October 14, 2013
By Patrick Sweeney
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.