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Tactical Briefs #9, September 1998

Speer Gold Dot Personal Defense Handgun Ammunition

We contacted CCI-Speer a couple of months ago to request ordnance gelatin performance test data for their Speer Gold Dot personal defense handgun ammunition. We explained that although we already had the FBI’s test data for Gold Dot we felt the data applied mostly to full-size law enforcement duty-type handguns, which have barrel lengths of 4 - 5 inches. We pointed out to Speer that the U.S. civilian personal defense handgun market is evolving from large, duty-size handguns to small, compact handguns because several states have recently passed "shall issue" concealed-carry handgun licensing laws, as well as Federal law limiting magazine capacity. Therefore the FBI’s data doesn’t provide a very good indication of how Gold Dot ammunition could be expected to perform out of compact handguns with barrel lengths less than 4 inches.

To our pleasant surprise Speer’s Law Enforcement Director, Mr. Russell Ellis, invited us to Lewiston, Idaho to test Gold Dot ammunition for ourselves. Speer would provide the ordnance gelatin, ammunition, and appropriate test facilities. Also, we’d get a tour of the CCI-Speer manufacturing facility.

We explained to Mr. Ellis that we were interested in evaluating the performance of compact handgun/ammunition combinations because there is a general lack of valid data for concealed carry handgun ammunition performance. Also, we wanted to test Gold Dot ammunition in accordance with the IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification. He said Speer could accommodate our wishes.

This was an offer that just couldn’t be refused and we made arrangements to visit CCI-Speer in early August.

When the International Wound Ballistics Association began developing its IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification, Speer was one of three ammunition manufacturing companies who participated. The other two were Remington and Winchester.

The IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification was developed as an alternative to the FBI Ammunition Tests protocol. The IWBA feels the FBI test program has led to the unfortunate development of handgun bullets that do not expand after passing through heavy clothing. This is due to the FBI’s insistence on testing bullets against various barrier materials (automotive grade sheet metal, drywall, plywood, and laminated automotive windshield glass). The overwhelming majority of bullets designed to perform well in the FBI test program tend to suffer expansion failures when heavy clothing is encountered. This is a common performance deficiency that seems to universally afflict all cartridges across the board.

The IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification involves two test events: 1) bare gelatin, and 2) gelatin covered by four layers of 16 ounce denim cloth. The denim cloth is not intended to simulate any specific article or articles of clothing that might be worn by a criminal adversary. Instead it is meant to provide a stressing but reasonable test of a bullet’s ability to expand after passing through cloth.

Speer has recently begun marketing a new, improved Gold Dot bullet design that performs very well in both the FBI Ammunition Tests and the IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification. The new Gold Dot bullet design can be identified by the six serrations around the rim of the hollowpoint cavity (the original Gold Dot bullet had eight serrations). Also, the new design uses nickel plated cases.

Speer has quietly been increasing its share of the law enforcement handgun ammunition market. This is being accomplished not by aggressive marketing hype, but by simply manufacturing a good product and letting its performance speak for itself. Speer hosts regional wound ballistics workshops and invites interested law enforcement agencies to test their current duty issue handgun ammunition side-by-side against Gold Dot. Speer provides all the test equipment: chronograph, standard gelatin blocks, test stand, and the materials needed to conduct all eight FBI Ammunition Tests events (and 16 ounce denim fabric to support testing in accordance with the IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification). Law enforcement agencies need only supply interested personnel, duty handgun(s), and current duty ammunition. According to Steve Jenkins, Speer’s Law Enforcement Coordinator, the Speer representatives simply stand back and let Gold Dot sell itself.

One day was not enough to permit us to test all the handgun/cartridge combinations we wanted, but the testing we accomplished answered basic questions, as follows:

2-inch .38 snubs
There seems to be no JHP bullet cartridge that is capable of providing a reasonable balance of adequate penetration and reliable expansion. A bullet that expands will not penetrate deeply enough, whereas a bullet that does not expand will probably overpenetrate.

