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I’ve been thinking about Robert Fargo’s question How much ammo do you carry? I’ve been wondering how a shooter’s available ammo supply relates to their strategy and training for a defensive gun use (DGU). A shooter who carries a snub-nosed revolver without spare ammunition has far fewer options that the citizen carrying a high capacity service pistol and several spare magazines. The difference can range anywhere between five to 50 (or more) rounds. Is that a life-or-death difference? Or is training the key variable no matter how many (or few) rounds you carry? Conventional wisdom says . . .

When you train to use your gun for self-defense, shoot to stop. Basically keep shooting until there’s no longer a threat. You may kill your assailant or you may not. The important goal: eliminating the chance that they can harm you, your loved ones or (perhaps) other innocent life.

Under the stress of a DGU, we are far more likely to “overshoot” our target. In other words, fire more rounds than are strictly, objectively necessary. If someone is charging at you with a knife, you’re not going to check his pulse after every round to see if he’s stopping.

Nor are you going to count rounds as your brain (eventually) struggles to assess your attacker’s ballistically altered offensive capabilities. There’s a large body of evidence showing that shooters involved in a DGU—both civilians and police—can’t recall how many shots they have fired.

As long as the bullets get the job done and no innocent bystanders are aerated, there’s only one major problem: another threat. The dangers of going to slide-lock (i.e. emptying your gun) against attacker #1 is great if attacker #1 is the only threat. Since we can’t see forward in time, attackers #2 and #3 could still show up after we’re empty. So . . .

If you carry a pocket pistol or revolver without spare ammo, do you train to be more conservative with your shots? Do you err on the side of accuracy over speed because the lack of a well placed shot would make a bigger difference when you only have a few of them? Or do you hold your breath and cross your fingers that that statistics work in your favor and you’ll only need three shots to end the fight?

If you carry a high[er] capacity firearm with a lot of ammo and spare mag or mags, do you train to unleash as much lead as possible as accurately as possible and hope for the best? Double taps? Or do you train to continually assess the need to fire each individual bullet?

[Nick Savery (not shown) is the author of, a blog discussing integrating training across a variety of systems and platforms for the purposes of self-defense.]

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  1. I train for the double tap, 2 rounds very quick, and then reassess my situation. If I found myself needing 30 or 50 rounds, then I have done something VERY wrong in being aware of my surroundings, and I’ll need more than a handgun. There was an incident in Philly about 5 years ago, when my wife and I were traveling in the city often, to visit my infant son in the hospital. Upon leaving the hospital we came up on an intersection where I could see at least eight police cars with lights on to my left in a crowd of well over 200 people with a LOT of movement. My wife said, “Oh look! I wonder what is happening there, let’s go see.” This was all happening on the street we were supposed to take, but I didn’t make the turn. Instead I went 4 blocks further out, then made my turn and bypassed that whole area by at least 4 city blocks. I explained to my wife that the situation did not look friendly, and we had no need to see what it was about. My plan is to not be in a place where I need 30 to 50 rounds. However the best laid plans sometimes fail, so if I’m carrying, it’s a Glock 17, and if I know I’m going to be in or near a bad place where things go dowm the toilet quickly, then I’ll carry an extra mag, and most likely throw the 12 ga in the car’s trunk with a couple boxes of shells.

    • +1 and once again let’s all say it together: “Avoid stupid people doing stupid things in stupid places.”

      • “Avoid stupid people doing stupid things in stupid places.”

        “Avoid stupid people doing stupid things in stupid places.”

        “Avoid stupid people doing stupid things in stupid places.”

        I’ll be chanting this all day as my mantra, because I don’t want to win any stupid prizes as mentioned below. Thanks for posting this, made me smile.

      • I’ve heard a slightly longer version, which goes “avoid stupid people doing stupid things in stupid places at stupid times”.

        That said, sometimes stupid comes looking for you. I always carry a couple extra mags, basically as an extension of the logic of why I carry a gun in the first place. I probably won’t need them, but if I need them, I’ll really need them.

        • “That said, sometimes stupid comes looking for you.”
          Oh, I agree completely. Thus the rifle. But I like to think that I can cut my risk of needing to use a weapon to a minimum by remembering to “avoid stupid people doing stupid things in stupid places.” That other 0.01% of the time is why I carry a gun.

    • My everyday carry is a 45. magnum 6 shot revolver and my shoulder rig has two ammo pouches under my other arm and each one holds 12 bullets.

      I sometimes will still carry my snubbie for a back-up with 2 speed loaders but I don’t ever expect to have to pull it unless a riot or war breaks out while I am away from home.

      I also like to carry my pistol-grip pump shotgun when I take my dogs out for a walk in the woods and with my 50 round bandolier of shells over my shoulder.

