Sellier & Bellot 9mm Luger Ammunition Reviews

Sellier & Bellot 9mm Luger Ammunition

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Sellier & Bellot 9mm Luger – It’s An European Cartridge… What’d You Expect?

Oct 14, 2009 (Updated Jul 2, 2013)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Good consistency; Good cases

Cons:Occasional tight primer pockets for reloaders

The Bottom Line: A solid choice in 'value' 9mm ammunition.  Good performance and accuracy.


Let’s get it out of the way, right up front.  I have never been much of a fan of the 9mm.   That’s not because it’s of European origin.  I think, particularly in its myriad, modern incarnations, it is a pretentious little cartridge trying to be something it’s not.  As a result, there exists almost too many options in the caliber; not all of which will be suitable for any given handgun design.  This does not make it an intrinsically poor or bad or inadequate round.  It does mean that it has use within the parameters of its design.
 
With the ammunition shortage this year, popular handgun cartridges, especially .45 ACP and 9mm Luger, have been hard to come by; a situation about to be made much worse with California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signing A.B. 962 into law.  As a result, brand loyalties have had to take a back seat to what’s available.  The trouble is that many people are unfamiliar with many of even the more popular options.  While this is not completely surprising in that once you find a factory load that works for your firearm, you tend to stick with that brand, it is problematic when that particular brand is not available on the store shelf and might not be for some time to come.

In the case of the 9mm Luger, with its European origins, American ammunition manufacturers have never seemed to achieve a reputation for generating the same quality of 9mm Luger ammunition, at least in terms of consistency of performance, as their European counterparts.  To that end, I was curious; with curiosity leading to temptation – and we all know what can happen with that.  Long story short, I gave into temptation (again) and decided to ‘test’ some of the ‘truth’ behind the above perception…

What Is Sellier & Bellot?

I’ve got to admit, the first time I heard about Sellier & Bellot and discovered it was made in the Czech Republic, I just couldn’t get John Wayne’s The Green Berets out of my head.  In the first portion of the film, a Green Beret “A Team” was giving a demonstration for assembled members of the press and a small group of civilians.  (Before I note the specifics, let me say that if you’ve never seen this movie, it’s worth getting just for this scene.  Why?  You will discover an eerily poignant, almost verbatim, recitation of today’s talking points.  Just remember, this film came out in 1968.)  During that presentation, a reporter named George Beckworth (David Janssen) got a little ‘aggressive’ in his criticism of the military’s involvement in Vietnam.

Master Sergeant Muldoon (Aldo Ray) and Sergeant “Doc” McGee (Raymond St. Jacques) patiently, rationally, and intellectually respond by sharing the facts with Mr. Beckworth.  At the end of this exchange, Muldoon responds to Beckworth’s accusation that this was strictly a war between the Vietnamese people; “It’s their war.  Let’s let them handle it.”  Muldoon rhetorically asks - “Let them handle it Mr. Beckworth?” – then proceeds to point out the displayed, ‘captured’ weaponry.  The last item he drops on the desk in front of Mr. Beckworth – “Ammunition… Czechoslovakian Made.  Czech Communist.  No sir, Mr. Beckworth.  It doesn’t take a lead weight to fall on me or a hit from one of those weapons to recognize what’s involved here is Communist domination of the World…”  (Hey.  And I didn’t even have to ‘cheat’ by popping the movie in to make sure I remembered it.  How’s that?)

If you’re of a certain age, “Czecholsovakian Made.  Czech Communist.” holds some meaning for you; i.e. the Warsaw Pact(?).  This is particularly true when reading the following snippet from the Sellier & Bellot website:  “During its 182-year history, Sellier & Bellot has become one of the most significant world producers of ammunition for small firearms.”  However, time marches on.  The Berlin Wall fell.  The Russians are ‘friendly’ and we no longer look for “Communists” under the bed or in the halls of government…

Uh, well, ummm…

In April of 2009, Sellier & Bellot was placed under the multi-national corporate umbrella of Brazil based CBC - Companhia Brasileira de Cartuchos; the same corporate entity which owns MagTech.  Such mergers have now become the norm; e.g., ATK which incorporates Speer, Federal, RCBS, et al.  The short version is that they produce quality ammunition.  I was shocked at just how high quality much of it actually is. 

