September 11, 2023
Bill Wilson isn’t the type of fellow to let grass grow under his feet. Although he’s best known for producing premium-quality 1911 pistols, that’s only one of Wilson’s many ventures. In addition to his 1911s, Bill Wilson also offers customized pistols from other makers along with some of the best ARs available today. He’s working on combat shotguns as part of the Scattergun Technologies brand that he owns, and he recently acquired New Ultralight Arms.
Wilson added to his portfolio of brands in late 2021 with the acquisition of Lehigh Defense, an ammunition manufacturer founded in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, by Dave Fricke. Along with partners Pete Vogel and Mike Cyrus, Lehigh developed a following with its solid copper and brass bullets.
In 2009 the company boosted its profile when it partnered with Black Hills Ammunition to develop a new monolithic bullet for the military that would transfer energy effectively without breaking apart or failing in barriers.
Lehigh accomplished this by creating a copper bullet with an X-shaped solid nose. Upon impact, the bullet penetrated in a direct line without clogging, and the X-nose design imparted massive amounts of hydrostatic shock into the target while penetrating in a straight line. Lehigh called it the Fluid Transfer Monolithic bullet, but most of the world knows it as Black Hills’ Honey Badger.
This same bullet is at the heart of two of Lehigh Defense’s defensive handgun loads: the XD and the XP. These are currently available in five calibers at ShopWilsonCombat.com: .380 Auto, 9mm Luger, .40 S&W, 10mm Auto, .45 ACP.
What’s the difference between XD and XP? The FBI upper limit for ballistic gel penetration is 18 inches. A 115-grain XP 9mm bullet traveling from a five-inch barrel at 1,100 fps travels more than 30 inches through gel, according to Lehigh’s data.
To keep penetration within FBI protocols, Lehigh developed the XD. The 9mm XD load uses a lighter 90-grain bullet at 1,300 fps, and this bullet stops at the 18-inch mark in ordnance gel and therefore meets FBI requirements. The XD also creates a larger wound channel, imparting all its energy into the target instead of carrying excess energy through the target.
The other benefit of XP/XD bullet design is that unlike traditional hollowpoints with open nose cavities, the Lehigh bullet won’t clog when it encounters a barrier. These bullets truly are barrier blind.
The XD is designed for personal defense because it lands within FBI testing protocol. Why, then, would the XP exist?
According to Lehigh’s Mike Cyrus, the XP is designed for outdoor enthusiasts, specifically for hunters and those who carry a pistol for bear defense. I don’t know about a 9mm’s ability to stop a brown bear, but when you’re operating in black bear country a 9mm sidearm stacked with 115-grain XP bullets would be a sensible choice.
A black bear’s dense fur, thick hide and heavy layer of fat are all likely to clog a hollow-nose 9mm bullet. Then XP bullet’s monolithic nose and 30-plus inches of straight-line penetration make it more effective choice for stopping bears than standard hollowpoints, and the nose design creates a larger wound channel and more hydrostatic shock than a conventional solid or full metal jacket.
I had the opportunity to test four of Lehigh’s new XD and XP handgun loads chambered in 9mm Luger in addition to the XD in 10mm Auto and .45 ACP. As with its own branded ammunition Wilson places a sticker on the box indicating the barrel length for which the load is optimized and from which the velocity figures were obtained. For the .380 Auto it’s 3.8 inches, and for the XD 9mm load it’s four inches. Barrel length for the remaining loads is five inches.
The ammunition is built with quality components: premium brass, clean-burning propellants and reliable primers. There are multiple quality-control checks to verify that the finished product is of the highest quality, and all the loads I tested functioned without issue.
The XD 9mm load was tested out of a a Glock G19 Gen 3 with four-inch barrel, and the remainder were tested with Government model 1911s.
My LabRadar showed the Lehigh velocities to be very close to advertised numbers, and standard deviations were below 15 fps for each one. The .45 ACP load, for instance, is rated at 1,250 fps, and the first three shots produced velocities of 1,249, 1,248 and 1,255 fps.
Other loads proved similarly consistent, and accuracy was good—although accuracy wasn’t my biggest consideration when testing this ammunition. However, all proved accurate enough for defensive work to 25 yards.
What I was more interested in, though, was function, consistency and performance in gel. For gel testing I used a Clear Ballistics gel block measuring 18 inches in length. Clear Ballistics gel is not the same as the ordnance gel the FBI uses, but it’s close. I fired and when possible recovered projectiles from the 9mm, .45 and 10mm loads.
Capturing the XD 9mm bullets wasn’t an issue because both came to a stop an inch or so before the end of the ballistic gel. The XP, as expected, passed completely through.
One of the .45s stopped in the block, but the other zipped directly through. Both 10mm loads exited the gel and struck a dead tree behind it. Sometimes I can recover pass-throughs in this tree, but I was unable to find either 10mm. Again, Clear Ballistics isn’t ordnance gel, so results should be taken for what they are.
Every recovered bullet retained 100 percent of its weight, and all bullets penetrated in an almost pencil-straight line. The recovered bullets looked almost identical to unfired bullets save for the black rifling twists from the barrel.
For the most part, despite its top-shelf performance Lehigh ammunition is not priced higher than other premium loads. The average price of high-quality 9mm defensive ammunition is between $1.40 and $1.50 a round at the moment, and ShopWilsonCombat.com lists the 9mm 90-grain XD load at $29 for 20, or $1.45 per round. The XP deep penetration 115-grain 9mm load sells for $36, about $1.80 per round.
At $1.77 per round, the 10mm load costs less than Winchester’s USA Ready Defense and Federal’s HST but more than Remington Golden Saber and SIG’s V-Crown. The 135-grain Lehigh XD .45 ACP load costs $1.87 per round, splitting the difference between Federal’s HST and Winchester PDX-1 Defender.
The new Wilson/Lehigh marriage is likely to be good for both brands, and it will certainly be good for shooters. This ammunition is effective, accurate and competitively priced.
It’s also available. All loads were in stock at press time, so you won’t have to wait weeks or months for premium defense ammunition.
Who knows what’s next for Bill Wilson and his brands that offer premium products for just about every shooting discipline? Biathlon, perhaps?