You need to have confidence in the ammunition you carry to defend yourself. Unfortunately, the firearm and ammunition world is full of myth and legend when it comes to what we should use. So we are going to push through those myths and look at two of the best options out there to see which is better.
Gold Dot or HST?
Overall, Federal HST provides better penetration and expansion out of standard Self-defense handguns barrels than Speer Gold Dot.
This includes multiple factors ranging from projectile weight and caliber to barrel length. Let’s explore some of these factors to see why they matter but first here is a chart that illustrates the performance of these round options in two of the most popular handgun calibers.
|Average expansion diameter
|Federal HST, 9mm
|Federal HST +P, 9mm
|Federal HST, 9mm
|Federal HST +P, 9mm
|Speer Gold Dot, 9mm
|Speer Gold +P, 9mm
|Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel +P, 9mm
|Speer Gold Dot, 9mm
|Speer Gold Dot,9mm
|Federal HST, .45 ACP
|Federal HST +P, .45 ACP
|Speer Gold Dot, .45 ACP
|Speer Gold Dot +P, .45 ACP
|Speer Gold Dot, .45 ACP
|Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel, .45 ACP
(All data pulled from Lucky Gunner labs. They cover other defensive loads as well as provide video of the rounds’ performance. They have done a lot of the leg work for these types of projects. https://www.luckygunner.com/labs/self-defense-ammo-ballistic-tests/#9mm, https://www.luckygunner.com/labs/self-defense-ammo-ballistic-tests/#45ACP)
But what does all of this data mean for you and your carry gun? We first have to understand what standards we’re using to measure these rounds’ performance and how that translates to the real world.
Why the Data Matters.
Lucky Gunner used the FBI’s standards for testing handgun rounds. They used Clear Ballistics gelatin blocks measuring 6”x6”x16” to capture the bullets and had four layers of commonly found clothing materials in front of the blocks themselves.
This allows for understanding how a round will perform under extreme circumstances as we don’t usually wear four layers of dense to semi-dense clothing. However clothing changes by location and climate.
The goal was to see how far each round penetrated through these mediums while seeing how much they expanded. To understand why this is important we’re going to break these down into three categories: velocity, penetration, and expansion.
Velocity or the speed at which a bullet travels is a major factor in how bullets damage a target. In rifle calibers most of the damage potential comes from how fast the bullet is going.
But handgun rounds do not have the luxuries that rifle rounds have when it comes to speed. They go at hundreds of feet per second to just over a thousand feet per second depending on the loading, but they are all a fraction of even the weakest rifle round’s speed.
So why should it be a factor for handgun rounds?
Velocity ties into projectile or bullet design. Some rounds are designed to perform very well at certain speeds. These speeds are achieved with a combination of powder loads, bullet weights, and barrel lengths.
A bullet meant to perform well in the 900 ft/s range might not perform well in the 800 or 1100 ft/s ranges. This is why we see rounds like the Speer Short Barrel being developed. That particular round is meant to be used in shorter barrels while maintaining a certain level of performance.
A round going too fast might not expand fully or shed its jacket resulting in less consistent performance. It might even over-penetrate a target because the speed was too great to produce the expansion desired.
On the other end of the spectrum, a round going too slow might not expand at all or only partially expand. This leads to other problems which we’ll cover in the expansion section. But first, let’s talk about penetration.
The FBI’s standard for penetration is a range that is at a minimum of 12 inches with a maximum of 18 inches. This range is to cover a number of scenarios that might occur in a violent confrontation.
The 12-inch minimum comes from dynamic changes to the environment and the target when a lethal force scenario is happening. We will leave defeating barriers out of the equation for now and focus instead on the changing nature of the opponent.
The human body is made up of a combination of multiple different types of materials. Some are soft tissues, organs, and bones. Each of these has varying consistencies that have to be overcome in order to reach the vital areas in order to stop the fight.
On top of those varying consistencies, we have clothing and motion that vary the depth between the outside world and those fight-stopping areas. Not every shot we make will be at a full-frontal chest-sized target with the opponent’s arms at their side.
In fact, it’s highly likely their arms will be partially in front of their chest or we have a more side profile view of them. The natural motions of the body will often vary the depth a bullet needs to go to reach areas that normally are only a few inches from the surface of the skin.
This is why the FBI uses a 12-inch minimum. The maximum is easier to explain. If we want to stop an aggressor we only want to stop them, not innocent people around them. We are more likely to cause unnecessary damage or harm if a bullet goes beyond our intended target.
That is where the 18-inch maximum comes in. Anything over 20 inches will more than likely over-penetrate a target. The 18-inch mark is the “safe zone” of penetration with slightly more penetration being acceptable without increasing the risks of over-penetration as much.
But keep in mind, once a bullet makes contact there is no consistent way to determine how much effective penetration will occur, which is why the 12 inches to an 18-inch window is used as an estimation rather than a certainty.
This brings us to expansion.
With the speed and penetration that pistol rounds achieve we have to increase their effectiveness somehow. With normal FMJ ball ammunition, we are limited to the diameter of the bullet to crush its way through tissue in order to achieve our desired result.
This means our shot placement is even more important with ball ammunition. But in a violent encounter, we want to be as efficient as possible and lessen that margin of error. That is where expanding or hollow point ammunition comes into play.
If we can increase the diameter of the projectile once it hits a target we gain two benefits. We gain a larger wound channel which makes stopping a threat easier and we get a means of preventing over-penetration.
A properly expanded hollow point will create a better wound channel and slow the round enough to prevent it from exiting the rear of the target. This expansion is controlled by speed and projectile design.
As the chart above illustrates some rounds are better designed to expand and penetrate at the same time. Some rounds that were going faster achieved a full and better expansion than those that were going slower.
The slower the round goes the less likely it will be for it to properly expand. This is again dependent on the design of the projectile. Such as the difference between the 147 grain 9mm HST and the +P version with the normal HST 147 grain getting better expansion than its faster counterpart which achieved better penetration.
However, a more consistent example of what to expect with velocities and performance are found in the normal HST 124 grain 9mm and the +P version. These rounds performed the same in penetration but differed by 0.05” due to the extra speed factor of the +P round.
All of this ties into why Federal HST rounds perform better than Speer Gold Dots. The HST rounds are a combination of factors that produces a round that is more likely to meet the FBI’s penetration standards while expanding more consistently and effectively than Gold Dots.
The chart clearly shows that even across multiple projectiles with different weights and speeds, HST has better penetration, better expansion, and therefore a better real-world margin of error than the Speer Gold Dots.
If you want to see each of these rounds tested, there are accompanying videos for each on Lucky Gunner’s lab pages along with other popular defense loads.
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