Real world Accuracy with 9mm bullets from Hornady and Zero

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Real world Accuracy with 9mm bullets from Hornady and Zero

The 9×19mm Parabellum designed by Georg Luger is by far the most ubiquitous handgun caliber on the planet. Despite its popularity, from what I’ve seen at the range, most people can’t shoot it accurately past 15 yards. That’s unfortunate.


With the right bullet and the right load, the venerable 9 mm Luger (which was introduced in 1902) is accurate up to 50 yards or more.

Granted, a nine, particularly with a short barrel, is not the easiest gun to shoot at long distances. Most bullseye shooters won’t touch a nine.  When I asked Fred Kart, the founder of Kart Precision (the manufacturer of the famed Kart Barrel) if he shot a 1911 chambered in 9mm he practically snickered. “I don’t shoot nines”, he said, and that was that.

Test machine, a Sig 210

I don’t think he was being snooty. In his opinion a 1911 chambered in nine was not something that serious bullseye shooters took seriously.  He simply had better things to do with his time.

Who can blame Mr. Kart? A nine, even loaded with tame rounds, has more than its share of muzzle flip. They are harder to keep on target than a .22 or even a .45 with a target load.  

That said, they are fun and fairly inexpensive to run.  As far as shooting them at 25 yards or longer, who doesn’t like a challenge?

And that is the genesis of this story.

I was curious what kind of accuracy an average shooter could muster out of with a decent 9mm pistol.

Of course, other than the firearm and the shooter, the other huge component is the bullet. Not all bullets are made equal.

What I did in this piece was to load two popular brands of 9 mm bullets in 115, 124/125 and 147 gr varieties and see what kind of groups I could coax out of a couple of accurate 9mm pistols.

My reasoning was, if I could come up with some good groups, so can you.

The Bullets

The are a plethora of 9mm bullets available for reloaders in everything from cast lead to copper plated. I decided to stick with the tried and true jacketed variety which are favored by competitors, law enforcement and most enthusiasts.  (The jacketed variety is also more accurate at longer distances than plated bullets).

Two manufacturers, whose products I’ve used over the years are from Hornady and Zero Manufacturing–companies which are synonymous with quality.

Back in 1949, Hornady’s founder, Joyce Hornady described his products as “Accurate, deadly, dependable”. This catch phrase defined his products so well that it became the new company’s first advertising slogan. Since then, the Grand Island, Nebraska based firm has become the largest independently owned maker of bullets, ammunition, and tools in the world. Not too shabby for a family owned business in flyover country.  

Zero Bullets, based in Cullman, Alabama is also a family affair. Founded in 1965 by Margaret and Joe Stallings, it doesn’t generate the kinds of sales nor offer the sheer number of products compared to Hornady. Think of it as a boutique manufacturer.

It’s a favorite of many reloaders and competitors who speak in glowing terms of quality products and value for dollar. Their brochure states that their credo is “Reliability, accuracy and affordability”. Zero has an unconditional guarantee – if you’re unhappy with anything they’ll replace, reship or refund their products.

I acquired bullets from both these companies based on my experience with their products. Yes, there are other decent bullets out there such as Sierra, Montana Gold, etc but having limited time on my hands, I chose to be pragmatic and test these two.

All of the bullets were loaded with propellants from Western Powders. Western has a wide variety of handgun powders, which is what I use exclusively. In this project we used True Blue and AA#7 and Silhouette.

What to test them with?

Obviously the more accurate the pistol, the better chances for a respectable group. The most accurate nines I have on hand are a Sig 210 (with iron sights), a Dan Wesson Pointman 9 with Kart barrel and a Caspian build (with a Nowlin barrel). Both of the nines had red dot optics but I also tested the DW topped with iron sights.

Twist rate for the Sig and the DW are 1:10 while the Nowlin had a 1:14 configuration.

‘Real World’ Conditions

True Blue worked very well with 125 gr HP bullets.

I didn’t use a ransom rest for this article. I’m not a testing lab. This isn’t evidence-based science. The idea is to see what a shooter with a reasonable set of chops can do with a good bullet, in a proven load with an accurate pistol off the bench.

Granted, I’m not a robot. My eyesight and trigger finger are not infallible, but they are consistent enough to offer indications of what you can expect.

