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Stored in a cool dry place (or maybe even your gun), ammunition has a shelf-life that puts SPAM to shame—and that’s saying something. Even so, every now and then I shoot my self-defense ammo and reload. I do it to reassure myself that my Glock 30SF likes the good stuff. I also want to know how the hollow-points feel the instant before they head downrange. It’s an expensive experiment, but confidence building. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) After my latest rendition of “Self-Defense Ammo? You’re Fired!”, I grabbed a box of Remington Golden Sabers. ‘Cause them’s the only self-defense rounds American Firearms School had in stock. Do I care? Not really. I wouldn’t get stressed if I’d been “reduced” to “ordinary” ammo. What about you? How important is your self-defense ammo? How did you choose which brand to carry?

70 Responses to Question of the Day: How Important is Self-Defense Ammo?

  1. I think if i carried a somewhat lower powered weapon like a 9, i would put a lot of thought into my carry ammo. I carry a .357, i just use whatever i have on hand. Ive never had a problem with my cheap wal-mart ammo going off, and, if its slightly less powerful then what i could have, who cares?

  2. I shoot some of the expensive stuff every now and then – largely because it DOES have a little more of a kick to it (they don’t make Winchester White Box in +P). But I keep the hollowpoints in my carry weapon largely because of safety reasons – ballistics seems to me to be more alchemy than science. But I’ll do anything I can to make sure that if I ever DO have to shoot anybody in self-defense, I don’t end up taking out whatever’s behind them, too. Supposedly, hollow-points will help. Hopefully, I’ll never have to find out.

    • When you say WWB doesn’t have +P, I assume you’re referring to their FMJ rounds? Because, though it is admittedly hard, I *have* found WWB 124gr +P hollow points.

      Of course, if you really wanted +P FMJ, you could just load up on their NATO surplus, I suppose.

    • I’ve heard various things about mixing various sorts of ammo… but it just sounds like one more thing to worry about to me. “Now lessee, is this ball or hollowpoint?” is NOT a thought I want to be bothering with in the middle of that kind of situation. “This is ball ammo. It will tend to over-penetrate and cause less damage. Know what is behind your target, shoot him many times.” or “this is hollowpoint ammo, it might over-penetrate, but it might also stop short and cause less damage. Know what is behind your target, shoot him many times.” are both preferable in my opinion.

  3. Self defence ammo is EXTREMELY important to me, especially if I’m using 9mm. I’ll read magazines where gun writers test ammo for expansion and penetration, and try to verify what they are saying and load for what conditions I feel I need to prepare for. Summer time when I’m not going to face an intruder with layers of heavy clothes calls for different ammo than January where I might need to penetrate a lot of winter clothing on a bad guy. I hope to hit that magical balance of causing a big hole with enough penetration to do the job without shooting thru my walls, the neighbor’s walls, and the house down the street’s walls.

    • Have you done any field tests? Like shooting at boards or whatever at an outside range? I have. And I recommend it if you know the make up of your residence. I know that the hollow points I use are very unlikely to cause issue with my neighbors (I own a house… all the wood on the structural and exterior is cedar). I have shot cedar at an outdoor range and all that gets through, if it gets through, is spawling. On top of all that we have brick facings (half bricks for decoration of the outside). I suit up for that situation usually due to the time of day that assaults and whatnot happen in my neighborhood.

  4. I have a 9mm I choose Cor-Bon 115gr +P DPX, it’s expensive but it had the best expansion when first hitting a bone plate and then going though ballistics gel when tested by Brass Fetcher. Second was Federal 105gr EFMJ.

  5. We all love to obsess about it, but I don’t think SD ammo is all that important. Any gunshot wound is a bad day to the one receiving it.

    I love this story from Gabe Suarez:

    “I have a colleague is South America who has been in High Risk Police Service for close to three decades. He has been in over three dozen verified gunfight . His weapon was originally a Browning Hi-Power and later a Glock 17.

