Federal Feud! HST vs Punch Ammo

Federal HST and Federal Punch ammo at a shooting range

How do Federal’s HST and Punch self-defense loads stack up to one another? We compare each with gel testing and analyze what makes for a better choice for you?

Most gun owners, especially those who carry a handgun for self-defense, understand the importance of ammo selection. Choosing the right ammo for effective, responsible home and personal protection is essential, and gun owners have countless options from dozens of manufacturers.

Federal Premium is one of the biggest names in ammunition. Two of their brands, Personal Defense HST and Personal Defense Punch (known simply as “HST” and “Punch”), are strikingly similar yet have distinct and important differences.

Both will deliver the effective results you need from a personal-protection round, but choosing the right one depend on many factors, including the type of weapon you have and your personal budget. So what’s the difference between Federal’s HST vs Punch lines of ammo?

HST vs Punch Ammo

Federal Punch ammo side by side with Federal HST ammo

Both Federal HST and Punch ammo lines of ammunition are great choices for self-defense rounds if you’re a pistol shooter. The HST load is more commonly used by law enforcement and has a track record of reliably neutralizing threats. The Punch line of ammo is newer with promised benefits to the civilian shooter – like increased penetration and more consistent expansion. In our independent testing that you can see near the bottom of this article, we observed very little difference between these rounds in a 9mm Glock 43 pistol. Both performed well in ballistic gelatin following a similar testing procedure that the Federal Bureau of Investigation uses.

What is Federal’s Personal Defense HST?

HST is slightly older, so we’ll start there. This is a premium line of self-defense ammunition made for consistent expansion and ideal penetration. According to Federal Premium, it’s the “duty load of choice for law enforcement officers throughout the world.”

The main feature of Federal’s HST ammo is the bullet, which has a special hollow point that won’t plug when passing through barriers like heavy clothing. In addition, the bullet jacket and core are made to hold together, creating excellent weight retention.

External Jacket Notched

In addition to the hollow point, the bullet also features notches that assist in the expansion of the bullet. These notches create petals that maximize total width.

Low-Flash Propellant

Federal has also included a low-flash propellant that reduces muzzling blinding in low-light situations. This could be beneficial for law enforcement as well as home users.

Other features for the HST include a nickel-plated case and high-performance primers, which create reliable functioning in semi-automatic weapons.

Cartridges available in Federal Premium’s Personal Defense HST include:

  • .327 Federal Magnum
  • .30 Super Carry
  • 9mm Luger (including +P)
  • .357 Magnum
  • .40 S&W
  • 10mm Auto
  • .45 Auto (including +P)

Popular HST products include:

  • 147-grain 9mm Luger
  • 99-grain .380 Auto
  • 180-grain .40 S&W
  • 230-grain .45 ACP

Although listed as a separate “Product Family,” there is also the HST Micro, which is made for subcompact guns. It’s available for .380 Auto, .38 Special +P, and 9mm Luger. Among other features, these have heavier bullets; the 9mm Luger, for example, packs a 150-grain projectile.

What is Federal’s Punch Brand?

Made specifically for the private user, Federal’s Personal Defense Punch is a relative newcomer to the ammunition industry. Released in 2020, this product family is intended to meet the needs of self-defense users. Specifically, each cartridge was made for reliable expansion and penetration.

Skived Jacket

While Federal claims to have optimized each round, the bullets all include “skives” along the sides, which assist in bullet expansion. Skives are thin cuts in the bullet’s jacket that create weak points for bullet petaling.

Softer Lead Core

The Punch brand also has a soft lead core, which is meant to create superior expansion with deep penetrating. According to a press release from Federal, this helps create “the best expansion and penetration in its class.”

Like the HST, Punch also has a nickel-plated brass case for smooth feeding and operation in a semi-automatic weapon.

Cartridges available in Federal Premium’s Personal Defense HST include:

  • .380 Auto
  • 9mm Luger
  • .38 Special +P
  • .40 S&W
  • 10mm Auto
  • .45 Auto
  • .44 S&W SPL

Popular Punch options include:

  • 85-grain .380 Auto
  • 165-grain .40 S&W
  • 200-grain 10mm Auto
  • 230-grain .45 ACP

Ballistic Gelatin Test – HST vs. Punch

Shooting HST and Punch ammo at the range

Punch Gel Testing

To get a better idea of what these rounds are each capable of, we decided to test both in some Clear Ballistics gelatin with a 4-layer cloth barrier. Our protocol mirrored that which is used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation when evaluating ammo its agents might use in the field.

