In my first 9mm test with 115 grain ammo (viewable here) I sought to find the best performing round for an upcoming class and see if Duty ammo could compete against Match ammo for accuracy. While this test will be held to the same strict testing procedures the objective is different. The 115 grain world is ruled by Match ammo. You won’t find many professionals carrying such a light Duty bullet, it can be borderline acceptable but there are better weights for Duty and Defense. The 124 grain world however is ruled by Duty ammo.
The Test Ammo
Federal – HST – 124 grain JHP ($0.36 per round)
Per their website: “Tactical® HST® offers consistent expansion and optimum penetration for terminal performance. See for yourself, click below for how this hollow-point round performs under FBI’s stringent protocol testing.”
Federal’s HST has been my preferred carry ammo for nearly 10 years now. I’ve never had it malfunction and it has always been a very accurate round for me, giving me groups of around 1.5″ at 25 yards with several pistols. The fantastic ballistic performance of the HST bullet is well documented and street proven. It is, in my opinion, the gold standard of carry ammo.
Winchester – Ranger T – 124 grain +P JHP ($0.72 per round)
Per their website: “When a situation unfolds, so does the Ranger® T Series handgun ammunition. With an unbeatable combination of expansion and penetration enhanced by engineered segments in the patented SXT® design, the T Series can be relied on to deliver consistent stopping power in real world situations. Backed by a comprehensive testing and training program, Winchester T Series is ammunition that always performs at its best—even when things are at their worst.”
The word around the internet water-cooler is the Ranger T is a new and rebranded Black Talon. For those unaware the Black Talon is hollow-point formerly produced by Winchester. The rounds were used in very public shootings and a lawsuit subsequently filed against Winchester for being liable. A media and politically driven crucifixion campaign was quickly underway and the ammo was labeled as “cop killers” due to a coating on the bullet. They claimed this Teflon coating would make an otherwise regular bullet penetrate police body armor. This is right up there with ‘painting flames on your car makes it go faster’. Nevertheless, in true form of not letting facts stop the government, several states outlawed Teflon coated bullets. Sadly, Winchester caved and pulled the Black Talon from production.
You’ll often see Ranger’s compared to HSTs and endless internet battles have ensued about which is better. Statistically there’s no real difference. It’s a great round and like the HST it has been well proven. The reason I’m not a fan is because they’ve always been difficult to find. In my case I could only find one retailer who had them in stock for this test, and at twice the price of HSTs. I see no reason to pay twice as much for a bullet that doesn’t offer greater performance.
So why do people pay so much for them? When Winchester created the Ranger line they wouldn’t it to be sold to the public and was restricted to Law Enforcement only. Anything you tell people they can’t have only makes them want it more. When combined with its controversial and storied history the market has stayed very dry.
Speer – Gold Dot – 124 grain JHP ($0.48 per round)
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.”
One of the more aged in the group it is still a solid performer carried by many. It shot very well in 115 grain and seeing how it performs in 124 grain will give us a benchmark between weights from the same manufacturer.
Black Hills – 124 grain JHP ($0.72 per round)
Per their website: “We are known throughout the shooting industry for combining the finest components available to build the best ammunition in the business. Just ask the United States Military. All four branches of the service rely on Black Hills for their 5.56 (.223) match ammunition.”
As I’ve said before I dislike ammo sold in 20 and 25 boxes, it’s just a way to jack up the price on you. Nevertheless, Black Hills has earned a reputation for accuracy. This is my first experience with them and hope they earn their premium price.
SIG Sauer – Elite V-Crown – 124 grain JHP ($0.59 per round)
Per their website: “SIG V-Crown defensive rounds combine perfected material specifications and fine-tuned design innovations, including a stacked hollow point cavity, to deliver exceptional on-target energy with maximum weight retention and optimal expansion for ultimate stopping power.”
The other entrant only available in 20 boxes. It seemed fitting though that if I’m shooting a SIG I should match it up with their own ammo and see how the combo works.
Freedom Munitions – ProMatch – 124 grain HP ($0.38 per round)
Per their website: “Freedom Munitions ProMatch Precision Ammunition pistol ammunition features an X-Treme copper plated bullet and is loaded for consistency and the highest levels of accuracy. Developed and tested in Idaho at our state-of-the-art ballistics lab, Freedom Munitions ProMatch Precision Ammunition delivers quality and performance, but at a fraction of the price of traditional match grade ammunition.”
