Today’s Best 9mm Self-Defense Ammo

We are living in an era in which 9mm is king in terms of popularity and widespread availability. There is a large number of reasons for the success of the cartridge, among them low recoil and even lower cost. In this article we will be looking at some of the best 9mm self-defense loads around today and the ideas behind them.

Despite its widespread popularity, both among law enforcement and the general public, there are plenty of opinions out there that the 9mm isn’t really an adequate self-defense cartridge. I hear this regularly, but it’s mostly incorrect. The modern 9mm is a different animal when looked at in comparison to its original, anemic European military forebears. The 9mm has benefitted remarkably from technological advances, especially those of the last two decades.

To understand what makes for good self-defense ammo, whether for concealed carry or home defense, we first need to look at what qualifies ammo as generally inadequate. There’s no such thing as a non-lethal bullet, despite what you may hear on internet forums and guys hanging around the counters in gun shops. A nineteen-cent 115gr 9mm ball ‘practice’ load will easily kill a person just as dead as a five-dollar-a-shot custom frangible round. Respect must be given where it’s due, and all bullets must be respected for what they are.

That said, the typical cheap 115gr ball load probably isn’t what you want to have in your gun. If it’s the only thing you can get or can afford, then you had best practice with it and understand what it does well to give yourself the greatest advantage in a bad scenario. I know a number of people who carry ball loads in their gun, and they always seem to catch sideways looks for it from other regular carriers.

The reason I often hear for this is that 9mm offers poor terminal performance to begin with and ball and FMJ loads will simply icepick their way through a bad guy with little to no actual damage occurring on entry or exit. This is, of course, generally false, but like all incorrect “conventional wisdom,” there’s a kernel of truth in there. The 9mm FMJ is great at penetrating tissue and often completely exits, which is seen as a danger by many people, thus bringing about all sorts of frowns.

Over-penetration can indeed be a danger to bystanders, which is a valid point, but is essentially uncontrollable. No person can, with 100% certainty, say what any given bullet will do in a specific scenario. You can have over-penetration with hollow points, and you can miss completely with your most accurate loads. To say that the possibility of over-penetration is a negative while ignoring the near certainty of missing while under stress is hyperbole.

That brings us to the point in the conversation where we talk about what makes a good self-defense load. The problem with many 9mm FMJ rounds isn’t that they fail to penetrate, it’s that they fail to deliver significant terminal performance. The wounds delivered by FMJ and ball loads tend to be narrow, which should come as no surprise because they lack the ability to expand in tissue.

The hollow point round is the remedy for this. These’re designed to expand, opening up in soft tissue and delivering greater energy into the target than a non-expanding bullet. Hollow point-type bullets take on many forms and often use very specific types of materials and means of expansion. Most people who carry self-defense loads in 9mm choose some type of hollow point.

There are several variations of hollow points that are excellent for self-defense. The first of these is the ‘traditional’ Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP).

SIG SAUER has released a line of ammunition that features their excellent V-Crown bullets. These are a somewhat modernized take on the JHP and feature minor variances depending on what type of ammo you buy.

Their 365 carry ammo, for example, is designed for short barreled guns like the P365 micro-compact pistol, an innovative new 9mm carry gun. The bullets are designed to expand at lower velocities while producing less recoil than standard 9mm loads, thus making it easier to fire in a smaller gun. SIG makes a large variety of 9mm loads and based on my testing, I would heartily recommend them to anyone looking for affordable, reliable ammo.

Other reliable brands include Speer Gold Dot, Federal HST, Winchester PDX1 Defender, Remington Ultimate Defense, among others.

Hornady Critical Defense 135gr +P FlexLock and SIG 115gr V-Crown

A twist on the JHP comes in the form of the very popular Hornady FTX and FlexLock bullets. These bullets were designed to address the problems associated with penetrating materials and heavy clothing. The bullets have a polymer filler in the tip that allows them to pass through said materials and fabric without clogging up. Clogged hollowpoints have a hard time opening up and if they fail to open, they often fail to deliver critical wounds. The FTX and FlexLock technology can be found in a number of Hornady products, most notably their Critical Duty and Critical Defense loads. The FBI recently chose the Critical Duty 9mm 135gr +P FlexLock as their standard load.

