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>> Heavy bullets in the 9mm :: By Mike G on 2001-07-07
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About a year and a half ago as preparations were underway for a hog hunt, I started to give some thought to heavy, non-expanding bullets for 9mm handloads. The purpose of this was to give some of the hunters a reasonable load for their handguns as a backup when trailing a wounded hog in the brush. Although I have .44 and .45 cal. revolvers, some (unfortunate?) hunters only had 9mm handguns for sidearms.

While the 9mm is a poor substitute in this case for .44 Magnum, if it’s all you have, it’s all you have. Wild hogs can be large and somewhat dangerous critters under certain circumstances. It seems that every year or two there is a newspaper story about a hunter getting chewed up by a hog that he thought was dead and the hunter ending up with a hundred stitches or so. I have not ever been charged by a wounded hog but know two people who have, and a third who was charged by a wounded javelina. So it certainly can happen. I won’t go into the brush looking for one without a gun in my hand, usually one of my big bore revolvers although my .40 S&W Glock M23 with 10 handloads of 200gr. cast bullets in the magazine is OK with me also.

Why non-expanding bullets? I have found them to be more reliable and predictable for heavy, big boned critters. A friend shot a hog in the shoulder with a 10mm auto, 180 grain hollow point (factory load), and had the bullet flatten out against the shoulder bone and not penetrate the chest cavity (a second shot finished off the hog). Deer are one thing but hogs can get huge. I have in my mailbox a picture of a hog that was killed near Junction, TX, this year on opening weekend of firearms deer season. The hog is reported to weigh over 1,000 pounds. While I cannot verify the exact weight, the picture clearly shows the hog hanging with it’s hind legs higher than the man standing next to it, and the head and neck still on the ground. That’s a lot of bacon!

With non-expanding bullets, deep penetration even through bone is assured. With the correct nose profile, a decent wound channel can still be obtained. ‘Correct’ nose profile means a flat nose with a sharp transition to the ogive, and the nose flat to be as wide as practical for the caliber. The bullets which best fit this design profile are the LBT designs from Veral Smith. Currently there are a number of bullet makers which offer these designs, including Beartooth Bullets, Cast Performance, and Ballistic Advantage. Generally the ‘Wide Flat Nose’ (WFN) or sometimes just ‘Flat Nose’ (FN) design has a nose flat of 0.090” less than caliber. So a .357”-.359” FN has a nose flat of around 0.270,” which is about as close as you can get to a full wadcutter but still feed in repeating guns.

The current heavy jacketed 9mm bullets, typically 147 grains, did not meet my criteria. The nose flats were too small to suit me and generally there was a rounded transition from the nose flat to the ogive (probably to assure correct feeding in semi-autos). There are a number of suitable jacketed bullets available for the .38 Special / .357 Magnum which might work, but these would be as much as 0.002” too large for the 9mm bore which would surely raise pressures. Cast lead bullets, however, could be slightly oversized with no ill effects, and as a bonus, could be resized as necessary.

Looking through the Beartooth Bullets catalog, I spied a .357 160 grain, flat-nose bevel based (FNBB) bullet. Could this be made to work? A quick phone call to J. Marshall Stanton, owner / operator of Beartooth, revealed that he had in fact designed this bullet for the 9mm. Marshall shared some load data with me, which I found a little too hot, probably due to the short OAL that I ended up with. A reference was found in “Gun Digest Book of the 9mm” to some load data for 160 grain bullets in an old Hodgdon manual (#24). A note to Hodgdon was answered by Mike Daly and he offered data for HS6 and HP38 which had been published in the #24 edition. Having a quantity of Blue Dot on hand, I sent a note to Alliant asking about the suitability of Blue Dot and received a reply from Ben Amonette that my estimate on starting loads was probably reasonable and to work up carefully, which I did.

Marshall sent a box of his 160 grain FNBBs, sized .358.” The large diameter forced me to use a fairly short OAL of 1.040” in my test guns, a Glock 17 (or 19) and a Sig P226. The maximum OAL for the 9mm is 1.169” so I was giving up a lot of powder space. The next batch of these I get will be sized a little smaller to see if that helps on the powder space issue, and some other problems detailed below.

The large diameter & deep seating also caused some problems with the dimensions of the finished product. The bullets seated fairly deep, and many brands of 9mm brass get much thicker about halfway down the case. This could cause a pretty significant bulge which would prevent chambering. Running the neck expander into the case too far had the same effect, especially one designed for the .357 (which would be the normal choice for this bullet diameter). To solve this problem a couple of approaches were taken.

First, I used a 9mm expander. Specifically a Lyman “M” expander marked “38AP” which I assume stands for .38 cal auto pistol. This did not quite flare the case mouths enough for 0.358” bullets so I cut a generous chamfer on each case mouth with a case deburring tool before bullet seating. This along with the hard bullets and careful seating prevented lead shaving. As the case mouths were not flared no crimp was necessary.

Second, it was found that the right brand of brass was critical. It turned out that some Federal brass on hand had the thinnest case walls, so it was used exclusively.

The maximum OAL was found by taking barrels out of the Glock and Sig and seating bullets deeper and deeper until a dummy round would drop into the barrel with the case head flush with the top of the barrel (where it locks up against the breech). One of the guns would take 1.050” and the other would take 1.040” so of course the shorter OAL was used for all loads. In effect the loaded rounds where now headspacing off of the bullet contacting the rifling, which is OK.

Next step was to work up loads. Of course when venturing in unknown territory like this, safety is a primary concern. I briefly considered working up the loads in my Ruger Blackhawk Convertible, which has both .357 Magnum and 9mm cylinders. The gun is of course brutally strong and could clearly take the hottest 9mm handloads. But what purpose would this serve? I’d have loads which would be suitable for the Blackhawk, but would have no idea whether they would cycle in the semi-autos or be safe. So I worked up using the Sig. For each increment in powder, I fired the first shot without the magazine in the gun. Thus, if a primer or case blew, there would be an avenue for the powder gas to escape. After the first shot, each case was carefully examined for signs of high pressure before firing the rest of the string. With semi-autos, a load can be under peak pressure but still cause the gun to unlock too early, especially if the recoil spring is weak, which can bulge the case over the feed ramp or even cause the case to fail. Thankfully no problems were encountered.

I started around 4 grains of Blue Dot and cautiously worked up to 4.8 grains. Primers were Winchester Small Pistol. 4.8 grains yielded an average of 884 feet per second from the 4” barrel of the Sig. Extreme spread was 28 fps and standard deviation was 14 fps. Unbelievably for the very heavy bullets, the point of impact was right on the front sight at 25 yards. In addition, this was my smallest ever group from a 9mm of 5 shots into one inch at this distance. Four of the shots went through one ragged hole. No indications of excess pressure were present, no primers cratered or blown, etc. As the point of impact and accuracy were perfect, no further load development was done.

So far the bullets have not been called upon to save anyone’s hide. They have been shot (but not chronographed) in a 9mm carbine and cycled OK. Our hog hunting trips are used to test a variety of loads and we just haven’t gotten far enough down the list for them to be the first bullet sent at an unsuspecting hog.

In retrospect, it would have been a lot easier to use ‘standard’ 9mm bullets and hope for the best. But this was a very educational project which required research, planning, and problem solving. Plus it was kind of fun to push the envelope of 9mm performance. The knowledge gained was very worthwhile. And I have about a thousand cast 158 grain semi-wadcutters which might make interesting plinking loads in the 9mm…..

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