As a result, we feel the best cartridge for .38 snubbies is the 148 grain wadcutter target load. (MacPherson, Duncan: Bullet Penetration, Ballistic Publications, El Segundo, California, 1994. p. 247, Figure 10-2 Cylinder Bullet Penetration Depth.) The sharp-edged shoulder of the full wadcutter design provides the best penetration and wounding efficiency for this gun/cartridge combination.

Speer offers a total metal jacket (FMJ) 148 grain wadcutter in its Lawman line of ammunition. As opposed to a lead wadcutter, the shoulder of the Speer copper-jacketed bullet is more likely to retain its sharp shoulder on impact. The downside of the Speer bullet is the less sensitive "Cleanfire primer" which may not provide reliable cartridge ignition in guns that have had trigger work, a lighter mainspring installed, or bobbed hammer.

.25 ACP
The Gold Dot design expands quite consistently, but the bullets penetrate between 7 - 8 inches. This is inadequate penetration. This is not a condemnation of the Gold Dot bullet, all expanding .25 ACP bullets exhibit inadequate penetration.

We recommend a 50 grain full metal jacket bullet. Although the aerodynamic design of the semi-pointed FMJ bullet does not wound as efficiently as an expanding bullet, an FMJ bullet will at least penetrate deeply enough to reliably reach, and crush a hole in, vital tissues from any shooting engagement angle.

.32 ACP
All expanding JHP bullets in this caliber demonstrate inadequate penetration performance. Test results for the Gold Dot JHP substantiate our claim that the 71 grain FMJ bullet is the best choice for personal defense.

We feel a truncated cone-shaped FMJ bullet would provide the best combination of adequate penetration and wounding efficiency for both .32 ACP and .25 ACP. The truncated cone-shape is more efficient in crushing a larger diameter permanent cavity than a semi-pointed round nose-shape. Sadly FMJ-TC bullets are not available in these two calibers.

An informal test of a modified .32 ACP 60 grain Gold Dot JHP demonstrated ideal penetration results in ordnance gelatin. The bullet was modified to inhibit expansion by plugging the hollow cavity, effectively turning the bullet into an FMJ-TC.

9mm compact handguns
The 147 grain Gold Dot demonstrated very good expansion, and we were impressed with its expanded diameter after passing though four layers of 16 ounce denim. We suspect the reason why the 147 grain Gold Dot expanded so well after penetrating the denim cloth is because it has a deeper hollow cavity than the 124 grain +P bullet. Unfortunately when testing the 147 grain cartridge we didn't record the penetration depth of the calibration BB in our notes. Regretfully, we are unable to provide anything other than an approximate penetration depth. But the expansion results can be considered valid.

For those of you who just cannot bring yourself to use a 147 grain bullet, the 124 grain +P Gold Dot would also be a good choice for personal defense. However this particular cartridge is difficult to locate. It is packaged in 50 round boxes for law enforcement sales, but it is not restricted by Speer. If you don't want to go through all the trouble to obtain Speer's 124 grain +P Gold Dot, another good choice for compact 9mm handguns is Remington's 124 grain Golden Saber +P.

We also tested Federal’s new 9mm 135 grain Personal Defense HydraShok JHP cartridge. In bare gelatin this bullet demonstrated inadequate penetration performance when fired out of a compact handgun. In denim covered gelatin we obtained one good hit out of three test shots, and this doesn’t provide enough data for a valid determination of its performance. But given its inadequate performance in bare gelatin, we decided against any further testing.

We’ve contacted Federal several times in attempt to obtain gelatin performance data for their Personal Defense line of ammunition (both handgun and shotgun). Federal has stonewalled us during our attempts to obtain this information via telephone request, and they have not responded to our written requests. As a result, we advise you to steer clear of Federal’s Personal Defense ammunition until there is valid performance data from a reputable source.

We have no qualms about offering the following general personal defense recommendations for Speer’s Gold Dot handgun ammunition:

9mm
If your handgun has a barrel length of 4 inches or longer, consider either the standard 124 grain Gold Dot JHP or the 147 grain Gold Dot JHP.

