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Hornady Critical Defense 9mm Review

Hornady Critical Defense 9mm Review



Hornady is a well-known name in the firearms industry, producing high-quality ammunition and cartridge components in a wide range of calibers. Traditionally associated with a centerfire rifle, rimfire rifle, and shotgun ammunition, the company introduced Critical Defense for those who own centerfire handguns for home defense and concealed carry.

Choosing Your Defense Ammo

When you’re selecting ammunition for personal defense, there are several criteria you need to consider. 


The priority when selecting ammo for your home-defense handgun or CCW (concealed-carry weapon) is functional reliability.

If a cartridge load does not cycle reliably in your weapon, you shouldn’t depend on it to save your life. 

During the break-in period for a new handgun, it’s not uncommon to experience a few stoppages in the first 100-200 rounds of FMJ. However, if this persists with JHP ammo, consider an alternative.


The most important criterion regarding terminal performance is penetration. For a JHP bullet to be effective against a determined human aggressor, it must achieve sufficient penetration to reach and damage vital organs and major blood vessels. This allows the bullet to indirectly disrupt the central nervous system due to blood pressure or blood volume loss. 

Sufficient may be debatable, but the FBI’s standard is a minimum of 12” in 10% calibrated ordnance gelatin. Fifteen inches is considered optimal, as this accounts for possible obstructions and differences in angle of attack. 

For example, your bullet remains adequately penetrative even if it has to pass through the raised forearm or biceps muscle of your assailant. Eighteen inches is considered the maximum in this standard — there are no benefits to additional penetration. 

At the same time, you need to minimize excessive penetration. Ideally, your bullets will remain inside your intended target. Well-known gun writer and firearms instructor Massad Ayoob has recalled incidents where bullets have passed through their intended target and caused injury to bystanders. 


Bullet expansion increases the effective diameter and frontal surface area of the bullet, causes more tissue disruption and controls penetration. As the bullet expands, it transfers more kinetic energy to the target, increasing the volume of the temporary wound cavity. 

Hornaday Critical Defense 9mm Expansion

Hornaady Critical Defense 9mm Expansion

In relatively low-velocity handgun bullets, this wounding mechanism doesn’t cause as much damage to elastic skin, muscle, and lung tissue. However, it can cause more damage to inelastic organs, such as the liver and kidneys. 

Hornady Critical Defense 9mm Review

While Critical Defense ammunition is available in several major calibers, the 9mm Luger round is one of the most popular handgun rounds for home defense and concealed carry. A proper review of Hornady Critical Defense 9mm ammo should detail the components that improve the ammunition’s performance in modern handguns.

Low-flash propellants

Critical Defense ammunition uses propellants designed to burn efficiently in relatively short barrels, reducing the muzzle flash. In low light conditions, the flash from unburnt powder leaving the barrel can compromise your night vision. 

Nickel-plated casings

At the same time, if you need to perform a chamber check when the ambient light is low, the nickel-plated cartridge cases increase momentary visibility. As a bonus, nickel plating resists corrosion, so casings are less likely to become stuck due to fouling or exposure to moisture.

Flex tip bullet

Some JHP bullet designs fail to expand when penetrating a heavy fabric, such as denim, as the nose cavity becomes clogged. This can cause the bullet to behave more like an FMJ (full metal jacket). 

Hornaday Critical Defense FTX Tip

Hornaday Critical Defense FTX Tip

The flex tip bullet, which has a red polymer insert in the nose cavity, is designed to promote reliable expansion, even when passing through heavy clothing.  

Optimized for Defensive Handguns

Critical Defense 9mm ammunition is optimized for concealed-carry weapons, ensuring the round delivers adequate penetration and reliable expansion when fired in short-barreled handguns. This shows in performance tests — the 115-grain FTX bullet consistently meets the FBI standard of 12” of penetration. 

The bullet also expands reliably, even when forced to penetrate four layers of denim; however, some gun owners may find the final expanded diameter inadequate. The diameter of a 9mm bullet, in thousandths of an inch, is .355 caliber. Critical Defense 9mm FTX bullets tend to expand to a diameter between .50 and .55 caliber. 

While this represents an improvement relative to the starting diameter, it’s not as much as some gun owners would prefer. After all, once your bullet penetrates sufficiently, the only way to increase the effectiveness of the ammunition is to increase the diameter of the permanent wound cavity — the hole created by the passage of the bullet.

Critical Defense vs. Critical Duty

Critical Defense contrasts with Critical Duty, which is designed for use by law-enforcement officers. While both types of ammunition are available to private citizens, Critical Duty is optimized for use in full-size service pistols and penetrate barriers more effectively. 

For example, an officer may need to penetrate an automobile’s sheet metal or windshield glass to incapacitate a suspect seeking cover. As a result, Critical Duty uses heavier and more rigidly constructed projectiles.

Training is Critical

Once you’ve selected the defensive ammunition for your weapon, you’ll need to practice with it regularly for the best results. The type of bullet and how it performs doesn’t matter if you can’t place your shots accurately on the target. However, firing your weapon at a stationary target on a clean, well-lit range is not a substitute for taking a tactical or practical defensive shooting course. 

Range practice with JHP ammunition can be expensive, so find a full metal jacket target load that replicates the performance. As 115-grain 9mm loads are common, this shouldn’t prove difficult. 



The Right Weapon Needs the Best Holster

Reliable ammunition is essential to your self-defense firearm, but it’s only part of what you need. At We the People Holsters, we specialize in designing and manufacturing Kydex holsters and leather holsters, so you can carry your handgun in complete confidence. 

Available in either IWB (inside the waistband) or OWB (outside the waistband) configurations, our holsters are built to last in Las Vegas, Nevada. Check out our range of holsters and carry your weapon safely and securely.