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Honest Review: Hornady Subsonic Ammo



A defensive shooting situation is anything but predictable. The location, the time, or even the specific threat is going to present itself at complete random. In short, there is very little that you can count on. There is one thing you can take to the bank though…you likely won’t have ear protection on. Now no ammunition is guaranteed as safe to fire without ear protection, especially in an indoor setting, but going subsonic might just be the difference between temporary and permanent hearing damage.

Subsonic ammo isn’t anything new. Just take a heavy bullet and pair it with a light powder charge and you can easily stay under the speed of sound and thwart the ear-piercing crack of a sonic boom. Of course, if velocity is reduced too much, expansion might suffer. This has always been the reason the design was never completely welcomed for defensive ammunition. Through the years I’ve come to realize that if you want a certain type of ammo to exist, all you have to do is tell Hornady that it can’t be done. So after countless emails and social media digs this year our taunting brought us subsonic handgun ammo that expands!

While plenty of work went into the design, they said “screw it” when it came time to come up with a quintessential, one-word super-tactical product name. Looking for Hornady Subsonic Ammo? Go to the gun store and ask for “Hornady Subsonic Ammo,” because that’s what it’s called. Honestly, I like the route they chose because simplicity is a lost art and that is a lot of what is going on here. While Hornady is known for its revolutionary bullets, they went with their tried and true XTP bullet- a classic hollowpoint design. It turns out that these bullets expand just fine at reduced velocities, and all that needed to be done was to find the right powder charge to make them cycle reliably at less than 1,100 feet per second. Naturally, I don’t buy anything (get it!) without finding out for myself, so I requested a sample of the entire line and set out to the range with a chronograph and some Clear Ballistics 10% FBI gel.

The new ammunition comes in the Holy Trinity of self-defensive staples – 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45ACP. My goal was to try each round out to see how they grouped, functioned, and of course, see how they fared against ballistic gel. Not all threats come at you naked, so I figured it might be a good idea to wrap the block in a denim jacket, effectively testing how well my ammo would work in 1985. I decided to add leather to the test sequence as well, just in case I wind up in the 1950s and the Fonz wants to come get some. For the test pistols, I kept it realistic by using compacts for the 9mm and the .40 S&W while opting for a full-sized 1911 to run the .45 ACP.

I started my testing by gathering a general feel for the ammunition as I dumped a few magazines into a cardboard IPSC target. I found all of them to be substantially quieter than supersonic ammo, but still not quiet enough for prolonged exposure without hearing protection; only using a can will make that magic happen. Recoil and flash were also greatly reduced, which is typically a given when you dial down velocity. After “fun time” was over, I shot some bench-rested groups to determine 15-yard accuracy with each of the three cartridges. I found all of them to be capable of sub-2-inch five-shot groups with the 9mm producing consistent one-hole clovers, even out of tiny barrels.

Being that the 9mm was balls accurate I decided to use it for my initial gel testing, and also felt safe shooting them over a chronograph that was 7 yards away. However, before setting up the gel I decided to grab some muzzle velocities because I just needed to know the SD of these babies. It turns out that the SD for a ten-round string was only five and had an average velocity of 894 FPS.

When the bullets arrived at the gel (again, just 7 yards away) they retained nearly all of their velocity and expanded after just a few inches of penetration, regardless if the gel was bare or clothed with denim or even leather. We saw penetration straight through the 16 inches of gel but were able to recover the bullets from the sand backstop, as they barely penetrated before falling to the ground. After gaining confidence that I was all but finished with the gel, I fired some .45ACP into it to find the same outcome. I skipped .40 S&W because the gel was looking a little too used up and I needed to make sure there was something for the trolls to feast on below. Also, I had my finger on the trigger the entire time, even when the guns were locked in my trunk (I hope you didn’t spill your Doritos reading that).

When it was all said and done, all rounds cycled perfectly, even without a suppressor, which is a typical caveat with subsonic ammunition. The action also went into slide lock every single time which is always a concern with “reduced power” ammunition. Overall I was satisfied with all three offerings and even put the remainder into my home defense pistol. I figure, should someone decide to hover over my bed at 2 a.m., there’s no reason to wake the dog.

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