9mm Federal

This is one of those cartridge screw-ups you just have to laugh at because it’s so obvious in hindsight. Back in the late 1980s, Federal decided shooters needed a revolver cartridge that duplicated the ballistics of the 9mm Luger pistol cartridge. I don’t blame them—the 9mm was a hot commodity back then.

The 9mm Federal revolver cartridge (right) is a rimmed version of the 9mm Luger pistol cartridge (left).

The 9mm Federal revolver cartridge (right) is a rimmed version of the 9mm Luger pistol cartridge (left).

Ballistically, there really wasn’t much one could gain over .38 Special +P loads with a rimmed 9mm. One argument for the new cartridge though was that if there was a rimmed version of the 9mm Luger, like there is for the .45 ACP (.45 Auto Rim), guns could be made with a shorter length cylinder, making them overall smaller and lighter.

Unfortunately, the 9mm Federal (left) is so close to the old .38 S&W (right) that a potentially dangerous situation exists.

Unfortunately, the 9mm Federal (left) is so close to the old .38 S&W (right) that a potentially dangerous situation exists.

Enter the 9mm Federal—a rimmed 9mm revolver cartridge that sent a 115-grain JHP at 1,280 fps. Charter Arms made a Pit Bull revolver for it, but left the cylinder full-length, so nothing was gained over a .38 Special as far as the gun size was concerned.

Unfortunately for Federal, it was AFTER the cartridge was introduced and put in production when someone’s light bulb came on. The 9mm Federal has almost the same cartridge dimensions as the old .38 S&W. There are a whole lot of old top-break revolvers chambered for the .38 S&W, and that cartridge operates at a much lower pressure. The 9mm Federal cartridge fits in .38 S&W chambers and, because of the very real possibility that someone could fire 9mm Federal in an old top-break revolver resulting in a KaBoom!, the cartridge was dropped in the early 1990s.

While the 9mm Federal will fit in revolvers chambered for .38 S&W, it is an unsafe gun/ammo combination that can result in a catastrophic failure and should not be done.

While the 9mm Federal will fit in revolvers chambered for .38 S&W, it is an unsafe gun/ammo combination that can result in a catastrophic failure and should not be done.

 

 

 

Scott Mayer

www.tacticaltshirts.com

www.john1911.com

“Shooting Guns & Having Fun”

 

Scott Mayer

Scott Mayer

Writer at John1911
Mayer began his outdoor industry career in 1993 on the NRA Technical Staff where he became American Rifleman magazine first Shooting Editor. Mayer left NRA and entered the business end of publishing in 2003 as Advertising Account Executive for Safari Club International SAFARI Magazine and Safari Times newspaper. In 2006, Mayer was named Publisher of Shooting Times magazine where he was also tasked with launching and leading Personal Defense TV, the first television show of its kind.

In 2008, Mayer returned to the editorial side of publishing, this time in the digital field, as Editorial Director for Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Handguns and Rifleshooter online magazines. After a brief stint in 2011 as the Digital Media Director for an ABC TV affiliate, Mayer returned to the outdoors industry and Safari Club International where he is currently Assistant Publisher and Multi-Media Communications Editor.
Scott Mayer

Latest posts by Scott Mayer (see all)

  • FWIW: For equal barrel lengths and projectile weights, standard pressure 9x19mm loads trounce even +P+ loads in the .38 Special. According to articles posted at the time of its introduction, 9mm Federal was loaded closer to Federal’s 9x19mm +P offerings than their standard pressure fodder.

    • How does it compare heavy 38 special loads? Like the 150ish grain?

      Marky

      • 9x19mm loads with projectiles heavier than 147gr are fairly uncommon, and those are are typically FMJ, not JHP. I seem to remember that 147gr 9x19mm standard pressure loads are in the same ball park as the 147gr .38 Special +P+ loads that Federal and Winchester developed for the FBI and other federal agencies during the late 1980s/early 1990s.

        I don’t think that I’ve seen any chronograph data for the Fiocchi or IMI 158mm 9x19mm loads in a revolver.

        • Yeah. I was recalling a conversation I had as a much younger man. I was told by a reloader that 38 special could easily bypass 9mm on a power factor chart if the loader so choose.

          It was a lesson learned. But you would know better than me.

          Marky

          • You can handload a .38 Special beyond 9x19mm levels if you are willing to exceed SAAMI pressure specifications and/or use super heavy projectiles. Bowling Pin and Metallic Silhouette shooters have played weights running up to 230-250gr, often repurposing rifle projectiles. However, even when loaded into .38 Special cases, these loads were typically only used in .357 Magnum revolvers or single-shot actions.

            For example, Penn Bullets casts a 230gr 0.357″ full wadcutter they call the Thunderhead that once had a cult following among Bowling Pin shooters.

            https://www.pennbullets.com/38/38230tndrhd.html

          • I think we are veering off the tracks. I am not talking pressure and speed. The argument the guy was making was the max bullet weight you can stick in a 38 special revolver such as a full wadcutter, combined with a hotter load, is much better than a micro 9mm.

            Marky

          • Of course, you can do gonzo loads with a 9x19mm too. Back in the 1980s, KAC’s Hush Puppy load was reportedly a 170gr Sierra FMJ over a charge of Herco that easily exceeds current published maximum with even a 147gr projectile.

            However, the average shooter isn’t going to be carrying handloads for defense.

          • Good Lord! I haven’t heard of the Hush Puppy thing in 20 years! Yeah, this guy is an active billet sniper and avid hand loader. His argument was the heaviest 38 spy bullet would always do better than 9mm at bad breath distances.

            Of course, I just shook my head and listened. I have never carried a snub for real and don’t know much about 38 spl in reality.

            Thanks for the interesting contribution to the comment section.

            Marky

  • Mikial

    That would have been a potentially tragic KaBoom! Some of those old break action revolvers always struck me as a little shaky in terms of their lock up.

  • Brennen Munro

    I would still like to get my hands on a wheel gun that shoots 9mm, even if it was one that needed to be run with “moon-clips”. The ones that I have seen have been priced so high that I could not justify spending what they were asking for then. I guess I should amend my first statement with saying I would like to get my hands on an “offordable” wheel gun that shoots 9mm, and would prefer one that is not in danger of becoming the next example of a KaBoom gun!

    Munro