    I was very interested in hearing more so I asked him about the load he used. He said he had always used military ball full metal jacket. Astounded I asked him why he chose that. That is all we can get here. Hollow points are illegal .

    I shook my head and told him that there was a belief in the USA that 9mm was an anemic caliber, especially in the load he d chosen. He shrugged and said that his adversaries must not have gotten the word. He said he fired a burst at the chest and if they didn’t fall fast enough, he fired a burst at the face. He never needed to reload and had enough on board so if he missed a shot or two he could catch up in the fight. And before we hear the careful shooter versus the spraying prayer, this man is one of the best shots I have seen and competes on an international level. Even so, he knows the chaos in a gunfight can play havoc with even the most gifted marksman. Perhaps we need to take a lesson from him.

    I still carry a Glock 17 with 17 rounds of Corbon DPX ammo in 9mm. ”

    Found here: http://wilsondefense.blogspot.com/2011/03/why-9mm-by-gabe-suarez-part-2.html

    So, anyway, my take: If you can get the “good” stuff, why not. I don’t see that it hurts things (other than one’s pocketbook)? But don’t take this stuff too seriously. That is unless you find the hobby of self defense ammo interesting (I do), in which case, have fun.

  6. OK, I’m a bit leery of anything coming from the Marketing Department. (Zombies, anyone?) So I’m not impressed by the mere fact that a batch of ammo is marketed as “Self Defense”.
    What I look for is “JHP” with a bullet weight/powder charge comparable to the cheaper FMJ’s that I punch holes in paper with.
    I’m not impressed with “+P” – If a regular powder charge can get the projectile to the target with a decent terminal velocity I’m happy. I’m more interested in my ability to put the round where I need it to go.
    IMHO, “Self Defense” sells because of our tendency to look for an advantage in what we buy, not what we become. YMMV

    • FWIW if you look at the ballistics performance from identical JHP’s with standard &+P charges the hotter load leads to greater expansion in every test I recall seeing. But as with everything YMMV.

  7. I use Hornady JHP in my 9mm carry because I have no confidence in the stopping power of 9mm ball ammo. It also reduces the likelihood of a through and through that might hit a bystander.

    I carry Winchester Supreme 230 grain JHP in M1911 strictly to prevent a through and through. One or two well placed 230 grain ball rounds will dicourage just about anybody from continuing to attack me but getting hit in the chest by a couple JHP rounds give the BG an especially bad day.

    A word to the wise, never use anything other than 230 grain rounds in a 45. The lighter loads do not have the same energy transfer properties of the full sized round. Despite, the FBI’s contention (I finally read their study) the enregy transfer and the effects of the temporary expansion of the wound channel causes a significant amount of secondary damage and internal bleeding. They ignored that element in the DoD studies that support the effectiveness numbers in the Joint Munitions Effectiveness Manual.

  8. Any top tier, American manufactured, JHP that I have run reliably through my gun 100+ times. I rotate out my bullets by removing the one I have already cycled once or twice when racking the gun. I have an old box to put them in and at the next time at the range they get fired.

    You can review all the ballistics gel, denim-penetrating, bone crushing, expanding through wood articles you want – but you can’t possibly have all “firing solutions” covered and in the heat of battle, you should just focus on hitting what you are firing at to stop the threat. Although, there is an argument to be made for Winter/Summer clothes – adjust accordingly.

    All that said, Hornady CD or Federal HS are my choice for my .40 and .45. I rarely carry a 9mm, but have Gold Dots for that one.

  9. i use corbon 38 +p i fire them after sitting in my gun / box every 5 years then i buy a fresh box…just to be sure

  10. Shot placement > bullet used.

    That said, I moved away from 9mm to .40 (and .357 magnum) recently for reasons related to SD ammo.

    I switched calibers because I don’t order much ammo online (since my range days are usually impulsive) and it’s a LOT easier to find FMJ in the same bullet weight as my hollow points in .40 and .357 magnum. In fact, out of all the semiauto cartridges I’ve seen, 9mm is the only one where the off-the-shelf SD ammo generally doesn’t have the same properties as the off-the-shelf plinking ammo (weight difference, pressure difference). When I say “off-the-shelf” I mean at places like Cabela’s or the mom & pop gun shop that actually stock good hollow point ammo.

