How do you choose a good self defense load? Do you need +P loads? What is better velocity or penetration? There are numerous questions to consider when purchasing a self defense load. So let’s take a quick look at some background information to help you choose. Always use new factory loaded cartridges for self defense. Never use hand loaded or re-loaded ammunition.
Many people believe the ammo should meet the FBI’s requirement of penetration with the largest expansion possible in order to cause the largest wound possible. Other people choose ammunition based on velocity and look for +P or even +P+ ammo. High performance self defense ammo is in preparation for the worse case scenario and you do want a load that will perform better than your regular load for competition or practice.
FBI guidelines call for 12-18” of penetration in calibrated ballistics gel. They also test penetration through other barriers such as car doors and windows. Use the FBI standards as a guideline and not the final word. Another point regarding penetration is the bullet choice. A jacketed hollow point (JHP) round is popular because it expands into a mushroom type pattern upon impact. The round gets the penetration from the copper jacket before expanding deep. Many people believe it is perfect in nearly every caliber providing devastating stopping power.
Velocity is the other side of the equation. Basically if you increase the velocity of a bullet you can increase the force. +P ammunition is a higher pressure load. SAAMI, which is the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute, sets the working pressures of cartridges. +P generates chamber pressure above the maximum limits established by SAAMI. Modern firearms can handle +P ammo with no problems. But is +P more deadly than standard ammo? Higher pressure means more velocity and more velocity leads to more expansion. +P+ exceeds the +P designation and can be marked “law enforcement only.” You can purchase +P+ ammo at many retailers whether you are law enforcement or not. So what does all of this mean? +P ammunition has an increased pressure which causes increased velocity and more consistent expansion of hollow-point projectiles.
Here is a quick look at some 9mm self defense rounds I’ve tried and gotten good results using my GLOCK 17 and Kahr PM9:
Federal’s personal defense line has been geared toward lighter bullets at moderately higher velocities. I have found my Kahr feeds well with federal loads. Federal has a JHP but I like their newer expanding full metal jacket bullet called the Guard Dog. It is filled with an expanding polymer to minimize over-penetration. A high velocity and low recoil round that is available in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 Auto. The 9mm version is a 105 grain bullet with velocity 1230 fps muzzle and 1140 at 25 yards.
Hornady has a patented FTX bullet that is a jacketed hollow point called Critical Defense. Hornady promises expansion with 100% reliability. The flex tip technology eliminates the clogging that can plague hollow point bullets. I’ve used this line for a few yeas now. 9mm cartridges come with a 115 gr. bullet and have a velocity of 1135 fps at the muzzle. You can get the .45 Auto in +P with either a 200 gr. or 230 gr. bullet. At the range I am able to get consistent, tight groups with this load even out to 25 yards.
Most major manufacturers have a self defense load for sale these days. If Hornady or Federal isn’t your top choice. Try Magtech Guardian Gold. Magtech offers .380, 9mm and .45 Auto all in +P loads that promise accurate penetration and expansion. Cor-bon DPX line is another load that shoots well in my GLOCK or Kahr. These bullets are all copper and not lead. There will be no bullet separation. Jacket separation is another topic that I will cover soon.
As you can see when selecting self defense ammunition you need to balance all the factors. This is the first of many posts in helping you select a round for self defense. I can tell you that reliability is important as well as accuracy. Shot placement is critical. Train with your ammo and learn the limitations. With practice and finding a brand that works well with your gun you will have peace mind that you will be prepared if a situation arises. I am not a ballistics expert but I understand that every shot counts and your life may depend not only on your gun but the choice of ammunition as well.