The Cartridge – A Bit Pretentious

The cartridge itself is over 100 years old.  With much of its early history and virtually all of its military application based on the full-metal jacket (FMJ) bullet.   Unfortunately, the basic idea was to field a medium-sized sidearm or a “full-sized” one with high-capacity.  Therefore, the primary criteria initially had little to do with ballistics; but was, rather, the creation of a cartridge that would ‘fit the pistol’ – so to speak.  In fact, Georg Luger developed the cartridge with precisely the idea of allowing for a more compact pistol than previous auto-loading designs and was adapted (shortened) from one of his earlier and larger, bottleneck cartridges.  The “new,” or original, 9mm Luger, so far as I can determine, utilized an 115 gr. bullet with a truncated cone at a velocity of 1,200 feet per second (f.p.s.).  (You don’t suppose there’s a reason in there, someplace, as to why I’m reviewing this particular version of the 9mm?)  In point of fact, it was after acceptance by the German military that the ‘standard’ bullet weight was increased to 124 gr. FMJ; with the British retaining the 115 gr., but adopting a round nose bullet.

As presented in a 1943 article in Yank magazine and evidently taken directly from Military Intelligence Service, Special Series No. 14, May 25, 1943: German Infantry Weapons:
 
…Unlike the comparatively slow U.S. 45-caliber bullet, the Luger small-caliber bullet does not often lodge itself in the target and thereby impart its shocking power to that which it hits.  With its high speed and small caliber it tends to pierce, inflicting a small, clean wound…

Here is a section from a more recent article entitled “In Time of War: The Israeli Answer To Terrorism” by noted, long-time firearm’s instructor/author Massad Ayoob:

“…Recent events in Afghanistan have shown the relative impotence of 9mm ball compared to the same style of .45 caliber ammunition that has been in historical evidence since before WWI. GIs in Afghanistan report that Al-Qaeda fighters are absorbing multiple 9mm ball rounds from the issue Berettas before going down, but tend to drop to one or two solid hits with .45 ball fired from the old 1911 style guns still in use by Delta Force.
 

The medium-caliber handgun cartridge such as the 9mm (.355” bullet diameter) or the .38 Special (.357” bullet diameter) requires an expanding bullet to best do its job of stopping human assault, while the .45 (.452” bullet diameter) has a long history of shutting off attacks with ball type ammo…” – see http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles2/ayoob81.html

I guess those “small, clean wounds” don’t necessarily equate with ‘stopping power.’  I also presume that this lack of ‘stopping power’ is part of the reason behind the ‘high capacity’ designs of most 9mm pistols.  What was that I said above about designing the cartridge to ‘fit the pistol?’ 

“Wait a minute,” you say?

The Gun Digest Book Of Assault Weapons 7th Edition (2007) by Lewis, Campbell, and Steele addresses that:
 
…There has been considerable adverse comment since the 9mm became the service-wide pistol caliber.  The more recent controversy centers around performance of the issued pistol in Afghanistan… “But if the 9mm Parabellums were seriously defective, it seems to me the British Special Air Service, the German GSG-9, and the Israeli special ops units would not use them,” is the comment from David Steele. [one of the listed authors]  “The problem in Afghanistan appears to be a lack of supporting weapons for Special Forces operations.  If they want 45 pistols and 308 rifles, they should have them without the usual one-size-fits-all logistics debate…” (pp. 145 – 146)
 
Further, as Ayoob notes in the paragraph immediately preceding the above cited quote from his article:
 
“…The 9mm pistol has become virtually standard among civilians in Israel. However, that does not make it the best choice. Anecdotal reports of shootings of terrorists there by citizens and by police and soldiers (who have also standardized on the 9mm handgun) frequently show the bad guy to take many hits before he goes down. This is why the high capacity gun has become the 9mm of choice there. The most common brands are the old classic Browning, the Beretta, the Glock, and the Jericho (an Israeli-made clone of the Czech CZ75 design). One cannot help but notice a corollary fact: the high performance hollow point bullets that brought the 9mm Luger cartridge up off its knees and made it an acceptable fighting round are thin on the ground in Israel. Many citizens and police are likely to carry military style full metal jacket (“ball”) ammunition. This stuff tends to just punch through the body, making little dimpled holes like ice-pick wounds and endangering those behind the target with exiting bullets.
 