Yet another deviation in terms of self-defense 9mm ammo comes in the form of what can broadly be called ‘non-traditional’ expanding bullets. These are bullets that are often radical in appearance and are made from homogenous metals. I recently wrote a review on TTAG about the Mid America Munitions 124gr Broadhead load. This is an expanding bullet that is entirely lead-free. It is pre-cut to open into six blades which deliver devastating performance. I was very pleased with this and I have continued looking into the potential of these bullets.

Buffalo Bore 95gr +P+ and MAM 124gr Broadhead

A variation on the lead-free expanding bullet comes in the form of the Buffalo Bore 95gr +P+, also reviewed here on TTAG. This load is an example of what can be accomplished with alloys lighter than lead. The bullets here exit the gun at a blistering 1500fps+, which is astounding. The bullets are also exceptionally tough and can deliver dramatic performance on target.

The last type of 9mm self-defense ammo I will talk about is one that doesn’t expand. You may be wondering why I would include non-expanding bullets on this list when I went through the effort to explain why they are risky to use, but this last entry shows how technology can change things.

Black Hills makes a line of ammunition called the HoneyBadger, which features radically shaped, lead-free bullets that maintain effectiveness through tissue displacement and penetration, not expansion. You can find my review of the 100gr +P HoneyBadger here.

The shape of the bullets allows them to easily punch through fabric and materials. Unlike hollowpoints, these bullets can’t get clogged and will do their job as long as they are still spinning. I personally love this type of bullet and would certainly recommend it as a self-defense option.

Today’s technology has opened a great number of doors for the 9mm. The discerning shooter and concealed carrier has their choice of dozens of options from a full spectrum of manufacturers. Self-defense ammo needs to be reliable and accurate, and all of the above rounds I listed are great choices. You should try out several types to decide what it is that you feel comfortable with in your own gun.

For more information on the brands and products listed here, check out my ammo reviews here on TTAG or visit the makers at www.sigsauer.com, www.hornady.com, www.buffalobore.com, www.midamericamunitions.com, and www.black-hills.com.

comments

  1. avatar jwm says:

    The 9×19 is the worlds go to round. If you don’t reload the ammo is cheap enough to allow you to practice regular with it. Which is more important than a super dooper magnum round you can only shoot once a year.

    If the 9×19 fails you it is not the rounds fault. And if you have honest reason to believe the 9×19 is not enough round then you probably need a rifle or shotgun.

    1. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      Federal HST for me, thanks.

    2. avatar Whoopie says:

      Despite the short-comings of the 9mm FMJ, the Germans killed a lot of people with them during WWII and armed forces worldwide still use them in pistols and submachine guns to this day. I think it safe to say the 9mm FMJ has killed more people then all the other pistol calibers put together. That said, I still prefer to carry the 124gr. Gold Dot +P.

      1. Sure, that kind (FMJ) killed a lot of people in WWII. You can kill a lot of people when they’re kneeling down in front of you.

    3. avatar John Davis says:

      Agree with Federal HST. I don’t understand that, even though ballistic performance of the HST appears to outperform most others, it’s rarely mentioned in articles?

  2. avatar kevin says:

    Or, just find out what your local PD or sheriff is using. That should be adequate, and not raise eyebrows in the way that something exotic might.

    1. avatar Kontiki says:

      My local Deputies carry a S&W 500mag revolver.

      1. avatar Geoff "Mess with the bull, get the horns" PR says:

        What department in what state?

        Because your claim smells like bullshit…

        1. avatar joel says:

          Well the state is obviously Texas. duh….

        2. avatar J says:

          I think he is making a reference to the Schwarzenegger movie the last stand.

  3. avatar former water walker says:

    I use 9mm 124gr. Sig Vcrown. It’s cheap and feeds very well in my 2 guns. Is it the best? I dunno but Paul Harrell does some interesting “meat” tests on YouTube. He likes it better than HST(which is oddly not mentioned here). I’m not convinced of the efficacy of the Phillips head screwdriver rounds…

  4. avatar jakee308 says:

    First we hear that an fmj round can go thru the target and then we hear it doesn’t go far enough.

    What i hear is it’s a crap shoot on what will happen depending on where, what angle, distance you hit the target.

    Which is why I carry fmj but in a 17 round magazine. If I’m in fear for my life, i’m going to keep pulling that trigger until the target stops or goes down. period. end of statement.

    1. avatar D says:

      FMJ should NEVER be carried. It is very likely to do minimal damage to your intended target and has issues with over penetration putting bystanders behind the target in danger.

      Not only will you have reduced stopping power, you are endangering innocents.

