Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Superb Information By Stephen Camp

SIG-Sauer P-220 Chronograph Results

That the .45 ACP is a popular self-defense cartridge in the US is an understatement. It is probably the "yardstick" by which other defensive cartridges are measured. Most popular is probably the full-size 1911 having a 5" barrel, but smaller handguns are frequently used.

Some people are just not comfortable with cocked and locked carry and a frequent choice for them is the SIG-Sauer P-220 pistol. This is a conventional DA/SA pistol complete with a decocker. This single-stack pistol is carried hammer down with the first shot being fired by either a double-action trigger pull or by manually cocking the pistol.

Today, I chronographed ammunition with bullet weights varying from 165 to 230 grains and including both standard and +P ammunition. A couple of newer defense loads were included and one was fired into water for informal expansion testing.

Going against popular opinion these days, I do not share a fondness for the super compact .45 ACP handguns available today. The low-pressure .45 sets no velocity records out of the traditional 5" barrel for which it was designed and shortening the barrel can drastically reduce velocity. This seems to be the case more with .45 ACP than the higher pressure 9mm.

Most of the data seen these days is from the 5" barrel. I will compare some of the loads from the SIG-Sauer's 4.25" with those of the 3/4" longer 1911 Government Model barrel. (SIG-Sauer lists the barrel as being 4.4" long, but measuring from the muzzle to the rear of chamber measures 4.25." Perhaps they included the hood as part of the total barrel length?)

This is neither a "range report" as I've already done one on this pistol that's available on several sites such as or Neither is it one of the "Critical Look" articles exclusive to this site although one is probably coming. It is simply a report on the measured velocities of some common defensive rounds from the SIG-Sauer pistol and some informal expansion testing with some observations on certain newer rounds from both the P-220 and the full-size 1911.

The Pistol: Today's shooting was done with a stock P-220 .45 ACP that I purchased several years ago. It has been "customized" only by the adding of a small strip of skateboard tape to the front strap.

Ammunition: Testing was done with the following ammunition and the average velocities shown are based on 10 shots fired approximately 10' from the chronograph screens

Ammo Average Velocity (Ft/sec) Extreme Spread/Std. Deviation (Ft/sec)

Corbon 165-gr

PowRball +P 1189 33/13

Remington UMC 185-gr

MC "Flat Nose" 949 58/18

Federal Classic 185-gr

JHP (45C) 944 22/7

Taurus 185-gr Hex HP bullet 926 19/7

Corbon 200-gr JHP +P 975 34/12

Winchester Ranger 230-gr

RA45T JHP 857 10/4

Federal Classic 230-gr JHP

(45D) 839 25/8

Speer 230-gr Gold Dot

Hollow Point 823 31/10

Remington 230-gr Golden

Saber BJHP 822 34/13

Federal 230-gr HydraShok 871 42/14

Winchester 230-gr Subsonic

JHP (XSUB45A) 834 23/10

Winchester USA 230-gr FMJ 771 17/7

Comparison to Velocities from 5" 1911:

Ammo SIG-Sauer P-220 w/4.4" bbl (Ft/sec) 1911 5" (Ft/sec)

Corbon 165-gr.

PowRball +P 1189 1220

Corbon 200-gr

JHP +P 975 1019

Remington 230-gr

Golden Saber BJHP 822 847

Federal 230-gr Hydrashok 871 870

Speer 230-gr Gold Dot

Hollow Point 816 823

Winchester 230-gr Subsonic

JHP 834 845

Winchester 230-gr RA45T 857 841

It appears that .45 ACP velocity remains essentially the same in the slightly shorter P-220 barrel as with the 5" 1911. If the barrel is reduced by an inch or so more as in the case of the really compact 1911 pistols sold today, velocity drops significantly. For this reason I do not care to go below the 4 1/4" inch barrel as is found on the 1911 Commander and the P-220.

Winchester's "Deep Penetrating" 230-gr. JHP bearing the "Subsonic" logo is not the same round as their law enforcement only RA45T.

