PMC SFX 9mm Ammo Review: Low-Cost Self Defense Option?

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PMC has released the SFX, a redesigned self-defense 9mm round that is cheaper than most alternatives. But how does it perform?

In this PMC SFX 9mm ammo review, we put this new round through the paces to determine if we should consider using it in our concealed carry handguns.

PMC SFX 9mm Ammo Review
Jason showing PMC SFX ammo before and after shooting with a ballistics gel block and expanded bullets
See the ballistics gel block in the background!

We have 30 years of experience with handguns, military training, and expertise in reloading ammunition. We are extremely selective about the ammunition we use and how it is produced.

Keep reading to find out if PMC SFX 9mm is worth considering.


PMC SFX 9mm Ammo Review

PMC SFX 9mm 124 grain SFHP (Starfire Jacketed Hollow Point) is a new 9mm Luger self-defense round from PMC.

This round has been redesigned to meet FBI protocols and service duty requirements by law enforcement, including the FBI’s penetration and expansion requirements, as well as waterproofing.

What sets this new round apart is its price, which is almost half that of other high-quality self-defense ammunition.

When buying in bulk, I have seen the price at Bulk Munitions as low as $0.43 a round. Considering the price of handgun ammo has gone up over the years, it got me very interested.

How We Tested It

We aimed to thoroughly examine every aspect of this ammunition to determine whether it can be relied upon as a suitable self-defense round. As an engineer, I have experience in designing various types of testing equipment. Nonetheless, we lack access to a sophisticated laboratory that provides the optimal conditions required to conduct a proper FBI protocol test.

So how did we do it?

We decided to compare it to one of the best self-defense rounds on the market – the Federal Premium Law Enforcement HST 124 grain 9mm.

We kept all aspects equal. The same gun, same day, same conditions, and the same ballistic gel block. This gave us a true test and comparison of performance between the two.

Jason showing the PMC SFX and Federal HST ammo that he tested.
Federal HST on the left, and PMC SFX on the right

Who is PMC?

PMC (Precision Made Cartridges) is made by Poongsan Metal Corporation in South Korea. They have been in business since 1968 and make ammunition for the South Korean military. They make all sizes and types of ammunition and have become one of the largest ammunition manufacturers on earth.

I have used their 9mm FMJ rounds and their 5.56mm rifle rounds for years. While they are not an American company, South Korea does have a heavy influence from the US military, including several military bases. My brother-in-law was stationed there for one year.

They are ISO-certified and make their ammo to SAAMI specifications, so you really can’t consider them a “cheap” alternative.

Plus, since they are a metal company, they own their own brass mill and control the raw components. This means they can control the costs and the supply. They don’t have to worry about suppliers sending them inferior raw materials.

Reliability

To test the reliability, we loaded up our regular concealed-carry handguns and went to the range. We fired 100 rounds through a Walther PDP Compact, Glock 19, Sig P365XL, and a Glock 43.

We had no issues whatsoever. Every round fired in all of our guns, and we had no feeding issues.

Considering that PMC is ISO certified and produces ammunition to law enforcement standards, I am confident that they are reliable even if I cannot fire thousands of rounds.

Jason shooting the PMC SFX ammo at the range
Getting ready to test fire the PMC SFX ammo

Velocity Testing

We conducted a test with a 4-inch barrel Walther PDP Compact to measure the PMC ammo and the Federal through the same chronograph. Based on the data we collected, the PMC is slower by around 50 fps than the Federal on average.

Test DataFederal HST 124 grPMC SFX 124 gr
Velocity 11196 fps1169 fps
Velocity 21188 fps1149 fps
Velocity 31187 fps1146 fps
Velocity 41193 fps1124 fps
Velocity 51181 fps1127 fps
Average Velocity1189 fps1143 fps
Std Deviation5.7918.29
Extreme Spread15 fps45 fps

The velocity of the Federal rounds was much more consistent than that of the PMC rounds. The standard deviation of the velocity of the Federal rounds was 5.79, while that of the PMC rounds was 18.29. Additionally, the extreme spread of the Federal rounds was only 15 fps, while that of the PMC rounds was 45 fps.

What does this mean?