      This is NOT opinion, it is a well-established fact.

      1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

        D is correct.

        While 9mm Luger cartridges with full metal jacketed bullets can certainly be lethal, they almost always take much longer to INCAPACITATE your attacker than a quality expanding bullet. And when it comes to self-defense, a bullet that takes a long time to incapacitate your attackers isn’t any good.

        Now, add the fact that full metal jacket bullets usually over-penetrate and jeopardize bystanders behind your intended target and you can see why so many people vehemently oppose carrying full metal jacketed bullets for self-defense.

        1. avatar Joe in San Antonio says:

          Seen a few bad dudes killed by a M9.bad dude was dead and villagers intact. People overhype over pentration.

      2. avatar GS650G says:

        FMJ works on the head quite well.

        1. avatar Russel Helmers says:

          Well as a Police Officer I use to stagger my bullets in the mags with every other round being a FMJ then a 147gr Hollow point because of possibly having to shot at a person in a vehicle. Always using the double tap! Worked for me then and I still do it today as a CCL!

      3. avatar Hannibal says:

        Anytime someone says things like “NEVER” and claims that their opinion is “FACT” they can be safely ignored.

    2. avatar Ranger Rick says:

      “i’m going to keep pulling that trigger until the target stops or goes down. period. end of statement.”

      Have you previously been employed by the NYPD?

      1. avatar joel says:

        He didn’t say “i’m going to keep pulling the trigger until i run out of ammunition….”

  5. avatar Green Mtn. Boy says:

    When it comes to 9 x 19 i’ll stick with Gold Dots and HST.

    1. avatar Yarbles says:

      Me too. I use the 115 gr. Gold Dot +P+ in my short barreled G43 and Walther PPS M1.

      The 20% reduction in published velocity for G43 is about 1200 fps. Enough for a good bullet to hit hard, expand and do its job.

      Hot but very controllable in these platforms.

  6. avatar foxpapa357 says:

    If you’re in New Jersey, it’s a fourth degree felony to have hollow point ammo. There, if you can get a government license to use your 2nd A rights to carry for self protection, it’ only legal to carry a full jacket round, a N.J. “special” expanding FMJ or a solid copper round like the honey badger.

    1. avatar VoxLP says:

      I can’t speak about carrying a gun in NJ, as getting a license is essentially impossible, but hollow points are not illegal in NJ in the home or the range, which is all I can use.

    2. avatar Neil says:

      I want to load Honey badger just so I can call the Post self defense prosecutor Honey.

      Q:. You usedcop killing rounds didn’t you.
      A:. Honey, no. That is Honey badger…

      Q:. These are hollow points?!?
      A:. No honey…. …. Badger

    3. avatar TrueBornSonofLiberty says:

      Has there been a decision on whether these new machines copper rounds like the Lehigh Defense or the ones pictured above are legal in NJ? (I’m not asking for an opinion, but rather, have they be ruled legal or not)

      1. avatar JR says:

        I used to live in nj so unless that specific law has changed in the past 5 years, Only true hollow points were banned so even things like hornady critical defence were okay since they were not hollow they had the polymer tip filling the void. There are also exceptions for at home or the range or traveling in between as mentioned above.

  7. avatar Texican says:

    The Honey Badger is Black Hills late to the party version of the Lehigh Defense Xtreme Penetrator/Defense which Underwood Ammo has been loading for years. Lehigh just dressed it up some for Black Hills. I still like the Underwood offerings. They feed like a fmj but produce wounds like a hp. And that’s through any test media and barriers you’d like to use. Plenty of youtube vids document it’s efficacy. As one tester said the hp is on the outside of the nose of the bullet instead of the inside.

    1. avatar RidgeRunner says:

      I like the Underwood Penetrators as well. A bit snappy in the G19, but not enough to be a concern. Fun to shoot.

      1. avatar Russel Helmers says:

        Love Underwood Ammo. Carry that in every pistol I use now. Wish they were around when I was still in Law Enforcement. Check out their web page. You’ll be somewhat amazed!

  8. avatar GS650G says:

    Try carrying these super rounds in New Jersey. Or even possessing “cop killer” bullets.

  9. avatar GunnyGene says:

    I’ve carried the Hornady 135+P critical duty for several years in a full size 9. I’m pleased that the FBI took my advice 😉 .

    But like every other bullet ever invented it don’t work if you can’t hit your target. Not bragging, but I don’t have that problem.

