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Hornady Critical Duty .45 Auto +P Review

by Patrick Sweeney   |  October 14th, 2013 25

It never fails. Make an improved load of any caliber, and the first question you’ll get will be “When will it be available in…?” followed by the questioner’s favorite caliber. When that caliber is .45 ACP, the question comes from a lot of directions.

When Hornady unveiled its new Critical Duty load in 9mm and .40, there were a lot of shooters asking “Where’s mine?” The answer is “Now,” and I recently had the opportunity to see the new .45 Critical Duty load and do some brief tests.

The .45 bullet design follows that of the previous calibers. That is, it is not a “bonded” bullet by the normal means—essentially soldering the core to the jacket. That process requires a core alloy of nearly pure lead. The drawback of the customary bonded process is simple: While a pure lead core expands beautifully in bare gel or even the clothing tests, on the harder barriers the bullet tends to wad up and expand non-uniformly. The harder the barrier, the more egregious the deformation.

Hornady uses a harder lead alloy, containing antimony, and the stronger core is better able to resist deformation when passing through the harder barriers.

Now, this is not without its own drawbacks. The harder alloy is less dense than pure lead because, in any given metal, a harder alloy is lighter. It’s just that in lead, given its superb density, we notice the change when it is alloyed. The lesser density, coupled with a thicker jacket (the core of the Critical Duty bullet is mechanically locked to the jacket) makes for a longer than normal bullet at any given weight. That is why the Critical duty .45 ACP +P is only 220 grains instead of the typical 230.

Bullet weight is a balancing act in any caliber. Lighter makes for more velocity, which increases the forces to aid expansion. But lighter means less core-jacket adhesion, and if you go too light the combination ends in shedded jackets and unhappy testers.

Heavier means less case capacity for powder and decreased velocity, with less expansion and excessive penetration. Hornady is not new at this, and it explored all the weight possibilities before settling on 220 grains as the new normal.

The truncated cone of the bullet nose has its hollowpoint filled with a soft elastomer, the plastic plug that works to deliver consistent expansion. How? On soft barriers or no barriers, the elastomer initiates expansion as it is driven inwards by the gel. On harder barriers such as wallboard and plywood, old-style hollowpoints plug with material and act as FMJs, failing to expand. The Hornady-red elastomer prevents the Critical Duty hollowpoint from being plugged up by barrier material. Once clear of the barrier and striking gel, the elastomer works as if the barrier had not been present.

Glass and steel, the hardest barriers, act on typical bullets by “riveting” the nose closed, creating yet another de facto FMJ. In these barriers, the Critical Duty elastomer prevents the nose from closing shut, and the redirected but hammered bullet material instead swages outwards, causing expansion.

The requirements of the FBI test also account for the +P velocity of the load. The FBI desires a bullet that—having passed through auto glass, plywood, wallboard or sheet metal—still penetrates more than a foot of ballistic gelatin and expands as it does so.

You can’t do that with a sedate load; you can do it only with a full-power (and then some) load. So when you touch off a round, it is going to exact the full price of recoil as promised by the +P designation, but you know that going in.

I shot test bullets through each of the FBI tests: steel, glass, plywood, wallboard, heavy clothing and bare gelatin. The results were as expected: More than a foot and less than 18 inches of penetration (varying depending on what the barrier was) and full expansion.

And as with the other calibers, the expansion for four of the tests (bare gel, heavy clothing, wallboard and plywood) were so uniform that extracted bullets had to be marked in order to keep them separate and identified.

I also had a chance to test the Critical Duty in a couple of handguns, both 1911s. The velocity was every bit of the rated +P. In fact were I still shooting bowling pins I’d be more than happy with Critical Duty as a pin load, with one pistol posting a 208 Power Factor and the other a 215. Back in the day, we viewed anything with a Power Factor of 195 or higher as plenty stout for pins, and anything over 185 as being entirely suitable for defense. However, those of you who are in the habit of carrying compact, lightweight little .45 blasters may find that you have signed up for too much of a good thing. The muzzle blast and recoil of a 208 to 215 Power Factor cartridge out of a lightweight carry gun may be a bit more than you’d like.

Accuracy? Look, this is Hornady ammo, so there is no question of good accuracy. However, shooting groups from the bench is work with a load this hot.

