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Hornady Critical Duty

by J. Scott Rupp   |  December 29th, 2011 8
Critical Duty ammo and guns

Hornady’s Critical Duty ammo has the distinction of being the only ammo ever to have passed all of FBI’s criteria.

Hornady’s new Critical Duty handgun ammunition is the only law-enforcement ammunition that currently exceeds the FBI’s minimum 12-inch standard for target penetration. That’s a bold statement.

To pass, bullets have to penetrate 12 inches into 10 percent ballistic gelatin through five different barriers: heavy winter clothing; dual-layer interior wallboard; 3/4-inch plywood; dual-layer auto-body steel; and laminated auto safety glass set at a 45-degree angle with a 15-degree offset. For the last four barriers, the gel is also fronted with a light clothing layer simulating normal indoor wear. Bullet upset is also measured as a means of wound channel comparison between loads having similar penetration.

Critical Duty sectioned, bullet, loaded ammo

The Critical Duty bullet features a polymer insert to prevent the hollow point from plugging, and the thin jacket is locked to the lead. The case is crimped into a cannelure to prevent bullet set-back.

No expanding-bullet handgun load has ever passed all the penetration tests, and the killer barriers have always been the glass and auto-body steel. But Hornady’s new Critical Duty exceeds the minimum 12-inch penetration standard for all barriers, and by significant amounts. Initial offerings are a 135-grain FlexLock 9mm rated at 1,010 fps, a 135-grain FlexLock 9mm +P rated at 1,110 fps, and a 175-grain FlexLock .40 S&W rated at 1,010 fps—all from four-inch test barrels.

Externally, the Critical Duty FlexLock bullets are virtually identical in appearance to their Critical Defense FTX counterparts except for slight differences in the ogive profiles and an “H” molded into the end of the polymer tip. Internally, they are quite different.

Whereas Critical Defense FTX bullets have a soft lead core and a thin jacket designed with the intent of only being fired through clothing, Critical Duty’s FlexLock bullets have a very heavy jacket and a harder, high-antimony core designed to defeat barriers. The jackets are locked to the core via the same InterLock process the company uses on its centerfire rifle bullets.

Engineering a terminally effective bullet design that will perform as required after breaching a hard barrier but will also perform as required in an unshielded or lightly shielded target is a real trick. Hollow points can get plugged with clothing material, and on targets behind hard-to-penetrate barriers, bullets have to retain enough velocity and momentum to get 12 inches deep, with frontal upset-diameter that will allow sufficient penetration after the barrier slowdown. At the same time, it needs as much upset as possible to create the most effective possible wound channel. If it doesn’t have any frontal upset at all, it will act like a hardball round and can over-penetrate even at a very slow post-barrier velocity.

Critical Duty bullet fired through heavy clothing

Critical Duty 9mm +P fired through heavy clothing.

The Hornady Critical Duty FlexLock bullet balances all these factors by retaining the malleable polymer nose plug of the Critical Defense FTX bullet—which prevents hollowpoint deformation or plugging when passing through clothing and aids in rapid upset—while its harder core and locked-on thicker jacket provide the strength and integrity to breech the harder barriers and still perform as needed in the target on the other side.

Hornady has also taken full advantage of recent advances in propellant technology to power its Critical Duty loads with a

Critical Duty bullet fired through wallboard

Critical Duty 9mm +P fired through wallboard.

low-signature muzzle flash and lower recoil compared to same bullet-weight/same-velocity loads with conventional propellants. The propellant also features an improved burn-rate stability at a wider range of ambient temperatures.

The ogives of the Critical Duty bullets themselves don’t taper as much as bullets such as the company’s hollowpoint and XTP offerings, a characteristic required by the hollowpoint insert that also improves feeding.

The bullets are also cannelured and crimped to avoid bullet

Critical Duty fired through sheet metal

Critical Duty 9mm +P fired through sheet metal.

setback in the case. Most autoloader ammunition is taper-crimped without cannelures, which can allow bullets to be pushed back in their cases if repeatedly chambered and re-chambered in autoloaders.

