Testing Carry Ammo

This is going to be a different type of test. I’m not doing ballistic gel tests here—you can find plenty of those on YouTube. What I wanted to do in this test was find out what defensive ammo my EDC gun likes best. And by likes best, I mean shoots the most accurately at 10 yards from a standing, unsupported position.

The impetus for this test was something I noticed when I would shoot up the magazines of carry ammo ever few months. I typically carry two magazines, one in the gun, and one on my weak side in a mag pouch. Roughly every 4-6 months, I’ll shoot the ammo that I’ve been carried around for that time and re-load the mags with fresh ammo. This may or may not be excessive, but I do it for a few reasons. First, I like to practice occasionally with my carry ammo. Second, I often clear my carry gun, which means I’m unloading it. When I re-load, I end up re-chambering the same round multiple times. The ammo I carry has a nice crimp and cannelure so I’m not terribly worried about setback, but I figure shooting a box of carry ammo 2-3 times a year is not a bad idea.

Important Safety Tips

Now, before we go too much further, I want to put a few disclaimers on this test. First, this is not meant to be scientific. I went to the range with five different loads and shot them from my gun, standing unsupported at 10 yards. I didn’t shoot in bullseye mode; but I didn’t go for .2 second splits. I probably shot at 0.7-1.0 second splits, which is a little slower than I shoot at 10 yard targets in competition. The point of this test was to see which loads my gun liked best. It is not intended to be any type of commentary on the loads themselves. The process is the point, not the results.

The loads I selected were the following:

  • Speer Gold Dot 115 grain
  • Speer Gold Dot 124 grain +P
  • Hornady 135 grain Critical Duty
  • Federal 124 grain HST
  • Federal 147 grain HST

These loads were chosen because they consistently perform well in every ballistics gel test I’ve seen and they pass IWBA and FBI test protocols. Lucky Gunner has done a great job of creating a deep database of defensive ammo tests and I encourage you to check it out and see how various loads perform.

The Test Parameters

As I alluded to earlier, I noticed that the 124 grain HSTs I was carrying tended print low on the targets from my carry gun—a Springfield Armory XD Mod.2 4”. When I shoot various practice rounds, the point of impact matches the point of aim more closely. I also found I was generally shooting tighter groups with my cheap, practice ammo than I was with my more expensive carry ammo. So, I ordered up $100 worth of ammo to test out to see what would happened.

I shot an 8” circle target with a 4” center circle at 10 yards. As mentioned, I shot deliberately, but not slowly. I saw a sight picture for each shot, except for the called flyers. What I expected to see was a point of impact shift between the various loads. I’ve seen this as I’ve worked up loads for my IDPA competition gun; some loads shoot a little high, some a little low and others just right. The last category are the ones I compete with.

Ten yards was chosen as the distance because I figured it was the furthest distance I would likely have to engage a bad guy. It’s also the furthest distance I can shoot rapidly and keep all rounds in an 8” circle. Once I move out to 15 yards and beyond, I have to slow down quite a bit and my accuracy it not quite what I would like it be. Yet.

Surprising Results

Rather than seeing point of impact shifts, what I found was some pretty significant differences in the accuracy of the rounds. Again, I want to point out that these results are for me and my gun only. Please do not assume that the 115 grain Speer Gold Dot is an inherently inaccurate round. It just didn’t shoot particularly well with my gun.

In fact, none of them shot particularly well with my gun; except one. I had already warmed up with a few hundred rounds at varying distances and target sizes. When practicing with my carry gun, I typically start off with 2 1/2” circles at 5 yards and can typically keep 4 of 5 in a circle. So I know the gun is accurate and I shot it well. I’ve also shot the gun in two defensive handgun classes with total rounds count nearing 600. In each class, I never felt I had a problem with inherent accuracy.

Speer Gold Dot 115 gr.

Speer Gold Dot 115 grain from an XD Mod.2 4″ at 10 yards.

The first round was the Speer 115 grain Gold Dot. This round performs well in all lab tests and is duty ammo for many a police department. In the Lucky Gunner tests, they penetrated to almost the same depth, 16.4”, and expanded uniformly to .55”. My gun however, didn’t shoot them well at all. Three rounds flew completely off the 8 1/2 x 11 target. Only 7 landed on the paper, though 6 were in the 8” circle. Just 3 rounds landed in the 4” circle. Thus, despite how well they perform in general, I’m not going to carry them in that gun.

Speer Gold Dot 124 gr. +P

Speer Gold Dot 124 grain +P from an XD Mod.2 4″ at 10 yards.

Next up were the 124 +P Gold Dots. I wanted to test light for caliber, heavy for caliber and +P ammo to see how they all worked out. I didn’t test +P HSTs, mainly because I only had so much left in the ammo budget that month. And +P 124 GDs were in stock. This round typified what I saw out of the 124 grain HSTs during practice. A lowered point of impact, and larger group. All but two stayed in the 8” circle, but they were mostly low right. This round wouldn’t be a terrible choice, but it’s not my favorite.

