January 08, 2022
You can only push a .38-caliber projectile so fast in the .380 ACP chambering. Its performance potential relies on a small case that was introduced in 1908. With a 99-grain bullet traveling around 1,000 feet per second (fps), even Federal Premium’s Hydra-Shok Deep load — one of the best .380 loads on the market — doesn’t perform as well as we’d like them to, especially against intermediate barriers and heavy clothing. Along the same line, you can only scale down a 9mm-chambered pistol before they become too uncomfortable to shoot, or reliability issues appear. There is always a struggle between portability, shootability and effectiveness.
Federal took aim at the performance gap between .380 ACP and 9mm and created the .30 Super Carry (SC) cartridge. So far, I like what I’m seeing. Using a cartridge case that is almost the same length as a 9mm, the key to the .30 SC is a smaller-diameter bullet — .312 inches — and a case that offers size and weight savings while still achieving velocities and energies on par with existing service-pistol loads.
I spoke to Federal President Jason Vanderbrink during a visit to the factory where I evaluated samples of the new cartridge. “In a time of unprecedented demand for basic ammo offerings, why introduce a new cartridge?” I asked.
“Because at Federal, we take innovation seriously,” Vanderbrink replied. “It’s our company heritage. We actually started this project during the ‘Trump Slump,’ when our numbers were way down. It’s important that we continuously look ahead. We’re not a company that just sits on its laurels.”
The .30 SC is a forward-looking project. While design started on the new cartridge before the boom of micro 9mm pistols, the .30 SC is poised to make those handguns even more effective.
Two of the first pistols that will be available for the .30 SC are Smith & Wesson’s M&P Shield Plus ($553) and M&P Shield EZ ($505). Compared to a typical 9mm-format pistol, the .30 SC increases capacity by about 20 percent without sacrificing the terminal ballistics of a 9mm. This means the Shield Plus goes from a flush fit 10-plus-one-rounder to a flush fit 12-plus-one-round carry gun without any external difference in pistol size. The Shield EZ bumps up from eight in the magazine to 10 rounds. The next pistols that come to the market for .30 SC will be able to be designed around the cartridge for a reduced footprint without the sacrifice of capacity, shootability or ballistic performance. Let’s look more closely at the ballistics.
There are still many of us who cling to bullet diameter as a key to the projectile’s effectiveness. The reality is this: A defensive load must balance projectile speed and weight in order to consistently penetrate 12 to 15 inches in a torso to be considered effective.
Light bullets must be pushed faster. Think about the velocity needed to push a small-caliber rifle load such as a 55-grain projectile for .223 Remington. Heavier bullets, though great for retaining weight and penetrating deeply, are difficult to push to requisite velocities without causing prohibitive recoil. In both scenarios, cartridge capability is also limited by the size and construction of the pistol. It really is a multifaceted balancing act to achieve a reliable and feasible solution.
While touring Federal’s expansive ammunition factory in Anoka, Minnesota, I shot the .30 SC in gelatin and put to the test Federal’s claims of ballistic equivalence with the 9mm. I’m not a stranger to ballistic gelatin protocols, as I was involved in my police department’s ammunition testing for many years.
The gelatin we used during the demo was not only real ballistic gelatin (i.e., not the clear stuff), but I also validated it per the FBI’s spec: Fire a .177 steel BB at 590 feet per second (fps), plus or minus 15 fps, into the gelatin. The resulting penetration needs to reach a depth of 2.95 inches to 3.74 inches. We first shot Federal’s and Speer’s premier loadings: the 100-grain HST and the 115-grain Gold Dot. We shot into bare gel and then through the FBI protocol’s “heavy clothing,” which consists of layered t-shirt, dress shirt, fleece and denim. For comparison, we also tested the .30 SC loads next to .380 ACP and 9mm equivalents. Results were exactly as advertised.
In bare gel, the .30 SC reached 11 to 13 inches of penetration with complete expansion. Expanded diameters for the projectiles were .59 inch for the HST and .57 inch for the Gold Dot. Shooting through heavy clothing, the .30 SC loads penetrated deeper, and both produced just more than 15 inches of penetration. Expanded diameters of .51 inches for the HST were observed through heavy clothing, and .54 inches for the Gold Dot.
For perspective, the 124-grain HST load in 9mm penetrated heavy clothing and 14.5 inches of gel. It expanded to .6 inch. The 99-grain .380 load gave us 9.3 inches of penetration into gel through heavy clothing and expanded to .58 inch. From a ballistic standpoint, the .30 SC compares favorably to its 9mm cousins, and it dramatically outperforms the .380 ACP loads.
All of the ballistic performance in the world doesn’t mean a thing if the bullets don’t go where you intend. While accuracy is largely a function of the pistol, the cartridge can play a role, especially in its consistency, resulting from the assembly of its components and specifications. Many cartridges can be made to be accurate, but sound initial design can offer a great advantage. In a fixed barrel at 50 yards, the 115-grain Gold Dot load for .30 SC placed five shots into .73 inches. The 100-grain HST load grouped five shots into .91 inches. That’s amazing accuracy potential, even for a fixed barrel. My 25-yard rested results weren’t as impressive as that, but they were still very good.
Nighthawk Custom is already on board to offer a 1911 for .30 Super Carry. Federal had a sample of Nighthawk’s President ($4,600) that I used for accuracy testing. Testing conditions were less than ideal, though; there was poor lighting on the range and the test table was unstable. Federal’s engineers didn’t care and told me to go ahead and shoot; they trusted their product.
Every load shot through the Nighthawk 1911 in .30 SC produced five-shot groups measuring less than 2 inches at 25 yards. The premium HST and Gold Dot loads both produced tight 11/2-inch five-shot groups.
Continuing my tests, I borrowed one of Federal’s Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZs. Of course, the Shield’s 3.6-inch barrel couldn’t quite match the Nighthawk’s 5 incher, but it still managed some decent five-shot groups. The HST resulted in an average of 2.9 inches, and the Gold Dot printed 3.1 inch averages from my hands. Afterwards, even the American Eagle, Blazer and Remington range ammo reliably produced groups under 4 inches.
Of course, helping the .30 SC’s accuracy potential was its manufacturing consistency. The HST load had an average velocity out of the Shield EZ of 1,205 fps with an extreme spread of 18 fps and a standard deviation of 9. The Gold Dot produced an average velocity of 1,095 with an extreme spread of 12 and a standard deviation of 6. Those are very tight performance ranges, especially for production ammunition.
Subjectively, the .30 SC shot similarly to a 9mm. There was more bark at ignition, but the muzzle seemed to move less.
Six loads will be immediately available for the .30 SC. The 100-grain HST, 115-grain Gold Dot, and 100-grain High Terminal Performance (HTP) load from Remington are tailored for defense. Defensive and training loads are ballistically matched, so if you choose the HST for carry, the American Eagle will recoil identically and hit to the same point of aim. Likewise for the other brands.
I was informed that pricing will be on par with .380 ammunition. As far as firearms, pistols from Nighthawk Custom and Smith & Wesson will be available at launch. Other makes and models will soon follow, as well.
Designed to carry like a .380 and hit like a 9mm, the .30 Super Carry is poised to make an impact. While I am impressed with what I’ve seen of the cartridge thus far, I am just as interested in looking forward. What boundaries will pistol manufacturers push next with the .30 SC?
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