  2. I carry 8+1 in JMB’s baby and a spare mag on the weak-side hip. If I need more than that, I’m fighting my way toward a rifle. Say, the one in my truck, for instance…

    To answer the question, yes, I suppose my carry style has dictated my training style to some extent. I’ll usually fire two mags, then retrieve the target and check the results.

  3. “Avoid stupid people doing stupid things in stupid places.”

    This. Repeat as a daily affirmation until the significance sinks in.

    Statistically, the vast majority of defense engagements don’t need more than a couple rounds of ammo. Talk of carrying ‘n’ magazines or speed loaders is silly, because then carrying becomes a bigger and bigger hassle, and eventually one stops doing it because it’s heavy, complicated and tiring by the end of the day.

    The person who carries a 5-round snubby in their pocket, everywhere, every day, is better prepared than the tacti-cool dude who sometimes has a tricked-out 1911 and umpteen mags on his web gear… and then nothing when he has to go somewhere in jeans and a t-shirt.

    First rule of gunfights: Have a gun. A snubby with only five rounds is sufficient to satisfy this requirement.

    • I agree completely. I carry one gun no reloads or one gun with one reload if I’m going to be in a bad area. I shake my head at all this talk about multiple reloads, backup guns etc. over 25 yrs I carriedf daily for both offensive and defensive purposes and never needed to reload, in some of the allegedly most dangerous neighborhoids in this country. Carry to live; don’t live to carry.

    • I agree completely. I carry one gun no reloads or one gun with one reload if I’m going to be in a bad area. I shake my head at all this talk about multiple reloads, backup guns etc. over 25 yrs I carried daily for both offensive and defensive purposes and never needed to reload, in some of the allegedly most dangerous neighborhoids in this country. Carry to live; don’t live to carry.

  4. The Trayvon Martin case is a good example of how your DGU can weight heavily in the court of public opinion.

    It would be interesting to see some stats on the average number of rounds used in CIVILIAN DGU’s.

    I’ve always been of the opinion that should I empty two double stack magazines into a person, then I’m likely going to jail. If you land all 17 rounds (That my M&P carries), then it’s a little over kill. If you land 5 and miss with 12, then how dangerous are you being to other innocents in the area? Where did those rounds go? Cause you’re responsible for all of them. I read somewhere that the average police shoot has a 25% hit percentage. Meaning they miss 75% of the time.

    When I go to the woods to practice I carry 4 magazines. I in the gun, two on hip to practice reloading and (that never gets shot) should I encounter bad guys in the woods looking to rob me after I’ve emptied my gun.

    But normally I just carry 1 in the gun, and one in my pocket and my carry gun is a Kahr P9.

  5. As my standard I carry Walther P1, 8 rds+1 in the chamber, 1 backup mag, with 2 mags in vehicle, and train double tap. I also train for multiple mag carry, although I usually load only 2 rds per to save money on ammo. Rapid change of mag is something a lot of people do not work on.

  6. If the purpose of a handgun is to stop a fight someone else started, you only need enough ammunition to break off an attack.

    At some point in time, you are expected by morality and law to stop shooting. This time frame is typically of brief duration. If you shoot a thirty-round magazine to slide lock, you will look like an aggressor to the DA and a grand jury.

    It is self-defeating to win a gunfight only to be incarcerated later with the same type of violent criminal aggressors you were hoping to distance yourself from when you shot at your attacker(s).

    So, carry a gun that is reliable in operation. Train to shoot three-round bursts, then quickly evaluate the results. If your handgun is chambered for a reasonably powerful cartridge and your rounds have struck COM, your attacker will likely have lost all further interest in you. (Unless you are a “White Hispanic” and your assailant is a member of the politically protected class, the DA will evince little interest in you, either.) ;^)

    A five-shot .38 snubby should prove adequate for the overwhelming majority of DGU but the new class of “pocket nines” may also be a good choice. By contrast, the high-capacity 9mm cuts both ways.

    Be safe; shoot sparingly but shoot well.

  7. Robert Fargo? Actually has a good sound to it. Brings that film to mind. Stick with for a few weeks on a trial basis?

  8. Because we are responsible for each and every round fired, it is imperative to keep them on target. Since two or three rounds are likely the minimum required per threat, multiple assailants cannot be stopped with a five-shot handgun but if one goes down, others are unlikely to stick around to see if you run out before you get to them. Reloading before the situation is resolved is unlikely to be an option at the near contact distances common to self-defense incidents, but the snubbie you have beats the AR you don’t. Those who can routinely carry something with more than a dozen rounds are obviously better prepared, but few of us can comfortably conceal a pistol of that size in clothing which doesn’t blatantly telegraph that we’re packing.

