9×23 Winchester

9X23 Winchester

CriticalThe “better” 9mm round, 9x23mm Winchester

The 9×23 Winchester cartridge was created out of the crucible of the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC). IPSC shooters demand flat shooting, reliable, rounds that can be easily controlled and compensated to allow for fast, accurate follow-up shots. In the mid 90’s a joint venture between Winchester Ammunition and Colt’s Manufacturing Company sought to create a new caliber that would deliver just what IPSC shooters were looking for. The result was a flat shooter, operating at higher pressures with the same recoil but more force than a standard .45 ACP. However legal battles, bad timing, and poor marketing left this once promising caliber in the dismal state it finds itself in today. Now the 9×23 Winchester stands as a round with a massive amount of untapped potential for both competition shooters and self-defense applications alike.

The birth of a contender

9x23-9x21-9x19
From left to right 9×23 Win, 9x21mm, 9x19mm.
Source: Wikipedia

In 1992 John Ricco of CP Bullets filed for patent number US 5187324 as well as patent number US 5277119 what he called an improvement to the 9×19 parabellum cartridge. The design was later taken by Winchester and the cartridge was announced to the general public at an NRA conference in 1996; the new 9×23 Winchester cartridge was born. At the time the .38 Super was the cartridge to beat when it came to IPSC shooting. The controllable, higher capacity round, the .38 Super, that was also easily compensated, made it a favorite with competitors. The larger amount of gasses expelled by the .38 Super and the 9×23 Winchester allow both cartridges to benefit more from a compensator than a .45 ACP. The gasses “feed” the compensator, creating more downward force against the recoil. Furthermore, the lighter bullet weight also creates less recoil with the same or more power due to the larger case volume when compared to a standard 9mm. The 9×23 Winchester sought to beat the reigning champ by upping the amount of pressure that the casing of the cartridge could take, and thus improving performance on target.
The goal was to make a cartridge that could perform in the Major Power Factor designation in IPSC competitions while reducing recoil further when compensated. IPSC calculates the power factor of a round by the bullet weight, times the velocity, divided by 1,000. With the Major Power Factor division starting at a power factor of 175. While almost identical in design dimensions to the .38 Super, the 9×23 Winchester was now a rimless cartridge with thicker walls, allowing it to handle 55,000 PSI, almost 20,000 PSI more than the reigning king, the .38 Super. This allowed the bullets to zoom down range at 1,460 ft/s and hit with a devastating 587 ft.lbf, more than many loadings of the venerated .45 ACP. The rimless design also had the added benefit of improving reliability as the rimmed design of the .38 Super occasionally was responsible for feeding issues.

A rough beginning

Ready to enter production the new wunderkind hit a major stumbling block. John Ricco sued Winchester for patent infringement on his original design. Ricco had contracted Winchester to make brass for the new caliber, however after the initial production run Winchester attempted to patent the design themselves. The brass once stamped 9x23CP after the first run was changed to 9x23WIN and John Ricco filed a lawsuit against Winchester. The ensuing legal battle left the round in limbo for seven years while the two parties battled it out. In the end Ricco won the legal battle, yet Winchester was able to resume production of the round. However it was too late for the 9×23 Winchester.

Lost potential

During the interim, many IPSC shooters were overloading their 9x21mm and .38 Super Auto cartridges to make it into the Major Power Factor. This resulted in a “KABOOM” in many pistols at IPSC competitions. The thinner case walls were unable to handle the over spec charges and were destroyed by the experimental rounds created by shooters looking to fill the exact same need that the 9×23 Winchester sought to fill. Because of the growing number of accidents IPSC lowered the requirements to qualify for the Major Power Factor designation from 175 to 165.

By the time the 9×23 Winchester came to market in the early 2000’s the need that it sought to fill was no longer there. In fact if it had not been delayed so long it is possible that the changes to the IPSC rules may not have happened. Because of its lack of adoptance, even within the shooting world it remained an obscure caliber. Only a few manufacturers produce this type of ammo and in limited varieties. These factors prevented it from making inroads beyond the few competition shooters that favored the round. Currently defensive loadings for this caliber are all but non-existent and the defensive potential of a higher capacity, full-sized carry gun, utilizing this round is lost.

