The 9x23 Winchester

This is one of my absolutely favourite autopistol rounds. It is also one of the least popular. Basically the 9x23 Win. is a .38 Super Auto "on steroids." It uses the same dimension case as the .38 Super but without the semi-rim and with a slight taper to the case. It is also loaded to much higher pressures.

There is a lot of contentious history to this cartridge which does not affect the round's performance in any way. Dane Burns has a lot of information, including the interesting history, about the 9x23 Win. on his site. Go take a look if you are at all interested in this round.

There have been several other 9x23mm cartridges over the years. These older rounds were not loaded to anywhere near the working pressure of the 9x23 Win. Do not use 9x23 Win. ammunition in any of the older European 9x23 pistols. It will fit; it will also turn a fine pistol into a pile of scrap metal.

What's the lure of the 9x23 Win? Well the 125 grain Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) loading of the classic .357 Mangum at a muzzle velocity of 1450 feet per second (fps) has long been recognised as a pretty good fight stopper. Studies have shown that that specific round has more "one-shot stops" on the streets than any other. Pretty good credentials. Now if we could just get that kind of performance out of an autopistol cartridge we'd be getting somewhere. Enter the .38 Super. The .38 Super is usually loaded with a 130 grain full-metal jacket bullet with a muzzle velocity of around 1250 fps. That was getting pretty close, but the bullet wasn't an expanding type and the power was still a bit lower than the .357 Mag load. There were a few problem areas with the old .38 Super too. It had a small "semi-rim" that could interfere with reliable feeding, and the case wasn't particularly strong by current standards. The fellows who shot IPSC matches back in the 1970s and 80s used the .38 Super to get the "major" power factor that was important in those days. They loaded them hot and a lot of the cases blew out -- hence the term "Super face" -- but they did work. New ramped barrel designs for the 1911 platform helped. Enter the 9x23 Winchester. The 9x23 Win uses a truly rimless case with a slight taper. It is also much stronger in the case head area compared to the .38 Super. This allows pressures that would be really dangerous in a .38 Super unless the pistol had a fully-supported chamber. Most .38 Super pistols were built on a 1911 platform, and the standard 1911 does not have a fully-supported chamber. The advantage of the Winchester cartridge case is that it is strong enough to handle the pressures of the 9x23 Win round in a standard 1911 barrel without blowing out or even bulging.

Of course the same warnings against using .38 Super ammo in old pistols chambered for the .38 Auto cartridge apply and go double for the 9x23 Winchester.

So what kind of performance do we see out of a 9x23 Win cartridge? I have chronographed 125 grain bullets at 1605 fps out of a 4.5" barrel. Compared to the .357 Mag that's actually better. Both use an expanding bullet. The bullets weigh the same, and are only .002" different in diameter. Yes, my 9x23 Win test was with handloaded ammo that used copper-plated lead bullets. My loads using 124 gr. Hornady XTP JHP bullets chronographed at 1548 fps. out of a 4.5" barrel and 1462 out of a ported 3.6"
barrel. That beats the .357 Magnum by a little. Factory Winchester White Box Jacketed Soft Point ammo measured at 1441fps. from the 4.5" barrel and 1347 fps. from the 3.6" tube, which is still about the same as the 125 gr. JHP out of a .357 Magnum.

So we get nearly the same power out of the 9x23 Winchester as we get out of the highly-respected 125 grain JHP .357 Magnum load, Why (or why not) carry a .357 Mag revolver then? The .357 Mag revolver carries six rounds at the ready. My .38 Super EAA Witness chambering 9x23 Win rounds has a 17-round magazine. I have 18 rounds of .357 Mag equivalent ammo on tap without a reload. Triple the ammo. And I usually have 34 more rounds on my belt in a pair of spare magazines. I will probably never need all of them, but being oversupplied is never a problem. You get the power of the .357 Magnum's most effective load with the magazine capacity of the 9mm Parabellum. What's not to like?

Yes, it recoils. But then so does the .357 Mag. In fact the revolver recoils more. I suggest having your 9x23 pistol ported. I had my Witness Compact Mag-Na-Ported and it doesn't recoil much harder than a full-power 9mm Parabellum. Factory ammunition is hard to find and expensive when you do find it. For the present (mid-2015) it is a handloader's cartridge. That will only get better if and when more folks use it. The Winchester White Box ammo is pretty good, is a soft-point design, and isn't too expensive at decent stores (meaning ones that don't raise prices when supplies are low). Winchester seems to have stopped producing empty cases for the handloader. I haven't seen any for sale for about two years now (April, 2018).

Yes, the 9x23 Winchester is an excellent self-defense cartridge unless you are very recoil-sensitive. That is its niche in the shooting world. It's not really a good handgun hunting round, though it is getting close; it is a bit much for casual plinking; unfortunately most of the organisations that hold "Action" or "Combat" pistol matches have rules that negate this round's real benefits in real-world defensive shooting situations.

A final word about this round. Yes, it will fit and function in most pistols chambered for the .38 Super. The specifications are enough different that there could be a problem, but I have never seen one. If you have a very tight .38 Super chamber and a 9x23 Win. round that is at maximum dimensions the round may not enter the chamber all the way due to the taper. As I have said, I have never seen this happen. As a further disclaimer, I do not use the 9x23 Winchester in a 1911 platform pistol.