As with the other loadings, the Critical Duty .45 ACP +P has sealed primers, nickeled cases and neck sealants, so you can count on the ammo functioning even if you’ve been out in a downpour.

The question comes up again and again: Do you need this much performance? On the range, Critical Duty .45 ACP +P load recoiled with noticeably more vigor than standard factory hardball did, even from an all-steel 1911 Government model. If you don’t feel the need for that level of performance, is it an unmanly act to step down to a less vigorous load? Not at all.

Were I still packing a handgun for a living, I’d have Critical Duty .45 ammo in my full-size gun. But my backup would have Critical Defense in it. If I need a backup gun, I’ve already got a full plate of problems to deal with, and I won’t be aided in that by the recoil of a load such as this in a lightweight pistol. However, the main gun, the full-size 1911, Glock or XD, would be stoked with Critical Duty .45 ACP +P.

  • Bruce Ades

    While I appreciated the main points of your article, you have made errors regarding alloys. Tungsten and (depleted) U[Uranium]235 are used as alloys in steel. Both are considerably more dense (specific gravity) and therefore adding them to steel causes the steel to be heavier, not lighter. The same is true of aluminum. Hardened or alloyed Al has an atomic number of 13. It is commonly alloyed with Cu 29 and Zinc 30.I encounter such obvious mistakes, it makes me suspicious of the other claims.

    • Ben

      You are correct, but a harder alloy of Uranium will be less dense than pure uranium. Good point, I believe you were just looking at it from the other direction. Either way, it shouldn’t detract from the rest of the article. They aren’t chemists, they are ammunition/weapon testers.

    • Bill

      Any idea how this would do as a make-shift (sub-44 Mag) bear round? Might the bone of a bear skull or sternum be the equivalent of the standard “barriers” given in the article? If so, then maybe you could expect penetration and expansion on the other side of the bone. Thoughts?

    • shermr

      Antimony is added to lead to make the bullet harder. Antimony is much lighter than lead, (density: antimony 6.684 vs lead 11.34 Hornady is making bullets, not steel.

    • Stuart Fischer

      Wow, we sure do see a lot of that in civilian ammo manufacture, geez, pull your head out of the clouds and consider the reality here, ammo for cops and civilians in every day application, not trying to drive a 220 gr load through the armor of an armored car.

      • Rob

        Nobody said you had to buy it. Some of us like to have more power, whether it’s for penetrating heavy clothing, private security, or as a bear defense and hunting load. I prefer to carry the most powerful cartridge I can accurately shoot and control. If that’s a .44 mag, then so be it. Many people carry FMJs in their self defense firearm, and most FMJs will penetrate over two feet of gelatin with no problem and punch through both sides of a car.

  • kwethington1

    this ammo is expensive, but it is what I carry in my 0mm because it gives me near the same destruction at a .45 230 grain FMJ. And, test firing it into a target made for recovering the slugs, it consistently expands like in the ads. Also sometimes my FMJ rounds get caught in heavy jackets or shirts and some or much of the copper jacket comes off before getting the map.

  • S.B.

    We spend too much time fantasizing about fictitious bogeyman, methinks. If I were a cop I may need this. But as Joe Homeowner or even Joe CCW I believe this is more a liability than a help given its too good penetration. Innocent bystanders and neighbor’s property should be protected from unintended bullets. Critical Defense would seem more than sufficient for most of us. Most defensive encounters occur at quite close ranges, and I’ve never heard of a violent criminal wearing a bullet resistant forehead. God forbid that we ever have to find out first hand…

    • Bubba Smith

      When I want others to decide for me what to use I will rember to call on you till then…..

      • S.B.

        I don’t care if you use a .50 BMG Bubba. Who is trying to decide for you? Maybe you should read what I said again. Yes I hold an opinion which all of us do. If you like it, fine. Don’t like it? That is fine too. Agree, argue, or ignore, its all fine. But I certainly don’t need your permission to throw an idea out. Any more than you need my permission what to load. Which as I said already, I don’t care, it is YOUR decision!