Factory and Handloads

9X23 Winchester
9X23 Winchester
Source: Wikipedia

The 9×23 Winchester can be chambered in barrels meant for other “9×23 equivalents”, like the 9×23 Steyr and the 9×23 Largo, as well as the round it was meant to beat, the .38 Super. However these cartridges, and thus their barrels as well, were meant to handle much lower pressures. The 55,000 PSI of the 9×23 Winchester is equivalent to a standard .223 Remington and could easily damage barrels meant for these other cartridges. Shooters looking to try out this round should avoid confusing these various barrel chamberings as it is not recommended to use a firearm not explicitly intended for this cartridge. Off the shelf purchasers will find their selection somewhat limited. A list of the currently available selections is below:

9x23 Winchester Softpoint vs Hollow Point
Source: Wikipedia

Handloaders have more options available to them. Currently the only manufacturer making dies for this caliber is Hornaday however many handloaders have found that 9x19mm dies work just fine and recommend using them. Starline and Winchester both make brass for this caliber. Starline brass carries the marking 9x23COMP and not 9x23WIN. The Starline brass has thinner walls than the Winchester brass. This allows the Starline brass to hold more powder and get closer to factory velocities, however in an unsupported barrel the webbing of the brass may bulge and produce unsafe situations. The Winchester brass does not generally exhibit this problem in unsupported barrels.

However the lower case volume creates less velocity out of the same barrel, but this can be compensated for with slower burning powder. The differences between these two types of brass is also shown when using heavier bullets. The thicker walls of the Winchester brass make bullets over 125 grains difficult to load and may bulge the case with larger, square based, bullets. For bullets over 125 grains in the Winchester brass boat tail bullets are an excellent solution to this issue. Loads developed using one type of brass should not be considered to be exchangeable between these two types of brass because of the differences in design. If you have to switch brass be sure to start your maximum pressure loadings from the ground up.

Despite this the brass generally has a long lifespan. The slight taper to the sides of the case causes less friction as it’s being extracted. The lack of a bottleneck like the .357 SIG also prevents the case from being swagged or reshaped as much when it’s returned to form during the reloading process. Primers used are generally small pistol, but many loaders report better success with large rifle primers, especially with the higher pressure loadings that this case can handle. Loading data for the 9×23 Winchester is hard to find, but a patent reloader might find useful information in .38 Super reloading data to build a custom load from. Some data from other reloaders experimenting with the 9×23 Winchester can be found at BurnsCustom.com

Chambered Firearms

An ad from CP Bullets for the 9x23 "Super" cases. Thank you to Daniel Watters for find this.
An ad from CP Bullets for the 9×23 “Super+P” cases. Thank you to Daniel Watters for finding this.

Being a competition round any modern examples of guns chambered in this round are almost bound to be custom competition 1911 style full-sized firearms in either single or double stack. Currently there are no production 9×23 Winchester firearms being produced. However, many custom shops such as Caspian Arms have been known to make 1911 race guns in this caliber. Any custom shop with the proper tooling should be willing to make a quality 1911 in 9×23 WIN for the right price. Magazines will also present you with a potential scarcity problem. While many .38 Super single stack magazines such as the .38 Super Chip McCormick should work, the tight tolerances between the front and the rear of the magazine leave little room for error when loading the bullet. As much as 0.005” over the cartridge overall length of 1.300” can prevent the round from being loaded into the magazine. Para Ordnance .38 Super Double Stack Magazines however have been reported to not fit the 9×23 WIN.

Another option is the ever popular Glock 20. While originally chambered in 10mm the large framed handgun shows its constant modularity by being able to be switched over to the 9×23 Winchester with a few modifications. Reaming out an existing 9mm barrel to the 9×23 WIN specification is a relatively simple job. After some tweaking to the extractor and magazine Brad Miller at Shooting Times was able to get the 9×23 WIN functioning reliably in his Glock 20. As fully explaining the process would be its own article, you can take a look at Miller’s detailed write-up on the project over at Shooting Times.

A possible rebirth

The state of this cartridge is sad as it has great potential, more power with less recoil than a .45 ACP, a flatter shooting path, and increased ammo capacity would make it a worthy replacement to the .45 ACP as a “man stopper” hand gun round. However the poor timing, murky history, and lack of visibility has put this round firmly on life support. However there is hope for this round yet. With the US Army’s new Modular Handgun System being open to new calibers other than the ubiquitous 9mm, the performance of the 9×23 Winchester makes it an ideal candidate for consideration, with none of the drawbacks of some of the other calibers being considered such as reduced capacity.

Update 12/6/16: Added information on converting Glock 20 to 9×23 Winchester
Update 12/8/16: Added image of CP Bullets Ad, courtesy of Daniel Watters. Added Buffalo Bore ammo options. Added links to additional relevant patents

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