My 9mm update came in the 1990s. I had first tried to reload the 9mm Parabellum in the mid-1970s. In 21st-century parlance, “the technology wasn’t mature.”
By the early 1990s, I suddenly found myself with a bunch of 9mms, despite being a confirmed .45 ACP fan. I asked Bob, our then-VP of the IPSC gun club (who was feeding his two sons buckets of 9mm ammo for their competitive efforts), what to load 9mm with.
“4.2 grains of Bullseye,” was his response.
“OK; what bullet?”
“Any. It doesn’t matter.”
And that’s how I came to discover the magical load.
Bullseye is the oldest smokeless powder in continuous production. Introduced in 1898, it is a fast-burning flake powder that can be very economical to use. It is my understanding that Alliant has a sample of the first production lot in storage, and they occasionally pull a small amount to test it. It still works just fine.
BUMPING UP THE POWER FACTOR
The load Bob was cranking out by the literal bucketload was 4.2 grains of Bullseye over a 125-grain, lead round-nose (LRN). The load delivers a 125-grain bullet at 1,050 to 1,075 fps, which makes Minor with a comfortable margin yet does not create excessive recoil. It does create smoke, so if you want to load bullets for match use or avoid the smoke, substitute plated or coated 125-grain bullets, and you’ll be fine.
The powder charge just doesn’t care. Jacketed, plated, cast or swaged lead, or coated, any 125-grain bullet is going to be going a bit more than mid-1,000 fps and not more than 1,100 fps.
You want a subsonic load to feed your suppressed pistol? Just replace the 125-grain bullet with a 147-grain one. For suppressor use, I’d avoid the cast or swaged lead bullet, just to keep the cleaning down. So, a jacketed, plated or coated 147-grain, and you’ll be doing 925 to 950 fps.
If you wish, this can also be your practice or competition load, even though you have had a bump up in power factor (PF). PF is a measure of momentum, so you gain more with more weight, despite the slight decrease in velocity.
You won’t even have to change the seating die in your loading press for overall length. Whatever it is for the 125 LRN, it will work for the 147 PRN. If you use a flat-nose bullet, use that design seater for each weight.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. Suppose you want to introduce a newbie to shooting. You’re afraid the recoil of a standard 9mm load might spook them. Substitute a plated 115-grain—or even a 100-grain bullet—for the 125-grain and load up. No change in powder.
You’ll get 1,100 fps or a bit more with the lighter bullets. The muzzle blast will be about as inoffensive as you can possibly make it, and a new shooter is not likely to be put off by this.
You can go even lower in weight. Hornady makes a 90-grain XTP bullet, and—stuffed over the same powder charge— it will zip out of the muzzle at 1,100 fps or a bit more. It is really soft in recoil, so you might find that it doesn’t cycle your pistol. Install a softer recoil spring.
However, the felt recoil is really soft. A .22LR with a 40-grain bullet at 1,000 fps posts a PF of 40. A 9mm with a 90-grain bullet at 1,100 fps is a PF of 99. For a new shooter, that compares favorably to our standard load, which posts a PF of 125 to 130.
As an intermediate step between the rimfire-power and factory-power 9mm loads, 4.2 grains of Bullseye with lighter bullets make for a good transition. And there are no problems with accuracy; it is more than accurate enough for plinking purposes.
BULK BULLET BUYING
Then, there is the economy.
At 4.2 grains per shot, a pound of Bullseye is good for slightly more than 1,600 rounds. If you buy in bulk—and you should—an 8-pound keg of Bullseye, 10,000 primers and 10,000 plated 100- or 115-grain bullets (you use range brass 9mm to load in. There’s no lack of that for free at the gun club), and your ammunition costs you $140 per thousand, plus your time. Steel-cased factory ammo starts above that, and everything else goes up in price even more. All those are at a 130 PF or stouter, not the super-soft 100 PF ammo you’re loading for you and your new shooter.
And there’s a bonus: If you want to go up, you can. The max load for a 115-grain bullet and Bullseye is 5.1 grains with a Speer plated, round-nose 115 at slightly fewer than 1,200 fps. Magic.
Patrick Sweeney has been a decades-long reloader, competition shooter, gunsmith and firearms writer. He is also a state-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, a court-recognized expert witness—and winner of much more than his fair share of loot and glory.