Federal’s diverse budget-friendly choices for concealed carry check the boxes – even come in .22 LR.Story by Phil Massaro, Photos by Massaro Media Group
Not all handgun bullets are created equal. My dad – Ol’ Grumpy Pants – still relies on a mixture of lead flat nosed bullets and military ball ammo to feed his .38 Special and .45 ACP, and while I certainly don’t want to be shot by either of the classic bullet designs, I am well aware that modern designs have a multitude of advantages.
While I also enjoy the full metal jackets and cast lead bullets – though I usually use them for target practice unless we’re talking about hard-cast hunting bullets – I rely on premium handgun bullets in my everyday carry guns. The majority of my handgun ammunition consists of Federal’s Hydra-Shok and HST, as the pair have proven to be the most consistent in the FBI protocol testing, and they shoot accurately in my handguns. But as wonderful as that pair are, they are expensive to produce and equally expensive to purchase. Maybe there is room for a middle-of-the-road choice that blends the best features for the citizen to carry in a defensive weapon – a bullet that will save your bacon yet both penetrate and expand reliably.
Federal checked that box with the release of their Punch ammunition line. Relying on the wealth of experience gained during decades of building what law enforcement considers to be the best handgun bullets available, Federal set out to produce a simple, effective and affordable handgun bullet for the masses. The goal was one that will feed properly when it has to, and give the necessary accuracy in addition to the blend of expansion and penetration needed to stop a threat. Assessing the Hydra-Shok, Hydra-Shok Deep and HST, and removing the costly features that the FBI and other agencies require to pass their protocols, Federal wiped the slate clean and developed the Punch bullet.
THE PUNCH LINE is rather diverse, including the classic autoloading cartridge like the 9mm Luger, .40 S&W, 10mm Auto and .45 ACP, as well as the .38 Special in the +P guise and, much to my surprise, .22 Long Rifle. The projectiles designed for the centerfires all have common traits: they are copper-jacketed hollowpoints with the jacket skived to initiate expansion. The entire product line is loaded in nickel-plated cases for smooth feeding and long-term corrosion-resistance. My own hands, replete with acidic sweat, can tarnish a brass case quickly when I handle them often, and I appreciate the benefits of a nickel-plated case, whether on a safari in the heat of Africa or in my everyday carry gun.
“Concealed-carry permit holders, especially new shooters, need an uncomplicated answer to the question, ‘What ammo do I need for self-defense?’” said Chris Laack, Federal handgun ammunition product manager. “Things to consider such as function, reliable ignition, barrier performance, terminal performance, ballistics and other considerations are a lot to digest for most people. What consumers really need to know is it will function in their gun every time and that it will be effective stopping a threat as quickly as possible. Punch is our easy answer for them.”
Added Laack, “Punch is the first Federal Premium-branded personal defense line we made that was not specifically designed for law enforcement. Punch ammo was created based on what we’ve learned over 30-plus years of being the leader in law enforcement handgun ammunition.”
Unlike Federal’s law enforcement bullets, which are designed to perform well when fired through a variety of barriers like steel and plywood, Punch ammo is a Federal Premium product designed specifically with the personal defender in mind. During the development of Punch ammunition, Federal’s engineering team set out to create a brand-new Federal Premium bullet that excelled in evaluations that were most relevant to typical self-defense scenarios, primarily bare gel and heavy clothing. They used what they’ve learned about jacket skives, which metals to use and other aspects of handgun bullet design, and applied that to engineering the optimum self-defense bullet.
“Many personal defenders think, ‘If it works for law enforcement, then it’s good for me.’ That is a great guideline and still our ultimate recommendation,” said Laack. “But that may add features not necessarily required for everyone’s daily carry.” What are the major differences between the premium designs and Federal’s new Punch? Well, due to the requirements of the various law enforcement offices, the HST and Hydra-Shok need to perform in a number of different mediums, including solid barriers, heavy clothing, auto glass and more, resulting in a stiff bullet with fantastic penetration.
Make no mistake, there is absolutely nothing wrong with relying on these bullets, but if you look at the most common defensive situations – those in which the goal is to either neutralize the threat or to get yourself to safety – this level of bullet may not be needed, and in some circumstances can result in over penetration.
The right and need to save one’s own life, or the lives of family and others, is undeniable, but the risk of hitting an innocent bystander should be a concern. And just as when using a rifle in a defensive situation, the risk of wounding or killing someone behind the perpetrator when using too stiff a bullet is a reality. The Punch is designed for the citizen who needs to use their handgun to save themselves or others, and it concentrates on that situation.
I USED A few different handguns to test the Federal Punch, including my dad’s Colt Officer’s Model Special .22 LR revolver, a Sig P938 subcompact 9mm, my Smith & Wesson Model 36 snubnose .38 Special, and my beloved Sig Sauer 1911 STX in .45 ACP.
Field results: the Federal Punch just plain shoots. I put targets out at 10 and 15 yards – further than the 7-yard standard – to assess the accuracy results, and came away very happy. Of the lineup, I spend the most time with the S&W .38 and the Sig Sauer STX .45 ACP, and the targets confirm that, though the other guns were more than accurate enough. In the autoloaders, there were no feeding or extraction problems at all, and the revolvers all ejected smoothly with no pressure signs whatsoever.
What Federal has done is create a bullet unique to each cartridge, changing the geometry of the hollow point and jacket thickness to best serve each design. The six Punch centerfire options include a .380 Auto 85-grain offering with a muzzle velocity of 1,000 feet per second, a .38 Special +P 120-grain load at 1,070 fps, a 9mm 147-grain load at 1,150 fps, a .40 S&W 165-grain load at 1,130 fps, a 10mm Auto 200-grain load at 1,100 fps, and a .45 Auto 230-grain load at 890 fps.
All the ammo I tested hit the target at point of aim, with the sole exception of the .38 Special +P load, which hit a couple inches high from my gun. The .22 LR Punch load features a 29-grain lead-core bullet with a heavy nickel jacket – not plating – and a flat meplat.
The lead core is specifically engineered to perform well out of the shorter barrels of defensive handguns. “We’ve talked about making a .22 LR defensive load for some time,” said Dan Compton, Federal’s manager of shotshell and rimfire ammunition. “We finally decided that people are already carrying .22 LRs, so we might as well build a .22 bullet optimized for protection. We’re not trying to replace the 9mm. We decided that for a .22 defense bullet, penetration was more important than expansion.”
The 29-grain bullet out penetrated the .25 Auto with a 50-grain bullet and the .32 Auto with a 60-grain hollow point; the .22 LR Punch load gave a penetration depth of 13.75 inches in bare gelatin.
Federal’s Punch line looks at results in bare gel and through heavy clothing only; those are the parameters most closely associated with defensive situations. At roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of the price of the premium stuff, it can stretch your shooting dollar considerably without compromising effectiveness.
Considering the day-to-day rigors of carry ammunition – daily exposure to weather, heat, air conditioning, sweaty hands, etc. – the sealed primers and nickel cases of the Punch ammo will certainly show the advantages. As ammo hits the shelves again, thank goodness, try a box of Punch in your everyday carry gun. I think you’ll be happily surprised with the results.