Responsibly Choosing Personal Protection Ammunition: A Quick Overview

Responsibly Choosing Personal Protection Ammunition: A Quick Overview

Choosing proper ammunition for your carry gun or home defense firearm is a matter of real importance.  First and foremost, the ammunition must absolutely, 100% of the time, function in the gun you’ve chosen for personal protection.  The only way to ensure this is to actually purchase proper types of ammunition from quality manufacturers and shoot some through your firearm.  A magazine or two would be a bare minimum test, but we suggest going further and testing 50-100 rounds, with a real stringent test being 200 rounds of your chosen defensive ammunition with no malfunctions to declare it “real world ready”.   Sure, the cost of such ammunition will be notably more than full metal jacket range ammo, but how much is your life worth?  Accuracy and controllability are factors too–if you can’t shoot it well, or your gun produces mediocre accuracy with it, the hottest highest tech loads will do you little good.  Test the ammo!

After reliability has been established, one should look to the performance of the ammunition in question.  Be it pistol or rifle ammunition, take a look at real world track records of the rounds you are thinking about.  Are they widely issued and used by law enforcement, for example, and do they have a satisfactory record in producing incapacitation when used against violent perpetrators?  Do the rounds meet an accepted standard of testing, such as the FBI protocols, to ensure that the bullets themselves can be depended upon to expand consistently and reach certain standards of penetration for best results, where too much may increase risk of collateral damage, and not enough may fail to reach vital organs and stop a life-threatening attack?  

It’s generally recommended to choose ammunition by leading manufacturers, as opposed to small mom & pop companies, but if you do opt for a smaller brand, do your research to ensure the components used are superior in quality, and the manufacturer’s quality control is adequate to trust safe use of it in your firearm.   Leading brands and types of ammo that are widely used and have met such standards include Federal HST, Speer Gold Dot, Winchester SXT/Ranger, and the solid copper Barnes XPB loads (loaded by Barnes as complete ammunition, as well as smaller boutique brands of good reputation such as Black Hills, Wilson Combat, or ASYM Precision)   

Be sure to spend some time researching, as there are many good choices, but some may be distinctly better than others when taking into account the caliber you’re using, the size and weight of the gun (and how that influences your ability to control recoil), and how barrel length may influence bullet performance.  For example, while I often like a hot, higher velocity middle-weight load in 9mm like the Federal 124-grain HST +P in a duty sized pistol like a Glock 17 or HK P30, if carrying a smaller pistol like a S&W Shield or Glock 43/48, the heavier weight 147 grain HST becomes preferred, due to its milder recoil characteristics with still truly stellar expansion and consistent penetration that the HST line of ammo is famed for.  

Another factor to consider, too: some smaller companies have emerged producing lines of expanding ammo with controversial or extra-scary sounding product lines.  Consider very carefully before selecting this type of ammunition for personal protection.  The reason for this is several-fold.  First, these types of ammo are seldom if ever adopted or used by any major agencies, and as such, have little or no street track record to go off of in terms of actual effectiveness; while spectacular in some marketing-biased ballistic gelatin tests, they often don’t meet the FBI minimum standards that ensure reliable performance in a wide range of scenarios.  This type of ammo is also extremely expensive even by hollowpoint standards due to the economy of production scale, which militates against the buyer doing much testing for reliability and accuracy in their personal firearm.  Finally, the controversial names which sound cool when spouted about on forums, can create real issues if such ammo ends up being used in a defensive shooting, as attorneys can paint the user of such “extra lethal” ammo as being bloodthirsty or particularly sadistic to a jury composed of many individuals not necessarily sympathetic to firearms for defensive purposes to begin with.  

Assess your needs carefully, stick with proven products, and make sure you–and your firearm–handle the ammo well.   Do this, and you will be well served by your selection, should you ever need it.  


By:  Adam Keith. – RSO and Instructor at Bellevue Gun Club

If you, your family or organization is interested in private or group training please contact us.

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