    That has been my *only* *only* gripe with 9mm, but it was enough to make me switch calibers.

  11. I carry Hornady Critical Defense .38 Special + P in my defensive .357 Magnum revolvers. I also use Cor-Bon and Speer and Winchester in others. And, I bite the bullet, er, wallet, and shoot a few boxes through them a few times a year.

    That said, I report that I have had trouble with the Hornady Critical Defense ammunition stored in my revolver in my GunVault. It appears to have “leaked” material from the bullet/cartridge space and it shows a clear stain on every one of the cartridges. (I conducted a brief online search on the topic and found nothing. I’m guessing it was a reaction to the foam material in the safe?) I don’t know if it still worked because I didn’t shoot it. The point is, visually check all of your ammo, especially your defensive ammo.

    For the other .357 shooter that shoots inexpensive ammo, I share this: I was using well-known steel inexpensive .357 ammo in my S&W 686 and several bullets pulled away from the cartridge, and the extended length of the ammo caused the cylinder to jam. Be careful what you count on.

    • “I carry Hornady Critical Defense .38 Special + P in my defensive .357 Magnum revolvers.”
      “It appears to have “leaked” material from the bullet/cartridge space and it shows a clear stain on every one of the cartridges”.

      That’s what I will probably load my 357 with. I will probably call Hornady about that leaked stain issue. Perhaps it is an usual QC matter.

    • Thanks for the tip. I also carry a S&W 686, but i dont use steel cartridge ammo. Winchester or Federal seems to have always worked for me, but ill keep my eyes open for any leakage.

  12. I carry Hornady Critical Defense in my XD(M) .40. I carry that because I liked what I’d read/saw on the intertubes, and my local gun shops carry it. It has fed and fired reliably when I’ve tested it.

    That said, there is one thing I dislike about it. The little rubber tips that are supposed to help avoid packing the cavity tend to drag on the front of my magazine when I’m loading it, causing me to have to smack the mag against my hand (like an AR mag) about every 3-4 rounds. Of course that magazine doesn’t get reloaded all that often, so that’s a minor issue. Just something I’ve noticed.

  13. Quality reliable and effective self-defense ammo is important to me. So is using ammo that will not get me screwed over later in Court. I’ve been told that in Oregon (to help reduce legal self-defense use problems) to only use hollow point and even better ammo labeled personal defense. I plan on speaking with an attorney for advice since I’m getting slightly different stories from different gun and ammo sellers, even if well intentioned.

    • This is a good point. I think you can make a fair case for a generic .38 because of this. The plain-jane, wont raise an eyebrow ammo still packs a punch.

      Everyone here knows that all ammo is ‘killer’ ammo, but your DA might not.

      • I have heard that it is good to stay away from reloaded ammo for self defense use, as the opposing lawyer can make a case that you intentionally created ammo to inflict the maximum possible injury. Stuff that may not play out well in the civil trial or even with your DA.

  14. #1 It needs to be reliable

    #2 expansion is great, but I’m not depending on it. FMJs are not the best option unless your gun doesn’t feed hollowpoints reliably

    #3 still go with hollowpoints over FMJ given a choice

    #4 I prefer a bullet that expands, but holds together

    Ranger Talon, HST, Barnes Copper, Gold Dot

  15. Like you, I shoot my defensive ammo about once a year. I shoot the cheaper bullets routinely. But the bullets I keep in my home defense magazine I shoot about once a year and then immediately reload.

  16. I really believe that any of the modern hollow points will work fine. Whether it is Speer, Remington, Horandy, or the others. I buy what I can find at good prices. Right now, my defensive .45’s are fed 200gr+p TAP. Because I found a dealer going out of business that was selling them cheap. My .38 has Cor-Bon 158gr +P+, as I bought several boxes of it a decade ago dirt cheap.

