February 24, 2021
Black Hills Ammunition was founded in 1981 by Jeff and Kristi Hoffman. What started in a small building in Rapid City, South Dakota, has grown into a large manufacturing complex that produces a variety of handgun and rifle ammunition for the law enforcement, military, and civilian markets. The founders are still involved in day-to-day operations, and their “family” has grown to over 60 members. Every person there is devoted to producing the best products that can be made. Like Jeff, some are retired law enforcement officers. One of the most recent innovations in a long line of quality handgun ammunition is the company’s unique HoneyBadger that is loaded with bullets of monolithic construction. The bullets are made to Black Hills’s specifications by Lehigh Defense of Quakertown, Pennsylvania.
Solid-copper bullets have been around for more than 100 years, but the concept gained very little attention outside of military circles until Randy Brooks introduced the Barnes X-Bullet during the late 1980s. A deep cavity in the nose of the bullet causes it to expand to a larger diameter upon impact. The same type of bullet eventually became available for loading in handgun cartridges.
The Key to HoneyBadger
I am not sure who came up with the idea of eliminating the nose cavity in a monolithic handgun bullet and machining deep flutes into its forward section instead, but Lehigh Defense is the company that really put the concept on the map. When the nose cavity of a bullet causes it to expand to a larger frontal diameter, its ability to disrupt tissue increases. This assumes the cavity does not become plugged or pinched in when passing through layers of clothing or other barrier material prior to entering the target. The bullets loaded in HoneyBadger ammunition have no nose cavities because they do not need to expand, yet they rival hollowpoint bullets in the size of the disruption channel plowed through fluid-containing materials.
Penetration and disruption channel diameter are controlled primarily by the width, depth, and length of the flutes machined into the forward section of the bullet. Machining the flutes to a shallow depth and leaving a small flat on the nose increases penetration while disrupting a larger-diameter channel than an FMJ bullet. In contrast, the flutes of the HoneyBadger 9mm bullet, for example, are machined deeply enough to completely eliminate the flat at the nose. While penetrating less than a bullet with shallow flutes, it penetrates more deeply than a hollowpoint while creating a disruption path as large as and sometimes larger than that type of bullet.
The HoneyBadger-style of bullet is commonly described as a fluid-transfer monolithic, and here is how its action was explained to me. During penetration, the radial flutes of the bullet force hydraulic energy inward, and as that energy becomes restricted, its extremely high outward acceleration creates pressure spikes that disrupt tissue around the radius of the bullet. Typically, the permanent disruption cavity is up to four times the diameter made by a full-metal-jacket bullet. And by using a design that does not rely on expansion, the bullet is able to provide more consistent and more predictable performance across a wide range of applications than a hollowpoint bullet. The end result is penetration capable of meeting FBI recommendations along with a large wound cavity.
As I mentioned earlier, when making the decision to begin loading monolithic bullets, Black Hills technicians turned to their counterparts at Lehigh Defense. But rather than picking and choosing among what was already sitting on the shelf there, the Black Hills guys decided on the exact performance requirements desired for each cartridge, and its bullet was then precisely machined by Lehigh to meet those specifications. The unique design allows the use of light-for-caliber bullets for increases in velocity at acceptable chamber pressures.
At the time of this writing, the bullet weights and velocity ratings for HoneyBadger cartridges are: .380 ACP 60 grains, 1,150 fps; 9mm Luger +P 100 grains, 1,300 fps; .38 Special +P 100 grains, 1,275 fps; .40 S&W 115 grains, 1,325 fps; .44 Special 125 grains, 1,250 fps; .44 Magnum 160 grains, 1,800 fps; and .45 ACP 135 grains, 1,250 fps. As you will note from my results listed in the accompanying chart, speeds are reduced in guns with short barrels, although with very little compromise in performance. There is one HoneyBadger loading for a rifle, and it’s .45-70 Government with a 325-grain bullet at 1,775 fps. Black Hills also offers a subsonic loading of the 9mm Luger with a 125-grain bullet at 1,050 fps, but I have not tested it or the .45-70 loading.
For a given weight, a fluted monolithic bullet is longer than a jacketed lead-core bullet. Make it too long and powder space will be reduced to an unacceptable level when seated in a relatively short handgun cartridge case. Make it too short and its full-diameter shank becomes too short for accuracy and for giving the case sufficient surface area for an adequate grip. After the required length of a HoneyBadger bullet of a certain caliber was determined, some exceeded the desired weight. Drilling or machining a small rear cavity removed sufficient material to bring them to their target weights. Due to differing amounts of copper removed, cavities vary in diameter and depth, but in no way do they have a negative effect on bullet performance.
Sharp-edged grooves machined into the shank of a HoneyBadger bullet prevent forward recoil-creep when a cartridge is fired in a revolver. The grooves also prevent a bullet from being shoved more deeply into the case as a cartridge is making its violent trip from the magazine to the chamber of an autoloading pistol.
I checked for possible bullet creep in the HoneyBadger .44 Magnum load by loading six cartridges in my Ruger Super Redhawk and firing only five for the first group. I left that same cartridge in the gun during the following four, five-shot groups. (Numbered chambers in that revolver made doing so easy.) A digital caliper revealed no bullet movement after the cartridge had been subjected to the recoil of 25 rounds.
I also tested for bullet pushback in the .45 ACP by loading six rounds in my Wilson Combat 1911 and shooting a five-shot group. The unfired round was then ejected and loaded back into the magazine first for the next five-shot group. I repeated that procedure, and after being cycled through the pistol five times, overall length of that round remained unchanged. Machining grooves into the shanks of the bullets may also reduce copper fouling in barrels.
