Selecting Defensive Pistol Ammunition

Some Pointers:

  • Practice with ammunition that has the same bullet weight as your defensive ammunition.
  • Practice drawing from concealment and then firing
  • Work on your fundamentals!
    • “It is not the arrow that matters, it is the brave that matters.”
  • Winchester Ranger ammunition is always a good choice along with Federal Premium loaded with HST.
  • When it comes to light 9mm loads, the only ones that have really been able to pass performance tests have been the 115 grain solid copper hollow points (SCHP) in a +P loading, such as Corbon DPX ammunition.

Do yourself a favor and read the entire article from




Velocity seems to be the “holy grail” for a lot of folks when they decide to choose their handgun ammo, and they tend to gravitate towards +P or even +P+ loads. As mentioned above, velocity is not always good or useful. This is something to keep in mind when deciding between a “fast” 127gr +P+ or 147gr load in 9mm for example. Another factor is the ability to control the follow-up shot. If you have two loads which both perform about the same, you might consider going to the slow/heavy bullet due to the fact that the slower load is more easily controlled. Consider the data from Winchester in regards to their 9mm 127gr +P+ load (1250 fps) versus the 147gr load (990 fps) in the Ranger-T line:

127gr = 12.3″ penetration and 0.64″ ED
147gr = 13.9″ penetration and 0.65″ ED

4-Ply Denim
127gr = 12.5″ penetration and 0.68″ ED
147gr = 14.5″ penetration and 0.66″ ED

Heavy Cloth
127gr = 12.2″ penetration and 0.68″ ED
147gr = 14.0″ penetration and 0.66″ ED

In a handgun, the “light and fast” philosophy is taken to extremes by exotic ammo like Extreme Shock and RBCD. Please refer to the Exotic ammo FAQ for reference.

BARREL LENGTH plays a role in this as well. While +P loadings may not be required in most cases, they can compensate for short barrels and the resulting loss in muzzle velocity. For example: In 9mm, the 124gr Gold Dot is a good choice in barrel lengths of 4″ or more. In compact guns of 3.5″ or less, a higher-velocity loading would be advised. This is Dr. Roberts take on the issue:

Actually, all our testing has traditionally been done in 4″ barrels for 9 mm, .40 S&W, and 4.25″ for .45 ACP, although recently most of the organizations we test for have been asking for 5″ barrel data for .45 ACP. There is really no difference in performance between a 3.5″ and 4″ barrel in 9 mm and .40 S&W. In .45 ACP, we see a reasonably significant change in performance going from a 5″ to 3.5″ or less barrels. Since almost all viable pistols in 9 mm and .40 S&W use 3.5-4.5″ barrels, there are no “short barrel” worries for serious end-users. Likewise, almost all .45 ACP platforms worthy of hard use use barrels greater than 4″, so again, the short barrel question is moot…

Please be aware that if you venture into guns with a barrel length of less than 3.5″, you’re in uncharted territory.

In pistol calibers, expanding hollowpoints are preferred to create the largest permanent wound cavity possible. There are a lot of people who pick a load without adequately researching the ammo they trust their life on. The Federal Hydra-Shock is one such example. It was the whiz-bang bullet of its time, but has since been eclipsed by many other bullet designs. The principal weakness of that round are its lack of expansion after passing through clothing.

Properly designed hollow-point ammunition – regardless of caliber – all perform very close to each other when you take expanded diameter and penetration depth into account:

Note how little difference there is between the high-velocity .357SIG and other “slow-poke” rounds. The temporary cavity size is also virtually identical.

The above picture also shows that there is not as big of a difference in overall expanded diameter between the various bullets as you might expect.

The following two pictures taken by poster Molon show several popular examples of 9mm 147gr loads to give you an idea for the differences between various hollow-point designs of popular bullets:

If you take all of these criteria into account, the lists should come as no surprise.

Please note that all of the recommended pistol loads listed below have been personally tested and vetted by Dr. Roberts. THEY ARE NOT IN ORDER OF PERFORMANCE, SO ANY BULLET ON THE LIST IS CONSIDERED ACCEPTABLE.

  • Barnes XPB 115gr HP (35515) such as loaded by Cor-Bon (DPX09115)
  • Winchester Partition Gold 124gr JHP   (RA91P)
  • Winchester Ranger-T 124 gr +P JHP   (RA9124TP)
  • Winchester Ranger Bonded 124 gr +P JHP (RA9BA)
  • Winchester Ranger-T 127gr JHP +P+   (RA9TA)
  • Winchester Ranger-T 147gr JHP   (RA9T)
  • Winchester Bonded 147gr JHP   (RA9B/Q4364)
  • Speer Gold Dor 124gr JHP
  • Speer Gold Dot 124gr JHP +P   (53617)
  • Speer Gold Dot 147gr JHP   (53619)
  • Remington Golden Saber 124 gr +P JHP bonded (GSB9MMD)
  • Remington Golden Saber 147gr JHP (GS9MMC)
  • Federal Tactical 124gr JHP   (LE9T1)
  • Federal Tactical 135gr JHP +P   (LE9T5)
  • Federal HST 147gr JHP   (P9HST2)
  • Federal HST 124gr JHP +P (P9HST3)

You might notice that the list does NOT include any lightweight bullets with the exception of the Barnes 115gr version. The reason – especially if you’ve read the beginning of this article – should be clear already, but Doctor Roberts sums it up nicely as well: “With the exception of the Barnes 115 gr XPB all copper projectile, in general, most 9 mm 115 gr loads have demonstrated greater inconsistency, insufficient penetration, poor intermediate barrier capability, and failure to expand in denim testing than other 9mm bullets. For those individuals wanting to use lighter weight, supersonic 9 mm’s, I think a better alternative than the vast majority of 115 gr loads is to use the slightly heavier 124 to 127 gr bullets or the Barnes 115 gr all copper bullet

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Posted in Concealed Carry, Handguns
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