May 15, 2023
By Steve Gash
After an extensive development, the brand-new .30 Super Carry semiautomatic pistol cartridge bridges the gap between the popular .380 ACP and the hugely popular 9mm Luger. The advantages it offers are very exciting indeed.
In 2021 there were over 1.79 million NSSF-adjusted NICS background checks for firearm purchases. This number is a good proxy for sales because the vast majority of these checks are approved. All states have laws that make it legal to carry concealed, and responsible citizens are stepping up. This unprecedented demand for defensive arms has prompted firearms manufacturers to introduce many different handguns suitable for personal defense, and the majority are small, lightweight semiautomatics.
Unquestionably, the most popular self-defense round these days is the 9mm Luger. Sure, the .45 ACP and .40 S&W are fine rounds, but they are a bit overpowered for some folks, their pistols are perhaps a bit heavy for comfortable everyday carry, and their operation (i.e., slide pull-back) may be difficult for some users. Small, easy-to-carry pistols and better ammo turned the tide toward the 9mm. Plus, the evolution of new, high-performance bullet designs has hastened this trend. In fact, one industry CEO recently told me flat out, “The .40 is dead. The 9mm killed it.”
Another choice is the .380 ACP, which has a 9mm diameter and is essentially a shortened 9mm Luger. It has low recoil, making it comfortable to shoot, and .380 pistols generally have an easy slide pull-back, but it is considerably less powerful than the 9mm Luger. Nonetheless, the .380 is moderately popular.
Enter an all-new self-defense cartridge in a different caliber.
The New Cartridge
The engineers at Federal wondered, “What if we could bridge the power gap between the .380 ACP and the 9mm Luger and produce a round with distinct advantages?” First, it could be housed in small, lightweight guns, about the size of today’s micro 9mms, with the potential for greater magazine capacity. Second, if housed in larger-framed guns, the magazines could hold more rounds as well. An easy slide pull-back would be a quick bonus. Thus, the quest was on.
For almost two years, Federal has been discreetly working with several handgun manufacturers toward this goal. Until very recently, it was a top-secret project.
After many trials, Federal designed a totally new cartridge for semiauto pistols that achieves these goals, is easy to use, and fills several ballistic and logistic gaps in the genre. It’s called the .30 Super Carry (.30 SC).
Despite its moniker, the .30 Super Carry is not .30 caliber. The bullet diameter is 0.312 inch, the same as the .32 H&R Magnum, the .327 Federal Magnum, and other “.32-caliber” handgun cartridges. According to my sources, Federal chose “30” for two important reasons. One, the shooting public is very familiar with all sorts of .30-caliber cartridges. Two, pistol cartridges with .32 in their names, especially the .32 ACP, are pretty wimpy, and if so named, the new round might be dismissed as “just another .32.”
The new .30 SC case is essentially the .32 ACP case lengthened from 0.680 inch to 0.828 inch, with about the same diameter. The .32 ACP is slightly semi-rimmed, but the new .30 SC is rimless. The .30 SC uses 100- or 115-grain jacketed bullets loaded to much higher pressures than the other pistol rounds, and that allows it to produce very impressive ballistics.
Remember, the goal was to bridge the gap between the .380 ACP and the 9mm Luger. Well, a glance at the ballistic comparison chart below shows that the new .30 SC actually equals, and in some instances surpasses, the 9mm Luger in performance, still with the size and weight advantages noted earlier.
Federal says the Maximum Average Pressure (MAP) for .30 SC ammo is 52,000 psi. (For reference, the MAP of .223 Remington ammo is 55,000 psi.) Surprisingly, Federal said that none of the pistol manufacturers involved in the project expressed any concern with or reported any problems with test ammo loaded to this pressure.
Federal conducted extensive studies of all aspects of the new round, comparing it to the 9mm Luger and the .380 ACP, and clearly achieved—or surpassed—the goal of “bridging the gap.” The bullet weights of the initial .30 SC loads are 100 and 115 grains, as compared to the 9mm’s 115-, 124-, and 147-grain bullets and the .380 ACP’s 99- and 100-grain bullets. The factory-rated velocities of the .30 SC loads are 1,150 and 1,250 fps, matching or topping some 9mm loads and exceeding most .380 ACP loads. The average muzzle energy of the three .30 SC loads shown in the ballistics comparison chart is 340 ft-lbs, not much different than the 9mm’s average of 347 ft-lbs for 124- and 147-grain bullets and substantially more than that of the .380 ACP.