Of the seven compared loads, 5 are faster in the longer barrel, even if by but 1 ft/sec in one case! Two are faster in the SIG-Sauer barrel, but none are extreme in velocity differences.

One of the newer defensive rounds on the market are Corbon's 165-gr. "PowRball." This is somewhat similar to Federal's "Expanding Full Metal Jacket," but seems to penetrate and expand more consistently in both bare gelatin and 10% ballistic gelatin after passing through various barriers like plywood and the 4-layers of denim that's become a "necessary" standard.

The expanded bullet on the left is a .45 ACP 165-gr PowRball recovered from the "scientific mud expansion test." The one on the right was fired from a 5" 1911 into water. It expanded to a smaller diameter than the one from mud and its jacket did separate from the bullet. There was no jacket separation in the bullet recovered from mud. Even though the bullet on the right impacted at higher velocity, the one on the left shows greater expansion. I suspect that part of this is actually deformation on top of expansion and believe that the bullet on the right probably better represents what to expect in "soft targets."

Another new round is from Taurus, a company usually associated with firearm manufacturing. It is a solid copper bullet with a large hollow point. In 10% gelatin tests, the bullet has performed well. As is noted in the previous ammunition velocity tables, it is not particularly fast.

This is Taurus' entry into expanding handgun ammunition for the .45 ACP.

Fired into water, the hex head bullet impacted at an average velocity of 926 ft/sec.

I was not particularly impressed with the 185 grain Taurus Hex Head hollow point when fired into water. The recovered bullet weighed 184.2 grains. Expanded diameter was 0.60 x 0.64."

All of the ammunition fired today was capable of very good accuracy. Groups shown below were fired at 15 yards off-hand and there is considerable human error involved in each 5-shot group. Inferences as to which load is most accurate should not be made.

Any of the loads shown here are more accurate than can be held in defensive situations. None are "inaccurate."

Once again, we see that all of the ammunition shot for groups is more than adequately accurate for self-protection, be they at the low or high end of the bullet weight range.

Remington's 230 grain Golden Saber grouped very well…when I did my part. The shot on the left was not the gun or the ammunition's fault.

Of the ammunition fired today, were I picking a load for personal protection, my first choice would be Winchester's RA45T followed by the Corbon 165 grain PowRball. If I couldn't get either of those, I'd probably go with either the Golden Saber or the Hydrashok even though the latter is considered "poor" by some as it routinely fails the 4-layers of denim test. Whether it does or not, it is still at least forty-five caliber and perhaps the felon won't be wrapped in four layers of denim…if any!

Though discontinued, the Corbon 200-gr JHP +P remains a favorite load in the P-220. It uses the old Speer "Flying Ashtray" JHP and this round does expand and sometimes fragment in tissue. At least it has in animals I've shot with it. Recalcitrant in feeding with some pistols, it worked flawlessly in the P-220.

Though an "old technology" bullet and one that's been replaced with Speer's Gold Dot, I believe this to still be a very decent defense round. It has proven extremely accurate out of the P-220 after several hundred rounds. I wouldn't hesitate to use it for "serious" purposes, but do believe that there are better choices. That more dependable bullets do exist don't automatically make the older loads ineffective.

Though this Federal 230-gr Hydrashok was fired from a 1911 into water, results would probably be similar from the P-220 as it actually displayed an average velocity within 1 ft/sec of the 1911's.

These two .45 ACP Winchester Ranger "T" (RA45T) hollow points were fired into water from a five-inch 1911. As the average velocity of the P-220 and that gun are less than 20 ft/sec different, I strongly believe that identical expansion characteristics can be expected.

In today's shooting, there were no malfunctions of any kind. I was pleased that at 15 yards, there was also no great change in POI vs. POA. With the exception of the Winchester 230-gr "Subsonic" JHP, which I've never been able to get to reliably expand in anything or the 230-gr ball, I'd feel pretty well protected using any of this ammunition in a P-220 or Commander, but would not go to shorter barrels with any of it except the PowRball. It's reported to work fine from the shorter barreled pistols. Winchester's +P version of the law enforcement load shot today is said to work well in them, too.