Over the past six years, I have tested different stripes of 25 ACP ammunition to see if there is enough difference to make a difference in the performance of a cartridge most would consider marginal. A few folks will give the .25 the nod for being more reliable than the 22 LR in pocket guns. But much of the current advice and scant media testing that is out there are consistent in their disapproval of the 25 ACP as perhaps the most underpowered round one can select for personal protection.
But my own primary sources tell me that it depends on your equipment. A cheaply made pistol like a Raven Arms or Jennings might be more of a liability than an asset compared to finely made Euro pistols like the Beretta Bobcat and the Baby Browning. The same goes for the ammunition. Most non-expanding full metal jacket loads are going to give adequate penetration, while hollow points in 25 ACP give neither expansion nor penetration. But from the time I started my research until now, a few new offerings have come onto the market. Buffalo Bore now offers two loadings for the little 25, one of which we have tested. Likewise, Hornady has expanded its Critical Defense line to include a 25 ACP 35-grain FTX load. It is an offering I was most excited to test.
The 25 ACP Hornady Critical Defense load, like all of the company’s line, comes in boxes of twenty-five rounds. The round itself consists of a nickel-plated case for better corrosion resistance and a 35-grain FTX projectile. The FTX is a jacketed hollow point with a small polymer tip in the cavity. Hornady developed the tip to act as a wedge to encourage bullet expansion. In my own testing, I liked to think of the Critical Defense load as a pre-clogged hollow point. Some hollow-point loadings will pick up clothing in the cavity, which can prevent expansion. The wedge already takes up that space and it does a remarkable job of ensuring bullet expansion without concern for clothing. Of all the loads I have tested in my .380 ACP series, the Critical Defense 90-grain hollow-point provided the best balance of expansion and penetration.
I had high hopes for the same load miniaturized for the little 25 ACP cartridge. Like most defensive 25 ACP ammunition, the Hornady load uses a 35-grain bullet rather than a standard 50-grain load with the hope of increasing the 25 ACP’s sedate velocity.
I fired a string of five rounds over my chronograph using the Hornady load. The handgun I used is a Beretta 21A Bobcat with a 2.4-inch barrel. From a distance of ten feet, those 35-grain pills clocked in at an average velocity of 950 feet per second. That is about 200 feet per second faster than most 50-grain full metal jacket loads, albeit accomplished with a lighter projectile. However, the velocity deviation was unusually wide. My lowest velocity in the string was 911 feet per second. The highest was 982. At velocities this low, a loss of one round to the next of 71 feet per second can be material.
To test for function and reliability, I shot much of the box through my Beretta on paper targets. I could reliably turn in eight-shot groups within two inches at ten yards. Recoil was sedate and there were no failures to fire or feed. However, when I was loading my magazines, I noticed the round was substantially shorter than the feed lips of my magazines. A conventional full-metal jacket would completely fill the void. The Hornady Critical Defense load, when fully seated, leaves about a quarter-inch gap between the face of the projectile and the front of the magazine. This is likely due to the lighter, flatter projectile being used. The added dwell time while cycling might induce malfunctions in some pistols, so test this and other hollow-point loads in your pistol for function before you carry.
Testing the .25 ACP Load
I shot the Hornady Critical Defense load from a distance of ten feet into a pair of 10% Clear Ballistics gelatin blocks fronted by four layers of denim to simulate a worst-case scenario of a winterized attacker. While I hoped for expansion, I had to temper my expectations. If no expansion was achieved, certainly these light-for-caliber rounds would not penetrate as deeply as conventional 50-grain ammunition. The results were a bit of a surprise.
The first round traversed the denim, mushroomed, and shed its polymer plug before tumbling and coming to rest at the nine-inch mark. The other three rounds failed to expand, causing some limited tumbling damage before stopping at the 12, 12¼, and 13¾ inch marks respectively.
I puzzled over the results for a moment before I found myself thinking about the deviation seen in the chronograph test. I surmised that the first round was the highest velocity of those fired. The first round’s jacket and core peeled at the nose to a diameter of .277 inches. The ensuing drag retarded penetration. The last three rounds were likely lower powered and did not expand. Without any drag, these three sailed on to give decent penetration on par with 50-grain full metal jacket ammunition like the PMC Bronze.
While I would prefer to carry 50-grain full metal jacket ammunition in 25 ACP handguns, the Hornady Critical Defense 35-grain load is perhaps the best defensive-oriented round out there. Other 35-grain defensive hollow points are simply too low velocity to give expansion. Indeed, the exposed hollow-point cavities of those rounds simply slow them down even faster, resulting in shallow penetration that can have fatal consequences for the self-defender. Despite its drawbacks, the Hornady load is measurably higher velocity and can at least translate it to a level of good penetration with the remote possibility of expansion as an added bonus.