  10. avatar Bearacuda says:

    https://www.luckygunner.com/labs/self-defense-ammo-ballistic-tests/#9mm

    I’ll stick with HSTs. Has there been any tests on Underwood bullets that aren’t just gel? I’d like to see if it’s legit.

    1. avatar kemikos says:

      Plenty of videos out there of hogs and deer being “dissected” after being taken with the Lehigh/Underwood rounds. I’m not a doctor and I don’t have much experience with breaking down game, but it looked to my layman’s eyes like a ton of tissue damage, and if I remember correctly, the slugs were recovered with no deformation (that is, they didn’t expand but didn’t overpenetrate either).

    2. avatar Texican says:

      IRAQVETERAN8888 tested 45 acp and Tim from Military Arms Channel tested 9mm. Both were surprised and delighted with the results in gel and after going thru all the FBI barriers.

      1. avatar Bearacuda says:

        I’ve seen those, I meant the claims that they’re designed to look impressive in gel tests but may not reflect well in living tissue.

        1. avatar Texican says:

          Tim shot a dead hog with the 9mm. Watch his vid.

    3. avatar doesky2 says:

      There’s so much great data on HST that has been confirmed and re-confirmed by craploads of people that it is silly to spend time looking at anything else.

      To boot I’ve bough 147gr 9mm under 40c/rd.

      1. avatar FedUp says:

        You’ve bought it in the past, or recently with LE credentials?

        They really don’t want to sell it to the taxpayers, unless it’s in 20 round boxes for more than $1 each. They will grudgingly sell it in the boxes of 50 for civie use, but it’s supposed to go for 60+ cents, the 40 cent price has a baked in LE discount.

        For the last 3-4 weeks, all the $20-25/box places are supposed to get LE credentials to sell it to you.

        1. avatar Jedi Wombat says:

          SGAmmo.com, 9mm HST for 29.95 per 50 round box. Buy in bulk and save even more!

        2. avatar doesky2 says:

          I’m not LEO and I always buy in 50 rd boxes.

          Only buy it during specials and only online.
          Here is example of 2 times at 40c in the past 8 months
          https://gun.deals/search/apachesolr_search/hst%209mm

          Unfortunately gun.deals in the past 6-12 months seems to have an algorithm where they are not showing the real history of past deals. The site seems to to not show the best deals of the past because I think thay are thinking that it inhibits people from not buying current deals because they may not be as good as past deals.

        3. avatar doesky2 says:

          If Federal is really clamping down and discouraging 50rd boxes for non-LEO then that is a lot bigger story than this article.

  11. avatar New Continental Army says:

    The best 9mm round is a .45.

    1. avatar TrueBornSonofLiberty says:

      And let me guess… you think the best home defense option is a shotgun, best rifles are bolt actions and all firearms should contain a high percentage of walnut.

      1. avatar New Continental Army says:

        No. Laugh a little.

  12. avatar ops says:

    HST’s are the tried and true bullet.

  13. avatar Juice says:

    If I found myself unable to afford a quality expanding round, I’d trade in my handgun for something cheaper and buy better ammo with the proceeds. FMJ is fantastic for practice, but the whole idea is to get every edge you can in a defense situation. Leave as much of that 360 ft-lbs of energy as possible in the bad guy.

  14. avatar 22winmag says:

    LIBERTY AMMO PERIOD END OF STORY!

    1. avatar Owen says:

      Wrong caliber I know but I chrono’d liberties 40 S&W offering at 1900 fps. That stuff just screams. I pulled one of the 40 cal bullets it was 65 GR.

      My only problem with it was the neck tension. On 40 it seems weak and some of the bullets in my mag had setback hence the pulled bullet. I ended up pulling them partially out re-seating to proper depth and taper crimping them again.

      1. avatar 22winmag says:

        Thank for the tip.

        I’ve shot hundreds of rounds of Liberty .40 and 10mm through pistols and my Sub2000 and never experienced that.. but good to know. I’ve actually never experienced a single failure of any kind with Liberty, but there is always a first time.

        PS- I get all of 2,400fps out of a 4.75 inch 10mm pistol and 2,600fps out of my Sub2000 .40S&W!

  15. avatar James69 says:

    ARX??? Anybody?? I need to go shoot a critter with it and see if it’s any good.

