Self-Defense Tip for Hand Loaders: Write it Down!

In a recent post, TTAG scribe Benjamin T Shotzberger admitted to carrying hand loads in his self-defense gun. When the topic of roll-your-own for self-defense comes up, the most obvious concern: chances of being branded as reckless and blood thirsty by a Prosecutor looking to make a name for themselves after an armed encounter. Before we explore this subject, a quick caveat from . . .

The instance of a prosecutor going after a citizen for using handloads in a defensive shooting has not actually happened anywhere that anyone can document. The Internet discussion boards call it an “urban legend from Massad Ayoob,” which is maybe not fair to Ayoob. I don’t think Massad ever claimed a specific case where it had happened, only that it could.

Rogue prosecutors aside, there is another looming concern about rolling your own self-defense ammo, and that has to do with crime scene forensics.

How do investigators determine whether you shot the bat-wielding maniac from less than 10 feet, like you claim, or more than 20 feet, as some witnesses reported? They compare gunshot residue and burns left behind on the victim, the furniture, and the walls, with that from identical ammo fired from the same gun in laboratory tests. Will it make any difference if you used home-made ammo rather than factory?

The ability to duplicate testing data is the backbone of all things science.Uniformity of the sample material is a must. Also, strict methodology allows for the testing of only one unknown at a time.

In this case, the variable would be distance, and the constants are the gun and the ammo. Sample size is also vital.

The 20 or 50 rounds you loaded up one evening, no matter how precisely, do not establish the credibility that a factory producing thousands does. Even with their minor variations, the massive pool from which to draw a sample will establish a consistent and known specification range that their products fall within. Their methods and suppliers will also be known and well established.

How will YOU prove that the ammo you produced was in fact consistent in its production and components and thus yield conclusive and definitive testing results. Scientists don’t get paid to just take your word for it.

If you load your own, do you keep a sample reserved specifically for investigators to test and compare? How will you be able to prove that the ammo you provided (or they took) from your re-loading bench is the exact same ammo, loaded with the same bullets, type of powder, and loaded to the same pressures, as that which was in your gun at the time of the shooting?

Will they be able to sort out your carry load flavor- of-the-week from the half dozen boxes of leftovers you were planning on retiring? Or worse yet, what happens when they find that batch you cooked up just in case of Zombie Watermelon Apocalypse?

To minimize uncertainty, I carry only factory ammo that is widely available. This will increase the likelihood that additional samples from the same lot can be obtained for testing. Regardless of what you choose, keep a record of when and what ammo is loaded into your gun(s). Write it on the box at the very least. Also, KEEP THE BOX!

Investigators will be able to match the ammo in your gun, to the box that it came in. Don’t mix and match loads in the same gun. The different signatures could paint conflicting pictures of what really happened. For extra points, carry the same load that your local LEO’s have in their guns. To paraphrase Mas Ayoob , “If it’s good enough for the cops to protect me and my family, then it’s good enough for ME to protect me and my family”.

By no means am I disparaging rolling your own rounds. One great advantage is the ability to replicate your chosen carry cartridge in mass quantities for cheap and effective practice/training. Plus anything that lets you put more lead down range is always a great thing.

I merely suggest sticking with the establishment for “Work” and relegating reloads to “Play”.Analysis of Gunshot Residue is often a critical component of convicting murderers who claim self-defense. If the “Opportunity” of your assailant is called in to question, don’t tarnish the credibility of a key piece of exonerating evidence with the words “I made it myself”.


  1. avatar Terry4Strokes says:

    This is a no brainer:
    You will have enough problems if you need to use your weapon in self-defense. The last thing you want is to be forced to mount an expensive defense of your ammunition. To ease this possibility I go a step farther – the local police department uses Hornady Critical Defense, so do I. The “if it is good enough for them” defense should eliminate any questions.

    1. avatar Mike Edwards says:

      so you used “cop” bullets huh? So you think you’re some big shot who has to use deadly loads like law enforcement use?

      see, they can twist it from that side either. You’re suddenly a wanna be LEO or military wannabe. There has been NO court cases (and the Danny Bias case doesn’t really count) against a civilian using handloads, just as there has been no court case that won using a prosecution of “cop” bullets. Same as the old “look what she was wearing” rape culture myth. It’s never been a factor in a trial. If we look for bad guys in the shadows we’ll find them, even if we have to make them up

  2. avatar Chaz says:

    For 99.999… % reliability I trust the factory more than I trust my reloading e.g. freshness of components, etc.

  3. avatar CUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

    Aw, if only a tougher frame would be made for Hi Powers that wouldn’t crack from +P+ rounds over time! The SAS has stacks of cracked ones in their armoury, to my understanding…I have had and seen too many flubs and two exploding hand guns from friends learning how to reload.

  4. avatar David B says:

    I think much of Ayoob’s concerns can be traced to the Daniel Bias case.

  5. avatar Gunnutmegger says:

    Cracked Hi-Power frames?

    Sounds like a bad design…

    1. avatar CUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

      It hurts me because I love the Hi Power.

  6. avatar Bob S says:

    My home defense load is CCI Blaser – although I handload, it’s clearly the aluminum-cased stuff.

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