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Hornady Critical Defense 9mm Review: Not Your Average Hollow Point

Hornady Critical Defense 9mm Review

Having the right to defend yourself and your family is inherent. Fulfilling that right takes skill, practice, and the proper tools. If you’re looking into 9mm ammo, you’ve already found the right tool. So, the only question is, “Which ammo should I be loading into my home defense mags?”

The Hornady Critical Defense is a viable option that performs well and is engineered specifically for personal defense situations. You can grab a box now HERE. Although, if you’re still in the deciding phase, I’ve compiled this comprehensive review of Hornady’s 9mm ammunition.

It’s no secret that some cartridges perform better than others. But your self-defense cartridges must perform well, unlike plinking and target practice ammunition. You have to trust them to protect your life. Hang out for a bit to make a fully informed decision on your EDC cartridges.

Hornady Critical Defense 9mm Overview

Hornady produces a little bit of everything these days. You can get high-quality FMJs, JHPs, polymer-tipped ammo, FTX ammo, and more. It’s one of those ammo companies where you just know the cartridges will perform well every time. They’re expertly engineered and have rigorous quality standards.

The Hornady Critical Defense ammunition is reliable, effective, and widely available whether your EDC is a Sig Sauer, Glock, Smith & Wesson, Taurus, or anything else. The Hornady Critical Defense comes in two variations: the Critical Defense and the Critical Defense Lite. The Lite has a lower grain weight, giving us a low-recoil option.

I typically recommend hollow point bullets for self-defense because they penetrate and expand relatively quickly. Unfortunately, hollow points aren’t one hundred percent effective because the design means clothing and other barriers can prevent them from expanding properly. Fortunately, Hornady noticed the same flaw and designed Critical Defense ammo with its patented Flex Tip (hence the term Hornady Critical Defense FTX).

When these bullets reach a destination, the flex tip forces expansion. They’re much more likely to perform than standard hollow point rounds. Furthermore, Hornady uses low-flash propellants to preserve your night vision while firing in low light situations.

Hornady blessed American consumers with the Critical Defense line back in 2008. Over the years, more variations have hit the market. The self-defense rounds are especially ideal for smaller barrels. You can buy it in most popular personal defense calibers like  .380 ACP, .38 Special, 357 Magnum, 40 S&W, .45 ACP, .44 Special, and of course, 9mm.

Our Hornady Critical Defense 9mm Review

Hornady Critical Defense 9mm Ammo

As experts on the subject, we have specific criteria that every cartridge must meet before ever filling a mag. Self-defense ammo won’t do you any good if it doesn’t chamber well and doesn’t perform on impact. You don’t have to spend an excessive amount of money on your carry ammo, but you don’t want cheap crud either.

The 9mm Critical Defense has nickel-plated cases, meaning it will feed well. So, we can check that off our criteria (it’s also great for reloading). Next, it’s designed to overcome the limitations of traditional hollow points. The Flex Tip increases the projectile’s odds of performing well; therefore, we can trust it.

This Hornady ammo has nickel-plated brass cases, so they’re perfect for reloading. Furthermore, the reload data is pretty easy to track down. They also have boxer primers, and corrosion isn’t a concern.

Moreover, Hornady Critical Defense performs near the FBI’s standards of 12”, coming in between 11.25 and 11.50 inches with heavy clothing (based on gelatin tests). Thanks to the FTX design, heavy clothing actually doesn’t affect its performance.

Hornady’s FTX bullets are especially great because they have a higher-than-average muzzle velocity in short-barreled guns. These defense rounds have superb kinetic energy transfer (stopping power) and terminal performance.

What is it Best For?

Hornady Critical Defense 115-grain and 100-grain FTX bullets are exceptional defense rounds. Thanks to ballistic data, we know that both of these cartridges won’t penetrate past twelve inches (within FBI standards for penetration). With the over-penetration factor removed from the equation, they’re perfect for the defensive handgun on your nightstand and concealed carry pistol in crowded public places.

Moreover, it’s affordable carry ammo that simply gets the job done every time. Hornady’s strict quality guidelines mean you won’t have any FTFs or duds.


