Jeff Gonzales: The Truth About Self-Defense Ammunition

In his video below, The Range at Austin‘s gun guru Jeff Gonzales simplifies the whole “what ammo for my carry gun” equation. Which is just as it should be. Obsessing about your carry ammo is a great landing at the wrong airport. Once you’ve got something that goes bang that offers adequate penetration, you’re good to stow. But don’t take my word for it . . .

Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent weapons and tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned unapologetically to the world at large. Currently he is the Director of Training at The Range at Austin. learn more about his passion and what he does at


  1. avatar Paul53 says:

    The title led me to expect a little more about ammo. Thanks for serving, Jeff.

  2. avatar Vhyrus says:

    Being a former SEAL does not make you some god prophet over all things ballistic. It just makes you a guy that shot a lot of guns and trained a lot. Just sayin.

    1. avatar mer says:

      But the fact that you’ve shot a lot of guns (probably different guns) under conditions that pretty much mandate “must never fail to go bang” makes your advice more valuable than what you get from your average internet “gun guru”.

      In all honesty, what is the most important characteristic for an EDC firearm and ammunition? Bang, every time the trigger is pulled. Repeatable accuracy is probably next so that things go where you want (being able to control the firearm is part of this). Penetration and expansion are likely tied for next on the list (paper cuts don’t have much of either but they hurt, and if you got 1000 of them).
      For the record, I’m not a former SEAL or even an average internet gun guru. Just a guy that likes guns and has an opinion.

      1. avatar Nick says:

        Except that the military is explicitly banned from using expanding projectiles.

        1. avatar David says:

          They aren’t explicitly banned, or banned at all, for our military. It was one of the Hague conventions which outlawed this, and we never signed it. We just don’t use them cause most other major militaries don’t and it would look bad if we did.

        2. avatar WILCO says:

          i’m military policeman, we use hollow points on U.S soil. ball oconus

        3. avatar Cliff H says:

          But you can shoot a guy with a .50 BMG?

          Treaty or no, signature or no, what would happen if you used a quality JHP in combat (especially covert combat)? Somebody from Belgium is going to show up on the battlefield and arrest you and take you to the Hague for trial?

    2. avatar Warren says:

      Nowhere in the video did he state anything about his service. That just seems to be the standard tagline TTAG likes to feed whenever they introduce him, sort of like how they always call JWT “resident war hero” (which is actually something JWT doesn’t seem to be a huge fan of… it seems like he just tolerates RF always trotting that line out). I’ve not actually seen anything Jeff Gonzales has said on TTAG where he’s all “as a former SEAL you should listen to my opinion.”
      In fact, if you’re going for any kind of takeaway from that video, it’s that he’s really good at stating the blindingly obvious.

    3. avatar Hank says:

      Military experience, particularly from a SEAL is very valuable. You may personally dismiss it at your will and consider yourself superior. That’s fine. But combat experience actually does have a lot of important information for your typical DGU, even though it’s popular here on TTAG to dismiss it as irrelevant. Military/combat experience shows you that the constant bickering about caliber wars, the nit picking over ammo, or glock vs 1911, the far more important thing is being able to shoot back effectively. With whatever platform or round you choose.

    4. avatar Tom says:

      Yea but that guy has shot a lot more guns than most of us have. He has shot those guns in adverse conditions against armed targets engaging him. His training has been based off of the experience of many professionals before him and constantly evolving to face current threats. He has trained on more rifles, handguns, and other weapons than a large majority of the rest of the world. Various calibers, various weapons systems, in various conditions. He has been training and executing his craft inside of buildings doing CQC, outdoors in all climate conditions, and in some of the most extreme terrains in the world.

      While simply being a SEAL does not make you an expert in all matters gun. I will certainty listen and absorb any information or insights that he can provide. His experience and little tips he has learned are the insights and anecdotes we find alluring. It’s the “behind the curtain” of one of the most prestigious military groups in the world.

  3. avatar Texheim says:

    Can we please get a write up, I don’t want to watch a video

    1. avatar Warren says:

      The video’s a minute and a half…. how friggin’ lazy ARE you???

      1. avatar Texheim says:

        Lazy? Reading and comprehending are lazier compared to watching?

      2. avatar None says:

        Some people are just not fans of videos, plus the sound can be disturbing to others around you.

        1. avatar Twelve.gauge says:

          This ^

        2. avatar DaveW says:

          The cadence and other factors involving the speaker/narrator in some of these videos drives me nuts. Some sound like they have forgotten how to speak once the camera is on them. Some are monotones. There are a lot of other factors as well, like the ones which drag on and on and on, but don’t leave this page… when you could read the information much faster, and skip over the filler junk information.

        3. avatar Shwiggie says:

          And some of us have garbage home internet. I can load an article in seconds, but I have to let 360p YouTube videos buffer for a while before I can watch at home. And I read a whole lot faster than people not named John Moschitta can talk.

