The Lazy Man’s Guide to Choosing the Right Self-Defense Ammo

The Lazy Man’s Guide to Choosing the Right Self-Defense Ammo
The Lazy Man’s Guide to Choosing the Right Self-Defense Ammo

I’ll be the last person to claim that I’m a ballistics expert or some brilliant physics engineer who knows the ins and outs of ammunition design. However, I don’t own a TV (haven’t owned one in 10 years) and when I’m not training or shooting or spending quality time with the wife, I’m reading up on various aspects of personal protection.

And this includes ammunition information which is a deathly boring (but important) topic. And to save you the pain and suffering I’ve gone through reading boring books and articles about self-defense ammo, here’s what you need to know in a nutshell.

First off, it’s going to cost more money. Yes, you can go to Walmart and buy 9mm ammo for about 22 cents a round. But for quality ammo, you’re going to pay more than $1 per round. But it’s worth it because this stuff might save your life one day, so don’t be a cheap son-of-a-gun about it.

Secondly, when it comes to ammo…

There is full metal jacket, semi-wadcutter and jacketed hollow point, to name a few. For your self-defense ammo, I recommend jacketed hollow point rounds. Why? Because ideally, you’ll get more expansion and less penetration versus a full metal jacket round which might only create a tiny entry point and go right through a person. (In other words, it won’t expand as much.)

Now, let’s say you agree with me and you’ve decided to go with a jacketed hollow point round. Well, that’s good, but we’re not done yet. You still have to decide on the weight of the bullet. For example, do you want a 115 grain, 124 grain or 147 grain, among others? (Grain is the weight of the bullet.)

Well… here’s how it works:

The lighter the round, the faster the bullet will go, which causes it to expand more and therefore penetrate less. And the heavier a round is, it will move slower (causing it not to expand as much) and it will penetrate more. I hope I haven’t totally lost you, but in short, a 115 grain will expand more and penetrate less than a 147 grain bullet.

So which one should you get? You should try to find a healthy combination between how far a bullet will penetrate and how much it will expand. Of course, depending on who you talk to everyone has an opinion. But for a 9mm (such as my Glock 19) I like 124 grain rounds. You could get the 115 grain rounds but I wouldn’t go any lower than that, and on the other end of the spectrum I wouldn’t use 147 grain either.

Hopefully, the next time you’re looking to buy some self-defense ammunition you’ve got a better idea of what to look for and how much it’s going to cost you. Also, before I forget, make sure you go to the range and try out your new self-defense ammo to make sure your gun feeds it and doesn’t jam up. (By the way, you can’t go wrong with companies like Corbon, Speer Gold Dot or the Federal Premium loads when it comes to self-defense ammo.)

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Jason Hanson is a former CIA Officer and author of The Covert Guide to Concealed Carry. He is also the creator of the Ultimate Concealed Carry Experience, which allows you to take your concealed carry training without leaving home. For full details about this training, please visit Concealed Carry Academy. You can also follow him on Google+ and Twitter.
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Federal must think their ammo is made of gold. OR they’re just trying to make us believe there’s still a shortage of it.

We know better.


i agree with u winghunter. hollow points are the way to go


When you get down to it its all knockdwon power, a combination of kenetic energy transfer and penetration. The heavier ur round is the harder it will hit. I carry a 45 acp. Its a slower round I carry frederal 230 gr +P. That’s as heavy as that caliber gets in general. I’m trying to increase penetration on a round that already has good kenetic energy. But my BUG is a 38 J frame. This is a faster round, already has good penetration so I carry a lighter load still +P but lighter grain weight to be sure it expands and dumps all its energy into the target.

Chuck Haggard

There is no such thing as knockdown power when it comes to handguns, and kinetic energy is completely meaningless when it comes to wound ballistics.

That being said, the 230gr +P HST by Federal has proven to be a very good defense choice in real life shootings, if the shooter can handle the recoil, and the gun can handle the extra beating it gets from this ammo.  Some 1911s can actually be damaged by +P .45 ammo.


