Anyone who shoots with me knows that I like any round loaded with a projectile manufactured by Barnes Bullets. I have even gone so far as to say that I think Barnes has made one of the top ballistic innovations of the past fifteen years with these bullets—regardless of the market you’re talking about. And a big part of the reason I’m not shy about my love affair with these bullets is because they perform regardless of velocity (with reasonable limitations), barrel length, barriers, or any of the other factors that have the ability to stop a lesser bullet in its tracks. So naturally, when Barnes started releasing their own loaded ammunition in all of the major calibers I had to give some of it a go through ballistic gel.
Late last year, the folks at Barnes finally added .357 magnum to their lineup. That was all it took for me to add that to my review list for 2015. And we tested some of the 9mm while we were at it too. Before I even get into the heart of this review, I want to acknowledge something: it’s true that any round loaded with a Barnes bullet is not cheap. They are constructed of solid copper and copper is quite a bit more expensive than lead. But I don’t sacrifice when it comes to picking a round for self defense or personal protection, and I would encourage you not to let the price become too important of a factor in choosing a round either. You don’t have to shoot many self-defense rounds each year unless you just enjoy testing them, and carry ammo doesn’t exactly go bad. Even if you rotate every 6 months, you’re looking at a small expense each year for a couple more boxes. End rant.
Accuracy with these bullets typically falls just short of the Hornady HAP match bullet in most of my guns, though these bullets are certainly “match accurate” compared to almost any off the shelf ball ammo. Off-hand groups out to 10 and 15 yards were routinely about 2-2.5″ clusters through a VP9, and the best group through a Wilson Combat Ultralight Carry 5″ 1911 measured in at slightly more than an inch through a Wilson Combat ULC 5″ with the gun rested on the shooting bench. The .357 performed slightly better through a Smith and Wesson Model 19 K-frame (accuracy-wise), coming in at just about an inch as well, shot offhand. I did not rest these rounds out to 25 yards because it is defensive ammunition and I don’t anticipate ever shooting in defense at that kind of distance. But the results out to 15 yards demonstrate that 25 yard accuracy would also be quite good, and I have shot steel out to about 75 yards with these bullets in the past through a Wilson pistol with a wide-notch rear sight on it, so I know they are more than capable of accuracy at longer distances.
Throughout testing over the past months, we have gone through about 200 rounds of this product line. We have had zero failures to ignite, zero failures to feed, and zero duds or squibs. The QC appears to be very good with Barnes right now. Everything from the OAL to the cleanliness of the casings was very consistent.
Performance-wise, it should come as no surprise that these rounds work and work well. That much was even true of the light-for caliber Barnes rounds we have tested in past reviews—a 95 grain 9mm from Wilson Combat and a 160 grain .45 from Buffalo Bore. What was a little surprising, though, was the lack of a substantive performance difference in 9mm out of a shorter-barreled Glock 26 as compared to a full size Glock 17. Through a Glock 17, the velocity was 1031 and the round penetrated to a depth of about 13″. Fired through a Glock 26, the velocity was a slightly lower 1010 and the round penetrated to 12.25″. For people carrying either of those guns, that speaks volumes.
This does come with a slight caveat and I can’t figure out the reason for the discrepancy: out of my Glock 43 (with a barrel only .03″ shorter than the 26, the 9mm load made only a 938 fps velocity and failed to expand. It is the ONLY round from Barnes that I have ever seen do this, so in light of the completely opposite results from the Glock 26, I would just stress the importance of a chronograph—for any round you carry in a shorter gun—to ensure that it is getting enough velocity out of your gun to expand effectively. And keep in mind that even if a 115 grain load doesn’t quite get there, you could always try a 95 grain load like the one we tested by Wilson Combat that would ensure the bullet still made it to quicker velocities out of shorter barrels. If you don’t have a chrono, I would suggest (a) a lighter Barnes bullet, which we have tested before with very good results, or (b) a heavier conventional bullet like a 147 grain Federal HST, as the heavier bullet weights tend to lose less velocity per inch of barrel than the lighter ones in my experience.
Naturally, the performance of the .357 Magnum was worthy of its name. The 125-grain .357 round chronographed at 1355 out of a Colt Trooper mk III with a 4″ barrel and penetrated to a depth of 17 3/8″. The wound channel (above) looked like a .45 round at points, and the projectile itself flowered as perfectly as any round we have tested. Whether you plan to use a revolver to hunt or protect the ranch, this round is mean. It will do the job.
A great surprise (I say great because it does not appear to have negatively affected the performance) was that the 9mm operates at a lower velocity than basically any other 115 grain +P load. This is partially because the Barnes bullet is longer due to the lower density of the all-copper projectile compared to lead and partially because these Barnes bullets don’t need extreme velocities in order to perform through a wide variety of barriers. The result is a load that has negligible recoil or snap and gets you back on target quickly without sacrificing any terminal performance.
A nice tertiary benefit was that the ~1100 fps velocity remained under the sound barrier and performed very well suppressed through my VP9 and SilencerCo Osprey without any sonic “crack.” As noted before, while it may seem like a low velocity for a lighter bullet, the performance was stellar nonetheless, and the slight recoil and snap make this a fantastic choice for any shooters, even out of compact pistols with shorter barrels and (as previously mentioned) some subcompacts.
I obviously love Barnes Bullets. I suppose that makes me biased. But I have also been spending personal funds to carry rounds loaded with Barnes bullets in multiple pistols for several years prior to ever getting any rounds from Barnes to evaluate. They have a fantastic product line and that applies to both their bullets and their loaded ammunition. That being said, there are certainly a handful of more conventional jacketed lead bullets that perform on par with this. I am also a big fan of rounds like Federal HST in 147 grain. So I am in no way saying that these rounds are the only choice for defense purposes. That is a personal decision and there are a lot of factors that come into play. However, I will also stress that having more than one round on your list that you know your guns like and you know you can trust is important for those times when you can’t seem to find a box of whatever it is in stock anywhere. HP
*Big thanks to Barnes Bullets for supplying the rounds used for purposes of these evaluations. Our testing was all performed independently, and all of the results were obtained with a ProChrono Digital Chronograph and a Clear Ballistics 10% FBI block of ballistic gelatin.