A standard deviation of around 15 is very good for factory ammunition. When reloading precision rounds, I aim for single digits. Therefore, the PMC SFX ammo’s 18.3 is a good number.

If you have a very high standard deviation, each shot will feel different as you fire rounds. One will have more recoil than the next. I know this causes me to mentally pause when I feel something different round to round because I think something went wrong. In a defensive situation, that is not good!

I find that I can’t feel much difference in handgun ammo until I get to around 200 fps of difference. So, the extreme spread of under 100 or so is good enough for handguns.

The main point is that the velocity of the Federal and the PMC is very similar, so the felt recoil will also be very similar. The Federal seems to be more consistent, but the PMC is good enough.

Felt Recoil

Since our velocity testing showed both rounds were within 50 fps of each other, the felt recoil was very similar between the two. When I loaded a few in my magazine at random, I could not tell the difference between them.

So, from a training perspective, I can use either of these, and it won’t affect how I am used to shooting.

Accuracy

Testing the accuracy of handgun ammunition is not easy for the regular shooter. After all, the shooter’s skill is much more at play than the ammo itself.

I did however practice shooting some drills at 7 yards. I had no flyers or anything out of the ordinary with the PMC ammo.

Below, most shots were in the same area except for a few I pulled. I shot these at speed and was not trying to be super accurate. Note this is the head area of a standard IDPA target.

Jason showing a target that he shot with PCM SFX ammo
My target after a few drills

Trying to measure group spreads between the two is not practical or an accurate way to compare them outside of a lab. In a self-defense situation, I am not worried about one round being 0.25” more accurate at 50 yards.

Ballistic Gel Testing

Here is where the fun begins. We used a new FBI-certified ballistic 10% gel block to test the penetration and expansion of both rounds.

We wanted to compare the PMC directly to the Federal, so we kept all variables the same.

Jason showing the bullets he fired into ballistics gel
Two Federal and two PMC bullets in ballistics gel

We shot two rounds of the PMC ammo into the right half of the block and two Federal rounds into the left half of the block. This was done with the Walther PDP compact with a 4” barrel. All shots were taken at the same distance away, approximately 10 feet.

Jason showing the bullet trails in the ballistics gel
The bullet trails in the ballistics gel

Penetration

The penetration of the PMC was 12.5 inches, while the Federal was 13 inches. Since we saw the velocity of the Federal was slightly more, this makes sense. Both shots from each stopped at nearly the same penetration distance. While it is only two shots, both rounds were consistent.

Jason showing the penetration depth in ballistics gel of the PMC ammo
The PMC bullets are the two close ones

We found that the PMC ammo is very close to the penetration distance of the Federal ammo.

Jason showing the penetration depth in ballistics gel of the PMC and Federal ammo
Federal bullets at the top and PMC on the bottom

Expansion

The expansion of the PMC was more than the Federal. The widest area I can measure on the PMC is 0.718 inches, while the Federal is 0.683 inches.

Jason showing the expanded PMC and Federal bullets
PMC ammo on the top, Federal on the bottom
Jason measuring the expansion of the PMC bullets
This is one of the PMC bullets

I noticed that the final overall height of the PMC bullet was shorter than the federal. Since the PMC expanded more, this makes sense.

Jason showing the expanded PMC and Federal bullets from the side
Federal on the left and PMC on the right

While not a huge difference, the PMC appears to perform slightly better here.

Retained Weight

I weighed all of the bullets we fired into the gel block and found that they retained most of their weight. This means the bullets stayed together and did not break apart in fragments. This is important since a bullet that expands and stays together causes the most damage.

Test DataFederal HST 124 grPMC SFX 124 gr
Unfired Weight124.8 gr124.2 gr
Fired Bullet 1124.7 gr123.5 gr
Fired Bullet 2124.5 gr123.8 gr
Average124.6 gr123.65 gr
Percent Loss99.8%99.6%

Overall, the retained weight of each is nearly the same. Interestingly, the federal bullets were heavier than 124 gr, while the PMC was right at 124 gr. Since bullet grain is a small unit of measurement, one grain of weight doesn’t make any difference.