    • MacTex

      I see your point, however you fail to mention that with the “too good penetration” come consistent expansion, which causes the projectile to remain in the gel (or flesh) and not OVER-penetrate. Incidentally, I have taken many a tactical course over the years and have always been told that to aim at anything other than the center of mass (unlike a forehead) is a fool’s errand, so methinks perhaps youthinks incorrectly.

      • S.B.

        MacTex, you might be the 2% who will never miss under duress. If there is a miss, however, how many walls are you willing to penetrate? For a homeowner, I still remain convinced a short barreled shotgun is a much better choice. The one time I had to face down a burglar I had a Mossberg 500 loaded with #4 shot. I have zero doubt that it would have ventilated him properly had he not been intimidated enough by it to stop when I commanded him to. With a long gun it is far less likely to miss, and a shotgun is much less likely to make into the next room. Yet it WILL put a perp right down! Different strokes, I suppose- UNTIL projectiles start coming uninvited into MY house! At which juncture some might be inclined to return fire….

        • Phillip Gain

          I got news for you. Any round that has enough energy to penetrate the human body and do damage, ALSO has enough energy to penetrate some wood and drywall. Even your Mossberg with #4 shot.

        • Cartaco

          Sorry but I have shot a 12 gauge inside a house with #4 buck. It went through two walls completely.

  • guest

    I was really hoping to see just a couple of things here.

    Some of us don’t think it’s likely that we’ll get into gunfights with people who are behind light cover, like mailboxes, or wallboard. (why the hell would you even try to engage? be sure of your target and what lies beyond? hello, McFly?) But we are very interested in how ammunition will perform in bare gelatin and after it penetrates four layers of denim.

    We’d have appreciated some exact penetration and expansion numbers, at least for bare jello and clothed jello. The rest of the stuff doesn’t matter so much, as I don’t EXPECT a handgun bullet to perform well after penetrating a car door, and can’t think of a lot of instances since the Second World War where a non-LEO had to return fire against a barricaded perp shooting from behind light cover in the first place.

    • Bubba Smith

      Yeah only the FBI and other LEO are profesional enough to shoot quality ammo

      • Nate Opgenorth

        *Insert video of DEA agent shooting himself in the foot with his “Glock foaty” here* lol

    • john huscio

      How bout an asshole in a car trying to run you down? I’d feel better knowing I have rounds that can get through the windshield and still be able to do its job effectively….

      Also seems that a good penating round would also work well against feral/aggressive dogs and other potential 4 legged threats…..

  • ken

    Informative artricle. However, I missed the F.P.S and the Ft. Lbs. of Energy.

    I currently carry Speer Gold Dot 200 grain + p’s at 1080 F.P.S. and 518 F.Lbs. of Energy.

    See how simple that was?

    • Terry Gizzmo

      good on you

  • AU_LAW

    I carry this in my Kahr CM9 in the 9mm+P loading. While testing it I was very pleased with the reliable feeding. The round is snappy but still controllable. My new favorite carry round.

  • Terry Gizzmo

    I will use Critical Duty
    Critical Defense – not so much.
    Hornady take some advice === dump the Critical Defense and concentrate on the Critical Duty it is good ammo.
    Let me worry about back stops and over penetration … I am an adult

    • ‡Jackson Rulesya‡

      well this is ten months late but you seem typical of the current ammo trend crowd ….. Basically people don’t do the research and seem to forget that every gun treats every ammo differently .. Critical duty ,while marketed for barriers etc , is best used in 5 inch or longer barrels for optimum performance (i.e. duty guns ) . Critical Defense is optimized for sub 5 inch barrels . this was all info available in the pdfs’ when the ammo came out but no one bothered to read it …..
      you see it in all the You tube tests , critical defense performing marginally out of full sized guns compared to Fed or speer and critical duty doing the same out of a compact or sub compact . When they are shot out of the proper length barrel it is a dead on draw between them …funny how everyone forgets to mention that . in the end Hst , gold dots , lawman and the critical series all perform very well … and none of them will matter if you cant hit the target …..

  • MacTex

    Good article – I was looking for just what you told me: was it as good a round as the Critical Duty 9MM +P was, and you answered that. Well done. As to the naysayers – I’d rather have it available on the market/at hand than NOT to have it available. Don’t need, don’t buy, but why rain on other peoples requirement?

    • Bubba Smith

      I agree
      It is good to have it

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