Betting Your Life on Your Ammo

What gun to buy or carry for personal protection will always be a hot debate topic, but I wonder how many people put as much thought into the ammo in their defensive firearms. After all, if the ammo doesn't work, or the bullet doesn't perform as it should, you're going to be in a world of hurt.

There's good news. It's hard to screw this up if you pay attention.

First off, the best defensive ammo is cheap. Not FMJ range ammo cheap, of course, but cheap compared to the job it is supposed to do. Namely, save your life. I'm right in there in shopping for the cheap practice ammo, but my carry guns have top quality ammo. I simply must have confidence that if I do my job, it will, too.

Years ago I'd just say to get a quality load with an expanding bullet. Then we realized that some expanding bullets ... didn't. The old Winchester Silvertip was notorious for that. After the disaster of the FBI Miami shootout, that agency created test criteria and handgun ammo which passes that protocol works for me. 

You do want to test 20 or 30 rounds of your carry ammo to make sure it feeds reliably in your particular gun. Yes, at a Black Hillsbuck a round, that will cost something, but you are getting peace of mind and increasing the odds that your shooter will go bang every time. Make sure your particular carry load shoots to point of aim. If not, and you don't have adjustable sights, change ammo until you find a load that shoots exactly where you aim at seven yards. 

On bullet weight, I don't particularly care. Look at the offerings under .45 ACP and 9mm Luger at the Black Hills ammo web site, and you see a lot of options. All will work. It's a personal preference. Lighter bullets produce less recoil. 

There is an outlier in the defensive ammo scene, though, that I really like. The Honey Badger line from Black Hills changes what we always "knew" to be true. These bullets don't expand. They aren't hollow points. In fact, they don't change shape at all when they impact tissue. But, they are devastatingly effective. Solid copper bullets with flute or cutouts in the nose direct fluids to the side, much the way water squirts to the side when you press your thumb over the end of a garden hose. What's the benefit? First off, an expanding bullet that does not expand, for whatever reason, becomes a full metal jacket as far as performance. Could be the cloth from the attacker's clothes plugged the opening of the hollowpoint. It happens. With the Honey Badger loads, that's not possible. They don't expand, but they work. Another benefit is that they will feed like FMJs in semi-autos. It's less a problem now than in the past, but there are some combinations of pistol and hollowpoints that lead to failures to feed. Again, without the opening of a hollowpoint, the Honey Badger just slide up the feed ramp.

They look strange, but they work. I'm a believer.

Understand, though, that I also carry hollowpoints at times. Black Hills also loads the excellent Barnes Tac-XP in +P loads. That's a no-excuses choice.

I've also become a fan of the Sig defensive ammo with the V-Crown bullets. There's a lot of engineering in those projectiles.

Practice with cheap stuff so you can get in a lot of shooting. When it comes to your defensive ammo, though, remember what's at stake, and buy the good stuff. ~ Tom

Tom Gresham
Author, outdoorsman, gun rights activist, and firearms enthusiast for more than five decades, Tom Gresham hosts Tom Gresham's Gun Talk, the first nationally-syndicated radio show about guns and the shooting sports, and is also the producer and co-host of the Guns & Gear, GunVenture and First Person Defender television series.