Since I had recently signed up for a new class, CSAT’s Extreme Pistol, where I’ll be shooting a pistol at 25, 50, 75 and 100 yard bulls (yes, yards not feet) I decided I wanted to use the best ammo possible. Taking a long-range class with cheap practice ammo seems like a waste of the class to me. I started researching options and quickly found there are many companies out there who claim their match ammo is the best, but I couldn’t find any data supporting their claims. I certainly wasn’t about to buy 500 rounds of expensive ammo without finding out which was the best bang for my buck.
Match ammo seems to be mainly centered around either 115 grain or 147 grain bullets with only a couple of manufacturers making 124 grain. ASYM has a blog post here explaining why this is. I decided to go with 115 grain as I’ve never found a 147 grain round that shot well in any of my pistols.
I started a thread on 1911Addicts.com asking shooters for their input on what ammo I should select for my test. Between their suggestions and my own research I decided on Atlanta Arms, ASYM, Wilson Combat, and Nosler. I then got to thinking about my previous accuracy tests and how well duty ammo has performed. Given the cost of some of these match rounds if I can get the same performance from a less expensive duty round then I’d be a fool not to. To fill out the duty ammo manufacturers I went with Federal, Speer, Hornady, and Underwood. All known for making some of the best defensive rounds available.
The Match Ammo
Atlanta Arms – Elite – 115 grain JHP Match (Price per round $0.44)
Per their website: “This is the PPC match ammo used by the Homeland Security pistol teams, the Border Patrol Teams, and some of the best Police teams. This is also a great Bianchi Cup and Steel Challenge round averaging 1100 FPS±. Using a high quality match bullet, this is designed for extreme accuracy. Accuracy test requirement: 5 ten-shot groups at 50 yards, with an average group size not to exceed 1.25 inches. (Fired from a Match Grade barrel fixture) Minor Power Factor – 125 USE/SPORT: PPC Matches, Bianchi Cup, Steel Challenge, IDP”
I was turned onto Atlanta Arms as they make the rounds the Army Marksmanship Unit and Marine Service Pistol teams use. That’s their FMJ version though and I wanted to use JHPs across the board, which turned out to be fine. Their FMJ Match AMU accuracy requirement is 5 ten-shot groups at 50 yards with an average group size not to exceed 1.5 inches. Their JHP Match takes it a step further with the same requirements but with groups not to exceed 1.25 inches.
ASYM Precision – Action Match – 115 grain JHP Steel Challenge (Price per round $0.44)
Per their website: “All of our 9mm match ammo is loaded in our own match grade brass, custom made to our specifications.
As with all ASYM PRECISION Ammunition, every round is chamber checked and hand inspected to ensure flawless performance. Match grade ammunition at its finest.”
Often talked about for superior accuracy ASYM was an automatic addition.
Nosler – Match Grade Handgun – 115 grain JHP (Price per round $0.80)
Per their website: “Loaded with a Sporting Handgun-Revolver 115 Grain Jacketed Hollow Point Bullet and Nosler Cartridge Brass
To ensure our reputation for quality and consistency, powder charges are meticulously weighed and finished rounds are visually inspected and polished.
Each piece of brass is checked for correct length, neck-sized, chamfered, trued and flash holes are checked for proper alignment.”
Wilson Combat – Bill Wilson Signature Match – 115 grain HAP JHP (Price per round $0.65)
Per their website: “The new Bill Wilson Signature Jacketed Match Load delivers economical match-grade GUARANTEED Accuracy and peerless overall performance to handgun shooters looking for the practical edge over the competition.
The Signature Jacketed Match uses the 115 grain Hornady Action Pistol (HAP) jacketed hollow point bullet-designed for X-Ring accuracy along with ultimate feed reliability. Low-flash, low-concussion powders and the HAP’s encapsulated base create less visible blast and smoke during shooting than a typical full-metal-jacket bullet-a great advantage in dim-light or indoor conditions.
At a measured velocity of 1125 feet-per-second, the Bill Wilson Signature Match load is the ideal training or competition load for shooters seeking to achieve “Minor” power factor without excessive recoil, undue wear and tear on your handgun or impacting your accuracy.
The Signature Jacketed Match 9mm load has been extensively tested in 1911 style and other high-performance firearms and is the most accurate 115 grain 9mm ammunition available. We guarantee the Bill Wilson Signature Jacketed Match to shoot 25 yard, ten-shot groups through a fixed barrel testing device of under ONE-HALF (1/2) INCH-GUARANTEED.”
The Duty Ammo
Federal – Hi-Shok (9BP) – 115 grain JHP (Price per round $0.30)
While not a ‘new age’ round it is well-known and I’ve seen it perform very well in other people’s accuracy tests.
Per their website: “Our Classic line of ammunition has served law enforcement officers for generations. It has proven itself as a consistent, dependable performer at a reasonable price. Hi-Shok® bullets hit hard and expand reliably for effective energy transfer. You’ll find enhancements of bullets throughout our line of Classic ammunition, just as they have been for decades.”
Speer – Gold Dot – 115 grain JHP (Price per round $0.48)
A long time solid performer on ‘the street’ this seemed like a no-brainer to include.