    • Me too. 124gr +p at 1450fps is a fight stopper. I also like that the Gold Dots are bonded in case you have to shoot through or out of auto body steel and glass.

  17. Handguns-Gold Dot for defense “always”
    Rifles-Black Hills with a Magazine of Penetrator at the Ready
    Shotguns-Federal Flight Control 9 Pellet Buck* & 4 Brenneke Slugs in a side saddle.

    *I am going to be evaluating the Federal LE132B #1 Buck when it becomes available, and from everything I have read & seen on this loading I will most likely be stocking it a few cases deep.

    And Defensive/Carry Pistol Ammo is the first mag down range on every visit, while I am cold IMO it gives me the best barometer for my performance if “go time” ever darkens my doorway.

  18. My every day carry is a 45. magnum and the least powerful rounds I carry are just plain old lead target rounds at 255 grains.

    When you are shooting 200+ grain ammo I don’t think it makes much difference (except for cost) with lead vrs. hollow point.

    My 45. magnum is a six shot wheel gun and I always keep a 300 grain 454 casull coppertop hollow point as my last round so there is NEVER any doubt that I just fired my last round and need to reload.

    In most DGU senario’s I really don’t see firing off 5 or 6 rounds, unless a local gang member & buddies try to jump me. Other than that, 1 or 2 shots and it is all over except the crying!

  19. I noticed that no one mentioned using Glaser safety slug ammo. Supposed to dump all of its energy into the target and not penetrate out the back. Anyone use this? Have a reason to not use this?

    • I have some in .44 special. I thought about carrying them in my CA Bulldog. But then I realized most of the potential bad guys I might meet here in the Detroit area wear heavy coats most of the year. Carhart’s are popular. Leather jackets too. I think that a Glazer might not be the best thing. I think a heavy bullet is the way to go. Several years ago, I found some Blazer/Gold Dot’s for cheap. That is what I carry in that.

  20. At the range, I use the cheapest crappiest combloc ammo that I can find. I’ve never had problems with any of it, in terms of pistol malfunctions or inaccuracy, except for a batch of PPUs with hard-ish primers that wouldn’t light in a TTAG T&E gun.

    Let’s face it — ball ammo has been killing BGs for generations, and I don’t expect hollowpoints to outperform ball ammo. However, I carry with Hornady Critical. A BG won’t know the difference, but maybe an innocent hiding downrange would.

    Here’s the thing about ammo — most of it is absolutely great. We’re very spoiled by the fantastic quality of modern ammo at every price point.

    • This. I currently carry Critical Defense in all my pistols, and I’m currently debating moving to Critical Duty for my 9mm pistols.

    • Exactly, it’s not about who you’re trying to shoot, it’s about who you don’t want shot. I carry Critical Defense or Gold Dots for the same reason.

  21. I own a n XD Compact 9mm. The heaviest HP rounds I’ve found are the Winchester Ranger 147gr HP rounds. My logic behind the purchase is this. My first opportunity (or lack there of) to purchase them was at a local range. The guy behind the counter asked what I needed them for. How that is of any concern to him is beyond me. I asked how much the box of 50 was, and he asked if I was law enforcement. I said “no” and he gave me this line of BS about how “[they] have a deal with Winchester, we are only allowed to sell them to law enforcement.” I chuckled for a moment, shook my head, and said “I’ll just buy them somewhere else than. Good day.”

    I figure if the ammo is good enough for law enforcement its good enough for me. A friend of mine said it can be a good idea to shoot what the police shoot. Using similar logic when applied to DGU, court, and practicality.

    If you find your self in a DGU scenario, you know your using what is used on a daily basis to protect the men and women patrolling our streets. If you find your self in court (In Los Angeles/ California, expect it) when the evidence is presented, it’s clearly seen that you used a caliber, and round, which is used by officers when defending their own lives.

