situation where there is an active shooter and both you and the shooter have your firearms drawn, the most crucial shot you’ll likely take is aimed at the shooter’s weapon. Your focus will be on the shooter’s firearm, and you’ll aim to disable it in order to prevent them from continuing their attack.

This strategy is commonly employed in such situations. It’s possible that your bullet may hit the shooter’s hand, causing injury to the bone or possibly damaging their weapon. The objective is to neutralize the threat by effectively disabling their ability to continue shooting. However, even if you successfully disable the shooter’s weapon, it’s important to remain vigilant as the threat may not be completely eliminated. There is always a risk of the shooter retaliating or finding another way to harm others.

It is crucial to prioritize your safety and the safety of those around you. By aiming at the shooter’s weapon, you aim to minimize the risk of them firing back. However, it’s important to remember that each situation is unique, and the outcome cannot be guaranteed. Quick thinking, situational awareness, and seeking additional assistance from law enforcement are vital in such life-threatening scenarios.

Ammunition Consistency

Ballistic tests like the ones described by the FBI and Lucky Gunner Labs take a five shot grouping and average the results into the final velocity, penetration depth, and expansion. What many people fail to see from the direct results is how consistent—or inconsistent—those five shots actually are.

Below is a video from the popular Ammo Quest series of ammunition testing and ballistic tests.

In the video, the YouTuber says “ when we are looking at the gel block of the HSTs through denim, basically I’d say if you ever wanted to see what absolute perfection was like from a handgun, this is it. “ He goes on to say: “ we have five bullets that performed more consistently, more perfectly, than just about any bullets I’ve ever tested.”

The Exception

While the Critical Defense ammunition is specifically designed and performs well in short and compact handguns like the M&P Shield, some people still prefer using the HST in those same types of guns. However, there are certain situations where Hornady’s Critical Defense may be a more suitable choice.

For instance, in a home defense scenario within a large house where the walls are thin and there are multiple occupants. One of the important rules of firearm safety is to be aware of what is beyond your intended target. However, without proper training and in a high-stress situation, panic can set in and rational decision-making can be compromised.

Many argue that training is even more crucial than selecting the perfect type of ammunition. In numerous situations, the enhanced penetration offered by the HST may be crucial and cannot be disregarded.

Ultimately, the decision between Critical Defense and HST ammunition depends on various factors such as the specific firearm, the intended purpose, the environment, and the individual’s level of training and familiarity with the ammunition. It’s important to prioritize safety, consider personal needs, and seek appropriate training to make an informed decision.

Law Enforcement

HST was originally designed for law enforcement use until demand triggered a release in a civilian line of products which became known as Personal Defense HST like the cartridges described earlier in this article. There is a separate product line still available known as Law Enforcement Tactical HST, which as the name implies, is available through law enforcement channels only. 

Hornady, the maker of Critical Defense ammo, also makes a product line called Critical Duty. Critical Duty is advertised as an “on-duty / patrol” cartridge, where Critical Defense is marketed towards “back-up weapon / off duty”. 

Similar to HST, Critical Duty has a strong background in FBI testing and is more suitable for firing through obstructions such as auto glass, drywall, and plywood. Despite this alternate, specifically designed cartridge, Federal HST still sees more use in active Law Enforcement than any Hornaday product.

Cost Effectiveness

Anyone who uses a firearm on a regular basis knows how quickly ammo can siphon your bank account balance. Defense rounds are more expensive than training rounds by nature, and there is very little price difference between buying HST and Critical Defense ammunition. 

With self-defense rounds such as HST, a good range habit is to shoot just one or two magazines of your expensive hollow-point ammo and leave the rest of the practice to the less expensive full metal jacket range ammo. It is important to practice occasionally with your defense rounds and get a feel for their quality and accuracy before you find yourself in a situation where you need to use them.

The Bottom Line

If you are searching for self-defense ammunition that can reliably handle the majority of personal protection situations, there is no doubt that HST performs better than Critical Defense. It is known to be highly effective and dependable when it comes to neutralizing threats and ensuring the safety of yourself and your loved ones.

To experience the benefits firsthand, it is recommended to obtain a box of HST ammunition and give it a try. By familiarizing yourself with its performance and characteristics, you will be better prepared to defend yourself in times of need. This way, you can have peace of mind knowing that you have selected a trusted and proven ammunition option to safeguard your well-being and that of your family.

Remember, when it comes to self-defense, having the right tools and equipment is essential. By choosing HST ammunition, you are equipping yourself with a reliable solution that has been designed and tested for maximum effectiveness. Make the decision to prioritize your safety and be ready to face any potential threats that may arise.


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Justin Pikulski

Justin is a tactical enthusiast and writer from Massachusetts. He spends time away from work studying nature and practicing self-sufficiency. His hobbies include motorcycle camping, shooting, hunting, foraging, hiking, photography, and travel.

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