Agreed, I use JHPs in my carry pistol.  Although I don’t stick with a single round.  I stack three or four various types and weights of ammo through my clips (and I’ve performed the various types of comparisons between the loads when used in my pistol).  When I shoot, I shoot twice (doubletaps), so they’re arranged in the clips in such a manner they go progressivly from low penetration to high penetration. 

As far as the Federal Hydrashok goes, it’s a very dated round and there are much better alternatives in my opinion.  They’re not worth standing in any lines for.  Corbon DPX is what I throw at someone first.  “Spiraling copper death flower” I’ve heard it called, that description is suitable from what I’ve seen.


European security officers working in crowded air terminals, use a hollow point copper round that reportedly stops an attacker with little, to no colateral damge to other people in background due to limited to no full penetration. I am wondering about it’s function. How does it mechanically do this? Solid copper vs lead? Maybe their EPA demands they are lead free in Europe? I bought a few of them for self defense use in the US. Is this ammunition a problem in a US court of law ‘aftermath’ trial when the US legal system’s ‘most relied on source of taxpayer funding’, the Career Repeat Offender, is finally halted (to the system’s utter dismay)?

In Box

The solid copper rounds expand faster, and more reliably while not fragmenting like copper jacketed ammo can. IMO it is a small bonus with a high premium.

They also tend to fall a bit short of FBI standards, but are close enough that they are good enough most of the time, and they expand quickly enough that even with a peripheral pass through, they have reduced risk to secondaries in crowded areas. 
There are enough trainers that swear by corbon DPX that it shouldn’t be a legal issue as an ammo choice. 

Chuck Haggard

DPX is a very good choice for carry ammo.




+p ammo was designed to increase speed to insure mushrooning and stop penetraation of bullets fired from short barrel revolvers in aircraft.  Designed for Sky Marshals to prevent secondary holes in pressurized aircraft.    Slowing bullet down gave less deformation and greater penetration.

Gray Ryder

Right on Zzzpearce. However, I believe a majority of the SM’ s have 40  semi-auto service weapons. There may be a BUG or two that may have +P ammo. Your theory makes sense, but the purpose in the need of such for action is in question.

Gray Ryder


I carry – and teach – to use frangible rounds. They expand and penetrate with great results while helping prevent collateral damage from ricochet and unwanted barrier penetration. They also demonstrate your attitude toward safety should you need such demonstration. I use Extreme Shock Air Defense Rounds. They are not +P so can be used in most guns. Corbon blue or Glaser blue are similar but are +P in 45acp (I carry a Colt Officer – 8+1) that has been Magnaported)

Extra mags with JHPs are a good idea and some carry JHP after the first couple of rounds in the carry mag. I carry 2 extra mags and all are filled with the Air Defense rounds. 

That’s my thinking, anyway.

C. M. Novess III

In Box

Sounds good at first, but those rounds have been shown to come up incredibly short on penetration standards. Most JHPs just barely pass FBI standards. To each his own, I just don’t like carrying a round that can’t reliably reach the target.

Chuck Haggard

I agree, the pre frag rounds are an incredibly poor choice for defense use.  They cost FAR to much and give poor performance on target.

I have seen shootings with the Glasers, not at all impressed with how these bullets work at all.


The season might also be worth considering when choosing grain.  Usually in the Summer lighter clothing is worn where less penetration would be needed, while in Winter when heavy clothing is worn more penetration is necessary to get through the heavy clothing. 

Chuck Haggard

This is a common myth.

Bullets don’t fail to get through clothing, but when heavy clothing is involved JHPs can fail to expand.  When this happens the bullet will penetrate more, not less, due to the lack of expansion.

Well designed JHPs such as the Gold Dot, HST and Ranger-T work well regardless of clothing.


Not everyone shoots a semi auto….and most ammunition works well in revolvers….same basic concept about grain etc….but dont forget the revolver folks

Gray Ryder

Very true. My NRA Instructor is a firm believer in the revolver, 38/357. I too, have came to respect and mostly depend on my Ruger SP-101. With the right design of cant and a belt slide holster there is no problem in the concealment of the larger frame gun. The only problem, that I am concerned about, is the double belt slide holstered speed loaders, that I also carry on my strong side . The speed loader carrier presents more of foot print than I care to have. If a situation of when push would advance to shove. I would much rather prefer the revolver over my 380 semi-auto.

