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A pro on defense: prograde's defense grade ammo is some fine fodder.

THERE WAS A TIME WHEN I OBSESSED over new ammunition and new companies. That was also the time when it looked like I'd be the ballistician for a local ammo-loading company. I was an obsessive reloader for my competition needs, poring over every detail looking for any advantage, real or imagined.

I have to admit that I've since fallen into a more jaded attitude. Does it go bang? Fine. Does it hit where I was aiming? Good. What's next?

So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered there was a new ammunition company that exhibits the obsessive attitude that I'd had many years ago.

ProGrade, based in Montana, is the company that surprised me. Not just by its gung-ho attitude of making good ammo, but also by its variety of loading approaches and the wide net it casts over calibers. The firm's loading approach comprises nine "grades," or types, of ammo, from Hunting to Cowboy to Tactical to Match. And there are variations of those as well.

I know of ammunition companies that load on whatever brass they can find, use whatever bullets are available and stoke them with the powders they can get. That isn't ProGrade. The company carefully selects bullets for calibers and grades and then matches appropriate powders to the caliber in use.

And at every step of the way it inspects, holds to tight tolerances and obsesses over the details. So far it has more than 250 combinations of cartridges, bullets and grades. I can't hope to cover even the handgun selections, which, by my count, come to 112. So I settled on one that would be useful to many readers: 9mm +P, loaded with Barnes's 115-grain TAC-XP. It's a carry load out of' the company's Defense Grade lineup.

Loaded in cases with the ProGrade headstamp and using Barnes 115-grain bullets, the ammo is as nice-looking as you'd want it to be. I checked each round in my chamber gauge, and every one dropped fully into the gauge and then fell out of its own weight when the gauge was inverted.

I used my digital calipers to measure overall length and found that they varied by a couple of thousandths, which is basically the amount the rounded edges of the hollowpoint of a TAC-XP can vary by. The primers were clean and unmarred, evenly seated and level while slightly below the surface of the headstamp ring.

Would I go through all this with an established company? No. But when a new company comes along and talks about attention to detail, I have to see for myself. And ProGrade passed with flying colors.

So I set about shooting. This being 9mm ammo, and +P at that, I figured I'd give it a chance to show off. I packed two 9mm pistols: a 1911 that is a project gun and a Taurus PT92. Each has a five-inch barrel, which should give the ammo a chance to post some impressive numbers. And it did.

An all-steel 1911 and a hand-filling Taurus PT92 are full-size guns and great for recording velocities and accuracy, but perhaps a better test of function can be attained with something smaller.

While it's not true in every case, small guns tend to be touchy about ammunition. Use normal ammo and they feed just fine. Some object to +P ammo and will not feed it reliably. I decided to shoot ProGrade's +P load through my Ruger LC9. I spent an afternoon getting hammered by +P ammo in a pistol -- that weighs 17 ounces, and the test went off without a hitch.

The Barnes TAC-XP is an all-copper bullet and thus bends the usual rules when it comes to terminal performance. First, you don't have to reach warp-speed velocities to get full expansion. With a regular bonded bullet in 9mm, you'd have to push a 115-grainer past 1,300 fps to be sure of full expansion and penetration, but with an all-copper bullet you get to step back because you get as much expansion and penetration with just over 1,200 fps.

And the all-copper TAC-XP is as accurate as they come. The 1911 and the Taurus both shot it well. I didn't test accuracy out of the LC9--not out of any concern that the Ruger wouldn't do well but because I wanted to save myself the ordeal of bench-testing hot defensive ammo from a lightweight compact pistol.

Because the company doesn't make its own bullets, ProGrade can select the best bullet for the caliber and application. In addition to the Barnes offering, Defense Grade bullet choices include the Hornady 147-grain XTP HP and Nosler 124-grain JHP--all loaded ahead of low muzzle-flash powders.

The ProGrade Defense Grade line covers nine handgun calibers, and the offerings aren't just a token sample of each. The .38 Special has both regular and +P loadings. The .357 SIG has four loadings, the .40 S&W seven, the .380 two, and there's even a .44 Special load.

But back to the 9mm, which is offered only in +P. The Barnes 115-grain TAC-XP bullets were exiting my immediate vicinity at just over 1,200 fps, and out of the all-steel 1911 or the wide-body PT92, recoil was no big deal. The average of the two velocities is about 1,225, which produces a Power Factor--a number competition shooters know well, a function of bullet weight and muzzle velocity--of 140.

If you're in the habit of practicing with your carry gun with a typical reload in the 125 Power Factor neighborhood, you might want to use a magazine of ProGrade at the end of your practice session (assuming, of course, your carry gun is rated for +P). The recoil difference from a 125 PF practice load and a 140 PF carry load can be noticeable--especially if your carry gun is something like the Ruger LC9 and not an all-steel 1911--and shooting the stouter load will keep your defensive skills sharp.

caption: The ProGrade Defense Grade line covers nine handgun calibers, and the offerings aren't just a token sample of each.


9mm Luger +P Bullet Weight (gr.) Muzzle Velocity
(fps) Standard Deviation

Avg. Group (in.)

1911, 5 IN. BARREL

Barnes TAC-XP    115    1,234    11.8    2.00


Barnes TAC-XP    115    1,219    13.7    2.25


Barnes TAC-XP    115    1,121    21.2     n/a

Notes: Accuracy results are averages of four five-shot
groups at 25 yards off an MTM K-Zone shooting rest.
Velocities are averages of 10 shots measured on
a PACT MKIV chronograph set 15 feet from the muzzle.
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Title Annotation:AMMO SHELF; Barnes TAC-XP
Author:Sweeney, Patrick
Article Type:Product/service evaluation
Date:Apr 1, 2014
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