Hornady seems to be having a bit of trouble producing nickel-plated casings at the time of writing. While we still have them in stock, they may become harder to find if the company can’t overcome this supply chain challenge.

Next, the defense rounds are pricier than other cartridge types. But this is to be expected for self-defense ammunition.

Pros & Cons

Our ammo reviews wouldn’t be complete without a comprehensive assessment of the pros and cons. Fortunately, Hornady Critical Defense has more pros than cons (we’ve seen some things in our time, so this isn’t always the case).

Check out the pros and cons here:

Hornady Critical Defense Lite 9mm Ammo


  • Excellent terminal performance
  • High muzzle velocity in short-barrel handguns
  • Reduced risk of hollow point clogging due to the Flex Tip
  • Chambers well
  • Quality propellants reduce muzzle flash


  • They’re getting more challenging to find in-stock

As you can see, it’s great ammo. But you’ll want to snatch up a few boxes because availability is getting a little low.


Hornady has two variations of its Critical Defense FTX bullets. Fortunately, they both perform well. Here are the specs:

Hornady Critical Defense 9mm Cartridge Specifications


I love options, and Hornady gives us two in the Critical Defense line. You can get the heavier Hornady Critical Defense 115-grain weight bullets or go a little lighter with the 110-grain Lite bullets.

The following sections break down each one.

Hornady Critical Defense 9mm Luger 115 gr FTX

The Hornady Critical Defense 9mm Luger 115-grain FTX is a bit heavier than its companion. At just a little over one dollar per round, these hard-hitting 9mm rounds are reliable, accurate, and perform well.

With a muzzle velocity of 1,135 fps, they’re a bit faster than other hollow-point bullets. It has a ballistic coefficient of .129. Thanks to the Flex Tip, you won’t have to worry about them failing when they hit heavy clothing.

Hornady Critical Defense Lite 9mm Luger 110 gr FTX

I like the Hornady Critical Defense Lite because it’s a 100-grain hollow-point bullet that reduces felt recoil even in compact firearms. It has an 1,125 fps muzzle velocity and 281 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. Despite what some of our readers may think, the Lite still has a decent ballistic coefficient (.110).

It’s nearly as fast as its heavier brother, but it’s a better option for those who want an effective defense round without the kick.

Ballistics of Hornady Critical Defense 9mm Bullets

Hornady Critical Defense 9mm Ballistics table

Parting Shots

Finding good ammo for your personal defense handgun doesn’t happen every day. But based on my experience, if it says Hornady on the box, it’s going to be pretty good ammunition. Unlike other hollow-point bullets, these are special because the tip won’t become clogged. They’re a bit more reliable than other defense ammunition, and they aren’t priced too high, either.

Make sure to check out our entire selection of Hornady ammo for sale to ensure you never need to worry about having enough home defense or concealed carry ammo on hand for anything life throws at you. And if you're considering stocking up on more ammunition, don't forget to explore our bulk 9mm ammo page for great deals and wide selection.


I wouldn’t leave you with questions and no answers. If you want to learn more, keep reading.

Is the Hornady Critical Defense 9mm worth buying?

Of all the ammo we review, the Hornady Critical Defense and even the Lite version are certainly worth buying. You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck as these rounds are reliable, accurate, and great for any self-defense situation.

What is the range of a Hornady Critical Defense 9mm?

The 100-grain FTX bullets will perform well within 50 yards. The 115-grain FTX bullets will perform at that same range.

What is the difference 9mm Luger and a 9x19mm?

The only significant difference between the 9mm Luger, 9x19mm, and 9mm Parabellum is the name. They are different names for the same cartridge.

Will these bullets work in a Ruger 9mm Carbine?

Yes! Hornady Critical Defense and Hornady Critical Duty are great options for carbine firearms.

Is Hornady Critical Defense the same as Hornady Critical Duty?

No. The Critical Defense variation is a bit underpowered, doesn’t have Hornady’s FlexLock technology, and is designed for penetration through common self-defense barriers (bare gelatin, heavy clothing). Critical Duty is a top choice for law enforcement officers and is designed to meet all FBI penetration standards while Critical Defense does not meet the FBI Protocol.

Cassandra McBride
Written by
Cassandra McBride

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