The Hellcat is a newer handgun to the firearms market and is part of the high-capacity but still sub-compact gun craze. It is made by HS Produkt in Croatia and imported to the United States by Springfield Armory. For many armed citizens, it’s their first foray into the concealed carry market.
The Hellcat is only offered in one choice of cartridge, the 9mm Luger. Thankfully, this cartridge is the best choice for most people when buying a small handgun. It has acceptable recoil in a small package and many ammo options.
While variety is good, it can also be confusing. Generally, handgun ammunition falls into two categories; practice, and defensive. Keep reading to see five recommendations that I’ll make to meet your needs.
9mm Luger Ammo, What is Out There?
Excluding specialty ammunition, most 9mm Luger cartridges will have one of two types of bullets, a Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) or a Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP). There are some variations in the construction of these bullet types, but they mostly function the same.
Practice Ammunition: The goal of practice ammunition is to give a shooter the most economical options to shoot at paper targets, steel plates, or something similar. The terminal performance of the bullet, how it reacts when it hits its target, is irrelevant.
This will almost always be FMJ, but can also be exposed lead, polymer-coated, and plated. I would advise caution when purchasing ammunition using exposed lead and polymer-coated bullets, as they can be somewhat temperamental with individual guns.
Lead bullets are uncommon to see in 9mm Luger outside of reloaded and remanufactured ammo. Polymer-coated bullets have lead cores and then a colorful coating baked onto them. I shoot large amounts of polymer-coated bullets in the form of reloads, but I understand they don’t work in every handgun.
Plated and FMJ bullets in 9mm Luger are functionally the same. A plated bullet has a copper jacket electro-magnetically bonded around a lead core, while the FMJ is mechanically pressed around the lead core.
Premium Defensive Ammunition: Understandably this ammo comes with a much higher price tag, usually $1 a cartridge or more. This ammunition is meant for carrying in the pistol when not at the range. It is very important to test the ammunition you plan on carrying in your Hellcat prior to trusting it with your life. I prefer JHP ammunition for carrying but there are other options out there.
Most gun owners will also shoot their defensive ammunition after a period of time. I will carry the same ammunition in my pistol for about 2 years, after that, I will shoot it and replace it with fresh cartridges.
Somewhere in Between: There is a third option, somewhere in between practice ammo and premium defensive ammo. Most manufacturers sell non-premium JHP cartridges as well. I typically recommend against buying this ammo for either practice or defensive use as it is more expensive than FMJ ammo but less effective than premium ammo.
Helpful Tip: The purpose of shooting defensive ammunition is a pistol before carrying it is to test for two things, feeding and function. A way to save money testing the feeding of the ammo is to load a magazine with alternating defensive and practice ammunition.
The shooter will shoot a practice round and the pistol will feed a defensive round into the chamber. That cartridge can be manually cycled out and a practice round will cycle in for the next round shot. This way a single box of expensive defensive ammo can be tested several times for proper feeding.
After feed testing concludes, shoot this defensive ammo to test for proper function and replace it with new cartridges.
Ammo Recommendation #1: CCI Blazer 115-grain FMJ
Intended Use: Regular practice
CCI Blazer 115-grain FMJ ammo is unique in that it uses an aluminum casing instead of a brass one. This is done for cost savings, as aluminum is a cheaper material. In turn, this ammunition is typically priced cheaper than those featuring a brass case.
The benefit of a brass case is the fired casing can be used to produce reloaded ammo. For pistol ammunition, the casing typically lasts until it is crushed or lost. This is a great attribute, but of no value to someone who doesn’t reload.
So, if you leave your casing on the ground, or collect them and throw them away later, the aluminum-cased CCI Blazer might be for you. It is very uncommon to see a modern handgun like the Hellcat have trouble with the aluminum case.
CCI Blazer tends to be mild ammo, producing less recoil and less muzzle velocity compared to other options. In a small pistol like the Hellcat, this makes for a more enjoyable practice session.
Comparable Options: While more expensive, there are several good brands of 9mm Luger practice ammo using brass cases. Winchester “White Box”, Federal American Eagle, and CCI Blazer Brass are domestically produced examples. Aguila, Magtech, and PRVI Partizan are imported options.
Helpful Tip: If you plan to shoot regularly, it is important to have a stockpile of practice ammunition. In today’s political environment, the firearms industry goes through routine bouts of panic buying. As I write this article in the summer of 2021, there has been difficulty in finding ammunition for over a year.
During these panics, the price of ammunition can double or triple, even when being sold by established retailers. Also, quality can go down as there is a rush for manufacturers to produce as much as possible.
I occasionally remind people from 2017 to 2019 companies were downsizing or even going out of business because no one wanted to buy firearms, ammunition, and reloading components. When ammunition is plentiful, and it will be again, buy more than your current needs dictate.
Ammo Reccomendation #2: Fiocchi Shooting Dynamics 124-grain FMJ
Intended Use: Regular to intermittent practice
One unique aspect of factory-produced 9mm Luger ammo is the defensive ammo is quite a bit more powerful than many practice options. Defensive ammo, unless specifically made to be low-recoil, will shoot a bullet faster than regular practice ammo like the CCI Blazer.
This results in more recoil when firing defensive ammo and less when using practice ammo. But some practice options, such as the Fiocchi Shooting Dynamics 124-grain FMJ, are loaded to be substantially more powerful than others.