        4. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

          Just so long as the videos aren’t autoloading. That’s the one thing that really makes me want to go postal and the only things to shoot around here are the wife’s cats and that would get me in some pretty deep do-do. So knock it the freak off with the autoloading videos! I’m talking to you, internet.

        5. avatar Hannibal says:

          Yep. Come to TTAG for writing, which is feeling like a lost art more and more.

  4. avatar Shire-man says:

    The people who obsess over these things are doing so because they like to obsess over things.
    Where once two 8 year olds screamed and flailed over which Pokemon were better to wander around Pewter City with now two 40 year olds argue and flail about which greasy liquid is best to dump all over their pistols or which pellets are best to fill said pistols with.

    Having not been one of those kids I am not one of those adults. I’ll dump bar and chain oil on my secondhand pistol loaded with FMJ bulk pack. It’ll still put holes in doods.

    1. avatar TX_Lawyer says:

      But will it put the best holes in them?

    2. avatar jwm says:

      What about doodettes?

  5. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    In my experience, Federal makes some of the most consistent ammo in the commercial market. From what I’ve seen by viewing countless ballistics gel tests, the Federal Hydra-Shok is about the baseline for modern self-defense ammo. There’s better self-defense ammo out there, but IMO, you have two big choices: ball, ie, FMJ ammo (which will penetrate, but not expand) or a HP ammo that will expand more often than not (otherwise, just now different will be be than FMJ ammo?).

    Federal’s Hydra-Shok was the first of the HP bullets that would expand more often than not, it has a long track record, it has been used by LEO’s for years and years.. You can find it just about everywhere, whereas some of the newer/hotter self defense rounds are often available only via online/mail order.

    I’ve had ignition failures on Remington (one of the worst, in my experience), Winchester, and PMC.

    1. avatar Ed says:

      Non-magnum hydra-shoks have a nasty tendency to bounce off even semi hard objects. I also find federal to be loaded to very low end specs and to chrono under advertised speeds. I do like the HST projectile. Federal/American eagle is my preferred plinking round, but I usually carry Sig V-crown Buffallo bore or some kind of bonded JHP like a Magtech or Winchester Ranger.

    2. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      Of course if you shoot a revo lver, you can also benefit from the use of SJHPs, SJSPs or even the infamous LSWCHP – a bu llet design Buffalo Bore refers to as the ‘Deer Grenade’.

  6. avatar Sal DeGiorgio says:

    WOW! That was jam packed with Ssooooooooooo much useful info. NOT!

  7. avatar Sal DeGiorgio says:

    WOW! Jam packed soooooo much useful info. NOT!

  8. avatar Adam says:

    Very informative testing done by Lucky Gunner

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      My one beef with the Lucky Gunner tests is that when it came to .357 magnum they tested only one single full power load and that was a leadless one at that. Most of those loads are 9mm+p masquerading as .357.

  9. avatar Andrew Lias says:

    There’s a few boutique makers I’d give consideration to, not mentioned. Underwood, Buffalo Bore and Black Hills and Doubletap come to mind. This doesn’t include the fact that so many gun companies are hocking their own ammo these days.

  10. avatar Adam says:

    I was really surprised by the Lucky Gunner Tests. Sometimes stuff like Hydro Shock worked great, other times it completely sucked. The ammo I ultimately chose did great for 9mm but did horrible in .45.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      That’s why I couched my appraisal of self-defense ammo’s as I did – choose something that performs better than FMJ “more often than not.” Just about all HP self-defense ammo’s have failures. Heck, even well-regarded hunting bullets have failures. I had a failure of a 130 grain Nosler Partition on a pronghorn once – the bullet broke into multiple pieces – on a pronghorn, perhaps the thinnest-skinned, lightest-boned large game animal in North America.

      Expanding projectiles sometimes don’t. Sometimes they fragment and won’t penetrate due to weight & energy loss. Sometimes, they’ll shed jackets – or tumble, or.. .insert any one of a dozen other modes of failure.

      There are no perfect bullets, there are few (if any) “perfect” shots in a self-defense situation. It’s all a mathematical cloud of probabilities and possible outcomes…

    2. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      That really shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Both rounds run very close to the same muz zle energies (although the slower heavier .45s retain a bit more downrange) unless you get into the hottest +p+ stuff. But the .45 has about 60% more frontal area and it just doesn’t have the oomph to push deep into flesh (or gel) if it expands by 80%.

  11. avatar Curtis in IL says:

    What is often written, but I have not seen verified, is that you should arm yourself with whatever ammo your local law enforcement uses, lest some overzealous prosecutor label you as a bloodthirsty murderer after a DGU because of your super deadly killer ammo.

    Also, “Critical Defense” and “Critical Duty” sound better than “Black Talons” in a courtroom. Again, I have seen no actual judiciary anecdotes to back this up.

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      Something tells me the prosecutor would object and the judge would disallow any testimony eluding to the fact that you’re using the same amm o as the local PD.

