Gun Digest

Federal Punch: No Lightweight Defense Ammo

Designed specifically for civilian defensive shooters, Federal Punch cuts costs of defensive ammo, but not at the expense of performance.

How Does Punch Differ From Other Defensive Ammunition:

Most of the really good defensive handgun loads on the market have one thing in common—they were designed to perform well in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s testing protocol. This test assesses a bullet’s ability to inflict an effective wound after defeating various intervening obstacles commonly present in law enforcement shootings, like steel, plywood, wallboard and automotive safety glass. The best performing bullets in this test tend to expand to 1.5 times their original diameter and penetrate to between 12 and 18 inches, regardless of the intermediate barrier.

 Paired with a compact 1911 like the Remington R1 Ultralight Executive, the new .45 Auto self-defense load can pack—pardon the pun—quite a punch.

Paired with a compact 1911 like the Remington R1 Ultralight Executive, the new .45 Auto self-defense load can pack—pardon the pun—quite a punch.

This testing protocol has driven the manufacture of defensive handgun ammunition for the last 30 years, and manufacturers have become really good at building bullets to meet the FBI standard. And, as law enforcement agencies adopt loads based on their performance in this test, so too do civilians; the general population likes to be equipped as well as the cops. However, building bullets to meet this standard is expensive. Not only is the conduct of the extensive testing expensive, but so, too, is the engineering and building of the bullets that’ll perform well in them.

It’s possible that a civilian might need to shoot through steel, plywood, wallboard and automotive safety glass in order to save their life—but it’s not likely. The engineers at Federal have a tremendous amount of experience when it comes to building good defensive handgun ammunition, and they realized that civilians don’t necessarily need FBI duty ammunition. They felt they could create loads for defensive handguns that would perform exceptionally well when fired through heavy clothing, which is the most common intermediate barrier civilians encounter. And they felt that they could do this and offer the ammunition at a substantial savings to the consumer.

Punch Protection
The result is a new line of self-defense ammunition called “Punch.” A 20-round box of 9mm Punch ammo has a suggested retail price of $15.99. A 20-round box of 9mm Federal Hydra-Shock ammo has a suggested retail price of $24.99. That equates to a 36 percent savings.

Rather than developing a single bullet design for all of the different Punch loads, the team at Federal evaluated each cartridge individually to determine which bullet design and weight would work most effectively. Since the bullets weren’t specifically designed to perform in FBI protocol testing, Federal spent time tuning each Punch load to meet the primary needs of the self-defense shooter—namely expansion and penetration.

Chris Laack, Federal’s handgun ammunition product manager, said, “We looked at specifications from our Hydra-Shok Deep, HST and other bullet designs, and we took what made sense for Punch. We selected whatever elements worked best for each individual caliber. We then played with thickness of the jacket, skive depth, hollow-point geometry and differences in lead cores to build the Punch recipe.”

Instead of building a single bullet design for each cartridge, one that would perform well on all types of intermediate barriers, Federal crafted bullets that would work exceptionally well on the barrier most civilian shooters might encounter during a self-defense shooting.

More Self-Defense Cartridges:

But, Does Punch Work?
This all sounds fascinating, but the question is: Does it work? Based on my testing, it would appear so. I conducted some expansion and penetration tests with the 380 Auto, 9mm Luger and .45 Auto Punch loads. No, I didn’t conduct FBI protocol tests. This is partly because I don’t work for the FBI, and partly because the FBI and their comprehensive testing isn’t the final word on the terminal performance of defensive handgun ammunition. The results from my test were very promising—promising enough to convince me this ammunition has been well designed for the purpose it’s intended for, and that’s to provide civilians with a less expensive and very capable self-defense handgun load.

On average, the 9mm Luger and .45 Auto loads expanded to about 1.5 times their original diameter and penetrated between 14 and 15 inches. This level of performance is comparable to what you’d expect from other more expensive loads that perform well on all aspects of the FBI testing protocol, when they’re fired through heavy clothing.

The .380 Punch load deformed with a frontal diameter 1.4 times its original diameter and penetrated to 10 inches. As far as the .380 Auto goes, this is very good performance. If you want more penetration from a .380 Auto, Federal has another load you should consider. It’s called Hydra-Shok Deep, and it’ll stretch .380 Auto penetration past that magic FBI 12-inch mark. But it also costs about $7 (43 percent) more per box. If you’re willing to pay 36 cents more per shot, it’s clearly the better option.

At this time, the new Punch line from Federal has offerings for the .380 Auto, .38 Special, 9mm Luger and .45 Auto. And, if anyone cares anymore, Federal even has a load for the .40 S&W. Retail prices range between $15.99 for the .380 Auto and .38 Special, and $19.99 and $21.99 for the 9mm, .45 Auto and .40 S&W.

For more information on Federal Punch, please visit

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2020 EDC issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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