Big-Time Defense: Federal HST Ammo Review
September 27, 2013
In the quest for ammunition perfection, anyone who stands still falls behind. Since Federal has no intention of falling behind, this issue we're looking at its newest offering, the HST. And let's get one rumor out of the way right now: No, it is not an acronym for "Hydra-Shok Two." In fact, it's not an acronym for anything. That's just what Federal chose to call it.
Hydra-Shok is still in the lineup. It works quite well and shoots accurately. If your handgun likes it, why change? Well, there are government agencies, some ammo buyers not on government payrolls and others who practically worship the FBI tests and the results that come from the test. So Federal rolled up its sleeves and worked at achieving better test-result performance than it was getting with the already excellent Hydra-Shok.
The FBI tests score both penetration and expansion. Traditional hollowpoint designs required a trade-off; if you wanted more of one, you had to pay for it with less of the other. What Federal did was develop a patented, improved nose-skiving design- one that produces a measurably large expansion and yet does not cost penetration. Skiving is the technical term for the thickness of the jacket wall and how it is shaped as it approaches the opening of the hollow point.
Minor dimensional changes can bring large changes in results. In the HST, expansion is initiated and timed by the shape of the deep hollowpoint. The dimensions and proportions of the jacket thickness have to be adjusted for each caliber and expected impact velocity. So the apparent size and shape of the hollowpoint on each caliber may differ from the other calibers in the lineup.
How does this magic of gaining both expansion and penetration work? Simple. The FBI measures across the greatest point of expansion, so Federal uses the expanded petals as the measuring points, and the gaps between the expanded petals allow for low enough resistance to penetration- which results in the bullet moving past where it otherwise would have stopped.
When I described this to a fellow club member, his reaction was not exactly scientific. "That's cheating," he said. Well, no, not really. The wider cross-section of the expanded bullet is going to do the terminal ballistic work we all expect, and the gaps will keep it going into the target. That is, after all, what we want, right?
And the FBI does not do this as a special favor for Federal; the FBI rules for the test are applied to all ammunition tested, and other ammunition manufacturers work to take this approach. It's just that Federal and the HST do it so well.
The HST bullets are not bonded. Instead Federal uses a mechanical locking of the jacket to the core. I have not had any jackets come off the cores in testing, nor do I expect to because Federal has done the FBI test dance many times in thoroughly wringing out the HST.
Federal started work on the HST in 2000 and had gotten the various details worked out enough to start offering it to interested law enforcement agencies in 2005. By 2012 the company had production volume up enough and had fine-tuned the design enough that it could begin offering it to the public.
The HST bullet is available in two product lines, one for law enforcement (ammo so marked is distributed through law-enforcement channels) called Law Enforcement Tactical HST and one for the general public labeled Personal Defense HST. The only difference between the two is the packaging and a larger selection of loads on the law enforcement side. Otherwise they're the same bullets, same powders, same nickeled cases.
Personal Defense HST is available in 9mm (124-grain), .40 S&W (180) and .45 ACP (230), and the folks at Federal told us this menu will expand in the future- but right now they have their hands full meeting current demand (like everyone else in the ammo business).
The Law Enforcement Tactical HST lineup includes 9mm and 9mm +P (124, 147), .357 SIG (125), .40 S&W (155, 165, 180), .45 ACP and .45 ACP +P (230); and .45 GAP (230).
All my testing was conducted with standard, non +P loads. For the 9mm, I was curious about the HST working in a sometimes inhospitable environment: the Browning Hi Power. Designed long before 9mm hollowpoints, the P-35 can sometimes be a bit pickyâ€”especially with heavy-bullet 147-grain loads. I dragged out an unmodified pistol that was made in 1983, and I didn't have a single feeding problem with it.
Velocities and expansion were remarkable. For a non +P load, this works like a champ. It has been the expectation of shooters that a 147-grain 9mm bullet will not expand like the 115s or 124s, but the HST proved to be exemplary here.
For the .40, I used an S&W M&P just to see how the HST did in a 4.25-inch barrel. Again, the velocity was quite good for a barrel that is easy to carry, and while the speeds were not up there in rocket-launcher territory, the bullets expanded completely.
In .45 I shot a Kimber, and by now I fully expected good speed and full expansion. The HST load did not let me down in this caliber either.
All the handguns remorselessly gobbled down all the ammo and did not complain in the slightest. Oh, and the accuracy of the HST was as good as any other premium hollowpoint bullet for defense made these days. Not only do you not have to trade expansion to get penetration, but no one has to trade accuracy for either.