Deadly Nine — Or Ninesense?

Sam’s bullet box tells a 9mm story …

Sam Fadala

Have you ever had too many choices, like your mom taking you to a real candy store for the first time with 37 eye-popping treats behind the see-through glass, none of them a “lollipop”? My personal adoption of the 9mm was for open field carry, informal target shooting (pure shooting enjoyment in other words), concealed carry, home protection, and coming to the aid of the accosted innocent, including myself.

Ammo choices made my head swim — not only so many, but the best the world has ever known from many different countries. Reasons for going to the nine: cheaper ammo than my .45 ACP with less recoil for more pleasant practice. But what about performance? Is the 9mm Parabellum truly “enough gun” for that rare but essential occasion when enough gun is required?

Before setting out to run a few demonstrations in Sam’s Bullet Box — in fact before I even bought my first 9mm — I consulted my handgun coach. He told an interesting, if unpleasant story, of a police officer and a 9mm. The bad guy was holed-up in a trailer. The lawmen broke the door open from the bottom. The officer stuck his head in. A man with a shotgun took aim. CLICK! Before Mr. Criminal could rack a round into battery, the officer fired one round from his 9mm. Not to be grim — but the bullet entered under left arm, traveled through chest, destroyed the “pump,” and exited under the right arm. “That would not have been the case in times past,” my mentor told me. “Today’s 9mm high-power ammunition is far deadlier than ever. So don’t worry about switching.” Fine, but as the Russians say, Trust but verify.


Holes are drilled in the bottom of the box below the balloon compartment to drain water.


Sam’s Bullet Box showing balloon for the water balloon section not filled yet, a 25
pound clay block and packing paper trap. Not scientific but still interesting!


The Bullet Box is totally unscientific but easily built and can give a good account of
bullet behavior at some level. Many different media can be used depending upon your
idea of a test!

Two Test Guns

I bought two 9mm pistols — a Ruger 9E and a Springfield Armory Range Officer (RO) on the 1911 pattern. Then I latched onto a batch of 9mm ammunition to shoot, if for no other reason than to satisfy the normal curiosity gun enthusiasts live by. I’d fire the test ammo at 15 feet into Sam’s Bullet Box, a device as scientific as wearing a necklace of garlic to ward off vampires.

First made, I vowed never to show the box in public. It appeared so stupid. And yet, over the years this simple compartmentalized wooden structure has shown merit. Bullets that penetrate deeply in the media do likewise on game, with fragmenting missiles behaving the same in the field as in the box. The simple device offers many different options with the installment of various media.

The only constants are water balloon and clay block. Water does not represent bodily fluid. It represents water, which impedes bullet progress dramatically. A TV show featured a .30-06 fired at a target submerged not deeply in a swimming pool. The bullets lost impetus quickly, bouncing harmlessly off of the test medium. The nine would be severely challenged by the water balloon. For 9mm ammo I simplified the media to 1″ pine, representing, well, 1″ pine. A water balloon followed the 1″ pine box end, the water representing water.

Then came a quarter-inch plywood separator making a compartment for moist modeling clay representing, yup, modeling clay. Finally another quarter-inch separator making a compartment for a compacted wrapping paper trap. Later, clay and balloon were reversed with no observable difference in bullet performance. Modeling clay was chosen because the “moist” variety could be remolded many times. If anyone wishes to correlate the media to wood, bone, and muscle, fine. I do not. But the simple, almost crude, and even “funny,” box taught me a lot about 9mm ammo.

So let the games begin.


These bullets were recovered from the plywood setup. From left to right: Russian
FMJ for comparison purposes, Buffalo Bore 115 gr. HJP, Hornady 147 gr. XTP,
Buffalo Bore 115 gr.Barnes TAC-XP, Buffao Bore 147 gr. JHP, Hornady 115 gr.
FTX and the Black Hills 124 gr. JHP +P.


This one gallon jug filled with water was struck with a 50 gr. Liberty Ammunition
bullet at 2,000 fps from 10 yards. The impace caused the water to literally explode
in all directions, and as can be seen, the container was blown wide open. Sam’s not
sure how this damage relates against a “real” target of flesh and bone though.