In a small pistol like the Hellcat, the felt recoil can be significantly different between mild ammo and stout ammo. If you carry the pistol with the plan to use it defensively, should the need arise, it is important to know how it will function and recoil with full-power 9mm Luger ammo.
This is not to say you need to shoot full-power ammunition out of your pistol at every practice session, though it would not hurt the gun to do so. This ammunition should be rotated into your practice sessions enough for you to know how it feels to shoot.
Comparable Options: The Norma Range and Training 124-grain FMJ and Sellier & Bellot 124-grain FMJ ammunitions are also excellent choices. The goal is to pick ammo that uses a 124-grain or 125-grain bullet and has a rated muzzle velocity of at least 1150 FPS. This will feel very similar to shooting most full-power or +P rated defensive ammo.
Ammo Recommendation #3: Federal HST +P 124-grain JHP
Intended Use: Defensive
The Federal HST is an upgrade to their Hydra-Shok design. One of its notable features is the pre-cut jacket, which helps dictate where the nose of the bullet will peel back during expansion The +P designation means the round is loaded up to 10% above standard 9mm Luger pressure levels.
In real-world terms, this will give a small velocity increase over standard pressure ammo. Federal advertises the +P 124-grain HST as having 50 FPS more than the standard pressure version. The Hellcat is rated for +P ammo and there should be no concerns about shooting it, even regularly.
It is important to note that Federal still sells the Hydra-Shok under their Personal Defense line of products. The HST is the more advanced bullet and should be chosen over the Hydra-Shok.
Important Note: One thing that makes +P ammo desirable in short-barreled pistols like the Hellcat is the small velocity boost offsets the velocity loss from a 3″ barrel. Almost all advertised velocities are derived from using a longer barrel. Many published velocities are on the optimistic side as well.
Unless ammunition is noted to be tested out of a short barrel, expect it to underperform the advertised velocity.
Ammo Recommendation #4: Barnes TAC-XP +P 115-grain Lead Free Hollow Point
Intended Use: Defensive
Barnes is known for its expanding mono-metal bullets and the TAC-XP doesn’t disappoint. This bullet, with a large and deep hollow point, is exceptional in its ability to penetrate heavy clothing and still expand during testing.
As a solid copper bullet, weight retention will usually stay at 100% unless an expanding petal breaks away from the bullet. Also as copper, it’s less dense than lead and is a lighter weight than other bullets featuring a lead core.
Barnes likely makes the best-expanding handgun ammunition currently available. There are also a number of companies that load the same Barnes bullet into their ammunition.
Ammo Recommendation #5: Hornady Critical Defense FTX 115-grain
Intended Use: Defensive with lower recoil
Another unique defensive loading made by Hornady is the Critical Defense line that utilizes the FTX bullet. Similar to a JHP, the FTX bullet has a cavity in the nose. But, unlike a JHP, the cavity is already filled with a red polymer insert.
The design is meant to help the bullet bypass heavy clothing and expand on the other side. Heavy clothing is one of the main causes of failure for bullets not expanding during testing. A lack of velocity, which the Hellcat’s 3″ barrel can contribute to, is another cause.
The FTX bullet bypasses clothing very well as the hollow point is already filled with the polymer insert. The FTX also is much closer in power to the mild-to-moderate practice ammunition that is very popular.
The FTX comes with a caveat though. Hornady themselves acknowledge Critical Defense is substandard at barrier penetration. The bullet may not work as designed if shot through sheet metal, automobile glass, or a thin layer of wood. The FTX bullet is also known for minimally acceptable penetration in ideal circumstances.
With that said, this ammunition is a very valid option for a Hellcat owner who struggles with recoil for physical or medical reasons.
What about Steel-Cased ammo?
Steel-cased ammo, notably from Tula, Wolf, and Brown Bear is a budget option, and cheaper than even CCI Blazer. It didn’t make the recommended list because it tends to be pickier about which handguns it functions in than other options.
To be clear, it will work in most pistols, and if it does it is certainly something to consider to save money.
The clear recommendation is to buy a couple of boxes to test before making a large purchase.
Why no Hyper or Ultra-Velocity Ammo Recommendations?
Some ammo options available focus on shooting a very light bullet at high velocities for handgun ammunition. I am currently not a believer in boutique despite some impressive test results.
I do not think they would function satisfactorily when shot at a very large aggressor, a person behind a hard barrier, or if they impacted part of an arm before entering the chest cavity. This is why they don’t get my recommendation, at least at this time.
What is Frangible Ammo?
Frangible ammo uses bullets made of compressed metal powder. They are lead-free and designed to turn to dust on impact with a hard surface.
The only reason to use frangible ammo is when someone is forcing you to, as it is more expensive than traditional practice ammo.
What is +P+ ammo?
There is no standard for +P+ ammo. The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) has established the maximum chamber pressure for standard 9mm Luger ammo at 35,000 PSI. 9mm Luger +P ammo increases the maximum chamber pressure to 38,500 PSI.
+P+ is allegedly somewhere above that, though there is no established safe maximum pressure. There are also no firearms manufacturers that I know of who rate their pistols for this ammo. I don’t use +P+ ammo, but I do shoot .40 S&W when I want something more powerful than 9mm Luger +P.