Let’s see… Ayoob notes that 9mm ball ammo tends to “punch through the body, making little dimpled holes” and the 1943 Military Intelligence Special Publication stated that:
 
…Unlike the comparatively slow U.S. 45-caliber bullet, the Luger small-caliber bullet does not often lodge itself in the target and thereby impart its shocking power to that which it hits.  With its high speed and small caliber it tends to pierce, inflicting a small, clean wound…
 
Call me crazy, but I think there’s a pattern here.
 
The ‘Standard’

Unlike many other cartridges, the 9mm has been so ‘tweaked’ over the years that there is no real, historical ‘standard’ by which to assess modern ammunition.  As already stated, ‘original,’ 9mm Luger, so far as I can determine, utilized an 115 gr. bullet with a truncated cone at a velocity of 1,200 feet per second (f.p.s.).  Current Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI)  specs for 115 gr. MC (FMJ) list a velocity, measured 15’ from the muzzle, of 1,125 f.p.s. (+/- 90 f.p.s.) out of a 4” barrel.  Unfortunately, barrel lengths for the handguns chambered in this round vary widely.
 
For instance, the issue Beretta 92FS has a 4.9” barrel length.  The Sig Sauer P226, popular with U.S. Navy SEALS and some law enforcement agencies, comes standard with a 4.4” barrel.  Now, the increasingly popular Springfield Armory XD has a Service Model with a 4” barrel; but, the Tactical Model has a 5” barrel.  Of course, well known for their 1911-style pistols, Springfield Armory’s “Loaded,” stainless steel, 9mm 1911 also comes with a 5” barrel.  Well, the Glock 17 comes with a 4.49” barrel; but, the Glock 19 has a 4.02” barrel.  Then again, the classic Browning Hi-Power Mark III has a 4 5/8” (4.63”) barrel.
 
What all this means is that SAAMI standards aren’t going to be quite in line with rounds pushed through many of the actual weapons this round is used in.  Longer barrel lengths are going to mean slightly higher velocities.  Of course, then again, given that the Luger pistol had a barrel length of 4.25”, that puts us, more or less, right back at the ‘original’ 9mm Luger with 115 gr. bullet at a velocity of 1,200 f.p.s. 

Since the pistol used for this review was a pretty much stock (more in a moment) Browning Hi-Power Mark III, let’s say the range we’re looking for in a standard is roughly 1,125 – 1,200 f.p.s.; which falls within the upper end of SAAMI’s specs and would be consistent given the extra 0.63” barrel length.  In addition, it allows for an approximate margin of 6.4%; something I consider to be an acceptable standard for this cartridge in factory loads.
 
Factory Specs

Sellier & Bellot factory specifications stipulate the following for their BRASS CASED (there is a steel cased version) FMJ 115 gr. 9mm Luger cartridge –

Muzzle Velocity (f.p.s.) = 1,280; with a 25 yard ‘zero’

[As I’ve noted in other reviews of handgun cartridges, 25 yards is about the maximum as regards the practical accuracy most can attain with a ‘gun of the hand;’ especially one not intended for hunting, but for self-defense. ]

This velocity rating would seem to put the Sellier & Bellot factory load well beyond the upper limits of the SAAMI specs; placing it in the +P territory.  The trouble is that Sellier & Bellot utilized a 6” test barrel.  As previously noted, longer barrel lengths are going to mean slightly higher velocities.  Unfortunately, SAAMI does not provide any estimate regarding velocity change for every 1” of barrel length for handguns that I can find.  I have seen guesstimates which range anywhere from 30 f.p.s. – 75 f.p.s.  Part of the reason for the uncertainty is the inherent variability in handgun calibers; both in an overall sense and within a specific cartridge.  Interestingly, if I were forced to arbitrarily select a figure – say, the mid-point of the cited guesstimate range (≈ 53 f.p.s.) – multiply it by the 1.37” difference between Sellier & Bellot’s test barrel length and the length of the Hi Power used in this test, then subtract that figure from the 1,280 f.p.s. factory spec, the expected velocity figure would come out to be just a skosh over 1,207 f.p.s. – or just over the top end of the estimated range based on SAAMI specs and right in there in terms of the original Luger pistol.