    1. avatar MIO says:

      Yes you do then run it against windshields, doors etc. You’ll see what’s real and what’s hype before long

    2. avatar Kat Ainsworth says:

      I’ve shot hogs, coyotes, and deer with Inceptor ARX in various calibers. For those who do not know, it’s a frangibles round that uses polymer as the binder rather than tin (most companies use tin to bind their frangibles). It drops animals with no problem, hard and fast, which is what I want from a defense round, too. I have not used their 9mms to hunt, just .40 S and W, .45 ACP, and 10mm. I do recommend it…if your particular gun likes it. *Most* guns I’ve run it in over the past few years are just fine with it but there are occasional exceptions just as there are guns that dislike Hornady FlexLocks and Federal Syntech. It’s a good option, passes the FBI barrier tests, and penetrates better than many factory loads.

      1. avatar 22winmag says:

        Good grief my dear author!

        Ruger/Polycase ARX is a CAVITATOR bullet and is not frangible! Just because it’s a copper/polymer bullet doesn’t mean it’s frangible.

        *Polycase Interceptor RNP* is the frangible ballistic equivalent of the ARX defense round.

        Please correct yourself before you seriously misinform your readers!

        https://www.inceptorammo.com/inceptor-product/sport-utility-ammo/

        https://ruger.com/news/2015-10-07a.html

        1. avatar James Wilson says:

          Hit steel (or anything solid) with it and it’s absolutely frangible, therefore, safe to use at close range when training.

      2. avatar James69 says:

        I’m wondering how it would fair out of the Ruger PC carbine. 9mm on Deer,,,,,,,? (small southern deer). 50 yards max range. I figure out of the 16 inch barrel it would really smack em’

  16. avatar John Shepherd says:

    Is FMJ really a bad choice for personal defense? After watching this Lucky Gunner video I am not sure that is really the case. Listen to what Claude Werner had to say about what you are trying to accomplish as an armed defender. The video is about the utility of small caliber handguns but Werner’s comments apply to any handgun you might carry for self defense

    https://youtu.be/MMXI2F_Xna4

    Just something to consider.

    1. avatar Matthew says:

      That video you linked is a song….

  17. avatar Texican says:

    Here’s the barrier penetration test in 45 acp and 9mm done by Eric at Iraqveteran8888 and Tim at the Military Arms Channel on youtube. No other bullets exhibit the consistency of barrier penetration and straight line penetration depth in ballistic gel. And in their newer, lighter loads in 9mm such as the 65 gr +p and +p+ you get velocity that will defeat body armor. You have to step up to 45 Super to get that velocity with the 45 bullet. Bullet material (s) and construction plus velocity make for a tough to beat combination! Enjoy!

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=UV_1zXdDf4Y

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0piGeTVMZWs&t=15s

  18. avatar Rimfire says:

    I read the article, as well as the 53 comments preceding mine and I have come away more confused than before!

  19. avatar Dum Dum Bullets says:

    Jeez everyone forgets about gun safety, rules of engagement. I have have nothing good to say about hollow points, in reality hollow points are only good for hunting animals. Full Metal Jacket is the best round to use for self-defense…..you never know if you have to shoot through a car door, possibly the perpetrator is wearing body armor or has a heavy jacket on. In the military we use full metal jacket rounds. Can’t go wrong with the ball round either. I never had a problem putting down rabid dogs with one shot. A reckless idiot would shoot a perpetrator with a bystander behind their target.

  20. avatar JK says:

    Thank you for not even mentioning the RIP snake oil rounds. Seriously. Thank you.

    1. avatar KG Maiden says:

      Gimmick ammo to separate folks form their money. Not to mention what our so called legal system will look down upon you using such.

  21. avatar KG Maiden says:

    Well, it really don’t matter. You see many of us LEGAL LAW-ABIDING AMERICAN CITIZENS trapped in commie kalifornia are SUFFERING under ammo restrictions. NOW only allowed sharp sticks and rocks, for now. Sarcasm folks, but close enough to truth.
    WAKE THE HELL UP, especially you FUDDS sitting on the couch eating potato chips. Kalli is like an STD. Infectious and spreads.

  22. avatar Jim M. says:

    Am I stupid for carrying Winchester Defender 9mm +P 124gr?

  23. avatar PMinFl says:

    I know the focus of this article is 9mm ammo( I like critical defense) but in .380 I can’t feed HST rounds in my little pistol. The mouth of the hollow point is so wide as to “catch” on the feed ramp. Critical defense is tapered enough to feed well. Haven’t tried HST in 9mm.

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