B5 Systems

Gunfighter Moment – Ken Hackathorn

9x19mm Pocket Rockets

It is all the rage these days to pack small pocket size compact 9x19mm pistols. Nearly every manufacture offers one in the lucrative CCW marketplace. Most are good, some acceptable, and a few terrible. Competition between handgun vendors pretty much insures that only quality pistols last very long in the marketplace. Two pistols that seem to have captured wide acceptance the American market are the Smith & Wesson Shield and the Glock 43. Both are really good choices.

I own samples of both and have to admit that while I was not really excited by the Glock 43 when it first was introduced, after taking possession of one, I am now a big fan of the G43. What has gotten my attention is the fact that these really small compact pistols have very reduced slide travel, and extremely fast cycle time. The result that they can be ammo sensitive if you choose to feed your pocket rocket +P or +P+ 9x19mm ammo. Understand that really hot ammo can speed up slide velocity to the point that the slide is moving faster than the magazine can feed the next round up to the proper position in the feed lips for proper function. The result can be a bolt over base feed way stoppage or even the slide closing on an empty chamber.

Based upon my observations, I will select only standard velocity 9x19mm JHP ammo. Do to the real short barrels of these pocket blasters, many folks think that going to a real high velocity round will make up for a lost in impact velocity do to low velocity in a 2″ barrel. The barrel on these little guns may be listed as three inches or so, but remember that includes the chamber; actual bore length is much less. Ammunition makers have went to great lengths to provide hollow cavity bullets that expand properly in flesh-like mediums, but this is very much a function of velocity. Slow a 9x19mm down because of a very short barrel, velocity suffers and expansion fails as well.

So, ammo selection is an issue with these little ‘pocket rockets’. Select yours carefully and most important, test fire the ammo you select in your pistol to insure that it works the way it is supposed to when you need it.

– Ken Hackathorn

Old Guy With A Blaster

Ken Hackathorn has served as a US Army Special Forces Small Arms Instructor, Gunsite Instructor, and NRA Police Firearms Instructor. He is currently an FBI Certified Firearms Instructor, Certified Deputy Sheriff with Washington County SO, Ohio, and a SRT member and Special Response Team trainer. Ken has trained US Military Special Operations forces, Marine FAST and SOTG units and is a contract small arms trainer to FBI SWAT and HRT.

Ken has provided training to Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies and been active in small arms training for the past 25 years. He has written firearms related material for Guns & Ammo, Combat Handguns, Soldier Of Fortune, and currently American Handgunner and contributed to at least six other gun/shooting journals. Ken was also a founding member of IPSC and IDPA.

Gunfighter Moment is a weekly feature brought to you by Bravo Company USA. Bravo Company is home of the Gunfighters, and each week they bring us a different trainer to offer some words of wisdom.

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14 Responses to “Gunfighter Moment – Ken Hackathorn”

  1. canuck_in_da_hood says:

    Just curious, isn’t the chamber included in the combustion volume?

    • Phillysteak says:

      I think the chamber is often neglected from the total combustion volume since the propellant takes time to burn and won’t be completely converted to energy the instant the cartridge is fired.

  2. Jack Griffin says:

    Worth noting is how the pocket pistol craze has encouraged the big name ammo manufacturer circle to get back in the lab and produce appropriate self-defense ammo: Federal 9×19 150gr HST Micro, Speer 9×19 124 gr Gold Dot Short Barrel, etc.


    • PJ says:

      It’s has certainly encouraged them to market short barreled ammo. Tests I’ve seen don’t show the short barreled loadings do any better than regular loads out of short barrels. The HST Micro in particular penetrated less and less reliably while it costs about twice as much.

      • Jack Griffin says:

        Going off the results of the LuckyGunner Labs “Handgun Self-Defense Ammunition Ballistics Test” gel block stats w/ the update from 4 August 2016.

        5 shots of Regular 147 HST: 15.2″ depth, .61″ expansion, 973 average velocity
        5 shots of Micro 150 HST: 17.3″ depth, .71″ expansion, 888 average velocity

        If you haven’t seen their fancy infographic charts yet, I’d give it a gander.

        • Defensor fortismo says:

          The lucky gunner tests are a good quick reference, but not foolproof. My understanding is that the clear ballistic gel although providing a tangible example of ballistics, isn’t the most accurate, nor do they calibrate said gel beforehand. This is why if you do a side by side comparison with other testers such as shootingthebull410, the same rounds on the lucky gunner tend to penetrate further and otherwise decent rounds overpenetrate. It’s a good frame of reference, but it’s also worth taking with a grain of salt.

          • Jack Griffin says:

            Certainly. Comparing the performance of gold standard rounds like the popular Fed HST and Speer GD, you can see overall skew of any particular test. I look at the results of Fed HST 124gr standard pressure in any test when I’m comparing something new or different.

        • P.J. says:

          Huh. That contradicts TN9Outdoors test, which appear to have used calibrated gel, unlike the Lucky Gunner test.

  3. Uncle Dan says:

    I’ve been thinking about trying the 100 grain Hornady FTX Lite in the Shield & G19 for function and accuracy.

    The 19 is soon to be a house gun for my daughter. An ETS 22-rounder w 22 100 grainers could be effective…

  4. DAN III says:


    Remember. Nobody wants a hole in them no matter how small.

    Don’t get wrapped around the axle too much with the barrel length/velocity/bullet expansion concerns.

  5. Big Daddy says:

    No problems with +P 124 Gold Dots.

  6. Jeff says:

    I’m not a gunsmith, and don’t get this: “really hot ammo can speed up slide velocity to the point that the slide is moving faster than the magazine can feed the next round up to the proper position in the feed lips for proper function.”

    Since the next round can’t come up until the slide is back, the rearward speed of the slide shouldn’t be relevant. The round is trapped until the slide lets it up, regardless of slide velocity. It CAN’T come up until the slide, fast or slow, clears. It’s not in the process of coming up while the slide is still over the round, is it? Assuming the design doesn’t allow the slide to travel to the rear any more distance than necessary for next-round clearance, the TIME for the round to feed isn’t affected by slide velocity to the rear. Once the slide is back and the next round is released, the FORWARD velocity of the slide becomes relevant. But the ammo recoil shouldn’t affect the forward velocity, which is imparted solely by the recoil spring, assuming the slide goes all the way back to a stop with any ammo. The only other factor immediately evident is whether the hot ammo makes the slide bounce off the stop with more forward velocity than does standard ammo.

    Or maybe the hot ammo in a lil pocket pistol just increases limp-wrist malfunctions and we blame it on slide velocity instead.

    Regardless of the REASON your pistol might not like certain ammo, just test it and make sure you’re using ammo it likes when you shoot it.

    • Mike says:

      You are correct about slide rebound. If it goes back faster, it goes forward faster. This problem is amplified by weak magazine springs, which is likely to be more common in carry guns since the mags are left loaded for extended periods.