Federal Hydra-Shok 147-Grain Personal Defense Ammo

Federal Ammunition has been around for a long time (since 1922, to be exact), and it’s a name that will be familiar to most shooters. For a number of years, I used Federal ammunition on duty with my agency.

Anyone who happens to be into defensive handgun ammunition will know the name Hydra-Shok. It’s a line of ammo that Federal introduced in 1989. Personally, I love this brand of ammunition because I began carrying it when it was introduced to the market, being a new concealed handgun carrier myself.

Today, we’re looking at the 147-grain version of the Hydra-Shok 9mm round.

Influential Factors

Some things were taking place in the 1980s that were influential on handgun ammunition development that we should take note of.

Law enforcement agencies began the trend of switching over from revolvers to semi-auto pistols.

April 11, 1986, marked a turning point when eight FBI agents went up against two heavily armed and determined felons. In the end, five FBI agents were wounded, and two were killed in the line of duty in the resulting firefight.

Cars involved in the FBI Miami shootout.
The infamous FBI Shootout in Miami put a lot of focus on bullet performance, and how manufacturers make their bullets. It turned out to be a good thing in the end because bullet performance is higher than ever now. Photo: Miami Dade Police Department.

Whether right or not, the FBI blamed much of the failure on “poorly performing ammunition.” Both felons received fatal wounds, but they continued to fight for a time after being wounded. We know that this is a common occurrence when people are wounded, but the FBI hung its hat on “bad” ammo. Personally, I think the ammunition became a scapegoat.

Despite that, it seems that some good came out of the whole thing because the FBI went into the high drive as far as setting standards of ammunition performance. They became quite demanding with what they wanted ammunition to be able to accomplish. It had to penetrate various mediums such as clothing, glass, and auto metal, among others, and then create fatal wounds on bad guys. The bullets have to penetrate at least 12 inches into ballistic gelatin after penetrating these mediums.

Federal’s Hydra-Shok is one of the first loads that was introduced back then to enhance handgun bullet performance. Though it has evolved into more advanced ammunition (Hydra-Shok Tactical, or HST), the original Hydra-Shok is still available for purchase.

Bullet Design

The Hydra-Shok has an interesting bullet design. It’s a hollow point that has a short post in the center. The post does not protrude above the hollow point cavity but is tucked down inside. The post drives back into the non-bonded lead core upon striking soft tissue, which helps with expansion.

Hydra Shok ammo in a magazine.
Notched copper jacket and an internal, center post are hallmarks of the Hydra-Shok design. Photo: Jim Davis.

The Hydra-Shok’s jacket is notched copper, which helps it to maintain its weight as it expands inside the target. The Hydra-Shok rounds that I’ve seen that were recovered from targets were all intact and had retained most of their original weight. That’s important for pistol bullets because penetration is important for reaching vital organs for full effectiveness. Projectiles that break apart tend to not penetrate deeply enough.

Materials and Components

Given that this is premium ammunition, Federal uses nothing but the best materials in the construction.

Hydra-Shok ammo and Hellcat Pro with 17-round magazine.
Nickel-plated cases help reduce friction, which increases reliability. Federal uses top-shelf materials to construct their defensive carry ammunition. Seen here with the new Springfield Hellcat Pro 17-round magazine and Hellcat Pro in the background. Photo: Jim Davis.

Nickel-plated cases are used, which means they exhibit top-notch extraction, given their decreased friction. They also resist corrosion very well, which is a plus. Many pistol rounds that are carried for a while can be exposed to unfriendly elements such as humidity. Cases that resist corrosion are desirable.

New Trends

As mentioned, the Hydra-Shok was one of the very first steps taken by any bullet manufacturer to address the FBI’s new protocol for bullet performance. In many ways, it was a pioneer. It must be doing something right because it has hung on this long.

Hydra-Shok has become one of the standards by which other hollow point ammunition from different manufacturers is judged.


When we consider defensive handgun ammunition, we look for consistency across the board. What factors are considered?

  • Accuracy.
  • Expansion.
  • Penetration.

Given Federal’s stringent quality control, they meet all of these criteria regularly.

A mushroomed, expended Hydra-Shok round and Hellcat Pro.
Hydra-Shok ammo opens nicely when fired into certain mediums. In the background is a Springfield Armory Hellcat Pro. Photo: Jim Davis.


Research shows that most 147-grain Hydra-Shok rounds tested fall within the 12-18 inch range specified by the FBI when fired into 10% ballistics gelatin. They are typically shot through four layers of denim before entering the block of ballistics gel.

I did not have any such gel on hand, so I could not conduct my own tests. However, there is a substantial amount of information available, so it’s not difficult to ascertain the performance after some quick checking.

One test that I saw indicates that 147-grain Hydra-Shok hollow points will penetrate, on average, 12 inches of drywall, which is a common building material for homes. I’ve spoken to many people over the years who believe pistols are a viable, safe alternative to rifles for home defense. Tests such as this indicate that pistols will penetrate several walls inside your house, so be aware that pistol rounds can be very dangerous inside the home.


Federal lists the velocity of the 147-grain Hydra-Shok rounds as 1,000 feet per second from a 4-inch barrel. I like that they used a realistic barrel length; many manufacturers do not delineate what barrel length they use and claim higher velocities than realistically normal because they use long barrels to pump up the velocity. Not the case with Federal.

At 25 yards, the velocity drops to 976 feet per second, and at 50 yards, it is a little over 950 feet per second. At 50 yards, the round drops approximately 1.4 inches if it is zeroed at 25 yards.

The Pistol

For the test, I used my Springfield Armory Hellcat Pro pistol, which has a barrel length of 3.7 inches. That’s not quite the four-inch barrel that Federal uses in their tests, but it’s fairly close, so I doubt that much velocity was lost.

Hellcat Pro with optic.
Springfield’s Hellcat Pro, complete with a 17-round magazine and Shield SMSc optic proved to be a great test bed for the Hydra-Shok. Photo: Jim Davis.

The Hellcat Pro has become one of my favorite carry pistols of late. The proportions are excellent, falling right into the “Not-too-large-not-too-small” size range. Goldi Locks would have loved it!

At The Range

The range session held no shocking revelations. As expected, the Hellcat Pro performed perfectly. Considering its comfortable size, control was very easy and recoil was mild.

I didn’t fire for groups on paper with the 147-grain Hydra-Shok, as my supply was somewhat limited. Rather, I cleared some plate racks with it and was rewarded by a rhythmic clanging sound and seeing plates fall in rapid succession. No matter how many times I shoot steel, it never loses its fun!


Is the Hydra-Shok as technologically advanced as some of the other, more modern rounds on the market? Not exactly. Can it still hold its own as a viable defensive round in today’s world? You betcha!

Just because the design originated back in the late 1980s, I wouldn’t write it off, as I believe it will still deliver the goods. If that were not the case, I don’t think Federal would have continued making it. Yes, they did forge ahead with the design, introducing the Hydra Shok Tactical (HST), which is a better-performing round when fired through barriers. But it also comes at a higher price. Some people don’t want to pay higher prices, and so the standard Hydra-Shok will suffice for their needs. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Additionally, those carrying pistols for defensive use don’t necessarily need to shoot through a variety of mediums like the police do.

Let’s face it: we’re not all tier-one operators or police officers on the street. Sometimes, our budgets and the current state of the economy play into our ammo-buying decisions. I actually carry Hydra-Shok in some of my pistol magazines, which is my endorsement for this ammunition.

As I write this, it is available for $16.99 per box of 20 from GunMag Warehouse, which is a pretty fair price for quality hollow point ammunition these days.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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