Per their website: “Designed to deliver the high performance today’s law enforcement officers demand. Each Speer® LE Gold Dot® bullet is individually engineered to provide shot-to-shot uniformity and ensure optimum performance when fired through a variety of barriers. The result is a cartridge that provides officers the ultimate defense in lethal force confrontations.”
Hornady – Critical Defense – 115 grain FTX JHP (Price per round $1.12)
I dislike Hornady ammo. It’s incredibly expensive, only sold in 25 round boxes, and I don’t like how their rounds perform in ballistics testing. Nevertheless they are a main manufacturer and there are people who do like their ammo.
Per their website: “All Critical Defense® ammunition is loaded in nickel cases for increased visibility in low-light situations. Premium low fl ash propellants deliver proven performance, even in very shortbarreled handguns, and won’t disrupt your vision. Reliable expansion and dependable terminal performance can be counted on for concealed carry/personal protection.
Bullets are custom designed for individual loads. The most effective, consistent, and reliable concealed carry ammunition available today!”
Underwood – Nosler – 115 grain JHP (Price per round $0.77)
Known mostly for making very hot rounds Underwood is a smaller manufacturer but with a dedicated following. Unfortunately it’s only sold in lots of 20, 100, 500 or 1,000.
Per their website: “Built to the tightest tolerances for peak performance rivaling and sometimes surpassing handloads in many guns. This ammunition is new production, non-corrosive, in boxer primed, reloadable brass cases.”
My best shooting to date was while shooting 10 shot groups at 25 yards. 7 of the 10 rounds I put into .396 inches, including the other 3 rounds brought the total group size to 1.574 inches. After spending all this money on ammo I wanted to bring in a second shooter to try to even out the human factor as much as possible. My friend and firearms trainer, Shawn with Firearms Legal Protection, got the invitation. He has an extensive and impressive shooting resume that includes the Marines and SWAT.
We will each shoot 5 five-shot groups with each ammo. To eliminate the issue of loading from slide-lock and affecting the accuracy of the first shot, each magazine will be loaded with 5 rounds of match/duty ammo with 1 round of Fiocchi 115 grain FMJ on top. That will ensure that each top match/duty round is fired under the exact same circumstance. The targets will be placed at a measured 25 yards and shooting done from a Caldwell rest. The targets themselves are a 2 inch square printed on an 8.5″ by 11″ sheet of paper. The test pistol is my new SIG Sauer P226 SAO Legion, reviewed here and pictured below.
Also, each shooter will not know what ammo they are shooting at that time. This will be accomplished by splitting up the ammo beforehand and the non-shooter loading the mags of the shooter. The reason I’m doing this is because I want to eliminate any bias. For instance, my dislike of Hornady ammunition may influence my unconscious/subconscious to throw a few shots to justify my opinion of them.
This turned out to be pretty an interesting experience with some results I wasn’t expecting. Given the human element I was wondering how each of us were going to stack up with the same ammo. I was concerned that one of us may shoot a great group with a particular ammo and then the other shooter’s results end up being completely different with the same ammo. After breaking down all the data from 80 targets consisting of 400 rounds I found that our groups with the same ammo averaged within a half-inch of each other. I never would have predicted that.
For the doubters out there, we measured out 25 yards not feet.
Top 3 Performers – Smallest Group
Coming in at number 3 is Speer Gold Dots with a group size of 1.38 inches.
Getting the silver medal at number 2 is Nosler with a group size of 1.08 inches. Neither myself or Shawn have seen a 9mm ammo produce such a fireball, this stuff is a serious fire-breather!
Drum roll please. *In my best stadium announcer voice* “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you your champion, with a group size of just 0.89 inches, Atlanta Arms!”
It doesn’t get much better than that! I understand now why their ammo is so revered, it’s a well-earned reputation. Plus at $0.44 per round only the Federal rounds were less expensive.
Bottom 3 Performers
Coming in at number 6 is Underwood with a group size of 1.76 inches. Number 7 goes to Hornady with its best group measuring 1.99 inches.
Firmly and deeply planted in last place at number 8 is Wilson Combat with a disqualification. As the second most expensive of the match ammo I had high hopes for its performance. It bombed. Neither shooter during warm-up with practice ammo or in testing had any shots off paper, except with the Wilson ammo. Three of the ten groups only had 4 shots on target and one group only had 3. Since neither of us knew what ammo we were shooting at what time and we both had rounds missing from our targets I put this sorely disappointing result squarely on Wilson Combat. Since there was no way to compensate for how badly it skewed the data it was completely disqualified.
Underwood, Wilson and Hornady make up 3 of the 4 most expensive ammo tested and were 3 of the 4 worst performers. Not much else needs to be said.
Total Performance Numbers
Here is the full breakdown of each ammo ranked by their best group.
Here is the average group size between both shooters. There’s almost a perfect correlation between the smallest group and average group size. I’m sure someone just said “duh!” but just because a certain ammo shot a small group doesn’t mean it can do it consistently. ASYM turned in the 5th smallest group but is the second most consistent.
All variables possible I call this a highly successful test! I was extremely pleased to see that Shawn and I shot each ammo so consistently, giving credence to the results. I’ll soon be ordering up a case from Atlanta Arms and stretching it out to 100 yards with some pre-class testing. A big thank you to Shawn for the use of his skills and time, and to Firearms Legal Protection for the use of their facility!