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Maybe we’re making too big an assumption here. Plenty of people who tote a gun every day or keep one on the night stand load it up with range ammo and call it good. They figure, ‘I sure wouldn’t want to be shot with that stuff,’ so it should get the job done if push comes to shove. Yes, well, while loading up with range ammo will leave a few more dollars in your pocket, that strategy comes at the cost of much poorer performance and a good chance of over penetration.

So assuming you do load up with JHP in your carry or home defense gun, how do you choose? Determining reliability is the easy part. Assuming you’ve bought ammo from one of the bigger names (Federal, Winchester, Remington, etc.), you can be fairly sure it will go bang when you pull the trigger. The other big question, then, is whether it works in your gun. Range time (and cash) will reveal what your firearms will cycle with unfailing regularity.

But then there’s performance. Does a particular round penetrate adequately to do what it’s supposed to do once it’s in a bad guy’s innards? How is the average ammo buyer to know?

Trusting manufacturer performance claims can be, well, disappointing. On the other hand, surfing YouTube for reliable information can be fraught with questionable information, too. While reliable, analytical sources like ShootingTheBull410 hasn’t been otherwise occupied in recent months, we hope to see him back in the ammo evaluation business in the not-too-distant future.

In any case, what goes into your personal defense buying decision? How do make your buying decision?


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  1. LuckyGunner website has an AMAZINGLY in depth set of ammo testing result in the most common self defense calibers. their methodology is sound, and consistent. They tested a wide range of ammo. They have penetration and expansion measurements, lots of statistics, and it’s all laid out nicely and easy to navigate. They even have linked videos of the actual test firings. Pictures of round pre- and post-firing. Graphics showing penetration of each round in a group, relative to FBI standards and all the other rounds in a particular caliber, etc etc etc. they used typical carry-weapon barrel lengths (depending on caliber, 3.25-3.5″ or so.

    I’m a test engineer, and the poor quality of much of the “ammo testing” out there has always bothered me. While this is by now means perfect, it seems leaps and bounds above what you see elsewhere. While you don’t get the narrative/explanation you get with STB410, you get a LOT more ammo tested with more consistent methodology.

    Check it out (and no, I’m in no way affiliated with LuckyGunner… I was just really impressed by their ammo testing results)

    • LuckyGunner rocks. If I can’t find ammunition reviews there usually I just do a search on Youtube to find a good review of any brand of ammo after it has been on the market for awhile.

    • I chose my carry ammo in part based on what TheLuckyGunner’s test results were. While I’ve never shot anyone to know if I made the right choice, I at least feel better knowing I did some research first. I like places that tell you barrel length. A hollow point round that reaches perfect penetration in one length barrel can under penetrate in a longer barrel because the increased speed can cause them to open up quicker. So many youtube videos just shoot, they don’t chronograph, give detailed information on the gun, show you the bullets after, or any number of important to know factors.

      • Timothy, it seems to me that you may be a little bit off-base here. It’s been my impression, and some testers say this, that hollowpoints that go faster tend to fold back farther, right after opening up, which makes them SMALLER, not bigger.
        There is then less resistance, and the bullet penetrates farther, but makes a smaller hole. This is both good and bad, depending on what you want to accomplish.
        I think this point, which is a different point, is an important one: I’ve also seen many testers get very different results from the same ammo in different calibers. Why? Because that ammo was designed for one caliber, then made in a different size much later…but without carefully adjusting the strength of the petals for different- sized and differently-loaded ammo, like adding a +P version, for example.
        I’ve downloaded and saved those outstanding Lucky Gunner tests, and if my memory is correct, my statements are supported by those tests.

    • My only gripe about the Lucky Gunner tests is that they only included one single full power load for .357 magnum and it was a leadless bul let. Good work otherwise, though.

      • That’s because .357 is Bad Azz Yo.
        It don’t matter what ammo you use!