If your handgun has a barrel length less than 4 inches, consider the 147 grain Gold Dot JHP or the 124 grain +P JHP.

.40 S&W
If your handgun has a barrel length of 4 inches or longer, consider either the 180 grain Gold Dot JHP or the 165 grain Gold Dot JHP. (Speer no longer manufactures a medium-velocity 165 grain Gold Dot cartridge.)

If your handgun has a barrel length less than 4 inches, consider the 165 grain Gold Dot JHP.

.45 ACP
If your handgun has a barrel length of 4 inches or longer, consider the 230 grain Gold Dot JHP.

If your handgun has a barrel length less than 4 inches, consider the 200 grain Gold Dot JHP.

We feel, based on the documented performance of the new design, Gold Dot is an excellent all-season bullet. It exhibits very good performance, both in bare gelatin and in denim covered gelatin. It appears that Gold Dot will perform nearly as well during the winter months against heavy clothing as during the summer months when lighter clothing is normally encountered.

During our visit to CCI-Speer, we tested six Gold Dot cartridges and one Federal Personal Defense cartridge. The results of our testing is as follows:

Speer 9mm 124 grain Gold Dot JHP +P:

Test Gun Barrel Length Velocity

Bare Gelatin

Denim Covered Gelatin

Penetration Expansion Penetration Expansion

Star M43 Firestar

3.4" 1155 fps 13.2" 0.62" 16.1" 0.53"
Notes:   BB calibration velocity 588 fps/penetration 7.0 cm.  Penetration and expansion values listed are three shot averages per test event.  Penetration depths listed are corrected [MacPherson, Duncan: "A Simplified Penetration Depth Correction for Data Taken in Non-Standard Gelatin." Wound Ballistics Review 2(2); 41-45, 1995.]   Click here to view recovered bullets.

Speer 9mm 124 grain Gold Dot JHP:

Test Gun Barrel Length Velocity

Bare Gelatin

Denim Covered Gelatin

Penetration Expansion Penetration Expansion

Star M43 Firestar

3.4" 1068 fps 12.6" 0.59" 17.5" 0.51"
Notes:   BB calibration velocity 583 fps/penetration 9.8 cm.  Penetration and expansion values listed are three shot averages per test event.  Denim Shot #3 exited gelatin block after penetrating 16 inches.  Penetration depths listed are corrected [MacPherson, Duncan: "A Simplified Penetration Depth Correction for Data Taken in Non-Standard Gelatin." Wound Ballistics Review 2(2); 41-45, 1995.]  Click here to view recovered bullets.

Federal 9mm 135 grain Personal Defense HydraShok JHP:

Test Gun Barrel Length Velocity

Bare Gelatin

Denim Covered Gelatin

Penetration Expansion Penetration Expansion

Star M43 Firestar

3.4" 974 fps 9.6" 0.62" ? .51"
Notes:   BB calibration velocity 588 fps/penetration 10.6 cm.  Penetration and expansion values listed are three shot averages per test event.  Bare gelatin shot #1 exited block.  Denim Shot #2 skidded between test stand and gelatin block, came to rest after penetrating 14.4 inches, and was invalidated.  Denim shot #3 exited block.   Penetration depths listed are corrected [MacPherson, Duncan: "A Simplified Penetration Depth Correction for Data Taken in Non-Standard Gelatin." Wound Ballistics Review 2(2); 41-45, 1995.]  Click here to view recovered bullets.

Speer 9mm 147 grain Gold Dot JHP (uncalibrated gelatin):

Test Gun Barrel Length Velocity

Bare Gelatin

Denim Covered Gelatin

Penetration Expansion Penetration Expansion

Star M43 Firestar

3.4" 924 fps ~14.8" 0.57" ~14.7" 0.55"
Notes:   BB calibration velocity 588 fps/penetration depth verified but not recorded.  Penetration depth values listed are three shot averages per test event.  Penetration depths are approximate due to incomplete BB calibration data.  Click here to view recovered bullets.