Paul L Hardy

I carry 45 acp in both my main and bug guns.  The bug is a taurus pt145 that will eat anything and I feed it jacketed hollowpoints.  My main is a taurus 845 that just doesn’t like jhp’s so I use jacketed soft pointsin it.  Both send very big heavy chunks of lead at a low velocity which is what I was always told was the most effective load, typically 200 to 230 grains.


Emphasis on “try any ammo before carry for defense” as well as “always carry JHP”.  You don’t want to shoot the person behind your target!  My main weapon is a Ruger P90DC that eats anything I feed it.  LOVE THAT GUN!!!  But, it’s a little large to conceal (understatement).  So, my conceal weapon is a Kahr CW45.  Just tried some Hornady XTP today and had several jams.  It loves the 185 grain FTX though.


230 gr SJHP 45 ACP hit the body mass and they go down every time. No multiple rounds, ive carried everything from .380 to .45 and Glock M36 with the above load is best. AND ALLWAYS practice with the load you carry- you cheap out at the range and IT WILL cost you your life

Chuck Haggard

This is completely untrue.  The .45 DOES NOT put bad guys down every time.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is common for multiple shots to be needed to stop a bad guy, even when .45s are used.

Gray Ryder

Questionable statement. It depends on the point of impact. You are correct in your statement of practicing with carrying ammunition use. However, a properly placed shot from a majority of any caliber of ammunition will do a nasty deed.

Gray Ryder

Gray Ryder

What is your concern of collaterial damage when firing the 230 gr., SJHP 45 ACP ???? I would think, that such a heavy projectile would pass on through a victim if it was not stopped by an interior bone mass. I am sort of concerned as to the bullet being a flying uncontrollable missile of unintended destruction and/ or an unintended injury or death  to a bi-stander .

Gray Ryder.


Another thing to consider, especially during the colder months when heavier clothing is usually worn, is whether your chosen ammo will actually expand at all when it’s needed most.
I’ve read reports of JHP ammo many times getting plugged up with different types of clothing from denim to down & faiing to expand when fired into an attacker or test media draped with such materials.
The answer i.m.o. is to use one of the J.H.P. rounds specifically designed to prevent this, such as some of the newer Hornady ammo.



Bingo on the Hornady performance. I too, have tested the Hornady Critical Defense on a plastic gallon jug filled with water, with a Dickie line Jacket/coat and discovered that the Jacket and/or coat had very littlle effect on the uniform expansion of Hornady JHP 380 and 38 Plus-P.

Gray Ryder


Personal protection ammo is my choice, I carry Dynamic Research Technology rounds, we have shot these into slabs of bacon and their performance is awsome. Even put a coat on the pork before shooting, still excellent work. Relatively cheap $1 a round and available many places.

Chuck Haggard

Mr. Hanson,

There is nothing at all wrong with the well developed 147gr 9mm loads.  The 147gr HST, Ranger-T and Gold Dot have been street proven for quite awhile now.

Gray Ryder

The correct ammunition is the most important factor in any self defense situation.
I personally  use Horady Critical Defense 380 and 38 Plus-P in both of my CCW guns. Through trial and error. I have discovered  that both of the above calibers does and repeatedly performs as well as any other brand of self defense ammunition I have tested.  The expansion, penetration  and reliability is constantly uniform. There is always a first time. However, I have never experienced a miss fire, a jam or stovepipe situation in the 380. My SP- 101 Ruger 357/38 speaks for it’s self. The Horady ammunition costs a little more to purchase and use in a testing mode. However, when one needs to have a reliable self defense ammunition cost is my last concern.

Gray Ryder

Gray Rryder

Yes, I now see that I mis-spelled Honady. I apologize and will attempt to do better next time.

Gray Ryder,.