Go figure…  (Honest folks.  I didn’t do anything to make the numbers ‘fit.’  They do work out that way.  Although, as we are about to see, factory specs are one thing and performance “in the field” is something different.)
 
Chronograph Results
 
I set up a Chrony F1 (chronograph) and measured a distance 10 feet from the muzzle.  (I know that I just said SAAMI measured 15’ from the muzzle, but you don’t need to be that far; 10’ is sufficient to mitigate the muzzle blast’s potential to influence the chronograph results in this handgun caliber.  It also doesn’t help that I don’t shoot 9mm all that often and, therefore, am not all that anxious to see if I can avoid shooting my chronograph.)  The elevation was 5,500 ft., on a clear day with temperatures hovering around 75 - 80 degrees F and relative humidity around 20% - 25%.
 
The test gun was a fairly stock Browning Hi-Power Mark III (Made in Belgium, Assembled in Portugal) that was obtained used, at a more than reasonable price, some time back.  The only thing I know that has been done to this weapon is that the feed ramp has been ‘polished.’  Bearing in mind that I am not a ‘gun writer’ with access to manufacturer’s in terms of obtaining ‘donated’ ammunition for testing, the sample size is, of necessity, a bit small.  Be that as it may, 10 rounds from two different boxes/lots of Sellier & Bellot 9mm Luger, 115 gr. FMJ to establish the following results:
 
Mean Velocity = 1,178.29 f.p.s.
 
High = 1,196 f.p.s.; Low = 1,162 f.p.s.  – ES (Extreme Spread) = 34 f.p.s.
 
Standard Deviation (SD) = 14.66
 
This puts the average squarely in the upper end of the roughly adjusted SAAMI specs; though, given the ‘rough estimation,’ an argument could be made that it is “close enough for government work.”  While I know of no ‘official’ marker for standard deviation on factory ammo sold on the civilian market, an SD of around 20 has always been a bit of a rule of thumb; with low-end ammo starting to verge on ‘unacceptable’ around 30 or so and ‘match’ ammo having an SD of somewhere around 7 – 10.  Remember, you’re talking about assembly line production, not individually weighed handloads.
 
Viewed from that perspective, an SD of 14.66 is very good for ‘value’ ammunition.
 
Accuracy?
 
It’s been nearly 20 years since I actively shot Bullseye and IPSC competition.   Given that the Browning was the choice of sidearm for the British SAS (who’ve now adopted the SIG), I was a little nervous that I might not be able to ‘uphold the tradition’ – so to speak.  Why?  Well… I’ll admit to currently being able to hit the broadside of a barn – provided it’s not moving and I’m standing inside.  It’s not that I can’t hit what I aim at – most of the time.  It’s that I’m not going to be winning any Bullseye matches in the near future.   Further, I have none of the technological aids which help to take the ‘human factor’ out of accuracy tests; e.g., a proper rest such as a Ransom Rest.  While I’m too far out of practice to have competitive speed, as for the practical accuracy necessary for IPSC…
 
I filled two magazines with Sellier & Bellot 115 gr. FMJ, set a target with an 8” black at a measured 15 yards and proceeded to rapid fire through both magazines.  Additionally, I did a stance change every 3-4 shots; Weaver, modified isosceles, squat, kneel, and lean.   ALL rounds ended up inside the black.  Folks… This ain’t braggin’.  I’d have felt bad if I didn’t keep most of them in the black of an 8” bull.  In that vein, I will admit that I put several of the rounds in the “10” ring; with 3 in the 1 inch “X.” 

I had no Failures to Feed (FTF) or Failures to Eject (FTE).  In fact, the brass all fell into a nice little group to the right and rear; despite the changes in stance.  This can be largely attributed to the relatively low SD; i.e., consistency counts for a number of things when it comes to ammunition.
 
