Hornady Critical Defense: Quality self-defense ammo in niche calibers

Niche calibers are popular with many people for a variety of reasons, but they often suffer from one common problem: a lack of modern self defense ammunition.  Modern self defense ammo is largely being made for only the most common calibers:  .380 ACP, .38 Special, 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP.


Hornady Manufacturing, however, continues to support many of the less common calibers with continued production of classic designs and introductions of new, cutting edge loads.  In the past two years, the company has expanded support of many niche calibers with the Critical Defense line.

The Critical Defense ammunition is manufactured for the most common self defense pistol calibers, and even a few of those who’s popularity is waning. But, if you are relying on something even less common, Hornady may still have you covered.

9mm Makarov

Hornady was one of the first US companies to make ammunition in this caliber with a load in the Custom line.  This cartridge uses a 95 grain XTP hollowpoint bullet and is rated at 1000 fps.  That cartridge is still available, but Hornady is now offering a 9mm Mak cartridge in the Critical Defense line as well.

The new load uses a 95 grain FTX bullet rated at the same 1000 fps.  Both loads generate 211 ft-lbs of energy.  The difference is in the bullet construction.  The XTP bullet looks like a conventional hollowpoint with an open tip and exposed core.  The FTX, however, uses a polymer tip to fill an otherwise standard-looking hollowpoint bullet.  The polymer tip is designed to enhance expansion by keeping material like wallboard and clothing from clogging the hollowpoint.  Additionally, when hydraulic pressure is placed on the tip, it presses outward, helping the hollowpoint to expand.

Generally, I would expect the XTP bullet is better suited for deeper penetration, while the FTX is designed to enhance expansion and will likely have less penetration when compared to the XTP.  I’m not sure that any other company offers more than one hollowpoint load in this caliber, so kudos to Hornady for supporting this popular niche.


.32 H&R Magnum

The .32 H&R Magnum was introduced in the 1980’s as an effort to increase the power of .32-caliber revolvers.  Compared to the .32 S&W Long, it is definitely more powerful, but nowhere near the velocity and energy of the more recently introduced .327 Federal Magnum.  Compared to the .327 Magnum, however, recoil is much lighter while still offering performance similar to the .38 Special.

Ammo for the .32 H&R Magnum is relatively uncommon, and self defense ammo using modern hollowpoints is virtually non-existent.  Hornady changed that with the introduction of a Critical Defense version of this round.

The new Hornady round uses an 80 grain FTX bullet and rates the muzzle velocity at 1150 fps.  That puts muzzle energy at 235 ft-lbs, which is only slightly less than the company’s standard pressure .38 Special load (249 ft-lbs.)  The .32 H&R can make up that slight difference in the fact that many small frame .32 H&R revolvers held six rounds, while many .38 Special revolvers of a similar size only hold five.  I expect that in an armed confrontation, an extra round is more likely to make a difference than 14 ft-lbs of energy.

.32 NAA

The .32 NAA is a niche cartridge with ammunition that, until now, was only made by Corbon and Extreme Shock.  Hornady is now making a Critical Defense round in this caliber.

The .32 NAA cartridge is essentially a .380 ACP case necked down to .312 caliber (.32 ACP.)  The concept was to produce a .32 caliber cartridge that would provide more stopping power than existing .32 ACP loads, yet could be loaded in any .380 ACP handgun with only a barrel swap.


The Hornady load uses an 80 grain FTX bullet and is rated at 1000 fps.  For a diminutive cartridge, it generates a respectable 178 ft-lbs of energy.

To my knowledge, only North American Arms has chambered a pistol in this caliber, with conversion barrels being available for the Diamondback DB380 and Makarov pistols.  If anyone has additional information, please list it below in the comments.

.30 Carbine

Almost exclusively found in the M1 Carbine, the .30 Carbine is a cartridge developed during World War II for arming non-frontline troops with something more than a pistol, but less cumbersome than the M1 Garand rifle.  As one might expect, it is less powerful than many rifle rounds, but more powerful than most pistols.

In the M1 Carbine, this round makes for a good personal protection option for the house.  I’ve known more than one person who keeps a M1 Carbine in the truck for unexpected social encounters when working on the farm or elsewhere.

In the eyes of many people, however, the .30 Carbine has lacked much of a choice when it comes to self defense ammunition.  A few companies have made hollowpoint ammo for the caliber, but most loads are simple ball ammo.

For 2013, Hornady introduced a new .30 Carbine load in the Critical Defense line.  This load uses a 110 grain FTX bullet that is rated at 2000 fps at the muzzle.  This puts energy at nearly 1000 ft-lbs.  Downrange performance remains good with velocity and energy at 1601 fps and 626 ft-lbs at 100 yards.

According to Hornady, the FTX hollowpoint round consistently penetrates 15” of ballistic gelatin.  That puts the round’s penetration in the ideal range as defined by FBI testing protocols.


Additional Loads

Hornady makes a number of other loads in the Critical Defense line that might be considered niche calibers.  I hope that people take advantage of this, which would encourage the company to expand offerings into other surplus and niche rounds.  I’m sure a lot of people would like to see a load for the 7.62×25 Tokarev, for example.

The complete Critical Defense line: 

  • .22 WMR
  • .32 NAA
  • .32 H&R Magnum
  • .380 ACP
  • 9×18 Makarov
  • 9mm Parabellum
  • .38 Special (multiple loads)
  • .357 SIG
  • .357 Magnum
  • .40 S&W
  • 10mm
  • .44 Special
  • .44 Magnum
  • .45 ACP
  • .45 Colt
  • .30 Carbine
  • .410 bore

Join the conversation as a VIP Member