28 May 2013

.22 Magnum ammo tests

          North American Arms has said that in the face of a violent confrontation, any gun is better than no gun. In a similar vein, the NRA’s American Rifleman has stated that the mere presence of a firearm can often prevent a crime without a shot even being fired. As with any firearm, if you’re going to carry a mini-revolver for CCW or backup purposes, ammo selection is critical—arguably even more so, given the comparatively low power of these weapons. Below are the results of a detailed chronograph test conducted with the selection of .22 Magnum Loads  outlined earlier. The results were eye-opening, and there are definitely some clear choices to be made if you are carrying a .22 Magnum as either a backup or primary concealed carry weapon, for any sort of defensive purpose. Every foot-pound of energy can make the precious difference with numbers this low, so I hope you will find this article helpful in your own ammo selection process.

Test procedure:

          For testing these rounds, I used the North American Arms Pug. At just 1” in length, the Pug’s barrel is the shortest of the North American Arms .22 WMR mini-revolvers. The Pug is a popular CCW/backup gun choice for many reasons, including its extremely compact size, comfortable grip, robust design and usable night sights. With all the other .22 Magnum NAA minis having barrels at least 1/8” longer, we can also safely assume that one should achieve equal, if not higher velocities with any of the other models (under the same test conditions), thus making the Pug a logical choice to test for baseline average velocities.

          All data collected was based upon a total of (at least) ten shots per load. With the chronograph placed 8’ from the muzzle to ensure a clean reading (closer placement proved inconsistent due to muzzle blast), all shots were fired from the same fixed position. The revolver was cleaned after each string of ten shots and allowed to cool between reloads. Yes, these little things do get warm!  

Test results table:


          Please note that the following discussion is based on the calculated energy for these rounds, and energy is logged here in ft/lbs. All things being equal, the same weight bullet driven at higher velocity produces more energy, and vice-versa. Bullet design is a key factor in any defensive round selection, but for academic purposes, calculating the ft/lbs. of energy at least gives us a basic idea of what is going on, ballistically speaking. We’ll explore penetration and expansion in a future article. In the table above, the highest values are highlighted in green; the lowest in red. Now, let’s get to the results.

CCI Maxi-Mag

The ever popular and readily available Max-Mags turned out to be a good all-around, budget-friendly choice. Nothing especially remarkable in the test data, but nothing especially negative, either.

40 grain JHP @ 1875 fps (rifle) -- 835.6 fps (tested)


          Ranked fourth out of seven for energy, Maxi-Mags make a decent middle-of-the-road choice if you can’t find the winner (see below) available for immediate purchase. They’re affordably priced, too. While I found the dedicated self-defense rounds to perform very well overall, CCI’s Maxi-Mags did just barely inch out Winchester’s PDX1 Defender load by just shy of one foot-pound (overall average). Their standard deviation and extreme spread were wildly higher, however—pretty much double that of PDX1. So, these are definitely not as consistent, at worst producing less energy that PDX1, but at best doing a slightly better. Bullet design is something else to keep in mind, however, and I’ll explore that further with some tests in ballistic gelatin in the future. So overall, they’re not the most consistent, but you can find them just about anywhere in a pinch.

ft/lbs. rank: 4th

Federal Premium

          Does a light, high-velocity round work well in a short barrel?  Federal Premium did deliver the highest average velocity of all the rounds tested. But does that little bit of extra speed make up for the lighter bullet? 

