August 19, 2020
By James Tarr
Federal recently announced a completely new line of defensive handgun ammo: Punch. It currently includes one load for each of the five most common calibers used for self-defense in America: .380 ACP (85-grain, 1,000 fps); .38 Special +P (120, 1,070); 9mm (124, 1,150); .40 S&W (165, 1,130); and .45 ACP (230, 890). The line features nickel-plated cases, sealed primers, and newly designed hollowpoint bullets.
The Punch line is interesting because prior to it, every type of defensive handgun ammunition made by Federal was developed with law enforcement in mind. Instead, Punch was developed for the commercial market, with carry guns in mind.
Most police agencies these days won’t even look at duty ammo unless it’s guaranteed to pass the rigorous FBI ammunition testing protocol—bullets that penetrate gel blocks 12 to 18 inches no matter the barrier (heavy clothing, drywall, sheet steel and auto glass). However, that performance also comes with a cost.
Federal realized the average CCW holder doesn’t necessarily need ammo built to shoot bad guys inside cars and through walls. Punch features bullets designed to perform well in the FBI protocol tests most likely to be encountered by private citizens in a defensive scenario: bare gel blocks and blocks covered by the FBI-spec heavy clothing. Since the bullets weren’t specifically intended to defeat complicated barriers, Federal could make the core out of softer lead.
This is not downloaded or tailored to provide less recoil in smaller guns. It is full-power ammo. Since it isn’t specifically built to pass the FBI test, the ammo is more affordable than Federal’s other premium defensive product lines.
I was able to get samples of all but the .380 to test, and I evaluated them in both bare gel and with the FBI’s heavy-clothing covering. This includes denim over a layer of cotton/poly sweatshirt material over two layers of cotton shirt material (dress shirt over T-shirt).
Instead of ballistic gelatin I was using Clear Ballistics’ polymer gel blocks, which are designed to provide similar performance to ballistic gel blocks calibrated to FBI specs. It’s similar but not identical. The Federal folks told me that after a lot of testing they’d determined penetration in the Clear Ballistics polymer blocks is up to 10 percent deeper than what you’ll see in calibrated FBI gel blocks. Keep that in mind when you look at my results.
When testing the 9mm, I used a Mossberg MC2c. This concealed-carry pistol has a four-inch barrel and provided a velocity of 1,125 fps with the 124-grain jacketed hollowpoint. Bullet penetration in the bare block was 19 inches. The bullet expanded to 0.53 inch and had 100 percent weight retention—as was the case with everything I tested. They didn’t shed any petals or jackets.
When fired through heavy clothing, the 9mm bullet penetrated 20.5 inches and expanded to 0.60 inch. This is excellent performance.
For the .38 Special +P load, I used the most common type of .38 Special revolver people carry: a snubnose—in this case my S&W J-frame Model 638, which has a 17/8-inch barrel. I got a velocity of 959 fps out of it.
In bare gel the .38 Special +P load penetrated 14.5 inches and expanded nicely to a diameter of 0.50 inch. When shot through heavy clothing, however, the bullet did not expand—and I repeated the test three times. It appears that out of a short snubby barrel this load doesn’t generate enough velocity to expand when shot through heavy clothing. However, the bullets fired through heavy clothing had an average penetration of 21 inches, which is deep enough to reach vital organs.
I tested the .45 and .40 out of five-inch 1911s, a Springfield Armory and a Remington Tomasie Custom respectively. Generally, the longer the barrel the faster the bullet, which should provide more expansion, usually with less penetration.
The .45 ACP bullet, traveling 859 fps, penetrated the bare block 18.25 inches and expanded perfectly to 0.75 inch, with 100 percent weight retention. It didn’t perform as well through heavy clothing, though. I fired three rounds, and penetration was inconsistent, ranging from 15.25 inches to 24.25 inches. That 20-inch average works out to a perfect 18 inches when reduced by the 10 percent I mentioned. Weight retention was 100 percent.
The bullet that penetrated 15.25 inches was the only one of the three showing any expansion, with two of its petals opening up for an expanded diameter of 0.55 inch. Of the other two, one looked ready to reload, and the other showed just a small enlargement of its hollowpoint.
This is not so unusual for standard-weight .45 ACP hollowpoints. They just don’t have the velocity to expand reliably, even out of five-inch barrels. If you’re of the philosophy that .45 ACP bullets don’t necessarily need to expand because they start out at .45, then you won’t care.
The 165-grain .40 S&W bullet had a muzzle velocity of 1,109 fps. In bare block it penetrated 15.75 inches and expanded to 0.63 inch. Through heavy clothing the bullet penetrated 24.5 inches and expanded to 0.62. While the expanded diameters were nearly identical, the bullets did not look alike. The bullet fired into bare gel expanded more, but the petals were bent farther back. Again, weight retention was 100 percent.
All in all, my testing showed that the Federal Punch ammo in every caliber retained 100 percent of its weight and penetrated more than deeply enough to meet the FBI 12-inch minimum. However, in the slower calibers, expansion through heavy clothing was often wanting—although, again, the Clear Ballistics polymer blocks aren’t the same as regulation FBI gelatin blocks.