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Choosing the Right Self Defense AmmoWords by Brad Fitzpatrick
If you’re considering purchasing a firearm for personal defense, there are a number of important decisions that need to be made before you buy. The primary decisions are which model and caliber handgun you’ll carry, and these are important considerations.
You need a firearm that is comfortable to carry and shoot, and it needs to be chambered in a caliber that produces manageable recoil and generates enough energy to stop an attacker. Many new shooters spend a great deal of time researching which firearm best suits their needs, and, since this is a gun you are relying on to protect your life and the lives of your loved ones during a dangerous encounter, this is not a decision that should be taken lightly.
Relatively few shooters, however, spend much time selecting the proper self defense ammo, and that is a mistake.
A bullet’s effectiveness or “stopping power” has a great deal to do with how that bullet is constructed. Lead bullets, for instance, tend to expand very rapidly, because lead is a soft metal. For this reason, all-lead bullets aren’t considered an optimum choice for self-defense. Even in powerful calibers like the .40 Smith & Wesson and .45 ACP, lead bullets tend to deform rapidly and don’t penetrate as well as copper jacketed bullets, and that lack of penetration can cause serious problems in a defensive shooting situation.
At the other end of the spectrum are full metal jacket bullets, often referred to as FMJ. As the name indicates, these bullets have a core (usually made of lead) that is fully surrounded by a copper jacket. Because copper is harder than lead, these bullets tend to penetrate very well; because they do not expand, however, there is relatively little transfer of energy or damage when compared to other bullet designs.
Therefore, FMJ bullets offer great penetration, but don’t shed a lot of energy or create a lot of shock, which are important to stopping an attack. In a self-defense situation, over-penetration is not desirable due the increased risk of collateral damage to any bystanders that may be in the path of the bullet.
Engineers have worked hard to develop high-quality self defense ammo that combine the deep penetration of jacketed bullets with the high levels of energy transfer and shock created by an expanding lead bullet. The goal is to accomplish all this without over-penetrating through the target.
The most successful defensive bullet design has historically been the jacketed hollow point, or JHP. These bullets have a lead core that expands and transfers energy, as well as a partial copper jacket that controls the expansion of the lead for deep penetration. The lead nose of the bullet has a hollow tip that initiates expansion upon impact, the copper jacket slows that expansion, and energy transfer and penetration are balanced.
This balance of lead and copper works well in most instances provided the lead portion of the bullet remains attached to the copper jacket. If the jacket and core separate, then penetration and expansion both suffer, and the defensive bullet doesn’t perform as it should (and if you need a defensive bullet to perform you really, really need it to work as advertised).
To remedy this, companies use a process called bonding to secure the jacket to the core. Electrochemical bonding is a process that, in essence, welds the lead core to the jacket in an effort to prevent separation. Mechanical bonding is a process that locks the jacket and core together during the core and jacket assembly with a knurl or cannelure. Because of this, bonded JHP bullets are widely considered the premier defensive bullet on the market.
Regardless of the caliber or weapon you carry, the bullet alone is responsible for stopping an attacker. All bullets are not created equal, though, and for that reason, you need to be certain that your concealed carry handgun is loaded with high-quality defensive ammunition. Spending hundreds of dollars on a firearm for personal defense then loading it with the cheapest ammunition you can find is a bad idea.
So, what type of ammunition should you buy? Here’s a list of several top choices, all of which were designed with one goal in mind — saving your life.
Speer Gold Dot Personal Protection
Speer pioneered bonded core bullets, and the brand’s Uni-Cor bonding process secures the jacket to the alloy lead core and virtually eliminates the odds of jacket/core separation.
The bullet’s unique hollow point design is formed in two stages — the first controls how far the bullet can expand; the second determines the rate of expansion. This two-stage design does an effective job balancing expansion and penetration. Smooth bullet profiles and nickel-plated cases ensure reliable feeding in your firearm, and these rounds are loaded with quality CCI primers for proper ignition.
Personal Protection ammunition is available in a wide variety of calibers including popular choices like .380 Auto, 9mm Luger, .40 S&W and .38 Special.