    • “but few of us can comfortably conceal a pistol of that size in clothing which doesn’t blatantly telegraph that we’re packing.”
      My 5’4″, 105 lb wife can conceal a full-size 1911, and still look hot. It’s not so much the size of the gun; it’s how you carry it.

      • see, I dont buy that. Whenever I google something like “glock 19 concealed IWB, (or some similar sized gun)” all the pictures that return are either A. very obviously printing or B. some guy who claims to be comfortably carrying but wearing pants that a clearly way too big and other than where the gun is are clearly cinched between the belt loops and sagging a little, and almost all of them if not all of them are wearing some nasty way oversized short sleeved button down or a very heavy way over sized and perhaps double layered knit shirt. The one exception to this rule that I have ever seen is the guy (about my size) who wrote the article in favor of appendix carry he had a couple shots in shorts and a fairly fitted shirt and seemed to pull it off ok.

        If I want to wear anything that even closely resembles my normal attire, its going to be a smaller gun and it will probably be appendix carry. I have tried both my glock 22 and my 1911 from my fullsize lineup and the grips noticeably printed on both of them when appendix carried and I have plenty of errr… real estate to hide it under. IWB at 4 o-clock, fuggetaboutit. Now that was with just a single t-shirt so maybe some of my more formal attire wouldnt be so bad, but most people who carry fullsize guns either print, lie about it and dont, or look like complete goobers… thats fact

  9. Great commentary. I usually carry a snubbie .357, Glock 27, or Glock 35 depending upon what I’m wearing. If I have the room and inclination to carry more, I will. My titanium / scandium .357 weighs less than 15 ounces loaded, but only holds 5 shoots. It’s easily my lightest and most comfortable gun, and spends the most time with me. My goal is to make a good hit with each and every shot, regardless of what I’m using.

    If the SHTF, and there’s a whole lot of S, then I’m working my way back to my AR or 12 gauge. Either way, I’ve already decided that I’m not leaving this earth without a fight, and the lives of my loved ones are not free for the taking.

  10. I don’t carry extra ammo for either my 1911 (7+1 rounds) or snubby (5 rounds). I usually carry the 1911, but often times it is just easier to carry the snubby.

    I train to do double taps. Sometimes with the 1911 my finger just wants to do a third, (gotta do something about that).

    Far as I am concerned, either gun should be suffecent to take care of anything that comes my way. If not, then the situation requires plan “B”, to be determined on the spot.

    • “then the situation requires plan “B”, to be determined on the spot.” Which is reload, and move to disengage if your current ammo reserve is not sufficient to the task at hand.

  11. Do I train according to my ammo capacity? No. I train to hit my target, first shot and every shot. In the event that I might fail to do so, I have extras on board.

    I often carry a five shot snubby with a couple of speedloaders for backup. It’s more ammo than I will ever need. Ever. For the life of me, I can’t imagine a situation where I would need, say, 17 rounds of 9mm to extracate myself from trouble. Not that I’m against so-called “hi-cap” guns, but they’re not necessary for me.

    • Exactly. I said it on the subject of ammo type. I said it on the subject of over penetration. I’ll say it here, in my oponion accuracy and shot placement are the most important things. I just had this same conversation with some friends less than a week ago. I carry a old school 1911 in .45 with 7 in the mag and nothing chambered. I carry one spare mag, and honostly I don’t see myself ever having to use it. My friends carry high cap weapons with at least two or three spares. They think I don’t carry enough and I think they are carrying to much. If you’re carrying 5 rounds or 50 rounds, shot placement is important. I was trained to put 2 to 3 shots center mass, and then quickly re-evaluate the situation. Like Mark said, even if you’re approached by multiple BGs, if you shoot one of them, the rest aren’t likely going to stick around. You are responsible for every round you fire. Don’t use more than you need to get the job done. The army did some studies many years back where groups of people were given various hand guns and told to engage hostile targets. On average people with high cap weapons and plenty of spares tended to go overboard and have a high miss rate, while people using low cap weapons, like revolvers, had better shot placememt and conserved ammo without even thinking about it. The army concluded it was a subconscious thing. If you know you have plenty of ammo, you’re most likely going to use it. Things like that can be overcome with training, but still something to think about. I’ll try to dig up those old studies when I get home tonight.

      • Problem is, when that backup mag fires dry you are screwed. 14 rds just might not get the job done, where as having more ammo than you need is only a problem when your 5ton or humvee breaks down and you got to hump it all out on your back.

        • Yes, but my plan isn’t to get involved in a prolonged fire fight with someone. Shoot enough times to disable the attacker or attackers. Then get to a safer place. I just can’t see spending all day carrying 50 rounds of ammo on me and thinking is it enough. At least not in my everyday situations.

