Spare Ammo

How Many Rounds Should A Pistol-Packer Pack?
It’s A Contentious Debate
; .

When shooting is fast and furious, guns run dry quickly… then what?

If you want to start an argument on the gun-related Internet (or around the cracker barrel at the gun shop, for that matter) just ask the question, “How much spare ammo should you be wearing for your carry gun?” You’ll be amazed how many will answer something like, “If you carry more than I do, you must be a paranoid mall ninja,” or the flip side of the same stance, “If you carry less than I do you’re obviously a hopeless, doomed sheeple.”

Through the 20th Century into the 21st, standard “load-out” for a uniformed police officer has traditionally been a fully loaded handgun with two full reloads. With the service revolver, that totaled 18 rounds. Today, with a GLOCK 17 or S&W M&P9, that’s 52 rounds of 9mm on the officer’s person, 46 rounds if the cop is carrying the .40 S&W equivalent of each model. Safariland’s triple-cell uniform mag pouch has become quite popular, and ups the ante to 69 and 61 respectively. Cops have learned the value of a firepower reserve for fast-breaking emergencies.

In 2008 Officer Tim Gramins got into a 1-on-1 shootout with a heavily armed bank robber. It happened too fast for him to access his patrol car shotgun or AR-15 (and fortunately, also too fast for his opponent to grab the SKS rifle stashed in his getaway car). Tim was into his third and last magazine when his 33rd shot and 17th hit finally neutralized the gunman. He was using a .45 ACP GLOCK 21 with 230-grain Gold Dot JHP. The opponent had fired 21 rounds from two pistols.

Upon review, Tim retired his .45 for a GLOCK 17, carried with a total of 146 rounds of 124-grain +P Gold Dot 9mm. It turns out a creative cop can find quite a few places to stash 33-round GLOCK mags in uniform. This is one end of the bell curve.


Some stoppages require a fresh magazine for an expeditious return to business.

The Other End

In those Internet debates, you’ll always find the guy who says, “If the five rounds in my J-Frame aren’t enough, I’ll get the heck out of there.” Unfortunately, if getting the heck out of there had been an option at all, the J-Frame would probably never come into play in the first place.

You’ll also hear, “What happened to Tim Gramins will never happen to me. I’m not a cop and I don’t go looking for trouble.” It’s certainly true “looking for trouble” is the very definition of police patrol. However, picture yourself as one of the victims Gramins’ antagonist robbed by threat of death before Tim responded to it. One reason ordinary good people carry guns is because there aren’t enough cops to protect everyone 24/7, and bad guys make a point of not attacking victims when cops are around. Citizen or cop, you deal with the same bad guys.

How much ammo is an armed citizen likely to need? Well, let’s start on the less intense end of the bell curve. Most Americans don’t carry guns at all and manage not to get killed. Of the millions who do carry, most will never need to draw against a criminal opponent. Of those who do have to draw, the exhaustive research of Professor John Lott, Professor Gary Kleck, and others indicate they won’t have to shoot anyone: the presentation of the gun by the Good Guy, far more often than not, causes the Bad Guy to surrender or flee. When defensive gunfire by an armed citizen does become necessary, it rarely goes high volume.

But, sometimes it does. The homicidal criminal may be drunk, and they don’t call it “feeling no pain” for nothing. Many drugs allow the attacker to become a bullet sponge who continues the attack until his body no longer functions. Rage-fueled adrenaline brings with it norepinephrine and endorphins that combine to make the person seem superhuman. More bad guys wear body armor today than in the time of John Dillinger and they’ll soak up a lot of bullets before the defender can recognize what’s happening and change his point of aim. Now factor in the problem of both you and your assailant moving—perhaps in the dark—with your assailant taking cover. Finally, multiply this by the number of potential opponents. Not all assailants are lone wolves.


In a struggle for a gun, the mag may be dropped and lost.
When you regain control, it would be nice to have another mag to slap in.

After The Math

We also have to look at some figures from our side of the fight. Way back in the 1970’s, John Farnam was the first to prove a double-action-only gun can be fired at a speed of 5 shots per second (by the average Joe—not a great champion like Jerry Miculek, who can do it twice as fast). A short-reset auto’s trigger allows 5 or even 6 shots in the first second. Firing as fast as you can to save lives, how many seconds does this allow you—with a given gun platform—before you’re out of the fight?

When we crunch the numbers we can see the value of carrying spare ammunition. Most of us who’ve studied this recommend carrying at least one full reload when you wear a gun. Remember a Speed Strip or Tuff Strip of revolver rounds fits neatly in the watch pocket of your jeans; a spare mag for your pocket-size auto ain’t much bigger than a Bic lighter; and a pouch with a magazine or two for your service pistol on the hip opposite your holster will help balance the weight of the sidearm.

A gun without spare ammo is a temporary gun! We all have to face the fact we might need to fire the darn thing. High-volume events are indeed on the far end of the bell curve of likelihood, like house fires. Think of spare ammo as analogous to your fire insurance: “It’s not about the odds, it’s about the stakes.” Extra rounds are like the gun itself: “better to have and not need, than to need and not have.”

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