Many concealed-carry handguns do not have elevation-adjustable sights, and the sights of some—like my S&W Chiefs Special—are not adjustable in any direction. Manufacturers usually do a satisfactory job of designing sights for striking a happy medium with bullets in a wide range of weights. A gun may not be dead-on the head of a thumbtack with all bullets available in a particular cartridge, but it more often than not will deliver all weights close enough to point of aim at typical personal-defense distances. Elevation variations in points of impact to point of aim of HoneyBadger ammo fired in my fixed-sight guns ranged from none to a maximum of 1.25 inches. For windage, all were dead-on my hold point.
The folks at Black Hills obviously spent a lot of time refining bullet nose profiles for reliable feeding. I fired a total of 100 rounds in each of the five semiautomatics, and there was not a single malfunction. As coincidence would have it, while I was wringing out the seven HoneyBadger loads, another fellow was function-testing his old KelTec P3AT and his wife’s new SIG P238 with the HoneyBadger .380 ACP load. He fired 40 rounds in each of the guns with no malfunctions. He also brought along a one-gallon plastic jug filled with water and shot it from a distance of 10 feet. We both were surprised at how much the jug was ripped apart by that 60-grain bullet and by the amount of water splashed back into his face.
As a rule, decreasing the weight of a bullet lowers recoil, while an increase in velocity increases recoil. Drive a light bullet fast enough and recoil can be as much for a heavier bullet at a lower velocity. Black Hills struck a happy medium there as well.
I have no way of measuring recoil, but my internal “kickometer” indicated a reduction in recoil with all loads. Recoil of the .380 ACP, 9mm, and .38 Special loads was noticeably lighter than loads with the heavier bullets I have shot in those three guns. The .44 Special load was especially kind to my hand in a 4.0-inch-barreled revolver, and the .45 ACP load was fun to shoot in both 1911 pistols. Due to its weight and the Mag-Na-Ported barrel, my .44 Magnum Super Redhawk is comfortable to shoot with any load, and HoneyBadger ranks at the top there as well.
Points to Ponder
I discovered another HoneyBadger advantage. A Glock 26 in 9mm and a Glock 27 in .40 S&W have been in my battery for quite a few years. They are exactly the same size, and fully loaded weights are 26.3 ounces for the G26 and 26.4 ounces for the G27. After buying those guns, I gave my wife, Phyllis, first choice between them for concealed carry. After shooting both quite extensively, she chose the 9mm G26 because, due to less recoil, she shot it more accurately and a bit faster. The ammo she usually carries in that gun is Speer Personal Protection loaded with the 115-grain Gold Dot at 1,210 fps.
I asked her to shoot a side-by-side comparison between my .40 S&W G27 with the Black Hills 115-grain HoneyBadger load and her 9mm G26 with the Speer 115-grain Gold Dot load. Due to the same bullet weight in both cartridges, along with similar velocities, I was not surprised when she found perceived recoil and her accuracy with the two guns to be the same. The big difference between the two is the larger-diameter bullet from the G27. Law enforcement agencies who are contemplating a switch from .40 to 9mm might be wise to reconsider.
HoneyBadger may benefit little cartridges more than big cartridges. The FBI long ago concluded that when fired into ballistic gelatin from a distance of 10 feet, a bullet should penetrate a minimum of 12 inches in order to be considered effective enough to use for personal defense. The .380 ACP loaded with expanding bullets often falls short of that level of performance.
In comparison tests performed at Black Hills of the HoneyBadger 60-grain .380 ACP load and the 100-grain 9mm Luger +P, the 9mm penetrated about five inches deeper into ballistic gel, although the .380 bullet consistently came to rest inside the FBI’s 12- to 18-inch recommendation for penetration. The disruption cavity of the 9mm load was about 30 percent larger, but the .380 load matched or exceeded the cavity diameter delivered by ammunition loaded with hollowpoint bullets from that cartridge.
All of my accuracy testing was done from an MTM K-Zone Shooting Rest, and averages for the seven loads from my guns ranged from quite acceptable to outstanding. For example, fired single action, my 1950s-era S&W Chiefs Special shot inside 1.25 inches at 10 yards with the .38 Special load. The smallest group measured 0.88 inch. Another impressive combination was the 9mm Luger +P in a Springfield Armory Hellcat semiautomatic pistol that has become my handgun of choice for IWB carry. It shot under 1.75 inches at 25 yards, as did the .44 Special load in my Smith & Wesson Model 29. When fired in my Wilson Combat 1911 built on an old Para-Ordnance, high-capacity frame, the .45 ACP HoneyBadger load came close to squeezing inside an inch at 25 yards. That load clocked 76 fps slower in my 3.0-inch-barreled Kimber Ultra Carry, but it still exceeded 1,100 fps from that gun.
Then there is the .44 Magnum load in my customized Ruger Super Redhawk. The revolver was built back in 1989 by the talented guys at SSK Industries, and it has Shilen interchangeable, match-grade barrels. One is 7.5 inches long with a Mag-Na-Port brake, the other is 5.0 inches, and both have 1:20 twists. I shot the longer barrel, and the average for five, five-shot groups at 25 yards was 0.51 inch. The smallest and largest groups measured 0.36 inch and 0.67 inch respectively. That was with an old Bausch & Lomb 2X scope. It has two scopes, and the Ruger integral mounts allows me to switch back and forth between them without losing zero. Switching to a Nikon 2-8X Monarch, I fired five, five-shot groups at 100 yards on a windy day, and the average was 5.58 inches. That’s plenty good for doing anything anyone would want to do with the .44 Magnum cartridge.