The usual bullet weights for 9mm Luger range from 115 to 147 grains. Lighter and heavier bullets can be had, but they are not common for factory loads. The heavy bullets are generally 158-grains, but 165-grain bullets can also be had.
Why such a heavy bullet? What do 158-grain bullets do that a 147-grain bullet can’t? The heavy bullets are slower and won’t break the sound barrier, which is 1125 feet per second at 68˚F. It varies depending on temperature. Advertised speeds for 158-grain bullet are around 950 fps or less from pistols and are not likely to reach the speed of sound even from the longer barrels of submachine guns and carbines. That makes them a good choice for suppressed guns as they will remain subsonic and won’t produce the “crack” sound of little sonic booms that faster bullets do when they break the sound barrier. In fact, most 9mm ammunition with 158-grain and heavier bullets have “subsonic” printed on the box to emphasize their use for this purpose. That said, 147-grain bullets, which travel around 1000 to 1050 fps from the typical pistol barrel, are not bound to break the sound barrier, either, though some might at some temperatures and from long barrels.
Heavy bullets in 9mm are not just for suppressed guns. Another advantage to heavy bullets is their reported enhanced reliability in taking down steel targets used in various practical competitions. Rounds generally must achieve a power factor of 120 or 125 to qualify for Minor power factor scoring, depending on the sport (IPSC, USPSA, IDPA, Bianchi Cup), and heavy bullets are said to be more effective at knocking down steel plates even when they are at the same power factor as lighter bullets.
Four loads with heavy bullets were fired for velocity and accuracy. Fiocchi, IMI and PPU loads had 158-grain FMJ bullets, and Freedom Munitions had a 165-grain plated bullet. Two guns were used, a Glock G19C equipped with a G19 4-inch non-ported barrel and a hybrid Para Ordnance frame and Caspian slide 1911 with a 5-inch Kart barrel.
These heavy bullets are long, some as long as the 9mm Luger brass. The three jacketed 158-grain bullets (Fiocchi, IMI, PPU) have a boat tail, while the Freedom Munitions 165-grain plated bullet does not. The IMI bullet is sealed with tar (black material) like many military rounds
Recorded velocities were similar to their published speeds which ranged from 800 to 950 fps. The longer Kart barrel produced more speed than the 4-inch Glock barrel, though the Fiocchi round produced nearly the same speed from both guns. The IMI load was the fastest of the bunch, with the PPU load a close second. The IMI load clocked 974 fps from the 5-inch barrel, which is well under the speed of sound, and should stay subsonic even with longer barrels, as there is a limit to what speed can be gained even with a carbine-length barrel.
Velocity was recorded with a Shooting Chrony Chronograph at about eight feet. Guns were fired while mounted in a Ransom Rest at 25 yards. Accuracy is the average of two 10-shot groups
All four loads fed, extracted and ejected reliably in both pistols. All the loads made a power factor over 125, though the Freedom Munitions’ 165-grain bullet just squeezed by with a power factor of 127 in the Glock’s 4-inch barrel. The Fiocchi and Freedom Munitions loads were the two slowest loads tested, and they also produced the lowest amount of recoil. If you’re looking for soft shooting ammunition, these are brands to try.
Accuracy was good with some loads. Most 10-shot groups were in the 3- to 4-inch range, which is typical of my experience with these guns with most factory 9mm Luger loads that are not hollow point bullets. The Glock did not like the Freedom Munitions 165-grain plated bullet, producing groups just over six inches, but the Kart barrel shot them well. Guns have preferences and the only way to know what your gun likes is to try different ammo.
Heavy bullets also offer benefits for other purposes. They have higher sectional density than lighter bullets and should produce deeper penetration. This is handy for barrier penetration, or deep penetration that might be desired in a “woods” load for defense against four-legged beasts where the threat might be heavily muscled with thick bones.
Whatever your intended purpose, extra-heavy bullets have something to offer over lighter bullet weights in the 9mm. They effectively knock down steel targets, are subsonic, and have deep penetration. Give them a try.
Resources Fiocchi, IMI and PPU ammunition are available from various retailers. Ask your local gun store or search the internet. www.freedommunitions.com