The Liberty Civil Defense 9mm (50 gr. bullet at 2,000 fps) fired into plywood filled
the hollow core with wood. The base of the bullet and fragments were recovered from
the water jug and the first two inches of the plywood panels.

Test Shots

The two major types of 9mm ammo were FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) and expanding “self-defense” bullets. I started with 9mm FMJ target ammo as a base of comparison. I was wrong to consider FMJ’s target ammo only. Much humanoid damage has been inflicted by this bullet from its inception into military service and beyond. The FMJ’s in all brands had similar bullet profiles, essentially semi-pointed. The expanding bullets included many different designs, all projectiles created with the same goal — tissue and bone damage with effective wound channels to be employed in life-or-death situations where the good guy protects self and others.

The three easy-to-find self-defense pistol rounds, 9mm, .40 and .45 are puny compared to even the modest-power .308 with 150-grain bullet at 2,800 feet per second. I am currently studying The Armed American’s Complete Concealed Carry Guide to Effective Self-Defense (videos) and the trainer promises no 9mm, .40 or even .45 can be relied on to stop an attack with one shot. As he points out, the human body can “soak up a lot of punishment.” He also wisely and correctly explodes the myth of bullets “knocking an antagonist over.”

We hunters see what looks like a deer bowled over from the strike of a .30-06 bullet. But that is not happening. The opening video shows a man willing to take a direct hit from a .308 into body armor. The bullet’s impact at point blank range does not push this brave soul back so much as 2″, even though he was standing on only one foot to upset his balance.

The comparatively small 9mm bullet, where a 147-grain pill is heavy, went up against the media in the Bullet Box to demonstrate penetration and wound channel, the latter being the internal damage to the clay. The Bullet Box has failed in the past on some rifle ammunition, but crude as it may be, the box has told the story on most rifle and all handgun ammo.

Failures: a custom muzzleloader built by Dale Storey to withstand huge loads, sent a 625-grain lead conical starting at 1,750 feet per second into the box, blowing the sides out completely. The Box also failed with my current Africa .416 Remington PH rifle, especially with solids that sailed right through end-to-end. Later, I lined up several large pieces of oak — .416 solids penetrated four feet of this particular wood.


HP bullets mostly held together with some bullet weight loss, depending on the media.
Performance was fairly uniform with conventional bullets and very reliable.


Not surprisingly, the FMJ bullets tended to stay together with virtually
100 percent weight retention, while penetrating deeply.

General Thoughts

I love scouting for game, any game, because it puts me in the field exploring with open carry sidearm. I now carry one of my 9mm’s or a Smith & Wesson Model 686 .357/.38 Special, the latter with Black Hills wadcutters to enjoy what I call “walkabout shooting.” The accurate 686 is also carried for taking campfire edibles. Foolishly, I envisioned not having to make perfect head shots to preserve meat with 9mm FMJs where such bullets are allowed by law. I envisioned a chest-area strike on rabbit, squirrel, or blue grouse pinion (legal with handgun where I hunt), promising quick collection without spoiled edibles. I have not fired a single 9mm FMJ at game, so the above erroneous speculation is not based on personal experience, but rather destructive results in the Bullet Box, indicating that only head shots will save meat with 9mm FMJs.

My biggest concern shooting 9mm self-defense ammo in this little non-scientific demonstration (certainly not a true experiment), would be providing misleading information, because any ammo marked as a “better performer” would have to follow with “better for what?” Some bullets gave up energy in a burst of expansion. Others penetrated deeply with less bullet deformation. Choose for the situation at hand.

Most interesting was the penetration of lighter weight self-defense bullets creating significant “wound channels” in the clay with surprising penetration and high retained bullet weight. An example of a super-light bullet is Liberty Ammunition 9mm with 50-grain copper monolithic deep cavity nickel plated bullet at two grand muzzle velocity — deep cavity meaning, essentially, a hollow bullet not a hollow point. Fired into stacked plywood boards, this lightweight missile penetrated 3.5 planks with no deformation. Meanwhile, a one-gallon water bottle was literally blown up.