        I’m mostly joking, but seriously, the more powerful the round, the less research is required. I’ve basically decided on one type of ammo for my .22mag, and one style of bullet (multiple brands) for my .380. There are a lot of good options for 9mm on up…

        • True, the hot stuff is definitely going to leave a mark. But a lot of those loads are barely 9mm+p. Generally speaking, han dguns are weak and if you only have 6 rou nds on tap, I’d say make them count.

        • If I remember correctly from the shootingthebull vids, the Hornady XTP is the bul let of choice for .380. They always expand, but they don’t expand that much which is perfect for .380. Ball am mo still flies right through and am mo that expands like a 9 mm should won’t penetrate. Similar with .45acp. If you get nearly 2x expansion they tend to underpenetrate, since they don’t really have (hardly) any more energy then the 9 mm stuff.

  2. 1) Independent testing shows it meets FBI standards in ballistics gel.
    2) It’s commonly available locally (getting ammo shipped to Illinois is a pain).
    3) It’s nickel plated (less chance of it getting mixed up with practice ammo).

    For me, it’s Hornady Critical Defense.

      • “Plus Massad recommends it”
        Really? Did you have to get “expert” training to know how to hold a pistol too? What is this disgusting boot licker obsession in the firearms world? “Well (insert favorite “expert” here) said this”, “well my cop cousin said that”, “well my state side veteran uncle likes”. Be independent people! The most knowledgeable and skilled gun people in history are generally the hobbiest, not the 11b who has only ever fired issued weapons, not the cop who only shoots yearly quals. Carrying a gun for a living doesn’t automatically make you a gun expert. Reading about cases doesn’t make Ayoob anymore of an expert than anyone else here, we all can read! Being paid for our opinion on the readings is irrelevant.

        • Your point is invalid. Because, if Ayoob said it, then it IS true. Forever and ever. Now, repeat after me…..BECAUSE AYOOB!

        • You obviously don’t know the first thing about Ayoob. Have you ever read any of his books? He was teaching about guns from real world experience when most of us were in our diapers. But I guess those of us who respect noted experts are “boot lickers” As the old saying goes ignorance is bliss.

    • Critical Defense has been my default recommendation to customers along with the Federal HST… All due to the great work by Shootingthebull410.
      Lately, I’ve jumped on the Ruger ARX bandwagon- anyone know if STB410 has tested those?

    • I tend to carry full size or long slide handguns these days so I settled on Critical Duty for my 9mm and .45 ACP loads. Still trying to find something I like in 10mm. The Hornady critical duty 10mm seems a bit anemic according to their data. I didn’t buy a long slide 10mm handgun to shoot “FBI loads”. I generally like nickel plating for the same reason (it also seems to extract a bit better, but that may just be my imagination.)

      Sorry to hear about your ammo shipping issues. I don’t like in crook county so I don’t have many problems. I generally get my ammo from SGAmmo, Lucky Gunner, or Brownells. All three have my FOID card on file, so it’s not a huge deal.

      • I like to run Federal HST’s, but for my 10mm I like 180 Speer Gold Dots from Underwood Ammo. I think it’s TNOutdoors did a review on it on YouTube. It is a great cartridge.

        • I got to go to a wound ballistics seminar, complete with much live fire into different media. It was sponsored by Federal when HST, or Hydra Shock two, came out.
          When I showed up with gold dots, the guy said it was the only ammo that would out perform HST.
          So, I stick with gold dots or HST.

        • I have always had near perfect results from .312 GoldDots, but enough failures to expand with .357 GoldDots that I don’t use them anymore. XTP’s expansion is lack luster compared to HSTs but for me they have indeed always expanded and I would be comfortable with them loaded in my carry gun. I have tested seven different bullets for my .357 and have not yet decided on one. My results are from dozens of test shots into gel for each bullet caliber, brand, and type. I don’t trust gel results as much as it sounds like I do. I mostly do gel tests because I like doing gel tests.

        • The Democratic People’s Republik of Illinoisistan. Yeah. My one up side is that outside of Chiraq, it’s far better than most of the west coast and the North East.

        • Illinois is like an oasis of tyranny in the middle of an otherwise (mostly) free country.

