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Posted: 8/20/2002 4:13:28 PM EDT
Can anyone out there suggest a source for information on defensive handgun ammunition? In particular 9MM, and 40 Smith, but others may be useful too. I'm not one to go for gimmicks and pretty bullets, which there seems to be alot of these days. I want to make the most educated decision on this I can.

I deer hunted for years without this knowledge, and came to the realization bullet type and quality doesnt play as big of factor. I was the offense, I had the edge. In that situation a well aimed bullet through the heart or head (my preference) did the trick. A well aimed bullet through the head of an attacker would spell trouble in court. In a rather stressfull, excited, uncontrollable defense situation, one won't necessarily have the time to make a well aimed shot, hoping only for a "hit". I think this is where bullet performance is at its most critical... in the "worst case scenario".

The only source of information I can find so far is gun mags, and a few manufactures websites, which in my opinion are usually biased, unrealistic, opinionated, or completely wrong. I just know there's a little more to it than shooting a block of jello and measureing the hole.

I know somewhere, someone has done an accurate, definitive test on all or most bullets/loads and some manufacturer has set out to make the best defensive cartridges. There has been too many people shot to think there isnt some statistics on real-life bullet performance. I just cant seem find very much.

Any links to websites, people, decent publications, or information on conducting these tests myself would be wonderful.

Thanks Alot

Link Posted: 8/20/2002 7:01:42 PM EDT
First of all, let me say hello and welcome to the board. You have asked the question that prompted me to do a great deal of reading and researching a few months ago. I will try to answer your question the best that I know how and without any bias toward a particular manufacturer. I will also point you to some of the sources of where I gathered much of the info.

For a self defense round, you want something that expands as much as possible yet penetrates deep enough to reach all of the vital structures. In a defensive situation, you want to incapacitate an attacker as rapidly as possible. The only way to do that is with a hit to the spinal cord, brain, heart, or the major blood vessels deep inside the body. The combo of good expansion and deep penetration gives you the best chance of reaching this goal if the shots are well placed. As you have said, no "magic" ammo can make up for bad shooting.

Now, the loads that meet my own personal requirements for 9mm and .40 S&W for serious work are the Speer Gold Dot (or Black Hills with Gold Dot bullets) and Winchester Ranger. In 9mm I like the Gold Dot in 124 gr +P and the Ranger in 127 gr +P+. Both of these offer excellent expansion, weight retention and ideal penetration. And they do so consistently which is the key. In .40 S&W, I like the same loads with 180 gr bullets. Some like the faster and lighter 155 gr loads, but IMHO, the 180's beat them in the penetration department. I also notice that the 180's actually seem to expand more reliably and in some cases to a larger diameter than the 155's. The difference is barely measurable in some cases, but that's the type of differences we are talking about here anyway....very small ones.

If I had to have one or the other of the rounds above, I would choose the Ranger. This is a newer, updated version of the old Black Talon ammo that Winchester use to produce. But Winchester only markets this load to law enforcement. However, it is not illegal for any civilian to own and use, just like any other ammo unless the individual is prohibited from purchasing ammo. It is hard to find but it is usually available at gun shows, some gun shops and from time to time through mail order companies. Just keep your eyes open and ask around.

The reason I picked this round over the Gold Dot as the single best defensive pistol ammo on the market right now is because when it expands, the petals are very sharp. Whereas many expanded bullets push tissue out of the way and not permanently damage it, the Ranger can tend to cut it. This leads to more blood loss, a generally more severe wound and can even cut a blood vessel if it passes by one. The extra benefits of the Ranger over the Gold Dot might be realized in about 1 out of every 20 shootings. So it isn't all that much better, but when we are talking about small differences to begin with, I will take that extra little bonus. And, both the Ranger and Gold Dot have demonstrated the ability to expand equally well in bare gellatin as well as gellatin with clothing placed over it. Many other highly regarded loads that perform well on bare gellatin have their bullets clogged with fabric and fair much less well when tested with layers of fabric in front of the gel. I would expect any potential opponent to be wearing clothes, so this is a must to have a round that will reliably expand after passing through clothing.

Also, to offer a little more input on the Ranger rounds, a person in the LEO forum told me that his department had used that round in 18 shootings. Of those 18 shootings, 16 of the individuals died on the scene. The other 2 were immediately incapacitated and offered no further resistance. I would say that is pretty good performance from any handgun and ammo. And his statements aren't isolated either. I have heard other LEO's praising these bullets. One large sheriff's department in California has also adopted the Ranger ammo for their 9mm's and one of these deputies told me it was far and away the best ammo they had ever had. The Gold Dot has a similar reputation.

