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Sunday, June 04, 2006

"Jethro Lab" & the .45 ACP

On a couple of boards I frequent, there has been much recent discussion lately concerning whether some of the lower-priced .45 ACP hollow-points are worthy of consideration for defensive use. I have carried guns in this caliber for about 30 years now. The past 23 of those have found me carrying it regularly as a duty gun, which has also made me privy to then-new developments in duty/defensive ammunition. I was fortunate to have an 'early look' at several rounds when they were introduced, and in the interests of intelligent duty ammo selection, I got to shoot a number of them into various expansion medium like wet phone books, water, etc.

I have also spent days reviewing shooting reports and autopsy results, and I'm a handgun hunter too. I have had a pretty good look at what handgun (and rifle, and shotgun) ammo does when it hits living organisms. To say that I have a vested interest in matters of terminal ballistics would be an understatement. So when the issue of bulk .45 JHP's came up, it caught my interest and I decided to try some of them against big-name JHP's. I'm an old '1911 man' and have long held the opinion that the .45 ACP is at it's best with bullets of 230 grains- so that’s what I tested. The four rounds are annotated in the photo, and the test gun is the rebuilt Auto Ordnance WWII model that I am currently carrying.

This is not a scientific test, but based on a lot of scientific tests that I have seen and been involved in, I believe the results are relevant. Three water filled one-gallon jugs, stacked back-to-back, produce a column of water about 18 inches deep. There are several conversion factors for relating penetration in water, in various containers, to penetration in ballistic gelatin. “Friar Frog’s” page at opines that “bullet penetration in water is 1.8 times that of ballistic gelatin and in milk cartons somewhere generally around 1.5” Frog is pretty close on most things, and I suspect he has this down pretty well too.

I personally think penetration is a little less when you use plastic jugs, and my mind is comfortable with this simple statement: “Handgun bullets at typical velocities will penetrate a little deeper in water-filled one-gallon beverage jugs, than they will in gelatin. Using three of them provides ample resistance to recover most expanding handgun rounds, and the walls of each jug provide an additional stress factor as the bullets expand.”

Enough science! It was time to retire to the “Jethro Bodine Ballistics Lab.”

Jethro Lab is a #2 washtub propped up with blocks, with an old Brownell’s catalog standing against the bottom. The gallon jugs are stacked back-to-back on a 2x8, which is propped up on the other end to facilitate a direct shot through the center of all three jugs. Range was 15 feet, and yes I did get splattered occasionally. It was hot and I didn’t care.

All four rounds stopped in the third jug, and only the 230 Federal HydraShok made so much as a dent in the back of the last jug. The second jug was slightly split in all cases, and in every case the third jug was still leaking slowly enough that I had to pour the water out to recover the bullets. There was no significant difference in the damage caused by any of the four rounds.

It is also interesting that after four consecutive shots, none of them so much as dented the old Brownells catalog, directly behind the third jug.

The recovered bullets:

All four expanded properly, and while we could dig out the micrometers and measure them to 1/1000 of an inch- it wouldn’t matter. Same goes for weight- even the loads that shed their jackets retained more core weight than your typical .40 load has when it exits the muzzle. This is just another reason why I prefer the 230 grain loads in this caliber- you are heaving some serious lead out with each shot.

And I’m not so sure with these heavier bullets, that shedding the jacket is the negative factor we have been lead to believe it is. Wherever that jacket stops in the wound track, it is going to ’prop’ the hole open. And speaking of jackets- the Ranger SXT always produces needle-sharp tips on the little ‘claws’ that result from expansion.

Summary? I like the WW USA 230 JHP because it is affordable, dead-nuts reliable, offers good performance, and is exceptionally accurate in my gun. If I had gotten those results from the Rem/UMC load, I would be equally comfortable carrying it instead. Find out what works and shoots well in your gun, and then prove it’s reliability with that specific load. Then practice. None of them will do you any good if you don’t put them exactly where they need to go.

Jethro Lab II: WWB .45 Hardball & Winchester Silvertip

Ask & Ye shall receive…

A buddy on one of those boards had asked about the Silvertip, and another had asked about testing hardball. I always have some ball on hand, but Silvertip wsa another story. I finally located ONE ancient round of Winchester .45 185 grain Silvertip ammo, no doubt left over from about 1993 when I was getting a lot of court security details. I bought this ammo for guys who were working crowds, etc. because it was thought to penetrate a little less than 230 HydraShok. The standard Jethro Bodine Ballistics Lab test medium of three, one gallon jugs filled with water were arranged back-to-back, and the aforementioned round was unleashed upon them. The Silvertip barely made it into the third jug; the 230 HydraShok had penetrated and dented the back wall of the third jug. Expansion was good, and the last photo shows. The ‘splat factor’ on the first two jugs was also a little less than with the tested 230 JHP’s. Life is a series of compromises, and terminal ballistics are no different. I am going to stick with the WW USA 230 JHP for my carry load, though.

Next up was the old ‘hardball’ round that carried US fighting men through two World Wars, and a bunch of smaller conflicts as well. I knew from long experience with this round that it would out-penetrate the JHP rounds by a considerable margin, so behind the usual three jugs I placed another big windshield-wash jug, laid on its side.

This created a column of water thirty inches deep, with eight layers of plastic to challenge the bullet a bit.

The old hardball round was up to the task, and penetrated all four jugs and their contents; it exited the back jug with enough remaining momentum to bury itself 5/8” into the old Brownells catalog. The bullet deformed very little except for the rifling marks. I can’t say that I was surprised. I still carry a magazine of hardball in my daily ammo stash.

Hope y’all had fun with this- I sure did.