law enforcement ammo

Is Civilian Self Defense Ammunition Different Than Law Enforcement Ammunition?

Naturally, you want to carry what the professionals do in your home defense or concealed carry gun, which is why a lot of people get interested in law enforcement ammunition. After all, if police depend on it to save their lives, why shouldn't you use it to save yours?

But is it any different than the ammunition you can buy in the stores?

You Can Totally Buy Law Enforcement Ammunition

how to buy law enforcement ammo

One of the first things that you might notice about law enforcement ammunition is that the major producers such as Remington and Winchester have law enforcement brands that specialize in making ammo for LEO use that they, according to their websites, don't sell to the public.

Take that a step further and browse for it on a few different websites. What you'll notice there is you'll have no problem adding it to your cart and buying it on some sites and others require law enforcement credentials before they'll sell it to you.

What gives?

The thing is that law enforcement ammunition is - in and of itself - not illegal to sell to the public. You can totally buy it. There is nothing preventing you from having it and putting it in your carry gun. Load up on Winchester Ranger, Remington Golden Saber or whatever cop ammo you want; there's no law against you having it.

Well...unless you live in New Jersey. In that state, you can buy hollow point bullets, and you can use them at the range. However you can't put them in your home defense handgun. You also can't put them in a carry gun, but it's not like you're going to be able to conceal and carry in New Jersey anyway because of their CCW laws. In that state, only the wealthy and connected are given the privilege of exercising their Second Amendment rights.

Why can't you buy it from some retailers, though?

Certain ammunition makers have decided certain products of theirs are only for the law enforcement market. Since ammunition makers don't sell directly to the public, product has to go through distributors. Some of those distributors have an agreement with the ammunition maker in question to only sell that ammunition to law enforcement agencies and personnel.

However, some stores are able to get it in stock and don't have the agreement so they sell to whomever they want. If you're keen to have one of those brands of bullets found in many duty guns that's how you'd get it.

Law Enforcement Ammunition Is Pretty Much Just A Regular Hollow Point

police hollow point bullets

So...the thing is that law enforcement ammunition (at least when it comes to handgun ammunition) isn't really that much different than what you'd find in the stores. In some cases it is slightly different in terms of construction, but not by so much that it actually matters.

For the most part, LEO ammo is just bonded hollow points. That's it. Granted, the team that designs them usually has an eye on passing the FBI protocols and they are usually formulated for use in a duty gun rather than a compact for concealed carry.

But with that said, there just isn't so much difference that you're missing out on anything.

Want some proof? Mwa ha ha!

law enforcement ammo hollow points

Lucky Gunner, who happen to sell ammunition as it happens, maintain a testing database called Lucky Gunner Labs. They test ammunition with part of the FBI protocol, namely about 24 inches of ballistic gelatin behind five layers of heavy clothing. A perfect simulation, it is not, but it's close enough to give one something of an idea of how a bullet will perform in tissue.

If you look at their ballistic tests, you'll see various makes and models tested. They fire five shots, then average penetration depth, expansion diameter and velocity.

How about...Winchester Ranger Bonded (a popular LEO brand of ammo) vs Winchester Defender? We civilians can easily get ahold of the latter, but can sometimes find issues buying the former.

The 147-grain Bonded posted an average velocity of 966 feet per second vs 945 fps for the Winchester PDX1 Defender. Average penetration depths were 21.5 inches vs 20.6 inches, and average expansion diameters were 0.51 inches vs 0.54 inches.

According to this test, the gun store brand was slightly slower, penetrated to a slightly shallower depth (the FBI's acceptable range is 12 to 18 inches; anything less is underpowered and anything more risks overpenetration) and expansion was near as makes no difference the same.

Granted, the Winchester T-Series (one of their LEO rounds; reportedly it's the same as the much-ballyhooed Black Talon rounds) fared a bit better with 0.74 inches of average expansion...though at an average depth of 16.5 inches and velocity of 940 fps.

There are plenty more examples if you want to go through their tables. If you're shopping for carry ammo, that's a good place to start.

Law Enforcement Ammunition You Can Always Buy

police ammo for sale

Some brands have no qualms selling their "law enforcement ammunition" to the public. You can go buy the exact same bullet, therefore, that many departments issue to officers, and some of them aren't even that expensive.

For instance, Hornady Critical Duty is somewhat popular as a duty round in various departments across the country. Its civilian-oriented counterpart - Critical Defense - is formulated for use in shorter barrels (like the typical CCW gun) so a full-size gun is recommended for best performance.

Federal Hydra-Shok was initially developed as a carry round for the FBI, and found quick adoption among law enforcement. Today, it's viewed as the point at which carry ammunition for semi-autos started to actually get good. It's been eclipsed in terms of performance (in almost every aspect) over the years, but like other classic bullet designs like Nosler Partition and Remington Core-Lokt for big game hunting, it's known to at least work.

However, it's successor - Federal HST - is known to work better, and is also a popular duty round that's found in most gun stores.

Then you have Speer Gold Dot, one of the most popular law enforcement rounds in the country and also widely available to civilians. If toting a shorter barrel gun, you'll want to opt for the Gold Dot Short Barrel.

Remington's Golden Saber rounds are popular law enforcement duty rounds, but aren't sold to civilians by many retailers. However, Remington Ultimate Defense is and the difference appears to be a rougher appearance for the latter round.

So there you have it. There aren't too terribly many differences between law enforcement ammunition and carry ammunition for the civilian market, but even in the instances where there are...you shouldn't have a problem getting the same stuff the pros use.

Sam Hoober 

About The Author


Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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