best ammo for self defense

What Makes The Best Self-Defense Ammo The Best?

Spend on ammunition, not on guns, some say - but what makes the best self-defense ammo the best? It's partially subjective, but also partially not.

There are certain attributes that one looks for, but one should balance ballistic performance with what works best in your firearm - some can be finicky. A person should carry the best defense ammo that works for them, just like how a person should get the best gun belt that works for them as well.

Attributes of Good Self-Defense Ammo

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What makes good self-defense ammo good? First you have to be able to get it in sufficient quantities and it has to actually be in your gun. Wadcutters are better than nothing.

What makes defensive ammunition good is an increased ability of a round to incapacitate the target. In order to do that, a big wound channel isn't enough; living tissue, you see, is rather elastic. After a wound, it begins to close up to a degree. To cause a living target to drop, that requires trauma to the right parts of the right organs (heart, brain stem) or to the bodies vessels and arteries. What accomplishes that?

Well, according to most of the research into the matter, penetration is what does the trick, rather than mere wound channels. Hollowpoints work better than FMJ rounds because they expand or fragment, causing more internal trauma. FMJ rounds just punch through a target and tend to keep going, which isn't ideal for home or personal defense.

A good deal of the research into the matter was actually done, according to American Rifleman, by the FBI in the wake of the 1986 Miami shootout.

On a side note, why is the FBI such a recurring theme around here? Well, it's pretty simple. If you want to know what works when it comes to carrying and shooting a gun in self-defense, you might as well get information from the people who have to - like law enforcement or the military. Since the FBI has released more information than pretty much any other agency, they are - for good or ill - one of the most reliable sources on these matters.

After the Miami shootout, they determined that ballistic gel tests alone aren't enough. So aside from gel tests, they shot rounds into gel through several layers of heavy cloth, through car doors, windshields and sheetrock - which showed which rounds would penetrate after passing through heavier material.

Among other findings (such as which calibers did the trick, but bear in mind this was 1987) the Bureau determined that the best rounds were those that penetrated at least 12 inches, with the optimal range being between 12 and 18 inches. Anything past 18 inches is likely to pass through the target and possibly injure a bystander.

Shopping for Personal Defense Ammo

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There are a lot of personal defense ammo products out there. Virtually every ammo producer makes JHP and +P (or overpressure) loads, many of which are widely available. Which one is the best to carry?

The best rounds to carry can sufficiently penetrate a target and can reliably be shot in your personal defense weapon.

The former is discovered through diligent research. You have to do the legwork yourself, but the information you're after is out there. (Don't always believe the manufacture.) Industry publications will occasionally publish test results, though the good folks at LuckyGunner actually created their own ammo testing database.

LuckyGunner used FBI protocols to test various defense loads and published the results of five shot groups. You can see what a particular loading did - muzzle velocity, average penetration of all five shots, average expansion and so on. It's actually a fantastic resource.

Incidentally, the round that tended to perform best in the 1989 FBI ammo tests? Federal Hydra Shok, which is still widely available. It's actually a consistent performer in LuckyGunner's tests as well.

Today, the FBI carries the 147-grain Speer Gold Dot G2 9mm, according to Police magazine, in case one was curious.

However, all this is only the baseball card aspect - the numbers on paper. Which is much different than what will happen in real life.

The Best Personal Defense Ammo Works In Your Personal Defense Pistol

use self defense ammunition

The best personal defense ammo you can carry is the ammo that is known to work as a defense round and - and this aspect is very important - reliably cycles in your gun.

Granted, many modern revolvers and autos are designed to cycle with just about anything. However, guns are machines. Just like cars, they can have pecularities that are known only to the owner. As a result, there will be certain rounds that a gun just seems to "like" or perform better with.

Ask car people if there's a particular brand of oil they use. Chances are pretty good they'll tell you the brand and why they like it. Some people use specific brands on specific vehicles because they run best with those brands.

Therefore, buy a few different types of defense rounds. See what cycles best and shoots most accurately. That's something you're not going to get from the internet, the ammo box or anywhere else.

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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