          With the online vendors, you need to send them a copy of your FOID card for them to keep on file. Some (like Midway USA) won’t even bother shipping ammo to Illinois.

          And every 10 years we get to send $$ to the State Police, get a new FOID card and do it all over again.

          Funny thing – I can buy all the primers, powder, brass and bullets I want, they’ll ship it to my door, no questions asked (gotta pay the hazmat fee), no FOID required.

      • I use Sig Sauer ammo in my G20. It’s always been reliable and hotter AND cheaper than other mass manufacturers.

        I’m less enamored with Hornady even though I still carry it in other guns. It is loaded lighter and OAL of unfited rounds causes it to stick in my .380 when ejecting for disassembly.

  3. I’ve always held the opinion “Use the round that the local police/sheriff uses (if it’s available to the public). That way if the prosecution wants to make a big deal about the “deadly” rounds you used, you can defer to the police department:

    “I chose those rounds because the local police use them, so I figure they’d be a good self-defense round. You’ll have subpoena the police department to find out why THEY chose them.”

    The prosecution now can’t make the rounds look bad without making the entire police force (who are their buddies) look like a bunch of blood-thirsty cops, hoping to maim people as much as possible.

    …and that ain’t gonna happen.


    • I see that as the same argument against using silencers or SBRs for home defense. “Because the big bad prosecutor might use it against me.”

      A good shoot is a good shoot. Justifiable is justifiable. Using the same round as local law enforcement shouldn’t be out of fear of the prosecutor, but rather because of the independent testing by either that LE agency, or another.

      The rounds that have been around forever usually have a good reputation. Thing to remember is that JHPs (and bullets in general) are completely unpredictable. Just because they look good in gel, doesn’t mean they’ll preform that way in real life.

    • You should probably credit Ayoob if that’s where you got that notion from. It is in at least two of his books.

      • Nope, just heard it in my early days and thought it was a good idea.

        If Ayoob came up with it first, he does deserve the credit!


  4. I try to find semi-realistic real world testing. I.E bullets through materials then into gel. I’ve never made a bullet, but I’m sure I could make one that would open up in gel. Bonded or solid copper makes the list before anything else, so keeping that whole bullet whole, is a good thing. Finding the right balance (9mm in my case) of bullet weight and velocity. Usually, I’m a proponent of heavy low velocity in the house, (147’s are usually subsonic, won’t destroy your hearing completely) and supersonic lighter weight for out and about.(115+P)

    Corbon DPX if you can ever find it. Haven’t seen any in a very long time.
    Hornady Critical Duty: all around good stuff
    Speer Gold Dots: everyone has some, and they make good stuff.

  5. 180 gr. Buffalo Bore JHP. I jumped on the 10mm bandwagon when it was just starting to expand, and Buffalo Bore was one of the few defensive loads I could physically find on shelves. Right now, it’s more out of habit than anything else.

  6. “How Do You Choose a Personal Defense Round?”

    STB410’s ‘Ammo Quest’, of course.

    (Doesn’t everybody?)

    That and personal recommendations by locals who I respect the opinions of.

    Mr. Mixed gas technical diver (O2 just above) makes a solid argument with “Use the round that the local police/sheriff uses…”

  7. I started packing Ruger ARX rounds because Shootingthebull gave them a thumbs up. Add to that the general round nose cross section makes me worry about a failure to feed a lot less.

  8. A combination of the various Youtube testers (inc. Luckygunner, shootingthebull, Paul Harrell etc), specific caliber & pistol, plus with a nod to what is used by LE.

    Current thinking:-

    .44 Mag (5.5″ Redhawk) – doesn’t matter!!
    9mm 4″ish barrel (CZ P-07) – Critical Defense or Duty
    9mm short barrel (Sig P938) – Federal HST 124gr
    .380 (S&W M&P Bodyguard) – Something with the XTP bullet such as Hornady American Gunner 90gr

  9. 1. Downselect candidates from Lucky Gunner’s research.
    2. Order candidates from Lucky Gunner (thank you for the research) to try with my SD pistol
    3. Test with my pistol for for function and accuracy.
    4. Buy least expensive of those that pass.