I had a chance to scout an elk area far ahead of my December opener. I knew elk were not yet in the area, but I wanted to study the “lay of the land” before the snows brought the elk down to “lower” elevations, like from 11,000 to only 9,000 feet. I packed my Springfield RO 9mm open carry for practice and pleasure, picking out non-living targets — plant or animal. I had six 9-shot magazines loaded with different self-defense brands, plus a cargo of FMJ’s in my daypack. As with the bullet box, the shooting was nothing resembling a test, but popping similar-sized (about 6″ diameter) downed tree limbs (cracked off in serious winter winds) provided visual testimony of shattering effectiveness. All bullets penetrated fully with considerable splintering of wood, proving nothing, but satisfying my nine-year old curiosity.

Did the simple box teach anything about 9mm ammo? I think so. Recall my personal interest in the nine: open field carry; informal target shooting; concealed carry; home protection; and coming to the aid of the accosted innocent. Open field carry — superb in all but bruin country. Informal shooting — excellent, especially with my RO, which now has a one-piece 1911 tungsten push rod from Brownells for even greater shooting comfort.

Concealed carry — I cannot tell the difference carrying the RO versus my Kimber Ultra Carry .45 when the RO is holstered in a Triple K Number 440 Lightning Strong Side/Crossdraw holster. Home and vehicle protection: my Ruger 9E carries a cargo of 17 hot rounds. Aiding an innocent would-be victim? Only a short time ago the would-be victim was me when a mangy dog came straight toward me, growling, bloody-looking eyes, foaming jaws. The dog departed, but it was nice to have a nine on the hip with full confidence that it would have prevented an attack.


Buffalo Bore tests its ammo from real guns, so the velocities shown on the boxes
are measured velocities when fired over a chrono using factory guns


This is typical clay destruction with the tested 9mm HP rounds. Here it shows
a Black Hills 124 gr. HP +P test.


Considering demonstration, not scientific test, results from the Bullet Box assured at least one shooter — me — the nine could pack the mail. Shooting in the Bullet Box was accomplished with a Ruger 9E 4.14″ barrel. Temperatures in the low 60’s. Clay block 9.5″ deep with all wound channels packed tightly with new clay before firing another round. Seventy-five pounds of clay were used, 50 in the box and 25 to repack the wound channels in the clay.
By Sam Fadala

Black Hills

Made in USA
124-grain JHP + P
Velocity: 1,150 feet per second
Entrance hole: 3″
Exit hole: 2″
Extreme wound channel. Super penetration beyond packing paper trap, bullet caught at end board of Box
Recovered bullet weight: 123.3 grains

Buffalo Bore

Made in USA
Sub Sonic Heavy 9mm Standard Pressure 147-grain FMJ FN bullet Low Flash
Velocity: 1,000 feet per second
Entrance hole: 1.5″
Exit hole: 1″
Long large wound channel – penetration to end of packing paper trap
Recovered bullet weight: 145.6 grains


Made in USA
Zombie Mag 9mm Luger
115-grain Z-MAX bullet
Velocity 1,140 feet per second
Entrance hole: 2″
Exit hole: 1.75″
Long, straight wound channel with considerable clay damage
Recovered bullet weight: 113.2 grains

Buffalo Bore

Made in USA
9mm +P & +P+
147-grain JHP bullet
Velocity: 1,175 feet per second
Entrance hole: 1.5″
Exit hole: 1.5″
Extreme wide wound uniform channel
Recovered bullet weight: 142.5 grains

Buffalo Bore

Made in USA
9mm +P+ Lead Free
115-grain Barnes TAC-XP bullet
Velocity: 1,400 feet per second
This bullet did not exit the 6″ thick clay block
Devastation on the clay was such that the 25-pound
block had to be totally re-compacted
Recovered bullet weight: 112.5-grains

Federal American Eagle

Made in USA
9mm Luger115-grain FMJ bullet
Velocity: 1,180 feet per second
Entrance hole: 3.5″
Exit hole: 2.5″
Clay block ruined — new 25-pound block installed at this point
Recovered bullet weight: 113.6 grains