Jason weighing a fired bullet
Weighing the fired PMC bullets

Ballistic Gel Test Setup

We should note that we shot into the ballistics gel without simulating any type of garment. While this gives us a direct comparison, it does not take into account any effect that clothing might have on the penetration or expansion of the bullets.

Clothing can sometimes clog up hollow points and cause them to not expand properly. The FBI protocol uses four layers of clothing, which seems extreme, especially for warmer climates.

Since both rounds have been tested to FBI protocols in labs, we did not feel we had to match the conditions exactly (and we couldn’t.) Again, we directly compared them under the same conditions, so we felt bare gel would accomplish that comparison.

Waterproof Testing

Since PMC claims their round is waterproof, I wanted to explore this. I noticed that on the Federal rounds, I could see blue sealant on the primer and bullet. On the PMC rounds, I can only visibly see red sealant on the primer.

Jason testing the bullets to see if they are waterproof
All three cartridges in water.

I submerged both rounds into a glass of water for 48 hours, along with a regular FMJ round.

I then dried the outside of each round and pulled the bullet out, being careful to catch the powder and any water on a paper towel.

Jason checking for water infiltration
Federal on the top, PMC on the bottom

I found that water did not penetrate any of them. Was this a good test? I doubt you would ever fully submerge your concealed carry ammo for two days, so it would seem they both do a good job of keeping water out.

Component Comparison

When I pulled the bullets, I noticed the Federal bullet had a crimp ring around the bullet and also a step for the sealant. The PMC bullet was just flat, and I did not see any sealant.

Jason showing the unfired Federal and PMC bullets he tested
PMC on the left, Federal on the right

This is probably why the PMC round is so much cheaper. The bullet is a simpler design. I like that the Federal has sealant on the bullet, but is it really needed? Probably not for most people. And it didn’t seem to matter anyway.

The cases of the PMC ammo are brass, while the Federal is nickel-plated. Nickel plating will resist corrosion better over time than brass. It is also more expensive.

I have found that brass is better for reloading. I have reloaded nickel-plated brass, but the cases are more likely to split, reducing their reloading life.

Jason showing the brass cases of the federal and PMC ammo
Federal on the left, PMC on the right

So, we have a trade-off depending on what your needs are. For me, I don’t leave ammo in my concealed carry gun for more than a few months, so I really don’t need the corrosion protection that Nickel plating offers.

Price

As I mentioned, I can find the PMC rounds for around $0.43 a round, while the Federals are around $0.80.

Obviously, this is a huge difference. But does it matter?

Most people will use lower-cost FMJ ammo for training and reserve the more expensive hollow points for concealed carry only. Some will never fire the hollow points through their handgun.

This is a huge mistake. Just because you bought a name-brand self-defense round doesn’t mean it will work well with your particular gun. Even if someone else has the same gun, yours could be slightly different.

I recommend everyone fire at least 100 rounds of their defensive ammo when they first try it. This will tell you it will work for your gun and all your magazines.

So, yes, it does matter. The lower cost makes it easier to ensure you have a solid self-defense system ready to go.


Is PMC SFX 9mm Self-Defense Ammo a Good Value?

Based on our testing, the PMC SFX 9mm ammo is very close to the tried and true Federal Premium HST 9mm ammo. I do not have any reservations about carrying this in my concealed-carry handgun.

The price is very attractive, allowing me to feel better about using it at the range for training. While I would not use it all the time for training, using it occasionally gives me the confidence that it will function properly in my handgun when needed.


Where to buy PMC SFX 9mm Self-Defense Ammo

We would like to thank Bulk Munitions for providing the PMC SFX 9mm ammo to us for testing.

Bulk munitions have this ammo available by the box (qty 50) and in bulk (qty 1000). Buying in bulk is certainly the way to go. You could split it with some of your friends or stockpile it to be prepared for emergencies or protect against future price increases. Be sure to check them out and try PMC SFX 9mm ammo for yourself!

Now, head over to our full concealed carry guide. It has everything you need to know, from mindset to holsters and more about ammo. Be sure to check it out!

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Jason has an engineering and problem solving background. He is an avid outdoorsman, survivalist, and competitive shooter. He enjoys researching the best and most practical solutions for the problem at hand, studying stoicism, and finding innovative ways to be prepared.