Speer .32 ACP 60 grain Gold Dot JHP:

Test Gun Barrel Length Velocity

Bare Gelatin

Denim Covered Gelatin

Penetration Expansion Penetration Expansion

Beretta M3032 Tomcat

2.4" 827 fps 7.3" 0.49" Not tested Not tested
Notes:   BB calibration velocity 596 fps/penetration 9.5 cm.  Penetration and expansion values listed are five shot averages.  Shot #5 hit stand and was invalidated.   Penetration depth listed is corrected [MacPherson, Duncan: "A Simplified Penetration Depth Correction for Data Taken in Non-Standard Gelatin." Wound Ballistics Review 2(2); 41-45, 1995.]  Click here to view recovered bullets.

Speer .25 ACP 35 grain Gold Dot JHP:

Test Gun Barrel Length Velocity

Bare Gelatin

Denim Covered Gelatin

Penetration Expansion Penetration Expansion

Beretta M20

2.4" 861 fps 7.8" 0.35" Not tested Not tested
Notes:   BB calibration velocity 596 fps/penetration 9.5 cm.  Penetration and expansion values listed are five shot averages.  Shot #5 exhibited asymmetrical (uneven) expansion and was invalidated.  Penetration depth listed is corrected [MacPherson, Duncan: "A Simplified Penetration Depth Correction for Data Taken in Non-Standard Gelatin." Wound Ballistics Review 2(2); 41-45, 1995.]  Click here to view recovered bullets.

Speer .38 Special 125 grain Gold Dot JHP (sample non-production load):

Test Gun Barrel Length Velocity

Bare Gelatin

Denim Covered Gelatin

Penetration Expansion Penetration Expansion

S&W M60

2.0" 796 fps 9.6" 0.61" Not tested Not tested
Notes:   BB calibration velocity 583 fps/penetration 10.2 cm.  Penetration and expansion values listed are five shot averages.  Penetration depth listed is corrected [MacPherson, Duncan: "A Simplified Penetration Depth Correction for Data Taken in Non-Standard Gelatin." Wound Ballistics Review 2(2); 41-45, 1995.]  Click here to view recovered bullets.

Ordnance Gelatin Calibration

To ensure bullet penetration results are accurate ordnance gelatin must be calibrated immediately before use. This is accomplished by firing a .177 caliber steel BB into each and every gelatin block at a chronographed velocity of 590 fps and measuring the penetration depth of the BB. The calibration standard is 8.5 cm of BB penetration. Gelatin that meets this calibration standard is referred to as standard gelatin.

This calibration standard was determined by Martin L. Fackler, M.D., a Colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps when he was assigned to the U.S. Army Wound Ballistics Laboratory, Letterman Army Institute of Research, Presidio of San Francisco, California. Fackler established a BB penetration calibration range of 8.5 cm ± 0.8 cm that permitted a penetration accuracy of within 10 percent, as compared to results observed in living soft tissue.

Unfortunately many gelatin blocks cast for bullet testing do not meet this stringent calibration standard, and this creates a troubling situation for researchers. Discarding non-standard blocks of gelatin is extremely costly, whereas the use of substandard gelatin does not produce accurate data.

In the early 1990’s, Duncan MacPherson, an engineering consultant and member of the IWBA Board of Directors, performed extensive research about tissue simulants used in wound ballistics studies and published a book, "Bullet Penetration -- Modeling the Dynamics and the Incapacitation Resulting from Wound Trauma." As a result of his research MacPherson developed a method for correction of bullet penetration data measured in non-standard gelatin to the penetration in standard gelatin, with an accuracy of approximately 3 percent. Since 1995, Fackler’s BB penetration calibration range of 7.7 cm - 9.3 cm (8.5 cm ± 0.8 cm) has been considered obsolete.

As you can see in the preceding article about Speer Gold Dot ammunition, the quality of the gelatin we used did not meet the 8.5 cm calibration standard. BB penetration among the various gelatin blocks we used measured from 7.0 cm to 10.6 cm. We used MacPherson’s simplified method to calculate individual bullet penetration corrections ranging from 3/8-inch to almost 1˝-inches.