Remington UMC

Made in USA
9mm Luger 115-grain FMJ bullet
Velocity: 1,145 feet per second
Entrance hole: 3.5″
Exit hole: 2.5″
New clay block badly damaged with significant wound channel
Recovered bullet weight: 114.4 grains

Black Hills

Made in USA
9mm Luger 115-grain FMJ
Entrance hole: 3.5″
Exit hole: 2.75″
Completely re-compacted clay block badly damaged
with cavernous long straight wound channel
Recovered bullet weight: 114.2 grains



Today’s factory 9mm ammo comes in all forms from inexpensive “plinking” FMJ ammo, imports
and bulk packaging to high performance, very reliable “defensive” loads from the major makers
and some smaller makers like Buffalo Bore and Black Hills. Sam felt all of the dedicated
defensive loads were of very high quality.

Aside: I hate it when I relearn something I knew years before. Brief story: Africa, 14-year old boy wants springhare to mount for his room and says he will use .223. I warn .223 may destroy springhare. No, says boy, full-metal jacket bullet will make neat hole, little damage. The lad comes in later with what is left of a springhare — size of jackrabbit — totally blown up. My thought using FMJ 9mm bullets on edible trail protein — fine, but head shots only! Because 9mm FMJs ravaged the clay block.


Made in Slovakia (since 1937)
9mm Luger 115-grain FMJ bullet
Velocity: 1,280 feet per second
Refer to data for FMJ bullets above
Results all but identical
Recovered bullet weight: 114.4 grains

Federal Premium HST 124-grain HST JHP

Made in the USA
Velocity: 1,200 feet per second
Long Straight Wound Channel
Entrance hole: 1.5″
Exit hole: 2.5″
Bullet lost in safety backup woodpile


Recheck of Federal Premium HST 124-grain bullet

with reversed media
Velocity: 1,200 feet per second
Entrance hole: 1.5″
Exit hole: 3″
Bullet penetrated full length of packing paper
Stopped by end board of Bullet Box
Recovered bullet weight: 123.4 grains

HPR Emcon 9mm Luger 147-grain JHP

Made in the USA
Velocity: 905 feet per second
Entrance hole: 1.0″
Exit hole: 1.5″
Long straight wound channel
Both bullet found at end of packing paper trap
Recovered bullet weights: 146.7 grains and 146.8 grains

Winchester PDX1 Defender

147-grain Bonded Jacketed Hollow Point
Made in the USA
Velocity: 1,000 feet per second
Entrance hole: 1.5″
Exit hole: 2.0″
Long straight wound channel with extensive damage
Recovered bullet weight: 146.6 grains

[Winchester PDX-1 fired again with water balloon
first and then clay block. Entrance and exit holes
almost identical to first firing of this load with the
clay block first followed by the water balloon.
Only difference: recovered bullet weight
144.2 grains versus 146.6 grains.]

Hornady 9mm Luger 100-grain FTX

Critical Defense Lite
Made in USA
Velocity: 1,125 feet per second
Entrance hole: 2.5″ cavern
Exit hole: 1.25″
Same results in media, another cavernous hole in clay
Recovered bullet weights: 99.3 grains and 99.5 grains

Hornady 9mm Luger 115-grain FTX Critical Defense

Made in USA
Velocity: 1,140 feet per second
Entrance Hole: 1.75″
Exit hole: 2.5″
Extensive disruption of clay with large cavern in center of clay block
Recovered bullet weight: 99.6 grains

Federal Premium 9mm Luger

124-grain Hyrda-Shok JPH
Made in USA
Velocity: 1,120 feet per second
Entrance hole: 2.0″
Exit hole: 2.5″
Deep penetration with considerable disruption
of clay – long wound channel – exited
packing paper trap, stopped at Box end board
Recovered bullet weight: 123.4 grains

Barnes Tac-XPD Defense Ammunition — 115-grain

Made in USA
Velocity: 1,125 feet per second
Entrance hole: 1.5″
Exit hole: 2.75″
Long cavernous wound channels with extreme disruption of clay
Recovered bullet weights: 114.2, 114.0 and 114.3 grains

