We spend a lot of time talking about the best pistol to use for self-defense, but a lot less thinking about what ammunition to use in it. This is a shame, because ultimately it is your ammunition that generates the power you need to stop attackers, and that is going to potentially save your life in a dangerous situation.
While the most important consideration in choosing a self-defense round is the caliber, there are many other factors to consider, and an undue emphasis on getting the largest caliber available can actually be detrimental to your shooting performance. Powerful rounds like the .40, or .45 generate a lot of recoil, and unless you have a significant amount of experience in firing these rounds, and practice constantly, they can be very inaccurate in a dangerous situation. Even simple 22-LR ammo can have a kick for smaller shooters, such as kids and some women.
For this reason, it is critical that whatever pistol you are carrying for self-defense, you learn how to use it properly. Accuracy is more based on your technique than your gun, and learning how to draw your pistol quickly and effectively is much more effective than getting a fancy gun.
What is Stopping Power?
“Stopping power”, in reality, has a lot more to do with how a bullet is constructed. Lead bullets, in particular, tend to expand very rapidly on collision with a target. This means that a lot of energy is transferred, but also that these bullets have very poor penetration performance. At the other end of the scale, full metal jacket bullets (FMJ) have a lead core that is fully surrounded by a harder material, most commonly copper. Because copper is harder, it does not deform as much, and as a result gives higher penetration at the cost of less energy transfer.
Both types of ammunition have their uses, but for self-defense purposes what you need is a combination of the two – both energy transfer and penetration. Today, is is possible to get bullets that combine the penetrative power of jacketed bullets with the energy transfer of a lead round.
This is most commonly achieved by using a jacketed hollow point, or JHP, bullet. These rounds have a partial copper jacket around a lead core. On impact, the hollow point of the bullet begins to expand, but the copper jacket controls this expansion to improve penetration.
This works fine, as long as the copper and lead portions of the bullet stay together at the critical moment. Cheap ammunition tends to separate on impact, significantly reducing the power of your round.
Today, I’ll take you through some of my favorite rounds for self-defense purposes. Most of this ammunition is available on online ammo shops, and can be ordered in a variety of calibers to suit your gun.
Speer Gold Dot Personal Protection
Speer were one the first manufacturers to produce bonded core ammunition, and their patented Uni-Cor process effectively eliminates the possibility of jacket / core separation.
The hollow point design used in this round makes use of two stages. The first controls how much the bullet expands on contact with a target, and the second controls the rate of this expansion. This design works very well, and offers a good balance between energy transfer and penetration.
In addition, the nickel-plated cases mean that these bullets are really reliable, and the quality primers used in them ensure you get basically zero misfires.
Federal Premium Personal Defense HST
HST bullets are pretty new to the civilian market, though they’ve been available to professional users for quite some time. This design has a lead core surrounded by a copper jacket, and gives a good balance of stopping power and penetration.
These bullets are mechanically bonded together. The thickness of the copper jacket is matched to the caliber of the bullet, which means that the way in which the hollow point of the round expands is precisely controlled in every caliber.
In addition, one of the best things about these rounds are that the point is specifically designed to penetrate through various types of barriers, including heavy clothing. This makes the round reliable in self-defense situations.
American Eagle Jacketed Soft Point
These are great rounds that also represent amazing value. They are significantly cheaper than most soft lead or FMJ rounds, and offer better performance in self-defense situations. If your budget for ammunition is limited, these rounds are a good choice.
The design used here is essentially the same as the two rounds above – a lead core is encased in a copper jacket, which controls expansion. Though these rounds are not as technically advanced as more expensive ammunition, in most situations they will deliver a good mix of power and penetration.
So that’s it. Three brands of ammunition, all of which are great for self-defense. If you can, give each one a try and see what works best for you. For more tips check out recommendations for our top everyday carry kit.