To +P or not to +P...That is the question

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It was a beautiful fall morning when I decided to attend "The Nation's Gun Show" in Chantilly, Virginia. I had decided to make an important purchase there that day. One I did months of research on. I decided to buy a Springfield EMP in 9mm. For me, it was the perfect handgun to carry concealed in the warmer months and a handy back up for my duties as a police officer.

Now that I have the pistol, what kind of self-defense ammo should I feed it?

No matter what kind of firearm you own for self/home defense or how much you spent on it, one thing you can't skimp out on is the ammo. Self-defense ammunition is much higher in quality and ballistic performance than the cheaper ball ammunition used for range practice. And because of the higher quality components, it comes with a higher price tag. I wanted to use ammo through my EMP that would stop a charging rhino so I decided to buy Buffalo Bore's 147-grain 9mm +P+.

To +P or not to +P...That is the question - chriseger - photo-65.jpg

Any ammunition marked +P or +P+ is a designator for overpressure ammunition. These pressure levels are much higher than in standard ammunition in order to increase muzzle velocity and stopping power. Sounds great, right? Not so fast. Depending on your handgun, it may be too much pressure to the point where it may not function or cycle properly.

As with any new ammunition in your carry gun, you MUST test it out at the range first. You need to be certain, with confidence, that the ammo will feed through your gun without any hiccups and that you can manage its recoil. Never take for granted that the expensive, shiny, ammo with the big name and fancy ads on TV or magazines will automatically run through your gun.

I was at my local range with my new EMP and loaded it with the aforementioned ammunition. I fired one round and the slide locked to the rear. I automatically performed the tap-rack-access immediate action drill. I fired another round and the same thing happened. After a few more of these shots I came to the conclusion that the +P+, 147 grain was just too hot for the subcompact EMP. Due to the combination of the increased pressure and higher grain weight, the gun would not cycle properly.

I was forced to take it down a notch and decided to run my next choice of ammo. I chose Hornady's 9mm Critical Duty, +P, 135 grain ammo. Hornady has one of the best reputations for its quality and performance of their hunting and self-defense ammo. I went back to the range and the EMP fired the Critical Duty flawlessly. The recoil was very manageable as well, whether shooting two handed or one handed.
Whether it's a new brand of magazine, aftermarket internal/external components, or self-defense ammunition, I cannot stress the importance of testing out your carry gun first at the range. You never want to hear the loudest sound in a gunfight...the "click" of a malfunctioning firearm.

-Leo Bello is an active 17-year veteran police officer and firearms instructor in Northern Virginia. He is also director of Systems Armament Firearms Education; a firearms instruction school for civilians.

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June 24, 2014  •  08:07 AM
Good to know. I was using the Hornady Critical Defense in my XDm 9mm Compact. After a year in the magazines, I decided to shoot that for practice. It shot noticeably more precisely (more consistently) than the range ammo. They didn't have any Critical Defense ammo in the store, so I got some Critical Duty. Guess I need to go back and test that!
June 29, 2014  •  10:05 AM
The +P+ is actually to be used in rifles only not in handguns. It is extra the load in casing & will not cycle through most handguns at all.
June 29, 2014  •  10:55 AM
I use Federal 230-gr HST =Ps in my XDs. Chronographs just south of 1,000 FPS, gives one-hole groups at 7 yds, 3" groups at 25 yds.
August 12, 2014  •  06:27 PM
Skeptical Harly69g, 38 cal has been a forerunner in +P and I don't know of too many rifles shooting .38. I may be in error in my thinking, I know there are a few, usually .38/.357 rifles. Anyway, I have been shooting Hornaday Critical Duty +P in my XD9 sub-compact without problems for quite awhile.
September 5, 2014  •  11:19 PM
harly69g was writing about +P+. +P+ is used to designate a load that will probably induce spontaneous dis-assembly of any but the strongest gun, and will remove calluses.
September 9, 2014  •  07:53 AM

I'm sure there are much less problems shooting +P+ through a rifle but I contacted Buffalo Bore personally and they stated that it was for both handgun & rifle use.
October 9, 2014  •  08:23 PM
As a recent purchaser of the EMP I am quite interested in the subject of ammunition to feed it. On page 56 of the owners manual it states:

"Note: 1911-A1 Ultra-Compact Pistols are designed to
use standard pressure ball ammo and self-defense
loads. +P ammunition is not recommended in pistols
shorter than 5 inches. Use only clean, dry, original,
high-quality, commercially manufactured ammunition."

This may answer the OP's question or maybe just open up the discussion.
September 3, 2015  •  02:06 PM
Read or watch:

The results with a 3" barrel pistol firing Hornady 9mm 135 grain +P was really not very good.

I use Federal 9mm 124 grain (standard pressure) HST that I picked up at the local police supply store.
December 17, 2015  •  08:29 PM
I feed my XD Sub Compact .40 S&W Hornady Critical Defence ammo. When it gets cold here people get their Down jackets, vests, and sub zero rated down parkas

Critical Defense is intended for use against heavy clothing. It has a red plug in the hollow point which stops clothing from clogging the cavity with clothes. And will not fail to expand. All my Handguns are loaded with this bullet. CRITICAL DUTY is loaded to be able to punch through car doors and still wound or kill the idiot hiding behind car doors etc. I don't have a use for Critical Duty, I don't foresee this situation arising here. Where it would be needed. It is also more of a probability passing through the body and hitting a bystander. It too much for civilian use unless you're getting deployed with your XD as a backup to the service sidearm.