Why Nine?

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Why not? One of the most disrespected of all handgun cartridges, Dr. Fadala says there’s plenty of good reason the 9mm Parabellum is the most popular centerfire handgun cartridge in the world. Keep reading…


by Sam Fadala


Many cartridges from long ago rage on. My Professional Hunter (PH) rifle in Africa for eight seasons running was .45-70 Government (1865, standardized 1873) handloaded with a 500-grain bullet to 1,800 feet per second. It was replaced two years ago with a .416 Remington Magnum for longer-range shooting, not because of 45-70 inferiority. The 1902 9mm Parabellum (para-bellum, “for-war”), thrives in the 21st century for hardcore reasons: for military, police, self-defense, it is powerful yet manageable even in lightweight handguns, plus pure shooting enjoyment, which alone is a “good enough” reason to own a nine.

1911 9mm
Author Fadala carries a Springfield Armory Range Officer chambered in 9mm Parabellum. His on-target impact testing methods used for big-game cartridges convinced him the nine was right on target for defensive reliability. The FMJ 115-grain load (on right) is undeniably the most popular for 9mm pistols, and there are also very effective open-cavity defensive loads that pack a punch.

After consulting with my handgun instructor, a retired SWAT commander, I latched onto a pair of Springfield Armory Range Officer (RO) pistols, 41 ounces of reliable accuracy. My usual practice session burns five magazines, five rounds short of a 50-pack. And though I handload for many cartridges, the nine is not one. Considering today’s cost of fuel, grub, house, car, mandatory insurances, and just plain living, a box of factory 9mm is a “bargain.”

Factories worldwide produce a dizzying array of loads in two major bullet types, FMJ (full metal jacket) and “upset,” most often hollow-point. Bullet weights as this is penned, and as far as I know, run as light as 50-grains (that is not a typo) to 147gr. Most of my shooting is with 115gr FMJs, such as Russian Tul-Ammo with non-reloadable brass, okay by me since, as said, I don’t reload the nine.

The Russians say trust, but verify. I trusted information on 9mm performance, but also ran my own demonstrations in “Sam’s Bullet Box.” This device is as scientific as tossing monkey bones to tell your future, yet it works “tolerably well,” and the box is far cheaper than ballistic gelatin. While gelatin is the standard, I have proved to others as well as myself that the box reveals vital information. Projectiles that penetrate deeply in the box do likewise in other mediums. Those that blow “big holes” in the clay behave the same in “the real world.”

9mm ammo
The vast array of 9mm Parabellum rounds cover all needs and all price ranges. It’s plentiful! This is especially important if one is not a reloader.

 

The wooden box is simply long and narrow with open top and closed ends. It’s the “stuffing” that counts. For my 9mm demo, constants were two: water balloon and clay block, neither representing tissue of any kind. Water tortures bullets. Shoot into a swimming pool, even with high-power rifle, and watch bullets die quickly. Clay provides the performance channel, also known as “wound channel.” Test mediums were arranged in this order: entry into end of box (0ne inch thick), water balloon, quarter-inch plywood separating balloon from 50 pounds of damp modeling clay. Beyond the clay: compacted wrapping paper one foot thick, and finally the inch-thick box end. Backup was our winter woodpile.

When oak, juniper, and aspen were removed for the wood-burning stove, several 9mm bullets were collected. Some of these were FMJs (expected). But many were also self-defense-type with open-cavity noses. That’s a lot of penetration! Massive cavities in the 50-pound block of modeling clay displayed extreme disruption with self-defense ammo. Surprise: FMJs also did terrific “injury” to the clay.

After the bullet box, all test loads were directed into gallon-size water-filled milk containers. Devastation is the word. The little 50-grain copper monolithic, starting at around twice the speed of sound, blew the bottles into pieces of ragged plastic. The FMJs also splattered the water bottles. Any thoughts of lacking energy flew away as I picked up the debris. My wife, who is the woodworker of the family, had leftover plywood panels that I stacked close, again for demonstration only. The half-inch plywood boards verified the effective penetration of the 9mm round.

The “little nine” did “big work” with little more offense than shooting a .22 pistol. In a lighter handgun, this statement might not bear up; but my “full-size” 1911 ROs were easy-on-the hand.  I carry a nine daily in open carry. Scouting and exploring hikes, an RO rides on my hip in a Triple K Number 440 Lightning Strong Side/Crossdraw holster. Concealed carry, you bet. Not a compact, but my ROs fits neatly into a U.S. Army Tank shoulder holster under a coat. Home protection, obvious. Self-preservation of life and limb, as well as coming to the aid of an accosted innocent, no concerns. My big fist fit into the channels in the clay.

1911 shoulder holster
A full-size handgun chambered in 9mm Parabellum is a joy to shoot. The light recoil belies its effectiveness, according to the author.

When I went for handgun antelope not long ago, I packed my S&W Scandium .44 Magnum, same I carry along for hikes to fishing lakes in grizzly country, and twenty-two pistols remain my choice for small game and mountain birds. But it’s easy to see why the 9mm Luger is the most popular pistol cartridge in the world.


Dr. Sam Fadala has been a full-time author for 30 years and authored 30 books. Sam is a lifelong big game hunter, using bows and long guns, and is Professional-Hunter-licensed in Africa.

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6 thoughts on “Why Nine?”

  1. “Para bellum” does not mean “for war.” It means “prepare war,” from the phrase, “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” meaning, “If you want peace, prepare war.” English uses a prefix with the root: “pre-pare.” Classical Latin needed only the “pare” part of the word. Not to be confused with modern Spanish “para,” meaning “for”.

  2. No photos of the test media, no performance records from actual use, no other data. Also, would / did you get similar performance in the much small guns that are popular? Seems mostly opinion and I’m not convinced.

  3. All very impressive, killing plywood, clay, and paper, but the bottom , real-world line, is that unless you put a 9mm round into the ‘kill zone’ (heart or cranio-ocular cavity), the round will barely slow the recipient down. Powerful? Yes, that is why so many police departments have left it behind and moved to the .40 S&W or .45ACP. The only real advantage to 9mm is that its size permits lots of rounds in the magazine. Except Commiefornia, of course.

    1. VERY over generalized opinion with no proof to back it up, IMHO. By the way, police departments want to STOP a lethal threat. Whether or not the suspect dies is up to the E/R doctors.

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