Since their foundation in 1949, Hornady has become one of America’s preeminent bullet and loaded ammunition manufacturers. To have Hornady’s specialized self-defense ammo in your carry weapon’s magazine is to have peace of mind that you’re equipped to cope when life attacks. But of the two primary options out there, which load deserves the privilege of a spot in your concealed carry gun? Critical Duty or Critical Defense?

Critical Duty vs Critical Defense

Shooting Hornady ammo at the range with a pistol Hornady caters to those who would rely on a firearm for personal protection with two lines of well-known ammunition: Critical Defense and Critical Duty.

Critical Defense is optimized to suit the needs of the civilian. Critical Duty offers more to support the varied tactical needs of law enforcement professionals.

Even if you are not a police officer, you are permitted to purchase and carry Hornady’s Critical Duty ammunition. But what are the differences between a Critical Defense vs. a Critical Duty load?

Critical Defense Details

Hornady Critical Defense ammunition Hornady offers their Critical Defense line of ammunition to provide true stopping power when it is most needed.

A Critical Defense cartridge features Hornady’s own FTX bullet, a high tech jacketed hollow point projectile. FTX features something Hornady calls the Flex Tip. That tip is a piece of soft polymer that serves two functions.

1.) It prevents the bullet’s nose cavity from clogging with debris that could inhibit its ability to trigger expansion.

2.) It jams inward during penetration to make that bullet expansion occur even more reliably. The wound channel delivered by an FTX is deep in addition to wide.

The bullet also features Hornady’s InterLock ring. This ring is a protrusion of the heavy jacket that effectively anchors it to the high antimony lead core. Its InterLock ring keeps the FTX’s core and jacket firmly rooted together, so the two can retain the weight and momentum required to tunnel deeply into a target.

The FTX is an accurate bullet as well. Its uniformly distributed core and concentric jacket complement superior rotational stability, enabling the FTX to hug its intended trajectory tightly. The FTX’s ballistically efficient profile also lets it generate less drag in flight. This means it can arrive at its target with more energy to transfer.


A Critical Defense cartridge is loaded with low-flash propellant. This is invaluable during a self-defense scenario in a dim environment, as it prevents the shooter from becoming blinded by bright light when their eyes have already become acclimated to the dark.


Critical Defense ammo also features a nickel plated brass shell casing. Nickel creates less metal-on-metal friction in a semi-automatic firearm, enabling it to feed and extract more smoothly. This ultimately helps you avoid jams. Nickel is additionally corrosion resistant. Its reflectivity makes a Critical Defense round easier to see in the chamber in poor lighting.

Critical Duty Details

Hornady Critical Duty ammo boxes and rounds loose at the range In addition to law enforcement officers, Hornady’s Critical Duty line of ammunition caters to those who value superior barrier penetration and prefer to carry a full-size handgun. A Critical Duty load also has the same brass shell casing as the Critical Defense load’s nickel plated casing. It features low-flash propellant and responsive Boxer primer.


The key difference is the bullet: Instead of an FTX, it has a FlexLock projectile. Like the FTX, the FlexLock’s hollow point nose cavity contains a Flex Tip that protects it from clogging during penetration. The FlexLock also has a high antimony lead core, although its jacket is even thicker. The FlexLock has an InterLock band instead of an InterLock ring, which keeps its jacket and core even more securely fastened to one another during barrier penetration.

In the FBI’s testing protocol, the FlexLock retains an even greater percentage of its weight than an FTX as it penetrates barriers including heavy fabric, wallboard, plywood, sheet metal, and auto glass.

The Takeaway

Barrier testing ammo at the shooting range Both Critical Defense and Critical Duty loads will deliver the expanding terminal performance that suits them so well for personal protection. The defining difference between Critical Defense and Critical Duty is their bullets’ ability to penetrate barriers. Critical Defense’s FTX is in no way incapable of penetrating most common urban barriers without retaining the mass it needs to inflict a deep wound channel. The Critical Duty’s FlexLock, however, delivers “barrier blind” performance characterized by virtually complete weight retention.

Barrier penetration is crucial for cops on duty. They are more likely to encounter a threat that will take cover and fire back at them. When a cop’s bullet has to pierce a car door or wall to neutralize a suspect, Critical Duty delivers.

A Critical Defense cartridge provides its full potential out of a smaller, more easily concealed handgun. A Critical Duty cartridge, on the other hand, is designed to deliver optimal performance only out of a full-size handgun. This isn’t to say a Critical Duty load won’t function in a compact handgun – but it won’t deliver its very best performance, either.