October 03, 2017
By Brad Miller, Ph.D.
Some 9mm Luger ammunition is especially accurate and is marketed as "match" ammo. To see how accurate it really is, I gathered several brands of match 9mm Luger ammunition to see how they performed. (The ones used in this article represent just a sampling of what's available.) For comparison, I also tested ammunition not labeled as match ammo. Some of it is general-purpose ammunition, while some has a reputation for good accuracy. Here's what I discovered.
There's no denying the 9mm luger is one of the most popular cartridges on the planet. It has sufficient power for a wide range of uses; is one of the least expensive centerfire rounds on gun store shelves; and is chambered in an amazing array of semiautomatic pistols, rifles, and, even, revolvers.
Most handguns chambered for the 9mm Luger are considered combat or defensive guns, and they offer "combat accuracy." That is, they will produce 3- to 5-inch groups at 10 to 25 yards with standard off-the-shelf ammunition. That's more than enough for their intended use, but you won't win any Bullseye matches with that performance.
This is not to say that the 9mm Luger isn't capable of precision accuracy. A well-tuned pistol can produce very small groups, in the range of 10 shots in 1 inch at 50 yards. Major companies have made 9mm target pistols, such as the SIG P210 and Smith & Wesson 952, and custom gunmakers transform 9mm pistols into laser-accurate target guns. The Army Marksmanship Unit uses accurized 9mm M9 pistols alongside the .45 ACP Model 1911.
Fine accuracy requires two things: a capable firearm and capable ammunition. Even the most accurate gun won't perform well with poor ammunition, and nearly every gun will show improved performance with accurate ammunition.
Some manufacturers guarantee their ammunition will produce groups of a specific size at a specific distance when fired from a barrel fixture. That barrel fixture is an important detail. The gun's barrel is removed from the gun and placed in the barrel fixture because when it is in the gun, there are always tolerances in how the barrel, slide, and frame are fitted that can result in the barrel not being pointed at the exact same spot every time the gun is fired. A barrel fixture eliminates these inconsistencies, so it is the ultimate arbiter of the performance of the ammunition and barrel.
I don't have a barrel fixture, but I have the next best thing: a Ransom Rest. It holds the gun in the same position for every shot. My test pistol was a Para high-capacity frame with a Caspian slide and a 5.0-inch Kart barrel. It does not qualify as a well-tuned, match-grade gun, but it shoots well with ammunition it likes.
The Ammo & The Results
I selected the following 9mm ammunition to test. For all but one loading I fired three 10-shot groups at 25 yards with the pistol mounted in the Ransom Rest and averaged those figures. Two 10-shot groups were fired and averaged for that other load. The results are listed in the accompanying chart.
ASYM: The ASYM Action Match 115-grain JHP ammunition shot better than the ASYM Practical Match 147-grain FMJ from my pistol. The 115-grain loading averaged 2.50-inch 10-shot groups, while the 147-grain ammo averaged 3.81-inch groups.
Atlanta Arms: The 115-grain JHP and FMJ match ammunition from Atlanta Arms shot very well, averaging 10-shot groups under 2.00 inches. This easily qualifies for match-grade performance for this gun. It did not like the 115-grain plated bullet used in the Steel Challenge load — groups were a little over 3.00 inches — but this barrel does not shoot some plated bullets very well.
Nosler: Both the 115- and 124-grain Nosler loads performed well, producing groups just a little over 2.00 inches. The 115- grain load had the edge on accuracy.
OATH: The OATH Halo match ammunition is described as "the ultimate precision match grade ammunition." I had one box of 20 rounds, so that limited me to two 10-shot groups with it. It produced the largest average group size — 4.14 inches — of the match ammo that I fired.
Three of the OATH rounds blew out the primer, which suggests very high pressure. Primers in other fired cases had flattened edges and minor cratering around the firing pin strike. The high pressure could be evidence that the round was overcharged, or it could be an issue with my barrel's chamber. This round has a relatively long overall length (1.163 inches), and my Kart barrel has a relatively short throat. It's possible the bullet was pressed against the rifling when chambered, which would increase pressure. If your barrel has a short throat, you should plunk test this ammo to make sure it will fit in your gun's chamber before you shoot it.
Blazer Brass: This is not considered match-grade ammo, but it makes for a good comparison. As I mentioned, my barrel does not like some plated bullets, and the Blazer ammunition serves as an example. The average 10-shot group size was 4.86 inches.
Browning: The Browning Performance Target 147-grain FMJ load also is not match ammo, but it proved to be the most accurate ammunition in this accuracy review.
The average 10-shot group size was just 1.38 inches, beating the average group size of the best match ammo by almost a half-inch. I included this ammo because of my experience with it in this pistol. It shoots this round almost as well as it does my best handloads.
Federal: I chose Federal's American Eagle 147-grain FMJ non-match load because I'd heard that it was very accurate. This was my first experience with this ammo, and it shot quite well, with a 10-shot group size average of 2.00 inches. That's better than most of the match ammunition.
Winchester: This non-match load was selected because of its 115-grain JHP bullet. It is one of the most accurate component bullets I've shot through my Kart barrel with my handloads. The factory ammunition did not shoot nearly as well as my handloads. That shouldn't be a surprise because handloads offer the opportunity to find powders and a seating depth that the gun likes. But it still performed admirably, with an average group size of 2.37 inches.
As you can see, some of the match ammunition shot very well in my pistol. The Atlanta Arms 115-grain JHP and FMJ loadings and the Nosler 115-grain JHP ammo were the most consistently accurate match ammunition. The Browning Performance Target 147-grain FMJ load easily stole the show with the best 10-shot average of the 12 loads tested.
I'm sure most Shooting Times readers understand that accuracy can be elusive, and guns have preferences that vary. I can attest to that. I've worked with various published loads that had produced superb and consistent accuracy in some authors' test guns but shot terribly in mine. Just because a load is the cat's meow in one gun doesn't guarantee it will perform equally well in guns that might have different chamber dimensions, rifling, etc.
Ammunition manufacturers select components that have earned a reputation for good accuracy, but not every gun will like them. However, the chances are good that proven loads will perform. Sometimes generic ammunition can shoot extremely well, too, like the Browning round did in my pistol. That's why you should experiment with a variety of different loads. You never know which ones will perform best in your gun until you shoot them.