There are many types of defensive ammo on the market, but none of them I like as well as the above mentioned rounds. Remington has the Golden Saber which expands nicely, but sometimes suffers from core and jacket seperations. Then Federal has Hydra-Shok, which is an over-rated performer IMO. Winchester SXT looks similar to the Ranger but is no where near the performer it is. And there are many light and zippy loads such as Cor-Bon, Glaser and Mag Safe which get great reviews in the gun magazines, but that I find inadequate for my uses. Many of these very light and fast loads expand really well, but penetrate far to less. They will no doubt make a large wound, but it will be shallow and this isn't good for a fast stopper. The FBI after testing, concluded that the ideal amount of penetration is 12-18". This assures you reach the deep, vital organs and have the penetration necessary to still be effective in the event your rounds have to pass through the arms when firing at an angle. Not many attackers will present you with a nice, squared up chest to fire at. Angle shots may be all that's available. A round that has poor penetration to start with will fall well short in this scenario.

Well, that's my own opinions and preferences based on what I have seen and heard. I am sure others here will disagree with me, but that is fine to. Everyone has different likes and dislikes, requirements and personal tastes. But frome me to you, this is the ammo I would want to protect my life and the lives of my family members should the need ever arise. While I hope none of us ever find ourselves in such an unfortunate situation, if it happens, I want to have the best I can. That's why I practice shooting regularly, carry a Sig Sauer (or other quality sidearm), and use the best rounds that I can find.

Now to some links where you can actually see and read about some of the ammo and how they performed:



And also a link to where you can buy the Black Hills loads (you can see their test results at ammolab) that use Gold Dot bullets, go here:


Or for Speer's own products, check out www.natchezss.com

I hope this has been informative and helpful to you. It took me two weeks to collect all of this info when I was curious! Hehe.

---Charging Handle

Link Posted: 8/21/2002 4:15:42 AM EDT
I think that you will find things in the offense and defense world pretty similar. I've never yet seen an arguement while sitting around a campfire about caliber get won. And if hunters can't decide which is the best caliber, they sure don't agree on which is the best manufacturer. [:confused:]

Well, life in the world of defense is much the same, there are lots of tests, lots of studies, a large supply of opinion and no clear results.

Almost every modern ammo manufacturer makes a good, effective and reliable product. Which works best will vary from shooter to shooter, gun to gun. Even the modern 380 performs at a level that was only wishful thinking just a few decades ago.

If I had my personal choice for a carry weapon, it would be an older S&W revolver with a 5 1/2" to 6" barrel chambered in 45acp. I personally find that the 45acp with the longer barrel available in a revolver is a great, effective, controlable, reliable defensive weapon. The only drawback is its size and concealability. My second choice would be a S&W revolver with a 4" barrel chambered in 357Mag.

However, my normal carry pistol is a SiG 230 chambered in 380 with either Triton, Corbon or Gold Dot ammo. It's a small, very concealable pistol with outstanding close range accuracy. If you can point your finger at something you'll hit it with the 230. Since it's a blowback design with a fixed barrel, it has almost revolver like accuracy.

When I don't carry my 230, either my STAR UltraStar in 9mm or my Makarov in 9mmMak comes along. The only problem with the Makarov is its weight. It's an all steel pistol and typical of Soviet designs, simple and built like a tank. My STAR UltraStar is, IMHO, the best compact 9mm pistol that has ever been made.

So jump in. The water's fine. All opinions welcome and freely given. Your search will be a long but enjoyable trip, so please drop us a postcard as you stop along the way.
Link Posted: 8/21/2002 3:40:45 PM EDT
In short form, there is no "best" defensive cartridge. There are a number of cartridge designs that do similar things, but in order to decide what is best you first have to know what situation you will need the round for, and that is discovered after the fact. The best round in situation "A" might be one that penetrates through multiple barriers and does not expand, but the best round for situation "B" might be a round that has shallow penetration and massive expansion. All the regularly accepted designer rounds (Gold Dot, Golden Sabre, Hydra-shock, Starfire, etc.) will provide good performance across a spectrum of needs, and any differences are so minute that it really doesn't matter. If you go to the local gun store and pick the top-line designer round with the lowest price you will be as well armed as the person who has spent hundreds of hours researching the round he wants to buy.
Link Posted: 8/22/2002 1:03:25 AM EDT
A note about Starfire ammo.....this use to be my load of choice as well. It was cheap and the picture of the massively expanded bullet that the factory put out looked impressive. But after seeing some tests of this ammo, I bought different ammo. It expanded well in bare ballistic gellatin, but when it had to penetrate clothing placed over the gellatin, it failed to expand at all just about every time. Seems the bullet design stops up with fabric quite easily and this affects the performance tremendously. In other words, you would be just as well off to use FMJ. Not all ammo is the same.
Link Posted: 8/22/2002 1:11:55 AM EDT
I don't have much choice, the dept. buys and chooses my ammo, but I'd recommend the calibres website for some interesting info.

