The 9×19mm Parabellum designed by Georg Luger is by far the most ubiquitous handgun caliber on the planet. Despite its popularity, from what I’ve seen at the range, most people can’t shoot it accurately past 15 yards. That’s unfortunate.
With the right bullet and the right load, the venerable 9 mm Luger (which was introduced in 1902) is accurate up to 50 yards or more.
Granted, a nine, particularly with a short barrel, is not the easiest gun to shoot at longer distances. Most Bullseye shooters won’t touch a nine. When I asked Fred Kart, the founder of Kart Precision (the manufacturer of the famed Kart Barrel) if he shot a 1911 chambered in 9mm he stated, “I don’t shoot nines”.
That was that.
I don’t think he was being snooty. In his opinion a 1911 chambered in nine was not something that Bullseye shooters took seriously. He simply had better things to do with his time.
Who can blame Mr. Kart? A nine, even loaded with tame rounds, has more than its share of muzzle flip. They are harder to keep on target than a .22 or even a .45 with a target load.
That said, they are fun and fairly inexpensive to run. As far as shooting them at 25 yards or longer, who doesn’t like a challenge?
And that is the genesis of this story.
First off, this isn’t meant to be a comparison. To be frank both manufacturers make excellent products and one would be hard pressed to find much different between the two.
My real goal was to determine what kind of accuracy an average shooter could muster out of with a decent 9mm pistol shooting a variety different sized/configured 9mm bullets.
In short, what kinds of groups could I coax from high quality 115, 124/125 and 147 grain bullets from high quality pistols.
My reasoning was, if I could come up with some good groups, so can you.
The are a plethora of 9mm bullets available for reloaders in everything from cast lead to copper plated. I decided to stick with the tried and true jacketed variety which are favored by competitors, law enforcement and most enthusiasts. (The jacketed variety is also more accurate at longer distances than plated bullets).
Back in 1949, Hornady’s founder, Joyce Hornady described his products as “Accurate, deadly, dependable”. This catch phrase defined his products so well that it became the new company’s first advertising slogan. Since then, the Grand Island, Nebraska based firm has become the largest independently owned maker of bullets, ammunition, and tools in the world. Not too shabby for a family owned business in flyover country.
Zero Bullets, based in Cullman, Alabama is also a family affair. Founded in 1965 by Margaret and Joe Stallings, it doesn’t generate the kinds of sales nor offer the sheer number of products compared to Hornady. Think of it as a friendly, boutique manufacturer.
It’s a favorite of many reloaders who speak in glowing terms of quality products and value for dollar. Zero credo is “Reliability, accuracy and affordability”. The company has an unconditional guarantee – if you’re unhappy with anything they’ll replace, reship or refund their products.
Keeping with the family theme, the Zero’s R&D is managed by Fred Stallings (son of the founders) is responsible for bullet design, development, testing and operation of the plant.
Zero also has a long tradition of sponsoring competitive shooters. Perhaps the best known is Kim Beckwith who has won the Senior Bianchi Cup title twice, in 2014 and 2016, and shot on three World Teams winning 1st and 2nd and 3rd.
What to shoot them with?
Obviously the more accurate the pistol, the better chances for a respectable group. The most accurate nine I have on hand is a Sig 210 (with iron sights). a Dan Wesson Pointman 9 with Kart barrel and a Caspian build (with a Nowlin barrel). The two 1911s had red dot optics.
Twist rate for the Sig and the DW are 1:10 while the Nowlin had a 1:14 configuration.
‘Real World’ Conditions
I didn’t use a ransom rest for this article. I’m not a testing lab. This isn’t evidence-based science. The idea is to see what a shooter with a reasonable set of chops can do with a good bullet, in a proven load with an accurate pistol off the bench.
Granted, I’m not a robot. My eyesight and trigger finger are not infallible, but they are consistent enough to offer indications of what one can reasonably expect from a bullet at 25 yards.
