Hornady Critical Defense

Hornady Critical Defense with pistol at a shooting range

Hornady Critical Defense is a well-known and respected self-defense option among the shooting community. What sets this ammo apart from other options available? Let’s find out!

Hornady is one of the most innovative ammunition manufacturers on the planet. While they may not be as well known to the general public as names like Smith & Wesson, Remington, or Colt, among American gun owners Hornady is synonymous with quality, performance, and innovation.

One example of their inventive solutions to real-world problems is the Critical Defense line of personal-protection ammunition. Optimized for ideal performance in compact handguns, these cartridges are trusted by many protection-minded gun owners.

Jump to available calibers

The Challenge of Conceal Carry Ammunition

Critical defense rounds out of box

Designing ammunition for small and compact semi-automatic handguns is a balancing act.

On one end, you need plenty of power; the cartridge needs to be strong and effective, with enough force to stop a critical threat as quickly as possible. It also needs to be powerful enough to effectively operate the slide on a semiautomatic weapon.

On the other hand, it can’t be so powerful that it overwhelms the shooter and creates unmanageable recoil. This is a special concern especially in smaller weapons, which give more “felt recoil” than heavier firearms.

Hornady Critical Defense: Key Features

Key Feature #1: Optimized Propellants

The propellant is arguably the most important feature of the Critical Defense product line. Hornady designed and loaded the powder to deliver the perfect balance of power and performance.

They custom tailored the propellant for compact handguns – creating lower recoil and less muzzle rise. This not only makes shooting more comfortable (inevitably increasing confidence in the shooter), but also allows for faster, more accurate follow-up shots. Of course, this can be crucial in a critical situation. Despite reduced recoil, there is still enough power to engage a slide on a compact weapon and deliver outstanding terminal performance.

Key Feature #2: FTX Bullet

Close up image of Hornady FTX bullets on a table

Hornady optimized how these loads used their power to reduce recoil, which may create concern in some handgun owners.

“Will the bullet still deliver effective performance and stopping power?”, you might ask. The answer is yes, thanks in large part to the FTX bullet. This is a hollow point bullet equipped with Hornady’s patented Flex Tip technology. It aims to deliver ideal expansion while avoiding bullet clogging. Clogged bullet is a common problem when they strike heavy clothing or other barriers.

Key Feature #3: Nickel-Plated Cartridge Cases

Hornady also included nickel-plating as part of their overall design. Nickel-plating serves many purposes, including corrosion resistance. The bright metal also allows for fast, effective chamber checks in handguns made from darker materials.

The Result: Light Recoil, Significant Terminal Performance

Altogether, these features combine to make a cartridge that is perfectly optimized for compact handguns. These are the type of guns most of us carry and are most likely to depend on for self-defense. The power, thanks to perfectly-balanced propellant, is just right for effective internal performance, while the bullet design creates terminal performance that will stop almost any threat.

Muzzle Velocity is Not a Priority with Critical Defense

Chronograph testing ammo at the shooting range

If you look at the velocity statistics for the Critical Defense lineup, you may notice that the cartridges are not extremely fast. No, they are not the slowest of all ammunition lines, but they are usually around the middle of the pack or higher; rarely are they near the top.

Take the 9mm Luger as an example. In our 9mm gel testing (scroll to bottom of page for results), 115-grain Critical Defense rounds had an average muzzle velocity of 1,064, while the 110-grain cartridges had a speed of 1,052. In no way are these bad numbers, but out of 45 cartridges there were 17 that were faster.

Out of the .357 Magnum rounds we tested, the 125-grain Critical Defense cartridges ranked #11 out of 25 in overall speed; top half, but not a noticeably-fast round.

Speed is simply not a priority for this brand of ammunition. If you want more speed, you need more power, which leads to higher recoil; this would defeat the purpose of Critical Defense, which prioritizes optimized performance, not maximized power.

What Cartridges are Available?

Shooting critical defense ammunition at the range

Hornady has made Critical Defense one of the most expansive product lines in their full selection.

Available cartridges include:

Critical Defense Ammo - Handgun Rounds

CaliberGrain - RoundsGrain - RoundsGrain - RoundsGrain - Rounds
25 Auto35 Grain - 25 Rounds35 Grain - 250 Rounds
32 Auto60 Grain - 25 Rounds60 Grain - 250 Rounds
32 H&R Magnum80 Grain - 25 Rounds
32 NAA80 Grain - 25 Rounds
380 Auto90 Grain - 25 Rounds90 grain - 250 rounds
9mm Luger100 Grain - "Lite" - 25 Rounds100 Grain - "Lite" - 250 Rounds115 Grain - 25 Rounds
38 Special90 Grain "Lite" - 25 Rounds90 Grain "Lite" - 250 Rounds110 Grain +P - 25 Rounds110 Grain +P - 250 Rounds
357 Magnum125 Grain - 25 Rounds125 Grain - 250 Rounds
9x18 Makarov95 Grain - 25 Rounds
40 S&W165 Grain - 20 Rounds165 Grain - 200 Rounds
44 Special165 Grain - 20 Rounds
45 ACP185 Grain - 200 Rounds
45 Colt185 Grain - 20 Rounds

Rifle Calibers Available

CaliberGrain - RoundsGrain - RoundsGrain - RoundsGrain - Rounds
223 Remington55 Grain - 20 Rounds55 Grain - 200 Rounds73 Grain - 20 Rounds73 Grain - 200 Rounds
30 Carbine110 Grain - 25 Rounds110 Grain- 250 Rounds
.308 Win155 Grain - 20 Rounds

Hornady also offers a rimfire load available for 22 WMR shooters as well as a couple different 12 gauge options. Shotgunners can get an 8 pellet Critical Defense buckshot load.

Critical Defense LITE

Although currently available in limited selections, Critical Defense LITE is a low-bullet-weight option for users looking to reduce felt recoil even more. If you use an extremely compact firearm, or simply struggle to shoot comfortably and accurately (which are directly tied together), these products may be right for you.

Although Hornady may introduce more if this line is successful, our options are limited now.

Currently, Critical Defense LITE is only available in 9mm Luger (110-grain as opposed to 115) and .38 Special (90-grain as opposed to 110).

.410 Triple Defense

The .410 product from Hornady’s Critical Defense line is a bit unique, so it’s worth discussing on its own. Hornady calls it .410 Triple Defense. They load the shell with two .35-caliber balls behind a single jacketed FTX slug. The FTX shell is perfectly sized to engage a gun’s rifling. It strikes the target nose-first, engaging the Flex Tip and hollow point design.

Engineers designed the shell to place all three projectiles into a man-sized space at seven yards (any more and the projectile spread too far apart), making this one of the most lethal close-quarter self-defense ammunition option on the market.

Final Note: Not Ideal for Large Handguns

Hornady makes Critical Defense for optional performance in close encounters, which are the norm for critical situations. Because they are lighter in power, they may not be strong enough to effectively operate the slide on a full-sized semiautomatic weapon. If you use a full-size handgun for conceal carry or in-home purposes, you will likely prefer Critical Duty.

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