What I tested were 115 gn JHPs, 115 gn FMJs, 125 gn JHPs, 147 gn JHPs and 147 gn FMJs.

All of the rounds were made with 9 mm cases Starline Brass.

To ensure consistency we used Starline brass for all the reloads

This wasn’t meant to be a side by side comparison of brands. These are bullets I had on hand. In some cases there were apple to apple evaluations (ie the Zero and Hornady 115 grain  HAPs) and it other instances I just had samples of one caliber bullet on hand (ie Zero 147 grain bullets) and that’s all that I tested.

My skill set is not to be confused with Jerry Miculek’s. That wouldn’t be fair to the reader. I think I’m close enough to an ‘everyman’ that these groups can be replicated and improved upon.

So here we go…

Array of 115 left to right: XTP, HAP from Hornady and Zero’s offerings, JHP and FMJ

I started with 115 gr bullets. 115 gr JHPs are very popular with target shooters. They work well in Berettas, 1911s and in the Sig 210. In addition to the JHPs I chose to explore the 115 FMJ, in this case from Zero. My interest was piqued because of a few rounds of Atlanta Arms Elite factory ammo that someone handed to me at the range. It was quite accurate and sported a bullet that looked suspiciously like a Zero FMJ. This factory ammo (says Atlanta Arms) is used by the Army Marksmanship Unit and the Marine Service Pistol teams. I don’t know if Atlanta Arms uses Zero bullets in this particular product ammo but since the Cullman, Alabama company sells a lot of OEM bullets I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s part of the equation. 

115 gr bullets

In the past I’d never loaded FMJs but since my experience with Elite ammo was good, I thought in my own humble way I’d try to reverse engineer a load.

On to the JHPs. Both the HAP from Hornady and the Zero JHP look have almost the same dimensions and not surprisingly shared the same deadly accuracy. Both the 115 HAP and 115 Zero bullets have a sleek and balanced nose that resembles an ICBM. This helps consistency and reliable feeding in semi-autos.

115 grain Hornady HAPs performed remarkably well with AA#7

I also loaded Hornady XTPs, which are used extensively in hunting, self-defense and law enforcement applications. Although they are designed for expansion, they also work quite well as target bullets. Unlike the HAP (and Zero) design the XTPs have serrations that divide it into symmetrical sections. This weakens the jacket and allow for expansion, even at low velocities. Of course, when you’re shooting at paper, this is not a factor.

The 115 Zero JHP was also a winner. I used Silhouette powder from Western Powders.

Most of the 115 bullets I loaded were with Western’s Silhouette Powder, which was formerly Winchester Action Powder (aka WAP). It’s one of these products you don’t hear a lot about anymore but it works great with the Zero and Hornady JHPs. I also used Silhouette with the Zero FMJ and it performed admirably. Finally, I loaded Accurate #7 with the 115 HAP and had an exceptionally tight group. This powder was developed specifically for the 9mm bullets and it’s a perennial favorite.

124 and 125 grain bullets from Zero (at left) and Hornady

124/5 grain bullets

124 and 125 grain bullets also have widespread use with reloaders. They are also incredibly accurate.

No complaints about Zero’s 125 grain JHP using True Blue.

Hornady’s HAP 125 gr bullet has exactly the same design as their 115 gr product. It’s simply a larger version. Same went for Zero’s 125 gr JHP which share’s a similar design with the XTP in that it has serrations which enable expansion.

125 grain Hornady HAPs were excellent with True Blue as well

I found that both bullets were quite accurate when loaded with True Blue.

147 grain bullets from Zero

147 grain bullets

These are the items I have the least experience with. I tested both Zero’s JHP and FMJ bullets both with the Sig 210 and the 1911. They grouped well with the JHPs but I wasn’t able to figure out a good load for the FMJs.

147 grain JHP from Zero with 6.6 of AA#7 did very well.

Conclusion…well you can see from the above that 115s and 125 JHP’s are the ones I had the best consistent luck with. Despite the great target I had with the 147 JHP from Zero, I couldn’t get consistency. Again, this is not science but I think I’ve done justice to these products in real world conditions.

The author is not responsible for mishaps of any kind, which might occur from the use of this data in developing your handloads. It is the user’s responsibility to follow safe handloading guidelines to develop safe ammunition. You use this data at your own risk. No responsibility for the use or safety in use of this data is assumed or implied.


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