First up, we fired three shots of 124 grain Federal Punch 9mm through a Glock 43 into the gel.

Federal Punch 9mm tested with ballistic gelatin
Overall, the results were pretty good. We saw the bullets penetrate 18.5, 17.5 and 10 inches into the 10% Clear Ballistics gelatin. Expansion of the rounds was fairly impressive as well with consistent “mushrooming.”
Federal Punch expanded bullet

HST Gel Testing

Next up, we fired a trio of 124 grain, 9mm HST rounds into the same gelatin set-up. We’ve outlined the HST rounds in red to help you identify them from the previous Punch rounds tested.

Federal HST 9mm ammo tested in ballistic gelatin with a Glock 43

Our HST rounds penetrated 18″, 17.5″ and 17″ into the gelatin with impressive expansion as well. This was slightly lower than what we observed than when shooting this ammo with a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield pistol as part of our massive self-defense handgun ammo gel testing project.

Federal Punch vs Federal HST expanded bullets
The Federal Punch (left) and Federal HST (right) showed similar expansion characteristics.

So, now that we see both these loads are worthy of consideration for self-defense, let’s get into the nitty gritty of construction materials and other factors.

HST and Punch: What’s the Same?

The two brands share many of the same characteristics, which is not surprising. Like automakers, bullet manufacturers use some of their proprietary features and specs across many different products.

For example, both HST and Punch have nickel-plated cases. These cases are meant to create smooth feeding from the magazine to the chamber and out the ejection port.

Many of the most popular cartridges are available in both HST and Punch, so lots of gun owners have the option of one or the other. You can find them both for sale in our Federal ammo section.

Cartridges available for both include:

  • 9mm Luger
  • .40 S&W
  • 10mm Auto
  • .45 Auto

Both have hollow point bullets, although the exact details vary slightly. In fact, when held side-by-side it can be hard to tell the difference between the HST and the Punch. However, there are a few differences that may guide your decision.

HST vs. Punch: What’s Different?

There are some distinct and important differences, including price, design, and the availability of certain rounds.


One of the main differences, and perhaps the most important to shooters, is the price. While neither of these cartridges is considered a low-cost round, the HST is usually higher in price. At the time of this writing, the 180-grain .40 S&W HST was $31.95 for a 20-round box. The 20-round box of 165-grain .40 S&W Punch was $23.95. Per round, the Punch is $0.40 cheaper per shot, which is a fairly typical result for these cartridges.

Bullet Design

While both of these cartridges use a hollow-point design, the projectiles have some differences. The HST bullet is notched at the top, while the Punch bullet is skived down the side. Exactly how much difference this makes in ballistic performance is unclear, but it is a difference that could impact results.

Available Cartridges

These rounds are available for the majority of popular cartridges, but some owners will only have the option of one or the other.

HST-only rounds (no Punch) include:

  • .327 Federal Magnum
  • .30 Super Carry
  • .357 Magnum

Punch-only rounds (no HST) include:

  • .380 Auto
  • .38 Special +P
  • .44 S&W SPL

If you use one of the above rounds, you’ll be limited to either HST or Punch, regardless of your preferences.

Making the Selection Between Federal’s HST and Punch

Frankly, if you load either of these rounds into your self-defense weapon, you’ll have an effective, reliable personal-defense load that can deliver expansion and penetration to the target.

If you own a 9mm, 10mm, .40 S&W, or .45 Auto handgun, making the decision can be tough. But the more budget-friendly option (Punch) will be perfectly acceptable for the vast majority of users. That said, you likely won’t go through hundreds of rounds, so paying the additional $0.30 to $0.40 shouldn’t drain your ammo budget.

Regardless of your decision, you can find the affordable ammo you need at ammotogo.com. From self-defense loads to low-price target-shooting rounds, we have everything you need for your gun-owning lifestyle.

Useful information?

Share it with your friends!

Let your fellow shooters know – share this article using the Facebook, Twitter and other social media icons below. The more we all know, the better organized and stronger the shooting and hunting community will be.