      1. avatar Curtis in IL says:

        Not sure why you would say that. If the prosecutor questions my ammo choice, my own lawyer can ask me why I chose it. And my reply would be that I asked my deputy friend what he uses on the job and I figured it was good enough for me.

        1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

          Because they are agents of the state and you and I are just peons who think it’s alright to carry around a weapon and take responsibility for our own self defense instead of cowering under a table, dialing 911 and waiting 40 minutes for the state to come and rescue us.

  12. avatar No one of consequence says:

    Step 1: What looks good in my caliber? (See Lucky Gunner site mentioned above, and some other websites on penetration and expansion data)

    Step 2: order some

    Step 3: see which ones the gun likes and you’re accurate with.

    Solution found? Good, you’re done. Not found (e.g. all in Step 3 didn’t work for some reason or other), go back to Step 1 and repeat.

    Not that hard, and it includes range time!

  13. avatar ropingdown says:

    Sometimes I just have to laugh, laugh at me, perhaps at us.

    When I actually had to go out day after day to fly into LZs over territory full of triple A and 51 cal, I was given no choice of 7.62 ammo for my M60, no choice of ammo for my M16A1, and, for example, no opportunity to buy a new feed tray to replace the ratty one in my M60.

    Now I approximately never face an armed confrontation, and there are only one or two burglaries every few years within a mile of my home and office, and no murders. Nonetheless, I test and chose only the best most reliable ammo, and assure that my firearms have only the highest-quality parts.

    When I needed the best, they gave me somewhat worn out guns and generic ammo. Now that I wallow in the lap of luxurious suburban peace…well, I’m ready for ’em, dammit!

    And I have to laugh…but I still read the ammo reviews.

  14. avatar former water walker says:

    Well I am decidedly not a gunguru. And not hung up on handgun ammo. I use Sig because it’s cheap and seems OK in videos. If I want a one shot stop I’ll use my 12gauge shotgun…

  15. avatar matty 9 says:

    I’m no special operator operating tactically in tactical operations……but…..methinks we can all agree shot placement may be the most important issue at hand. I also think most folks first focus on penetration/expansion prior to training….cart before the horse???? Just sayin.

  16. avatar Lhstr says:

    HSTR, ammo is the best ammo that I have used. 9mm vol. is 1120 fps, Goes bang every-time, handmade for me. Now that’s a little bullshit from me. I do my reloads and I shoot it heavy. Just what I prefer. I know all about the no reloads and etc. My Gun, my way period.

    1. avatar Curtis in IL says:

      After several thousand rounds of my own handloads, the data indicates they are exactly as reliable as the storebought stuff. That’s pistol ammo through a single stage press. The shotgun reloads through the Mec progressive I wouldn’t count on.

      Your mileage may vary.

  17. avatar Michael says:

    I agree with No one……pick an ammo and test it in your gun to make sure it feeds and extracts reliably. Had a kimber (.45) that didn’t like anything but hydrashoks….go figure. Of course, my S&W 66 likes them all…..

  18. avatar strych9 says:

    I’ve been using Golden Saber for a decade plus in all of the “big 3” calibers and see no particular reason to switch at this point in time.

    I’ve never had a problem with it going bang and it’s accurate enough.

  19. avatar Dennis in SC says:

    What? No love for Shooting the Bull?

  20. avatar Specialist38 says:

    Sorry. I’ll hang with Ayoob, Marshall and Sanow.

    At least the took an actual look at shootings. The FBI came up with a test that could be quantified so ammo makers built ammo to hit that criteria. Time will tell if all of it is effective.

    The big FBI move to 10mm was influenced by the Miami shootout where 9mm Silvertip was scape-gated for the debacle when the tactics are what we’re lacking.

    I’ll continue to carry the 9mm golden sabre and federal 9BPLE for defense. There may be equals but none better.

    LE agencies are a poor bellwether since cost is usually the deciding factor in adoption. And last I checked the military uses fmj for most applications.

  21. avatar rt66paul says:

    I, for one, do not want to be shot with any ammo. All ammo can kill , if it doesn’t, it usually hurts. It really doesn’t matter, it gets thier attention.

  22. avatar Peter says:

    Speer? And how about HORNADY?

  23. avatar Docduracoat says:

    With the popularity of “mouse guns” in .380, there is a lot of controversy if hollow points are even a good idea in that caliber
    Many experts say that round is relatively underpowered and will not both expand and penetrate reliably.
    One school of thought states that fmj or even wad cutter is a better choice in .380 as these will reliably give the needed penetration.
    You do need to test your self defense ammo in your particular gun
    It is strange how 2 guns of the same caliber may not reliably feed the same ammo

  24. avatar Russ H says:

    The sad part is how many people do all the research, buy that $1.50 per round ammo and never check to see if it functions in their pistol (unless it’s a revolver).

    If you don’t test fire at least 100 rounds of what you’re going to load that pistol with (and the magazines) you’re making a serious mistake.

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