An Issue For Reloaders

In a sense, Sellier & Bellot cases are every bit as good as Winchester’s.  As I’ve noted in my other ammunition reviews, I never load a case to failure.  For autoloading firearms, I do around 5 or 6 loads and then deposit said case in the brass bucket and the Sellier & Bellot has held up well under those parameters.  This is why I didn’t quite understand the rumors I was hearing about guys leaving these cases on the range while policing all the other brass.
 
I learned that part of the trouble stemmed from the fact that while most of the Sellier & Bellot ammunition is Boxer primed, certain of their ‘low-end’ series are Berdan primed; with unconfirmed rumors floating around that a Berdan primed case slips through now and again.  (In fact, Sellier & Bellot actually markets Berdan primers.)  One source informs me that you used to be able to tell by the red sealant visible on the base of the case.  However, as I pointed out, even the Boxer primed ammunition now comes with this red ‘marker;’ making it impossible to tell at a glance.  With a rumor being as good as a ‘fact’ in many circles, I can see where many shooters wouldn’t figure it was worth the trouble.
 
Based on my personal experience, however, I think the main culprit is the fact that every few cases in a given box will have very tight primers.  The first time I reloaded Sellier & Bellot brass, I had several cases “pop the top” on my Lee Decapping Die; it’s designed to have the pin emerge from the top of the die if too much pressure (enough to potentially damage the pin) is exerted attempting to remove a primer.  While an irritating circumstance, it is decidedly preferable to breaking a pin; something I would certainly have accomplished with an ordinary decapping die.  How do I know that?  Because, I dug out my Lee Decapping Pin and Base, the one every Classic Lee Loader (see link below) contains.  The way the Lee Decapping Pin and Base works is you set the case in the base, insert the pin through the case mouth until it touches bottom, then gently tap the top of the pin with a plastic headed hammer.  Well, though you don’t have to ‘ring the bell,’ some of the Sellier & Bellot primers take a bit more than a gentle ‘tap.’  On the other end, such tight primer pockets can create issues with slightly ‘large-ish’ primers.
 
It’s just something to be aware of – especially since I have found this to be more prevalent in the 9mm Luger than with their other calibers.

In The End

Don’t underestimate the effect that California’s new law is going to have on the availability of handgun ammo in the next year; or, until there is a successful court challenge.  Cabela’s has already put their California customers on notice.  In fact, the morning after Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law, Cabela’s moved their Ammunition sub-menu from the bottom of their “Shooting Gear” page, to the first position at the top.  Other online dealers (with comparable pricing) have placed limits on the number of boxes per customer; having already had them there for awhile.  Likewise, the shortage has created circumstances with some online retailers where, if you’re not set up to receive email alerts on your blackberry, you will miss out in that the ammunition will be “Sold Out” in, literally, a couple of hours – at most.  On top of all this, you need to remember that California has just over 12% of the country’s population.  Even with the economy the way it is, less than one day after the Governator signed this bill, I already hear a great sucking vacuum as Californians hurry to stockpile what they can (even though, the way I understand it, the law doesn’t take effect until early 2011).
 
The trouble is that while 9mm Luger is a very popular cartridge and the 115 gr. FMJ load is, perhaps, the most commonly available at this time, supplies have been sporadic.  While Sellier & Bellot has been fairly successful in providing something close to a ‘steady’ supply to online dealers this year, prices have been anything but.  Locally, I’ve seen the rare standard 50 round box of Sellier & Bellot 9mm Luger 115 FMJ go for as much as $35 this year.  Online… Cabela’s currently lists it for $12.99 for a box of 50.  That’s when they have it!!!

The fact that I’m not a big fan of this caliber and don’t shoot it as much or as regularly as others might account for the idea that I have much more diversity insofar as 115 gr. factory loads than any other ammunition.  Interestingly, that does tend to put me in a fair position to evaluate what works best in my pistol.  In the end, the Sellier & Bellot has become my 9mm Luger 115 gr. FMJ load of choice.  An European manufactured ammunition for an European manufactured pistol in an European designed cartridge…
 
Who’da thought…


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Recommend this product? Yes


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