  10. I stick with Federal HST, Hornady Custom and Critical Defense in 9MM, .40 S&W and .38 Special

  11. its easy

    buy the ammo with the heaviest weight hollow point bullet…that runs the most reliably in your gun…thats widely available…thats the most accurate…that is the most expensive but that you can still afford to purchase enough to train with and make sure it functions 100% and also to stockpile it

    lets not overcomplicate this shall we

  12. Any reliable big name HP. Bonus points to whats on sale.
    Sure, arguments can be made for which is better when but the way I see it as long as it puts holes in bad guys the differences are negligible. Especially since you should always be going for multiple holes anyway.

      • Good grief. Shoot the sucker just once with .45 and you kill him AND his soul, you want to kill all his ancestors as well?

    • “Pistol rounds go into the body. Rifle round go through the body. And shotgun rounds take flesh and bone off the body.”

      -Clint Smith

      It’s just poking holes until you get to the shotgun.

  13. For my .380’s i prefer blunt nose target rounds, i doubt any expansion will do me any good over penetration with a .380.

    When carrying my .45’s i use ball in my 1945 Model 1927, and plus p .45auto golden sabres in my Blackhawk convertible.

    Works for me!

    If it fails my function tests i dont carry it!

  14. The question still comes down to money:
    Say you’re wanting to carry a 9mm for your EDC… you’ve put some Tula, some Aguilla, maybe some Winchester White Box through it – all FMJ so no issues…
    But then it comes time to choose a defensive load – you look over the ammo shelf at your local gun shop: $22.99 a box, $27.99 a box, best deal is Ruger ARX at $19.99… and the thought of burning up >$70 to $100 of ammo on paper makes you queasy.

    That is why we rely on the aforementioned reviewers for their hard work. Thanx, Shootingthebull410… we owe you a drink.

    • There are numerous places on line that sell the 50 ro und boxes of defensive am mo designated for law enforcement. Expect to pay around $25/box +shipping for Gold Dot, HST, etc in the most common calibers.

  15. The biggest problem I see is the ability to test function. What is acceptable shoot 24 rounds and call it good? Or shoot 500 per gun, starts to be an expensive proposition for someone with limited funds especially with these boutique boxes of ‘super extra duty critical ripper take their soul’ bullet of the moment.

    • Which is why I like Winchester’s Train and Defend, the Train rounds cost very little (if any) more than other range ammo, but are designed to be ballistically identical to the Defend rounds, and the only functional difference is the nickel plated cases on the defend ammo for more reliable extraction, so if the “Train” functions in your gun, the “Defend” will also, and will shoot to the same zero. Makes realistic practice far cheaper.

  16. I will take anything Hornady, Federal, or Speer, cheap, and standard pressure, to be honest.

    I think people get too wrapped around the axle about this round over that round. Getting the gun into the fight and getting rounds on target is 99% of it, and really the only thing you can control.

    What the round does once it leaves your barrel, or enters the BG, is out of your control. If people spent half as much time on shooting as they do pontificating on gear, guns, and whatever else, the gear, guns, and whatever else wouldn’t hold much sway.

  17. I did research online and found ShootingTheBull410’s videos. Based on his excellent work, I have chosen 124 grain Federal HST rounds as my self-defense ammo.

  18. I’ve found Golden Saber JHP rounds to be accurate and to be digested well by all my pistols, including my finicky Star.

    So, that’s what I use.

  19. I use Sig Sauer Vcrown 124gr. in my 9mm guns. Inexpensive & good reviews and (perhaps)as important nickel-plated slick bullets that run perfectly in my lowly Taurus’es. +if I want a one shot stop I use my 12 gauge shotgun!

  20. Critical defense is standard pressure, so doesn’t recoil excessively in my Kahr CW9. I have tested it enough to know that it cycles reliably. I am thinking of getting a personal Glock 17, and I would probably carry anything on my agencies list of acceptable ammo for that, for liability reasons. Same gun, same ammo, etc.

