Federal 230-gr. Hydrashok Field Report: Failure to Expand
Federal’s Hydrashok line of JHP handgun ammunition remains a favorite of many shooters since its introduction in the late 1980’s. It is available in several popular calibers including .45 ACP. In this caliber, Federal offered both 165-gr. and 230-gr. Hydrashok loads.
On the left is an older version of the 230-gr. Hydrashok in .45 ACP. Its bullet ogive was changed for more reliable feeding in 1911-pattern pistols (right). From an old “Clackamas Kimber” 5”, these averaged about 870 ft/sec but only 836 ft/sec from a 5” Norinco. (Mine had a “slow barrel” and typically showed slightly lower than expected results compared to other 5” barrels.) From a SIG-Sauer P220 velocity ran roughly the same as the 1911’s as did the Glock 21 with its 4.6” barrel.
My Norinco 1911 has had no accuracy work but still grouped nicely with Federal’s 230-gr. Hydrashok. This group was shot with the latter rounded-ogive load but the earlier truncated-cone version grouped about the same for me from several pistols.
Reports “from the street” were encouraging and the load garnered a generally positive reputation among law enforcement and folks looking to the 45-caliber automatic for self-protection. I’ve used this load for self-protection ammunition in more than one .45 pistol in years passed and still have a few boxes of it in my ammunition cache.
Here is an expanded 230-gr. Federal Hydrashok fired from a 5” barrel into super-saturated newsprint. In my informal “tests” using this medium as well as shooting into water, expansion has been pretty consistent and similar to the picture.
I’ve seen (but not photographed) expanded 230-gr. Hydrashok bullets recovered from javelina but remember seeing one in which the hollow cavity plugged with bone and the bullet failed to expand. (It still decked the unlucky javelina.)
A good friend of mine has been actively hunting feral hogs and doing his best to keep this specie’s exploding numbers in check, which sadly seems to be a losing battle here in Texas. (The damned things are everywhere!) I’ve known him for years and when he provides information, it is consistently correct and true.
He related that another fellow had wounded a 100 + pound feral hog with a rifle, but the thing had run into very thick underbrush. My friend, Ken Wengert, and his brother-in-law followed and located it still standing and in very thick brush. Ken was able to get within about 20 feet of the wounded animal and shot it one time with a 230-gr. Hydrashok from his Glock 21. The animal was angling slightly away from him and his bullet hit just behind the right shoulder. It dropped but was still moving its jaws and kicking a bit when Ken and his brother-in-law walked up to it. At that time, it was shot in the head by the brother-in-law (also using a Glock 21) with 230-gr. FMJ and shuffled off its mortal coil.
For those unaware, feral hog pork can be very good eating and such was planned for this one. While skinning the animal, the bullet fell from the hide on the left side of the neck near the head. Ken estimated that the bullet penetrated approximately 14”. The bullet failed to expand.
Here is a side-view of the .45 ACP 230-gr. Hydrashok recovered from the feral hog. (Photo by Ken Wengert)
Shown here are views from the front and rear. Mr. Wengert reports that only soft tissue was in the hollow cavity; no bone was in it. (Photos by Ken Wengert)
Here is the hog along with my friend, Ken Wengert (right), and his brother-in-law after they moved it out of the brush for easier photographing. Both men were using Glock 21 pistols. (I do not know Ken’s brother-in-law but I have hunted and shot with Ken more than a few times. When I hear him shoot, you can be nearly certain that he’s got something on the ground.) (Photo by Ken Wengert)
What might be garnered from this? Is Federal Hydrashok a poor performer or is it true that “JHP’s travelling below 1000 ft/sec fail to open up? Would it have opened on a different species or a human aggressor? Does this prove that FMJ is better than an expanding bullet in this caliber?
Draw your own conclusions; here are mine:
1. Federal Hydrashok is not a routinely poor performer, but neither is it perfect. Were that the case, there would have been no need to further research and develop expanding handgun ammunition. Would a bullet of more recent design expanded? Possibly so, maybe even probably, but I just don’t think that we can take expansion and penetration expectations for granted. For years now, the old saying that a minimum of 1000 ft/sec is universally necessary for jacketed handgun bullet expansion has not been the case. I have seen nicely-expanded .45 ACP JHP’s recovered from several animals as well as pictures of some recovered from deserving felons. Perhaps this bullet tumbled after impact? The hollow cavity does appear caved inward and it seems at least a possibility but I personally cannot say for sure.
2. I have been “told” by some that the fact that 10% ballistic gelatin is homogeneous while neither men nor animals are doesn’t matter and that results will be very similar from any of them. That just has not proven to be the case in my experience. Expanded bullets that I’ve recovered from animals are frequently asymmetrical and “jagged” (if bone’s hit), unlike those recovered from gelatin and other homogeneous media.
3. That the FMJ bullet killed the hog isn’t surprising in that it scrambled its brains! Assuming that it is capable of punching the skull and doesn’t glance off, any handgun bullet into the brain pan would likely have dispatched the animal post haste!
4. That the 230-gr. Hydrashok didn’t expand as intended cannot be argued but note that at the shot, the animal was indeed decked though able to kick a bit and move its jaws. The recovered bullet’s profile might be considered similar to a jacketed flat point, a design favored by some knowledgeable shooters such as the late Jeff Cooper. More important to me is that bullet was well-placed. (“Placement is power.”)
Are there more reliably-expanding loads today than when the Hydrashok was developed? In my opinion, yes, but despite some encouraging test results, I just do not trust any of them to be 100% perfect 100% of the time any more than I trust any handgun caliber commonly associated with self-defense to be a 100% “stopper”. Much research and testing has resulted in ammunition at (or at least near) the zenith of reliable expansion coupled with satisfactory penetration characteristics in my opinion.
Ammunition manufacturers (including Federal) continue to build upon past successes seeking to better perfect their high-performance ammunition and I do believe that the shooting community gains from it. At the same time, I just don’t expect unilateral terminal perfection but will continue to use what I consider “effective loads” for a given caliber intended for “serious purposes”…
…but I’ll still put more trust in placement.