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.
The Challenge of Conceal Carry Ammunition
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
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
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?
Hornady has made Critical Defense one of the most expansive product lines in their full selection.
Available cartridges include:
Critical Defense Ammo - Handgun Rounds
|Caliber||Grain - Rounds||Grain - Rounds||Grain - Rounds||Grain - Rounds|
|25 Auto||35 Grain - 25 Rounds||35 Grain - 250 Rounds|
|32 Auto||60 Grain - 25 Rounds||60 Grain - 250 Rounds|
|32 H&R Magnum||80 Grain - 25 Rounds|
|32 NAA||80 Grain - 25 Rounds|
|380 Auto||90 Grain - 25 Rounds||90 grain - 250 rounds|
|9mm Luger||100 Grain - "Lite" - 25 Rounds||100 Grain - "Lite" - 250 Rounds||115 Grain - 25 Rounds|
|38 Special||90 Grain "Lite" - 25 Rounds||90 Grain "Lite" - 250 Rounds||110 Grain +P - 25 Rounds||110 Grain +P - 250 Rounds|
|357 Magnum||125 Grain - 25 Rounds||125 Grain - 250 Rounds|
|9x18 Makarov||95 Grain - 25 Rounds|
|40 S&W||165 Grain - 20 Rounds||165 Grain - 200 Rounds|
|44 Special||165 Grain - 20 Rounds|
|45 ACP||185 Grain - 200 Rounds|
|45 Colt||185 Grain - 20 Rounds|
Rifle Calibers Available
|Caliber||Grain - Rounds||Grain - Rounds||Grain - Rounds||Grain - Rounds|
|223 Remington||55 Grain - 20 Rounds||55 Grain - 200 Rounds||73 Grain - 20 Rounds||73 Grain - 200 Rounds|
|30 Carbine||110 Grain - 25 Rounds||110 Grain- 250 Rounds|
|.308 Win||155 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.