Buffalo Bore

Made in USA
9mm +P & +P+ 124-grain jacked hollow-point
Velocity: 1,300 feet per second
Entrance hole: 1.75″
Exit hole: 3″
Tremendous internal cavity in clay
Recovered bullet weight: 119.2 grains


Made in Russia
115-grain FMJ bullet
9mm Luger Steel Case
Velocity: 1,150 feet per second

Three Bullets all total exit from Bullet Box
Fired toward end of shooting — suspect clay fatigue?
Clay compacted fully for each shot.
Addendum: one bullet was found in woodpile backup
Recovered Weight: 114.0 grains

More Ammunition

After finally ruining the 75 pounds of clay, I decided to shoot the remainder of my ammo for an even less scientific evaluation — penetration in tough wood. Some time ago, shooters often lined up 1″ pine boards, object being to discover how many boards would be penetrated by handgun bullets. Here a few samples in plywood with retained weights:

Black Hills 124-grain JHP-P
118.5 grains

Hornady 115-grain FTX
115 grains

Buffalo Bore 115-grain Barnes TAC-XP
115 grains

Russian FMJ
115 grains

Hornady 147-grain XTP
147 grains

Buffalo Bore 147-grain JHP
147 grains

The following ammunition was fired in the field
informally over a chrono with results (averaged) that were no
surprise. Current 9mm ammunition is absolutely excellent.

TulAmmo Brass Maxx
Made in Bosnia and Herzegovina
115-grain FMJ bullet
Velocity: 1,150 feet per second

Winchester 9mm NATO
Made in the USA
124-grain FMJ bullet Target
Velocity: 1,140 feet per second

HPR Hyper Clean 9mm 115-grain TMJ
(TMJ = Total Metal Jacket)
Made in USA
Velocity: 1,128 feet per second

Geco 9mm Luger 124-grain FMJ IPSC
Made in Switzerland
Velocity: 1,150 feet per second

Winchester 9mm 124-grain Target FMJ
Made in America
Velocity: 1,140 feet per second

PMC Bronze 9mm Luger 115-grain FMJ
Made in Korea
1,157 feet per second


Anyone with the least sense of testing protocol would lift eyes heavenward, moaning in protest at this entirely unscientific 9mm ammo Shoot Fest. While multiple admissions of demonstration value only in the Bullet Box, neither scientific method nor engineering method applied, the Bullet Box did stress loads, did indicate penetration, did provide visible and measurable wound channels, did indicate entrance and exit holes, plus recovered bullet weights. Would ballistic gelatin be better? Sure. Seventy-five pounds of moist modeling clay cost about 30 dollars. A similar amount of top-of-the-line gel sufficient to accommodate this particular Bullet Box shooting would run a few hundred bucks.
Furthermore, and perhaps best of all, you can easily build your own shooting box for very little cost, employing various media. For example, heavy denim cloth can be installed at front of box, and for economy, wet newspaper and lined-up telephone books in place of clay. So build your own bullet box! Have fun.

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2 thoughts on “Deadly Nine — Or Ninesense?

  1. Fake Georg J. Luger

    You haven’t proved a thing. The shot under the arm was complete luck and has no bearing on reality. Considering the source, it was probably a myth, too.

    Projectiles entering a human being kill by one method and one method only. Primary cavity. If a round–regardless of caliber– makes a primary cavity in your heart, it’s going to kill you. Whether it’s .17HMR or .454 Casull.

    Penetration is nice, but I’ve seen several .22 wounds where the bullet (Laterally) penetrated one side of the trunk and exited the other . So, I doubt penetration is an issue.

    This has nothing to do with the efficacy of the 9mm cartridge as an anti-personnel round.

  2. Cooper kalisek

    Concerning The part about campfire treats.
    You most definetly do not want to body shoot forest grouse or rabbits it damages the breast meat so bad. With a 9 or 22. By the time you remove the damaged flesh your left with a small bite not a meal. ;). If you had a survival situation. Go for the breast and eat the damaged meat. The head shots in grouse can be tough.

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