What I tested were 115 gn JHPs, 115 gn FMJs, 125 gn JHPs, 147 gn JHPs and 147 gn FMJs.
This wasn’t meant to be a side by side comparison of brands. These are bullets I had on hand. In some cases there were apple to apple evaluations (ie the Zero and Hornady 115 grain HAPs) and it other instances I just had samples of one caliber bullet on hand (ie Zero 147 grain bullets) and that’s all that I tested.
115 gr bullets
I started with 115 gr bullets. 115 gr JHPs are very popular with target shooters. They work well in Berettas, 1911s and in the Sig 210. In addition to the JHPs I chose to test the 115 FMJ, in this case from Zero.
My interest was piqued because of a few rounds of Atlanta Arms Elite factory ammo that someone handed to me at the range. It was quite accurate and sported a bullet with the same design as the Zero FMJ. This factory ammo (says the Atlanta Arms website) is used by the Army Marksmanship Unit and the Marine Service Pistol teams.
I’d never loaded FMJs but since my experience with Elite ammo was good, I thought in my own humble way I’d try to reverse engineer a load with what I perceived was a Zero bullet. (Got all that?)
On to the JHPs. Both the HAP from Hornady and the Zero JHP look have almost the same dimensions and not surprisingly shared the same deadly accuracy. Both the 115 HAP and 115 Zero bullets have a sleek and balanced nose that resembles an ICBM. This helps consistent and reliable feeding in sem-autos.
I also loaded Hornady XTPs, which are used extensively in hunting, self-defense and law enforcement applications. Although they are designed for expansion, they also work quite well as target bullets. Unlike the HAP (and Zero) design the XTPs have serrations that divide it into symmetrical sections. This weakens the jacket and allow for expansion, even at low velocities. Of course, when you’re shooting at paper, this is not a factor.
Most of the 115 bullets I loaded were with Western’s Silhouette Powder, which was formerly Winchester Action Powder (aka WAP). It’s one of these products you don’t hear a lot about anymore but it works great with the Zero and Hornady JHPs.
I also used Silhouette with the Zero FMJ and it performed admirably. Finally, I loaded Accurate #7 with the 115 HAP and had an exceptionally tight group. This powder was developed specifically for the 9mm bullets and it’s a perennial favorite.
According to Alison Harbison, a spokeswoman for Zero, the most popular selling 115 gr bullet in their line is their 9mm 115 FMJ (#126). She says it’s great for target shooting (and I’d have to agree) and an economical as well.
124/5 grain bullets
124 and 125 grain bullets also have widespread use with reloaders. They are also incredibly accurate.
Hornady’s HAP 125 gr bullet has exactly the same design as their 115 gr product. It’s simply a larger version. Same went for Zero’s 125 gr JHP which share’s a similar design with the XTP in that it has serrations which enable expansion.
I found that both the 125 Zero and HAP and bullets were quite accurate when loaded with 5.4-5.8 grains of True Blue.
147 grain bullets
These are the items I have the least experience with. I tested both Zero’s JHP and FMJ bullets both with the Sig 210 and the 1911. They grouped well with the JHPs but I wasn’t able to figure out a good load for the FMJs. Not yet. The 9mm 147 JHP is also one of Zero’s best selling products. Zero sells a great deal of these bullets as OEM products to other manufacturers.
Conclusion: Both Hornady and Zero offer extremely accurate bullets that when loaded properly can manifest really tight groups. Of course you need to do your job. And yes, it helps to have an accurate gun. (Most of my shooting for this story was done with a 9mm with iron sights so someone with a decent red dot could very well do better). The lesson is, you don’t have to be Jerry Miceluk to get decent groups. With a little work and a steady trigger finger things can get magical–even for an average shooter.
You can order Zero bullets directly from the factory. Prices start at around $106 for 115 gr JHPs.
Hornady sell its products through third party vendors. For example you can buy bulk 125 gr HAP on Brownells site for $77.99 for 500.