Hornady Critical Defense Ballistic Test

I actually really enjoy TNOutdoors’ videos on ballistic testing. He keeps his methods clear, his testing is simple and easily understood by the layman. In this video, he tests one of my favorite rounds, the Hornady Critical Defense.

In my testing, I’ve found Critical Defense to have two very desirable properties for a handgun round: extreme accuracy, and low recoil/muzzle flash. I use the Critical Defense as my “go-to” accuracy testing load, and it’s also my match round for Bianchi Cup and IDPA. It will consistently shoot tight groups out of most guns, and as TN Outdoors demonstrates, it will also penetrate up to 16 inches in gel after defeating 4 layer denim. The ClearBallistics block usually shows deeper penetration than 10% ordnance gel, but other tests have it reaching the FBI standard of 12 inches and expanding after defeating 4 layers of denim.

Our two most common test platforms for Critical Defense are 9mm and .38 Special +P, in 9mm the round offers a light shooting defensive round that is comfortable to shoot out of the smallest micro 9mm pistols. When fired out of full size 9mm guns, it’s just like shooting 115 grain FMJ in terms of recoil and muzzle flip. Just a great round.

We get the same result when using the .38 Special +P round, which utilizes a 110 grain FTX bullet. It’s very accurate, extremely reliable, and has almost no muzzle flip or felt recoil. Here’s that round in action out of a 4 inch GP100:

Penetration from the .38 load varies wildly depending on the gun used. I’ve seen numbers as low as 8 inches from snub nosed guns all the way up to 14 inches from larger guns. Hornady Critical Defense is also available in .40 S&W, .357 Sig (if you’re a silly man), .357 Magnum with a 125 grain bullet, and .45 ACP. Those are the mainstream calibers, according to the Hornady website it’s also available in some oddball stuff like .45 Colt and 10mm, you can see a complete list here.

If the first rule of gunfighting is “have a gun” then the 2nd rule is “have ammo in your gun.” Of course, Rule 1a is “Have a good gun,” which would make Rule 2a: “Have quality ammo.” Based on independent ballistics tests and our own personal use, Hornady Critical Defense would definitely qualify as “good” ammo.


  1. There is also the new Critical Duty Line with further advancements; I especially like the 135+p 9mm. Works very nicely in my Sig P938 with Hogue Rubber Grip. Have also had good results with the Critical Defense 380 in my Ruger LCP.

    1. I’ve not had the chance to really test the Critical Duty round, based on my experience with Hornady ammo I’d expect it to be quite accurate though.

  2. More and more of a Hornady fan everyday, I’m running Critical Defense in my .44 Special Bulldog, and the FTX in my .25, Now just might change from the Gold Dot .38 +p in my Security Six to the .38 +p due to this article, That’s the gun my wife depends on at home if I don’t have it out in the forests with me. Thinking hard about changing from my ever faithful Cor-Bon 115 +p 9mm to Critical Duty for my Glock 17, hmm, food for thought

    1. Curious for the reason to change, are you not satisfied with the results from those rounds? Is it the Polymer plug advantage or the generally less expensive cost per round of the Hornady product?

      1. Yea, the plug largely, good dependable performance, at least in tests, the ammo protecting my wife will always be something I will look for the top performance in. As for my 9? I live in a part of the States where temperature extremes are the norm and light to very heavy clothing will be a factor, like the 38 ammo.

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