    Now, I do see how that can spun a different direction, “Your not a LEO, you must be some vigilante” Thats going to be harder to spin, and that would be a easier case to win than the excessive use of force road you just pulled off of. In California, a DGU is total nightmare. We have a very small window to exercise judicious use of force. You will be arrested, you will be treated as a criminal, your going to need a lawyer, and if you manage to prove the you indeed applied this force within the confines of the law, you better lawyer up once more for the civil suit. The state does not protect the victim from any civil suit. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    So, that said, I thought it would be best to shoot what the police shoot, and leave it at that. Purchased my ammo ONLINE (nice try California, trying to shut that option down and all), from a reputable company, Ammotogo.com and AimSurplus.com. I too shoot the good stuff from time to time to get a good feel for it, and function check my pistol. Usually run a mag or two after every 200-500 rounds depending on the day. On average, I would simply say I run the mag with 147grHP at the end of every trip to the range.

  22. My training taught that in a DGU every round fired has a lawyer attached. The finer points of ballistics and bullets are interesting but is it more practical, say if defending oneself in a civil suit, to just use the same ammo as the police?

  23. The ammo I have is better than the ammo I don’t have.

    I want ammo that reliably goes “bang” when I pull the trigger and that I can consistently keep on target.

    Anything more is a luxury and should be treated as such.

  24. I keep hearing here on TTAG the statement of “I use what the cops use so that in court…”. Since I am an admit supporter of the better to be tried by 12 than carried by 6 philosophy I have never looked this info up, but I have a question:

    Is this a realistic situation? Do we have any instances where the gun or ammo used in a DGU was called into question and was used as grounds that it was not justified?

    Short of illegal ammo or guns I do not see this being a valid issue. If it came up, I would actually see using LEO gear to open up a can of worms not close it. (“So you equipped yourself like a cop and acted like a cop…”)

    On a slightly related note, the criteria for Military and LEO purchases is based largely on the overall cost of buying thousands of weapons packages, not on what is the best. That is why the true operators (special forces, SWAT, HRT, etc.) almost never carry “standard issue” weapons. If I had to pay for a firearm, mags, holster and ammo for 100 people it would certainly not be the same choice as if I had to only pay for one for myself. Just my $0.02 on that.

    • the criteria for Military and LEO purchases is based largely on the overall cost of buying thousands of weapons packages, not on what is the best.

      I cannot speak to LEO. But some of the ammo decisions made by the military (ball ammo versus hollow point) are based upon the Hague Convention. Thus, you’re partly correct. The military decisions on type of ammo are based not upon what is best, but rather upon a legal warfare agreement. In this case right overrides might, or LEGAL is keeps you around to fight the next fight.

      The Hague Convention of 1899, Declaration III, prohibits the use in warfare of bullets that easily expand or flatten in the body. This is often incorrectly believed to be prohibited in the Geneva Conventions, but it significantly predates those conventions, and is in fact a continuance of the St. Petersburg Declaration of 1868, which banned exploding projectiles of less than 400 grams, as well as weapons designed to aggravate injured soldiers or make their death inevitable. NATO members do not use small arms ammunition that is prohibited by the Hague Convention.

      • The United States is not a party to the Hague Convention, and as such, could theoretically use HP’s or JSP’s. The reason it doesn’t is because FMJ functions more reliably and is cheaper.

  25. The “which bullet do you use” debate has come pretty close to the “Glock v. 1911” or “Ak vs. AR” or “9mm v. 45” in terms of vitriol. I have read countless articles on ammo types and seen even more “backyard ballistics tests” on youtube. At this point I am convinced that for all intents and purposes nearly every name brand HP ammo out there will do about the same – in one test the Gold Dot goes a little deeper, next test it’s the XTP that does the best. Given that, I buy by price. What Cabela’s has on sale is what I buy. If it’s Corbon one week and Winchester Personal Protection the next, so be it. My favorite is the Black Hills remanufactured – Gold Dot HP bullets for the price of new FMJ target ammo.