Link Posted: 8/22/2002 1:27:01 AM EDT
I am probably the only person here who still uses Glaser safety rounds for defense, yeah they are pricy, but I live in an Apt. so I worry about overpenetration.... Plus they look so cool when I blast them into ballistic Gel

When not at home I use Hornady XTP hollowpoints loaded to almost max velocities out of wahtever caliber I am carrying (Mainly 9mm, also .357 max, .357 mag, and .45 acp)

good luck finding your favorite
Link Posted: 8/22/2002 1:31:52 AM EDT
I personally did a lot of study on the subject and without getting too exotic I ended up with these two rounds for my carry pistols.

9mm Winchester Ranger SXT 127gr +P+

.45 ACP +P 165gr JHP CorBon

I have other special situation exotic ammo but these are best of class along with the +P Gold Dots.

Link Posted: 8/22/2002 4:50:40 AM EDT
Hi BerettaWaltherAR (nice name!). Welcome.

There's a great lot of expertise running around in here. You came to the right place to ask.

It's pretty hard to add much to what Charging_Handle has already said. As usual, his stuff is well researched and carefully assembled. This being said, I can't seem to write less than 750 (2000?) words when on this subject so...

First, caliber. I would prefer to use .40SW myself because I suspect (with good evidence) its a better terminal performer than 9mm, but I have two problems with the .40SW round:

1. I'm small. (5'6" 105 or so [110 soaking wet]) .40SW just a TOUCH too hot for me. I was always taught to pick the round that you are best able to put rounds reliably in the target with and with which you can deliver the quickest follow-up shots when necessary. "Largest caliber you can control" is the mantra. For me that's 9mm. I can deliver first shots quite well from a .40SW, but my follow-ups suffer and I believe accurate and fast follow-up shots are CRITICAL for defensive shooting. For multiple follow-ups (which history teaches us are necessary in defensive situations) and controlled pairs, 9mm is just a faster and hence better solution for me. Most/all of my research focuses, as a result, around these two calibers, with a concentration on .40SW. (.357sig was right out! :) I'd consider it if I could handle it, but I understand it has a tendency to get pushed back into the case a little bit- and that risk over overpressure is enough to make me just say no- as if I could handle the cartridge anyhow).

Remember, even 9mm ball ammunition is nearly certain to incapicate instantly if you make a ocular cavity hit. Shot placement is the number one criteria in incapication. After that you're giving yourself margins of safety (or reducing it) with ammunition choices.

2. The H&K P7M10 which is chambered in .40SW is a CINDER BLOCK. No way I can conceal that in an inner thigh or small of the back holster and I only really trust my life to H&K P7s.

So: P7M8 and 9mm it is.

Charging_Handle said:
For a self defense round, you want something that expands as much as possible yet penetrates deep enough to reach all of the vital structures. In a defensive situation, you want to incapacitate an attacker as rapidly as possible. The only way to do that is with a hit to the spinal cord, brain, heart, or the major blood vessels deep inside the body. The combo of good expansion and deep penetration gives you the best chance of reaching this goal if the shots are well placed. As you have said, no "magic" ammo can make up for bad shooting.

Just a tiny correction here about blood vessels. The current "cutting edge" of terminal ballistics research has arrived at the mostly obvious and Charging_Handle hit it pretty well on the head. There are two basic alternatives to incapacitation:

First alternative: You have to either make a CNS hit that renders the aggressors legs/arms/whatever useless (and causes collapse) or do even more CNS damage to really get a "knockdown." As I'm sure you know, it takes something approaching a .50 BMG round to really push a human body physically hard enough to make much impact on motion. "Knockdown" is a term I hate because it is media augmented, Hollywood noise. This means hit the spine and stop brain signals from telling the legs to stand, do actual damage to the nerves that are responsible for motor control of something important or damage the brain. This is the only RELIABLE way to cause "instant" incapacitation of the type that makes you more or less safe from an armed aggressor.

