9MM DEFENSIVE AMMUNITION CONSIDERATIONS
9MM DEFENSIVE AMMUNITION CONSIDERATIONS
When it comes to selecting gasoline for my 2014 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck, I am not particularly selective. When the needle on the gas gauge nudges one-fourth of a tank, I make it a point to stop at the next acceptable gas station. The only thing that might cause me to consider driving further is either the condition of the station itself or if the price per gallon is not competitive with other stations in the same general vicinity. After all, it’s just fuel for my vehicle, correct? I also know other drivers who are very brand loyal, more cost-conscious, and/or believe that there is a distinct difference in quality in gasolines sold by various companies.
Some concealed carriers have a similar view when it comes to choosing defensive ammunition for their concealed carry pistols. After all, it’s just fuel. Others are at the opposite end of the spectrum and will only purchase brand-specific ammunition that launches a specific bullet type at a specific weight at a specific velocity that expands to a certain diameter and penetrates to a specific depth and go so far as to claim all other ammunition to be somehow inferior.
When it comes to purchasing gasoline, at no time during the 100,000 miles that I have logged in my truck was I ever left in a lurch by unsatisfactory gasoline. Probably the worst that could have happened was that my engine started knocking and engine performance may have suffered. Even if my truck simply stopped running, at most I would have likely been inconvenienced and forced to have it towed followed by some repair costs. This is not true when it comes to defensive ammunition that may be used for defense against another attempting to harm or kill me. Reasons that this is a possibility include the following:
- Full metal jacketed round nose (“FMJRN”) target ammunition has a reputation for over-penetration and poor stopping power. In order to reliably stop a motivated attacker, bullets need to either impact the upper central nervous system or cause sufficient blood loss (perhaps as much as two liters) before the attacker is no longer able to continue his or her assault. The permanent wound channel of a FMJRN bullet is significantly narrower than that of a properly expanded modern hollow point bullet due to its lesser frontal area. In addition, upon expansion the modern hollow point bullet tends to dump more energy in the target as the front of the bullet expands, which means that velocity is stripped from the bullet at a greater rate. The end result is that the hollow point is less likely to exit the target, or if it does it tends to do so at a much lower speed than the FMJRN bullet. This feature may prevent other persons from being injured by bullets passing through the body of the attacker (commonly referred to as a “pass-through”).
- Inferior-quality defensive ammo can cause multiple problems, including faulty primers, overly hard primers, poorly crimped bullets, and varying velocities. A modern hollow-point bullet should still expand after passing through clothing; however, some hollow-point bullets will clog and fail to expand. Unexpanded hollow point bullets tend to behave much like the FMJRN bullets.
- Just to reiterate, not all hollow point bullets expand reliably if either the impact velocity is too low or they first pass through multiple layers of clothing. The same can be true for light metal, sheetrock, and glass, although that is typically more of a concern for law enforcement than it is concealed carriers. Readers that don’t mind getting into the deep weeds can do an internet search and possibly find videos of their chosen handgun round being tested on calibrated ballistic gelatin after passing through multiple layers of denim.
- I am not a fan of carrying defensive ammunition that shoots to a different point of impact or has significantly more recoil than my training ammunition. It is not uncommon for concealed carriers to practice with mild training loads then carry markedly more powerful Plus P ammunition. Having said that, some Plus P ammunition (but not all) generates recoil that is not significantly more than normal training ammunition. I would simply urge concealed carriers to verify that any difference between the training ammunition with which they practice and the defensive ammunition they load in their defensive handgun is not going to be an issue.
- This article has been full of negatives. Now for the positives: I would have no issue carrying Speer Gold Dot ammunition, Federal HST ammunition, or Hornaday Critical Defense ammunition. All three companies have a good reputation for quality control and their bullets are known for good performance in terms of consistent expansion and penetration. Some instructors are picky when it comes to the different bullet weights available (ranging from 115 to 147 grains), but I am less so and typically choose whatever I think shoots particularly well in my handguns. In a pinch, I have no problem with the Hornady 115, 124, or 147 grain XTP ammunition if that is what was available in the local gun store at the time I needed defensive ammunition. I ran this subject by Dave Spaulding, who has seen a lot more in his career than me, and he responded with the following reply: “I am a big believer in proven rounds…stuff that works! I avoid gimmicks and go with ammo that has been around awhile. Like you, I want a training load that mimics my carry load…147 grain American Eagle and 147 grain Federal HST for example. I do avoid some brands as their hollow points do not expand in tissue. I prefer Federal, Speer, and Hornaday due to their proven performance and quality manufacture.”
As a full-time law enforcement shooting instructor and close friend of mine with whom I have had numerous discussions covering training, firearms, bourbon, motorcycles, and ammunition, Hany Mahmoud is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to all things ballistic. Hany and I have our differences when it comes to shooting (I am Glock-centric, and more sensitive to differences in recoil when shooting at high speed), but there is no doubt, when it comes to shopping for ammunition that he is The Man.
For concealed carriers interested in not only training on a frequent basis but interested in maintaining a reasonable inventory (remember the days when it was difficult to purchase ammunition and the scalpers were out in full force?), there is much to be said for shopping online where a box of 50 rounds of good defensive ammunition can be purchased for little more than 20 rounds in most stores selling ammunition. The same is true for purchasing good quality training ammunition in bulk. I have consistently purchased training and defensive ammunition from SG Ammo at www.sgammo.com and been pleased with all my past dealings with them.
In summary, concealed carriers should consider selecting their defensive ammunition with care. The cost difference between 50 rounds of inferior ammunition and 50 rounds of quality ammunition is maybe the cost of a cheeseburger, fries, and a milk shake. Will the ammunition a concealed carrier uses defending his or her life likely affect the outcome of a deadly force encounter? Probably not. Is the potential cost and harm to the concealed carrier high if the attacker is not stopped soon enough or a pass-through strike an innocent third party? Absolutely.
There is no good reason to cheap out on that one item that is not that expensive in the first place.
Steve is a long-time defensive weapons instructor based out of Texas who has trained hundreds of men and women of all ages for more than two decades on how to better prepare to defend themselves and their loved ones. Steve has completed over 80 private-sector and law enforcement-only defensive weapons and tactics classes, and has trained civilian and law-enforcement officers in six states. Moses is a reserve deputy, former member of a multi-precinct Special Response Team, competitive shooter, and martial artist. Steve has written numerous articles for SWAT Magazine and other publications. Steve is a licensed Texas Level 4 Personal Security Officer and Instructor who was Shift Lead on a mega-church security detail for seven years, and has provided close protection for several former foreign Heads of State. He is currently an instructor at Relson Gracie Jiu Jitsu/Krav Maga in Tyler, Texas and Director of Training for Palisade Training Group (www.ptgtrainingllc.com).