Heavy or light grain for compact pistols

Which would you get the best performance from? Heavy gr bullet say 180-200 vs a light gr say 125-150gr for example. At about 10yrds with any compact pistol, about a 3 inch barrel to compare the gr performance.


For practical purposes, for practice/training, here is all that matters

  1. The ammo you use is reliable in your gun, in your hands, with your magazines
  2. The point of impact (POI) is close-enough for practical defensive purposes to your defensive ammo
  3. That’s really it

The only chambering in defensive pistols that I know would offer such a wide range is 10mm and not a lot of 3” barreled pistols in 10mm out there.

More likely you’d be looking at 180 vs 230 with a 45acp, 115 vs 147 in 9mm and 110 vs 158 in .357.

Common wisdom is that light and fast works better (expansion of comparable hollow points) in a short barreled gun. I carry 110 gr in snub nosed revolvers, 180gr +P in my 3” 1911. But this is a generality, which I hate, because it doesn’t work in all cases. I’m VERY specific about the ammo I carry in every gun.


What exact gun and cartridge are you looking at when you say ‘performance’, what do you mean?

And let me just skip to “Federal HST for defense, and whatever is cheap and reliable with close-enough POI for practice”

For a defensive pistol as I would expect a tiny 3" barrel to be

Heavier, slower bullets are generally better in short barrels. The heavier, slower bullets lose less velocity as a %, and generally designed to more reliably open at lower velocities


How much velocity do you expect to lose at defensive distances? The answer is none.

Heavier projectiles also tend to not expand at all from short barrels and therefore over penetrate. That can be the difference between a clean shoot and a second person behind the bad guy getting shot too which is exactly what happened on the movie set of Rust. Slow and heavy is good for hunting but speed kills.

Again these are generalities and vary wildly with gun and ammo combinations.


This is where picking quality, proven ammunition shines. Something like Federal HST 147gr is pretty much not going to fail to expand, 3" barrel or not.


Heavier projectiles also tend to not expand at all from short barrels.
Slow and heavy is good for hunting but speed kills.
Agree 100 percent with brother @Enzo_T


Check out modern projectiles

In fact, Federal literally made an even heavier than the other options round specifically for micro pistols with the shortest barrels. 150 gr for 9mm

Heavier bullets tend to do better in shorter barrels. They lose a lower % of their velocity than lighter bullets, and are now, modern day, by the good manufacturers, designed to open reliably at the velocities achieved in super short conceal carry barrels

And it performs spectacularly (as all HST does, pretty much). This guy tests in 3" barrels and even FBI style multi layer denim


(not that you need special ammo for a super short barrel, see his full ammo quest 9mm series or anyone else, standard pressure regular old 124gr does exceptionally well as does standard 147gr)

So I’m actually not sure why they made the 150 gr it really wasn’t needed but hey I’m not them lol


As I said, heavily dependent in the ammo and gun. There are modern designed projectiles that work well in short barrels and that’s great. But that’s not what you said in your first post, you just said slow and heavy. A .45 Colt is slow and heavy at 250gr. And it will also go through 2 or 3 bodies before it stops. Many of the older style 45acp HPs barely expand at 5” barrel velocity as it is. And that’s why I hate blanket statements.

My personal favorite loads for the 43X are all heavy 9mm of BRAND NEW designs. Because many of the old school projectiles of that weight sucked. And for my 3” 1911. Will stick with 180gr+P because they will expand here and OUT there if I need them to.

But again, everyone gets to do their own thing. :+1:


You are right, I did not explicitly state I was referring to modern ammunition in my first post.

If you are using quality, modern ammunition, heavier and slower JHP are a better fit in general for short barrels than lighter and faster.

If you are using FMJ/Ball ammo out outdated unreliably ammo that might not expand because it went through a shirt first no matter the weight (looking at you, OG hydrashok and 9BP), all bets are off


It really comes down to the specific bullet/ammo design and how they perform in a specific barrel. Bullets are designed to perform optimally within a certain velocity range. Go much slower or much faster than the designed range and the bullet will likely perform poorly or unreliably. Whether it can stay within that performance window or not can be impacted by barrel length and how fast the powder burns inside that barrel. There can actually even be velocity differences between barrels of the same length made by different manufactures.

Ideally we could all have our own calibrated gel setups to test our specific firearms with a variety of ammo but that would be pricey and time consuming. I don’t have the time or money to do that so I try finding testers using the same barrel length and preferably the same exact pistol when possible. I also want testers who follow the proper FBI standard protocols and shoot at least 5 rounds to get a solid average. Preferably with and without a heavy cloth barrier and ideally also with test shots through a variety of other barriers.

Some heavy bullets work great from short barrels and some don’t. The same can be said for the lighter bullets as well. In 9mm I happen to use “heavy” 147 grain Federal HST bullets in my 3” and 4” barrels. The vast majority of quality tests I have seen show that particular bullet expands and penetrates reliably from barrels ranging from 3” to 16”.

Ironically the 150gr Micro HST which was designed specifically for shorter barrels seems to expand and penetrate extremely well from 3.5” to 4.5” barrels but from the tests I have seen it doesn’t expand reliably from barrels shorter than 3.5”.

So it really depends on several factors. I might prefer a heavier bullet from one manufacturer or a lighter bullet from another.


Or you could chose Solid Fluted Monolithic and not worry about expansion …

Here are a couple of examples: Shop Ammo - Handgun Ammo - Page 1 - Underwood Ammo
or maybe these:
Norma NXD™ | Norma (norma-ammunition.com)


For the benefit of those not watching the link this is an Interesting comment and reply from the XDS 3.3" and 5" 1911 video:


The guy that made the video obviously thinks the HST does not perform properly in the short barrel.

1 Like

Which video is that, what test was done on what gel and what were the penetration/expansion results with each?

I jumped through the one with a short barrel from AR15 .com and it performed “like a boss”, perfectly, flawlessly, exactly as you want, even from the super short barrel. That was the .45. The ammoquest 9mm series also shows all HST performing exceptionally well, basically perfectly, from a 3" barrel (124gr mostly as I recall…really the answer to what defensive ammo should just be “HST and be done with it” lol)


The Federal 150 gr HST is a good choice for sub-compact pistols,