And finally, the entire Critical Duty line employs shiny silver nickel plated cases because they’re visible in low light and don’t acquire a surface patina that can cause drag and failure to feed or extract.

In testes, the shallowest penetration was the .40 S&W through

Critical Duty fired through auto glass

Critical Duty 9mm +P fired through auto glass.

sheet metal at 13.1 inches. Half of the tests exceeded 15 inches of penetration; three-quarters of the results fell into the 14-inch to 15-inch range, which is ideal from a law-enforcement ammunition perspective. None of the barriers defeated any of the loads.

Weight retention was more than 99 percent for everything but the auto-glass barrier, which is notorious for cutting and stripping away bullet material. Still, the loads averaged 70 percent weight retention in the auto-glass test, and the average post-barrier penetration depth exceeded 14 inches.

In the tests I witnessed, I was also impressed by how well the bullets tracked, regardless of load or barrier.

Hornady’s new Critical Duty ammunition will certainly attract attention from law-enforcement agencies nationwide and armed citizens alike. But it is critically important for an armed citizen to understand that personal defense ammunition standards and law enforcement ammunition standards are not the same.

Police officers may be called upon by their duty to exchange fire with criminals concealed behind walls or inside a vehicle. But for an armed citizen, legally justifiable “personal defense” is just what the term implies: personal. Up close, exposed, face to face.

As the guys at Hornady informally put it: “Critical Defense ammo is for us. Critical Duty ammo is for cops.”

However, Critical Duty will in fact be available to everyone—the only difference being that law enforcement and military will be able to buy the ammo in 50-round boxes while civilians will not. [Editor’s note: In the print version of this article, which appeared in the February/March 2012 issue of Handguns magazine, the paragraph erroneously read that “Critical Defense will in fact be available to everyone…” Critical Defense has been available to civilians since its introduction. We regret the print error.]


  • John

    This irks me. As a citizen who does not have backup and doesn't know when I will be encountering hostile intent, this assumes that I cannot find myself fighting for my life from inside my car, outside the assailant's car, or inside my own home. Much less the fact that I work at a pawn shop and carry all day because we deal in a LOT of cash, gold and diamonds. I think it's reasonable to assume that there is a chance I could need the same performance as a civilian as an officer would in some instances.

    • roughman

      Well, John — just go ahead and buy the critical duty ammo. I just got 10 boxes from J&G, at a good price.

    • Rolando

      I carry this load as well. Go for it. “Know your target and what’s beyond it.” I think that applies more than ever with a round like this.

  • King Ghidora

    I just bought a box of 50 and I'm not a LEO. Hmmm… Will I be arrested now? I won't give up my source. I don't snitch on good guys. ;)

  • Jon

    You don't have to be a LEO to purchase, carry or shoot Hornady Critical Duty, They are simply using it as a marketing tool for Law Enforcement Agencies. It is available for civilian purchase at your local gun shop or outdoor retailer such as Gander Mountain. The only thing that I would worry about in the event of a self defense shooting as the prosecutor saying you were out looking for trouble and carry "Law Enforcement Ammo", I personally carry it because I have a degree in criminal Justice from Indiana University and I studied bullet forensics and I am impressed by the Critical Duty performance. In my opinion if the round is good enough for the FBI its good enough for me to protect myself, my family, my friends and my home.

  • J. P.

    I live in Wisconsin. Is the law clear on the use of this ammunition? I carry with the Critical Duty but worry I might have trouble after a self-defense incident due to the ammunition I used.

  • R.C.

    what if you are in a fire fight in your house and you can't escape. It is only right that i have the best ammo possible to engage the criminal. wall board and other objects might come into consideration in this case!

  • Jack Pulver

    I find it a little ironic that one piece of metal work is used to test another. Then again, that's one surefire way to test penetrating power.

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