  21. My go-to loads are the ones from the Marhall/Sanow/Ayoob days like the 9mm BPLE and 9mm Hydrashok.

    I also look at Gel Test (with Denim) from sources like ScubaOz, TNTOutdoors, Shooting the Bull410 and the Mosue Gun Guy. There are often slightly different results but I tend to choose the one that expands and penetrates most often. i.e. Rmington Golden Saber in 38 Special seems to open pretty well and penetrate well.

    The FBI standards are just that – standards. The FBI decided that a bullet needed to do certain things in law enforcement applications. The bullet makers (cartridge) set about to design loads that would meet those criteria.

    So we get penetration from 12-18 inches, go through glass and penetrate, go through would and penetrate, etc. None of these things measure stopping power – it’s a ghost. Bullet placement is the most important factor in fight stoppage (cant miss fast enough to win). Even then, the target has a lot to do with whether they stop or not. Drugs, fear, adrenaline, size, fat, muscle all play into it.

    So – I go with something that mostly expands and penetrates (i dont care if it sheds jacket and lead like the 9BPLE (but that’s just me). I carry Federal 9+P Critical Duty in my truck gun (metal and glass) and Golden Sabre 9+P in my carry gun. I use Federal 125 Grain HP 357 in my LCR. And Buffalo Bore 158+P in my model 10.

    There may be load that out-perform them in certain criteria (metal, glass) but I haven’t seen real-world numbers that would indicate there are things better than these loads. Someone gets hit with 6 rounds, it’s hard to tell which round put them down – most likely all of them.

    As always – you pay your money and takes your chances. I wouldn’t feel unarmed if I were loaded with 9mm ball. Might even make me strive to hit center mass.

  22. Luckygunner labs test results, cost, reliability, and accuracy in my firearms. Magtech guardian gold 9mm+p 115 gr is the ticket: Expands higher than average from a 3.5″ barrel, penetration was extremely consistent at 15″, it’s pretty affordable compared to the others, accurate, reliable, and has good velocity.

  23. Given that stopping power is most influenced by the following (in descending order); “OMG he knows I’m around, time to GTFO,” “OMG he has a gun, time to GTFO,” “OMG he’s shooting at me, time to GTFO,” and “OMG he hit me, I wish I had GTFO.” I think an operational firearm with ball ammo meets at least the 80/20 rule. The slack of what it doesn’t meet that switching to JHP will actually pick up is pretty minuscule; more than likely if you hit them with anything and they aren’t trying to simply escape then they are either mentally gone (drugs or insanity) or professionals. Both probably have to be stopped (at least by that point) by death; for the former that may just require consistency, but for the latter I (personally) don’t feel I have much of a chance; if I hit them, I probably got lucky. The JHP will help with the former, but I doubt it will make much difference for the latter.
    Also, if it is at home: shotgun.

  24. I choose a self-defense round according to the situation where I plan to be. If I am around people, I choose a round that cycles flawlessly and provides adequate penetration without over-penetration. If I am in the woods, I choose a round that is provides adequate penetration on the largest animal I expect to encounter. (I carry a revolver in the woods so I am not worried about bullet shape or ability to cycle semi-auto pistols.)

  25. Kind of partial to the SJHP myself, so I go with Double Tap 158gr with the Nosler bul let. I also keep a small stockpile of Rem 125gr but those have way too much exposed lead to be launching at 1700fps (full pressure loads). But they’ll do fine on zombies at 1400fps.

  26. I started out considering frangible rounds, but some of the gel tests seemed to have an almost explosive quality to them. I decided I didn’t need the potential law suit.

    I ended up with yester-year’s hollow point round, Federal 9mm Hi-Shok 115gr. It is cheap, about $0.30/round, and I have blown thru about 150 rounds at the range without any failures or problems. On naked gel it will open up to 0.55″ and penetrate about 11 or 12″.

    And it will fail the FBI test, so if the BG is wearing two winter parkas, I’m screwed. No wait! In that case it will behave just like range ammo and over penetrate to 18″ or more in gel. Could be worse.