Hornady Critical Duty 135 gr.

Hornady Critical Duty 135 grain from an XD Mod.2 4″ at 10 yards. Note that I only shot 8 rounds of this ammo.

I only had 8 of these in stock, which is why there are only 8 holes on the paper. One of them was way low, and that was my fault. I rushed that shot and called it low when I shot it. Otherwise, this round actually did quite well. Five of seven were in the 6” circle with four of them in the 4”. All were in the 8” circle. I would say these would generally be a good choice, at least from an accuracy perspective with my gun (I’m going to keep emphasizing that). However, they didn’t do particularly well in the Lucky Gunner tests; 3 of 5 penetrated beyond 20” and they hardly expanded at all (0.42”). I’ve seen similar results in other tests, which make them a less than ideal choice, in my opinion.

Federal HST 124 gr.

Federal HST 124 grain from an XD Mod.2 4″ at 10 yards.

The HST is kind of the darling of the defensive shooting world right now. It seems to perform well in just about every test, including barrier testing. The expansion in ballistics gel is textbook and from what I’m hearing, it’s an effective round in actual police and defensive shootings. In the Lucky Gunner test, all five rounds penetrated to 17-18” and expanded to 0.61” with excellent uniformity. This was my EDC ammo prior to this test. I believe it is a very effective round overall. In my gun, nine of ten rounds stayed in the 8” circle, with eight of them in the 6” ring. The one flyer was just outside and may have been my fault. Overall, not bad, and as I still have several boxes of them, I will save them for the zombie apocalypse.

Federal HST 147 gr.

Federal HST 147 grain from an XD Mod.2 4″ at 10 yards.

This was where it got surprising. Until this target, I kept thinking, “I kind of suck with this gun. I really need to practice more with my carry gun instead of just my competition gun.” My competition gun is an XD Mod.2 5” that has a nicer and lighter trigger and a match-grade barrel. Then I shot the 147 HSTs. “It’s not me, it’s you,” I thought. With nine rounds in the 4” circle and one flyer that was most definitely my fault, this was far and away the most accurate ammo in this test of my gun. In the Lucky Gunner tests, penetration is a little on the low side at 14-15”, but each expanded to a textbook flower of 0.61 inches. I know many people and agencies that favor heavy-for-caliber defensive/duty rounds, so I don’t feel bad about this one.

I also shot these the fastest, due to the smoother recoil impulse. The gun is quicker back on target and with 17 on board, I’m pretty sure I can stop a threat, especially if they all land in a 4” or smaller circle. As you can image, when I got home, I ordered up a few boxes of this ammo and stocked my carry mags with them.

Alternate Results

Interestingly, I also shot the same batch of ammo with my backup/NPE gun, a Springfield Armory XDS 3”. The 147 grain HST shot terribly from that gun; only 8 rounds even stayed on the paper. The best performer—and it wasn’t great, but 9 of 10 were in the 8” ring—was, wait for it, the Speer Gold Dot 115 gr. I had been carrying the 124 grain HST in that gun—still am, come to think of it—but only 7 of 10 stayed in the 8” ring and 2 were out by several inches.

Now, I don’t shoot the XDS quite as well as my Mod.2 4” which is one reason I carry the Mod.2. Clearly I need some more practice with the XDS. Though to be fair, I took my first ever defensive pistol course with that gun in 2015 and scored a 96 on the Davidson County Sheriff’s dept. qualification course. One only needs to score an 80 to be on the SWAT team. So, there’s that. The jury is still out on what I’ll do with that gun. Ultimately, I’ll probably swap the sights out to the same ones I have on my Mod.2 guns, and do the trigger as well. I’ll then re-run the test. But since I don’t carry that gun often, it’s a lower priority.


As I’ve mentioned, these results should only be considered valid for me and my gun. I did mention that, right? The point of this post is to encourage you, dear reader to perform your own test. Take a box of your carry ammo to the range and see how it shoots. First, it has to function perfectly. I shot 200 rounds of 124 grain HST through my gun before I carried it. I have to admit to not doing that yet with the 147s. However, as it’s the same bullet profile, and my Mod.2s have a habit of ingesting everything I feed them, I’m not too worried. In fact, between the three Mod.2 guns I own (3.3”, 4” and 5”), I’ve shot collectively over 17,000 rounds without a single failure that wasn’t my fault (I was practicing limp-wristing one day and managed to induce a stovepipe). Other than that, they are boringly reliable. But I digress.

Shoot your carry ammo. See where it goes. Can you keep 10 rounds in an 8” circle at 10 yards? If not, try some other ones to see if it makes a difference. Testing carry ammo is expensive. But how much is your life worth? You don’t have to test 15 different kinds; but try rounds that perform consistently well in tests and vary in bullet weight to see what your gun likes. If you ever have to fire in defense of your life, you best know where those rounds are going.

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