I hate to invoke the legal bugaboo, but asking what ammo your municipal, county, and/or state police use is also a good idea if for no other reason than being able to point to the good judgement and wisdom of the police departments when some attorney tries to frame you as a blood-thirsty nut because you carry a round “designed to inflict the maximum amount of damage, pain, and suffering.” In that situation, you simply answer, “the reason I carry Hydra-shock (insert appropriate ammo here) is because I’m not an expert, but I do know that the local department uses the same brand, so I rely on that choice because I believe they know what they’re doing.” As long as the given ammo works reliably in your sidearm, then you should be good. There are physical and statistical differences in ammo brands and weights, but remember that the single biggest factor in effectiveness will be shot placement. In the end, shoot what the police do as long as it reliably functions in your gun, train so that you can deliver the necessary shot(s) with sufficient accurate placement to stop the fight, and then make sure you say a prayer of thanks that you and your loved ones survived.

Gra Ryder

Shot placement is # 1 priority in a have-to-need situation that demands the discharge of a weapon in self defense. . As far as ammo, that is used by various departments it varies from one to the other. To my knowledge, Gold Dot and Carbon are two of the most used in BUGs. I do believe that departmental regulations dictates the caliber,  ammunition standards and weapon of in- service standards. As for some ambulance chaser wanting to tag you are as a Dodge City Gun slinger it is possible. Just because one has the privilege to CCW does make him a Knight in shining armor to attempt to enforce the law. Leave that up to the one’s that get paid to do so. A CCW is issued for one purpose and that is for the protection of family and one’s self. Also,  every CCW application I have submitted and received the permit, thereof, has a question as to the purpose in which the application is being submitted. If I remember correctly, I have always indicated that my purpose was for the protect and preservation of my family; and self. Therefore, when and if push comes to shove, I wish to have to proper tools, (ammunition),  to do the job that I have a CCW permit for. Also, the more the prosecution attempts to paint a picture of the accused as an OK Corral left over.  The more, the better, for the defense to reflect on the qualifications and defensive alertness used in the preservation of one being a survivor instead of the victim. Now, if the situation was one that did not threaten the life of a family member or the  accused, ( ie: discharging a weapon in the direction of a fleeing robber or some individual that was flourishing a weapon. Whereas, an innocent bystander  was injured or killed. Then, the a “blood thirsty nut” would have a field day. However, it is impossible to venture inside the pea brain of some of the modern day ambulance chasers. Why do you think that the majority of  attorneys end up being, life time parasites. Opps, I do not know why my PC printed parasites instead of politicians.

Every situation has very little margin  to think as fast as one has time to decide before pulling the trigger.

Happy Trails,

Gray Ryder

brendon albrecht

I couldn’t agree more with you. Your decision should be based on your threat level and profession
I’m a civilian and I don’t want my cc round to blow threw multiple people and injure or kill a bystander. likewise I don’t want my round to kill the family In the apartments next to me…etc. People need to understand this when choosing a self defense round


PRETTY GOOD ARTICLE, HOWEVER I HAVE 1 THOUGHT FOR CONCERN! like you say about weight vs. expansion or finding a happy medium between the two is important, however this basic concept needs to be reformulated some what when using a small caliber bullet, as in 22 cal, 25 cal, even a 32 caliber size, these bullets NORMALLY don’t have enough penetration after penetrating clothing to get to vital organs and do much damage, the use of “hollow point” style of bullets is probably best left to other shooting situations and not for self defense,, with the bullet expansion, “being a hollow point” good penetration can be iffy, so a solid type bullet will most likely achieve a better penetration~depth,. I know, alot of things account for the science of expansion and penetration,, but as a regular shooter of small caliber PISTOLS, i find this to be pretty much the norm during small caliber pistol ammo testing, just a thought to pass along…. stay safe and practice often!! p.f.


As a former Police Officer, and having had access to training films from US Marhalls..
I have decided that .380 is about as small as anyone needs to go, for personal
protection… and one of the really good rounds is Glazer Safety round…. I like how
they behave, and that if you happen to miss, they don’t get far, and produce less
collateral damage…. Just a thought….