    • Either all of what Ralph just said, or this:

      I almost always carry a 5-shot S&W model 340 or a model 642. Occasionally, I carry a Glock model 26 with 7 + 1 capacity. I always carry speedloaders or a spare magazine. Like Ralph, I practice extensively for accuracy and I always use my speedloaders to reload, even at the range. I also shoot with one hand and with my weak hand every fun/training session.

      In addition, I participate in the weekly handgun shooting league at my club. There, about 85% shoot semi auto rimfire, with almost all using red dot electronic sights. The remaining 15% of us shoot centerfire, with many using 5-inch barrels and red dot electronic sights. I am the only one using a snubbie with iron sights, the aforementioned model 340 or a model 642, both with the Crimson Trace lasers shut off. Although this shooting is not fast nor “tactical,” with practice I have become very good at collecting 10-ring and X-shots. I also don’t care if I win the competitions, my goal is to just become better with the tools I carry.

    • Training to be accurate is definitely a priority. What does someone do after being shot with a handgun? Usually the same thing they were doing before being shot by a handgun. One shot will rarely stop a threat.

      The question is how does this and our capacity change how we train? Like some people have mentioned, I can fire a per-determined number of shots and then assess, or ideally be constantly assessing and stop shooting when the threat is neutralized.

      I’m going to lean more towards the second option, especially with limited capacity. I can spare an extra round to always shoot two if I have a high-cap, but if I’m limited I want to use only what I need to in order to get the job done.

  12. I don’t have a CHL yet but I’m working on it. Plan on getting a small 9mm or 38 revolver. I figured that a full load and 1 reload on my person would be sufficient in an in town carry. But When I’m out hunting for coyote or pigs with my AR I carry 2 30 round P-mags and if I’m carrying my hi-power I have 2 13rd Mec-gar mags (1 HP and 1 FMJ) I picked up 160 rounds of JHP from a girl selling off her dead dads guns.
    100 rd Federal, 20 golden saber, 40 black talon.
    Or if I have my 40cal I carry 4 magazines 1hp and 3 fmj for general shooting.

    My shooting style for self defense when I’m at a range that allows rapid fire is the mogadishu/mozambique drill.

  13. I practice the double tap as well; 2 rounds from my Commander Length 1911PD is sure to put most BG’s down with the right shot placment. If it does not I can always re-engage. If I was facing a large mob of people perhaps I would re-consider though….gets me thinking that maybe I should practice more multi-target engagments and reloading while walking backwards.

    • The other thing to consider is the multiple occasions where a large guy loaded up on PCP was able to absorb a dozen or more rounds in engagements with the police. If someone is charging you, can you afford to shoot two and check?

      Most of us are likely to shoot until slide lock anyway in that situation, but it is something worth thinking about.

  14. I try to carry as much ammo for my guns as possible. I didn’t always but a few years ago my team and I ran into a hard target. I capped off a belt in my M60E3 and then picked up my dead friends mini-gun. I fired off a few thousand rounds from it while my team members fired off what must easily have been the basic load on 5.56, 9mm, and 40mm. We only slightly wounded the target. In the end, I had to crush it with a tree log.

    So now, I carry a .45 ACP long slide, Uzi 9mm, 12 gauge autoloader, and a 40 watt plasma rifle.

  15. The trick to all this is where you live. I live just outside the SF Bay Area to the North. Every time I go into the bay area I am packing 3-10 round .45ACP mags + XD .45ACP. With Uber-Liberal Sanctuary Cities comes uber-crime. I am considering putting the Benelli in the trunk…

  16. One point my CCW instructor made was that many failures are due to a problem or damaged magazine.

    He recommended carrying two, more for backup than for the total # of rounds carried.

    Another important aspect to this question, which hasn’t been explicitly addressed is: What scenario are you preparing for? Single assailant, group of gang-bangers, or TEOTWAWKI?

    Much as we like to be “prepared,” there are practical limits to what we can do as individuals.

    • True.

      My carry days are only for self-defense. I assume one to two assailants. Even a gang is going to turn and run when the first one or two develop sudden onset sucking chest wounds. I have 13 rounds of Hornady Critical Defense in my G21. If that does not solve my immediate DGU needs, then it is TEOTWAWKI.

  17. and then there is the recent cop-perp shoot-out where the cop used 44rds of .45 to obtain 13 hits on the BG, including one to the head (perp lived to get to the hospital). cop now carries 150rds daily.

    shot placement and good penetration are king, but moving targest, pumped energy, fear, disbelief all work to overcome cool, calm collected shot patterns (oh, and then there is the cop killed because after firing 3rds, stopped to ‘re-evaluate’ and the fully capable BG just kept shooting.



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