A newcomer to the Match market they’ve made a good name for themselves as an ammo retailer and manufacturer.
Colt – National Match – 124 grain FMJ ($0.31 per round)
I stumbled upon this while Googling for match ammo. It’s made for Colt by DoubleTap Ammunition in a partnership starting in 2016. The price point is certainly attractive, especially if it performs at Match level.
Wilson Combat – Bill Wilson Signature Match – 125 grain HAP JHP ($0.65 per round)
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 125 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.
The Signature Jacketed Match 9mm load has been extensively tested in 1911 style and other high-performance firearms and is the most accurate 125 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.”
If you read the 115 grain test you must be wondering what this is doing here. Well, Wilson Combat ran across the article and reached out to me. They apologized several times for the ammo’s performance and offered to replace it. Since my next ammo test was on 124 grain ammo I asked them to send me the same line of ammo but in their 125 grain version, they don’t have a 124 grain. They’d agreed and immediately shipped 200 rounds my way.
I still had 50 of the original 100 rounds and offered to send it back for testing. Upon testing the remaining 50 rounds they didn’t encounter the same issues I did. They posited that it may be the 1/10″ barrel twist rate not getting along with the bullet as their testing was done with a 1/16″ barrel.
After my 115 grain test I set a limit on how much I would spend on any specific ammo, and that is $1 per round. I don’t think this is unreasonable. I recommend shooting a minimum of 300 – 500 of your chosen defensive rounds through a pistol before christening it ready for carry. At over $1 per round that gets unnecessarily and unreasonably expensive.
Hornady and Underwood left a bad taste last time. Underwood and the majority of Hornady are only sold in small boxes, were the most expensive, and performed the worst. None of that makes me want to give them more money.
I initially wanted to include ASYM’s Bonded Tactical 124 grain +P JHP and Atlanta Arms Target/Defense 124 HP. Unfortunately they both are only sold in 20 rounds boxes for $20. They got DQ’d due to price. Also out because of price was Wilson Combat’s Pinnacle 124 grain +P JHP. It is 20 rounds for $24-$26, depending on the bullet you choose.
I would liked to have included Geco’s Hexagon 124 grain HP but I couldn’t locate any.
The same as last time, 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 Army, 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 Winchester 124 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 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 potential unconscious bias.
Top 3 Performers
First up we’re going to look at the smallest group shot by each brand.
Sliding into third is Federal HST with a group size of 1.63″. I had hoped to get under 1.5″ but I’m not really disapointed, if it weren’t for the flyer it would be well under 1.5″. Most importantly though it’s consistently accurate and produced some of the most uniform groups we’ve shot.
Filing into second place is Wilson Combat’s Signature Match with a group size of 1.50″. A much better performance with this outing! I may pick up some more for my upcoming .45 Match/Duty accuracy test that will be shot with a high-end custom 1911.
Earning the top spot is Black Hills with a group size of 1.28″. I had no idea how this was going to perform and it was no slouch! When taking into account the 115 grain test it is the 3rd smallest group out of this pistol.
Bottom 3 Performers
The bottom 3 start with Freedom Munitions ProMatch at number 6 with its smallest group at 1.93″.
Rolling into number 7 is Colt’s National Match at 2.32″. There is nothing “match” about this ammo with the majority of the groups being over 3″.
This I never would have predicted given its reputation. Bringing up the rear is Winchester’s Ranger T with a group of 2.55″. Very disappointing results. What gives Winchester?
Total Performance Numbers
Here are all smallest groups each brand shot, along with their average group size. I love the consistency between the two! Yep, I’m a data nerd…
I wanted to try something new with this test and decided to bring video into the mix. The problem is at 25 yards the targets and groups are pretty dang small. Who wants to watch someone just shooting slow-fire? Well hopefully you guys like what I put together for you. This is the top 8 groups shot by each brand of ammo.
I call this a successful and fun test! Thank you’s go out to Shawn with Firearms Legal Protection, to Rob/yrualeg1 with Kicked Hive Films (check out his YouTube channel here) and to Tribute Tactical for the use of their soon-to-be-open range!
Coming soon will be the ‘.45 Auto Match and Duty Ammo Ultimate Accuracy Test’. Currently on the list are 15 different brands of well-known .45 ammo. As mentioned earlier the test pistol will be a high-end custom Government 1911 by one of the industry’s top pistolsmiths. Stay tuned!