Gray Ryder

In using the Hornady 90gr., JHP Critical Defense with the Flex Tip  feeds wonderful without any failures. As for an exception caused by the use of JHPs.  I will agree that some HP ammunition will cause a problem in not feeding in a semi-auto rapid fire follow through. . However, as to your mentioning an open “nose” would possibly create a problem. The Flex Tip design on the 380 Hornady Critical Defense elimates your open nose theory. Also, you are correct again, as to the cost in testing with self defense CCW ammunition. At a dollar a “bang”, a day at the range is mighty costly. When I normally use 50 rounds for each of the two CCW in my practice sessions.  I know the feeling of hang-up in feeding HP ammunition. My SKS 7.62 x 39 does not like HPs. With the FMJ ammunition the SKS eats up the feed like a kid with a bag of Jellybeans.

Also, I have discovered that certain HP 22 ammunition does not feed 100% in my 10/22. In my humbled opinion, one gets what one pays for. Imported cheap-cheap ammunition gives one the cheaper results.

Gray Ryder( NRA Safety Range Officer.)


Yep for my 9mm, 115, according to the gel blocks, does most damage a 9mm can…
.357, 125 , again using gel…
.40 165, .45 acp. 185, all are plus P…. I am a firm believer in what the people that know,
say…. although I dropped grain weight on my .45 because it was shooting high, and the
lighter slug, brought down…..


Hornady Critical Defense. About $1 a round. When I saw how consistent this ammo is when shot into gel, and into wet telephone books with denim layers, I knew I found the best round for personal defense.

Gray Ryder

Right On donmontalvo,

I have experimented with the majority of ammunition and my choice  with question is Hornady Critical Defense Flex Tip 380. The next time you  have an occasion to use $4 or$ 5  in Hornady Critical Defense Flex Tip  ammunition, try a plastic gallon jug full of water with the cap on tight. Then wrap the gallon jug with a heavy coat or a doubled throw rug. Then back of 21′ and fire at the jug with the covered material. In your next test fire, back off 45′ and test fire at the second jug with the same matted covered material. I think your finding will make a believer out of you as to the performance of the Hornady Critical Round, with the Flex Tip, over that of other self defense ammunition, is without question the difference between being a survivor and/or a victim.

Happy trails and keep your powder dry.

Gray Ryder

Roy E. Landstrom

Can’t argue with the logic but …! I teach concealed carry and eight people have used “STOP! I’M ARMED!” and that has been the end of the confrontation. Two have drawn their gun and pointed it at the bad guy. Again that was the end of it. In no case did the bad guy ask what they were carrying or if they had extra magazines, The mere threat of bodily harm was enought. I teach awareness and avoidance.


Can’t argue with your logic either, and in my NRA courses I teach the same 1st and 2nd options – pulling the trigger being the 3rd and a last resort!  But, if you have to go to #3 you A. Need to have already made in your mind the choice to use deadly force if required.  And, B. That the firearm will perform as required!!  And, that means doing some practice with the ammo you plan on carrying for Open or Concealed self defense!


Well, by announcing you are armed you’re breaching concealment, no? Why not show the gun to make sure the offender knows you’re serious? If not he may lunge, knowing he has to act fast. Just wondering if lifting the element of surprise can be suicidal in some instances?

Don Montalvo, TX

Gray Ryder

Has anyone had an occasion to review  “FEMA Partners with Homeland Security on Psyops Campaign ??????”That is  posted on ” You Tube ”  I just wonder if this is really a serious positive concern or is some nut case  pushing  to get some “loose cannon” to react to a Wags The Dogs Tail situation ?????


i carry many diff.self defense loads,mostly depending on the weather,but i have found that 165gr bullets is my glocks favorite weight.mod.22 .40cal.if it’s hot i carry corbon that has a hollow point that a good sized man could stand in.when it gets colder i carry mostly corbon with the ball in the end so not to stop up the hollow point and give it time to expand,but if that don’t work i’ll just use one of my 2 extra mags with hydra shok in them.anyway they all work great in my glock { as does anything } but i have found that these seem to be my sidearms best meal.


Reasonable general info, but some things are different: for instance, Federal now has .40 165g JHP that is hotter than Hydro-Shoks in 180g or 165g.
My advise is to go to the manufacturers website and look at their ballistic tables.
And I will add an editorial comment here:
If it involves saving your life, quit worrying about price.


I always thought the larger the gr the better. I’ll have to read more of these posts. Good stuff people.