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Ammo Carry On

Hornady Critical Duty vs. Critical Defense

by James Tarr   |  July 19th, 2012 22

It should be well-known that when looking for ammunition to be used for personal defense in a handgun, you should use some sort of expanding bullet.  The most common type of these are jacketed hollow points (JHPs), and they are preferred to full metal jacket bullets (FMJs) because as a mechanism of their expansion they transfer more energy to the target.  Also, because they expand, there is much less chance of them over-penetrating.


Just about every ammunition manufacturer offers some sort of JHP round for every caliber they make.  That said, this is America, so many ammunition makers are not satisfied with just making “hollow points”….so we have Hydra-Shoks, XTPs, Gold Dots, and the famous, eeeeeevil Black Talons.


Hornady is currently offering two lines of hollowpoints with similar names—Critical Defense and Critical Duty.  There’s a difference, but I don’t know if Hornady is doing that good of a job explaining exactly what the difference is between their two ammunition lines.  Let me try, and I’ll start with the newest first.


Hornady’s Critical Duty ammunition is high-performance full power hollowpoint ammunition not just designed for full-size duty weapons but designed to pass the famous and stringent FBI ballistic protocols.  What are those protocols?


The FBI protocols are a specific set of tests for handgun ammunition where they are fired through a number of intermediate barriers into ballistic gelatin.  Penetration is the only fixed requirement—if the bullet doesn’t penetrate a minimum 12” of ballistic gel after passing through the barrier, it doesn’t pass.  Expansion isn’t required, but the more expansion a bullet shows (provided it penetrates the required distance) the better.



There are eight test events:

1.  Bare gelatin.

2. Through heavy clothing into gelatin

3.  Through 2 pieces of 20 gauge steel (sheet metal) into gelatin

4.  Through wallboard into gelatin

5.  Through ¾” plywood into gelatin

6.  Through angled automobile glass into gelatin.



All of the above tests are done at ten feet, and the heavy clothing and auto glass tests are done again at a distance of 20 yards for the final two tests.


The FBI protocols are used by just about every police department in the country when it comes to picking out duty ammunition—if your company’s ammo doesn’t pass, they probably won’t buy it.  That said, any ammunition which can pass these tests tends to have stout recoil, and is best suited for full-size guns.  It also tends to be loaded with very tough bullets which will definitely penetrate, and probably expand.


With their Critical Defense line of ammunition, the engineers at Hornady realized that most citizens looking for ammunition for their concealed handguns aren’t likely to be shooting through sheet metal or auto glass, and will most likely be carrying smaller, lighter guns.  Making ammunition for this target market didn’t require slavish devotion to the FBI protocols, because the needs of the private citizen were different.  Also, most carry guns have shorter barrels, and so this ammunition is optimized for use in short-barreled pistols.


Small, light guns, especially those small enough to fit in pockets, are very convenient to carry, but loading them with hotloaded +P ammo originally designed for big heavy guns can make them tough to shoot.  Considering the circumstances in which most concealed carry guns will be used (conversational distances, with little or no intervening barriers), sometimes less is more.


Both Critical Duty and Critical Defense rounds are tipped with what appears to be Hornady’s FTX bullet, but that’s not the case.  The Critical Defense rounds are loaded with the FTX bullet, which has a flexible polymer insert in the “Flex Tip” hollowpoint cavity which resists clogging when flying through thick clothing and/or drywall, and yet initiates expansion when it actually hits someone.  The Critical Duty line is loaded with the “FlexLock” bullet.  The FlexLock has the Flex Tip point, but it is paired with their InterLock band which locks the jacket and core together.  This bonded core stays together better when going through intermediate barriers (i.e. the FBI protocols).


The Critical Duty line of ammunition is still new, but even so, it is aimed more at the law enforcement market than Hornady’s other lines of hollowpoints.  I’m guessing it will never be offered in that many calibers.  Currently Critical Duty ammunition is only available in 9mm, 9mm+P, and .40 S&W.  The Critical Defense line is offered in 12 different calibers, starting at .22 WMR—any caliber you’re likely to use for self defense.

  • Chuck Rambo

    I live in a mobile home so I worry quite a bit about my bullets penetrating walls. Would this defense ammo be a good choice for my circumstances?

    • Alan_T

      Yes Chuck .

    • Wolvie

      Alan is correct, Chuck. These rounds are indeed a good choice.

      But I want to add one important caveat…

      Any bullet designed to penetrate into the human body and be able to break through bone, punch through heavy clothing and still go deep enough to hit the important things will ABSOLUTELY be able to penetrate thin interior walls and even thin exterior walls (like on a mobile home).

      So, please, don't assume that you're OK with a miss because you're using a hollow point (or any round for that matter). They will "probably" not over penetrate a human body and then go on to keep penetrating…hopefully. But a miss or an errant round will still make swiss cheese of your walls and endanger someone on the other side.

      Be safe.

      • Alan_T

        WOLVIE ! ! !

        ……. I was doing my bestest Clint Eastwood impression !
        I was being all Clint Easdtwoodie with my terse laconic speech , I purposely didn't shave and I was smoking this really rank cheroot and now my poncho stinks worse than Jon D . Weather spoon's breath ( Jeepers Creepers ) !

        And now Wolvie ……. and NOW …… it was all for nothing !

        Go ahead Wolvie …….. make my dayyy ! …… OOOPS wrong Clint genera …… cue the spaghetti music ..