Federal Premium Personal Defense HST
Until recently, HST bullets, which have a copper jacket and lead core, were only available to law enforcement professionals. But Federal changed all that with the introduction of their Premium Personal Defense HST ammunition.
HST is an example of mechanically-bonded bullet. The copper jacket thickness of each HST bullet is matched to caliber to provide the optimum balance of penetration and expansion. The jacket also has notches that peel backward when the bullet strikes, and the nose cavity is designed to penetrate various barriers. It’s surprising how effectively heavy clothing can slow a bullet, and that means you’ll be transferring less energy to your target.
Generally, heavy clothing is going to have two effects on a bullet. First, it is a tougher barrier to push through, so the bullet will exert energy to overcome it. Also, heavy clothing will partially block or fill the hollow point as the bullet tears through it. This means there is less tissue in the hollow point cavity to initiate expansion. With less tissue, the expansion will be slower and occur deeper inside the target, resulting in a bullet that can penetrate deeper before it expends all of its energy.
All HST bullets I’ve recovered after firing performed extremely well, even those that passed through heavy barriers.
American Eagle Jacketed Soft Point
American Eagle’s Jacketed Soft Point ammunition offers energy-shedding expansion, deep penetration and costs less than many competing defensive loads. If your ammo budget is limited, this is a far better option for self-defense than soft lead or FMJ bullets, and American Eagle ammunition is carefully designed to be reliable and perform consistently.
The jacketed soft point design is similar to JHP bullets, and the copper jacket/lead core design serves to balance penetration and expansion. These bullets are available in several personal defense calibers such as the powerful .327 Federal Magnum.
Federal Premium Guard Dog Ammunition
As previously stated, the majority of self-defense bullets have a lead core and copper jacket that balance expansion and penetration. Not so with the Guard Dog, a unique design that is actually a full metal jacket expanding bullet. Yes, I know that I stated earlier that FMJ bullets have copper jackets and don’t expand, but Guard Dog is unlike any other bullet on the market.
The front half of the bullet is comprised of a polymer core wrapped in a metal jacket, and when the bullet strikes a target, that polymer core gets “squished” and expands along stress lines in the metal. The result is that the bullet continues to penetrate yet expands to create a larger wound channel and more shock.
The FMJ design makes the Guard Dog a smooth-feeding cartridge. It’s very accurate, penetrates well and expands like a traditional JHP bullet. The Guard Dog bullet is also designed to expand when shot through barriers like drywall or plywood. These materials can clog hollow point bullets and not allow them to expand. If a bullet does not expand, you run the risk of over-penetration. By ensuring expansion through these barriers, the bullet loses its energy quicker. This makes Guard Dog an excellent option as a home defense round, as it reduces the chance of collateral damage if a shot is off-target and travels through walls.
Speer Personal Protection Short Barrel
This load shares the same qualities you’ll find in the standard Personal Protection line, including nickel cases and Speer bullets with two-stage construction, optimized for short-barreled handguns.
Many defensive loads are developed for guns with barrels that are 4 or 5 inches in length. There are a host of new defensive handguns, however, that have barrels that are 3 inches or less in length, which leads to lower muzzle velocities. Standard ammunition doesn’t always perform well in these short-barreled defensive guns, so Speer launched their Short Barrel line of ammunition.
These loads are designed specifically for small handguns using special propellants, and they provide better results from compact, lightweight carry guns.
Federal Premium Personal Defense Low Recoil
Wouldn’t it be nice to practice with a defensive load that didn’t batter your hands with heavy recoil? Federal Premium thought so, and that’s why they developed their Premium Personal Defense Low Recoil ammunition.
Lighter bullets at higher velocities help significantly reduce recoil, yet they provide plenty of stopping power for dangerous situations. Low Recoil ammunition is loaded with Hydra-Shok bullets. These jacketed hollow points have been around since 1988 and have earned an enviable reputation among law enforcement professionals and firearms experts.
If you want plenty of power with less punishment, this is your ammo.