Thursday, November 3, 2016
The Federal HST…the new standard of excellence.
There was a time when I collected shooting reports from all across the country. It started in the late 1980s when I was working on my master’s degree in criminal justice administration and I needed to pick a thesis topic. I proposed a research project entitled "The Incapacitation Effectiveness of Police Handgun Ammunition" and my student advisor and counseling professor accepted it.
In addition, I conducted ballistic research by shooting bullets into various mediums—including ballistic gelatin, wet undertaker’s cotton, duct sealant and water tanks—to determine whether or not one substance was better than another based on the bullets removed from human tissue. I was also permitted to use my agency’s letterhead to solicit shooting and autopsy reports from across the country. I contacted many of the country’s largest agencies and they responded to my request. I kept many of those contacts open over the years and continued to exchange data with officers across the country. I quit doing it several years ago as I retired (along with many of my contacts) and in truth, I wasn’t learning anything new.
This network kept me abreast on the types of ammo that worked on the street and which did not. Many promising ammo styles (based on lab testing) ended up as dismal failures in the street. Others proved worthy. I’ve seen continued success with the .38 special all-lead hollow point regardless of brand; the Winchester SXT and Speer Gold Dot regardless of caliber; and the Federal Hydra-Shok in slow- moving bullets, like the 230 grain .45 caliber or 147 grain 9 mm.
Recently, while driving home from a course in Richmond, VA with co-instructor Brian Buchanan, “Bucky” told me about a recent shooting his agency was involved in. The reason this event was significant is due to the department changing from .40 “back” to 9mm, something many in the department felt was moving in the wrong direction. If the first shooting had been a disaster, controversy would follow. As it turned out, the officer stopped the suspect with a 147-grain Federal HST load, which was selected after an exhausting test period, which included ammunition styles from across the spectrum. The Federal 147 HST was selected as the selection committee felt it had the best performance parameters, loosing nothing from the .40 S & W. The bullet performed flawlessly and raised confidence across the agency.
I’ve been watching the progress of Federal’s HST over the years as it takes some time to see street results and HST’s results have been impressive across the caliber spectrum, offering consistent expansion and optimum penetration for terminal ballistic performance, i.e. incapacitation potential. HST’s specially designed hollow-point tip won’t plug while passing through a variety of barriers, and it holds its jacket in the toughest conditions…two claims that have been born out over a growing number of shootings. HST is engineered to provide 100% weight retention through most barriers and impressive expansion, often as much as doubling its original diameter.
The hard object penetration was really brought home to me recently during a vehicle combat course I taught in Northern Minnesota. Two Federal employees were enrolled in the course and offered to insert ballistic gelatin into the cars during the small “lab segment “ in include in each class. During this block, I normally allow the students to shoot the vehicles with the ammo they carry to see how well it will penetrate. The gelatin just added to the experience and I can honestly say the HST loads in both 9mm and .40 worked flawlessly! They were only eclipsed by one load, the new Speer Gold Dot 2, designed for the FBI.
I should note, I was made aware of the encouraging lab results of the HST before it even hit the market. I was at Federal’s Anoka, Minn., plant writing an article on the Expanding Full-Metal Jacket (EMFJ) ammunition when I was asked if I wanted to see the next-generation hollow point. Hell yes—who wouldn’t I thought?! I was shown a series of bullets that had been fired through various mediums into ballistic gelatin and all displayed incredibly consistent performance. I was then allowed to enter the ballistic lab and watch tests being conducted. I admit to being impressed by what I saw, but I wanted to see actual shooting data. Well, HST has been on the market long enough for shooting data to roll in and results show the bullet is as good as the early testing said it would be. As a matter of fact, it would not be out of line to say it is the most street proven load currently available.
Although some say HST stands for High Shock Two, Federal says it really doesn’t stand for anything other than a designation for a line of ammo. During an email exchange with Tom Burczynski, the inventor of the HST bullet as well as several other successful bullet designs, he wrote, “After testing, I submitted two different concepts (for two different bullets) to Federal. One concept dealt with a serrated core while the other dealt with a series of highly effective scores in the jacket. Federal engineers incorporated both concepts into the same bullet and dreamed up a way to align the serrations with the scores in the jacket. It is a pre-stressed core, which is why the expanded bullets look like El Dorado Starfire (no longer in production) and Speer Gold Dot.” It’s also the reason why the HST expands and penetrates so well through various barriers and materials.
According to Burczynski, early versions expanded well through FBI cloth, but not International Wound Ballistics Association denim test medium. Federal re-worked the bullet and later versions expanded well through denim as well. Over the years, Federal tweaked the bullet’s velocity—raising the velocity of some loads while lowering others—to get the maximum performance parameters from each load. In the end, Federal has a bullet design that’s only rivaled by the Gold Dot in on-the-street effectiveness. I have seen actual shooting data on the 124 and 147 grain 9 mm, 165 and 180 grain .40 S & W and the 230 grain +P .45. The performance of the HST in this limited number of actual shootings is exemplary. The 124 and 147 loads expanded to .65 and .63 in tissue, while the .40 loads deformed to .66 and .65 respectively. The +P .45 was recovered at autopsy to have expanded to a whopping .74 caliber—that’s three fourths of an inch! Even though this is a limited number of shootings, it’s certainly enough for me to recommend with HST with confidence.
Recently, I decided to perform my own tests with the HST using both 10% ordnance gelatin ( a real pain in the ass, to be honest) and rolls of-wet undertaker’s cotton. The cotton material was a substance formerly used by the crime lab in my jurisdiction to trap bullets for ballistic comparison. David Taulbee, the late master firearm’s examiner at the lab (and one of the smartest ballistics experts I’ve ever met), noticed the bullets he fired into the cotton looked very similar to those removed from bodies at autopsy. He conducted a number of tests in the mid-1980s and determined the rolls of cotton were an excellent way to test bullet expansion and I couldn’t agree more. I fired the bullets into the gelatin and cotton at 15 feet with the bullets crossing the screen of a Shooting Chrony chronograph. I only charted penetration in the gelatin, as it is difficult to do in the cotton. Cotton is a great “back yard” test medium for those who wish to do it yourself. The leg of a pair of blue jeans covered the gelatin and cotton and the guns used were a Glock 17, 22 and 21.
To test accuracy, I bench rested the three guns and grouped each load at 25 yards that, admittedly, is outside the normal distance law enforcement or armed citizen use of a handgun, but in the age of the Active Killer, “normal” is being pushed out further. That said, when testing a gun’s accuracy, why not take it to the limit?
In the end, only you or your agency can determine what load or caliber is right for you and yours. Note: I don’t recommend purchasing ammo solely based on a magazine article review. Instead, research and test any potential issue or carry load for yourself. HST is a real good place to start!
Caliber Load Type Velocity Cotton Gelatin Penetration
9 mm 124 grain +P 1,177 fps .65 .62 12.5 inches
9 mm 147 grain 987 fps .64 .61 14.5 inches
.40 S & W 165 grain 1,112 fps .66 .67 14.5 inches
.40 S & W 180 grain 1,008 fps .64 .66 15.5 inches
.45 ACP 230 grain +P 977 fps .70 .71 13.5 inches