        Ooooooomm Back Cha Cha Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Wha Wha
        Do Do Do Do ….. Wha Wha Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

    • dsp3972

      I would really consider a 12ga loaded with #7 shot. its penetration through barriers is minimal however in close quartets it is devastating to the human body. Even witha short 18.5" barrel you're getting little to no spread even down your longest hallway.

  • Paul Miller

    So, how about showing the test results?

  • ChasingTexas

    Hornady is a well known high quality brand and certainly can be a bit pricey. What other brands are up to the same standards for self defense hollow point?

    • ARsrule

      Any of the major brands offer quality stuff. If you check prices the "good stuff" from all of the manufactures is about the same price point. You might catch some brand on sale at one of the large mail order stores or one of the brick and mortar stores. That is about the only way to get quality SD rounds at a lesser price and even with that you're only going to save a couple of bucks over regular prices. You do get better quality components and combinations of components with the quality brands and remember whose life you are protecting with your purchase your's and your families, when you figure that in the price isn't bad at all.

    • jl

      It is a little more pricey, but I wouldn’t use it for target practice. Most people will never use their gun in self-defense but if you do, wouldn’t you want the good stuff ?

  • Jeepers Creepers

    I bought some 380 +P ammo for my 10 once .380 ACP. The spring is not strong enough. If I want to use that ammo I will have to re-spring it. The recoil was not that bad for myself. My 38 J frame seemed to like the +P ammo but the recovery time for the next round is to great. Good ammo for fast knock down if you can hit the sweat spot. For ChasingTexas "how much is your life worth?" Self defense ammo at any price is worth it. Don't buy the cheap ammo if you think your life is worth any thing.

  • Ross Walters

    The author said he was simply going to explain the difference between Hornady's Critical Defense and Critical Duty ammunition and he did.
    It may have been helpful to show ammo test results or compare the Hornady rounds against other manufacturers products but that was not what the Mr. Tarr promised.
    After reading the article we now know the difference between the two rounds and therefore the writer fulfilled his stated mission.

    • Alan_T

      Amen Ross !

  • Alan_T

    Mr . Tarr has given the parameters of the two rounds , the stated purpose of each , the end results and explained the differences . Since ALL bullets / cartridges will preform differently in ALL firearms , with ALL people firing them AND on ANY given day and location , the only relevant question is : do they preform as advertised . Any other comparisons are a waste of time .

    I for one am happy that Mr . Tarr didn't bring out the slide rule and calculator and reams and reams of data ( even if he does think that the movie " The Kingdom " was more realistic than " Body Of Lies " ) .

    • Wolvie


      You know you love it when they get all technical so you can get in touch with your inner-nerd!

      Don't even try to deny it! I know you love The Big Bang Theory! If you continue to deny it, I'll have to challenge you to the best out of three of Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock.

      • guest

        Hey Wolvie, if you're gonna go all "Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock" on everyone, you better do a "best of 5." Best of 3 only works for old games like Rock-Paper-Scissors.

        • Wolvie

          Once again, you fell for one of my classic pranks!


      • Alan_T

        OH ? Ooooooh yeah ? ….well ……… well ……. um ……. well …….. SO'S YOUR MOTHER !

        Personally Wolvie , I'd rather get in touch with Salma Hayek's inner – nerd , if you know what I mean ( nudge , nudge , wink , wink ) ? ! ! !

  • Alan_T

    And another thing ………. your just jealous 'cause my logarithms are larger that yours !
    There now ……….. we don't look so cleaver NOW , do we MISTER Wolvie ? !

    …… Uh ….. wait ……..I mean …….. uh …. let me do that over …… that didn't come out sounding right

    There now ……. MISTER Clever Guy …. you …… uh …….. you ………..don't ……. uh ……

    I'll be back later …. ( there now …. you ….. uh …… no …… there now , we aren;t so …… um ….. um )

  • TheGreatestOne

    Moving past Clint, Rock, Paper….and logarithrms what about this……….?
    Standing in my favorite cop shop (gun store) a customer asked a clerk about reloads in his concealed carry weapon. The clerk was fearful that in the event deadly force was necessary that reloads would be considered as "intent" by either the investigating LEOs, the DA, or da judge.
    Forget about the reliability of reloads. The idea was that if the reload was a little "hotter" than factory loads there would be hell to pay. Any thoughts?
    Then I hear about some FBI ammo protocol! Wasn't it the FBI that came up with the 10mm but after agents shot it and complained of recoil that they adopted the 10mm wimp (.40). There isn't any REQUIREMENT that we use so FBI protocol is there? Anybody know who makes .45 ACP bullets in armor piercing? The armor not being body armor but engine block type stuff.

  • Robert Alexander

    The critical DUTY & defense both have a great shot placement, the duty has a STOUT kick and an obvious loud REPORT. Both perform well through a Glock & 1911.

  • Andy Lacza

    There is a ,45 ACP product line in Critical Duty. Here are the FBI test results:

  • .357sig

    Got my .357sig Critical Duty rounds today. I’m impressed. For a couple years before today I had been packing critical defense rounds. Which I really like. Plus I’m using a glock32 as my duty weapon. It’s mid-sized so those defense rounds didn’t provide as much pop as I had hoped. I’m a private contractor not a Leo. Most Leo’s seem jealous and a little taken back when they take a good look at my piece. But after firing those duty rounds today a couple local deputies started glancing down the range to see what I was firing. The change in round itself started a good conversation about ballistics. Thanks hornady for always improving our chances.

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