    I don’t understand the logic of a heavy 147gr rounds, unless you’ve got bears to deal with. In my compact residential area, I figure a lighter deformed round will bleed velocity quicker if the round exits my house. The lighter round carries more energy out the barrel than a heavy round, and will definitely do more damage if and when it expands in a BG.

  27. I test different bullets at different velocities in gel myself. I frequently get different results from the various online tests. I then test several more times with bullets from more than one box. Lucky Gunner, unfortunately, used mostly short barrels, as did STB410 and PGAG did (though not always). I have tested loads and bullets in my guns many times over. I probably won’t ever stop.

  28. 200 gr. Black Talon here in 10mm. Not the hottest of loads through a 10mm, but one that is controllable and accurate. I would rather have a lighter hit than a loud miss. Expensive, even sold some of my stash to fund an AR build. Looking for something close to this rounds performance for future. Any ideas?

  29. I live in constant terror of being targeted and cruelly murdered by a block, or a gang of blocks (block-bangers?) of evil ballistics gel. My only consolation is consuming massive quantities of ammunition manufacturers’ marketing hype.

    I remember the old days before the advent of new, improved bullets with “modern technology” in them. In the old days, bullets would just bounce off of bad guys, or criminals would laugh when shot and say “that didn’t hurt”. In the old west no one ever died, or was even slightly inconvenienced, when hit by a cast lead bullet propelled by black powder.

    Blocks of jello are blocks of jello, and people are people. Some people take incredible amounts of damage before they give up, and others will fall to the ground and scream in pain if you shoot at them and miss. Until the data linking bullet design and efficacy in stopping an adversary is collected, analyzed, and published, I will continue to rely on big, heavy bullets moving as fast as possible.

  30. I would appreciate courteous replies to this statement…
    (It was originally posted as a reply to Timothy, and his comment.)
    It seems to me, from watching a lot of videos of ballistic-gel testing, that you may be a bit off-base here. It’s been my impression, and testers say this too, that hollowpoints that go faster tend to fold back farther, just after opening up, which makes them SMALLER.
    There is then less resistance, and the bullet penetrates farther, but makes a smaller hole. This is both good and bad, depending on what you want to accomplish.
    I think this point, which is a different point, is an important one: I’ve also seen many testers get very different results from the same ammo in different calibers. Why? Because that ammo was designed for one caliber, then made in a different size much later…but without carefully adjusting the strength of the petals for different- sized and differently-loaded ammo, like adding a +P version, for example.
    I’ve downloaded and saved those outstanding Lucky Gunner tests, and if my memory is correct, my statements are supported by those tests.

    • Well, from the tests I’ve seen: when a hollow point fails to leave a nice wound channel it is due to two reasons – it failed to expand properly or it expanded and fragmented.
      If it does not expand due to low velocity, the solution is make it go faster.
      If it does not expand due to foreign material blocking the cavity (usually fabric), choose a different bullet.
      If it fragments after expanding, slow it down or choose a stronger design.
      Lots of variables to consider when a bullet does not do what it’s supposed to do… it’s why I’ve become a fan of the Ruger ARX: no expansion at all, doesn’t need to. Loses it’s energy quickly and won’t overpenetrate. No fragmentation, stays whole and retains near 100% weight. Also has lighter recoil due to being VERY light for the caliber and is cheaper due to ease of manufacturing. Damn near a perfect bullet for unarmored two legged varmints.
      If the question is for armored varmints(?) or game animals – choose something else.

  31. Meh. I’m comfortable with any well-known premium offering that functions well in my gun — Hornady, Speer, Federal, Remington. I don’t do a lot of research, just shoot a box of 20-25 through a semi (or don’t particularly worry about testing at all with a revolver).

    I’d do more if I was trying some fancy new bullet style, I suppose

  32. I think I’ll go with ammo that’s considered “old but still good” which means it has a proven tract record. That said, Hydrashoks for my .357s are fine, I have some #4 buck in the 12ga and some 55gr ball in my AR-15 for the home guns.

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