The second alternative is to "bleed out" the aggressor. Do enough vascular damage that the heart runs out of pressure to feed the brain with resulting in shock: disorientation, loss of motor skills and vision, unconsciousness and eventually death. This is not an easy thing- and that's what I wanted to call attention to. Even with a major coronary vessel severed and dumping it's entire capacity into the chest cavity you are looking at about 1.5 liters a minute. The average undrugged, un"pumped" human begins to slip into shock and lose consciousness with around a 20% blood loss. That's about 1 liter. A loss of 50% of blood volume is almost always fatal. As you do the math you recognize, of course, that 45 seconds to 1 liter is an eternity in a gunfight. Hell, so is 15 seconds.

The third possibility (rather than alternative) is psychological in nature. Pain (oh boy that smarts) and shock (not medical, but emotional/mental) might cause your aggressor to freeze, collapse, revert to "flight" from "fight" or otherwise render him/herself less aggressive. I don't call this an "alternative" because it's just not reliable and is perhaps equally likely to cause an INCREASE in aggression or no effect at all because of all the crack cocaine/meth in the aggressor's system. No thanks.

Ok, so having said all that what do we want? To punch holes in tissue. Big holes and deep holes are better. Small deep holes (as long as small isn't a neddle) are better then big shallow holes. The average human torso is around 9 inches front to back. It's about 3-4 inches to the important vessels and organs. Like Charging_Handle says, add an arm or something and you've got more, plus bone and other protective structures to beat.

The FBI, which has done a lot more work on this with more care than I have, and which had a TREMENDOUS incentive to "get it right" after the fatal Miami shootout, arrived at a penetration standard of at least 12 inches in calibrated 10% ballistic gelatin. More than 18" is probably overpenetration but not to worry: rare are the handguns that will show 18" of penetration.

You should probably consider adopting the FBI requirement and find the rounds in your caliber of choice that meet these penetration standards. Then find the subset of those rounds that provide the best (largest) and MOST RELIABLE expansion. Unlike with many rifle rounds (particularly 5.56) fragmentation is not a positive quality in most handgun rounds. Expansion is.
Link Posted: 8/22/2002 4:51:31 AM EDT
Make sure you look at some heavy denim tests of hollowpoint rounds (which can be clogged by clothing and refuse to expand just when you need it most). The FBI data on this is out there, but sometimes hard to find. I don't have a link available this second, but I'll post one in the new version of the AR15.com Ammo FAQ.

Also, do not be taken in by this "shockwave" talk that you hear from e.g. the "Strasbourg Goat Tests." (Most researchers I know of think these were faked):

From Dr. Martin Fackler:
In mid-1993, the results of an authorless "study" done purportedly by shooting more than 600 goats in Strasbourg, France, were circulated, anonymously, throughout the handgun community. A copy of these "Strasbourg Tests" was sent to the Firearms Training Unit of the FBI just before a scheduled meeting of the Wound Ballistics Committee. The committee members, all respected pathologist or trauma surgeons, were unanimous in their opinion that these "tests" were, in fact, a hoax -- and had been fabricated, most likely by somebody without a medical background.

These goat test types try to convince you that the shock of the bullet's impact makes some kind of magic "WAVE" through the body. (Generally these are people trying to sell you very light and fast rounds- faster = more shockwave, you see). This is mostly (totally?) bunk.

In .40 I have to cite other's results. I personally have a lot of respect for Dr. Gary Roberts. He's done thousands of tests and has hundreds upon hundreds of sheets of data on various rounds. He lists these rounds as meeting FBI penetration standards and showing good, consistent expansion:

Win 165 gr JHP (RA401P), Win 165 gr JHP (RA40TA), Fed 165 gr JHP (LE40T3), Fed 180 gr JHP (LE40T1), Rem 180 gr JHP (GS40SWB), Speer 180 gr JHP (53966), Win 180 gr JHP (RA40T)

He goes on to state:

"In .40 S&W, I personally would choose the Fed 180 gr Tactical or the Win 180
gr Ranger Talon."

Remember that there is no +p or +p+ standard for .40SW. Look at rounds that claim to be +p or +p+ in .40SW with skepticism.

In 9mm I can be a bit more specific because I've done my own testing as well.