Bullet expansion and penetration are also right in line with the 9mm. The average bullet expansion of the three .30 SC loads in 10 percent bare ballistic gelatin was 0.56 inch. For the two 9mm loads, it was 0.67 inch. Remember, the .30 SC bullets started out 0.043 inch smaller in diameter than the 9mm bullets.
The ratio of bullet expansion to bullet diameter for the .30 SC was 1.73. For the two 9mms, it was 1.88.
Penetration in bare gelatin in the same order was 12.9 and 13.3 inches. It has been learned that clothing has quite an effect on bullet performance, so Federal tested penetration and expansion in gelatin after the bullet passed through “heavy clothing.” Average penetration of the .30 SC loads was an impressive 15.5 inches. For the 9mm loads, it was 14.6 inches. Bullet expansion after passing through heavy clothing was 0.52 inch for the .30 SC and 0.58 inch for the 9mm. So the new .30 SC looks like a viable choice for concealed carry. It offers impressive performance.
Guns and Loads
Federal partnered with Nighthawk Custom (NHC) and Smith & Wesson for the initial .30 SC pistols. Consequently, Nighthawk is offering a couple of full-size Model 1911s chambered for the new .30 SC. One is the Global Response Pistol (GRP), and the other is called the President. S&W also offers two pistols in .30 SC: the Shield EZ and the Shield Plus. Both are small, compact, lightweight everyday-carry pistols.
Initially, there are six factory loads from Federal, Speer, CCI, and Remington (now also a part of Vista Outdoor). All are scheduled to become available by the time you read this.
As the saying goes, you should practice with what you carry. Thus, there are three loads for each purpose. The three “defense loads” are Federal’s 100-grain HST HP at 1,250 fps, Speer’s 115-grain Gold Dot HP at 1,150 fps, and Remington’s 100-grain HTP JHP at 1,230 fps.
The “practice” loads are loaded with 100- or 115-grain FMJ bullets. Federal’s American Eagle load and Remington’s UMC load shoot 100-grain bullets, and the CCI Blazer has a 115-grain projectile. The 100-grain loads are listed at 1,250 fps and the 115-grain bullets at 1,150 fps. Suggested MSRP for the Remington HTP is $26.99; the other five loads range from $30.99 to $38.99 per box of 50 rounds.
The .30 Super Carry proved to be accurate out of a 5.0-inch-barreled Nighthawk GRP Model 1911 and a 3.7-inch-barreled S&W Shield EZ. The combined overall average at 25 yards was 2.99 inches.
I was fortunate to get some pre-launch hands-on experience with two of the new pistols (one from NHC and one from S&W) and three of the factory loads. Last November, I was invited to the Nighthawk Custom factory and range in Berryville, Arkansas, for a media event where we tested the new .30 SC in Nighthawk pistols.
Shooting offhand at 8-inch falling plates was a blast. The range was short, approximately 18 yards, so hits were easy, and the plates were smacked with authority. Compared to a similar 9mm Model 1911, the .30 SC’s felt recoil seemed less. I also shot some five-shot groups from a sandbag benchrest at 15 yards, and the “groups” were just one ragged hole. All of the available loads shot just fine.
This new round appears to be pretty flat shooting. After the close-range shooting, a few shooters backed up to 50 and 100 yards and proceeded to whack the plates with great regularity. I asked one sharpshooter where he was holding at those ranges, and he said, “Right on the plate.”
Then in December I received a brand-new Nighthawk GRP in .30 SC at my local dealer to conduct a more thorough shooting test. A few weeks later, in January 2022, I got an S&W Shield EZ chambered for the new round.
The GRP is the same size and weight as a Model 1911 in .45 ACP, but the single-stack magazine holds 12 rounds. Stuffing that last one in was a chore, but in it went, and the gun fed all 12 rounds lickety-split.
As expected, the ammo supply was tight, but I obtained three loads. I did my usual series of three, five-shot groups at 25 yards from a sandbag benchrest with both guns and all three loads. The temperatures were cold on some testing days, but the wind stayed below gale force.