    • I’m with you. Too many people put emphases on the type of bullet (HP, JHP, J +P, +P+) and Manufacturer. So far we have had people talk about over penetration and why they use the rounds they use but ironically a .357 or 500 bone cracker in HP is going to over-penetrate anything that my 9 MM with any round loaded would. I don’t get it. The next pistol I am going with is a .38. Great stopping power in the new rounds and within a diminutive gun. If I ever go to court for defending myself they are not going to call me a trigger happy go-nuts.

    • I don’t discuss what I use in live conversation, because everybody’s an expert and it just goes in circles. I often carry CorBon 165 gr +P .45ACP. It chronos like average .357, makes a much bigger hole, and penetrates less. Fine with me. If I’m out of CB due to over-enthusiasm at the range, I carry 185 gr. Hornady CD. Even my 1911’s like both loads. I don’t think it actually matters which of those two I choose. I practice with the usual FMJ, but always finish with several magazines of my carry load.

      • “………. I often carry CorBon 165 gr +P .45ACP. It chronos like average .357, makes a much bigger hole, and penetrates less…….”

        Bigger holes, .357 speed and penetrates less, sounds like a triple winner to me. Bigger holes is almost universally a good thing!

  26. being a hunter, I can tell you JHP is worlds better than round nose 22 ammo.
    the difference in tissue damage is staggering. that said, fmj will get it done if it’s what you have.

    • You can say that again. In many jurisdictions it is illegal to hunt with ball ammunition for other than thick skinned game.

  27. I used to carry standard ball ammo because I was cheap and availability was bad. I took a class last fall where we shot through car windshields as part of the class… my 115gr 9mm FMJ performed very poorly compared to the various bonded jacketed hollow points most other students tried. That night I ordered some better carry ammo.

    Ball ammo can get the job done, but purpose designed rounds do it better. The extra cost of some good defensive ammo is minimal compared to your life.

  28. I load my 9mm XDms with Gold-Dot 124grain +p JHPs and/or Federal HST 124grain +p JHPs. Those are my two preferred loads but I wouldn’t feel badly armed if I had to use the cheap Remington green box 115 grain JHPs they sell at Walmart. I don’t trust 147 grain 9mm however….you give up too much velocity for the “heavy for the caliber” 147. It’s really pretty foolish to load up with ball for defense when there are so many high quality street proven JHPs available. You want your bullet to STAY in the target when that target is a bad guy in your home or in populated urban areas.

    I buy all my SD ammo from Kylesgunshop.com in the 50 round LEO boxes. The 20-25 round ‘consumer retail’ boxes of JHPs are the biggest scam going. The 50 round police versions are usually 2-5 dollars more and have twice the rounds. NEVER buy the retail boxes…we need to send a message. BOYCOTT the 25 round JHPs!

  29. “OK. Read…this..slowly. Your Perfect Storm fantasy scenario of a bad guy standing perfectly upright and facing you at close range and allowing you to put 2 shots in his chest and then a third between the eyes is laughable. Think moving target.”

    LOL! Wow! Really!? Targets move? Here’s a tip, Bubb. Learn to lead. Headshots are made all the time with handguns. They are over here shooting wild boar in Southern Ohio doing just that everyday. WITH a handgun! Look it up. Watch these guys fire and hit wild boar running at about 25-30 miles an hour in the head. Many times these pigs are bearing down on them. These guys use full 40’s to do the job.

    Just because you feel you are unlikely to do it, I wouldn’t paint others as incapable.

    LOL! Perfect Storm?! What does fishing have to do with anything?

  30. I have taken to practicing more recently and shoot a lot of lead loads, mostly LSWC. All of my pistols are somewhat more accurate with lead than with jacketed, Rugers and S&W M&Ps. Even steel case works great and is re-loadable to a point. As some old retired LEos have told me, the old police ammo was LSWC and it’s stopping power was just as good as the HPs that replaced it. I do have one mag loaded with 135 gr. Sierra Hps kicked up to 1300 fps out of a S&W M&P 40. Seems very managble and accurate and FAST. Personal protection rounds as opposed to “normal” loads? Lead poisoning is still lead poisoning, right?

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