I'm a huge believer in the 127 gr Ranger SXT +p+ in 9mm. Charging_Handle described this rounds properties quite well. Gold dot 124 gr +p follows and I like the UNBONDED Golden Saber 124 +p (but I really wish they had a +P+ version. Note that some researchers have cited the Golden Saber's unreliable expansion through heavy clothing- PARTICULARLY with the bonded version. Given this the Ranger SXT +p+ is pretty clearly a good round. I use it exclusively now for defensive purposes.

Please note, that while some people like Hydra-Shock rounds, I do NOT. Neither do a few researchers who report consistent LACK of expansion in many versions of these rounds both in .40SW and 9mm. I would play it safe and avoid them.

Dr. Roberts reports the following "good picks" for 9mm:

Triton 115 gr +P JHP (TR9HVA), Fed 124 gr JHP (LE9T1), Speer 124 gr +P JHP (53617), Win 124 gr JHP (RA91P), Win 127 gr +P+ JHP (RA9TA), Fed 135 gr +P JHP (LE9T5), Rem 147 gr JHP (GS9MMC), Speer 147 gr JHP (53619), Win 147 gr JHP (RA9T).

I've tested a few of these and have always come back to 127 gr Ranger SXT +P+. It's just great ammo.

From a 4.00" barrel:

Ranger SXT +P+ :
1210 fps 13.95" of penetration in bare gel, 19.80"!! in clothed gel.

From a 4.25" barrel:

CCI/Speer Gold dot 124 gr +P :
1223 fps 13.40" penetration in bare gel with expansion to 0.68" and 20.25" of penetration in clothed gel with expansion to 0.53"

There's more data here: www.firearmstactical.com/ammo_data/9mm.htm but some is old.

Go ahead, exploit Dr. Roberts' hard work, take those loads and see what's most accurate in your weapon. Then practice with it.

Also, I'm a huge believer in training with what you plan to fight with. I think it's critical. Buy a couple boxes of each of your candidates, shoot them at different ranges, see if they are fussy with your weapon (Sigs, for example, can be fussy about what they eat sometimes- a little TOO precise- I had a dog that would turn it's nose up at Caviar too) when you've come down to two candidates have a big shoot off over a pair of days. (Multiple days are important for testing- plus MORE FUN). Then get a round and stick with it. Learn it in your weapon. Get used to how it talks to you. Be the weapon. Spend a little money on quality ammo. Practice a lot with it. You will not regret it if, fate forbid, you have to use your weapon to defend yourself. Remember, shot placement. Can't say it enough.

Now, look the other way while I kick Charging_Handle for forgetting to pitch our local Ammo FAQ at www.ammo-oracle.com while he was pitching links. *THUMP* Yes, it's geared to 5.56/.223 ammo questions, but lots of interesting terminal ballistics stuff that applies to handgun rounds too.

Best of luck. WELCOME to the board. Please feel you can ask anything. Well, almost anything. ;)
Link Posted: 8/22/2002 12:47:58 PM EDT

Thanks for the compliments regarding my post. To have you in agreement with me is an honor in and of itself. I actually try to model my responses after your's because I always thought you gave nice, clear, non BS and well worded answers. But feel free to type all of the 2000 worders you want because they are wonderfully expressed... and because I have learned gobs of info by reading them!

And ooops, I did leave out the ammo faq didn't I? I thought I felt a sharp pain today in my leg while at work....maybe that was the chi (ki) of your kick reaching me? LOL. I will try to direct more people to the FAQ in the future. It is a great reading and should be required reading for anyone who owns an AR or well, any firearm for that matter.

And oh yeah, thanks for clearing up the slip up I made when describing blood loss as a means of rapid incapacitation. You are absolutely right. As you have stated, rapid loss of blood can most certainly be fatal, but that doesn't stop the attacker from firing an entire magazine at you in the meantime, or even reload and fire another magazine if they are determined. When you are talking 15-45 seconds, that's time for lots of wild things to happen.

I guess bullet science is so complicated and has so many variables, that it will never be an exact science. There are just too many factors and factors upon factors, that makes certainty a useless term when talking about such things. It is almost like meteorology. Amateur weather forecasting is second only to my love of shooting/guns as a hobby and also fits into the same "not exact science" group. LOL, now everyone knows what a geek I am! But I just have an inquisitive personality that likes to break things down and see what makes them tick. That's why I love these ammo discussions so much.

---Charging Handle
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