30 grain JHP @ 2200 fps (rifle) -- 904.9 fps (tested)


          At least for a short-barreled mini-revolver, the possible advantages of a higher-velocity, lighter-weight round just don’t work out mathematically. These might be a fine choice for practice or plinking, but speaking strictly in terms of energy delivered, these come up short. Very short. With every bit of power being critical to the performance of a mini-revolver used for self-defense purposes, you’re probably better off going with a heavier round. Specialty varmint rounds that fragment more effectively at higher speeds may be an option to explore, but one has to keep in mind that in a barrel this short, there isn’t much time to build up that velocity. At the expense of 10 grains of bullet weight, the Federal Premium load only gained 22 feet per second over the next closest load, yet came up short by 16 ft/lbs of energy. There just isn’t enough barrel length to gain the speed necessary to make these worthwhile. With a slightly higher average velocity than all the other rounds tested, so much energy was lost due to the lighter bullet that these came in dead last for energy. 

ft/lbs. rank: 7th

Federal Game-Shok

          I figured the heaviest round would likely produce the slowest velocity, which was the case after testing Federal Game-Shok and its 50 grain bullet. Unfortunately, these rounds produced an average of just 761 fps. So does that extra weight make up for the lack of speed?
50 grain JHP @ 1530 fps (rifle) -- 761.37 fps (tested)


          In similarity to the 30 grain Federal Premium load, for a short-barreled mini-revolver, the advantages of a lower-velocity, heavier-weight round just don’t work out mathematically, either. Out of a longer barrel, there might be an advantage, but out of a mini-revolver as short as the Pug, the velocity is so low that these rounds netted the second lowest overall energy, just about 4 ft/lbs better than the Federal Premium round which also did poorly overall. Consistency was good, but there’s no advantage to being consistently underpowered.

ft/lbs. rank: 6th

Winchester Super-X 

          Winchester Super-X is another widely available option, and the most affordably priced load of all those tested here. It’s done well for several other folks that have conducted tests similar to mine. Just how good is it?
40 grain JHP @ 1910 fps (rifle) -- 929.59 fps (tested)


          Super-X matched the results of other tests I’ve seen online, and it did well. In fact, it delivered the 3rd highest average energy, even edging out Winchester’s own self-defense load, PDX1 Defender, in both average velocity and ft/lbs. Bullet design is definitely a factor to be tested, however, and these rounds also produced the greatest extreme spread. I also experienced two failures to fire, though the same rounds did fire on a second strike. One round was also so badly bent out of shape due to the cheap packaging that it would not fit in the cylinder at all. The good news is, even the lowest velocity recorded in a 10 round string was comparatively high. I’ll have to test them in gelatin to see how the compare to the dedicated defense rounds, but Super-X is low-priced, readily available, and a good performer (when it works). These are hard to beat for non-critical, non-defense applications. They make a great choice for practice, plinking, varmint eradication, etc. I would hesitate to use these for defensive purposes due to the aforementioned issues, but they otherwise performed well.
ft/lbs. rank: 3rd

Hornady Critical Defense

            The first of three purpose-built, dedicated self-defense rounds, Hornady’s Critical Defense ammo promised to deliver a heavier 45 grain, specially designed bullet at higher velocity from a short barrel—with performance to match .380 ACP. Did it deliver?
45 grain FTX @ 1000 fps (handgun) -- 896.88 fps (tested)


           Short of testing in ballistic gelatin (i.e. purely on paper), yes—the hype appears to be substantiated. Hornady’s Critical Defense load pushed its heavier 45 grain bullet at a respectable overall average velocity. It did this consistently as well, and unlike the 50 grain Federal Game-Shok round and its anemic velocity, Critical Defense was able to make up for the extra weight. It produced the second highest overall energy of all the rounds tested. It will be interesting to see how it performs in clothed ballistic gelatin, especially with its unique polymer tip. Suffice it to say that on paper, these rounds appear to be a solid choice for self-defense purposes. 

ft/lbs. rank: 2nd

Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel Personal Protection

          It’s one of the most well-known and highly regarded lines of self-defense ammunition in standard centerfire rounds. So how did Speer’s new rimfire version of the famous Gold Dot hollow point perform?