When gelatin is not calibrated it’s impossible to determine the validity of the data. Keep this in mind the next time you read an article in which ordnance gelatin is used to study bullet performance. Look for evidence that the author calibrated his gelatin. If photographs of gelatin blocks with bullets shot into them are published with the article, look for the telltale presence of a BB in each of the blocks used. (The BB should be located about 3-4 inches from the front edge of the block). If the photo shows several gelatin blocks lined up end-to-end every block should have a BB in it. It is common for authors to claim they’ve calibrated their gelatin (usually citing the obsolete specification of 8.5 cm ± 0.8 cm), however it is uncommon for gelatin blocks to meet this exacting calibration standard.

A good researcher/author will publish his ordnance gelatin calibration data (BB velocity and penetration). Unfortunately many authors are unaware of this calibration requirement and simply shoot bullets into a generic "10 percent ordnance gelatin at 39 degrees Fahrenheit," thinking this is good enough.


Anatomically Correct Life-Size Human Silhouette Targets

Law Enforcement Targets, Inc., is offering its new ANT-5 anatomical silhouette paper target. The target was expertly conceived and developed by Brian Puharic, who is an NRA certified firearms/personal protection instructor and Pennsylvania certified paramedic.

The target is very well designed and executed. Its dimensions are 30" x 48" and the life-size human-form silhouette is 28" x 43". The silhouette is printed on standard target paper in dark blue ink. Major vital organs and anatomic structures are outlined in a subdued medium blue. This clever color scheme makes the low-visibility "vital organs" very difficult to see at distances of about 3 yards and beyond, depending on lighting conditions. Shooters cannot "key" on specific organs to target. All that is readily visible is the blue human-shape silhouette.

Brian explains the background and concept behind his target design:

"A friend owns a gun shop and looking through his catalogs, I was unable to find a target that showed the vital organs for firearms training purposes. It being only realistic that the best way to neutralize or terminate a threat is to strike it where it would be most effective in the least amount of time. So one day I sat down at my computer and designed it.

"I spoke to Jeff Brown, the owner of Law Enforcement Targets about the idea. He liked the idea and after a few revisions, the idea and target was born.

"So, that's how the target came into being. Along with my love of shooting and my interest in tactical paramedicine."

Brian sent us a couple of targets for examination. We feel the target is a superb training aid to help self-defense shooters learn about good shot placement. It provides excellent feedback about the potential wounding effects of hits.

In 1994, we were involved in a study with the Bremerton, Washington Police Department that attempted to quantify differences in wounding effectiveness between conventional jacketed hollowpoint bullets and the Winchester Black Talon JHP bullet. The study utilized the Speedwell B21-PC silhouette target that was modified by stenciling a depiction of major cardiovascular structures on the reverse side, where it would not be visible to law enforcement officers involved in the study. The ANT-5 target is a vast improvement over our primitive "anatomically correct" design.

We suggest the ANT-5 target be scored as follows:

Hits to the brain and cervical spinal cord of the neck are value "10" hits.

Hits to the heart or major blood vessels are value "9" hits.

Hits to any other vital organs or internal structures are value "8" hits.

Hits anywhere else on the silhouette are value "7" hits.

Missing the silhouette altogether is worth "0" points.

This simple scoring system is based on achieving the highest score possible for the number of shots fired. Value "10" hits are considered instantly incapacitating. Value "9" hits will produce certain and reliable incapacitation, but will take time. Value "8" hits involve other vital organs and major structures, and the results of these hits are uncertain. Value "7" hits are non-dynamic hits and will not force an assailant to stop. Any hit to a value "8" scoring zone or higher is a good hit.

Unfortunately, the ANT-5 target has not yet been added to Law Enforcement Targets’ on-line catalog, but it can be currently ordered. We’ve included a link to Brian’s web site that has an image of his prototype target design. (The ANT-5 target has smaller internal organ index numbers, and the internal organs are harder to see.) If you’re interested in purchasing the ANT-5 target, Brian has links on his web site to Law Enforcement Targets, Inc.

Click here to view the ANT-5 prototype target.

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