I’ve been experimenting with making my own hollow-point bullets, or to be more precise, modifying existing bullets to make them effective defensive ammo. It’s kind of a thought experiment, like ‘What if there were a pandemic, people panicked and bought up all of the defensive ammo and defensive bullets for reloading, at the same time that the people that make those things weren’t working, so they wouldn’t, like, get sick?’ I know, I know, crazy, right? Anyway…
One type of bullet was still in stock at Pinto’s, and relatively affordable- Xtreme Bullets 9mm 115gr. CPHPs. I bought a thousand of them. They are great bullets; the copper plating is more like a thin metal jacket than most plated bullets, they are precisely made and re-sized after plating. Fantastic consistency and accuracy, but there is a thing they don’t do; they don’t expand at standard 9mm velocities. To be fair they aren’t meant to; these are target bullets, and Xtreme is very up-front about this. My goal was to see if I could change that in a way that was effective and yielded consistent results.
I got some 5/32″ music wire and turned the end down into what seemed a good shape, then used a 9mm de-capping/resizing die to mount it. I had a flat plate that I had turned for reshaping brass that fits into my reloading press’s ram, so I set the bullet on that and ran it up into the die. After some experimentation to get the correct dept I was in business, swaging defensive hollow-points from the 115gr Xtreme bullets.
I loaded these over 4.9gr. of Universal with a Federal magnum small pistol primer (standard small pistol primers being sold out) and tested them at the range. They flew straight and produced nice, tight groups, so that was something. Then I fired them over a chronograph, through four layers of denim and into an FBI-spec block of Clear Ballistics gel. The load produced an average velocity of 1170 fps. for 350 ft./lbs of energy. So far so good. Time to have a look at the block.
The result was far from ideal, but promising. As you can see in the photo expansion commenced between 1-1/4 to 1-1/2″ pf penetration, but then the bullet over-expanded and fragmented. The base, weighing 85 gr., streamlined at 10-11″ and penetrated 19″ into the 20″ block and stopped. OK, that’s better performance than ball, but not by any means good. The base had expanded to an average diameter of .4″.
Subsequent test shots duplicated this performance. I had achieved a defensive round that was arguably better than FMJ ball ammunition in that it created more damage and had less penetration, but I was not satisfied. Time to up my game.
Someone online recommended that I use a 5.56mm/.223 de-capping/resizing die, and I found a set cheap on eBay. When it arrived I shortened and modified the de-capping pin and experimented. I got what I felt was a good shape and length, but it was splitting to plating so I narrowed it down slightly. Pretty soon I was producing bullets.
I should mention that I was not much concerned with producing a bunch of bullets that didn’t work; they were still good for target practice, so they didn’t go to waste. I had to wait to test them in gel because the block was getting pretty shot-up. I recast the block to a 16″ length, which isn’t ideal, but sometimes you just have to make do.
As per my .32 S&W Long tests the backstop was layered cardboard, followed by pine 4x4s and two layers of 3/4″ marine plywood. Shots were fired at ten feet, through four layers of denim and into the block. Wound tracks were based on the full length of the damage rather than the resting place of the bullet; bullets sometimes bounce back in this medium. As it turned out this was irrelevant for the second test… I didn’t bother with the chronograph since I had already clocked the load. The results were better than the previous load, but as you can see below not quite right…
The first shot passed through the 16″ block, dented the cardboard and spun out from between the block and cardboard. The second shot also passed through the block and lodged in the third, fourth and fifth layers of cardboard. I think we can safely say this equates to an average of 16-17″ of penetration the two bullets. Expansion was reasonable, but asymmetric in both bullets, and I don’t know why. The bullets do not keyhole as far out as 25 yards, but it’s possible they are right on the razor’s-edge of instability and are yawing as they hit the denim.
The photos of the wound-channels did not turn out, so I’ll have to describe them. The bullets expanded immediately on penetration, producing a wound-track approximately 3/4″ to 1″, which extended 6-7″ deep in the gel before gradually reducing to about .4″ at 12″ of depth, and they never fully streamlined before exiting the block. Despite the asymmetric expansion that is not too shabby. While not a perfect result there is no doubt in my mind that these would be effective. No, they aren’t a +P Speer Gold Dot, but they beat the hell out of ball ammo and rival many commercial products. Not bad for a bloke in his home work-shop.
I expect I’ll continue to fuss with these and see if I can refine them, but honestly they already work better than I expected. OK, before someone addresses the pro’s and con’s of using hand-loaded ammunition for self defense, let alone the horror of using bullets modified to be more effective, this is just an experiment. I’m not going into production here, just exploring what it is possible to accomplish. The conventional wisdom is that one should only use commercial ammo for self-defense to avoid potential legal repercussions, and I am not going to argue against that opinion.
So, qualified success. Stay safe out there.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 17 August 2020