40 grain GDHP @ 1050 fps (handgun) -- 949.1 fps (tested)


          Best in show! The load with the long name was long on performance, too. Speer advertises their Gold Dot .22 Magnum load to be expressly designed for use with short barreled pistols and revolvers, and the results supported the claims. Not only did Gold Dot deliver the second highest average velocity (short only of the lightweight and underpowered Federal Premium rounds), they also netted the highest minimum velocity, the lowest standard deviation, the smallest extreme spread, and the highest energy. The average speed came in about 100 fps slower than advertised, but that was out of a barrel almost 1” shorter than the one used in Speer’s tests. This was the closest that any of the rounds tested here came to meeting its own claims. Gold Dot was the most rock-solid for consistency, and the numbers were best overall in multiple categories. Just edging out Hornady’s Critical Defense load by a smidge over 2 ft/lbs., Speer’s Gold Dot load is the leader of the pack. It’s no wonder that so many law enforcement agencies choose Gold Dot loads for their centerfire weapons, and thankfully that performance has carried over to this new rimfire offering.  
ft/lbs. rank: 1st

Winchester PDX1 Defender

          Rounding out my tests was the new PDX1 Defender load, the third and final dedicated self-defense round available in this caliber at the time of testing. How did it compare to the two other defensive loads tested?

40 grain JHP @ 1295 fps (handgun) -- 882.68 (tested)


          Hmm… perhaps most surprising of all was that PDX1 delivered a lower average velocity than Winchester’s own budget-priced Super-X load. How and why this could be the case when both Speer and Hornady were able to deliver higher average and minimum velocities was a bit of a disconcerting shock for this dedicated self-defense load—especially coming from the same manufacturer that produces Super-X, which was faster overall—and with the same bullet weight. To its credit, PDX1 was much more consistent than Super-X and fired 100% of the time, but it was two steps behind Super-X for power. It may be the case that PDX1 is optimized for a longer barrel, but Winchester did not state a specific length in the product specs. Coming in at just fifth for average energy of the seven rounds tested, PDX1 was also the most expensive of all three self-defense rounds tested, so that was a bit disappointing in and of itself. I will test this round along with the other leaders of this test in a future ballistic gelatin experiment, just in case the bullet design provides a distinct advantage. For the time being and strictly going by the chrono, Speer and Hornady’s offerings were both markedly more consistent and powerful in this series of tests. Maybe it was just a case of a bad lot, but even if that were true, poor quality control would be another strike against this round. High-priced, under-performing, and inconsistent by a factor twice that of the other two self-defense loads tested, I would not choose this round for CCW/backup gun duty without further testing.  

ft/lbs. rank: 5th


          All velocities ultimately fell short of the advertised claims, which was no surprise considering that each manufacturer used at least a 1.9” barrel for testing. That being said, if there’s a clear winner in this roundup, based on the statistical data alone, Speer’s Gold Dot appears to be a solid choice for defensive ammunition, followed very closely by Hornady’s Critical Defense. Speer’s Gold Dot also came the closest to its own advertised performance, even from a barrel almost a full inch shorter than its test basis. In future testing, I’ll put both the Speer and Hornady loads in head-to-head tests with ballistic gelatin, as well as give some of the runner-ups a chance to see if they can make up for their lower numbers. 

          A great bonus to these self-defense loads is that unlike premium centerfire loadings, you’ll get a full 50 rounds per box. This can come in especially handy if you’d like to test the reliability in a semiauto pistol like the Keltec PMR-30, and it won’t break the bank, either. At a price just about a couple of dollars more than regular .22 Magnum ammunition, there’s really no reason not to be using one of the dedicated self-defense rounds if you are employing your own .22 Magnum firearm for self-defense purposes. 

Please keep in mind that all of these results were based on the performance through a 1” barrel. The preceding is just a guide of what you might be able to expect from a similar weapon fired under similar conditions. Your own results may vary and I would encourage you to complete similar testing with your personal firearm to decide what is best for you, your equipment and your needs. I hope you have found this information helpful, and please feel free to send me your comments and questions. Enter your e-mail address at the FOLLOW THIS BLOG box above for automatic notifications of new postings, and stay tuned for updates and new articles. Thanks for reading!

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