Good Choices Abound For Self-Defense With Autoloading Pistols.
Buying handgun ammunition is kind of a good news/bad news scenario. The good news is there has never been a wider array of choices. The bad news is availability and cost. Demand is high while costs of manufacturing ammo and transporting it to your local store are increasing.
Handgunners need a minimum of two types of ammunition. One type is for volume shooting, to become familiar with the handgun and develop basic shooting skills. The primary quality of such ammunition is value for the money.
The second type needed is ammunition suited to the purpose of the handgun, whether it is personal defense, hunting, or formal target shooting. Here the goal is performance, at whatever the cost.
Unless you are rich or a reloader, much of your handgun shooting should be with value-priced ammunition. Often sold in economical bulk packs, this is ammunition intended for target and practice shooting.
Manufacturers, distributors and dealers save production costs with high volume, often using inexpensive full metal jacket bullets for semi-autos. By choice I wouldn’t use FMJ bullets for defense or for hunting, but for making holes in paper or ringing steel they work just fine.
These inexpensive, unpretentious loads might not get the press and fancy ads, but they are important because they’ll teach you to shoot, and handle your firearm safely and confidently.
Winchester offers a moderately priced Winchester USA series often called “white box” ammo, though not by Winchester. Some cartridges are available in 100-round “Value Packs.” Remington UMC handgun ammunition is available with either FMJ or jacketed hollowpoints (JHP) bullets, and (for some cartridges) in 100- or 250-round mega-packs.
Federal offers its American Eagle line which is not only a good value but in my experience very accurate. Black Hills Ammo has an exceptionally good value with its Blue Box line, loaded in once-fired surplus brass. I’ve shot many thousands of these rounds in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP and found it to be exceptionally good. A particular favorite is the .45 ACP with 200-grain match semi-wadcutter (SWC) lead bullet—super accurate and pleasant to shoot.
Buffalo Bore offers several +P defensive loads (above), such as these 147-grain 9mm loads at 1,175 fps. There’s also a 124-grain load at 1,300 fps, which sounds hot compared to typical US commercial loads, but is no hotter than standard NATO loads for the 9mm cartridge. They’re at home in a quality 9mm pistols such as this Glock 19. This is a fine Browning BDA from the 1970s, made by SIG (below) and virtually identical to the P220 series. It functions perfectly with the Black Hills Ammunition 9mm 115 JHP loads in the background.
Since I’m a reloader I prefer to purchase ammunition loaded in brass cases. Even if you don’t reload you can likely sell once-fired brass to someone who does, or sell the brass for recycling, to help reduce your net ammunition cost.
Some value-priced bulk ammunition would certainly be acceptable for personal defense provided it is loaded with appropriate bullets, such as JHPs, but not FMJs. Roundnose, FMJ bullets are notorious for excessive penetration, potentially endangering bystanders. And because their stopping power is minimal the tendency is to fire a lot of shots, rather than stopping the threat with one or two.
Some of the top personal-defense loads are expensive compared to the bulk discount ammo, but in my opinion are worth it. Generally they are loaded with well-designed and carefully tested bullets, matched to specific velocity parameters, to combine adequate penetration with good bullet expansion.
Over the last 30 or so years, there has been considerable development in personal defense ammunition. One factor on the supply side was innovation from small companies with good ideas (most of us older guys remember the furor when Super Vel ammunition appeared). A second factor was demand driven, as law enforcement demanded more effective loads, concurrent with the switch to autoloaders.
A common question is, do I need +P ammunition? In my view it depends on the cartridge, the pistol, and the shooter. In the case of 9mm and .38 Special I personally want +P loads. Long ago 9mm Luger (or Parabellum if you prefer) ammunition in the US was standardized at fairly moderate velocities, I’m guessing out of concerns for the many older military surplus pistols being imported. One reason the 9mm is sometimes disdained in the US while being respected worldwide is this moderate US ammunition.
Factory 9mm ammunition loaded in the US with 124-grain bullets typically rate around 1,150 feet per second and often chronograph less than 1,100 in 4-inch barrels. A few years ago, I chronographed some surplus NATO loads through a Glock 19. As I recall they averaged close to 1,400 fps. By comparison even +P 9mm loads with 124-grain bullets are generally rated at 1,250 fps.
The only other +P load I use is in .45 ACP. I like the Black Hills 230-grain +P JHP at 950 fps. Some shooters find the standard 850 fps 230-grain load has all the recoil they want, in which case I’d stick with it. The .40 S&W and .357 Magnum cartridges are standardized at full power.
Any +P loads should only be used in modern handguns in good condition, and rated for +P by the maker. Shooting +P loads will cause more handgun wear than the same amount of standard loads. I guess it becomes a question of whose life is more important, yours or the gun’s.
A new and interesting load from Federal is called “Guard Dog” and is intended for home defense. It has an FMJ profile for reliable feeding but contains an expanding polymer to promote rapid expansion, limiting penetration of walls inside a house and reducing risk to family members. Currently there are three loads: 9mm Luger, 105-grain bullet at 1,230 fps, a .40 S&W with a 135 grainer at 1,200 fps and a .45 ACP with a 165 grainer at 1,140 fps.
Next time in this column, we’ll discuss handgun ammo for short barrel revolvers, hunting and specialty ammo. Look forward to “Shooter’s Edge” in the June issue.
By Dave Anderson
A handgun shooter should have two basic loads. For personal defense, a premium load with expanding bullets such as Black Hills Ammunition red box or Federal Premium (above, left) are excellent choices. For practice and training less expensive FMJ loads such as the Speer Lawman (above, right) mean more practice at less cost. Black Hills Ammunition “blue box” (below) loads are assembled using once-fired surplus brass. Dave has fired thousands of these rounds and found them to be every bit as good as loads in new commercial brass. Excellent ammunition and an excellent value for practice and target shooting.
Defense Load Choices
Black Hills Ammo (red box, newly manufactured)
CCI/Speer Gold Dot JHP
CorBon Self Defense JHP
Federal Premium Personal Defense Hydra-Shok
Hornady Critical Defense, TAP, XTP
Remington Ultimate Home Defense, Golden Saber
Winchester Ranger, Super-X Silvertip, Supreme Elite Bonded, PDX1
Black Hills Ammunition
P.O. Box 3090
Rapid City, SD 57709
Buffalo Bore Ammunition
P.O. Box 1480, St. Ignatius, MT 59865
1311 Industry Rd., Sturgis, SD 57785
Federal Premium Ammunition
900 Ehlen Dr., Anoka, MN 55303
3625 W. Old Potash Hwy., Grand Island, NE 68803
870 Remington Dr., P.O. Box 700
Madison, NC 27025
600 Powder Mill Rd., East Alton, IL 62024